Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Take That! (or: WTG Panda)

Panda Bear MD, in the usual humble, roundabout, beating-around-the-bush style of his, has just trashed the whole so-called CAM movement more thoroughly than I could ever hope to.

Unfortunately, I happen to have some pretty good friends who -- through no fault of their own (they live in California) -- happen to hold some pretty strong beliefs on the subject. Equally unfortunately, these friends (ok; it's "friend" singular) was recently invited to a gathering where she was treated quite shamefully. Within the context of trying to "debate" things that are patently ridiculous ("science" is not, or shouldn't be, a matter of "opinion") there's still no excuse for plain old rudeness.

Nevertheless, here's my take on it:
You are welcome to believe that the sun revolves around the earth, but you should not expect a warm welcome at a meeting of professional astronomers, nor are you entitled to whine about their "refusal to listen to opposing viewpoints." (Of course, if they invited you because they like your stories about riding the sun around the earth, they have no right to berate you.)
The difference is that in science, you can indeed change people's minds by using their own methods and techniques to prove when you are right. Granted it may take time, but when you're right, you're right; time is on your side and eventually people come around. They have to, if they're really scientists. When I graduated from medical school, no bacteria could possibly live in the extreme acid pH of the stomach. That was proven to be false in 1982. Voila! My opinion was indeed influenced, and now I -- like many other physicians -- prescribe antibiotics for ulcers.

There are some arenas where "opinions" are the issue at hand, such as politics and religion. But things like Holocaust Denial and CAM pull the cloak of "opinion" and "opposing viewpoints" around themselves with an intellectual dishonesty that is nothing less than shameful.


At Sat Nov 03, 10:37:00 AM, Blogger Rob said...

I don't think that belief in an opinion (even an outrageous one like Holocaust denial) is "wrong." People do have the right to have a belief and state it. If they have encountered facts that have led them to believe something that goes against the current evidence, then they will believe those facts. To criticize someone for a belief is hubris.

To analyze the facts, however, is a different matter. I am all for an analysis of the facts on any issue and there should be a gainful discussion on these things (such as CAM). We get passionate about it when we see CAM causing harm to others, and that is understandable, but we should not cross the line and think that those who hold those beliefs are "bad" people.

Part of the reason for the blogger code is to state that ideas are always fair game, but criticism should not spill over to personal attacks. This is where I think others (of the "Skeptics" crowd) fall prey to their intellectual pride.

I will say that the whole global warming thing has me a bit perplexed. While I agree that there seems to be evidence pointing to the fact of global warming, it seems that the pundits do not allow dissent - or they demonize it. If it is science, it should be challenged. Once it stops being challenged, it is no longer science. It is unscientific to suggest otherwise, and I think that many "scientific" people forget that fact.

Dang, that was long. I think you have inspired a post on my own blog.

At Sat Nov 03, 04:07:00 PM, Blogger PalMD said...

Aside from various ontologic and epitimologic arguments, "belief" as such has little place in science. Medicine is an especially important science, in that most of us are subject to it daily (via public health measures and our doctors). People who use supposed authority to post their beliefs on medicine are wide open to an intellectual kick in the groin, IMnsHO.

At Mon Nov 05, 12:35:00 PM, Blogger Voter Mom said...

Speaking of h. pylori, have you heard the various research into obesity being caused by adenoviruses (Ad-36, Ad-37) and by bacteria? (Methanobrevibacter smithii )
Interesting, huh.

At Mon Nov 05, 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Sid Schwab said...

There should be medicine, and not-medicine. "Alternative medicine" is an oxymoron: if it's been tested and proven to work, it's medicine; if it hasn't, it's not "alternative," it's junk.

And much as I admire him, I disagree strongly with Rob on this: some beliefs are indeed "wrong." That one believes something -- anything -- doesn't give him or her an automatic pass, a shield from criticism. If what you believe is demonstrably wrong, and you persist in the belief, well then, you deserve criticism. Religion: ok, you get a pass (unless one believes the earth is 12,000 years old. If one does, then that one doesn't get to avail oneself of any science. One must live in a cave.) Factually false "science," you don't. And whereas I'm no expert on global warming, I don't think it's very important what "pundits" say: there are polemecists on both sides. It's what the science says. Attack -- that is, disprove if you can -- the science behind it. Offer testable hypotheses and let the chips fall where they may. My take on it is that when such things are being done, they're showing that global warming is occurring and that human commerce is a major factor.

But that's beside the point. That medical schools and other hospitals are giving credence to the unproven or disproven is moving up the list of things that depress me about the world.


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