What's The Harm?
Type of site
|Created by||Tim Farley|
|Launched||January 22, 2008|
What's The Harm? is a website providing a catalog of stories where people have been injured, killed or otherwise disadvantaged (sometimes financially) by believing in misinformation or through a lack of critical thinking.
As an answer to the question “What’s the harm?”, this site organizes and catalogs instances where a lack of skepticism caused or led to just that – harm. In providing documented reports of various quandaries (ranging from embarrassment to injury and death) this site makes the claim that critical thinking is a vital skill to be used in everyday life. Rather than engage in debate, What's The Harm? presents hundreds of examples of problems caused by the absence of rationality, performing the function of a modern-day factual Aesop's Fables.
The site has gotten praise from the skeptic community. James Randi called the site "an important site" in a post to his SWIFT newsletter. James Randi Educational Foundation President Phil Plait posted in his Discover magazine blog, "Now when someone asks "What’s the harm?" you can send them right to What's The Harm.... It's a very interesting place to click around."
Skeptics Society Executive Director Michael Shermer has said of the site, "I think it's excellent. 'What's the harm?' is the question that all of us skeptics get asked whenever we do interviews on T.V. or debate people about irrational beliefs. And often, they are quite harmful."
Penn Jillette called it "an amazingly great website" in his video blog Penn Says. "It's terrific, it's a great site. When someone says to you 'what's the harm' in a certain thing, go to What's The Harm and check it out."
Further, an article by Matt Crowley in Skeptical Inquirer suggested that the harms involved in pursuing pseudoscience can be subtle and nuanced. Crowley's review of the What's the Harm? website proposed that if one does not employ critical thinking in this area, then that person will waste time on ideas that lack credibility and intellectual rigour. This could lead such a person into "... the byzantine complexity and disorienting incoherence of many fringe beliefs". 
Others have criticized the site. Len Torine of the American Vegetarian Association said of the site's vegetarianism page, "They're just extreme examples and has nothing to do with veganism or vegetarianism. It's just nonsense. It's just silly." The site's author said he has modified that page and others in response to criticism when appropriate.
In a talk at Skeptics in the Pub in Boston on the site's origins, Farley has said that after hearing Penn Jillette talk about The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM), he decided to attend the conference's fifth installation. After being immersed in an environment with so many people dedicated to critical thinking, he asked himself "What can I do?"
In his interview on the Skepticality podcast he talks about his strong interest in science (he was a physics major at Georgia Tech) and how he never put his interests together towards any sort of activism. "It was like a bomb went off in my head", says Farley of his epiphany at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) sponsored event. He noticed that stories of people being harmed by pseudoscience often appeared as a jumping off point for articles about skepticism, but that there wasn't a single repository for these items.
Originally to be called "The Wall of Harm", it was envisioned to be a memorial much like the one at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where the names of those victims who died as a result of pseudoscience or other non-critical thinking would be displayed. Farley hoped a reminder of "Why we are here" would help unite skeptics in their campaign against such non-scientific practices and would motivate proponents of critical thinking at events like TAM.
A series of discussions with colleagues led to the current incarnation: a categorized, searchable resource that Dr Steven Novella says provides an answer to those "who do not see unscientific or fraudulent medicine as a problem".
In an interview with Richard Saunders on the Skeptic Zone podcast, Farley discussed how he wanted to try to stay focused on "concrete stories of people that actually got hurt" that he could cite with some kind of "decent documentation". He stated that he wanted to keep the format simple so that anyone could comfortably access the stories, on any browser with no flashy videos. He hopes to expand the site into longer feature stories of some of the more documented or popular stories. Saunders stated that the site "has a wealth of information, if someone asks you "what's the harm?", you can run to this website and see that the harm is... lack of critical thinking".
The newly launched JREF podcast Consequence features personal narratives in pseudoscience thinking, the website What's the Harm? is showcased by providing real numbers and citations. Episode 3 told the story of a woman raised Christian Scientist who had often wondered why her infant cousin had died. She recounts that she learned the truth that the child had died because medical treatment had been withheld in favor of prayer only. She discovered this fact by finding the citation on the What's the Harm? website. Farley recounts that this was the first time a family member actually approached him with this kind of discovery.
- What is this site?, What's The Harm?, retrieved March 23, 2009
- Brown, Christopher. "The Amazing Meeting 2012: Tim Farley". Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Randi, James (May 9, 2008), "Yes, An Important Site!", SWIFT, James Randi Educational Foundation, retrieved March 19, 2009
- Plait, Phil (February 12, 2008), "What's the harm?", Bad Astronomy, Discover Magazine, retrieved March 23, 2009
- Nguyen, Tuan (July 22, 2008), "Victimized by Astrology and...Veganism?", ABC News Technology & Science, ABC News, pp. 1–2, retrieved March 23, 2009
- Jillette, Penn (February 6, 2009), "What's The Harm?", Penn Says, Crackle, retrieved March 23, 2009
- Crowley, Matt. "What's the Harm? Revisited". Centre for Inquiry. Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
- Radford, Benjamin (July 17, 2008), "Psychic Nearly Destroys Family", LiveScience, Imaginova, retrieved March 23, 2009
- Shapiro, Rose (July 24, 2008), "A bad week for alternative medicine", The Guardian, Guardian Media Group, retrieved March 23, 2009
- Video: What’s The Harm? – Tim Farley – February 23, 2009, Boston Skeptics, February 23, 2009, retrieved March 19, 2009
- Swoopy; Colanduno, Derek (August 26, 2008), "Ep. No. 084 – Interview: Tim Farley – What's The Harm", Skepticality, Skeptic Magazine, retrieved November 27, 2011
- Blog: What’s The Harm? – Dr Steven Novella – December 17, 2008, NeuroLogicaBlog.org, December 17, 2008, retrieved December 17, 2008
- Saunders, Richard. "The Skeptic Zone No. 184 – 28.Apr.2012". The Skeptic Zone. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
- "Episode 3: Bonnie vs Christian Science". JREF. Retrieved July 31, 2012.