One would like to think of human history as an unbroken march toward enlightenment in which superstition and magical beliefs are gradually discarded in favor of rational thought and evidence-based decisions. One would like to, but then one remembers the media’s obsession with Mayan doomsday predictions never actually predicted by actual Mayans, and the scandalous failure of most Nova Scotia health care workers to get the ‘flu vaccine (thus depriving themselves, their families, and their patients of the most effective life-saving advance in medical history), and today’s numerological media trope-de-jour: the fact that today’s (arbitrary) date can be rendered as 12-12-12.
So it was with a mixture of amusement and chagrin that we read (courtesy of Lauren Oostveen of the Nova Scotia Archives) the New York Times’s account of the last 12-12-12 iteration, the one that occurred on December 12, 1912. The anonymous Times writer of a century ago cataloged the carry-on about arbitrary dates with an air of droll contempt that seems not at all dated.
[F]or those who live on past to-day, there will still be available some triple-plated dates of magical mischance. And one of them, to come a mere thirty-two years from now, will outdo all other combinations in the magic of its mixture. It will come on April 11, 1944, and the 4-11-44 that may then be written will, of course, bring out into the letter writing industry every soul that ever hugged a rabbit’s foot, threw a horseshoe over the left shoulder, or trembled when he broke a mirror or walked under a ladder.
So mark this down as one area where 100 years of humankind’s relentless march toward rationality appears to have gained no ground whatsoever. Here’s the whole Times piece:
Contrarian would not have thought it possible for a defense of quackery to set me chuckling and nodding my head, but my old pal Warren Reed has done it. [Previous installments here and here.] Knowing that the best defense is a good offense, Reed began by catching me in the act of scientific error:
One of the few things I remember from Nat. Sci. 3 is Avogadro’s Number — 6.023 x 10**23. So it isn’t roughly 10**23 as you state — it’s actually 6 times that. Six is called The Republican Constant – any Republican can stretch the truth by a factor of six without raising an eyebrow on Fox News. Journalists often get the same exemption.
But we don’t read Contrarian just for the science. More puzzling is the notion that a group of pub-crawling Brits is claiming to know what constitutes “proper medical assistance.” Of the reasons for healing—the passage of time, the placebo effect, natural defenses—”proper medical assistance” is on the list, but is an evanescent concept at best. It depends on many of the same principles for success as Homeopathy. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.