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Playing by the Rules

I recently read Flock of Dodos (no relation to the movie of the same name). It’s a hilarious no-holds-barred send-up of the lies and poor reasoning of the intelligent design movement. I was particularly struck by a quotation from William Dembski’s Intelligent Design.

We are dealing here with something more than a straightforward determination of scientific facts or confirmation of scientific theories. Rather we are dealing with competing world-views and incompatible metaphysical systems.

That cuts to the essence of what we are confronting on Science-Based Medicine. We are trying to evaluate the science behind claims that are often not based on science but on beliefs that are incompatible with science. The claimants are happy to use science when it supports them, but when it doesn’t they are likely to unfairly critique the science or even to dismiss the entire scientific enterprise as a “materialistic world view” or “closed-minded.” We are talking at cross purposes. How can we communicate if we say “this variety of apple is red” and they insist “it feels green to me”?

We get frustrated when we show these folks the scientific evidence and they refuse to accept it. Homeopathy is not only implausible, but it has been tested and has failed the tests. Yet proponents refuse to acknowledge those failures and still want to talk about data from the 19th century and make claims for the memory of water. We have to realize we are not even speaking the same language. We are trying to play a civilized game of gin rummy and they are dribbling a basketball all over the card table. Before getting into a debate, doesn’t it make sense to define what game you’re playing and what the rules are?

Science has been a very successful self-correcting group endeavor. It wouldn’t be successful if it didn’t follow a strict set of rules designed to avoid errors. [Note: there are no rules written in stone; I’m talking about conventions that are generally understood and accepted by scientists, conventions that grow naturally out of reason and critical thinking.] If proponents of alternative medicine want to play the science game, they ought to play by the rules. If they won’t play by the rules, they effectively take themselves out of the scientific arena and into the metaphysical arena. In that case, it is useless for us to talk to them about science.

If you want to play the science game, here’s what you do:

  1. Submit your hypothesis to proper testing. Testimonials, intuitions, personal experience, and “other ways of knowing” don’t count.
  2. See if you can falsify the hypothesis.
  3. Try to rule out alternative explanations and confounding factors.
  4. Report your findings in journal articles submitted to peer review.
  5. Allow the scientific community to critique the published evidence and engage in dialog and debate.
  6. Withhold judgment until your results can be replicated elsewhere.
  7. Respect the consensus of the majority of the scientific community as to whether your hypothesis is probably true or false (always allowing for revision based on further evidence).
  8. Be willing to follow the evidence and admit you are wrong if that’s what the evidence says.

If you want to play the science game, here are some of the things you don’t do:

  1. Accuse the entire scientific community of being wrong (unless you have compelling evidence, in which case you should argue for it in the scientific journals and at professional meetings, not in the media).
  2. Design poor-quality experiments that are almost guaranteed to show your hypothesis is true, whether it really is or not. Use science to show THAT your treatment works, not to ask IF it works.
  3. Keep using arguments that have already been thoroughly discredited. (The intelligent design folks are still claiming the eye could not have evolved because it is irreducibly complex; homeopaths are still claiming homeopathy cured more patients than conventional medicine in the 19th century epidemics).
  4. Write books for the general public to promote your thesis – as if public opinion could influence science!
  5. Form an activist organization to promote your beliefs.
  6. Step outside the scientific paradigm and appeal to intuition and belief.
  7. Mention the persecution of Galileo and compare yourself to him.
  8. Invent a conspiracy theory (Big Pharma is suppressing the truth!).
  9. Claim to be a lone genius who knows more than all the other scientists put together.
  10. Offer a treatment to the public after only the most preliminary studies.
  11. Set up a website to sell products that are not backed by good evidence.
  12. Refuse to admit it when your hypothesis is proven wrong

Changing Our Minds

Scientists will change their minds when the evidence warrants. Before we waste time arguing, one thing we can do is ask our opponents what it would take to change their minds. One woman I asked said no amount of evidence could change her mind because she knew from personal experience that her claim was true, so any evidence that said otherwise would have to be false and fabricated. End of discussion. She’s out of the game.

The rules of science are pretty clear about what it takes to change our minds. I’ll use the example of Helicobacter and ulcers. We used to think that stress and too much stomach acid caused ulcers; now we think a bacterium causes ulcers. Here’s a summary of why we changed our mind:

  1. Scientists noticed bacteria in biopsy samples from ulcers.
  2. They identified the bacteria as Helicobacter pylori
  3. They found a strong correlation between ulcers and the presence of the bacteria
  4. One of the researchers who was healthy and not a Helicobacter carrier was able to induce an ulcer in himself by ingesting the bacteria.
  5. They found that treating patients with antibiotics cured ulcers.
  6. They found that antibiotics were superior to previous ulcer treatments.
  7. The studies were replicated and studies done in different ways corroborated each other.
  8. The bacterial hypothesis was not inconsistent with the rest of scientific knowledge.

If we had that quantity and quality of evidence for homeopathy, we’d gladly accept it. In fact, if we had 1 through 7 we’d provisionally accept it while we kept checking the data and tried like crazy to figure out the mechanism behind it.

There are two issues that are often misunderstood: scientific consensus and prior plausibility.

Prior Plausibility

Homeopathy is completely implausible. We would have to accept robust evidence that it worked, but we would require much stronger evidence than we would for, say, a new antibiotic. Because if the claims for homeopathy were true, we would have to revise much of what we know about physics, chemistry, and physiology.

The crossword analogy is helpful. If you think the answer to 1-across should be “library” but the clue to 1-down is a five-letter word for the author of Tom Sawyer and the clue to 2-down is a four-letter word for the name of Eve’s husband in Genesis, you have to reject “library” and keep looking for a word that starts with T-A. You have to recognize that no matter how strong your conviction that 1-across must be “library” you must be wrong and that there must be another answer that you just haven’t thought of.

Consensus

It’s easy to dismiss the scientific consensus as a popularity contest, a vote on opinions. But it’s far more than that. The body of evidence stands or falls on its own merits, and when the weight clearly tips the balance to one side everybody can see it. The scientific community is made up of experts who know how to evaluate the evidence and who thrash out disagreements in medical journals and scientific conferences. It is easy for the scientific community to reach an agreement based on clear evidence. There are times when the outcome is uncertain and controversy among scientists is appropriate, but there comes a time when it would be perverse not to accept the evidence, just as it is perverse to deny evolution or germ theory. The scientific consensus on evolution and the germ theory is a recognition of reality, not a matter of opinion.

A reasonable default assumption is that the scientific consensus is usually right, and if it isn’t, it will change as the evidence becomes clearer. Truth will prevail. It does no good to attack the scientific consensus as prejudiced or closed-minded. The consensus will only change when it incorporates new and better evidence. One of the irrational tactics we’ve seen over and over on this blog is for opponents to cite one or a handful of studies to support their belief, in the ridiculous assumption that it was new information that the people who reached the scientific consensus had failed to consider, or that it somehow outweighs all the other studies that found the opposite.

