I find it rather disappointing sometimes how most atheists dispel statements/beliefs/arguments simply because the scientific research has not proven it. It's one thing for research to conclusively prove something but if the research is not there, it does not mean that it's not true. I've come across this a number of times in medicine and I'd like to share one of those examples.

 

When my oldest daughter was younger, she was in and out of hospitals. This placed a great deal of stress on myself and my wife. One day I started to see dark areas in my eyesight and went to the doctor. My doctor was a little shocked (don't you hate it when they don't hide their feelings too well and you of course think the worst). Anyway, he sent me to an eye specialist who told me that due to the stress I was under, a protective film in the back of my eye had deteriorated and was in the process of breaking down. This is an irreversible process that I could do nothing about.

 

Great, thanks for the diagnosis, doc. I immediately went to my naturopath who quite matter-of-factly told me she would fix it in 3 months. Sure enough, 3 months later, after taking all my anti-oxidant tablets, my eyesight cleared up. So much for irreversible.

 

This is a small example, that I have seen repeated many times with others around me. Clearly it is not in the interests of the multibillion dollar drug companies to conduct clinical trials of cheap off-the-shelf vitamin tablets that are capable of curing our diseases. Science is profits-driven. Today, great advances in science occur when large amounts of money are involved (or large amounts of people need to be killed). Sometimes, money is spent on science that has little or no monetary return (space program, CERN LHC, etc. Some of these things are driven by fear, some a dick-measuring exercises (ie Europe can say it now has a bigger collider than the USA). But basically, it comes down to scientific endeavour being undertaken by flawed individuals and driven by possible financial returns.

 

Then of course there are the scientific "studies" which are designed to show a desired outcome funded by big $$$. I'm old enough to remember the debate on the detrimental effects of cigarette smoking. Did anyone believe the scientific studied funded by the cigarette companies? You would be surprised!!! Today we have a similar debate on the detrimental effects of mobile phone usage. Finally some studies are coming out now that show the relationship between mobile phone usage and brain tumours on the side of the brain that the phone is used. Duh!

 

Just as there are lies, damn lies and statistics, the same applies to science. It is a tool that can be misused for nefarious purposes and when there is human nature and money involved, it usually is misused.

 

So, don't believe it just because a scientific study has shown it to be so and don't not believe something just because there are no scientific studies.

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Great, thanks for the diagnosis, doc. I immediately went to my naturopath who quite matter-of-factly told me she would fix it in 3 months. Sure enough, 3 months later, after taking all my anti-oxidant tablets, my eyesight cleared up. So much for irreversible.

 

So, your example boils down to some doctors have more knowledge in certain areas.  This is not shocking.

 

 

Naturopaths are not doctors and most of their "remedies" are not based on clinical studies. So what I am saying is that because it is not financially lucrative, there will be many areas in medicine and science that will not have clinical studies to prove their validity. It doesn't mean that they are not valid as in the case of naturopathy. Although naturopathy also has "voodoo magic" type of remedies like homeopathy which will never be scientifically validated, it does include nutrition, meditation and other methods which have been in small part scientifically studied.

How do you know that the placebo effect wasn't in action?  That the doctor you went to initially was just as ignorant as the naturopath; or at least in the sense that no adequate study can be done for your given situation.

The doctor I was referred to was a specialist with many years of study working at one of the best hospitals in the city. She visually saw the degradation in my eye and made an unequivocal diagnosis based on what she saw. Medical science is typically good at diagnosing problems although it does sometimes get it wrong.

I would suggest that the title of your post is very appropriate, but not in the way you intended.

I suggest you read the book Denialism.  It just came out a few months back and talks about this very subject.  

There are 'bad' studies, but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by 'good' studies, by universities, government agencies, organizations that want to find true remedies for today's health problems.  Unfortunately bad studies are often used by people with agendas to try to prove science lets people down.  The truth is for all our 'engineered food', 'unsafe' medication and procedures, that denialists say are bad; our children have the longest life expectancy of any humans born ever.

 

The book also touches on vaccines (which might be diverging to a subject better dedicated to its own topic) and how people have been brainwashed by a few into thinking vaccines are potentially harmful when a link has never been made between vaccines and autism.  Even the mercury in vaccines (which by law are no longer in almost every vaccine in the US even though there was never any science that said it was bad, only public perception drove legislation) is not the mercury in your thermometers at home any more then wood alcohol is in your whiskey.  

 

London, for instance, has dropped from over 80% vaccination rate to 50% in the last 8 years because of the fear of autism being created by the vaccines. Due to that, it provided a perfect environment to compare children that have and have not been vaccinated and there is an equal rate of autism in vaccinated and unvaccinated children (in fact it has shown to be ever so slightly higher in unvaccinated children).  But diseases that had been all but wiped out of Britain are now having higher confirmed cases then 30-40 years ago.  Tens of thousands of children die each year because they have not been vaccinated by people who 'think' vaccines are bad without any evidence to support their position.

