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I am absolutely at my wit's end with the despicable arrogance that has pervaded the Western scientific (and especially the medical) community, particularly with respect to "pseudoscience" being used as a derogatory, blanket term for any therapeutic methodology that has not jumped through the hoops of the RCT process. The outright dismissal of any thought that challenges conventional scientific wisdom on the basis that it does not fit the (current) narrow criteria for being accepted as "scientific fact" really bothers me, because it kills the kind of constructive discourse that could occur if doctors weren't afraid of being ridiculed as "quacks" for suggesting that alternative forms of treatment might have some validity. I have the same beef with atheism too: to confidently state with complete certainty that a god does not exist is every bit as insuffrable, in my opinion, as to state that one's religious beliefs are infallible. While I am not a religious person in the conventional sense (I would call myself an agnostic), I dislike the certainty with which some atheists present the other side of the theistic argument, as it were. Anyway, this article epitomises the attitude that I find infuriating. The author throws the terms "chiropractor" and "acupuncturist" at this guy, the new Science minister appointee, as though they are synonymous with "idiot". In other words, any title that implies affiliation with the practice of non-Western medicine is now officially considered an insult within the scientific community. Granted, I'm skeptical of most of Harper's decisions with respect to science policy, but the point is still that they should be attacking the appointment on the grounds that there are many more suitable candidates avaiable, not because being a practicing chiropractor precludes any scientific credibility. Guh.

methodology that has not jumped through the hoops

The hoops as you characterize it is the scientific method. If the methods work in well designed clinical trials they are no longer alternative.

The hoops as you characterize it is the scientific method.

Well, that was not my intention. I was merely pointing out that randomised clinical trials are too often a poor application of the scientific method. This is not only because they often omit or ignore social variables which can be relevant to the course of an illness or treatment, but also due to factors such as inconsistent participation (drop-outs) and the exclusion of groups such as pregnant women and seniors: thus, they are not truly a "random sample" of a given population as they are implied to be. This article I think sums up the limitations of RCTs quite nicely, and rightly points out that "the absence of evidence of effectiveness is not the same as absence of effectiveness."

My point is certainly not that RCTs are useless--far from it, and as you stated, if designed properly (and this is a large "if") they can be very illuminating. I'm just pointing out that it is incorrect to equate criticism of the "randomised" clinical trial with criticism of the scientific method itself. I feel (as does my father, a former GP and now psychiatrist) that too often RCT outcomes are taken as medical fact without considering the limitations of the technique.

I think Dawkins agrees with you saying he wouldn't exercise the same certainty against something unprovable as for something unprovable. Something like that.

And, since when are chiropractors practicing pseudoscience? I've gone to one about four times a year from the time I decided high heels and a 30 pound purse were a good idea. He's great. No more headaches and more flexibility. I don't know what clinical trials disprove chiropractic adjustments but I can tell you from personal experience, they're wrong. And, more dramatically, my former boss was having so much trouble with his back he got to the point he could barely walk - he started using a cane. He went to everyone including an orthopedic surgeon who gave him an MRI. The surgeon told my boss they were going to have to operate and fuse one to two discs. I had begged him to go to my chiro but he wouldn't do it until he was facing surgery and had nothing to lose. He went to my chiro - got better and better and two months later he had no more symptoms - that had to be over five years ago. Yes, there are bad chiros just like any other profession.

I don't know any people who use acupuncture my friend's dog had epilepsy and was having more and more frequent seizures until the vet sent my friend to an acupuncturist - the vet said he couldn't explain it but he had seen some success. That dog goes about once a month and the seizures have stopped.

Amen, Jill!

For what it's worth, my dad has used acupunture from time to time for treating both back pain and nasopharyngeal allergy symptoms, and those attempts have been met with success. Of course, isolated anecdotal evidence, like you said, does not constitute proof of efficacy, but it certainly demonstrates that "alternative" medical treatments are not completely without merit.

and rightly points out that "the absence of evidence of effectiveness is not the same as absence of effectiveness."

Nor is it evidence of effectiveness, It simply means that we don't know and that further work needs to be done. It shouldn't be used as a backdoor for treatment.

The point that was being made is that it's probably not a good idea to have someone in a position of authority who seems comfortable blurring the lines.

I have the same beef with atheism too: to confidently state with complete certainty that a god does not exist is every bit as insufferable, in my opinion, as to state that one's religious beliefs are infallible.

I take issue with this. I being certain that the flying spaghetti monster does not exist equally insufferable to the opinion that it certainly does exist?

No. Taking a position supported by the facts has the high ground even if absolute certainty is absurd in most any case. But I think the certainty expressed is about hyperbole involved with making a strong argument. Some of my best teachers taught in absolutes when questions are asked and allowed follow up on possible exceptions. It's hard to win an argument when your stance is I don't know. You come off as uncertain in your facts as well as your conclusion. I am equally uncertain in regards to gods and evolution. We can never be 100% certain but when all evidence points to one answer then we can be fairly certain we know the right answer.

In regards to alternative medicine, it really should be put to the test of repeated scientific study and mocked until it does. Certainly the folks making millions off of every form of alternative medicine could pool resources and do that. They don't and they demean the scientific process in favor of magical thinking.

That said,I agree with your father that too many studies with poor design get stamped as scientific.