Play by the Rules or Go Play Your Own Game

There’s no point in arguing scientific facts with someone whose world-view is metaphysical and non-scientific. There’s no point in presenting geological age data to someone who “knows” the age of the Earth from the Bible. Before we get into a useless debate, maybe we should find out what game our opponents are really playing. If they are playing pingpong, it’s silly for us to bring a football to the table. It would be handy if we could get them to say up front what game they are really playing, but all too often they have deluded themselves into truly believing they are following the rules of science.

If they won’t play the science game by the rules, we are justified in crying “foul” and disqualifying them. Then they can go away somewhere else and play their own game by whatever rules they want and we won’t be able to refute them. If they are relying on beliefs unsupported by evidence, let them say so. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a homeopath say “I believe homeopathy works based on my personal experience and on non-scientific evidence like testimonials, and I categorically reject the results of any scientific trial that fails to support my beliefs. Homeopathy cured my neighbor’s uncle’s cousin of cancer. Trust me. I’m a nice guy so you should believe whatever I tell you.”

If they’d say that up front, we wouldn’t waste any of our valuable time re-hashing scientific evidence that they would just ignore. They would be out of the game, permanently. And patients would have a better basis for giving truly informed consent

Posted in: Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (71) ↓

71 thoughts on “Playing by the Rules

  1. NeoDevin says:

    I think this comic nicely sums up your entry:
    http://cectic.com/069.html

  2. Jivlain says:

    Shouldn’t it be C-A (for Clemens – Twain was his pen name)?

    Also, the Amazon link is going to the Flock of Dodos film.

  3. Dr Benway says:

    This is wonderful. This is exactly what we need to teach in our high schools.

    Imagine if 90% of the basketball games you’d watched growing up had vague or variable rules. Then one day you hear some argument about an alleged foul. You’d likely revert to what you remember, your personal experience of the game, in reasoning out what’s fair.

    Unfortunately, the rules of evidence used in medicine can seem vague or arbitrary to someone who doesn’t look closely. Unlike physicists, doctors do appeal to their own personal experience. Doctors also allow patients to rely upon personal preference when selecting treatment A or B. Casual observers might miss the fact of the leash upon gut-feeling guidance, which is limited to the gray areas where good evidence is thin.

    Healthcare data are noisy. We have to set the bar for statistical significance low, where chance might bring the same outcome 1/20 times, else our journals would be empty (for comparison, the physicists set the bar at 1/10,000). But this means published research will be wrong about 5% of the time.

    The public see conflicting study reports in the news: one day wine is good; then it’s bad. Eggs are out; eggs are in. They visit their traditional doctor or alternative practitioner and hear a mix of statements asserted as facts and some appeals to personal experience or preference.

    It’s no wonder, then, that the public are fooled by the those who divide medicine and alternative medicine along content lines – e.g., “drugs and surgery” verses “nutrition and lifestyle,” or “illness treatment” verses “illness prevention.” The fact that the two camps are playing by different rules isn’t immediately obvious.

    Perhaps we need to formalize our evidential grading system. We might use the familiar A, B, C, D, F with illustrations:

    F – Dictionary fishing. Ask a question, open a dictionary randomly, put your finger down, there’s your answer –e.g., “autism is caused by Andromeda.”

    D – Personal testimony. “I drank hot tea with honey twice a day and after a week my sore throat was gone.”

    C – Uncontrolled, retrospective studies suggesting a correlation –e.g., fewer heart attacks among people eating fewer saturated fats.

    B – Randomized, blinded, well controlled clinical trial of a novel, plausible treatment that hasn’t yet been replicated.

    A – Replicated controlled trials verified by real-world practice over several years.

  4. carpedm says:

    I not only appreciated the essay but I also like Dr. Benway’s formalization of our evidential grading system.
    I’m feeling particularly angry and frustrated right now because I have a friend who is losing the battle to prostate CA. Two years ago when he was first diagnosed he opted to follow a very bizzare, unorthodox “therapy” which involves daily consumption of a large amount of vegetable juice, coffee enemas, meditation, visualization and caloric restriction. He now has cancer mets in the bladder and esophogeal area. For years his library shelves have breen populated with texts written by a wide assortment of CAM zealots. He has always had a strong lack of trust in organized medicine and traditional pharmaceuticals. The thing is, this man is no intellectual lightweight. He thinks deeply on philosophical matters, was a professor of German literature, and continues to study the great books. Yet, there has always been this disconnect when it comes to reason, the scientific methodology and healthcare. My friend is testimony to how far we have to go and how much work there is to do. I also have two other friends…both trained mechanical engineers from prestigious universities…who swear by homeopathy. Again, a disconnect.
    Thanks for the essay.
    Carpedm

  5. Karl Withakay says:

    carpedm,
    Your post is a sad, but otherwise excellent answer to the question “What’s the harm in CAM?”

    Every week, I see someone post that CAM is complementary and there’s no harm in using it in conjunction with “allopathic” medicine, and that hardly anyone would ever use it instead of proven scientific medicine for serious conditions. I believe that CAM is alternative, and that the rate at which people who resort to CAM will defer or decline real medical therapy in favor of CAM is higher than those posters think. I also believe that rate will climb if CAM becomes mainstreamed and integrated into accepted medical practice.

    In the world of real medicine, it’s not uncommon for a cancer patient to opt for surgery only w/o radiation or chemo because they don’t want the side effects of those complimentary (proper use of the word in regards to medicine) therapies. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to project that decision process to situations involving CAM therapies vs “scary” rational medical options.

    Bottom line: There’s just no room for unproven, unscientific modalities in the world of medicine period.

  6. Harriet Hall says:

    The American Academy of Family Physicians already has a formalized rating system for strength of evidence (SORT). Articles in American Family Physician use it regularly to rate their recommendations. It’s simple, but quite useful.

    http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/publications/journals/afp/afplevels.html

  7. overshoot says:

    carpedm, your friend’s story is tragic enough for his sake and for those who care for him.

    What really infuriates me, though, is that his death won’t even be counted. By that, I mean that he’ll be recorded as “untreated prostate cancer” instead of “prostate cancer ‘treated’ by the Foo protocol.” Which means that the Foo Clinic will continue to have a perfect record: all success, no failures.

  8. pec says:

    “If you want to play the science game, here are some of the things you don’t do:

    5. Form an activist organization to promote your beliefs.”

    I guess that means you agree the “skeptic” organizations are unscientific.

  9. David Gorski says:

    Healthcare data are noisy. We have to set the bar for statistical significance low, where chance might bring the same outcome 1/20 times, else our journals would be empty (for comparison, the physicists set the bar at 1/10,000). But this means published research will be wrong about 5% of the time.

    Actually, clinical trials testing implausible hypotheses will produce false positives considerably more than 5% of the time.

  10. Harriet Hall says:

    Jivlain,

    I fixed the link. Thanks.
    The clue I gave was for a 5-letter answer, so only Twain would fit.

