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Tuning in

On the train ride back from grading tonight, I made good inroads into Ben Goldacre's Bad Science. I was really enjoying it until I completely stumbled over a sentence that began "Throughout history".* Then, secure in an instance of shoddy history, I felt gullible. It's a book about reading critically, and that one phrase made me realize I'd been reading it uncritically. The rest of it may be entirely sound, but I'd fallen right into the collegial teacher-student relationship implied in its friendly, easy-to-read didacticism, and, being entertained, feel I failed to think.

On the bright side, I felt entirely tuned in yesterday when an insult delighted me. Two teenagers, passed me on the street in bright sunlight when, just past, one muttered, "Ginger nut". And I got it. I knew what it meant! I knew that it was meant to be an insult, and I not only knew that, but I was paying enough attention to hear it in the first place! I was proud of my cultural indoctrination, having been raised without this apparently frequent English baggage. Rarely are insults so pleasing.

* p. 64 "Throughout history, the placebo effect has been particularly well documented in the field of pain, and some of the stories are striking."


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 15th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
I'm curious now. What does "ginger nut" mean?
May. 15th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
Quite literally, it's a type of biscuit, a ginger cookie. It's also one of an impressive variety of insults for redheads available here in England.
May. 15th, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
I wish *I* were a ginger nut - throughout history (see what I did just then!) I have been envious of your hair!!
May. 15th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
I did have a moment of feeling sorry for him because he wasn't a sweet biscuit like me. I'm not convinced that "Don't you wish you were a biscuit?" is worth retort-status though, for future opportunities.
(no subject) - sioneva - May. 15th, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - May. 15th, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - non_trivial - May. 16th, 2009 11:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - May. 16th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steepholm - May. 16th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - May. 17th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
the celtic link - fjm - May. 17th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: the celtic link - non_trivial - May. 17th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: the celtic link - fjm - May. 17th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sioneva - May. 15th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - May. 15th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sioneva - May. 15th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC)
A very tasty biscuit by the way. My favourite.
May. 15th, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
I'm curious -- unless taken extremely literally the sentence seems one you can't easily take exception to. The placebo effect has been known about for a loooong time. Unless you take the meaning as "from the beginning of recorded history" it just seems absolutely correct.
May. 15th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
What do you believe "throughout history" means?

Edited at 2009-05-15 11:57 pm (UTC)
May. 16th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
I would have assumed "at various intervals in history" and also assume a start early in recorded history. Is there a technical meaning for historians then?
May. 16th, 2009 06:27 am (UTC)
Let me join in with Owlfish here for a mutual *aaaargh*. It's one of those terms that is pretty much a hanging offense in history essays. I have finally beaten it out of this year's crop of students.

"Throughout history" implies that something has always been the case: there is nothing for which this is the case. My favourite has been to point out to students that there is no time at which they can assume monogamy to be a worldwide norm.

In fact (a phrase also verbotten because it's either a fact--in which case show me your evidence--or it's not, but it doesn't need labelling)about the only things you can get away with describing as being consistent throughout history, are the physical laws of the universe and the inconsistency/pick and mix nature of pretty much everything else.
May. 16th, 2009 09:58 am (UTC)
Throughout history" implies that something has always been the case: there is nothing for which this is the case.

Ah... I must admit that that interpretation of the phrase had never even occurred to me.
(no subject) - non_trivial - May. 16th, 2009 11:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - May. 16th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - non_trivial - May. 16th, 2009 12:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2009 12:05 pm (UTC)
About the only 'Throughout history' statement that could possibly be acceptable is 'people got born and people died'. Everything else subject to extreme variations.

But Goldacre has annoyed me before with his dissing of humanities people, which to my mind includes historians and their emphasis on the importance of not making unsustainable transhistorical assertions.
(no subject) - non_trivial - May. 16th, 2009 12:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - desperance - May. 16th, 2009 01:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fjm - May. 17th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC)
I can't think of any examples from Song medicine. If you don't believe in the effectiveness of Song medicine, then I suppose you have documentation of a sort. But that's more epistemology than the observation from experiments, etc.
May. 16th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
"Throughout history, mankind has practiced slavery, and all women have been oppressed."

Um ... yeah. Except that ... no. What kind of slavery? what kind of oppression? Did the women feel oppressed? Were they co-conspirators in the support of the patriarchy?

I just don't trust that kind of lumping. I am a splitter, thanks.
May. 17th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
Your hair is gorgeous, and I would love to have it any day. So boo to that kid, because he clearly doesn't know what he's talking about.
May. 18th, 2009 05:45 am (UTC)
I personally think you can read stuff (even serious stuff) for entertainment and not think about it without having to go beg forgiveness from Kleo and sacrifice a hecatomb. Also, there is something to be said for reading something through first and then allowing the critical faculty to savage it.

My objection to "throughout history" is more rhetorical in that it is something of a tired cliché, usually a hyperboyle and overly general for the argument at hand [not quite as bad a start as "Since the beginning of time..."]. Still, I think I've caught myself doing it (I probably should do a penance for that).

Now this sentence is also ambiguous and could easily suggest that people in the past classified things as the placebo effect. Rather than what I assume is happening that he is analyzing reported incidents from some points in the past as examples of the placebo effect.

The only prejudicial thing I ever recall hearing about red heads in my Canadian youth was that they have fiery tempers. Which always struck me as a hilariously unlikely proposition (also risks being self-fulfilling). I had no idea the Brits had so many insults referring to them.
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )