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The weblog of Tony Morris

Dear Agile/Lean/Scrum/XP Person

Posted on February 19, 2009, in Programming

I want you to imagine a scenario for me.

Did you know that carrying a Tiger’s Eye crystal provides protection and clearer thought? Yeah OK I agree, all that crystal healing stuff is just silly nonsense that essentially exists to provide a placebo effect. This doesn’t stop some people from genuinely believing in the healing properties of crystals of course – and they are certainly being exposed to a bias of confirmation. This is because a critical failure of rational faculties has occurred somehow – you and I see straight through it; it’s obviously nonsense! But they seek peer reinforcement for their mistake and have a hard time understanding what it is like to not believe in the healing properties of crystals.

If it is so blatantly false, then why do some apparently intellectually-equipped people swear by it?

Now suppose you were invited to be healed by a crystal healer and you decline because you have other relevant tasks to achieve. What would you say when asked why the declination? You wouldn’t want to insult the questioner – that they believe such a ridiculous proposition doesn’t compel you to simply insult their person, however, if you were to answer the question honestly, they would take offence. You’re caught in a pickle now, so what then? Dishonesty? Appeasing their fantasy?

Would you answer with a question, “I don’t believe crystal healing is effective, because there is no empirical data to suggest it is so. Can you show me otherwise?” to which they respond, “Sure! We use a process of high energy physics photography to derive our scientific conclusions.” So what now? They just provide more bunk – again, you and I see straight through it. You can make no progress. The only reasonable conversation you can have is one about how to deduce true facts in general.

But it gets worse, now imagine that the invitation to the crystal healing session requires that you drink frog poison upon entry, because the ancient Egyptians did it to appease the Gods with a small personal sacrifice. In this scenario, 150 people die each year from ingestion of frog poison, but the crystal healers put this down to anger from the Gods that must only be appeased further, otherwise it will be 300!

At this point, you now object to attendance on the grounds that it is detrimental to your health. Furthermore, you may even feel a moral obligation toward anybody else who has been coaxed into this form of abuse. You’re in a really big pickle now aren’t you?

This is exactly the pickle I am in when you try to peddle your pseudoscience onto me. I don’t want to insult you, but I don’t want to suffer the adverse effects of your crack-pottery. Furthermore, I don’t want other people, who have been tricked (as you have been), to suffer – I feel compelled to warn them against it. Again, not to offend you (though it might), but because I have a deep sense of empathy for all people, including you.

On the other hand, I could do what a lot of us non-crystal-healers do and be proactive in completely ignoring your existence wherever possible but that doesn’t take away from my sense of empathy.