 

I guess in the end, you have to ask yourself.  What do you trust, the collective knowledge of thousands of doctors and scientists accumulating decades of knowledge through rigorous research, peer reviewed papers in published journals, thousands of double blind studies on countless numbers of people under controlled conditions...or someone that gets their information from other hippies on the internet?

 

People to often look at individual anecdotes and use the them to dispel science.  The problem is it's not unlike those tricks you see online about boosting your gas mileage.  My favorite is brand x sparkplugs boosts your gas mileage Y percent!.  Some people believe the advertising, buy the plugs, and measure their fuel consumption (often consciously or unconsciously driving differently after installing them) and validate the better gas mileage.  In a true scientifically controlled experiment, spark plugs do not have measurable impacts on fuel economy unless they are so worn out they are causing misfires.  You have to be in motorsports, or an engineer at an auto manufacturer to have done the testing first hand in a true scientific way, but people love to think they are outsmarting the people that do those things for a living.  And people love to feel like they're getting the real-deal, or an alternative to what others are getting, especially when the science doesn't give them the answer they 'want' to hear.

 

My point is, your anecdotal story may be the first of several, which peaks the interest of a university to do a study, which snowballs into the a new cure, but don't hold your breath.

Hi Starscream,

You make some valid points and there is no doubt that there is a great deal of irrational backlash towards science which is usually led by the poorly educated. However, by the same token there are the irrational scientific religionists who promote science with no regard to its failings and drivers. Money is a big driver of scientific endeavour which many simply ignore. To ignore this driver is to misunderstand why scientific research heads in the direction it does.

The vast majority of medical therapies are driven by the drug companies simply because they have the funds required to perform the research required to test their drugs. They are not interested in providing cheap easily accessible solutions that they cannot patent as they don't stand to make billions of dollars from them. So it all comes down to money driving the solutions that they are prepared to provide to the community. If for example, there was a cheap cure for cancer that the drug companies could test for, they simply won't do it. They will test drug after drug that fails to cure cancer in the hope that they can find the holy grail that will make more billions for them and allow 7.6+ million people per year die rather than save lives. Make no mistake, drug companies are not in the business of saving lives and/or advancing science/medicine. They are in the business of making money. Bottom line. It's just a lucky coincidence that in the process of making profits they also save some lives.

As for vaccines, I have vaccinated all my children and whilst there is some slight risk, the risk of not vaccinating is far greater. And for the record, mercury is an accumulative poison which has researched and documented affects on the brain. Let's not be like the Romans who were slowly poisoning themselves with their lead water pipes. I would, however, sincerely doubt whether the level of mercury in vaccines would be of a significant enough level to cause serious harm.

As for anecdotes, the sad reality is that these anecdotes are all that we had when the cigarette companies told us that there is no harm in cigarette smoking. They were all we had when the mobile phone companies told us there is no link between brain tumours and mobile phone usage. Would anyone like to support these claims today? I'll just direct them to the scientific research that proves them wrong. How many people need to die before the research is done? That figure appears to be in the millions - too high as far as I'm concerned. So, I'll continue with my anecdotes if you don't mind until some altruistic organisation decided to fund the research.

At this stage, I should make my disclaimer lest I be tarred with the denialist brush. I am an electronics engineer and as such, I use scientific principles in my every day work. Indeed, at university I studied Schroedinger's equation, solid-state physics, organic chemistry (I was going to do chemical engineering at one stage but changed my mind) and complex mathematics. I am well versed in the use of science in its application in the practical world.

Love the science but let's keep it real.

I agree we need to keep sciences limitations realistic, and money is a huge driver.  No money, no experiments, no results.  However, it's not just the large pharmaceuticals making money that we need to be concerned about.  Companies selling vitamins or other 'natural' cures are basically selling pet rocks.  They have almost zero R&D invested and they are packaging naturally occurring things that are more or less easy to process.  Vitamin sales are in the billions of dollars annually and no one above the poverty level gets less than the daily recommended dosage of any vitamins.  It's not to say vitamins are not essential, but above the dosage recommended by the FDA (which extensive studies have been done), no further benefit has been found.

 

And sometimes the FDA gets it wrong as they did with Vitamin C.

What did they get wrong?

The recommended dosages and the maximum amounts that can be absorbed by human bodies.

Yes, specifically Dr. Linus Pauling who recommended megadosing on Vitamin C. I have used this recently (9g per day) to control a virus. I can't say whether it was successful or not because even though the virus didn't affect me much after taking the VitC and my condition cleared up quickly, it could have also done this even if I had not taken VitC. Placebo effect? Possibly. This is not a conclusive anecdote unlike my experience with an "incurable" condition which was cured by the taking of vitamin supplements.

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