  11. delaneypa says:

    Dr. Hall,

    Thanks for a excellent illuminating looking at the rational versus irrational debate. I have found that it saves a lot of time by initially asking people how they know whether something works or not.

    Most recently, as I try to persuade people to try to get the flu vaccine, there are some excuses that tell me no reasoned explanations will do. Unfortunately, I am not adept at playing their game:

    Patient: “I don’t need the flu shot, God will protect me from the flu. Hey, can I get some Xanax?”

    Me: “God still kills 36,000 people a year with the flu, presumable those not inclined to help themselves.”

    Patient: Blank stare.

  12. Harriet Hall says:

    pec,

    You are confused. How ironic that you should accuse skeptic organizations of promoting beliefs! Skepticism is all about NOT believing anything without evidence. Organizations like the Skeptic Society promote science and reason, not a belief system. The scientific method has been even been called organized skepticism.

    I was thinking of organizations like The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics (who are not skeptics but deniers and who promote a set of beliefs) or the anti-vaccine organizations.

  13. weing says:

    I have integrated complimentary medicine into my practice. I always tell the patient that they look good, nice shoes, etc.

  14. Dr Benway says:

    Good point, Dr. Gorski, and thanks for the link.

    Yes, as the pool of batshit explanations for some phenomenon is nearly infinite and the pool of true explanations is approximately one, any explanation grabbed out of thin air will nearly always be false.

    There must be some means of reducing the number of potential explanations before controlled research makes sense. Plausible mechanism of action serves as a necessary constraint upon medical investigation. New information ought to have some relationship with established information.

    Yet Andromeda causes autism. We can’t yet explain exactly how, but the tin foil hats seem to help.

  15. Wallace Sampson says:

    As usual, Harriet writes a literate, organized, sophisticated yet understandable entry that strikes at the heart of a problem.

    Analogies beg recognition. Too often we engage in the equivalent of shadow boxing, while culprit originators remain hidden and unassailed, unaffected, hiding in the corners.

    The similarities with the “War on Terror” may have been seen and commented on before. “We” engaging the surrogates, while the planners remain hidden by geography and layers of politically opposing opinion – not the least of them being outright lies – and social niceties.

    But we now have another problem similar especially to vulnerable open societies that share qualities of openness and tolerance of the science community. That is, the infiltration and intentional sabotage of the system by opponents and impostors. I blogged on this before in reference to the trojan horse phenomenon and the corruption of the commons by wealthy ideologues like the supporters of anti-vaccination, Samueli, Osher, and other foundations, and now Bravewell.

    I’ll be sending another entry on this this or next week.

  16. wertys says:

    Thanks Harriet for another well though-out and clear article. I will be printing it off and distributing it for discussion with my junior medical staff and med students !

    @carpedm

    Your story is unfortunately quite recognisable to many readers of this blog, and I think makes a very particular point about SCAM, which is that eminence in one field is in no way protective of being gulled in another. Neither of Linus Pauling’s Nobel prizes was in medicine but his eminence allowed (and still does) a whole branch of crankery to flourish under his cloak. I suspect many of your other friends may feel his refusal to accept the ‘medical orthodoxy’ is in some way an admirable expression of intellectual independence. Perhaps you could steer his reading towards Karl Popper’s ‘Logic of Scientific Discovery’ and he may realise that in science not all knowledge is equal, even taking into account epistemological philosophy..

  17. pec says:

    “Organizations like the Skeptic Society promote science and reason, not a belief system. The scientific method has been even been called organized skepticism.”

    No, they don’t promote the scientific method, they promote a materialist reductionist ideology.

    “I was thinking of organizations like The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics”

    And as it turned out they had some valid and important points. Recent studies suggest that statins may work by reducing inflammation, not by lowering cholesterol.

  18. Skeptic says:

    “pec,

    You are confused. How ironic that you should accuse skeptic organizations of promoting beliefs! Skepticism is all about NOT believing anything without evidence. Organizations like the Skeptic Society promote science and reason, not a belief system. The scientific method has been even been called organized skepticism..”

    Oh, please. The poster made a *potentially* legitimate point. And you are lashing out. Yes, skeptic organizations hopefully promote critical thinking. But they are **advocacy** organizations. While I do think that they are a good thing, I think a better retort to the poster would be to have noted that you described a process and that no single element was dispositive. But that wouldn’t have been nearly as snappy.

  19. pec says:

    “The scientific community is made up of experts who know how to evaluate the evidence and who thrash out disagreements in medical journals and scientific conferences.”

    Oh yes, in your perfect imaginary world. Those amazing experts.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22237

  20. Skeptic says:

    “No, they don’t promote the scientific method, they promote a materialist reductionist ideology.”

    And you, pray tell what you claim you are talking about? You are dodging the issue of the scientific method–do you support the scientific method or not? Or are you one of those people who claims that alternate ways of “knowing”, like revelation, are just as accurate as evidence based methodological study? And what exactly is your bias against the material world?

  21. overshoot says:

    No, they don’t promote the scientific method, they promote a materialist reductionist ideology.

    pec, perhaps you could give us an example of the scientific method’s application to a nonmaterialist ideology?

  22. Dr Benway says:

    I admit it. I prefer materialist chocolate chip cookies, as compared to the nonmaterialist sort.

  23. Val Jones says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Harriet. I also love analogies – and the crossword puzzle was great. I often wonder if it wouldn’t make sense for religion to be understood in the light of science? Why should information about the origins of the earth be drawn from a text whose intent was not to be scientific? It’s like me trying to get Google maps out of Mark Twain. Nothing wrong with either, just respecting their different purposes.

  24. Danio says:

    I admit it. I prefer materialist chocolate chip cookies, as compared to the nonmaterialist sort.

    Yes, but how could you explain the flavor of a chocolate chip cookie to someone with NO TASTEBUDS? You CAN’T! HA! THEREFORE DUALISM!!!!!!11!
    [/Egnor]

    Sorry, I’m still chuckling about that one

  25. David Gorski says:

    No, they don’t promote the scientific method, they promote a materialist reductionist ideology.

    Give me a break. When I hear “materialist reductionist ideology,” or some such other phrase, I know I’m dealing with a credulous woo-ist. Can’t you do better than that?

  26. MOI says:

    weingon 13 Jan 2009 at 2:02 pm

    “I have integrated complimentary medicine into my practice. I always tell the patient that they look good, nice shoes, etc.”

    Ha! Can I quote this and whom (who??) may I attribute the quote to, just weingon?

    Wonderful article. Thank you!

  27. djbell says:

    I think I understand what pec is saying about scientific activism versus gut-based activism, but if she was trying to show hypocrisy there is none. I’ll put the bullet point in context: “If you want to play the science game, here are some of the things you don’t do: Form an activist organization to promote your beliefs.” An organization not attempting to sell an unproven modality doesn’t apply, and they probably don’t need a favorable consensus opinion of any quack or coven.

    pec, I’ve noticed that you fire off your anti-materialist drivebys now and then, and I am genuinely interested in what rational philosophy or philosophers would argue against Big Reality’s current application of the scientific method as the best way to learn about nature? Or are your arguments strictly from a mystical or postmodernist perspective that rejects the rational and empirical historical roots of the scientific method?

