The Bent Spoon Award is an annual award of the Australian Skeptics Society bestowed upon the most worthy “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle.” The question should be asked if they (the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM)) would be worthy recipients of such a prestigious award. And what is then the “piffle” that they are guilty of? To explain “piffle” I need to refer to all of my previous blog posts regarding the NICM whereas only one aspect needs to be explained in a bit more detail. What does the word “piffle” mean?
I have used the phrase “known knowns” to explain the possible causal link between the (over)use of supplements and the gradual increase in western diseases. In short: we know that we need specific known nutrients in our food to survive. We also know that food contains other substances but we do not always know what role these substances play (their role is unknown). And then there are the unknown substances in food and because they are unknown it is also unknown if they play any important role or not. If we use supplements we only focus on the known knowns and we ignore the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns – and this might cause a public health issue.
But what does this have to do with the bent spoon award and the word “piffle”? The phrase “known knowns” was made famous by Donald Rumsfeld while explaining the difficulties experienced in the Iraqi war. Whilst he received praise from some corners regarding his ability to explain complex issues in simple terms, some detractors of the Iraqi war pointed out that there is actually a fourth category; the “unknown knowns.” The unknown knowns “…are that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know” and “….what we know, what we do not know, what we cannot know, but Rumsfeld left out what we do not like to know.”
A public statement describing an “unknown known” is thus piffle. A statement made by professors who knows exactly what e.g. homeopathy is, what the risks and “benefits” are, but they refuse to acknowledge this because for them it is “unknown”. When experienced scientists are warned about the damage that some complementary medicines are causing and yet they continue to support and defend it simply because their funding depends on it, then the public should expect a lot of “piffle” from them.
A wonderful short explanation of what homeopathy is can be found below. Many other sources explain exactly what homeopathy is (including some tongue in cheek examples) and in some parts of the world, universities have even started to close down homeopathy training courses – rightfully so. The NICM and Western Sydney University is fully aware of this and yet they will spend a lot of time and effort, funded in part by the taxpayer, to come up with a lot of “piffle” in order to ignore this. The question can be asked: if they ignore homeopathy in this way, what kind of “piffle” can we expect from them regarding all other complementary medicines? Therefore, in my view, the NICM will be worthy recipients of the bent spoon award.