The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Archaeologists Don't Dig Up Dinosaurs...Except When We Do

Normally, when somebody asks me if I dig up dinosaurs, I become annoyed. I have to explain that archaeologists study the remains of past human activity, and that prehistoric animals (unless hunted and butchered by humans) aren't really my bailywick.

Then this week happened.

One of my company's owners realized that if he has us out there looking at the ground anyway, and we're already trained to identify bone and teeth, we might as well also be looking for fossils as well. This provides better protection for paleontological resources (archaeologists get around far more than paleontologists, as the laws requiring our presence tend to be a mite bit more strict and expansive). However, while there is a bit of overlap in the sorts of things that we look for (some of the early human sites in the Americas contain Pleistocene animal bones that paleontologists are interested in), there is also quite a bit of difference. So, having archaeologists qualified to identify and handle paleontological resources requires that the archaeologists actually, you know, get qualified to do so. To that end, my coworkers and I spent the last few days at a small paleontological museum being trained to identify and recover fossils.

Now, we were not being trained to be actual paleontologists. We are archaeologists who now have enough knowledge of paleontology to know how to protect fossils that we find and when we need to contact the real paleontologists to deal with things. Oh, and we will only do this work under the supervision of a real paleontologist, so it'll be difficult for us to fuck shit up too badly.

I don't know if it's just a reaction to HAZWOPER training, or if it was the content of these classes in and of itself, but the paleontology class has been a hell of alot of fun. We went from covering the laws and implementing regulations that provide what protection there is for fossils, to covering the basic geology that we need in order to make an assessment of the paleontological sensitivity of an area, to discussions of the types of fossils that we are likely to encounter in different parts of California. The next day we gained some hands-on experience preparing a fossil for collection*, and then preparing them for identification in the lab**.

So, basically, I got paid to hang out with coworkers, learn some stuff, and handle fossils. It was fun.

But I guess this means I can't be as pissy next time someone asks me if I dig up dinosaur bones. Harumph.

* When identified, if the fossil is both small and in good shape, it can simply be picked up. If it is large and/or in poor shape, then you engage in a process called "jacketing." In this process, you dig around the fossil in a process known as pedasteling (we use the same approach with certain types of artifacts in archaeology). Once the fossil is appropriately pedestaled, you place wet tissue (what you and I know as toilet paper) over the fossil, and then cover this with plaster-soaked burlap in order to provide a protective plaster-and-tissue cover. You then use your trowel to cut the pedestal off, taking as much dirt as is practical with you to further protect the fossil, and cover the underside in tissue and plaster. This produces a large plaster package that you can then take to the lab and be secure in your knowledge that the fossil is in good shape. Of course, before you even begin this process, you will take GPS coordinates and take notes on the nature of the fossil, location, orientation (on it's side, standing up, pointing north, etc.), and also note the local geology.

** This is where you use a dental pick and paintbrush to carefully remove the dirt surrounding the fossil without damaging it. It was fun to do, but I imagine would get tedious if it was what I normally did for a living.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Apparently Yes, I can HAZWOPER

So, as noted in the previous entry, I have had to attend a class to get a certification that allows me to work with hazardous waste.

I passed.

Yes, that's right, I am now authorized to work with hazardous waste. Do not be alarmed. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Unlike the previous week, most of what we went over this last, and thankfully final, weekend was at least somewhat applicable to my job, and therefore much more worthwhile. Which isn't to say that it was any fun, because it wasn't. Still, it's over, and a few amusing things did happen over the course of the weekend.

The safety personnel from Hazard Safety Services Incorporated continued to show that they considered this class to be a joke, disrupting with smart-ass comments and continuously providing stupid answers to the instructor's questions, which means that I will walk off of any site that these guys are responsible for - if your safety people don't take their training seriously, then the shit will hit the fan on one of their sites eventually, and it is best not to be present for that. On the up-side, the instructor did make one of their number, the guy who I had taken to referring to as "Princess Diana", do laps around the classroom while wearing a full class-A hazmat suit, and pressing down on the twit's shoulders. He later threatened to duct-tape and taze the kid.

