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What is Science?

Consider these statements:

…there is an evidence base for biofield therapies. (citing the Cochrane Review of Touch Therapies)

The larger issue is what constitutes “pseudoscience” and what information is worthy of dissemination to the public. Should the data from our well conducted, rigorous, randomized controlled trial [of 'biofield healing'] be dismissed because the mechanisms are unknown or because some scientists do not believe in the specific therapy?…Premature rejection of findings from rigorous randomized controlled trials are as big a threat to science as the continuation of falsehoods based on belief. Thus, as clinicians and scientists, our highest duty to patients should be to investigate promising solutions with high benefit/risk ratios, not to act as gatekeepers of information based on personal opinion.

–Jain et al, quoted here

Touch therapies may have a modest effect in pain relief. More studies on HT and Reiki in relieving pain are needed. More studies including children are also required to evaluate the effect of touch on children.

Touch Therapies are so-called as it is believed that the practitioners have touched the clients’ energy field.

It is believed this effect occurs by exerting energy to restore, energize, and balance the energy field disturbances using hands-on or hands-off techniques (Eden 1993). The underlying concept is that sickness and disease arise from imbalances in the vital energy field. However, the existence of the energy field of the human body has not been proven scientifically and thus the effect of such therapies, which are believed to exert an effect on one’s energy field, is controversial and lies in doubt.

—Cochrane Review of Touch Therapies, quoted here

 …

Science is advanced by an open mind that seeks knowledge, while acknowledging its current limits. Science does not make assertions about what cannot be true, simply because evidence that it is true has not yet been generated. Science does not mistake absence of evidence for evidence of absence. Science itself is fluid.

—David Katz

When people became interested in alternative medicines, they asked me to help out at Harvard Medical School. I realized that in order to survive there, one had to become a scientist. So I became a scientist.

—Ted Kaptchuk, quoted here.

 …It seems that the decision concerning acceptance of evidence (either in medicine or religion) ultimately reflects the beliefs of the person that exist before all arguments and observation.

 —Ted Kaptchuk, quoted here.

Together they betray a misunderstanding of science that is common not only to “CAM” apologists, but to many academic medical researchers. Let me explain.

Science: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

In common use the word “science” has several meanings, which may or may not be clear in context. Two that readily come to mind are 1) the growing body of knowledge about nature, accumulated over the several hundred years during which a distinctive, rational method of inquiry, or at least parts of it, have been employed; 2) that method of inquiry, also known as the “scientific method,” characterized by the collective tools of science—observation, generation of hypotheses, controlled and repeated testing of hypotheses, the use of mathematics for generating hypotheses, for aiding in complex measurements, for statistical inference, and so on.

The most important misunderstanding about science that we see in the quotations above is a conflation of the two meanings, or in some cases a complete disregard for the first. Thus, because some clinical trials have suggested “a modest effect on pain relief” for (non)Touch Therapies, there must be “an evidence base for biofield therapies,” and to argue otherwise is “as big a threat to science as the continuation of falsehoods based on belief.” Moreover, since “absence of evidence” is not the same as “evidence of absence,” and since “science does not make assertions about what cannot be true,” the responsible scientist must judge the “energy field of the human body” to be a real possibility, even if it “has not (yet) been proven scientifically.”

Such notions are nonsense: of course science makes assertions about what cannot be true. Nor will clinical research ever overturn those assertions, which are based on far more rigorous and voluminous experimental data than can be generated in the messy, incorrigible realm of clinical trials. It is the first meaning of science, as defined above, that is the more pertinent for “CAM” research. The second meaning is barely applicable, for reasons that I’ve discussed previously and that I may revisit here, if I have the time.

“What have we been doing for the past 300 years?”

The late physicist, Milton Rothman, wrote three small books that are useful for a discussion such as this. One of those books, A Physicist’s Guide to Skepticism, has an entire section titled “Laws of Permission and Laws of Denial.” The chapter on “Laws of Denial” begins as follows:

It is fashionable in some circles to insist that “nothing is impossible,” as though to admit the impossibility of some cherished goal is to “give up trying,” to have a closed mind, to be a spoilsport, a pessimist. This cliché is most prevalent in inspirational rhetoric connected with therapeutic, educational, or sporting activities. Nevertheless, one of the basic functions of science is to determine what actions are impossible in this real world. Choosing between the possible and the impossible is a task carried out by means of the laws of denial, which tie us firmly to reality even as imaginations soar unfettered through the universe.

