2/20/2011

Novella's "Medical Myths": Sure to Piss Off People, So You Know It's Good

Dr. Steven Novella has a course, "Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us," available at The Teaching Company. I listened to it this last month on CD while commuting to the main campus. It was a well-done course that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to. Now mind you, I'm also currently listening to "How to Read and Understand Poetry," "Using Literature to Understand the Human Side of Medicine," and "Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning," so I'm probably an outlier, but maybe not, given the sorts of folks who would spend their money on Teaching Company courses.

It was interesting to see the reviews of Novella's course, and it's pretty easy to guess that the three negative reviews came from folks whose sacred cow he managed to roast. That may have been part of the fun in listening to the lectures, to be honest: the mental imagery of the folks whose beliefs he skewered all very matter-of-factly, with no sarcasm, no judgment, just relatively dry science, going apopletic when he got to the subject matter near and dear to their hearts.

His lectures are compelling in that they are based on an even-handed, dispassionate rhetoric that continues undaunted through potential minefields. It was a reminder, again, of why the anti-vaccine camp of Age of Autism despises him so. His credentials are impeccable (in other words, it's not a fallacious appeal to authority, but a sound one based on the evidence); he's calm and measured; he's well-versed in his topics and offers clear reasons to back up his rejection of pseudoscientific claims. Despite one critic's review contending Novella offered no evidence for labeling his topics myths and half-truths, there are twenty-four pages of bibliographical material bolstering the claims Novella makes in his lecture series.

There appear to be no myths Novella isn't willing to puncture, and it's a no-nonsense look at the nonsense we believe. I'd recommend that if you haven't read Novella at NeuroLogica, Science-Based Medicine, and skepticblog or listened to him at The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, or if you simply have twelve hours of driving time to kill, you consider this course. I'd definitely recommend it to all those who believe weird things, but it's pretty obvious that they'd use the twelve hours to work themselves into a spitting rage rather than to reconsider their belief system.

My short review, awaiting acceptance at the Teaching Company:

People believe anecdote over evidence; impassioned testimonial triumphs over scientific precision. Novella, in 24 lectures, covers wide-ranging territory, and as such, is likely to irritate some listeners as he hits upon and demolishes their sacred cow. His lectures over homeopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, detox products or fears over vaccination that cause the most ire, but he provides compelling evidence and sound logic for the myths he debunks.

His course is invaluable; his arguments are cogent. If you've read his blog, NeuroLogica, or his pieces at Science-Based Medicine, you've already been exposed to a lot of this information, but it's still well worth the time and money to listen to Novella's lectures and how he structures the material.


Disclosures:

I paid for the course, so no conflict there.
I'm not receiving anything for reviewing the course other than the pleasure of doing so.
I read Novella's blogs and respect his effort to combat pseudoscience.
I use some of his posts at Science-Based Medicine in my courses.

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