Well, I certainly agree that with respect to policy- and decision-making one must act in a manner supported by the facts even in absence of 100% certainty (which is often not possible)--and thus religious creed should never form the basis of policy. However, a person has the right to believe whatever the heck they want, provided they don't impose those beliefs on others, and I feel like those of us who are non-religious us aren't doing the secular cause any favours by taking an equally harsh stance against theism: that usually seems to lead to pushing back even harder.

taking an equally harsh stance against theism.

Would you please to provide an example, I don't think I've ever seen an example of an atheist advocating that for example religious billboards should be banned.

To the religious pushing back means not agreeing with their beliefs.

Fair point. I meant more in terms of ideological stance: the way Hitchens claims that religion is basically an evil social force, for example. Though it certainly be appropriate to condemn its use as justification for atrocities such as slavery and the Crusades, claiming that religion is "poisonous" is not something I see as constructive discourse.

claiming that religion is "poisonous" is not something I see as constructive discourse

Religion is often poisonous, it poisoned the discussion of gay rights in California to cite a recent example.

It has a history of being poisonous. Do you think the term poisonous is too strong when discussing the crusades for example.

Please cite an example of a negative religious behavior where you think the term poisonous is too much.

Again, I feel you're missing the point: it is the deliberate choice of inflammatory language that devolves the level of debate and incites irrational backlash from religious opponents of atheism/secularism (in this case; both sides have certainly been guilty of this, however.) I believe such language is unnecessary and is bound to evoke irrational reactions from both sides: from religion, anger at its characterisation as a poison; for those opposed to religion, it legitimises the view that religion is unequivocally hazardous to social health, precluding any nuance about the matter. Hitchens could easily use a more neutral, but no less weighty description of religion's effect on society, but he does not: the title is designed to provoke--which it does--but not in a way that advances the cause of intelligent debate.

I feel you're missing the point: it is the deliberate choice of inflammatory language that devolves the level of debate and incites irrational backlash from religious opponents of atheism/secularism

Sexists and racists have had the same emotional response to the ridicule of their irrational belief. Those beliefs haven't been reduced by a rational argument, they have been ridiculed as ignorant foolishness. I think we should discard this delusion that the cure for religion is a long and well thought out argument, that's been tried and gotten a lot of people burned at the stake.

Christopher Hitchens seems to often be drunk when interviewed and I would concede that atheists should sober up before talking about religion.

Sigh, well then at the peril of using a tired old saying, we must truly agree to disagree. I do get where you're coming from, and I think we fundamentally agree on a lot of things, but I just don't see the merit in taking secular thought to the degree you suggest. I am very much of the mind, for example, that one is entitled to religious beliefs without a mandate of ridicule placed upon them--but even if, for the sake of argument, they were worthy of such, I highly doubt this would do little more than increase the ideological divide between effectively "pro-religion" and "anti-religion" people, because of the tit-for-tat dynamic that I mentioned before.

I also think you're undervaluing the importance of public debate in effecting social change. Sexism and racism would not have been considered worthy of ridicule in the first place had there not been rational, convincing arguments put forth in favour of changing conventional societal standards. I believe the same is true of religion: if enough atheists believe that religion has no place in human society, period, then the onus is on them to convince their peers why society will be better off without it. If enough people should realise that this is indeed the case, it should begin to change society as inevitably (albeit, likely also as slowly) as the discrediting of sexism and racism did.

I think the crux of our disagreement is that while I don't believe religious beliefs should be conflated with science or policy under any circumstances, I also don't believe that religion needs to be cut out from society: at any rate, I don't see society as a whole being "cured" of religion any time soon. Should we come to a place where the advancement of social progress and justice hinge on the banishment of religion outright, I would certainly reconsider, but it is a very different world than this one where I can imagine that to be the case.

Sigh, well then at the peril of using a tired old saying, we must truly agree to disagree. I do get where you're coming from, and I think we fundamentally agree on a lot of things, but I just don't see the merit in taking secular thought to the degree you suggest. I am very much of the mind, for example, that one is entitled to religious beliefs without a mandate of ridicule placed upon them--but even if, for the sake of argument, they were worthy of such, I highly doubt this would do little more than increase the ideological divide between effectively "pro-religion" and "anti-religion" people, because of the tit-for-tat dynamic that I mentioned before.

I also think you're undervaluing the importance of public debate in effecting social change. Sexism and racism would not have been considered worthy of ridicule in the first place had there not been rational, convincing arguments put forth in favour of changing conventional societal standards. I believe the same is true of religion: if enough atheists believe that religion has no place in human society, period, then the onus is on them to convince their peers why society will be better off without it. If enough people should realise that this is indeed the case, it should begin to change society as inevitably (albeit, likely also as slowly) as the discrediting of sexism and racism did.

I think the crux of our disagreement is that while I don't believe religious beliefs should be conflated with science or policy under any circumstances, I also don't believe that religion needs to be cut out from society: at any rate, I don't see society as a whole being "cured" of religion any time soon. Should we come to a place where the advancement of social progress and justice hinge on the banishment of religion outright, I would certainly reconsider, but it is a very different world than this one where I can imagine that to be the case.

Whoops! Apologies for the double post. I've got to restrain my itchy back-button-clicking finger...

There is your fundamental disagreement, not tactics, but goal.

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