One of the most practical uses of critical thinking in everyday life is ferreting out fraudulent or
nonsensical claims made by advertisers, media pundits, political figures and religious leaders. You might be surprised to hear this, but a great deal of the claims that you hear coming from these people when it comes to health, beauty, diet and even the environment are total nonsense without a shred of proof or evidence backing up what they are saying.
In other words, you are being lied to. A lot.
It’s totally gross that this goes on, right? But you want to know what is more gross? That we let ourselves fall for it simply because we aren’t paying attention or don’t know what to look for that will tell us when we are looking at pseudoscience.
Pseudoscience? What’s that?
Pseudoscience literally means fake or phony science. If you didn’t learn much about science in school and just think it’s what you see on CSI or in the movies, you could get some very weird ideas about what scientists actually do all day.
You’re likely to believe that charlatans like Deepak Chopra actually understand something about quantum theory simply because he throws around scientific words like cosmic, evolution, transformation or synchronicity.
You mean the synchronicity of my cosmic transformation is not part of evolution?
Or you might fall for buying that new diet pill that Dr Oz is pushing because he has the letters M.D. after his name and therefore anything he says must be sound and rational. As a doctor, he is a man of science, right?
Oh, absolutely. Dr Oz would never use flowery language in order to do anything as crass as make money.
This stuff is all around us every day and far too many people are falling for it. But the good news is that you don’t need a PhD in order to know when you are looking at real science and real facts.
I thought it might be fun to demonstrate a very easy and specific way to recognize when you are looking at pseudoscientific claims. There are lots of ways to do this, actually, and once you start spotting them, you’re going to find it easier and easier to see.
How bad of a problem is this? Well, the truth is that buying into some of the pseudoscience that is being peddled today can actually kill you. So it’s a really good idea to find out more about this and learn how to spot it when you see it.
Scientology’s Purification Program
For a pretty blatant example of pseudoscience, I’m going to talk about Scientology’s Purification Rundown.
As is pretty well known now, Scientology is a destructive cult that uses many thought-stopping and mind-numbing techniques to get people to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy their “Bridge to Total Freedom”, offering spiritual salvation in exchange for complete loyalty and routinely giving the Church exorbitant amounts of money for no return whatsoever.
However, there is another aspect of Scientology that hasn’t really been examined as much and that is the pseudoscientific claims its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, made in many of his books and lectures.
The Purification Rundown is sold as a detoxification program. Within the church, They claim that it is not being done for the purposes of handling a person’s body, but that toxic materials in the body impede a person’s spiritual growth.
Proof for that claim? Ummmmm…yeah…don’t see any.
The Purification Rundown is also used in Scientology’s secular drug rehabilitation program, Narconon, to supposedly get drugs and other toxins out of a person’s body so that they will be free from their debilitating effects and will no longer want to take drugs.
That kind of sounds like handling a person’s body to me.
Now as a person not trained in science, you could look at the materials that describe how to do the Purification Rundown and you’d be faced with literally a whole book worth of information. There are doctor’s recommendations and reviews and the material sounds impressive enough.
But here’s the thing. Look at the words and phrases that are being used to describe the claims being made.
There are words in any language that are used to express uncertainty or possibility. Examples of the kinds of words I’m talking about are:
If I say that LSD could remain in the cells of a body after a person has taken it, I’m not really making a definite claim that this is true. It’s the same if I say that LSD can lodge itself in the fat tissues of a person’s body.
It could. I mean…it might.
Exactly. It might. Then again, it might not. And that’s the point. It’s ambiguous and if you really break it down, it’s not saying anything.
Language is very important when you are examining the claims being made by anyone. The words I listed earlier are not used to state definite facts. But a person could read these statements as facts and think that LSD crystals are definitely lodged in their fatty tissues and that they need to do something to get them out.
Get out. Get out.
The words that are chosen are used on purpose so that the people who are making these claims can’t be sued or held liable.
So am I nitpicking one or two statements or claims about the Purification Rundown?
Everyone knows that critical thinkers are just nitpickers.
Not quite. Let’s take a look and see.
I went through and found every example where these words are being used to express vague possibility rather than exact fact, where the meaning is actually ambiguous in order to create an impression different than what the words actually mean.