Class A Hazmat Suit

Unfortunately, when Princess Diana quieted down, one of his buddies picked up and began rambling about zombies and 2012 end-of-the-world nonsense. So, the irritation continued to flow.

On Saturday, I walked through a group of fellow students who were having an in-depth conversation about their time in prison. One of these guys later interrupted the class to inform everyone that the reason why Harold Camping's Rapture prediction was wrong was because "if Camping was telling the truth, it would make Jesus a liar, and that can't be man, because..." and then he began trying to preach at us until the instructor, who you may remember looks like a hybrid of a professional wrestler/Hell's Angel/hipster/driver's ed. instructor gave him a glare that made the guy shut up. Later that same day, the same guy also, appropo of nothing, decided to shout out that non-dairy creamer is flammable. He later tried to disrupt the class again to talk about contracting Valley Fever while in Prison.

I wonder what it's like to be in prison and have Tourette's.

All the while, there was an umkempt, greasy fellow who looked for all the world like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. On the first day, the previous week, he had tried to impress me with his interest in "morally ambiguous" characters in literature, but quickly showed that he was far more interested in the cartoonish violence doled out by such characters when they appear in Conan-derived fantasy novels. This week he decided that we were buddies, and spent the weekend trying to regale me with stories to show how cool he was, but all of which were plainly bullshit - my favorite was a story about a buddy of his who "is in the Marines, a special anti-terrorist taskforce, who had a gun pulled on Osama Bin Laden, was only ten feet away, but his commanding officer ordered him to let Bin Laden go!"* He then spent some time pestering me to try to get me to hire him as an "archaeologist's assistant." This was when he wasn't rambling on about movies, comic books, or other entertainment that I didn't care about, and about which he would continue to ramble at me even after I had informed him in no uncertain terms that I didn't care. He also took to cracking fart jokes at every opportunity. I began to spend my breaks pretending to answer email on my phone or else hidden away just to avoid this guy.

Through all of this, the instructor continued to be an imposing and amusing figure. In addition to his tormenting the HSSI morons, he also informed us of how to dispose of a body if working in the oil fields, discussed the bomb shelter that he owns in Montana, and just generally made himself a weird, amusing character who I would swear was made up by a hack writer if I hadn't seen him. He also had a dimple on the back of his head, which might be where his keepers plug him in at night.

Oh, and in case you feel safer knowing that people working with hazardous waste have this training - they spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out the boiling point of a flammable solid. Oh, and one of them, I believe it was the would-be preacher, began to tell the instructor about how, if a federal official "disrespected" him, he'd attack the federal official, and seemed genuinely surprised when he was told that this would get him arrested.

Yeah, real brain trusts here.

Oh, and I was put in charge of a field exercise because I was the only person in the class who both had supervisory experience and did not have anger control problems.

Sleep tight America, your hazardous materials are in safe hands.

And it wasn't just the class that was strange. While walking out onto the lawn during a break, a fellow in an orange safety shirt ran by, ran out onto the lawn, dropped onto all fours, and then began moving in a manner that can only be described as dry-humping the air. At my hotel, some random guy walked up to me and wanted to ask my opinion of St. Louis, Missouri politics and the current weather problems there, which would have made sense if A) I had ever met this guy, and B) I knew anything about the subject or said/did something to imply that I neither of these is the case, it was just odd.

At any rate, I am now certified, and don't have to go back for a couple years. If I keep my certification up, then I only have to go back for 8 hours.

*Now, don't get me wrong. As weird as the notion of Bin Laden being let go sounds, historically, equally strange things have happened. So, if 20 years down the road evidence comes out that this sort of thing occurred, I'd be surprised, but not overly shocked. I just really doubt that this guy's ever-so-bestest friend from high school was the one who had him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


On Saturday morning, I woke up early, drove to the appropriately named town of Shafter (about 15 miles north of Bakersfield), and register for the CalOSHA-approved class for Hazardous Waste and Material Operations (AKA HAZWOPER), where I would, allegedly, learn how to safely handle hazardous waste, and respond appropriately when the handling of said waste goes awry. The class lasts for two weeks: this past weekend, and this coming weekend, with 20-hours of class per weekend.