Another fashionable cliché is that “all scientific theories are provisional,” as though physics knows nothing with a certainty, and that anything we think we know is likely to be found false in the future…If all scientific knowledge is tentative, what have we been doing for the past 300 years? How can I be so sure that the computer upon which I am typing will print out the words that I am putting into it?

A more accurate assessment of the situation is to recognize that one of the fundamental tasks of science is to critically examine all knowledge and to separate from the tentative ideas and false notions of the past facts that are so well established that to think them subject to change is to invite wishful thinking and foolishness.

Laws of denial, as explained by Rothman, are the laws of conservation of energy, momentum, angular momentum, and of electric charge; the principle of Lorentz invariance, “from which the conclusions of special relativity follow: no object, energy or information can travel faster than the speed of light”; the principle of causality, by which it is “impossible for an effect to appear earlier in time than its cause”; and the first and second laws of thermodynamics. There are other statements that can be made with a degree of certainty much higher than is necessary to preclude their being overturned by clinical research, even if they are less certain than the laws of denial. For example, since all known interactions can be explained by the 4 forces of the standard model, and since only two of those forces—gravity and electromagnetic force—explain all actions other than those at the subatomic level, there is no reason to invoke fanciful forces (the vital force, ‘biofields’) that have never been detected and that add nothing to our understanding of natural phenomena.

Rothman distinguishes between “ideological skepticism” and “pragmatic skepticism”:

Ideological skepticism is disbelief based on deep-seated psychological factors…It includes disbelief in conservation of energy and other laws of denial because you can’t stand authority figures telling you what you cannot do. [It] encourages you to think that we can’t know anything for a certainty, and that, as a result, anything is possible.

Pragmatic skepticism is disbelief in phenomena that contradict laws of nature that have been thoroughly verified by experiment and observation. It is based on a well-founded understanding of those natural laws, and of their uses and limitations.

It should be clear that pragmatic skepticism—the kind that makes real scientists and SBM authors skeptical of “biofields,” homeopathy, psychokinesis, and all the rest—is based on neither “personal opinion” nor “the beliefs of the person that exist before all arguments and observation.”

Rothman asks, “how do the laws of physics give us the power to make any statements about biology or psychology, about evolution or human behavior?”

The answer lies in the laws of denial. While we are unable to make good predictions about what things will do using the laws of permission, we can make very precise predictions about what they cannot do.

Rothman then offers a few negative predictions of his own, with explanations based on the laws of denial. In summary:

  1. I will never be able to jump as high as the moon, at least not without mechanical aid.
  2. I will never suddenly burst into flames.
  3. I will never suddenly levitate and rise up off the floor, no matter how hard I will it…
  4. No one will ever build a flying vehicle that is capable of hovering high in the air while supported by nothing but magnetic fields.
  5. No one will build an antigravity machine…
  6. No one will ever build a time-travel machine.
  7. No one will ever make a killing on the stock market by foreseeing the future.
  8. Nobody will ever send a message through space that does not diminish in intensity as it travels away from the sender.
  9. No one will ever send or receive any kind of message that travels faster than the speed of light.
  10. No one will ever influence the position or motion of any kind of physical object from a distance just by thinking about it.
  11. No one will ever demonstrate that astrology really works.

Number 10, a reference to psychokinesis, pertains to a large category of “CAM” claims, including ‘biofields,’ Therapeutic Touch, and ‘distant healing.’

When you think of science, please think of it first as a way—the only accurate way that we have—to understand nature. If, instead, you think first of P-values or confidence intervals or randomization or blinding or allocation concealment, you’re misled. Some of those may be important tools for some kinds of research, but they do not constitute science any more than rulers or scales or graph paper or chromatography constitute science, and those whose expertise is limited to such tools may be smart and useful for some scientific pursuits, but they are not scientists.

“A Subtle Change in the Balance of Medical Authority”

Nearly 4 years ago we saw these quotations from a real biomedical scientist, Steven Goodman, who also happened to have learned Bayesian inference:

An important problem exists in the interpretation of modern medical research data: Biological understanding and previous research play little formal role in the interpretation of quantitative results. This phenomenon is manifest in the discussion sections of research articles and ultimately can affect the reliability of conclusions. The standard statistical approach has created this situation by promoting the illusion that conclusions can be produced with certain “error rates,” without consideration of information from outside the experiment. This statistical approach, the key components of which are P values and hypothesis tests, is widely perceived as a mathematically coherent approach to inference. There is little appreciation in the medical community that the methodology is an amalgam of incompatible elements, whose utility for scientific inference has been the subject of intense debate among statisticians for almost 70 years…

This method thus facilitated a subtle change in the balance of medical authority from those with knowledge of the biological basis of medicine toward those with knowledge of quantitative methods, or toward the quantitative results alone, as though the numbers somehow spoke for themselves.