Here are three examples from within just the first seven pages of the text:
[in reference to food additives] From research on these “enhancers” and “preservers,” it appears that a number of them are quite toxic, and the whole subject of food additives and preservatives has become a matter of concern to many people.
[in reference to perfume] Findings seem to bear out that these chemicals, floating about in the local supermarket as “fragrances” are actually toxic and can end up in the food products sold there.
The most likely place for a toxic substance to lock up is in the fatty tissue. It has been said
that in middle age and past middle age, a body’s ability to break down fat lessens. So here we
have, apparently, a situation of toxic substances locked up in fatty tissue and the fatty tissue is
not actually getting broken down, and so such toxic substances could accumulate.
The most likely? It has been said?
Yeah, these are not very definitive statements. The truth is that we could just as easily remove these statements entirely because they aren’t saying anything definite or factual.
Here is all this flowery language about detoxification and removing poisons and harmful materials from your body so you can live a longer, healthier life, think more clearly and have more energy. But is that what it’s really saying? You need to read it carefully to be sure.
One also has to beware of just plain false information in the material. This is a lot harder to spot and requires that you do some fact checking. For example, Hubbard says this about LSD:
“…because it is basically wheat rust which simply cuts off circulation, my original thinking on this was that LSD must remain in the body.”
To the uninformed, this may sound like an interesting and educated statement but the truth is that LSD is a synthetically created chemical which has nothing to do with wheat rust and it has no direct effect on the heart or circulatory system. No one knows exactly why it creates the effects it creates because serious scientific studies haven’t been done on how LSD affects the brain, but they do know that it’s not because it cuts off circulation. One educated guess is that LSD works similarly to serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain which regulates mood, appetite, muscle control and sensory perception, but NO ONE is claiming this is a scientific fact.
The cause of LSD flashbacks isn’t known either. But you don’t have to know what causes something in order to rule out what is NOT causing it. We know that LSD is not stored in the fat cells of the body and it doesn’t therefore get re-released into the body months or years after it’s taken. That IS an established fact. So that shoots all of Hubbard’s theories about how the Purification Rundown works right down the drain.
As far as pseudoscience goes, here is another kind of statement that you should also be watching for when it comes to these kinds of quack practices or products. By law, they have to include what’s called a disclaimer. In the Purification Program, here is what they say:
“There are no medical recommendations or claims made for the program. The only claim is future spiritual improvement.
“The data contained herein is a record of researches and results noted; it cannot be construed as a recommendation for medical treatment or medication, and is undertaken or delivered by any individual on his own responsibility.”
What does future spiritual improvement even mean?
What it means is that the only thing they are saying you are going to get out of this potentially life-threatening program is that at some point in the future your soul is going to be happier for you having done it.
Wait, what? Life threatening?
What I’ve said about flowery and ambiguous language applies to any kind of pseudoscientific nonsense that you may see peddled on TV, the internet or other media. Watch for these and you will have a good heads-up so you don’t get cheated or conned.
But since this video is talking specifically about Scientology’s Purification Program, I need to take a moment and warn you about the actual dangers of this. Because the Purification Program is not just about taking some harmless vitamins or being bilked out of a couple of thousand dollars. It actually is not founded in any kind of evidence-based science and it could cause major medical problems to anyone who is doing it.
The two key elements of the Purification Program are taking mega-doses of niacin and sweating for five hours a day in a sauna. It may surprise you, but neither of these activities are actually doing anything to detoxify your body of drug substances such as LSD or alcohol.
The reason I can say this is because it’s been well established that LSD and alcohol are water-soluble substances which your body completely rids itself of within just a few hours of ingesting them. This has been known about for decades and if Hubbard had done any real research, he would have known that. Instead, he claims to have had a conversation with a Portuguese doctor about fat deposits found in dead people and somehow figured from this that drugs and chemicals are permanently stored in fat cells your body. There is no evidence in his materials that Hubbard did any further experimentation or gathered any other evidence to back up his claims.
Is that good science?
