How to Counter the Circus of Pseudoscience

From The New York Times:

Jan. 5, 2018

Maybe one day, once I have decades of experience as a doctor and further training in my area of specialization, I will be able to speak about health matters with the tone of authority of the average naturopath.

That was the thought that crossed my mind recently while I waded through the online world of alternative-health practitioners, wellness bloggers, whole-food chefs and Gwyneth Paltrow.

I did not seek it out at first; it came to me through a social-media algorithm. Facebook offered up a video advertisement from a “female hormonal health specialist” with her own “practice.” Not an endocrinologist but a naturopath. She lectured with confidence on thyroid testing, though much of what she said was wrong. And down the internet rabbit hole I went.

One traditional view of the medical profession is that doctors are commanding and authoritarian, even arrogant. Though some individuals fit that description, in fact, the profession is built on doubt.

Most doctors, especially the good ones, are acutely aware of the limits of their knowledge. I have learned from those much more experienced and qualified than me that humility is something to be cultivated over time, not lost.

Our field is built around trying to prove ourselves wrong. In hospitals we hold morbidity and mortality meetings trying to show where we have failed, what we need to change, how we can do better. Our hospital work is audited to identify where we fell short of our ideals. Through scientific research we try to disprove the effectiveness of treatments. Our failings are exposed from the inside.

The nature of evidence-based health care is that practices change as new evidence emerges.

That is also the case for other health professionals whose practice is based on science, like qualified dietitians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychologists. Guidelines are revised, advice is reversed — on blood pressure, diet, hormone replacement, opioid prescribing. This can be immensely frustrating for patients, even though it is what we must do to provide the best possible treatment.

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3 Responses to “How to Counter the Circus of Pseudoscience”

  1. Edith Pilkington Says:

    “Evidence based” means empirical, I would guess. Empirical observations of humans are based on population pools. If you are of a socio-economic class, or race class, or both, that doesn’t have access to health care you don’t have an opportunity to be part of the population studied. Read about this woman’s experiences with the medical establishment and what she has to say about why endometriosis is considered a “white woman’s condition” but not only that read about how she was diagnosed as hysterical, rather than for endometriosis because of how difficult it is to access the tests to prove that you really are dealing with what you know you’re experiencing. This is a more complicated subject than it appears to be:

    Despite its adherence to the scientific method, medicine has a huge problem with sex bias and other biases. What she has to say about the myopic focus of the reproduction of a potential, thus theoretical, human being is considered as more important to the learned doctors than the pain her endometriosis was causing.

    You might also want to read about how Walter Bockting dismisses the disparities in HIV incidence among what he loosely defines as the “transgender” population in his own Minnesota as opposed to the areas he has studied with the money provided by his CDC and Gilead research grants in locations that confirm his “scientific” biases. Science is objective, humans are not. Science is conceptual. Humans are flesh, blood and foibles.

    • Suzan Says:

      I owe my life to miracles wrought by modern medicine, those like Benjamin who gave what I felt a name and showed me I was not alone. Those who developed the hormones and the surgery, the developments of protocols.

      When I hung at the Women’s Building and listened to women talk about the poison of “Western Medicine” and the healing abilities of homeopathy, I though, “I’ve studied science and this is a crock of shit.” The same is true of crystals, feng shui, coffee enemas, goop, aroma therapy and all the other woo…

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