More musical trivia: The Alt Health Guru

In which Dr Aust again falls back on (semi-second hand) musical facetiousness.

Regular readers will by now have noted my admiration for the immortal Tom Lehrer. Well, not literally immortal, but as he turned eighty earlier this year he is doing pretty well.

“The Old Dope Peddler”, recorded in 1953 on the album Songs by Tom Lehrer, is one of Lehrer’s simpler songs. The other day it occurred to me that it was just the thing for a lyrical makeover in the Bad Science cause. You can listen to the song here, and I suggest you do before you read the adapted lyrics.

I do apologise, by the way, for the rather similar subject matter between this one and “Woo is all around” – which was already probably one song too many. However, the combination of the start of the University term, various work-related writing projects with imminent deadlines, and Junior Aust engaging in a guerilla campaign of relentless psychological warfare (4 year olds are good at this stuff – she is annoyed because we have temporarily had to withdraw her DVD-watching privileges) has left me too frazzled for anything more serious.

Anyway – to business.

Tom Lehrer often introduced his songs with a spoken intro, and the one for this song doesn’t really need any changing:

“You are no doubt familiar with songs about the old lamplighter and the old umbrella man and the old garbage collector and all these lovable old characters who go around spreading sweetness and light to their respective communities.

But it’s always seemed to me that there is one member of this happy band who does an equally splendid job, but who has never been properly recognized in song or story.  This is an attempt to remedy, at least in part, that deplorable situation.”

When your aches and pains are griping,
Comes a fellow everyone knows,
It’s the Alt Health Guru,
Spreading joy wherever he goes.

Every breakfast time you’ll find him,

On a TV sofa somewhere near

With some supplements to sell you

Getting rich by tickling your fear.


He gives the kids free samples, [spoken aside: “fish oil”]
Because he knows full well

That today’s young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow’s worried well.

Here’s a cure for all your troubles,
And a nice profit from your distress.
It’s the Alt Health Guru,
With his pricey New Age Ha-a-pi-ness

[Plink plink]



22 Responses to “More musical trivia: The Alt Health Guru”

  1. She-Liger Says:

    Doc, sorry for off-top ;)
    Pay attention please to here:

    Your comment is desperately excellent! :) And can’t you do it YOURSELF? Write ot UoW’s Nobel laureates or other eminent persons, please! You have proposed it – do it yourself. It is important and necessary affair – you are right.
    Honestly – I would do it (you know me!). But I don’t live and don’t work in Britain. It is your buseness, not my one.
    Write and sign by your own name….

  2. draust Says:

    I have alerted my friends in Welsh Universities.. we’ll see what they do.

  3. She-Liger Says:

    Aha! You’ve decided rightly that all persons must fight against endarkenment on their own place ;) It’s OK.

    It seems, you are from University of Manchester, eh?

    Then – look at this page.

    Religion in modern university is a sign of atavism.

    And what is this, Doc?

    It is “Quackery creeps into good universities too – but through Human Resources” ? ;)

  4. She-Liger Says:

    “I have alerted my friends in Welsh Universities.. we’ll see what they do.”
    What will they do? Nothing.

  5. She-Liger Says:

    And do you know – why?
    Because they will have to act under their own names and against real university administration.
    They can’t do it if they are YOUR friends…

  6. Dr Aust Says:

    I think University staff DO have considerable power within their institutions, but ONLY if they act collectively. Acting together also gives security against incurring the wrath of the management.

    The snag is that so few issues really get University staff motivated enough to get collectively active (pay is the exception).

    One thing that sometimes does get people motivated to do something is major institutional change, or the prospect thereof. David Colquhoun et al’s action against the proposed merger of UCL and Imperial a few years back stands as testament to what can be accomplished if high-profile academics are really angry enough to take a high-profile stand.

    The problems with doing this in the case of “Woo” degrees are several.

    One is that a lot of staff, even in science, don’t see this as an important enough issue to get exercised about. Everyone has plenty of other stuff to worry about.

    A second problem is that there probably will be people – mostly, I guess, though not exclusively, in non-scientific disciplines -who won’t be able to see “why the scientists are making such a fuss” (what I mean by this is that these folk will be minded to treat Alt Medicine as just another legitimate academic discipline, something that Alt.Med tries very hard to insist on – hence the endless parade of dire Alt Med journals).

    Still a third problem is that the staff unions will probably be against such an “Anti-Woo” campaign, as it might be seen to be attempting to shut certain departments and thus “put academics (or union members) out of work”.

  7. draust Says:

    Re. your earlier post, She-Liger, I’ve never said what University I work for other than that it is in the North of England. I just had a quick count and there are actually ten Universities within an hour’s commute of Chez Aust.

    I took a look at the two links you put up. One is to a Department of Theology, which is effectively a department for studying religions from the cultural / arts / anthropology viewpoint, and which awards “Bachelor of Arts” degrees. They are not training priests.

