Wannabe Sceptics

I haven't posted here in a long time. This issue strikes me as important
The Association Appears
Recently I have had some not very pleasant dealings with the social justice efforts of the "Association  for the Defence of Patients Against Pseudo Therapies". They seem to be ok enough people. There is nothing obvious in their academic backgrounds that indicates anything remarkable either  good or bad, certainly nothing that would justify them being trumpeted as "an association of scientists"bur nothing that would indicate sever incompetence either.  They are a mixture of business owners and low key academics principally in fields related to biology, if I remember rightly.  Academically quite ordinary and certainly not the kind of people you might expect to be laying down the law about what is or is not to be considered legitimate science.

I don't know what call they may have felt to aspire to latter day crusades or inquisitorial behaviour. It could be any one of a very large number of things from ideological agendas to economic benefit or perhaps an inkling to stand out a little and have their Warholian 15 minutes of fame. They may even earnestly and, to my mind misguidedly, want to Do Good. Who's to say?

It could be a bit of all that and more. In any case their motivation is unknown to me and is, at the end of the day, none of my business.  The long and the short of it is that they have seen fit to "denounce"a well established and respected University for propagating "pseudo - science" or "pseudo - therapy" depending on which report you read. And - the really amazing part - the University has taken them seriously enough to step down. Let's take that slowly. These people -  seven or eight of them I think - have given a University a good talking to and the University has dropped its ears and slunk away in some kind of shame for having included in its programmes Masters' Degrees in Acupuncture, Homeopathy, "Energy Balancing" (all, perhaps, questionable as therapies; I am not qualified to say) and -amazingly -  Developmental Behavioural Modelling®  DBM  ® (certainly not questionable as a therapy of any kind) as being cases of "pseudo-therapy" or "pseudo science".
Personally, I have no knowledge of the scientific validity of acupuncture but I have had the needles used on me and noticed a distinct improvement. I know many others who have had similar experiences. The problem would appear to be not so much whether it works or not as whether there is a credible (verifiable and falsifiable) explanation as to how or why it works. It exists, as do many things, as a phenomenon which has no model or theory to explain it. Homeopathy and some of the other "disciplines" under attack are unknown to me and I know nothing of the research which has been carried out on them. Homeopathy strikes me personally as clearly inconsistent with what we know about physics, chemistry and biology. But that's my affair and I certainly need no self -appointed watchdog committee to protect me from its influence. However I suspect the actions of said watchdogs have less to do with actually protecting people than from adding their tuppence worth of aggro to the current identity politics wars raging in cyberspace. Let me explain. 
Wannabe Sceptics?
From the outset I would like to make it clear that I am very much in favour of common sense (within the margins of error that come as part of being human) and of checking ideas against evidence and in general of research as the basis of progress. In so far as I am able to detect it (which may well be less that I would like) I detest what I consider to be stupidity. 
I admire people who call out abuse especially when doing so can occasion difficulty or danger for them.
I also applaud the act of questioning outworn or baseless notions - especially when they lead to exploitation of those in a situation of weakness systemic inferiority or disadvantage. 
In recent times new labels have been coined for referring to people who call out or question. The very idea of "calling out" is relatively new as are the terms "whistle-blower" for the Chelsea Mannings, Edward Snowdens or Hervé Falcianis of this world. We also have, of course the "sceptics" such as James Randi, Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet questioning fake magic, religion and snake oil. 
So there are now famous men and women we can praise for this: stars, if you will, of the call out. And of course, where there are stars there are wannabes.

