Woo – Patterns and Warning Signs

January 17, 2008 at 1:24 pm (Alternative Medicine, Homeopathy, Quantum, Woo) (, , , , , )

Occasionally, patterns can be seen in woo. Sometimes different strands of woo seem to be linked. (I’m not sure why – I suppose I could always ask a sociologist, though). I’ll have a very brief look at a couple of these patterns now.

I haven’t linked to the following sites, as they already get more publicity than is warranted. For instance, the (anti-vaccination) JABS forum seems to be populated mainly by homeopaths – who believe in things like Quantum Touch healing, QLink pendants and the Archangel Metatron (honestly – I am not making this up). Homeopath bloggers often seem to be involved in some other controversial/non-mainstream area – such as HIV/AIDS denialism or claiming that vaccination and/or mercury are evil and give you autism or maybe they’re interested in the dangers of WiFi (this list could probably go on forever, but I’ll stop now).

Sometimes there are coincidences on seemingly the most random of things – like the colours used on woo websites (often green or some shade of pink or purple). Creative spelling also seems to be associated with woo. This page is a reasonable example of the use of “creative spelling”. I presume Alloo Pathy is some kind of curry. Don’t know who wrote the text for this page, but I feel they deserve some kind of reward. The Creative Spelling Badge, perhaps.

Often, woos will use scientific-sounding words in order to encourage you to believe that their particular brand of woo is intellectually rigorous. Or to baffle you. “Quantum” is especially popular. Just check these sites if you don’t believe me: Shpalman, Improbable Science, AP Gaylard’s blog, SciencePunk. The Quackometer QuackSafe Web Search Engine  came up with this page as the top result for ‘quantum’. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog has quite a few posts on homeopathy that contain the word quantum – on homeopathy, free energy and Danie Krugel’s magic DNA box.

Please feel free to post comments on your personal favourite woo warning signs (or your favourite cranky woo sites with poor spelling and a purple background). What I would really like is a venn diagram of woo. Or maybe something on the beast with seven bums.


  1. eveningperson said,

    ‘Resonance’ is an old favourite, and I’m baffled by the number of different (but entirely unquantifiable) forms of ‘energy’ that are claimed to be washing around the human body and the universe generally.

    ‘Vibration’ seems to be out of favour now (oh so 60s) but the coming word is ‘nano’, which seems to be used (a la Jeanette Winterson) to mean anything smaller than the user can visualise, without any concept of different orders of magnitude or understanding that ‘nano’ has a very specific meaning.

  2. Dr* T said,

    I would add to eveningperson’s thoughts and say that this is a real woo meme – taking a word with a very defined meaning and using it to describe whatever the dickens they happen to spouting at that time – nano is a classic example of that.

  3. wilsontown said,

    “Quantum” is a good one, too…

  4. jdc said,

    I can’t believe I didn’t include vibrational energies, resonance or nano. These are classic – thanks everyone!

    If you google nano +winterson, you get results for Quackometer, Science Punk and Improbable Science: “Winterson also falls for the latest fashion in homeopathic gobbledygook, to describe it as nanopharmacology. It isn’t nano, it’s zero.” I also spotted a letter in the Guardian responding to Winterson’s nano bullshit –

  5. apgaylard said,

    Thinking about your woos-of-a-feather-flock-together theme: health dowsing and homeopathy is an intersection that I’ve noticed.

  6. mugsandmoney said,

    I think the patterns run deeper than just bad spelling and poor colouring.
    – pretending to be “traditional” when their practice would be unrecognisable to a time traveller from a century or so back:
    – pretending to be medical by using the word “clinic” or the title “doctor”:
    – pretending to treat the whole patient when they have inadequate knowledge or skills to recognise serious illness:
    – cherrypicking of scientific techniques and terminology.

  7. dannychrastina said,

    I think it should be called “woonification”.

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