Monday, June 28, 2010

Science and Pseudo-Science

This past weekend, I had a chance to have some really interesting discussions and debates about a number of scientific topics. As it happened in a social setting, I was not really able to make all my points very clear, due to "etiquette" restrictions, but despite this limitation, it was very interesting to see how others perceive science in general, and medical science in particular. It was also an amazing journey into the world of logical fallacies, with some of them piling up on top of the others.

It all started from an innocent mention of some "ghost stories", which led to a full discussion about ghost seances and communication with the world-out-there.

However, the really interesting part came from the discussion of frequency healing and thermography. Both modalities are in the realm of cams, and are firmly set in the pseudo-science: "Radionics" and "A Critical Look at Thermography". Both discussions led directly to a standard "FDA and all the doctors are paid by the big pharma" argument, which, of course, is not something you can debate or win, so I did not even try.

There were two very interesting points made during our debate that are worth mentioning.

First, it was said that the frequency therapy (along with the machine used in the practice) can be attributed with a success rate of around 50%, when treating stage one cancers. However, when I asked about real statistical data, it turned out there there is none, and it's all based on a "gut feeling" from the past years. In addition, it was very telling to find out that the diagnosis of the cancers in question (as I said, in phase one), is "better than the standard medical procedures", which means it must be taken on faith, since we have no independent way to verify that the cancer is really there. Oh, I failed to mention, that the diagnosis is made by "laying hands"!

What I found even more interesting is a general attitude towards science. When I asked for some proofs, or scientific studies done on any of the discussed topics, I got a standard runaround with a lot of  buzzwords (like a long explanation about how frequency therapy rebuilds little cell tails, so they can continue living - I assumed we were talking about telomeres) and some quantum physics, but nothing solid. When I kept pressing, I was told that modern physics, and science in general, is not ready for the new ideas. They can't be tested and reproduced because scientists execute their experiments in a constrained space-time and do not really understand what's outside of the modern science.

That's all I really needed. Pseudo-science, and alternative medicine is not something you can debate and discuss with true believers (especially, when they have they income invested in it, but that's no surprise). Their world view is constructed to ensure that real data has no place in it and can't enter it under no circumstances. And if you don't understand something, just place it outside of our current methods of gaining knowledge and you can be virtually sure that you can peddle any nonsense and be safe with it.