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Science cranks

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

“Therapy babble” is an irritating combination of jargon, bafflegab, pseudoscience, and abused science that sounds impressive but means little, and it’s particularly common in alternative health care. Science cranks are a significant sub-species of therapy babbler. They have a lot of admirably sincere enthusiasm about science, which sets them apart from most other therapy babblers, who are merely paying lip service to science. The crank is truly keen on science, but just isn’t any good at it — downright terrible, actually.

Just like conspiracy theorists seem a bit brain-glitchy, like they might have a mild form of mental illness (because they probably do), so too science cranks exhibit some suspiciously consistent types of reasoning problems, which might be more about malfunctions than mere mistakes. They suffer from crippling confusion about the relevance and weight of ideas. To them, whatever they aim their attention at is significant, nothing that seems similar is a coincidence, and the scientific method is basically just identifying superficial connections and blowing them way out of proportion. Speculation is always good enough.

After languishing in my drafts file for about eight years, I finally added this train of thought about science crankery to, a small new section of:


Over the years, I have received many pain-cure pitches from delusional cranks who believe that they have a lock on a cure for “all” or “most” chronic pain. Some of them, rather than being pissed at me for my anti-quackery activism, are so delusional that think I’ll be impressed by their theory. They might hope that they can woo me (pun intended), and many are obviously hoping to recruit me to become an evangelist for their nonsense. Some are more condescending, and probably don’t think I’m likely to see the light, but it can’t hurt to try, right? They all remind me of kooky inventors who are convinced that they have a perpetual motion machine.

The following is surely the apotheosis of this phenomenon. This is a transcribed voice mail, presented it to you here for your amusement and amazement, in the form of a free verse poem. The emphasis is mostly mine for dramatic effect, but not entirely — he was definitely hitting some of these words as hard as the capitals imply. Behold the dazzling ego!

found you on the net by accident
I would love to have a discussion with you about TRUE pain healing science
which is non-medical
which apparently you have no been made aware of
I am an expert in it, I’ve written a book on it, I’ve done the work
I’ve healed migraines, dozens, actually hundreds of them
in less than 20 minutes!
very, very, very easy to do WHEN you understand the TRUE science
not the medical science, which is nonsense
but true quantum science, quantum physics, biophysics, epigenetics!
that kind of thing, you know
I’d love to have a talk with you to help you understand how REAL science is helping people to heal pain
not just cope with it
and I am the expert on it
and I do this work around the world
I’m not a flake, I’m not some kind of weirdo
and I’d love to share this with you
and maybe I’ll enlighten you a bit on how things really work on this planet
when you look at the ADVANCED science

What a truly classic example of a “science crank”! This was added to:

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