    Also, a very nice tu quoque, duly noted in the official ironic fallacy registry. Obviously most skeptics also think the “file drawer effect” is bad for science and public health; that’s why we speak out about it against perpetrators with non-materialist ideology as well as the pharmaceutical industry.

  28. Harriet Hall says:

    I said, “I was thinking of organizations like The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics”

    pec said, “And as it turned out they had some valid and important points. Recent studies suggest that statins may work by reducing inflammation, not by lowering cholesterol.”

    THINCS had no valid and important points that were not already well known and accepted by the scientific community. Their stated purpose is clearly unscientific: it is to “oppose is that animal fat and high cholesterol play a role “[in cardiovascular disease]. Scientists don’t “oppose” – they ask and they follow the evidence. I’ve already said all that needs to be said to discredit THINCS in two previous posts. They are playing their own game.

    On comments on previous threads, pec has made it clear that she does not “play by the rules.” And she has been curiously unwilling to state what rules she does play by.

  29. DLC says:

    Not all skeptics are scientists, but all good scientists should have a healthy dose of skepticism to them.

  30. pec says:

    “You are dodging the issue of the scientific method–do you support the scientific method or not?”

    The scientific method is useful and valid and I use it myself.

    “Or are you one of those people who claims that alternate ways of “knowing”, like revelation, are just as accurate as evidence based methodological study?”

    Of course there are other ways of knowing, but they are not valid in the context of scientific research.

    ” And what exactly is your bias against the material world?”

    That is an absurd question. I do not believe in philosophical materialism, or in a mechanistic reductionist approach to understanding nature. Obviously it would be absurd to have a bias against the material world.

  31. Calli Arcale says:

    Val Jones:
    “I often wonder if it wouldn’t make sense for religion to be understood in the light of science? Why should information about the origins of the earth be drawn from a text whose intent was not to be scientific?”

    It is something of a non-sequitor to ask about understanding religion in scientific terms and then ask about Creationism in the very next sentence. Religion, even fundamentalist Christianity, is a great deal more than Creationism — and a great many religions have nothing to do with Creationists.

    Religion is not science; it plays by a different set of rules. More properly, various religions play by different sets of rules than science does, and often different sets of rules than other religions. Fundamentalist Christians espouse a belief that all must ultimately derive from their canonical scripture. Hindus have their own rules. Muslims have theirs (and Sunnis and Shi’ites and Sufis don’t have the same sets of rules either). And I’m just talking about rules for determining how to judge propositions and decide what to believe, not rules in the sense of religious law.

    It is not beyond the realm of possibility for a religion to espouse the scientific method, but it would be uncharacteristic. Religions tend to concern themselves with that which is not scientifically testable, after all. (Religious personnages have, however, endorsed the scientific method on many occasions. It’s just that this tends to be outside the context of their religion. Many adopt a “spheres of influence” philosophy — this set of ideas are to be considered scientifically, and this set is to be considered according to the tenets of a particular religion, with minimal overlap.)

    But by and large, there’s no reason for a religion to not use some ancient text to tell them how the world came into being. By their own rules, it’s perfectly legitimate. They are not a science; they are a religion. Someone once said that you cannot reason a person out of a position that they did not reason themselves into in the first place, and it applies here. That something is scientifically absurd doesn’t invalidate it religiously. The Church of Ceiling Cat can worship their feline overlord, while dreading Basement Cat, even if science says they really need to get a grip and realize that they can decide to be the alpha in the house.

    So that gets at your second question. I think your first question is actually more interesting, though.

    You *can* apply the scientific method to the study of religions, though. It’s not a common way to study religions, but still valid. I’ve seen some research into why religious thought seems to be nearly universal among humans, but most of it has been purely speculative. One study did find regions of the brain that are active during religious experiences. (The study obviously could not answer the metaphysical question of whether the brains were active as they received data from some divine source, or whether the brains were fabricating the entire experience. Of course, the question of whether or not that invalidates the religious experience is not answerable by science, since the question depends on non-scientific rules like the definition of a religious experience. The specific religion would have to answer that.)

    What I find most interesting is how religions evolve and compete with one another over time. It would be interesting to explore that scientifically, instead of sociologically as has been more common. Why do humans display such a wide range of beliefs — animism, polytheism, synchretism, monotheism? Does the passionate adherence to a belief confer some sort of survival and/or reproductive advantage, enough to mitigate the population losses due to religious warfare? Are centralized or non-centralized religious systems more stable over time? Anecdotal experience suggests many things about religions — that monotheistic ones are more authoritarian, for instance. Are these things actually true or merely popular perceptions?

    Religion and science use different rules, and we should not expect them to. But that doesn’t mean we cannot use the one to evaluate the other.

  32. pec says:

    “there’s no reason for a religion to not use some ancient text to tell them how the world came into being. By their own rules, it’s perfectly legitimate. They are not a science; they are a religion.”

    It would not be legitimate for a religious person to insist the creation myth from some particular ancient text is scientifically accurate. Religious people who do insist that usually are immersed in their own particular religious/cultural context and have limited scientific or historical perspective. They don’t understand that creation myths preceded the modern concern with scientific accuracy, or that ancient people had a different conception of truth than we have now.

    Ancient creation myths, and many other things found in ancient religious texts, are not taken literally by most educated modern religious believers. Yes you can find many literal bible believers but, as I said, they are generally uneducated and lack perspective.

    Religion may be outside the scope of scientific research, but there is absolutely no reason for religion to be irrational or stupid. Religion does depend on a non-materialist philosophical perspective, but materialism and science are NOT the same thing. There is no valid reason why a religious person should be considered less scientific than an atheist.

    Except, of course, that science has become dominated by “skeptic” organizations who mistakenly equate science and materialism.

    Materialist “skeptics” have their own implausible creation myths in which they devoutly believe, and which are not supported by any scientific evidence.

    So we basically have ignorant fanatics on both sides — bible literalists screaming that the world was created in 6 days, and materialist “skeptics” screaming that matter is lifeless, yet can generate life.

    Most educated people are somewhere between the two fanatical extremes. If they understood what the Intelligent Design theory actually says they would probably accept it as plausible and reasonable. However, the public has only heard about Intelligent Design through the distorting lenses of the “skeptic” materialist political organizations.

  33. weing says:

    Only educated people who didn’t understand the scientific method would accept ID as plausible and reasonable.

  34. Harriet Hall says:

    Religion plays by a different set of rules, but when a religion makes a scientific claim, it enters the scientific arena and has to play by those rules. The claim that the earth is 6000 years old is a falsifiable factual claim that has been refuted by overwhelming scientific evidence. Other ID claims like “irreducible complexity” and “missing links” have been similarly refuted. ID claims to be scientific but refuses to play by the rules of science. It doesn’t “do” science; it only criticizes what real scientists do.