I hope that next week is an improvement, because this last weekend was, with the exception of a couple of hours in which we learned to take basic medical vitals information, a complete waste of time. The information presented this week might have been useful were I a welder, plumber, or electrical worker, but as I do none of these things, and my job prevents me from being in a situation where any such things are at all in my power, it wasn't a particularly good use of time. Still, next week we will start dealing with the actual hazardous material portion, as well as signs of trouble that will be visible to someone other than the immediate welder/plumber/equipment operator/etc., which should be useful to me.

At any rate, I left my apartment at 6:00 Saturday morning to drive to the thriving metropolis of Shafter to attend the first of four 10-hour days of the HAZWOPER training. Entering the classroom, I saw that our instructor was a guy named Keith. Now, I have had to do several safety trainings and certifications at this facility before, and had several instructors, but Keith is my favorite. Here's the best way to describe this instructor: imagine that Larry the Cable Guy became a professional wrestler and then became an Army drill sergeant before becoming a Hell's Angel/coffee house hipster who teaches drivers ed to have an excuse to watch Red Asphalt. You are left with the impression that Keith could easily break you in half while giving a hilarious and ironic commentary on the subject. The material is often boring, but Keith is entertaining and he knows the subject well enough to provide all necessary information. Also, due to his experience, the class had more horror stories than a semester of Driver's Ed.

While the instructor was of good quality, I can not say as much for many of the students. A few of them, such as someone who was training to become and oil field safety inspector, a guy who looked like Jim Croce (and asked a few questions hinting that he had seen more than a few horrible injuries), and a fellow who had just gotten a job after a period of unemployment, these were the people who were taking the class seriously and really paying attention. The rest, however, seemed to treat the class as a joke, which is unfortunate as, unlike me, every one of them had jobs to which the course material directly pertained. Some of the people in the class were in training ot become EMTs, and given the quality of their behavior, I sincerely hope that I never have a medical emergency in Kern County.

One group of people were sent by a hazardous material handling/safety equipment inspection and preparation company known as Hazard Safety Services Incorporated (HSSI), and if the people in this classroom are any indication of the standard HSSI employee, I think I'll just walk away from any job site where I am having to rely on them for safety. I wouldn't trust these guys to tie their own shoes, much less safely handle dangerous equipment and materials. Amongst this group was a guy who I took to referring to as "Princess Diana" owing to his giant cubic-zirconium disks in his ears and his ugly and huge white plastic sunglasses, which reminded me of a cheap imitation of the rather excessive finery that used to show up whenever the media talked about the British royal family.. He looked like a reject from a movie about underachievers living in a frat house, and spent most of the two days that we were there disrupting class to make allegedly clever (but in reality irritating) comments to and about the instructor (who I am surprised didn't just crush the kid under his boot heel). Sad thing is, the kid probably thought that he looked and sounded cool, leading me to wonder in which head trauma ward his employer found him.

Really, with the exceptions mentioned above, looking at the other people in the classroom, I now know what happened to all of the kids I knew who flunked out of remedial basket-weaving. If these are the people responsible for safe handling of hazardous materials, then we're thoroughly doomed as a species.

On the upside, there was some amusement to be had during the class. We watched a truly awful safety video, the host of which looked like Glenn Beck and Dan Ackroyd had a baby. I learned two new terms: "Unexpected energization" - when a piece of equipment that is supposed ot be shut down turns on; and "metal fume fever" which is a malady to which welders are prone, but sounds like it should be a Ted Nugent song. I also learned that, contrary to what I had thought, the reason why smoking is no longer allowed in hospitals is not because it seems like a bad idea to have health care providers doing something astoundingly unhealthy around patients, but because oxygen-rich environments within the hospital kept catching on fire and exploding. Think of that next time someone tells you that medicine doesn't advance, at least you are now unlikely to explode in a hospital*.

