Midweek Cuckoo: How to spot a cuckoo

I thought that it might be time to put together a list for all you eager ornithologists. How to spot your common or garden variety loon:

  1. They use terms like ‘Big Pharma’, ‘the Man’ and ‘the Establishment’ in all seriousness
  2. They announce earth shattering scientific discoveries on their blog or website first
  3. They claim that common, everyday items like wire coat-hangers bent into a Y-shape, tinfoil and PhotoShop have powers not described on the packaging
  4. The ‘university’ where they got their degree is: a) a house in the suburbs, b) charges less than $1,000 for a doctorate, or c) requires only a 2,000 word essay and a note from your mom to get your doctorate
  5. They claim their powers/inventions don’t work in the presence of skeptics, scientists, doctors or recording devices
  6. Their spirit guide was related to Shirley McClaine in a past life
  7. They invoke Quantum Mechanics to explain macroscopic phenomena
  8. Their address of their clinic is a post office box
  9. They think anything that is 2,000 or more years old is automatically more advanced than anything discovered in the last decade
  10. They gained their knowledge of physics from watching Road Runner cartoons
  11. They claim to have worked for MK Ultra, Majestic 12, the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Illuminati, or all of these at once
  12. They claim that Gulf War Syndrome, Autism, Lupis, ADHD, Multiple Sclerosis, Tinnitus and Shaken Baby Syndrome are all caused by the same thing (and in the case of the last, it’s not shaking babies)
  13. Any evidence presented that is contrary to their claims is automatically part of a smear campaign, cover-up, or the work of any of the entities in Point 1
  14. They are willing to sell you their product or services for a few dollars (but only if you call right now), instead of cashing in on the riches offered by institutions like the JREF and the Nobel Prize Committee.
  15. In their web design and emails they: a) type in all capitals, b) make liberal use of the selection of font styles, sizes and colors on offer, c) italicize, underline or otherwise emphasise every fourth word, d) make use of randomly roaming apostrophes or single quotations marks, or e) all of the above
  16. They believe people are after them, their phone is tapped, and their every move is traced by the government (although if they live in the contintental US this may be true)
  17. They are the sole spokesperson for an entire alien race
  18. Their books are self-published
  19. The know who killed Lincoln/Lennon/JFK and the answer isn’t Booth/Chapman/Oswald
  20. They have the only known cure for cancer, HIV, autism or death but can only administer it in Mexico
  21. Their laboratory is in their basement or backyard
  22. They live in a compound with their extended family, various followers, a range of assault weapons, and are seen at the local mall purchasing large amounts of kool-aid or nike sneakers
  23. They think that the eighties television series “V” was a documentary

Okay, that’s all I can think of for now. Give me more suggestions – this may evolve into another page on the blog.

Update: This post has been turned into a page of its own. See Cuckoo 101 on the tabs above.


20 Responses to “Midweek Cuckoo: How to spot a cuckoo”

  1. Con-Tester Says:

    Points #7 and #9 ring especially true.

    At the risk of being nitpicky, you missed the one about it being “your reality, not mine” to brush aside any factual disagreements without any understanding of just how self-defeating this is.

    Oh, and Carl Sagan was a continuity announcer for a TV station called “Cosmos”.

  2. i’m sorry – were we talking cuckoos or spammers?

  3. Nice. You should submit this to the Skeptics’ Circle.

  4. Ah, the definitive “how to” guide. I’ve been looking for one of these. BTW, everyone knows V wasn’t a documentary. It was a dramatic re-enactment.

  5. V has such a lot to answer for.

  6. I take ideological issue with “18. Their books are self-published”

    your reality not mine? 🙂

  7. Minor quibble on #7: Actually, scientists have seen quantum effects (wave nature, particularly) on scales larger than an atom. The largest structure that has been shown to act this was is the Bucky Ball.

    Other than that, very good.

  8. They think that “one time this really weird thing happened” is rock-hard evidence.

  9. Any disagreement is proof that they are being persecuted “just like Galileo.” In fact, they find many ways to compare themselves favorably to Galileo.

    They sneer at “mainstrean science” because it is either hoplessly naive or an active conspiracy to supress the proof, usually both at once.

    If the “truth” were known all scientists would become unemployed.

    If the “truth” were known there would be violence in the streets, millions would commit suicide, the entire economic order of the West would collapse over night, and yet they think telling their truth is a good thing.

    If you don’t believe them, it’s because you’ve been brainwashed.

  10. Some I’ve run into:

    – They complain that criticism is nothing but negativity and closed-mindedness.
    – They believe skeptics are on the take of (fill in the blank), payed by blog comment presumably.
    – They believe anecdotal accounts trump double-blind studies and epidemiology.

  11. They use argumentum ad hitlerum.

  12. A good list.
    An honorable list.
    But I still prefer the Crackpot Index.

  13. Infophile: you are technically correct. I have changed the wording.

    everyone else: thanks for the suggestions! I will definitely have to make this a page and keep it updated.

  14. Just thought of another one:

    They refer to evidence based medicine as “allopathic” medicine, and to real doctors as “allopaths”.

  15. If you hear the word “toxins,” there’s a damn good chance you’re talking to a woo.


    Seriously, I should sue for the terminal case of hiccups I now have.

  17. #1 “Big Pharma” is a term I have heard commonly used by doctors, hospital administrators, and the like. It’s not a strange or unusual concept, and unlike the other terms in #1, is referring to a few specific companies. It’s not a term of love or hate by any means, but given the united regulatory and lobbying front large pharmaceutical companies tend to have, it’s not a reach to refer to them as a whole.

    Now, loons like to use it as a codeword for “powerful conspirators out to get you”, I won’t dispute that…

  18. i think you will find that when real doctors use the term Big Pharma it’s with a smattering of irony. I also use the term regularly, usually encompassed by scare quotes. Hence the ‘in all seriousness’. See this guy for a perfect example of what i mean.

  19. “The ‘university’ where they got their degree … charges less than $1,000 for a doctorate”

    Well, some of us live in countries where even graduate education is free. I’m happy to have paid only blood, sweat, toil and tears for my Ph.D.

  20. i’m very sad to report that puts you in the minority of countries 🙂

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