Just to point out an obvious example of why this is ridiculous, when a person is doing the Purification Program they are taking doses of vitamins every day that far exceed the doses of LSD or marijuana a person usually takes to get high. So why don’t those vitamins get lodged in the fatty tissues of the body and stay there forever?
According to Hubbard’s theory, wouldn’t it make sense that if a chemical like LSD was being stored in your body forever, that a chemical like ascorbic acid (vitamin C flashes on screen) or cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) or a substance like retinol (vitamin A) would also be stored forever too? Why would it only be recreational drugs and harmful toxic substances that the body would hold on to?
The truth is that there has never been any evidence that drugs stay in your body forever. Drugs are simply chemicals and the human body is extremely good at breaking down chemicals and ejecting them when it’s done using them. That is what digestion and metabolism are all about. Millions of years of evolution have made our bodies quite good at it. Sure, there are some people who have abnormalities and problems with their metabolism, but those are the exception and not the rule.
It’s a commonly believed myth that all cells in the body are replaced every seven years, but that’s not true. What is true is that cells die off and get replaced and different kinds of cells deteriorate at different rates. According to a 2008 study done in Sweden, every year 10% of your fat cells die, no matter how fat or thin you are or how much weight you are gaining or losing. And every year, those cells that die are replaced with new fat cells. So if the old fat cells did contain LSD or other drug toxins – they don’t, but if they did – they’d be naturally replaced out.
Aaaaaaand, that’s science.
On the Purification Program, niacin is taken at doses of up to 5,000 milligrams a day. Hubbard observed that niacin can create a red flush and deduced, incorrectly, that this meant that radiation was being discharged from the body. Again, if he had done any real research to find evidence for his pet theory, he would have discovered that the flush niacin produces is due simply to the fact that it dilates blood vessels. That flush is just a side effect. Niacin is used in much smaller doses to actually treat high cholesterol. He also would have found ou that you can overdose on niacin and if you do, the following can occur:
severe skin flushing combined with dizziness
nausea and vomiting
In addition, a person on the Purification Program is put into a sauna where the temperatures can be as high
as 180 degrees and they are encouraged to stay in for as long as they can stand it. What can that do? well,
here are the symptoms of heat exhaustion:
muscle cramps and muscle pain
dizziness and lightheadedness
If not treated, a person could then experience heat stroke, which includes the following new symptoms:
rapid heart rate
loss of coordination
confusion and restlessness
Now if someone were indoctrinated to believe that they were going to experience drug trips or flashbacks in
the sauna, could they mistake some of these dangerous and even life-threatening symptoms of heat exhaustion
and heat stroke for a drug trip? Of course they could. And the result of that could be disasterous for
their immediate and long-term health. If these are not handled properly, it could even result in death.
Even if nothing bad happened and they recovered from these symptoms, they could still mistakenly think they
had just run out some kind of drug from their body when in fact, they simply overheated themselves.
The people who deliver the Purification Rundown in churches of Scientology are not required to do any
medical training of any kind. The only materials they are required to study are those written by L. Ron
Hubbard. Should heat exhaustion or heat stroke symptoms appear, they too could mistake those symptoms for
drug trips or flashbacks, which is what they expect to see, and they could even send a person experiencing
these symptoms back into the sauna to “run out the drugs”.
How do I know this? Because one of the jobs I used to do when I worked for the Church was delivering
Purification Rundowns. I realize now that I had no idea what I was doing.
Is Pseudoscience Really worth the Risk?
It’s amazing that it requires 8-12 solid years of education for someone to become a medical professional,
yet somehow all that learning and discipline is discounted by the general public in an instant when some
quack utters m agic words like “ancient wisdom” or “alternative medicine”.
No one ever claimed that medicine is an exact science that works 100% of the time. But at least in the
world of science and reality, there is evidence and testing and thousands of hours of research done before
any of it is unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Not so with pseudoscience.
There are very sound and evidence-based medical principles behind detoxifying a human body. None of these
principles are evident in Hubbard’s untested pseudoscientific approach.
It takes but a minute to make any claim you want. It takes years to back up those claims with real research
Before you put your health or your very life into someone else’s hands, make sure they know what they are
talking about and have done the hard work necessary to back up their claims.
Thank you for watching.