As I said, the class lasted two days, meaning that I drove two hours each morning to get to class, and two hours each evening to get home. This coming weekend, I'll just book a hotel room.

Well, this coming weekend will cover material that is actually of use to me, so it should be a better deal. Here's hoping that Princess Diana can keep his trap shut and that the EMT students make me less hesitant about Kern County medical care.

*Which, admittedly, makes medicine less exciting, if better for you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Sweat House vs. The Cross

This story is both disturbing and fascinating. It is about a group of Native Canadians, specifically the people of a Cree Village named Oujé-Bougoumou, who destroyed a sweat lodge built on the grounds of another person's home because they were worried about, in the words of one of the elders interviewed for the article, witchcraft entering the village.

Sweat lodges were a common part of the social and religious life of many Native American groups. In this case, the man who built this one did so because he took an interest in the religious beliefs and practices of his ancestors, and he wanted to share this with other members of his community. Was this a good idea? I haven't a clue. I can certainly understand the impulse, especially with some of the problems facing his community, to try to return to a past in which one believes (whether rightly or wrongly) that one's people were stronger. I have my doubts as to whether or not it would actually have the effect that he intended, but it seems like an understandable impulse.

It was destroyed because the elders and many people within the community are Christians - their parents, grandparents, and great-grand-parents having been converted by European missionaries - and they view this interest in past religious practices to be a return to a pagan past and, again as one elder called it, witchcraft.

The article portrays this as, in part, a generation-gap issue, with younger members of the community having an interest in earlier practices, and older members wanting them forgotten. But I have to wonder if it is really that simple. It is noted in the article that a petition to have the sweat house destroyed gathered 130 signatures, out of a town of 700. That's certainly a large number, but still a definite minority. OF the 530 who didn't sign it, how many were in favor of the sweat lodge? How many didn't care one way or another? How many were ineligible to sign because of age or some other social prohibition? How many never saw the petition? And how did this actually break down along age lines?

The article also portrays this as religious conflict, and this seems accurate, so far as it goes. Pentecostal Christianity is a powerful religious force among many rural communities in the Americas, and the Native Canadian communities are no exception. There are a few different forms or flavors of Pentecostalism, but many of them portray anything that is not Christian (and often, not specifically Pentecostal) as being literally satanic, the work of demons, and not to be tolerated - individual freedoms quite literally be damned. These are the same sorts of people who can reliably be expected to protest a palm reader getting a business license because they are afraid of the palm reader's magic.

The denial of earlier religious practices because of current religious beliefs is not unheard of in other parts of the world. For example: I have friends who work in Egypt, and they have told me that it is common to find that their excavators are extremely disrespectful of the human remains pulled from ancient graves. The ancient Egyptians were not Muslim, and so many of the modern Egyptians who work on archaeological sites view their ancestors as degenerate pagans and not worthy of respect.

But one issue that is not discussed in the article, but I suspect is in play, is that of power relations. Very often, religion becomes a part of the power structure, even when church and government are not formally tied together. Much of the screaming about the U.S. being "a Christian Nation" has little to do with theology or ecclesiastical views, and everything to do with one group feeling that it has the right to impose it's views, standards, and attitudes on others, whether they are members of the group or not. Likewise, the passage of the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in my home state seems to have little to do with people believing that they are going to somehow do away with homosexuality than it does with people believing that they should have the right to deny rights to others based on absolutely arbitrary and nonsensical religious standards. Similar strains of argument can be found in right-wing political parties throughout Europe, and also in some political movements within Canada, New Zealand, and Australia (where they are considerably more muted than in the U.S. or Europe). In all of these places, the basic notion is the same: "you may not agree with us, we can live with that, but you had damn well better do everything to our weird and arbitrary standards, no matter how loopy, and not challenge use, no matter how reasonable you may be about it, because we have power here!" Any deviation from an arbitrarily-defined "norm" is shouted down, or even violently opposed, not because it actually poses a threat to individuals, but because people not sticking to the norm may eventually force legitimate questions of and changes to the power structure.

