Monday, March 22, 2010

How Stuff Doesn't Necessarily Work

Years ago I had a friend try to explain to me how a clutch-less manual transmission works. I wasn’t quite getting the picture so I googled it. The first website that was suggested was The explanations were sufficiently “dumbed down” that you didn’t need to be a mechanical engineer to understand them, but technical enough that they satisfied my curiosity. The pictures and even the animations worked very well to give supporting explanations and imagery. So I bookmarked the site on my browser and began using it for just about any topic when I needed to break things down to more easy to understand terms. I was even pleasantly surprised that their section on telecommunications has come in handy in explaining to other engineers certain aspects of our job. So I signed up for their email newsletter. A couple times a week I would get updates to the site. It was a neat way to keep up on the latest technology and other topics.
Well I recently sent an email requesting that they unsubscribe me from that newsletter. I don’t know if they hare under new management or what but the focus of the site seems to have drastically changed. I’m kind of a stickler for certain things. Staying on topic is one of them. I don’t like it when politics strays into religion. Nor do I like it when religion strays into politics. I got annoyed when a channel called the History channel started airing programs about UFOs and ghosts. How in it world does either qualify as history? I now have a very similar criticism with
In my mind, before you give any pixel space at all to a topic on a site called How Stuff Works you have the burden of proving that it works. So I really got annoyed when last week they did a feature on the most compelling ghost photos. Huh? Why in the world would this qualify as how stuff works? So I got poking around and also found that they had a whole sections on complimentary and alternative medicine, the paranormal, and even reincarnation and other religious and mythological topics. I decided to read a few to see if they gave more than just the token sceptical treatment on the last few paragraphs. In a few instances they did give some skeptical treatments. One even gave a link to a lecture by Michael Shermer. But I still felt they gave these topics too credulous coverage.
In today’s page they had a cover story about acupuncture and hypnosis treatments for infertility. The benefits to infertility are only based on the fact that hypnosis and acupuncture reduce stress levels. Perhaps I missed it but nowhere in the article did they point out that just about anything else that lowers your stress levels would have that same effect, yoga, meditation, or just playing with a puppy.
I’m not gonna be one of those who disingenuously claims that I’m “never gonna go to this site again.” But now that they have tipped their hand and shown a desire to post anything that’ll get them web hits, regardless of weither it "works" or not, I can’t say I’d endorse it with the same enthusiasm as I used to. And they definitely will not be the final authority on any of my research from now on.

1 comment:

  1. They should set up a sister site for all the woo stuff, How Stuff Doesn't Work...