    Science is a universal enterprise independent of creed. Those who accept evolution include atheists, Catholics, Muslims, and every other variety of religious belief and non-belief. All ID believers are religious believers.

  35. Harriet Hall says:

    pec said, “I do not believe in philosophical materialism, or in a mechanistic reductionist approach to understanding nature.”

    Please explain to us what you do believe and why.

  36. CarolynS says:

    There is an interesting example in the latest issue of JAMA.
    Lifestyle Modification and Heart Disease: Researchers Not Deterred by Trials Showing No Benefit JAMA 2009;301(2):150-151 (doi:10.1001/jama.2008.916)

    ALthough the trials did not reach their desired endpoints, the researchers nonetheless believe that they show benefits.

    I am going to hazard a guess here. If the trials were of yoga or Qi Gong or a homeopathic remedy, the researchers’ claims that nonetheless some kind of benefits had been demonstrated would be pooh-poohed. However when the trial is of something that people are more predisposed to think is beneficial, the standards of evidence will be relaxed.

    It has really started to seem to me that there is no bright line between “CAM” and “lifestyle modification.” In appropriate contexts, like the DASH diet, lifestyle modification probably makes sense. However there is a pretty strong inclination out there to think that lifestyle is much more important as a key to disease incidence than it may really be, as though diseases would be halved or eliminated if people just ate locally grown produce and jogged in the park (or practiced yoga). Don’t get me wrong, I myself think lifestyle modification is a “good thing” but the claims for its benefits and its contribution are starting to seem pretty exaggerated, as though if people never ate at McDonalds they would live to be 100 years old. I am starting to wonder if to some extent “lifestyle modification” is more like a form of CAM and similarly advocated by believers with relatively little evidence who feel that the benefits are so obvious that the standards of evidence are not really necessary.

  37. pec says:

    [The claim that the earth is 6000 years old is a falsifiable factual claim that has been refuted by overwhelming scientific evidence. Other ID claims like “irreducible complexity” and “missing links” ...]

    Wow Harriet, a perfect example of your distortion methods and deliberate logical fallacies. “OTHER ID CLAIMS????” ID has NEVER claimed the earth is 6000 years old. It does NOT make any claims about any aspect of ancient creation myths.

    And furthermore, you know that perfectly well.

    And if you think irreducible complexity has been refuted you’re seriously out of touch with reality.

  38. pec says:

    [I am starting to wonder if to some extent “lifestyle modification” is more like a form of CAM and similarly advocated by believers with relatively little evidence who feel that the benefits are so obvious that the standards of evidence are not really necessary.]

    There is an enormous amount of evidence for the benefits of physical exercise, which is possibly the most important aspect of lifestyle modification. Our bodies were not meant to sit in chairs decade after decade, but that is what the average American does. And therefore the average older American is sick and is put on drugs.

    Yes people in all times and cultures got sick and died, but the causes were different. It is well known that American immigrants get diseases that were rare in their country of origin. It is also well known that certain diseases increase dramatically once the American lifestyle is introduced.

    So it is incredible that you don’t accept the obvious fact that lifestyle is of critical importance.

  39. pec says:

    [pec said, “I do not believe in philosophical materialism, or in a mechanistic reductionist approach to understanding nature.”

    Please explain to us what you do believe and why.]

    Well Harriet if you’re demanding a set of fixed dogmatic ideological beliefs, I just can’t answer you. I am an open-minded scientist and there aren’t many things that I believe with absolute certainty. I have many scientific reasons for thinking philosophical materialism is wrong, and have explained some of those reasons at this blog.

    Yes, it is possible to be non-dogmatic and open-minded. You might want to try it yourself.

  40. weing says:

    I thought irreducible complexity was a creation myth that is only believed by ID people at the DI. Now I know I was wrong. It is also believed by others who think they know biology.

  41. pmoran says:

    Pec: ” So it is incredible that you don’t accept the obvious fact that lifestyle is of critical importance.”

    You are correct that lifestyle does matter, and that there should be more emphasis upon it in schiools and everywhere else that the young might be reached with good advice.

    What is being attacked here are claims that CAM has any special knowledge or capabilities that might increase the uptake of healthier lifestyles.

    In fact, I don’t recall the Weils and Chopras or Nulls protesting when supplement companies were claiming that their products could protect people from the effects of damaging practices such as smoking and excess alcohol, or that using them would reduce the need for a healthy diet.

    You are also far more likely to find CAM practitioners advising the use of extremely dubious mind-body activities or quack devices than the taking of more exercise. They have to, if they are to earn the “alternative” brand name.

  42. Karl Withakay says:

    This place wouldn’t be as much fun without pec around.

    Not that this is what pec was saying, but I do get tired of people perpetuating the myth there’s something fundamentally wrong these days because you’re not supposed to get sick with cancer, or heart disease, etc, and that in the old days, you lived a healthy life until dropped dead of old age in the field one day without ever suffering declining health beforehand.

    We do generally lead sedentary life styles and we don’t generally eat right, but real medical doctors have been telling us to eat right, stop smoking, and get more exercise for years.

    We live longer today than we did 100 years ago despite our poor lifestyles; I’ve got to credit modern, scientific medicine for that.

  43. David Gorski says:

    What is being attacked here are claims that CAM has any special knowledge or capabilities that might increase the uptake of healthier lifestyles.

    Exactly right. As I described in my post this week, Chopra and other CAM advocates have appropriated diet, excercise, and other lifestyle changes known to be able to promote health as “alternative.” They have (intentionally, I believe) formulated a false dichotomy where “conventional medicine” equals pills, surgery, and procedures, and “alternative” means in essence, everything else–except what they don’t tell you is that everything else includes quackery and woo. In essence, they use the fact that diet and lifestyle interventions are either arguably underutilized in “conventional medicine” or are so hard to do (which is one reason why they are underutilized; it’s much easier for the patient to take and the doctor to prescribe a pill rather than going through the work of crafting a lifestyle alteration to promote health) to claim them as “alternative” in order to associate them with woo and other pseudoscience. The implication is: Diet and exercise can promote health, and we associate them with acupuncture, reiki, homeopathy, and other woo. That means the there must be something to the woo. As Steve, Mark, and I have pointed out, it’s a big bait and switch.

    Alternatively, I like to put it this way: The quackery hides in the Trojan Horse of diet and exercise, which are non-threatening and thus get taken into the fortress. Once the Horse is in, though, the woo comes out its hiding place.

    But, as others have pointed out, it’s more than that. “Alternative” practitioners don’t just appropriate sound diet and exercise to promote health, but rather they add non-science-based claims, such as that supplements will cure diseases or cure cancer or whatever. They add mystical gibberish about “life energy” and “healing foods.” They make claims that are demonstrably incorrect and represent them as “diet and exercise.”