And so I wonder how much the fight over the sweat lodge in this community is based on religion, how much it is based on age, and how much it has to do with one group wanting to exert its power in order to ensure that it keeps it. These three things are, of course, not mutually exclusive. It is likely that all of them are in play. But as the third - power relations - is almost never explicitly stated (very few people want to admit that they are clinging to power for the sake of clinging to power), I have to wonder how much it plays a role here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Value of Little-Looked At Spots

So, as noted in a previous post, one of the papers that I have written will be in an upcoming issue of the journal California Archaeology. The subject of the paper is the interaction between the people of the Santa Barbara Channel Coast and the people of the Santa Ynez Valley during the Late Period (roughly 1,100 A.D. to 1780 A.D.). The Santa Barbara Channel area is very intensively studied, largely because the people of this region, the Chumash, had developed a very advanced degree of social organization, and seemed to be on the verge of developing money as we would understand it today. This has, understandably, attracted a butt-load of interest from researchers. But research has been primarily relegated to the coast and the Channel Islands, with very little attention paid to the inland valleys or the interior. The problem is that, if the research models that we are using are even vaguely correct, the largely ignored inland and interior areas were extremely important to the development of social complexity - so the fact that these areas are being ignored means that the models for the development of complexity have never really been thoroughly tested...and yet many a researcher continues to carry on as if they are well-established.

This is a problem common to the archaeology of many regions - areas that are easier to access or more appealing are often examined to the exclusion of other, likely equally important areas. On the one hand, it can create opportunities - I have been told that my MA thesis, on which this paper was partially based - has been used by people working on dissertations and theses of their own simply because I am one of the few people to write about the Santa Ynez Valley - the merits of my thesis become almost moot in the face of the fact that there is very little else available. What's more, I was invited to write and present the papers that have become the one to be published because of the fact that I am one of the few people who has written So, I have benefited from this personally.

On the other hand, it has the potential to undermine the point of archaeological research. It's a given that researchers are going to work only with the information that they have on hand, what else can be done? But when, as tends to happen, there are known large blind spots in the archaeological record, and these blind spots are ignored or essentially pretended not to exist, this will distort the reconstruction of the past that we are trying to create.

I don't think this would get under my skin except that I have too often seen my colleagues essentially state "well, our model indicates that in Region X, we should see Material Record Y" without ever bothering to check up on these assumptions. It's sloppy thinking, and it just kinda' bugs me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Up-Side of Criticism

I wrote a few months back about a site that may be the oldest discovered in North America. Of course, scrutiny of the report, of the methods applied to determine the age of the site, and of the meaning of the results has begun. This is as it should be. I am pursuaded by the results, but there nonetheless remains the possibility that the site is not as old as is thought. The published paper is coming in for criticism, and if it withstands the criticism, or if the criticism forces out more information regarding the site that supports the claim of old age, then it will vindicate the researchers claiming that it is a pre-Clovis site. If it doesn't withstand the criticism, then we may avoid a research dead-end without wasting too much time.

And this is how honest research works. The scientists - be they archaeologists, biologists, physicists, or any other - produce work, which is submitted to their peers for criticism via publication. Sometimes the criticism can be heated, and scientists being human, it can often become personal and even vicious. But it is ultimately constructive, it helps to weed out bad ideas and dead ends, while promoting strong ideas and helping to ensure good data. There are often blips where bad ideas or data continue to be propagated for a time due to the, very human tendency to get attached to ideas, but in the end, these get phased out in favor of better information.

This is probably the principal difference between science and pseudo-science. In pseudo-science there is a tendency to hold on to ideas despite evidence, and there is an over-riding tendency to view any criticism as an attack or an attempt to crush a novel idea under dogma. The problem is, of course, that it becomes impossible to actually forward a research agenda based on anything even vaguely like reality. If criticism is rejected out of hand not because of its validity but because it disproves a pet hypothesis, then no research that comes out of those who reject the criticism is likely to be valid - they may occasionally reach correct conclusions, but it is as likely to be due to accident as to actual insight or information.