That appears to explain why “More studies on HT and Reiki in relieving pain are needed,” and why they will continue to be ‘needed,’ ad nauseam. And now, thanks to commenter phayes, I’ll go back to my new, favorite treatise on how to use probability theory to make sense of incomplete information. Hint: it isn’t what the frequentists who now claim “medical authority” use.

The Prior Probability, Bayesian vs. Frequentist Inference, and EBM Series:

1. Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future Part V

2. Prior Probability: The Dirty Little Secret of “Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine”

3. Prior Probability: the Dirty Little Secret of “Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine”—Continued

4. Prior Probability: the Dirty Little Secret of “Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine”—Continued Again

5. Yes, Jacqueline: EBM ought to be Synonymous with SBM

6. The 2nd Yale Research Symposium on Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Part II

7. H. Pylori, Plausibility, and Greek Tragedy: the Quirky Case of Dr. John Lykoudis

8. Evidence-Based Medicine, Human Studies Ethics, and the ‘Gonzalez Regimen’: a Disappointing Editorial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology Part 1

9. Evidence-Based Medicine, Human Studies Ethics, and the ‘Gonzalez Regimen’: a Disappointing Editorial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology Part 2

10. Of SBM and EBM Redux. Part I: Does EBM Undervalue Basic Science and Overvalue RCTs?

11. Of SBM and EBM Redux. Part II: Is it a Good Idea to test Highly Implausible Health Claims?

12. Of SBM and EBM Redux. Part III: Parapsychology is the Role Model for “CAM” Research

13. Of SBM and EBM Redux. Part IV: More Cochrane and a little Bayes

14. Of SBM and EBM Redux. Part IV, Continued: More Cochrane and a little Bayes

15. Cochrane is Starting to ‘Get’ SBM!

16. What is Science? 

Posted in: Basic Science, Book & movie reviews, Clinical Trials, Energy Medicine, Faith Healing & Spirituality, Homeopathy, Medical Academia, Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (37) ↓

37 thoughts on “What is Science?

  1. evilrobotxoxo says:

    There are obviously multiple ways in which the word “science” is used, but my version of the relevant definition would be something along the lines of “building models of the natural world based on experimental observations.” I think this gets at the heart of the difference between EBM (as practiced) and SBM, as advocated on this site. EBM seems to think something that is simply incorrect, such as that science is just testing something to see if it works or not. If you look at it that way, a clinical trial for homeopathy showing promising results might be convincing. However, if you look at it correctly, understanding that the clinical trial results are postulating a model of the natural world that is incompatible with the existing models of chemistry and physics, then you would have a more skeptical approach.

  2. weing says:

    Kaptchuk appears to be practicing “cargo-cult” science. It should not be mistaken for real science. Just as the runways and towers of the cargo-cult islanders should not be mistaken for the real thing. I have heard, but I don’t have actual reports, of pilots mistaking the runways for the real thing. With disastrous consequences.

  3. cervantes says:

    It’s Bayes’s world, we just live in it.

  4. Mark Crislip says:

    Sometimes I wish the blog was called Reality Based Medicine.

  5. phayes says:

    @cervantes

    Bayes is passé. It’s Jaynes’s world now:

    “This book is evidence that the widely proclaimed “Bayesian revolution” in statistics has been superseded by a Jaynesian revolution of far greater consequence.” –David “Geometric Algebra” Hestenes (in a book review linked here: http://geocalc.clas.asu.edu/html/Inferential.html ).

    ;-)

  6. DBag Chopra says:

    Says you and what army?

    I say that science has not even begun to understand its debt to Enlightenment. But I would be happy to provide a full accounting and favorable repayment terms.

  7. William M. London says:

    Bravo KA!

    I think it would be worthwhile to start a collection of what might be titled Anything-Goes-Science Statements–nonsensical comments about science offered by promoters of woo (especially in the form of what Dr. Hall calls Tooth-Fairy science) who claim that they are the true scientists and imply that pragmatic skeptics are close-minded and unscientific. The Katz quotation would be a good first entry.

  8. cervantes says:

    Bayes is hardly passé, although certainly people have built a vast edifice on his simple foundation.