I suppose the key feature of wannabes is they want the results without the work or the talent. They usually emulate the looks, dress code, hairstyles or mannerisms of their idols and are often to be found on camera queueing and posing in awe and veneration outside the larger concert venues. Los Angeles is said to be full of wannabe actors (or "WAMs" as in Waiter Actor Model) The fact is there seem to be wannbes all over the place. 
Even “wannabe sceptics”? Well the context may be unlikely but the basic ingredient seems to be there in the mix. Superficial imitation of the sound (and the fury), a certain posturing, use of identical phrases and notions (rather than clothes and hairstyles). But nonetheless, copying the form without the substance in hope, perhaps, that some of the glamour will accrue. 
What did The Association do deserve that  description?
Well they have taken up metaphoric arms - the panoply of scientifistic moral high grounding - in favour , rather than damsels, of "patients" in distress that probably don't exist and certainly haven't asked to be defended. They (the Association) have done so in some areas they may know something about and others (in this case psychology) in which they clearly don't. Specifically they have come out with inflammatory and libellous statements couched in scientific language against something which they clearly do not understand with, sadly, real consequences for real people. Their self -evidently baseless pronouncements include the following:
  • That Developmental Behavioural Modelling ® (although they constantly make reference to "Developmental Behaviour Modelling", in itself an indication of low comprehension) o DBM ® is a psuedo-therapy in the same way that , say, Homeopathy is.
  • Their evidence for this is that it features on a "government list" of pseudo-therapies (that doesn't seem to exist in actual fact) and that DBM® is "related to  Neurolinguistic Programming or NLP which is commonly known to be a pseudo - science (Nigel Molesworth's expression "as any fule kno" comes to mind)
  • That it is, in fact a variant of NLP  and they offer a link to several articles written by John McWhirter about remodelling NLP (that is exercising practical critical thinking about it) as evidence of this "fact" (the articles in question were written in Spanish so they can't plead not understanding English as an excuse) 
  • That Ericksonian Hypnosis is a pseudo-therapy (and also on the same non-existent government blacklist
  • That Education is a pseudo- therapy (since they demand the removal of training modelling education theories on the same grounds as they demand the removal of Ozone Therapy)
  • That Coaching is a pseudo-therapy (see above)
  • That the University of Valencia is propagating pseudo-therapies in including a Masters' Degree based on DBM 
  • That there is sufficient simlarity between Acupuntura, Homeopathy, Ozone Therapy and DBM®  to justify them all being lumped together as pseudo-therapies.
  • That the fact that DBM ® or Developmental Behavioural Modelling ® is a registered trade mark implies that it is not only for profit but rather shadily so.
  • They insinuate that they are acting in acoordance with government directives (and hence with authority) anout pseudo therapies  (this is impossible since no such directives exist either now or since 2011 as they also allege.
They claim to be (or at least certain, perhaps overly naive, journalists claim they are) scientists. That should mean that they use some semblance of scientific method (i.e. research) as a way of proceeding. 
Cerainly if they have done any research they have severe reading comprehension deficiencies since anyone who had actually read anything about the subject it would know that:
  • DBM® neither is nor makes any claim to be a therapy of any kind. Nowhere does it refer to treatment of patients or illness or anything of the kind. Hence by simple logic it cannot be a pseudo - therapy. (I am reminded of the famous joke from the time of the Vietnam War "but officer, I'm an anti-communist" "I don't give a damn what kind of communist you are") As stated, DBM ® does not make any claims about or propagate therapeutic techniques or procedures. What it is is an area of study (new and obviously unknown to our crusading wannabe friends) which studies modelling and everything related to modelling. That is not about catwalks and skinny people but about how we make sense of the world (or in the case of the APEPT, nonsense). It is more closely related to philosophy than therapy. One thing it does include is scientific method and critical thinking, not as an abstract idea but as a set of specific skills. It would seem that thse particular skills would not be wasted on some, if not all of the members of the APEPT.
  • One of the things DBM®  studies is how change technologies are created and how they work. One example of such a change technology is NLP. In other words DBM ® has studied NLP as it has Gestalt, Transactional Analysis, Ericksonian Hypnosis and CBT for that matter.That some or all of these can be described as pseudo- therapies is totally irrelevant to the issue. DBM®  is the study of models and cannot be said to be one of those models because of that. To take a simple analogy: History studies different things among them the rise of abslutism or nazism. No one in their right mind would take that as evidence that "history is a totalitarian regime" 
  • Even if DBM®  had been developed from NLP (which is not the case) stating that it is therefore a "variant of NLP " is like stating that "chemistry is a variant of alchemy": sheer nonsense. 
So our would-be or wannabe sceptics have acted without bothering to let little things like evidence or common sense get in the way. Basically, this is superstition of the "if I don't know what it is it must be bad" kind. But rather like the superstitious wannabe inquisitors and witch-finders of  old dressed themselves in the authority of the church to seek and find social advantage, they have dressed themselves up as "sceptical scientists". But, not to put too fine a point on it, they put their foot in it -big time  It's all a bit of a joke really and makes you wonder who needs to compensate for what, exactly, with this exhibition of  blustering and blundering scientifistic bigotry.
Or it would be funny were it not for the sad fact that
  • A state university perfectly capable of making its own decision has had to change its policy on the courses it offers. I am at a loss as to why they have taken this group so seriously as to do so. Especially as they seem not to have consulted anybody in their own psychology faculty
  • People who wished to study this discipline at University Masters level in Valencia have been deprevied of the chance to do so. This includes people in the middle of the courses in question who have been unceremoniously dumped.
  • The integrity of a new and important field of study has been libelously slurred together with the indefatigable and clearly rigurous scientific work that has gone into it.
  • It is yet another example of identity politics masquerading as serious, concerned action.
The supreme irony of this is of course that the "scientists" in question, in a stunning display of dogma and lack of science, have called into question as "unscientific" a field of study which, if there is one thing that clearly defines it, it is the scientific approach it uses. And all because these people irritatingly have decided  to take it upon themselves to decide what is or is not accepted as science. 
Oh and by the by, DBM ® is a registered trade mark to protect the intellectual property of the creator of the field. This is as legitimate and logical a measure as it is distant from the unpleasant insinuations of nefarious intent and shady operations put forward in some of these people's comments.
But hey, Halloween is just round the corner and the idea of little kids dressed up as inquisitors and witch burners jumps clearly to mind. Trick or treat it with the contempt it deserves?

Why have I written this?
None of what I have written is or should be construed as a "official" reply, either in representation of DBM® or of the person most affected  by the libellous comments: John McWhirter creator of DBM ® and a person of tremendous integrity and creative and intellectual stature. Those of you who know him will know what I mean. I have no doubt that he will reply in his own way and in due course.
What this piece is, is my attempt to convey my stupor in the face of such insidious and, in the end, pusillanimous behaviour. It's a call out, if you like, of pseudo-scientific pseudo-scepticism.
I have created the hashtag #wannabesceptics on Facebook so people can easily find and consult the different pieces of reporting around this issue. 
Thank you for your attention please feel free to comment

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