So, when I read accounts of various pseudo-scientific individuals complaining that "the Establishment" won't accept their claims, it always rings hollow. whether it's fantasists complaining about history and archaeology, crackpots complaining about physicists, creationists complaining about biologists, or naturopaths complaining about medical science. "The Establishment" doesn't easily accept the claims of "the Establishment." Everybody gets scrutinized, it's not dogma pushing brilliant conclusions away, it's researchers keep themselves and others honest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Field Work, Yet Again

So, I have not been particularly good about writing this week primarily because I have been in the field. This time I'm out doing a block survey in Madera County, a half hour drive from my home, which is nice, as I get to be at home at night.

I am going to try to do some writing this weekend, and schedule them to post over the next week, but I don't know if that is going to be in the cards.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Paper Publishing Stuff

So, after a couple of years of writing and revising and then sitting and waiting, then more writing and revising, followed by more sitting and waiting followed by several months of break-neck pace edits, changes, and reading the new books that (freakishly) appeared on the subject just months before my submittal date, followed by a period of several months in which I had been told that my paper was cut from the journal, followed by being asked to re-submit it, followed by more break-neck edits to get it in on time, followed by responses to a late-submitted peer-review response, followed by a panic when I was asked for further revisions but thought that my copy of the data that the revisions would need to be based on had gone missing, followed by a final submittal...I have received galley proofs of my paper for the journal California Archaeology today.

The damned paper is finally going to be published. It will appear in the journal's August issue.

This paper began as a portion of my Master's thesis. At the request of a friend who was putting together an edited volume - basically, a book of papers around a central theme - I revised several chapters and condensed them into one paper, and then handed it over. The first publisher fell through, and the editing team then found a second publisher, lined up the papers, got them all submitted, and then the second publisher fell through. This happened at least one more time, and then the project went on the back burner for a couple of years.

About a year ago, I was told that an agreement had been reached with California Archaeology to publish the papers, but after I had revised it one more time and responded to editorial comments, the publisher cut mine due to space limitations. And then it was put back in, and I had to rush to make the necessary changes. And then there was silence for a couple of months, and then requests for further changes. And then silence, and today I received the galley copy so that I can make a few minor changes and it will be off.

It's really quite satisfying.

Friday, June 3, 2011

There's No Money In It?

A few weeks back, several friends of mine sent me links to an article that falsely claimed that Canadian researchers had developed a cheap and effective cure for cancer, and that it was simply not being developed because "there's no money in it." Because, you know, cancer researchers are only in it for the money, there's never been a single one engaged in the work for reasons of altruism, or desire for an intellectual challenge, or even simple curiosity. Nope, never happens.

That got me thinking, though, about the popular narratives in our society regarding research and how they get applied to different people and institutions. The "THEY don't want you to know THIS because THEY will lose money!" notion is very popular, but gets applied unevenly. It is usually applied to the medical industry, but pretty much never applied to the alt-med industry, even though your local homeopaths, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and reiki providers all make money off of what they do, and would be just as put out financially were you to be cured of your ailments as your local doctor and pharmacy. It's common for many of the alt-med supporters to say that their favored practitioners favor preventing illness, and therefore don't stand to lose money if you are cured of illness...but, well, so do both doctors and the medical insurance companies, two of the three big players in the medical industry.

Doctors favor it because, if they can get you to do preventative care, they can lighten their work load, still make money (preventative care still requires doctor visits), and potentially lower their malpractice risk. Moreover, doctors associated with hospitals spend a large amount of time treating people who are uninsured and impoverished, and therefore will actually result in their institutions losing money, and getting people to engage in preventative care reduces these losses. And that's without getting into the fact that people generally don't become doctors to become wealthy - if one wishes to make money, pursuing an MBA is both less time consuming and has a much higher rate of reward on the other end. Most people become doctors because they are either interested in medicine from an intellectual standpoint, or they want to help people. In over three decades, I have yet to visit a doctor and have them not speak with me about nutrition, exercise, healthy sleeping habits, and other issues aimed at reducing the risk of disease.

And insurance companies lose money when you get sick. Every time you require a medication or treatment, the insurance company has to pay out, meaning that it is in the insurance companies' best interests for you to remain healthy. In fact, a common feature of insurance policies is that the company will pay a larger portion of preventative care visits than treatment visits, specifically because this is a good strategy to make money.

Really, the only part of the medical industry that benefits from people becoming or remaining sick are the pharmaceutical manufacturers. And even there, it's not quite that simple. Pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, mutate and require new treatments. Old treatments can be improved upon, and as some diseases are made less urgent with treatment, resources are opened up to deal with others. In other words, there's not precisely a shortage of diseases needing medications. In fact, one of the main legitimate criticisms of pharmaceutical companies is that they are more interested in developing medications for the treatment of mild problems for wealthy people than serious problems for poor people.

All three of these groups - the doctors, the drug manufacturers, and the insurance companies - can do, and have done, some shady things. I am not trying to claim otherwise. However, the notion that something such as a cure for cancer would be ignored simply because it doesn't seem likely to make gobs of cash is, frankly, absurd. If nobody else did, the insurance companies would push this to the forefront because they would make money from a cheap, effective cure for cancer.

By contrast, most alt-med purveyors do make money from not providing information about cures for diseases. There have been a large number of studies on reiki, acupuncture, homeopathy, etc., and while there is some small evidence of some efficacy for certain types of pain reduction from acupuncture, the others routinely fail even the most basic of blinded trials. Chiropractic shows some efficacy for lower back pain, but most chiropractors offer basic physical therapy (a conventional and non-chiropractic treatment) in addition to chiropractic treatments, but don't inform their patients of the difference. And if one looks into herbal therapies, there is an astounding mish-mash of stuff that does work, stuff that doesn't work, stuff that might work, and stuff that's dangerous to the patient, all of which gets pushed with equal fervor without regards to efficacy.

In many cases, people are encouraged to use these types of treatments for conditions that are, in fact, treatable or even curable by standard medical treatments, but not cured, or even made worse, by the alt-med treatments (such as infections, spinal problems, tendonitis, etc.).

So, while I can understand the suspicion that many people have of the medical industry, a suspicion that is sometimes earned, the same suspicion should also be held towards the alt-med industry, which also makes huge amounts of money, which also (just like the medical industry) has political lobbyists trying to push laws in favor of the alt-med industry, and which tends to be happy to push untested, disproven, and even dangerous treatments onto it's patients.

Incidentally, while I was writing this, I checked my email, and saw the following advertisement in the side-bar:

I find much hilarity in the notion that there is a shadowy cabal of dermatologists secretly plotting what skin care secrets are released to the public, and which are kept hidden away, I am assuming in a dusty tome bound in leather made from human skin.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Indian Burial Grounds, Hilariously Revisited

I have written before about the tendency for people to attribute bad circumstances or allegend hauntings to a place supposedly being built on an "Indian burial ground". For those readers outside North America, there's a tendency for many on this continent to view the native peoples of the Americas as, essentially, mystical. This includes everyone and their Irish cousin claiming to be descended from one Native American group or another, even when such claims are tenuous at best, and often complete fantasy. It has also led to most of my fellow Caucasians assuming that the places valued by Native Americans are magical, and so it's not uncommon for me to find rock art sites vandalized by people attempting to "use the magic" of the place for their own gains.

It has also led to the idea that any frightening happening must be due to an "Indian Burial Ground" - after all, the cemeteries of Europeans and their descendants are creepy, so the burial grounds of people assumed to be magical must be really scary, right?

I think, though, that the Onion has now taken this to it's logical (and hilarious) conclusion:

Report: Economy Failing Because U.S. Built On Ancient Indian Burial Grounds

Ahhh, the would be so much less fun without you.