  44. pec says:

    “We live longer today than we did 100 years ago despite our poor lifestyles; I’ve got to credit modern, scientific medicine for that.”

    That is a very popular myth these days, loved especially by the drug companies. We live much longer, on average, than prehistoric people mainly because modern medicine has virtually eliminated infant mortality. Infants of any species are vulnerable, and that is when the weakest members are weeded out. Yes modern medicine has succeeded in fooling nature in that respect.

    We also have antibiotics and high-tech surgery and diagnostics, which save many lives.

    Aside from that, modern medicine does not improve health. The average older American limps along, surviving and suffering, after decades of inactivity, junk food, and environmental poison.

    Longevity has increased for moderns relative to primitives because of decreased infant mortality, antibiotics, surgery, as I said. And it has increased since the early industrial era because of improved sanitation — cities were filthy in the past. And it has increased in recent decades — possibly because of decreased smoking rates.

    Other than that, we have no evidence that modern medicine has given us longer healthier lives. It could be argued that some of the widely used drugs have undermined the health of older Americans and increased the rates of dementia and disability. Of course, it’s hard to know how much of that is thanks to the American lifestyle.

    We don’t know very much about the health and longevity of primitives who survived childhood, and who were not killed in wars or accidents. We can assume they were physically active, ate natural food, and that their environment was clean. My guess would be that their health was superior to ours. Of course, anyone who was not healthy died, so everyone was probably fairly healthy.

    We are led to think that primitives were old and shriveled by age 30 and dropped dead from old age at 35, all because they lacked our wonderful drugs and surgery. But the 35 year average results from averaging in all those infant mortality zeros.

  45. SDR says:

    pec, if you think infant mortality is the main reason people live longer (that phrase is so instantly ridiculous it’s funny), i question your ability to reason scientifically.

    Despite the clear ridiculousness of the statement at face value (more people being born says nothing about how long they will live), the US has one of the worst (or at this point it may be the worst) infant mortality rates in the “first world.” Despite this, more people are living into the 100s.

    Newsflash: it’s materialist, science-based medicine that allows this.

  46. weing says:

    “My guess would be that their health was superior to ours. Of course, anyone who was not healthy died, so everyone was probably fairly healthy.

    We are led to think that primitives were old and shriveled by age 30 and dropped dead from old age at 35, all because they lacked our wonderful drugs and surgery.”

    You have evidence to back up all these claims? Examinations of skeletons, teeth, etc to back you up? Or is all this wishful speculation without any basis in fact?

  47. wertys says:

    So pec, apart from sanitation, healthcare, clean streets and the aqueduct, what have those materialist Romans ever done for us ??

  48. MOI says:

    Pec, what are you arguing? If you’re arguing that all things being equal that “primatives” were healthier than us lazy “moderns”, I would agree (assuming that their environment gave them the opportunity to eat a well balanced diet. Their hearts probably worked a little less hard, their bones were probably a bit stronger, etc). But “all things being equal” is only possible w/ science, transportation of goods and modern medicine (the above mentioned by wertys, vaccinations, insulin shots, early diagnosis of various ailments, etc). You’re basically stating that biology hasn’t changed much in the past several hundred decades.

    I don’t get it. Care to give an example of how modern medicine (therefore science) hasn’t extended our lifespan? I know that I wouldn’t be typing right now if it wasn’t for modern medicine. I no longer have an appendix. 100 years ago, my appendix would have burst and I would have been screwed. Care to tell me why I would have been better off if I was living in a cave thousands of years ago??? How my superior diet and exercise would have prevented my appendix from becoming infected? Or how my child born just six weeks prior would have been better off??

    I really don’t understand your argument. If this is just ignorance on my part, that’s fine. I will admit that, but I need clarification.

  49. clgood says:

    Harriet:

    Excellent post. I love the idea of playing by the rules. So I wonder why you keep playing with pec, who not only won’t agree on rules but doesn’t know what they are. If it’s to provide entertainment I give you an A — I’ve been laughing as I read through the comments.

    Keep up the good work!

  50. Dr Benway says:

    pec:

    Religion may be outside the scope of scientific research, but there is absolutely no reason for religion to be irrational or stupid. Religion does depend on a non-materialist philosophical perspective, but materialism and science are NOT the same thing. There is no valid reason why a religious person should be considered less scientific than an atheist.

    The scientific method aka “reason” or “rational inquiry” is a means to double-check our experiences and so sift apart reality from imagination.

    Any religious claim that can be corroborated can be examined like any other claim about the world. No need to name such claims “religious” or “CAM” or “materialist” etc.

  51. pec says:

    “You have evidence to back up all these claims? Examinations of skeletons, teeth, etc to back you up? Or is all this wishful speculation without any basis in fact?”

    I never said that we have evidence that primitives were healthier than we are. I said it is a myth that we are healthier than they were, all because of modern medicine. The myth is repeated mindlessly and mindlessly believed, although there is no evidence for it.

    High infant mortality means the average life span will be low. That is the main reason the average life span was low for primitives. There were other reasons, which I listed. We have absolutely no reason to think our health is superior to that of any culture that lived a fairly natural lifestyle.

    Yes, they would die of appendicitis but we would get surgery and survive. There have been several important medical advances, but it is not a case of steady upward progress.

  52. Karl Withakay says:

    wertys,

    You put it in better words than I was going to. I love the Monty Python reference!

  53. Karl Withakay says:

    Also, to reiterate, real medical doctors have been telling us for years to eat better, quit smoking, and get more exercise; if our lifestyles are the cause of all our health problems, that’s hardly the fault of modern medicine.

    We know what we need to do to loose weight and live healthier, but we want a way to live how we want and be healthier at the same time. We want a fad diet or a weight loss supplement/pill that lets us eat as much as we want, or a machine that will let us work out for only 5 minutes a week and still get results.

  54. Calli Arcale says:

    Religion plays by a different set of rules, but when a religion makes a scientific claim, it enters the scientific arena and has to play by those rules. The claim that the earth is 6000 years old is a falsifiable factual claim that has been refuted by overwhelming scientific evidence.

    This is true, but my point is just that if we can’t really expect religion to play by science’s rules. It’s a waste of time to try to convince a fundamentalist Christian that the world is more than 6,000 years old, just as it’s usually a waste of time to convince Bart Sibrel that the Apollo missions actually happened. They’re so certain of their beliefs that they will not accept contrary evidence, regardless of the quality. They are playing by different rules.

    So don’t try to convince them, at least not on religious grounds. If you try to convince them, you’re just trying to play chess with someone playing checkers. The most we can do is to point out that they are wrong (and potentially lying, though that’s harder to prove) when they claim that the evidence (outside of the Bible) supports their claim of the Earth being 6,000 years old.

    So when an IDiot tries to push Creationism in science class, take ‘em down, because they are seriously out of line there. Just don’t expect the IDiot to abandon his beliefs. He probably won’t.

