A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Thursday 20 November 2008

The Woo Promoters of Leicestershire County Council

I've always been slightly annoyed by the mumbo-jumbo department in the local library.  While I can understand it in a bookshop (their only job is to sell books), a library should be a centre for spreading knowledge - not superstition.

All the books I could find on psychic ability promote it as something that exists.  All the books on alternative medicine are extremely positive about it's efficacy. There is no critical thought whatsoever.

Finally I got round to (trying to) get something done about it.  With, so far, the predictable lack of success.  Of course that won't stop me trying.  To be honest, I love the argument.

Below are my series of letters to Leicestershire County Council Libraries.  I'll carry on adding to this post as they continue to go back and forth.

Reader Development Team
929-931 Loughborough Road

Dear ,

The new Oadby Library premises look fantastic, and the longer opening hours will mean I will be using the library much more often. I have a few comments, however, on the book selection.

The Oadby Library has an excellent selection of non-fiction books on the subject of the Holocaust.

In the photo below there are 2 piles of books from the Oadby Library. On the right are all the books I found relating to the Holocaust that support the view taken by historical experts. On the left is the pile of books promoting the pseudo-history that the Holocaust did not happen. There are zero books in this pile.

I completely agree with this approach, but why doesn’t the library provide books showing both viewpoints? There are many Holocaust-deniers out there, so why is the library not providing for their views too?  I’d hope that the answer to this question is that it is the library’s responsibility to help educate. Providing books promoting Holocaust denial would be mis-education, and therefore not only a wilful neglect of the library’s responsibility, but a deliberate attempt to spread ignorance.

Why doesn’t the library take this same approach throughout its non-fiction section?

Unlike your excellent Holocaust section, the Oadby Library has some sections where:
  • The selection of books relating to specific subjects is extremely biased.
  • The bias is drastically in opposition to the scientific consensus.
  • Some books provide false information that is potentially harmful to the reader, in some cases to the point where it would be illegal to provide the same information in an advertisement.
  • That in health, the science-based information is mixed up with the information proven to be false by science.
From a brief browse around the library, I have found significant bias against the scientific consensus exists within the following subjects:
  • Alternative Medicine
  • Nutrition
  • Psychic Ability
  • Ghosts
However, to keep this letter to a (semi)readable length I’m going to tackle Alternative Medicine and Psychic Ability only.

Alternative Medicine
The pile of books on the left goes against the scientific consensus. The pile on the right is in favour of the scientific consensus. There are zero books in this pile.

Within the health section, there are books on both “conventional” and “alternative” medicine. Science is extremely important in being able to determine which medicine (alternative or otherwise) works and which does not. While the “conventional” medicine books are generally good and based upon science, why is there so much anti-science bias on the subject of “alternative” medicine?

There are many excellent books available on this subject:
  • Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial, by Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst
  • Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre
  • Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All, by Rose Shapiro
  • Placebo, by Dylan Evans
  • Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, by John Diamond
  • Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by R. Barker Bausell
Some of the alternative health books on the library shelves make specific claims about alternative health products that:
  • Have no evidence for their efficacy whatsoever.
  • Have been conclusively shown to be false by scientific experiment.
  • Would be illegal for an alternative health practitioner to advertise or claim.
  • Are potentially dangerous to the reader if they believe them.
The book “Family Guide to Complementary and Conventional Medicine” is particularly dangerous. Not only does it give advice that would be illegal to be given by a practitioner under consumer protection law, but it also makes claims that would be illegal under The Cancer Act 1939:

Psychic Ability
The pile of books on the left goes against the scientific consensus. The pile on the right is in favour of the scientific consensus. There are no books on the right. 

There are many fantastic books on the subject of psychics supporting the scientific consensus. Why is there such extreme bias? There are many excellent books available that cover the subject:
  • The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, by Ian Rowland
  • The Truth about Uri Geller, by James Randi
  • The Naked Quack: Exposing the Many Ways Phony Psychics and Mediums Cheat You! by The Psychics
  • "Psychic" Wendy
  • The Psychic Mafia, by M.Lamar Keene & Allen Spragg
  • Deception and Self-deception: Investigating Psychics, by Richard Wiseman
  • Flim-Flam, by James Randi
  • Confessions of a Medium, Anonymous
  • Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants, by Richard Wiseman
  • Tricks of the Mind, by Derren Brown
  • Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer
People have different opinions on what is true and what is not. For this reason, we have science. Science has no interest in people’s opinion - it is only interested in the dispassionate search for what is true.

The library does not have books denying the Holocaust in its history section for good reason - it would be against the library’s function if it was to help spread such ignorance.

I’d like to ask why, in sections on psychic ability and alternative medicine, does the library take the exact opposite approach?

I look forward to your reply.

No comments: