Scientific American - Skeptic - May 2006

Total Posts:  153
Joined  05-01-2006
15 April 2006 06:10

The topic is SHAM (Self-Help and Actualization Movement).

Michael Shermer writes:

"[Investigative journalist Steve Salerno] explains how the talks and tapes offer a momentary boost of inspiration that fades after a few weeks, turning buyers into repeat customers. ...extensive market surveys revealed that 'the most likely customer for a book on any given [self-help] topic was someone who had bought a similar book within the preceding eighteen months.'  The irony of 'the eighteen-month rule' for this genre, Salerno says, is this: 'If what we sold worked, one would expect lives to improve.  One would not expect people to need further help from us - at least not in the same problem area, and certainly not time and time again.'"

"Surrounding SHAM is a bulletproof shield: if your life does not get better, it is your fault - your thoughts were not positive enough.  The solution?  More of the same self-help - or at least the same message repackaged into new products…"

"SHAM takes advantage by cleverly marketing the dualism of victimization and empowerment.  Like a religion that defines people as inherently sinful so that they require forgiveness (provided exclusively by that religion), SHAM gurus insist that we are all victims of our demonic 'inner children' who are produced by traumatic pasts that create negative 'tapes' that replay over and over in our minds…"

"Do these programs work?  No one knows.  According to Salerno, no scientific evidence indicates that any of the countless SHAM techniques - from fire walking to 12-stepping - works better than doing something else or even doing nothing.  The law of large numbers means that given the millions of people who have tried SHAMs, inevitably some will improve.  As with alternative-medicine nostrums, the body naturally heals itself and whatever the patient was doing to help gets the credit…"

False pattern recognition does not necessarily get one killed (I heard someone say once).  We have to use our brains, understand and digest the evidence.  Belief in the supernatural as one's starting point in order to seek understanding makes one susceptible to these SHAMs and similar endeavors.

Total Posts:  2541
Joined  26-03-2006
15 April 2006 08:34

The thing about the “inner child” sounds so seventies. The quoted piece doesn’t offer any recent examples of SHAM books or authors.

I do know, the few “self-help” books I’ve read, by Wayne Dyer and Eckart Tolle, were helpful to me personally.