Deepak Chopra's pseudoscience is called out by Jerry Coyne

Deepak Chopra is upset.

Why? Well, it all goes back to statements like this one, from Chopra himself:
“Consciousness may exist in photons, which seem to be the carrier of all information in the universe.”
Chopra is upset that evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne pointed out how absurd this statement is. More specifically, Coyne wrote that:
“[Chopra's] lucrative brand of woo is finally exposed as a lot of scientifically-sounding psychobabble.”
Prof. Coyne’s main topic was another pseudoscientist, Rupert Sheldrake, but he also criticized Chopra, whom he called “Sheldrake’s American counterpart.” As a result, Deepak Chopra is very unhappy, as he makes clear in his very touchy response published last week in the New Republic. I didn’t know Deepak Chopra had such thin skin.

So how did he respond? Well, his entire indignant riposte is essentially a list of his credentials:
“I regularly write articles and books co-authored by full professors … at Harvard,” Chopra protests. 
And he tells us that he is regularly invited to give talks by conferences sponsored by Harvard Medical School, and he’s an Adjunct Professor in the business schools at both Northwestern and Columbia. And more!

With such impressive credentials, how can anything Chopra says can be wrong? But hang on a minute: Jerry Coyne is a Professor at the University of Chicago, and he got his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Harvard, under renowned biologist Richard Lewontin. So he must be right too!

What’s wrong with Chopra’s defense is that it’s a classic argument from authority, a logical fallacy that amounts to little more than saying “I have impressive credentials, so I must be right.” As Coyne explains in his rebuttal at the New Republic,
“Science doesn’t work that way. Scientists don’t defer to authority and credentials. We defer to the quality of one’s arguments and the evidence that backs them up.”
Chopra's claim that photons have consciousness, I have to say, is the purest nonsense. Does Chopra even know what a photon is? (Doubtful: he’s been throwing around the term “quantum” for decades with apparently no understanding of what it means.)  Chopra says this sort of stuff all the time; Coyne also gives us this example:
“The gaia hypothesis says nature does have a mind, that the globe is conscious.”
So both photons and the entire planet are conscious. I can see why Coyne called this psychobabble. If Chopra doesn’t want to be ridiculed, he shouldn’t make ridiculous claims. (He also claims that telepathy is a serious research topic. Right.)

Chopra has become very wealthy spouting this kind of nonsense. His website heavily promotes his line of nutritional supplements, books, videos, and seminars (which he calls “meditation experiences”). He's particularly fond of Ayurvedic supplements, which he claims provide a wide range of vague health benefits. One example: $35 for a 25-ounce bottle of fruit juice called Zrii (or 2 ounces for $4.75). This is little more than modern snake oil.

Visiting Chopra's website is a deep dive into the world of pseudoscience. Jerry Coyne got this one exactly right - which is not surprising, because he went to Harvard.

Guys: no more invasive prostate cancer exams!

Good news for all the over-40 men out there: we don't need routine screening for prostate cancer. More to the point, we don't need to subject ourselves to the dreaded "digital rectal exam" that has been a standard procedure for decades.  (Sorry for the ick factor, but that's what it's called, and yes, "digital" does mean "finger", not "computer.")   Most guys don't need any encouragement to avoid this particular invasive procedure, but now there's good scientific evidence saying we don't need it.

One of the most widely used screens for prostate cancer is the PSA test. I wrote about this last year, after several studies and a thorough review concluded that
“there is moderate certainty that the benefits of PSA-based screening for prostate cancer do not outweigh the harms.” (USPSTF, Annals of Internal Medicine, 22 May 2012)
Now, the Choosing Wisely campaign and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have included not only PSA testing, but also digital rectal exams as procedures that are usually unnecessary. Their advice to physicians is very clear:
Don’t routinely screen for prostate cancer using a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal exam.
So guys, the next time you go to the doctor, don't let him (or her) give you the PSA test (it's expensive too! even if insurance pays for it) or the dreaded "digital rectal exam." If your physician hesitates (though I imagine most doctors will be glad to skip these tests), print this list and hand it to him. If you or your doctor want to know more, the list includes references to long, detailed summaries of the evidence.

It's not just prostate cancer screening that is wasteful and unncessary. After a review of the latest evidence, the AAFP, as part of the Choosing Wisely campaign, has identified 15 tests and procedures that most of us should just say "no" to.

Choosing Wisely, which was created by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, is a great idea: a campaign to educate patients and physicians about what practices are:
  • Supported by evidence
  • Not duplicative of other tests or procedures already received
  • Free from harm
  • Truly necessary
The AAFP has identified their first set of 15 unnecessary procedures. Widespread attention to this list may save a huge amount of time and expense, and it should improve public health. Choosing Wisely and the American College of Medical Toxicology have also looked at homeopathy and other quack-y "complementary" or "integrative" treatments. Not surprisingly, their advice is simple: don't use them. (See Respectful Insolence for much more on that topic.)

Brevia: Critical thinking prize for this blog

Last week at CSICON 2013 in Seattle, this blog was the recipient of the

2012 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking

which was awarded jointly to Joe Nickell and myself, by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.  The announcement reads, in part:
In his column for Forbes, "Fighting Pseudoscience," Steven Salzberg regularly shines the light of reason on the false or dubious claims made by those hawking homeopathy, demonizing vaccines, deifying celebrity gurus, or generally denying science and reality, often at the expense of public health. He has done so with a clear and accessible voice, and with a healthy dose of humor.
Recipients in past years include Richard Wiseman, Steven Novella, Michael Specter, Leonard Mlodinow, and Ben Goldacre. I feel privileged to join this select group of writers and skeptics.

[Note: this blog and my Forbes column contain identical content, with a few exceptions.]