    Most UK Universities have departments of religious studies. As a major human endeavour, religions are worth studying. So is Alt Med, actually – but from a critical viewpoint. It is the teaching of belief as received fact that I object to, whatever the sphere.

    The other link is to something a staff association is offering to its members. We have been talking about this sort of thing over on David Colquhoun’s blog.

    I would be incensed if any University were offering reflexology or similar “under official seal of approval”, but “Staff Associations” (staff clubs, in effect) are not official University bodies and do what their members decide they will do. Now, if I was a member of a staff association that started offering discount Alt.Therapy to its members, I would probably quit, and I would certainly write them a sarky letter. Looking over the page you linked to, I would feel confident in stating that there would be far more health benefit in a salsa class, or even yoga (which are both quite good fun), than in reflexology. But if people WANT to waste their money on reflexology, that is up to them.

  8. She-Liger Says:

    About your first answer.
    “Words, words, words…” And actions and results are absent. Why? Because all of you think only about yourselves.

    About your university.
    Well. You are not in Manchester. Nevertheless – look at your own university at first…

    About religion.
    Dawkins has other opinion. I agree with him. And if academics want to study religion as a phenomenon, then other terms exist – “culturology’ and “scientific atheism”.

    About “WANT”.
    Want? And why can’t they “want” in OTHER place? Not in University?

  9. Rob A Says:

    As there are no on-topic comments here, I thought I’d break the cycle and say, ‘You’ve done a good job with this one, Dr A. Perhaps a couple of discreet quacking duck calls would go well as additional asides?’

  10. draust Says:

    Thanks Rob.

    Yes, we have got rather sidetracked, haven’t we?

    I like the quacking duck calls idea.

  11. She-Liger Says:

    Aha. ;)
    … and add also croaking frogs for complete impression… :) :P
    … quackery is big-big swamp…

  12. She-Liger Says:

    Do you hope that you can do something useful? Do you think that you will be capable to win in fight against quackery?
    You will do nothing and never. You are afraid even to open your name.
    And your children will raised as cowards, unfortunately.

  13. draust Says:

    Svetlana / “She-Liger” / “Ephistopheles”

    This regular resort to insults and harangues is getting very boring. I can only interpret it as a desperate shout of “look at me!”. If you don’t like the blog, or the discussions, feel free to go away and leave the rest of us in peace.

    And as I have warned you before, if your posts are nothing but tired insults I will delete them.

    Like most bloggers, I write for my own satisfaction. I am under no illusions that I am a leader in a grand crusade against Alt.Reality.

    If this blog gives some people some useful information, or amuses someone once in a while, I am pleased. If it helps convince a few readers that people like David Colquhoun, Ben Goldacre and Orac are speaking for a large “silent majority” of other scientists and sceptics – which is certainly true in my experience – then again I would be happy.

    Re anonymity, I have explained why I blog anonymously several times, most recently here. If I found in-house quackery in my own University, and I was starting a campaign to oppose it, I would use my real name.

  14. She-Liger Says:

    No, John.
    (legendary Faust’s name was Johann, so I shall call you John… Ok? ;))

    You will never start a campaign, John. You can’t it.

    Mike can start a campaign. And he started a campaign. But he has lost it.

    And Ben has started campaign. But he won only with support of his newspaper.

    John, I do it NOT because I want “to show myself” in Internet. Simply I don’t like idle talkers both in life and in Internet. I think that such people are worse even than quacks and VCs supporting quackery.

    I dealt with quacks. They are enough “picturesque insects” ;)) But they are too boring company . Hell is boring.
    I dealt with VCs, who supports quackery. They are not boring. Moreover, many of them know science well and have a powerful talent of eloquence. But they are evil-minded, cruel and sly. Demonism is painful.
    Now I deal with “sceptics”…. And it turned out that Eden is ridiculous.

  15. She-Liger Says:

    OK, Johnnie
    I shall come away. I am kind Tiger ;) I shall not eat you.
    Other beasts will eat away you.


  16. Svetlana Pertsovich Says:

    Good bye.

  17. Ephistopeles Says:

    I leave you too, Dr. Aust.
    I have read at last our ancient annals (my eternal lazyness didn’t allow me to do it!). It turns out you have no soul! You are progeny of known Dr. Faust, which had sold his soul once. Sinsyne all his descendants come into the world without soul. I shall gain nothing here. Rather – I have gained already… ;)
    Farewell, Doctor.

  18. draust Says:

    Und damit bastahoffentlich

  19. Sceric Says:

    Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr, ….smile…although that most likely won’t help that much…

  20. Allo V Psycho Says:

    “That today’s young innocent faces
    Will be tomorrow’s worried well”.

    OK, that’s brilliant! – even better than “Woo is all around”.

  21. draust Says:

    Cheers, AVP. I was quite pleased with that particular line.

  22. Rob A Says:

    Perhaps a duet with Tim Minchin is in order?

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