If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A lot of nonscience

A lot of nonscience floats like smog in the cyberspace. This morning, I came across a post containing seven sets of statements, two of which I’m quoting below: 
  1. THEY SAID the sun will give you cancer. THE TRUTH IS exposure to sun will generate Vitamin D which will protect you from cancer.
  2. THEY SAID vaccines will protect you. THE TRUTH IS most vaccines contain thimerosal (mercury), and that will kill you.
I am inclined to believe this originated in the US of A, because in no other country would you come across such glorious heights scientific and intellectual creativity coexisting with such deep pits of ignorance and stupidity.

Let’s take the first statement above. I don’t think there is any scientific evidence that a twenty-minute exposure to the sun causes cancer. On the contrary, physicians routinely prescribe this for people who suffer from osteoporosis as sunlight helps our body synthesize Vitamin D, which in turn helps absorption of calcium. And I think it is also common knowledge that there is some correlation between skin cancer and prolonged exposure to the sun. So the poster I am referring to contains a half-truth, which we all know, is more dangerous than complete lies. It implies that any amount of exposure to the sun is good. And that’s a most pernicious message.

I respect the author’s right to believe what they believe, but if anyone spreads such questionable science without an iota of supporting evidence, we must politely tell them they are talking rubbish. You might think why I am reacting so strongly to an innocuous poster. But is irrationality really harmless?

Moving on to a different theatre, on the Kolkata Metro, I see on an average four out of ten people wearing on their fingers multiple gemstones that will supposedly help them overcome myriad problems of life, from failure in exams to failure in extra-marital affairs. On a serious note, if you, as an individual, believe in astrology, I have no problem. I would respect your beliefs. But collectively, if we calculate how many millions are being cheated by the humbug propagated by the astrology industry, the mind boggles. And it may not be difficult to guess why this business is so successful.

Superstition perhaps has a natural appeal to the human mind precisely because of its irrationality. It is not surprising that this post I just mentioned has been shared by a whopping 655 people. When we choose to believe something that is not supported by evidence, we are relieved of the mental stress of analysing issues. It’s a lot easier to believe than to collect evidence, analyse them, and to reach a reasoned conclusion. Unquestioning faith is also a part of the Hindu religion, of which willy nilly, we are a part. But the problem is that like in Ibsen’s Enemy of the People or Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyaya’s Devi, blind faith often leads us to untold misery. And it doesn’t stop there.

Many people in India today believe that a man, who built his political constituency by actively supervising the lynching of Muslims he was duty-bound to protect, will solve all the problems of India. I think this is as irrational as implying that the sun is generally harmful or vaccines are generally dangerous. In fact, the two beliefs might just be two sides of the same coin.

Kolkata / 19 Feb 2014


  1. Respected Sir, last three-four paragraphs are repetition , please rectify it.
    Sir, I love your way of writing and will hope to acquire it one day.Even when I am not able to understand the meaning of some words but way of communicating a particular topic by you is so powerful that it feel like a gain, an enlightenment.Knowing your view about Mr. Modi, is a relief for me. I have same notion about him but I always find myself as odd man out when I try to bring forward my prospective about him at any public discussion.Anyway I can see a ray of hope in views of a rational person (according to my belief) like you.I must accept that you made my morning. Please write more often.

    1. Thanks Sudhanshu, for this. The present regime in Delhi is obnoxious, but a government by the Hindu Brotherhood might be worse. In my own small way, I want to involve people in a conversation, mainly on Facebook, but also on my blog. I am happy that you have joined the conversation. I am not saying you should agree with me, but let's all THINK!

  2. Thats quite thoughtful and logical. Thanks fr sharing it as it makes sense and people are bound to think on this issues.

  3. The Godman fascination is growing among the rich and the poor as well. Even the Scientists launch rockets afer breaking a coconut,a doctor starts one major surgery, after praying before some gods or godman. Iam not naming the present PM or any great PMs, but some adore them, some hates them, but see they are/were all human being with some pre-installed or intused beliefs (whether good or bad or even meaningless. And we cannot simply sit and praise or curse them. I thing social media has much to do.Beyond political beliefs /beyond superstitions /beyond pre-installed notions/beyond cast and creed.If one injures a cow he is being beaten, If one eats his like-foods, it is banning by laws. It is not the wish of the majority. Democracy itself has lost its meaning. Out of 100, 70 % votes. 4 groups gets (A.gr)30 +15=45 & (B.Gr) bags 28+21=49 and Indep=6. Which coaliation will rule in a democracy. Who will make laws for the people?Pls think.


I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.