What's the Harm...to believe in pseudoscience!

Here’s and interesting site I found; don’t know if you’re aware of it but it provides a nice framework of reference to debunk the rubbish people talk when it comes to miracle cures etc.http://www.whatstheharm.net/

according to the site:

368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages
I assume in the US alone…think about deaths in our own country re withc burnings, circumcision etc.

Lovely, I’m blocked:

Security Event (S058IPS00100F.absa.co.za) Access to this URL is currently restricted because of its classification.

URL: http://www.whatstheharm.net/
Content classification: Cult/Occult

Hrm, while those of us who are on this side of the argument may think this is cool, I think not very.

I could take some of the stories about quack medicine and apply it directly to modern medicine and see how an opposing entity could use just such a story against modern medicine too:

“Timmy got cancer, timmy went to get chemo and radio therapy, timmy died. Science cost timmy his life”.

Proof by anecdote doesn’t work.

I agree that anecdotes alone are inadequate to assess the efficacy of remedial procedures or medication and that scientific testing is required. What www.whatstheharm.net does is to illustrate the ill effects of practices which do not comply with such scientific standards.

You’re right of course Boogie…it was not the intention to use the anecdotes loosely to validate claims for/against cures but to further illuminate the lack of scientific rigor when such claims are made: it would however IMHO seem that anecdotal evidence if validated is a good spot to begin the process that normally inter alia incorporates statistical trends that support/reject the original hypothesis.

@Faerie: Did your employer block it 'coz I cam access it anytime???

Other than by full-fledged woo-woos, anecdotal “evidence” is never used in making a scientific case. The reason for this is that it is extremely demanding to validate anecdotal “evidence” post hoc with appropriate rigour. Aside from questions of provenance, reliability and accuracy, it is nigh impossible to eliminate selection and/or confirmation bias from a body of anecdotes. Usually, anecdotes serve as pointers that suggest the particular direction formal empirical studies should follow, or to identify factors that need to be guarded against. In medical science, however, properly documented case studies are enormously more compelling than anecdotes as indicators of this kind.

Nonetheless, the website in question does, in toto, present a plausible overall contention that belief in evidence-free or ill-founded notions can have harmful results, something few people would challenge. The problem is with what can rightly be considered evidence. Here, the site falls short of the mark.


Content classification: Cult/Occult

Therefore: Pseudoscience = Occult

Makes sense. ;D

Well the site contains all kinds of neat phrases like “astral projection” etc. I’m sure that’s why it’s marked “occult”.

But, do they block christian sites? I would cry foul if that’s the case.

Thanks for the feedback and taking your comments into account obliged me to dig into the site more critically as well ??? I found that substantial researched evidence is reflected eg; http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200006083422301 dealing with 105 patients taking Chinese herbal medicines for urinary tract cancers etc and at http://archsurg.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/138/8/852 …this is documented and peer reviewed stuff not merely anecdotal. Click on Where is the science?

Obviously the claims that are anecdotal should be treated as such…

My point is the above is a non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow, the statements on their site are meaningless because they contain no information about the situation at all. How do I know timmy had cancer? How do I know it wasn’t so bad, science could save him, had he taken all his meds on time, etc… These are the same gripes a homeopath worshipper is gonna have with these stories. So you end up with a null argument and you have to go back to solid science anyway… if you can even manage to convince a homeopathy-junkie that the scientific method is valid at all, which is an uphill battle since you’ve just ignored science and provided an anecdote. Now, in his mind, all his bullshit arguments become just as valid as yours: “Oh really? well one time I had this patient who …”. At this point you’re screwed.

Almost every story on that site reads like this kind of nonsensical argument, with the unstated tagline: “and that’s why pseudoscience is bad”. And that is just no argument at all. We’re skeptics, we can’t just throw around ANY evidence/argument/hearsay; we’re supposed to be defending logic and evidence. The site’s citations provides non-rational “evidence” and nothing more. If you read this stuff as informative in any way, you’re already deep into confirmation bias territory.

That doesn’t necessarily make the conclusions false, mind you, it’s just a really bad way to frame claims about science.

From http://www.randi.org/site/

When Pseudoscience Kills

Written by Dr. Steven Novella

Saturday, 28 January 2012 09:00

Here’s a safety tip from your friendly skeptical doctor - don’t wrap yourself in mud and then stay in a sweat lodge for hours. You may or may not remember from your grade school health class that the body needs to regulate its own temperature to keep it within a fairly narrow healthy range.

There are several mechanisms for regulating body temperature, but the most important is simply behavior. When you feel hot you take actions to get cool, like remove clothing or drink cold water. When you are cold you bundle up, seek out a warm location, and maybe drink some hot tea. There are also many automatic mechanisms of thermoregulation, such as adjusting metabolic rate, sweating, and shivering.

You can, however, overwhelm the body’s automatic thermoregulation with behavior. Stand outside in below freezing temperature with few clothes on (or just swim in very cold water) and you will quickly get hypothermia. Or cover yourself in some material that will reduce the radiation of heat from your skin and the removal of heat from evaporating sweat and stay in a very hot environment - you will quickly suffer from hyperthermia (also called heat stroke).

This happens accidentally to people just from sitting in the hot sun during a long event without proper hydration. Once they become dehydrated their sweating is significantly reduced to conserve water, but then they cannot adequately cool down and they become overheated.

This is the kind of basic health information everyone should know. It’s mostly common sense and common experience. You can never underestimate, however, the power of belief to trump common sense and scientific knowledge, even when self-preservation is on the line.

The latest such victim of pseudoscience to have their personal tragedy splashed across the headlines is Chantale Lavigne, a Quebec woman who recently died from pseudoscience. This is, of course, a sad story made worse by the fact that it has been made so public - but concerns of privacy are trumped by the need for such stories to serve as cautionary tales.

Lavigne was apparently a member of a self-help cult, and had “completed 85 sessions and paid more than $18,900.” According to reports:

Er, I’m not sure what the case of Chantale Lavigne is meant to suggest, but if it is meant to show that well-respected sceptics like Steven Novella are using anecdotes as evidence, then that would be a bit misplaced. The victim’s activities and cause of death are taken from an interim coroner’s report, an account that is contingent on expert forensic analysis. As such, it would constitute a well-documented case study, rather than an anecdote.

That apart, in some cases it really is quite obvious in terms of well-established knowledge how harm arose.