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Silicon Valley’s pseudoscientific guilty pleasures

Silicon+Valley+has+become+a+symbol+both+of+the+fruitful+employ+of+science+and+the+fruitless+pursuit+of+pseudoscience.+The+symbolism+of+silicon+itself+exemplifies+this+duality%3A+the+semiconductors+that+lent+the+Valley+its+name%2C+and+the+quartz+crystals+that+some+impute+mystical+powers+to.
Silicon Valley has become a symbol both of the fruitful employ of science and the fruitless pursuit of pseudoscience. The symbolism of silicon itself exemplifies this duality: the semiconductors that lent the Valley its name, and the quartz crystals that some impute mystical powers to.

Silicon Valley has become a symbol both of the fruitful employ of science and the fruitless pursuit of pseudoscience. The symbolism of silicon itself exemplifies this duality: the semiconductors that lent the Valley its name, and the quartz crystals that some impute mystical powers to.

Derek Yen

Derek Yen

Silicon Valley has become a symbol both of the fruitful employ of science and the fruitless pursuit of pseudoscience. The symbolism of silicon itself exemplifies this duality: the semiconductors that lent the Valley its name, and the quartz crystals that some impute mystical powers to.

by Derek Yen, Winged Post Opinion Editor

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A piece recently published by the New York Times describes a new trend of “raw water,” or water that has not been filtered, sterilized, or at all treated since being sourced from springs.

Proponents of raw water claim that it is beneficial to health, and that tapwater and bottled water are either rife with toxins or deficient in beneficial bacteria. It isn’t difficult to draw a direct parallel with the more traditional conspiracy theories about fluoride in tap water.

Untreated water isn’t exactly conducive to good health itself, and can host parasites and heavy metals. From the alcoholic beverages of yore and the water treatment plants of today, raw water is precisely what humans throughout history have striven to avoid drinking. Cholera and other water-transmitted diseases continue to plague societies without the privilege of clean water.

The New York Times article was an eye-opener for me. Not because of its content—pseudoscientific health trends are just as effervescently ephemeral as a bottle of tonic water—but because this trend apparently has caught on in Silicon Valley. The piece cites suppliers of raw water in the Bay Area and several raw water startups. Among other proponents is the founder of Juicero, the exorbitant juice-press company (now bankrupt) that some commentators claimed exemplified fundamental flaws with the intangible philosophy that supposedly underpins all of Silicon Valley.

And now, with raw water, some have drawn the same parallels. On Slate, one author argues that “the raw water movement underscores the increasing realization that tech-bro Silicon Valley fetishists have abandoned the rest of society.”

This hardly seems accurate to me: the Silicon Valley that I have known my whole life is still fundamentally committed to the principles of fact-based inquiry and science.

But it does not take too much squinting to see the pseudoscience that exists at the seams: all too easy-to-locate homeopathic remedies, an anti-GMO culture that flourishes even as crops wither, and a trend of alkaline water (which is often not actually alkaline, and would be ineffective regardless).

A great irony underpins the entire arrangement: the same region that has thrived through perfections of science and breakthroughs in research is at the same time receptive to pseudoscience. But simultaneously, this pursuit of pseudoscience is only enabled through the wealth accrued through practiced science.

I do not believe that raw water is at all typical of the Silicon Valley ethos and experience, but I also cannot ignore the pseudoscience that does exist here. I must unfortunately concede that mysticism and superstition in health is as native to Silicon Valley as the spirit of engineering and enterprise.

Why must the commitment to science end with the workspace door? Silicon Valley is the concrete crystallization of the fruits of engineering and science, widely upheld as a paragon of innovation and technology, but its pseudoscientific guilty pleasures only contradict and cloud this image. As future citizens of Silicon Valley, we must be wary of being swept into fads and ensure that the pursuit of effective solutions is a hallmark of Silicon Valley’s culture in academic, business, and domestic spheres.

1 Comment

One Response to “Silicon Valley’s pseudoscientific guilty pleasures”

  1. Melissa Kwan on January 12th, 2018 1:42 pm

    Great piece, Derek!

    [Reply]

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