  9. dwpeabody says:

    “Anything-Goes-Science Statements–nonsensical comments about science”

    “Only some 500 years ago the earth was believed to be flat and be the center of the universe! What a ridiculous idea one would think today… ”

    I heard this last week at work from an HSE exec after correcting him on the dangers of EMF radiation email he sent out.

  10. Warning, blatently off-topic

    Mark Crislip
    “Sometimes I wish the blog as called Reality Based Medicine.”

    If you were called Reality Based Medicine you could possibly be required to venture beyond the realm of criticizing CAM into…gasp, politics in mainstream medicine.

    Want to give it a try? How about mentioning why Susan G. Komen for the Cure yanked $12 million funding embryonic stem cells research.

    http://jezebel.com/5881996/komen-halted-funding-for-12-million-in-stem-cell-research-like-we-wouldnt-notice

    Sigh, I know, it’ll never happen, cause the reason ain’t CAM.

  11. Alexander1304 says:

    Folks,here is the link about water memory by professor Igor Jerman.Seems his research went unnotice by skeptical community,but he makes very strong statements:

    http://www.homoeotimes.com/archive/aut_ignor.htm

    I just copy first point of his conclusion:
    “1.The memory of water is a real phenomenon that deserves full scientific attention. The dogmatism of scientific establishment is untenable and deeply unscientific.”

    Any comments?I know Benveniste,Ennis,Rey,Montagnier were well tracked,but what about this one?

  12. Ummm, sorry about that Mark Crislip (and others), I came from another board and forgot to adjust my snark output.

    I do wish that SBM would take a little more time out from CAM coverage and talk about some other aspects of science medicine and current events, but I could have been nicer about it.

  13. Mark Crislip says:

    micheleinmichigan: you are going to try one hell of a lot harder if you want to seen as rude enough to offer an apology. Besides, politics has nothing to do with reality.

  14. Ha, don’t tempt me, I’ve had a bad week, but no sense taking it out on innocent SBMers.

    I’ll half agree with you, though.

    POLITICS, where the thinking is magical, but the consquences are real.

  15. PJLandis says:

    Reading that comment above about Professor Igor, makes me wonder if being savaged on a site like this and elsewhere in the skeptical community isn’t seen as badge of honor in the homeopathic or whatever circles in which someone like that rolls; upon reading the link it’s pretty hard to believe that paper is supposed to represent a unique contribution to the literature of magic water.

  16. Quill says:

    Interesting that three, possibly four, of Rothman’s “negative predictions” have already come true. Just goes to show that no matter how good your current data and theories, speculations are fraught with peril. ;-)

  17. Quill says:

    Oops. Should read “may have already come true” in that first sentence.

  18. BillyJoe says:

    Steven Novella: “And now, thanks to commenter phayes, I’ll go back to my new, favorite treatise on how to use probability theory to make sense of incomplete information.”

    High praise, Phayes!
    So I’m happy to have supported your comment in that thread – shows I’m learning something from these blogs.
    (I’ve downloaded the book onto my kindle – at 700 pages it’s going to take a while though!)

  19. BillyJoe says:

    ….BTW, if anyone else wants to read or reference the book, Steven Novella’s link covers the first three chapters only.
    The complete book is available for down load here:

    http://www-biba.inrialpes.fr/Jaynes/prob.html

    Don’t bother about loading it onto your kindle, though – it’s unreadable unless you enlarge the text and then you have to scan across each page.

  20. @Quill:

    Which 3 or 4? OK, neutrinos maybe (probably not), but others? I doubt it. ‘Speculations’—predictions, actually—based on such well-established laws of denial are fraught with very little peril. That’s the whole point.

    @BillyJoe:

    I’m Atwood. He’s Novella. ;-)

  21. phayes says:

    Probably not FTL neutrinos, no. Unfortunately, some physicists have overstated the implausibility and the consequences (SR is wrong, causality is broken etc.) of such a thing though:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0107091
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1005.1614
    http://physics.indiana.edu/~kostelec/faq.html

  22. anoopbal says:

    9. No one will ever send or receive any kind of message that travels faster than the speed of light.

    Are we sure about 9? Neutrinos still faster than light in latest version of experiment: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/nov/18/neutrinos-still-faster-than-light

  23. @Quill:

    Did you mean if 9 is violated (FTL neutrinos), then 6 and 7 are possible?

  24. Quill says:

    @ Kimball Atwood: “Did you mean if 9 is violated (FTL neutrinos), then 6 and 7 are possible?”