    To pec, yeah, it’s sad that so many religions endorse stagnant thought. I like my church; thinking for oneself is strongly encouraged. But not all are like that, and truth be told, I think that sort of thing in the end does more harm to religion than it does to science. Short term, yeah, it hurts scientific progress. Long term, it produces a religion incapable of adaptation and ripe for takeover by a corrupt leader.

  55. pec says:

    “if our lifestyles are the cause of all our health problems, that’s hardly the fault of modern medicine.”

    Lifestyle is the cause of many, not all, of our health problems. And yes it can be partly blamed on the myth that we are healthier now thanks you modern medicine. The average American has more faith in drugs and surgery than in exercise and nutrition, because of that myth. If primitives were so unhealthy and died so young, we don’t feel inspired to follow their example. Maybe they died young because of too much exercise, or because their food wasn’t processed.

    Americans have been brainwashed by the medical industries to think drugs can restore mental and physical health, and work as well as lifestyle improvements.

  56. MOI says:

    Pec, again, so you are basically arguing that our biology hasn’t changed much and medicine hasn’t changed our biology. You state that people let themselves go in hopes that modern medicine can save them. People are lazy, we’re programmed that way. Our lifestyle has outpaced our biology. High caloric foods are cheap and easily accessible. Modern conveniences have left us less mobile. Medicine is not a panacea, but it sure helps those of us whose conditions are not based on poor diet and lack of exercise.

    What is your solution to this problem? Restrict companies from developing products that can lessen the affects of our modern day health problems? Require doctors to perform elaborate medical exams to make darn sure that the problem isn’t just a lifestyle issue? You obviously think that the system is corrupt. I’d like examples of this corruption and how the corruption has anything to do with the science of medicine itself and what the hell this has to do w/ woo-woos not playing by the rules.

  57. Karl Withakay says:

    Yeah, screw evil reductionist, materialist modern medicine.

    People in the Old Testament lived for hundreds of years without antibiotics, vaccines, surgery, blood transfusions, and modern medications.

    “We don’t know very much about the health and longevity of primitives who survived childhood, and who were not killed in wars or accidents. We can assume they were physically active, ate natural food, and that their environment was clean. My guess would be that their health was superior to ours.”

    OK, that’s your guess. My guess is that they suffered and died from diseases and parasites that can be cured or prevented by antibiotics and vaccines. My guess is that they died from wounds suffered while hunting or in combat that today are usually not fatal today due to modern medicine. Many wounds that weren’t fatal, but were then permanently disabling were as good as fatal as they could no longer provide for themselves. My guess is that seizure disorders were commonly fatal, as was diabetes. My guess is that a significantly greater percentage of mothers died in childbirth. My guess is that people with poor eyesight were effectively blind and had a low chance of surviving. My guess is life was hard and rough and took it’s toll on the human body and ancient, and primitive peoples didn’t live as long or as healthily as you think. Successful individuals lived long enough to pass on their genes and ensure the survival of their offspring, anything beyond that was gravy.

    I don’t know about that part about their environment being clean…

    PEC, should we assume that you lead an active and healthy lifestyle, and if you get seriously sick, it will because of environmental factors beyond your control? If you do develop serious health problems, will you consult a reductionist, materialist MD for help? What if you develop cancer; will there be any modern medicine for you?

  58. Jurjen S. says:

    Just an off-the-cuff observation here, but it strikes me that the term “materialism” as used by Pec (and many others) is simply a “no true Scotsman” fallacy, wielded for the purpose of having it both ways. It allows the user to pretend to embrace the scientific method as a means of gathering evidence, while simultaneously rejecting evidence that has actually been gathered using the scientific method.

  59. daedalus2u says:

    I have quite mixed feelings about the topic of this post. Talking about “playing by the rules”, has the connotation that to some extent science is a “game”, and a “game” that one can “win” via games-man-ship. That is what the proponents of CAM are trying to do, “win” by games-man-ship.

    Listing what those who discovered that Helicobacter pylori causes ulcers did is fine, but the major difference they have to CAM is that their hypothesis was correct. Their hypothesis was correct before they gathered a single piece of data. They must have believed that their hypothesis was correct, or they would not have gathered data to test it. What they tried to do was gather data that would show if their hypothesis was wrong.

    In Reality, the Universe sets the Rules and doesn’t tell us what they are.

    I think that pec’s insistence on denigrating materialism is because she is a Scientologist and has to contort her thinking to conform to Scientology which has all sorts of non-materialistic things going on.

  60. Fifi says:

    Well it IS true that affluent societies that are technologically advanced allow ALL kinds of people who wouldn’t have survived in earlier times to survive – not only do they survive all kinds of diseases, famines, accidents and natural disasters that they wouldn’t have in previous times but many are also protected from their own idiocy which would have led to an early demise in less forgiving times.

    It might be useful to actually define what’s meant by “primitive” (since it is a pretty meaningless word since ancient peoples lived a variety of lifestyles). There’s also good archeological evidence that ancient people did die of cancer and a wide variety of other diseases. In fact, there’s a whole area of study called Paleopathology that deals specifically with it! And, er, even dinosaurs got cancer!

    Paleopathology
    http://www.uic.edu/classes/osci/osci590/6_1Paleopathology%20Disease%20in%20the%20Past.htm

    And dinosaurs!
    http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1660%2F0022-8443(2007)110%5B155%3ABCRIDC%5D2.0.CO%3B2&ct=1

    It’s very trendy at the moment to romanticize nomadic hunter-gatherers (vegan is not longer in, going “wild” is – more often than not this seems to involve setting up a tent in a friend’s back yard, eating roadkill, squirrels and berries, and blogging about it using your friends wifi when not running around the city in a loincloth – I kid you not!!!) These kids aren’t to be confused with actual survivalists or even people who can really survive in the wilderness – it’s ideological not practical, which is what makes it all the more silly and entertaining!

  61. Jules says:

    I find it ironic that you chose to use the Helicobacter pylori study as your case example (I personally would’ve gone for DNA as the carrier of biological information), because it usually takes more than an n=1 to change scientific opinion.

  62. pec says:

    I don’t romanticize hunter/gatherers, and I was very careful to list some of their many problems and disadvantages. But the fact that they had problems doesn’t mean we don’t. We are, in general, very sick. There is no use trying to deny the suffering and misery going on all around us, especially if we are older or have older relatives. Modern medicine and technology have made some things easier and other things harder. Yes it’s hard to hunt for your food — it takes skill and physical strength, and was probably often frustrating and exhausting. On the other hand, it’s also hard to have diabetes, which is an epidemic now and even affects young people. Is it harder to be a hunter or a diabetic?

    Primitives — all the many varieties of them — didn’t live in paradise but neither do we.

    My point is that we should stop believing the myth that we are healthier now thanks to the new drugs. We should stop believing what the drug companies want us to believe: that ancient and primitive people dropped dead at 35 because they weren’t taking statins.

