Monday, March 16, 2009

Pubbing with Tim Farley, Rebecca Watson, and the Boston Skeptics

On February 23rd, a large contingent of Boston Atheists joined the Boston Skeptics at one of their monthly Skeptics in the Pub gatherings. Early in the evening all the booths near the stage at Tommy Doyle’s Pub were already filled up with eager skeptics; those who didn’t get a seat stood at the back around the bar.

The indomitable, industrious Rebecca Watson of Skepchicks was Master (or Mistress?) of Ceremonies, introducing the guest speaker for the evening, Tim Farley, who runs Tim started What’s the Harm after attending one of James Randi’s Amaz!ng Meeting, an annual conference of Skeptics organized by the James Randi Educational Foundation and featuring notable skeptics and critical thinkers. Here he met the Penn Jillette who served as one source of inspiration for What’s The Harm.

What, then, is What’s the Harm? As Farley explained, it’s a website he’s put together, along with help from contributors, recording cases of people who have been duped, scammed, harmed, or directly or indirectly killed by various forms of pseudoscience and other dubious practices. While this site is merely anecdotal – a fact that Penn Jilette points out while praising Farley’s site – it is meant to be an eye-opener and offer a quick response to anyone who has ever been asked What’s the harm of homeopathy, detox programs, chiropractic treatments, and over seventy other practices.

Farley had a projector set up in the pub and flashed a few sad cases up for his audience: the young woman who had died of a stroke soon after receiving “chiropractic adjustment” on her neck, the young child who died of malnutrition after her parents put her on a stringent vegetarian diet without consulting a doctor, the people who followed their faulty navigation systems against their better judgment, driving their cars right into rivers. Farley points out that in all these cases, critical thinking and some research might have prevented disaster.