1/11/2010

Blasts from the Past: A Reminder that Advanced Degrees Don't Guarantee Avoiding Woo

Chopra and friends are at Huff spreading the woo far, deep, and wide. Orac covered the piece and PalMD covers a comment from the piece. As soon as I read the first line of the comment, I knew exactly who had written it, having engaged in lively exchanges with the writer over the summer, some of which I blogged about here.

Woo and the idea that how are ancestors did things in the past far outweighs how we do things now is a pervasive mental error. Orac discusses medicine in the past in his blog today and notes that the alt-med folks would probably fit right in if they were transported back in time, whereas so much of what he does depends on the technological and scientific advances from the last hundred years. It's a far superior world today than in the past, and we live far better lives than our ancestors did. To think otherwise is woo.

I closed one of my posts on Roy, who really is a nice man, if a bit misdirected, with the following, and it's worth the repeat (with some slight modifications):

Reading smart, educated people who follow the woo serves as an important reminder that people who have succeeded in multiple fields can, when faced with health crises, go down the woo-trail in search of cures. If they get better, they can be certain of the validity of their chosen treatment and lead other desperate people down the same woo-trail. Science may not have all the answers, and it never will. But evidence-based treatments offer the best chance of success. At least it's been studied objectively and the claims measured for accuracy. Testimonials and anecdote may be good for starting points for research but that is all they are good for. Does it mean that the anecdote is wrong, the testimonial misguided? No, of course not, but they could be wrong and that is the point. Human beings fool themselves in ways they cannot fully comprehend. Science is the best remedy against it.


Let me put it as a Star Trek analogy. Kirk went with his gut; Spock with his brain. Spock may have missed the underlying motivators in people, but his rationality was the only way to make sure of the soundness of his decisions. Together, with Spock's rationality to hold Kirk's emotionalism in check, they made an excellent team. You have to check your gut with your head.

See, that held up really well, didn't it?

Live long and prosper. Oh, yeah, and fight the woo. :-)

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