368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic
What are your questions? (FAQ)
1. Didn't these people bring it on themselves?
Some might argue that a lack of critical thinking is its own punishment. Doesn't someone deserve to befall a bad fate if they proceed thoughtlessly? If you are asking this question, please read this page of names of children. Many of them died through no fault of their own, from easily preventable illnesses. Among the adults elsewhere on the site are many who are unwilling victims of things like belief in witchcraft.
Unwilling victims notwithstanding, we firmly believe in the principle of not blaming the victim. Many people come by their assumptions or beliefs not by conscious choice, but by societal forces, parental ignorance, or other forms of indoctrination. Who is to say that any one of these victims might have been persuaded to drop their irrational beliefs, had they been reached in time?
2. Isn't using anecdotes as evidence a logical fallacy?
Yes it is, and that's good critical thinking! Yes, these anecdotes don't really "prove" anything. However, many proponents of unsupportable information will offer only anecdotes in support. When you encounter someone pushing bad information, perhaps you can offer some of these stories in reply. It's not a true rebuttal, but it might get their attention!
That having been said, we do attempt to limit the stories we post here to ones that can be documented well, either with extensive mainstream media coverage or scientific research. Speaking of which, be sure to check the scientific studies page, which lists only those cases backed by some sort of study or scientific report.
3. Weren't some of these harms caused by something else entirely?
One could argue that the bad thinking itself did not directly cause the harm in many of these stories. For example, if someone dies of cancer while pursuing a quack therapy, it is the cancer that killed them, correct? Perhaps that would have happened in any case. The choice of treatment might then be irrelevant.
We disagree. We have tried to use something close to the legal standard of proximate cause here. Ask yourself, did the bad thinking or belief put the person in a situation where a bad outcome was more likely than otherwise? If so, then we think that person was harmed by it, even if the direct cause of the harm was something else entirely.
We also encourage you to read the essay "How Quackery Harms Cancer Patients" on the QuackWatch website.
4. Aren't some of these cases simply malpractice?
Indeed, some are. But you can still apply the lessons to your own life. For each professional practitioner you see (medical or otherwise) have you independently verified any or all of the following?
Part of being a critical thinker is taking nothing for granted. Much of this information is easily verifiable without taking the practitioner's word for it.
5. Who are you? Why did you create this site?
My name is Tim Farley, and I am a software engineer who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I created the site myself. It is not sponsored by any organization and does not pursue any hidden agenda, other than promoting critical thinking.
I created the site to help educate the public about the power of critical thinking, and the danger of neglecting it. It is a personal project.
This site is about critical thinking. Critical thinking is a powerful tool to sort through bad information. If the general public uses this tool more effectively, misinformation and practices based on it will be abandoned and fall naturally by the wayside. Regulation would then become irrelevant.
Some people write to the site and ask why I am against one of the topics listed here, usually something they are in favor of. I am against anything that is based on or promoted via misinformation. That covers many of the topics on this site, but not all of them.
Other topics are listed here because people take them to extremes or misuse them in various ways. For example clearly I am not against the internet, or else why would I have a website? Similarly I am not against GPS systems, vegetarianism or home childbirth.
Based on the email we get, some of that bears repeating. To repeat: this site is not opposed to vegetarianism. Read the material on that page carefully including all of the links.
What I am against is people engaging in these practices (particularly for philosophical or religious reasons) without carefully considering risks and otherwise doing proper homework. You should always avail yourself of the best information you can before you make any important decision.
The search function is provided by Google, and many misinformation web sites advertise using Google's AdSense advertising program. Naturally, the terms used on this site often trigger their search terms. At this time Google only allows up to 200 sites to be filtered from advertising placed on a site, but there are thousands upon thousands of these ads.
Rather than do a partial job of filtering the nonsense ads, we have decided to not filter them at all. You will note however that the ads only appear on search results, not on the other pages of the site.
You should take the prevalence of these ads as a lesson in the power of misinformation. There are people who spend great amounts of money to push bad information out to the public, this is just one small example.
Don't make the mistake of comparing anecdotes with data. The cases on this website are culled manually from news reports by a very small group of volunteers on their free time. As a result the totals do not represent any sort of scientific approach to the issues covered here, and are not even close to being comprehensive. They are only meant to be give you a rough idea of the size of the problem. In fact, we believe that the cases seen here represent a mere tip of the iceberg.
Other reasons that the totals shown here could be misleading:
Bottom line: we believe there is a real problem represented by these stories. The true size of that problem is still undetermined. (See also question 2 above for a related discussion).
If you are aware of relevant cases that we do not have listed here, please tell us about them. See the contact page for more information on how to do this.
If you wish to support us financially, take a visit to the What's The Harm store and if you see something you like, purchase it. We get a small commission on each item that you buy.