Woo

Published on October 31st, 2014 | by Rayne

24

Woo and Lament Series: Woofest 2014 – Episode 1: The Beginning

For reasons only known to the small dark arsehole-like part of my brain, I decided that going to the Mind, Body, Spirit festival (AKA Woofest) was a fantastic idea.

Because a skeptic among people who believe aura photography isn’t a scam, is a brilliant idea. Search for #woofest on Twitter to find my tweets from the day or read my Woofest: A Story in Tweets blog post.

The idea spawned a few months ago when I was looking for things to do for my birthday and I wondered whether pseudoscientists have conventions.

Turns out they do.

The sadist side of my brain somehow convinced the masochist side of my brain that going to the convention would be a pile of shit and giggles, off I went. I booked flights and accommodation and wife and I went on our merry way. I learned a lot that weekend.

The first thing I learned was: I am the dick on the plane who loves turbulence. While everyone else is white-knuckled and looking slightly green, I’m flailing around with my hands in the air, laughing like a manic. In hindsight, that may explain the glares I was getting.

We approached the convention after a morning flight and rather nice oatmeal biscuit on the plane. The first mystery was this guy who was pissing behind the toilet block. The door to the toilet was right around the corner.

The first of many strange occurrences that day.

The convention hall was lined with stalls from new age wooists to pseudoscientific alternative medicine: Reflexology, iridology, a Christian church with a really creepy guy wanting me to go into a darkened stall so he could pray for me, aura photography, a chiropractor, a vegan stall, aromatherapy, acupressure massages, three reiki healers that looked bored while in the midst of “healing” someone, about 50 psychics – all giving readings (one of which had won the “Psychic of the Year Award”) and a terrifying abundance of women who put crystals in their vaginas as a means to increase their sex drive.

The convention featured not only stalls but many speakers as well. Some of the talks included:

Why personal care products make you fat and affect your hormones and what you can do about it!
Chakra awareness
Australian flowers, their healing powers
Become your own psychic
Emotional release with lymphatic drainage
Be a ‘medium’
Sick building syndrome and EMF – their effects on the body
Quantum physics and the supernatural realm
Recovering from food intolerances with natural medicines
Become your own psychic
Replenishing your life through cellular regeneration
Are you an empath?
Uncovering the unique gift of the empath, how it manifests in your life and in the world
The moon and you

You can see why I wanted to go, right? This wasn’t just a new age convention, it was a room full of people who want to turn society back into the Dark Ages.

My brain the entire time.
The people were plentiful. There were mothers with children, bored looking husbands and startlingly – many cancer patients. You could tell because they were the bald, sickly looking people with scarves on their heads. I don’t realise this until we were about to leave – this meant I didn’t spend the entire excursion mad as hell but when I realised, it did put a damper on things.

It’s easy to make fun of woo and pseudoscience. Woo especially because it is pure bullshit designed to make people feel elitist and special. The concept of the psychic has been created from equal parts con job and magical thinking – designed to line the pockets of people who feel they have a special gift a very select few have. That select few line their pockets with the money of people who need to feel in control of their lives – if they know what is going to happen next, they have a sense of security. This isn’t inherently a bad thing except when you base your entire life on what a psychic says. You probably shouldn’t be basing life decisions on the words of a person who says they hear voices of dead people.

For those who are scientifically literate, it’s easy to scoff at pseudoscience because we know how and why it’s bullshit – it’s definitely easy to forget the dangers of it. Pseudoscientists turn people away from medicine to get more customers through their door. They spread lies about vaccines and medications to line their own pockets. In the case of the cancer patients at the convention – they line their pockets with the money of vulnerable sick people desperately looking for a cure and who have most likely been scared away from medicine or given a terminal prognosis.

It made me think about how many of the stall holders were sincere and how many were con-artists.

Many had signs with no real evidence to support their assertions and many of those assertions looked plausible to people with no medical or scientific background.


Some of them had interesting looking graphs and professional looking signs which I guess counts as their version of evidence:

Some of them didn’t make any sense at all but I know how to science, that’s most likely why I was so damned confused. I haven’t been that confused since I got a weird lesbian boner for Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor and the Avengers.

And some places like the one above, sell crystals. Polished gems and minerals for $5 a pop that apparently have “spiritual” properties that somehow do the same thing as medication and doctors.


There was a psychic at the convention whose main selling point was that she had won the “Psychic of the Year Award”, wouldn’t she have seen it coming? It wouldn’t be a very exciting award ceremony. Psychics are the epitome of exploiting gullible people.

There were also chiropractors and reiki “healers”, a few stalls were for iridologists – the peddlers of the quack diagnosis. Several stalls were set up for people selling jewellery that could “balance your chakras”. Chakras as you may or may not know is another term for “vital energy”, if that “vital energy” is somehow unbalanced, it can caused a whole heap of problems mentally and physically. There were people selling jewellery that could balance your chakras which apparently can lead to better health.

