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SBM at TAM9

Many of the SBM blogger are at The Amazing Meeting 9 this week – or TAM9 From Outer Space, as it is whimsically called. The JREF, who sponsors TAM, is a big supporter of our efforts at SBM and, in fact, as of this year co-sponsors this blog along with the New England Skeptical Society (both non-profits).

This year, as with the last two TAMs, there will be a workshop on SBM. The topic is, “Oh no, not again! – Recurring themes in medical mythology.” David Gorski, Kimball Atwood, Harriet Hall, Mark Crislip and I decided to discuss the most common recurrent themes in unscientific or philosophy-based medicine (which is much of what passes for CAM). The core idea of the workshop is that the same basic themes keep cropping up again and again in CAM modalities. They may contain slight variations on the basic theme, but mostly are just the same thing with a different superficial window dressing.

So, for example, many systems are based upon the common theme of “energy medicine” – the notion that there is a life force or life energy that is responsible for health, and blockages in the flow or power of this energy cause “unwellness.” Modalities as apparently distinct as straight chiropractic, acupuncture, and Reiki are all based on this pre-scientific idea.

The other themes we cover are toxins, food as medicine, germ-theory denial, and homunculus-based systems. Taking this approach can be very illuminating, as it reveals how the same superstitious or simply outdated ideas have been recycled and repackaged over and over again. It also is very useful because there are countless new health claims and products; a never-ending cycle of bogus therapies. Playing “whack-a-mole” with these claims is part of our mission at SBM, but it is even better to give people the skills to recognize these new claims for what they are as they crop up.

It is our hope that at the end of the workshop an attendee will be able to see a new health claim and say, “Oh yeah. This is just another vague reference to toxins.” or “This is just another energy-based claim.”

The same speakers, with the addition of Ginger Campbell and Rachael Dunlop, will be joining us on the main program for a panel on the placebo effect. It has become increasingly clear to us that, as the evidence for the most popular CAM modalities is coming back negative, proponents are increasing changing their strategy to, “It is only as effective as a placebo, but the placebo is powerful and that means it works,” or something like that. Just search for “placebo” on this site for the many articles we have written about it.

I hope to see many regular readers of SBM at TAM. If you have never attended a TAM meeting then I recommend attending one in the future (this year’s is sold out). And again – thanks to the JREF and D.J. Grothe (its president) in particular for being such solid supporters of our efforts at SBM.

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10 thoughts on “SBM at TAM9

  1. daedalus2u says:

    Steve, Orac has a very disturbing post.

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/07/a_disturbing_post_on_an_anti-vaccine_blog.php

    about an anti-vax proponant musing about the destruction of Dark Evil in Las Vegas.

    I think this is worrying enough that Security at the South Point venue should be informed about it. This is what Gavin de Becker talks about in his book “the gift of fear”, that humans do have pretty good danger detection systems, but they tend to over-rule them cognitively when they shouldn’t.

  2. Todd W. says:

    So wish I could be there. Would love to attend the talks. Any chance of organizing something similar for NECSS?

  3. weing says:

    I’m looking forward to it. Any chance of CME credits?

  4. elmer the fake nutritionist emailer not says:

    You*, do want to be leery of robotically dismissing anything involving “energy,” though (or “qi,” for that matter, which is, you know, one of the most common words in the Chinese language, typically used in a perfectly non-mystical way); any proficient teacher of music performance, dance, etc. will recognize some equivalent of directing energy from one part of the body to another in order to better control the muscles. It may not make sense as physiology, but it is how the mind works.

    *”You,” meaning the readers, of course.

  5. No one is advocating “robotic dismissal”.

    Certain claims, however, raise red flags. Your skeptical sense should be tingling if:
    - a claim is based on a vague reference to “energy”
    - a wide range of diseases and ailments are blamed on a vague reference to “toxins”

    just like your skeptical senses should be alerted by
    - claims for free energy
    - appeal to a conspiracy to silence “the truth”
    - any claim for a cure to all disease

    And a thousand other things. But red flags are followed by detailed analysis, not dismissal out of hand. That’s the part of our process that is often ignored.

  6. Matlatzinca says:

    @weing – I tried to claim it, but no such luck with my institution. I don’t think there is a sponsoring institution that will validate CME.

    I’m looking forward to meeting everyone, this is my first TAM.

    Carlos, aka matlatzinca.

  7. Richard says:

    I hope there will be video or audio of the SBM workshop and the SBM panel for us poor saps who can’t make it to TAM9.

  8. cervantes says:

    Elmer — My acting teachers also used to talk about “energy,” flowing from the gut to extremities or getting caught up in the throat and not coming out through the voice or whatever. Maybe that does have something to do with subjective experience that can affect how we appear on stage (although I actually don’t think so and wouldn’t talk to acting students that way myself). But what on earth does it have to do with the cause and treatment of disease?

  9. Chris says:

    Richard, the JREF used to sell a DVD of the TAM a few months later. There were cameras everywhere, and all the talks and workshops were recorded. On Sunday I bought DVDs of TAM 5.5, TAM 7 and TAM London at half price. I can’t find any evidence they are still doing that.

    They have some online videos of TAM talks.

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