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South African Quackery and Pseudoscience Conference - CAMcheck

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South African Quackery and Pseudoscience Conference

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Posted 30 January 2017

Preliminary program posted

Quackery and Pseudoscience: How the False Hope Business Endangers People’s Health and Wellbeing – And How Science Communication Can Counter It


Jointly presented by the Centre for Science and Technology Mass Communication (CENSCOM), the Department of Journalism, and the Centre for Evidence-based Health Care, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Venue and date of conference:

Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (Stias), University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, 20-21 November 2017.



Wishful thinking in a century of science and reason: When historians have to write the history of the 21st century three centuries from now, how will the “modern” people of 2017 be depicted? As a rational, thinking species depending on scientific evidence to believe any assumption and claim, and to take decisions accordingly? Or as people whose emotions and decisions were dominated by wishful thinking, gullibility, and a lack of knowledge to make a distinction between evidence-based science and quackery paraded as science?

Uninformed or merely poorly informed people often take harmful decisions on their health, their love life, financial affairs and how they should spend their money, and what the future holds in store for them. Unfortunately, this often takes place on the basis of dubious information and pseudo-knowledge, obtained from quacks, tricksters and swindlers who unfortunately many times have a free pass in the media to propound their unscientific claims as if it were the truth.

It is as if a “post-truth” has fully dawned in the field of health care where anyone’s claims to truth are accepted. Newspapers, the internet, social media and broadcasting bristle with dubious statements by quacks who make piles of money because their victims are ignorant or simply too naïve to distinguish truth from lies.

Our vulnerability to step in the trap prepared by reckless and unscrupulous marketers of quasi-scientific health products knows no bounds. This is enhanced by the role played by celebrities in this spread of disinformation of fake-science, a devastating influence on the wellbeing of the public.

This conference, the first of its kind in Africa and the developing world, aims to shed light on the dangers of quackery and how sound science communication practices by all role players, the scientists, the media, health regulators, NGOs and governments can counter pseudoscientific thinking.


Possible themes for the programme for which papers are called for:

  1. Sense about Science: How to distinguish experts from quacks.
  2. Advertising and quackery:  The role of scientists and the media to promote and enhance scientific thinking in advertisements.
  3. Quackery on the prowl: The dangers of instant diets and fads.
  4. Quackery in the courtroom: when and whom to trust about forensics.
  5. Why and how peer-reviewed science forms a barrier against pseudoscientific thinking and quackery claims.
  6.  The scientific method versus untested claims and unregulated marketing.
  7. Countering misinformation and rumours: how scientists and the media are vitals tools in spreading sound science.
  8. On behalf of the desperately ill: Countering misinformation about cancer and other serious and often incurable diseases.
  9. The dire influence of celebrities promoting pseudoscience: the anti-vaccination campaign and the role of scientists and the media in communicating proven science.
  10. The internet as tool – how social media, blogging and websites can assist public understanding of science to counter quackery.
  11. Why evolution is true – HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and how resistance against drugs endanger  an ignorant public.
  12. The media and pseudoscience: why quackery is not merely harmless.
  13. The right of the public to know about the dangers of quackery – and how scientists and the media can strengthen that right.
  14. Alternative and complementary medicinal practices: why evidence-based science can save and CAMs endanger lives.
  15. The Marikana Syndrome: Mutis, witchcraft and why science must not fall.
  16. Are health regulators effective, doing their work and fulfilling their obligation to protect consumers? Case studies from different countries.
  17. Intimidation by quacks: How legal action against scientists by scamsters, fraudsters and CAMS endanger the public.
  18. Communicating uncertainty in science: Media coverage of new and controversial medical science.
  19. How to read a quack’s DNA
  20. Popular pseudoscientific practices and the evidence against their effectivity.
  21. The Placebo Effect in health & medication.
  22. Quasi-respectability through unscientific endorsements by public service organisations.

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