Wednesday, September 12, 2018


I am presently up to my eyeballs in just-in-time delivery of alligators, but I've been thinking a lot about identity formation. Partly because I proofread a friend's grant proposal a couple months ago, on identity; partly because a pal and I have started our own teeny tiny Sunday/Hebrew school, mainly to form a progressive Jewish identity in our kids; and partly because, for Reasons, my job has suddenly changed a great deal and its content now aligns better with my professional identity and corresponding values around science. (I am happier, but... this is just a little too much. But not bored! Nope, not even a little.)

(This is to remind me to write about it later, like after my grant is due...)

A brief anecdote, thought: I was with a group of women pals at the park, ignoring my children, and a pseudoscience topic came up. Let's say it was... essential oils. This person is a Licensed Llama Herder, which takes a good four years of higher education after a bachelor's. I said something to the effect that studies showed real essential oils and synthetic, fake essential oils had indistinguishable effects. "Well, I've seen them really help sick llamas sometimes," she said, "and besides it can't hurt, right?" And in that moment I realized  that, although Llama Herders take many years of science classes, they don't have what I consider a science mindset: that physical phenomena and living things have testable properties, and that if the data show it doesn't work, anecdotes don't mean it works only sometimes. That's not how any of this works.


  1. Placebo effect, OTOH, has been proven effective in multiple studies. What I object to is paying $30 for a tiny bottle of placebo, especially if I'm just going to be dosing llamas.

    I have a bottle of cheap mustard that I put on the canker of my apricot tree. Will it help? Maybe! It was $2. I admit, I'm dosing one apricot tree and not the other to see if the disease progresses any slower in the treated tree. Results are currently inconclusive. It's a terribly small sample size, too.

    1. I'm pretty sure placebos work better on humans than llamas! When I tell you it was acupuncture for household pets you will feel my pain. I'm willing to posit that you think mustard might have a measurable effect that can be attributed to something more specific than hand waving, too!

  2. Anonymous4:17 AM

    I'm totally with you! Placebo can only work when you know / believe that you are being treated with something that's supposed to make you feel better. So placebo for non-humans only works if the non-human understands the intention of the treatment. Of course, it might also work if the treatment in question is enjoyable and therefore makes one feel better just by making one happy. This might work for giving your dog a chocolate bar or something, but care to guess how many dogs understand and/or enjoy the concept of acupuncture? Really, you'd think people these days had a bit more brain to go with all their good intentions regarding the non-human population of this planet...


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