  63. Dr Benway says:

    pec,

    Many people lived long and healthy lives in ancient times. Hard work several hours a day helps build muscle strength and keeps fat off.

    But women often died in childbirth. Routine surgery wasn’t routine. Minor infections before antibiotics could be deadly.

    I think we need both things: a healthy lifestyle and access to useful drugs and procedures.

    Hats off to the dentists, no? Among my grandparents’ generation, so many had lost all their teeth.

  64. Dr Benway says:

    daedalus2u:

    I have quite mixed feelings about the topic of this post. Talking about “playing by the rules”, has the connotation that to some extent science is a “game”, and a “game” that one can “win” via games-man-ship.

    More like rules of arithmetic, or rules of evidence as used in court. The rules aren’t there for competition but for clarity and ease of communication.

    The basic rules:
    1. Corroboration: claims we can corroborate deserve more of our confidence than claims we can’t corroborate.
    2. Falsification: claims must be subjected to some test that might prove them false before we take them seriously.
    3. Logic: claims ought not be self-contradictory, and ought not contradict what we already know.
    4. Parsimony: claims that require the fewest unfounded assumptions are preferred.
    5. Onus: the person making the claim bears the burden of proof.

  65. CarolynS says:

    Much of this interesting discussion actually illustrates the ways in which “lifestyle” and “CAM” have some tendency to blur into each other. I have no problem with doctors recommending lifestyle changes or with public health messages on lifestyle. However, not only is CAM trying to somehow include “lifestyle”, but also “lifestyle” advocates take on some of the characteristics of CAM advocates, as though lifestyle can somehow ward off all ills or at least most of them and that scientific evidence that suggests anything different is irrelevant. In fact, for example, there are few if any trials of exercise presciptions that actually show a reduction in mortality or in a hard clinical endpoint (and remember that physical fitness is rarely measured and that fitness is not the same as physical activity, which is very very hard to measure.) The letters in the WSJ regarding the recent Chopra/Weil etc editorial are interesting. One doctor with prostate cancer wrote in and pointed out that no amount of “lifestyle” would be expected to ward off prostate cancer.

    THe JAMA article is interesting. It shows that despite the failure of two studies of “lifestyle” interventions to meet their goals, nonetheless the studies are being touted as successes, not as failures. Is this a good model for trials of CAM?

  66. MOI says:

    I think the problem w/ studying exercise is that very few people actually stick w/ a program. Take me for example. I have joined a gym, but my participation varies. It makes “sense” that if you are more physically active that you are “healthier” but what evidence exists for this? Are there mounds of it, or very little of it?? I really don’t know. Is the evidence out there more of the anecdotal variety?

  67. Fifi says:

    MOI – There have been some great studies done on exercise actually. In Canada there have been quite a few that have shown important things about exercise and aging in particular (done under the auspices of science not CAM), and there have been quite a few coming out regarding exercise and cognition in aging. You’ll notice that, as our populations age, a lot of the research has to do with exercise and aging (which ultimately benefits us all since we’ll all be old, if we’re lucky! :-)

    Of course, it doesn’t matter how healthy and active one is, one can still get very ill. While exercise and diet certainly helps with lifestyle related illness where the lifestyle is essentially creating the problem – such as diabetes and other problems related to obesity, or other eating disorders and malnutrition or general sloth creating back pain – and is important for general health and may dampen the expression of certain genes, it doesn’t prevent all kinds of illness. Aging, of course, makes us more vulnerable than we were in our prime (if we were healthy in our prime) to all kinds of viruses and so on – no matter how active and healthy one is. We’re all going to die some day, aging isn’t a disease it’s just the natural progression (we may one day be able to “unnaturally” extend life spans but that has a hoard of ethical dimensions to consider). People who don’t embrace how lucky we are if we get old before we die, clearly haven’t dealt with the death of any young people in their lives or their own mortality. Of course, being old is a much less pleasant experience if we haven’t created and nournished family (blood or chosen) and community around us (but so is any stage of life!).

  68. cooldaveb says:

    An extra point in “what not to do when playing the science game”:

    13. Sue

  69. W.L. Reinholt says:

    I am an a creationist and advocate of science and strongly support all that science does in using the scientific method in ariving at verifiable answers in the practice of medicine.

    To me, there is a right and wrong way; as well as a right and wrong place and a right and wrong time to apply either of these two very congruent pillars of life.

    May I briefly apply how I see these two worlds to be reality.

    For truth in the hear and now…in this physical world…we look to sckience for the known truths…in the world to come…after we pass…we look to Gods Word for the truths that apply to that time.

    When it comes to things men would have us to believe are facts that pertain to this physical world…before we accept them…require proof. When it comes to things that pertain to life after death and what happens then…when it comes to what would amount to truth…where we have those who say…this is what God tells us to do? First, for those who believe in God…that is by faith, not by evidence. In this world “faith ” is required. Also in this world there are those who say their view is right and true and from God and at the same time there are those in the faith world who also say there way is right and true, but what they are saying is different from the other who says differently.

    So there are rules in both worlds.

    In the “faith” world we look to Gods Word for the truth…and based on what it says…because we believe in God and we believe he is omnipotent; omniscience and omnipresent…we do not look for the “proof” that it is true…we believe it because He is God.
    He won’t lie.

    Man is fallable and he is also confronted with the temptation to lie…he has a choice…to lie or tell the truth…experience has shown us…when man says it is true…require proof…when man says it will work…require proof. So it is in the medical world…the need for evidence before we believe it is what it is claimed to be. The cure; the cause or whatever they are claiming.

    The standards that apply here are well known by those who are true scientists…those standards that comprise the scientific community and those who are true scientists are gifted people just as are those who are gifted in other areas of life. Those who will not call something scientific unless it is provable…who will apply correctly all the steps described above when seeking answers that they will eventually be able to assign to the fact world or to the disgarded world of all things that are eventually discarded that could not be proven.

    However…in both worlds…there are false answers given. Only those in those areas of higher education are able to discern true from false science. Sadly there is much money to be made from false science…just as there is much money to be made from being a false prophet where the only ones who can truly know if they are being taught a lie in regard to God and the Bible are those who know what it teaches. That is the authority in the “faith” world…true science is the authority in the physical world.

    The God that loves me and gave His Son to die for me and all mankind…hates a lying tongue…and because there are those who will lie…God has blessed some with the gift of knowledge in certain areas of life…and that gift works to make this a lot safer place…both in reducing the dangers that would arrise in terms of physical harm, to the point of loss of life, as well as the financial loss and all the other forms of suffering that could arrise because we believed a liar. Science reduces considerablt the chance of that happening.

  70. Harriet Hall says:

    W. L. Reinholt said,

    “That is the authority in the “faith” world…true science is the authority in the physical world.”

    Science does not accept the concept of “authority.” Religion does, and there are literally hundreds of different religions with different authorities promoting beliefs that are mutually incompatible. The true prophet of one religion is a false prophet to another. There is only one science, and it is based on the evidence, not on what any authority says about the evidence.

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