I have a necklace at home with a gem in it and it doesn’t do fuck all for my Irritable Bowl Syndrome, what kind of satanic ritual do I need to do to bless my necklace with the power to control my digestive system?  If “chakra balancing” worked – one would think they have a moral duty to tell hospitals to help people with illnesses.

I’m going to explore more in-depth about chiropractors, iridologists and reiki healers in later blogs. Chiropractors, much like homeopaths and acupuncturists have attempted to set themselves up as a legit form of treatment even though it has been built on top of pure bullshit. I don’t care if your back pain disappeared when a chiropractor in a cheap lab coat pressed on your spine – the foundations of chiropractic are bullshit. Pseudoscience is still pseudoscience even if someone has had a magic massage from a quack in a coat which made their pain disappear.

I think my favourite stall of the entire day was a tie between the aura photography stall and the MetaTherapy stall:


Aura photography. Something so easily debunked a four-year old could do it. $50 to get a photograph of your aura. I’ll also look at this one a bit more in a later blog.

I didn’t get a chance to be scanned at the MetaTherapy stall but if this explanation of what MetaTherapy is doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will:

Metatron is a revolutionary computer-non-linear scanner that provides extremely accurate diagnosis of any energetic disturbance within the person. Once the Metatron locates energetic disturbance, it continues to seek for root cause of the disrupted energy flow to cellular level and even to chromosomes and gene level also. After completing the analysis, Metatron stimulates body’s healing process by using Metatherapy. The Metatron records the condition of the treatments and allows the practitioner to compare the before and after changes.

At least I had one question answered that day.

For more in the Woo and Lament series, check out
Woofest 2014: The Beginning.
Woofest 2014: Episode 2: Quack diagnosis
Woofest 2014: Episode 3: Psychics playing the “Mystery Card”
Woofest 2014: Episode 4: A story in tweets

If you like some of the things I say – feel free to add me to your RSS feed, comment or email me: rayne@insufferableintolerance.com. I now have a Facebook page! Feel free to like my page by clicking here

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24 Responses to Woo and Lament Series: Woofest 2014 – Episode 1: The Beginning

  1. Luiz says:

    I agree with everything, except with this: “I don’t care if your back pain disappeared when a chiropractor in a cheap lab coat pressed on your spine”.

    You should care. We shouldn’t so easily disregard anything that can improve people’s quality of life. There’s a thin line between being a skpetic and being as close-minded as the women inserting crystals in their vaginas.

    • yooperskeptic says:

      I’m inclined to agree with you, Luiz. Rayne is right as rain (har) in this article, except for lumping (all) chiropractic in with the woo. There is substantial empirical evidence for the efficacy of chiropractic.

    • Gazzer says:

      No. This is why we have double-blind trials through evidence-based medicine. Anecdote alone is meaningless. It’s what led to blood-letting surviving for centuries (killing George Washington along the way).

      The reason the author doesn’t care is that despite the anecdotes it’s already been shown through such double-blind experiments to be nothing more than placebo. Researchers look to anecdote all the time to decide whether a treatment is worth investigating more deeply but the anecdotes themselves are meaningless without context.

      • Luiz says:

        I’m not saying all chiropractic is legit. I’m saying there might be something in there we can take and apply to real medicine.
        Same for acupunture. It is reported to have had amazing benefits on animals (so no placebo), so MAYBE there is something in there as well. Again, not saying it’s all legit. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be so eager to disregard everything and keep an open mind.

        • Eirik says:

          You seem to be missing the point. Neither acupuncture and chiropractic practices when subjected to proper testing regimes are able to document any measurable effect compared to well documented practices of physical therapy and even massages.

          If acupuncture and chiropractic practices simply stated what they are objectively able to achieve – and nothing more – it wouldn’t be a problem. The problem arise when they both over-promise on what benefits one can expect from them.

        • Paolo says:

          “Reported amazing benefits, so no placebo”….do you even science? Do you know how a trial works in medicine? You don’t just have to see if there is an effect, but if the effect is higher than the one obtained with a placebo or with the other therapies available.. For acupuncture and chiropractic this effect has been shown as equal to placebo.. Sorry for my English if there was any mistakes.

        • Rod says:

          You’re also disregarding the risks involved in having spinal “adjustments.” There are some bad cases out there, including babies. The risks don’t out weigh any benefits you might get from a massage somewhere, or better yet, go see a doctor (e.g. sports medicine doctor).

  2. Trainfriend says:

    I don’t understand your dismissal of chiropractic. Can you explain to me why it’s bullshit pseudoscience? I’ve never heard of it being called anything less than legitimate medical therapy. I have scoliosis and go to the chiropractors every month and a half. There’s never anything remotely pseudo or spiritual and the explanations for my pain make sense (although admittedly I have not read into it myself). It was made aware to me that the therapy is not a “fix” but an “aid”, and I am both more flexible and in less pain after treatment.

    • sara says:

      Chiropractic was originally created by Daniel David Palmer, who was a grocer…and also into metaphysics and other mumbo jumbo. He claimed to cure someone’s deafness and then clained he could cure everything with his methods. Sound familiar?

