Monday, February 18, 2008

Science and the alternative

Eons ago, Emily and I wrote an editorial in the now defunct Journal of Family Practice [1] on the topic of alternative medicine. It was titled "Science and the Alternative" which sort of gives away our opinions (see also).

Oh, to be clear, it's not that I think herbal remedies can't work (for example), but rather that it's magical thinking to assume they're fundamentally safe because they're "natural".

Today CV tackles the topic, after discovering, to his horror, that his readership doesn't necessarily know what science is ...

Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory | Cosmic Variance

...If we can show that psychic phenomena are incompatible with the laws of physics we currently understand, then our task is to balance the relative plausibility of “some folks have fallen prey to sloppy research, unreliable testimony, confirmation bias, and wishful thinking” against “the laws of physics that have been tested by an enormous number of rigorous and high-precision experiments over the course of many years are plain wrong in some tangible macroscopic way, and nobody ever noticed...

[1] The name lives on but the journal died.

PS. I love that Michael Crichton, the climate change denier, is also a spoon bender.


Anonymous said...

Having worked for three decades with individuals with disabilities I can say with some certainty that the autism label is used widely as an umbrella term. The term is used to cover any individual who demonstrates, exhibits any autistic like features.

So the grey area is quite wide when relating immunizations to complications with young children, who might indeed have developed some disability that is called autistic or autistic like! I also feel quite strongly that immunization should be a parent’s choice, but the system makes it well nigh impossible to resist the immunization machine that exists in the USA.

I did not immunize my children because the first immunization brought on some very dangerous symptoms that were life threatening. I must add that the children also had some other severe reactions to some foods and air-born substances.

The hoops I had to go through to resist the system were draconian. The bureaucratic attitude from doctors to school officials was dogmatic to say the least. There appears to be enough evidence that there are some correlations between vaccines and resulting problems in some children.

The medical community is not always what it is cracked up to be. The history of lobotomies and electric shock treatment pay testament that, not to mention the collusion between manufacturers of medicines and the medical community.

I have yet to bend a spoon at a distance, and do not intend to try, but have used one often to administer substances other than traditional allopathic medicines.

Regards, Alan

John Gordon said...

Physicians are imperfect no doubt. I think declining morale, particularly among primary care physicians, is taking a toll.

The soft corruption of physicians, particularly specialists (nobody bothers to corrupt generalists any more) resembles the everyday corruption of politicians and is equally discouraging. I think physicians and politicians are about equally good at recognizing and speaking out about the corruption of the system they live in.

Actually electric shock treatment looks very good in retrospect. It is one of our better, safer, treatments these days. Lobotomies were an abomination and an example of weak science, but one of the players on my son's hockey team had a successful comissurotomy for intractable seizures. It's member of the same family of procedures.

The enthusiasm for thalidomide was one of the greater blunders of medicine, but, hard to believe, the American proto-FDA actually saved us from the worst of that one.

If you want to look for vile crimes of the profession it would be a history of cooperation with torture, which has occurred many times in the history of the profession.

Immunization is one of those things that's, for better and for worse, part of the price for living in a crowded world. Without it we'd live in a far less crowded world, and we'd all have fewer living children. That's about as close to a "physics" fact as biology gets. The problem is that the public good can have private costs. The current answer, which is that you had to struggle mightily to evade immunization, is a typical compromise.

Lastly, herbal substances obviously have pharmaceutical action (tobacco, coffee, tetrodotoxin opium, cocaine, etc). LOTS of actions. The scientific objection is the magical thinking that "natural" (tetrodotoxin) means safer/better. The exemption of herbal medications from FDA surveillance was a crime against reason.

John Gordon said...

Thinking about this my rhetorical flourish "Without it we'd live in a far less crowded world, and we'd all have fewer living children. That's about as close to a "physics" fact as biology gets." was, unfortunately, wrong.

Or at least very debatable. Such is the peril of the quick comment.

If I get some more comments I'll explain why I went too far ...

Anonymous said...

“That's about as close to a "physics" fact as biology gets." I have since long discovered that any possibility of a fine tuned debate does not work with this medium. Or at least I am unwilling to type several pages to get there!
My comments to your blog are driven by interest in the content and quite frankly you are a great read. Your post 11/25, “Conflagration – the European invasion,” Conflagration -- pulled me in hard and was a bit of an epiphany for me.

On the topic of immunization we would undoubtedly stand in opposite corners. Biology “characteristic life processes and phenomena of living organisms; "the biology of viruses," and physics, “The science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two, grouped in traditional fields such as acoustics, optics, mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, as well as in modern extensions including atomic and nuclear physics, cryogenics, solid-state physics, particle physics, and plasma physics,” just don’t jive in the way you used them. But hey, I am not one to quibble, and you would most probably leave me in the dust where we to get serious!

Regards, Alan

John Gordon said...

Thanks for your patience Alan. I do appreciate your comments!