      • Trainfriend says:

        Not really… No. You haven’t answered my question and you’ve glazed over the fact that chiropractic works. There’s definitely some foul play if you go to a chiropractors because you’re deaf but, and I speak from experience, chiropractic has done wonders for my back.

        • Eirik says:

          I think this Wikipedia paragraph sums it up in a pretty balanced way; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiropractic#Controversy

          This article from the official website of National Health Service, also pretty much sums it up: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/chiropractic/Pages/evidence.aspx

          “A 2011 Cochrane review of studies of chiropractic intervention – treatments offered by chiropractors, including spinal manipulation – found that it is not possible to confirm or refute that chiropractic treatments are any more effective than conventional treatments for persistent lower back pain.

          Conventional treatments include painkillers, exercise and physiotherapy. Physiotherapists may sometimes offer a similar treatment approach to chiropractors.”

          So, it works – for lower back pains only – but not in any way better than a lot of conventional treatments. If chiropractors claim that they can offer you the same service as these conventional treatments for lower back pains – no problem! The PROBLEM is that a lot of chiropractics claim they offer a unique and better service, and for medical areas that they have been proven not to be able to treat.

        • joe says:

          hi Trainfriend, i am sorry but anecdotel evidence counts for nothing.reiki therapy is not plausible and unable to benefit any known illness. the only benefit it has is lining the practioners pockets with money.

  3. Will says:

    This guy is simply an arse hole or at the least, mentally ill. All points immediately invalidated by extreme levels of sycophantic douche baggery.

    • Mike says:

      You mean the author? Maybe he/she can borrow your life crystals and get back on the right track.

    • ChakraChaos says:

      Sycophantic? Who in authority or power is he appealing to here? You provided a GREAT baseline for the behaviour you’re talking about with your extraordinarily insightful comment, but I think you over-reached your grammatical levels of comprehension. Try again.

  4. Felix Lu says:

    Well, the things about chiropractors — as far as I know (which may not be much) and have experienced, chiropractors basically operate this way: they take a x-ray, show you a model of the spine and talk about pinch nerves, massage your back, crack your back (and doesn’t everyone’s back feel better after that crack?), bill you, and then say you’ll need about 26 more treatments to make things better. Well, *most* ailments tend to get better in the time frame of those 26 or so treatments – so is the chiropractor actually doing anything to help the healing process? Who knows? They want you to think it does. But where is the evidence? Where is the theory (accepted and peer reviewed) that explains this method of healing? And why does it take so long? I have done acupuncture for back problems, and you know what? My back seemed to feel better after that, but did it help speed up the healing process? I don’t know, probably not. It still took several months before I started to feel better. The thing is, from what I have seen, read and heard, I believe that most chiropractors actually believe that they are truly helping people (and not just out to scam people). Not sure how to interpret that…gullible and not well trained in the scientific method?
    If there is something to “chiropractic medicine” – why is it still considered “alternative”? and not mainstream?

  5. Jo says:

    I see a chiropractor for relief of pain from some old broken bones. He took me from 8 aspirin/day to 6 aspirin/week. This when the MD couldn’t find a problem and could only offer stronger pain pills. The guy I use only does pain management. He does not claim to treat anything else. I don’t care if its placebo effect, I’ll take it. A previous chiropractor claimed he could cure my hay fever through spine manipulation. That’s why I switched chiropractors.

    I agree with you that auras and crystals and the rest of the new-age stuff is nonsense.

  6. Cormac Kelly says:

    Chiro is not really known as woo in Aus. I blame sporting clubs. To be clear you can’t study Chiro at a university (any reputable ones). You get your qualification alongside homeopaths and naturopaths. If you want to see a specialist go to a physio, they study actual science.

  7. Peanut says:

    I’ve never visited a chiropractor who claimed to treat anything other than my back/body pain and headaches. I’ve also never met one that claimed to ‘cure’ any conditions. None have insisted on an extended course of care beyond “see me once more this week, and book in for next week if you feel the need.” The office I go to currently is shared between chiros and massage therapists. No woo in sight.

  8. Rod says:

    I love all the people here going to bat for chiropractors. Whatever your experience is doesn’t change the FACT that tons of studies have been done (read double-blind duplicated experiments) that confirm what everyone already knew. Chiros are quacks at the least and cons at the worst. I also feel good when I work out, strengthen the muscles around my joints, keep my body fat low, and my cardio in shape. It’s not a coincidence that chiros have been banned in the UK.

  9. Pingback: » Woo and Lament Series: Woofest 2014 – Episode 2: Quack diagnosis

  10. Pingback: » Woo and Lament: Woofest 2014: Episode 4: A story in tweets

  11. joe says:

    when i was a young lad, my father, who migrated from Europe during ww2, told me that there are a lot of stupid people in the world, i of course thought that my father was wrong i mean he could hardly speak English but now all these years later i can see what my father was talking about, i myself can not believe how many stupid people are into alternative medicine, even Steve Jobs, sorry for doubting you dad.

  12. Pingback: » Woo and Lament Series: Woofest 2014 – Episode 3: Psychics playing the “Mystery Card”

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