    Yes, that is certainly one way of looking at it, which also might include 5 being possible. :-) There are others, all brought about by a perfectly respectable physicist and science fiction writer committing what might be called a corollary to the Sokal Hoax. This corollary would be something like “When ideas in science are written in insufficiently precise language, all sorts of meanings become possible.” In my case, I’m harmless and simply pointing out in a hopefully humorous way how some writing can be used by people with faulty reasoning. But in the case of CAM and their apologists (that word again!) it is possible to use such writings to their advantage and thus to greater public harm and peril.

    In the case of these eleven “negative predictions” let’s see what could happen.

    First, #2. According to a colleague, Rothman was cremated. Thus he did actually burst into flames defying his own prediction. Therefore, spontaneous human combustion is a real danger and everyone should take anti-combustion supplement formulas to keep their body’s bio-electro-thermic fields in balance so as not to catch fire.

    Second, #4. High is always a relative term. Ever seen a mag-lev train stopped on an overpass? It is a large flying vehicle that is hovering “high” in the air supported by magnetic fields. Therefore, therapeutic touch using hand-held magnets works and probably works best in the higher elevations of Switzerland at pricey high-tech clinics.

    Third, #6. Which way is one traveling? Get in a space ship, accelerate away from the earth at increasingly faster speeds approaching that of light. Stop. Repeat & return. It will now be quite far into the future. Therefore, the ship is in fact a time-travel device and shows ancient wisdom probably came from beneficent alien races who stopped by to pickup some water and hydrogen and left us with Secret Healing Traditions.

    Fourth, #7. This has happened so much it’s not even a legitimate prediction. The easiest way to foresee the future is to invent it. Many market manipulators have done just that, especially in commodities. Therefore, creating healing modalities that manipulate future variables means certain homeopathic remedies will have already cured the patient before they are ingested and are likely to be highly profitable.

    Fifth, #8. I’m going to write “Hello Dr. Oz!” on a .308 caliber rifle bullet and fire it at a black hole. That message will increase in intensity as it travels away from me. Therefore, near-future homeopaths will make their solutions in increasing proximity to artificial black holes to intensify their effects. Black Hole Homeopathy will displace constant velocity, gravity-centered allopathic medicine as the universal standard.

    Sixth, #9. As noted by others, there are very interesting things happening at CERN and other laboratories, those places where scientists in white lab coats look important. FTL movement may have already happened there and thus must certainly be happening in like places where science-y looking people work in white lab coats to make products that are packaged just like pharmaceuticals. FTL + Non-locality = homeopathic remedies made by HEEL in Germany or Boiron in France that don’t even need to be shipped to the customer, who only needs pay for them to benefit fully from their effects. Those benefits happening the day before yesterday, of course. Pre-Cure(c)(r)(tm) is soon to be the cutting neutrino-knife edge in medicine.

    Seventh, #10. This is actually a part of current technology. Devices are able to “read thoughts” and control the motion of objects just by the person thinking about them. The military is apparently already testing and using these devices for troop movement coordination, weapons aiming and pilot controls. Therefore, since everyone knows the Big Pharma-Military-Industrial complex is light-years ahead of what we are allowed to buy in places like The Sharper Image, that expensive-looking, shiny device the CAM practitioner has that claims to see inside my body and diagnose things must really work!

    Finally, eighth, #11. This is “demonstrated” everyday in newspapers and online psychic sites. People find that predictions about their sun signs come true all the time and don’t need demonstrated -again- because for them it is a daily, living reality. For instance, according to your star chart, Dr. Atwood, if you’ve made it this far, right now you are feeling vaguely amused, possibly perturbed, your eyes have rolled around several times and you will likely find pleasure in the company of drink later today. Soon you will meet interesting strangers who will come to you for help! They will be in great distress yet you will be able to help them. One of them will be a woman. Her first name will begin with either an M or P and she will have colored hair. Also, when Mercury is in retrograde you will have problems with insurance billing and when the moon is gibbous you will put on medium exam gloves instead of the large ones and experience tingling in your fingers. What more demonstration of the power of the stars could you need?

  25. BillyJoe says:

    “I’m Atwood. He’s Novella. ;-)”

    Oops, sorry, I thought I was still in NeuroLogica.

  26. @Quill:

    …if you’ve made it this far, right now you are feeling vaguely amused…

    I’m quite amused, actually, and pleased that you would take the time to write these things. Although I get that only a small part of what you wrote was meant to be taken seriously, I do feel the need to defend Rothman a bit, because he can’t defend himself (or maybe he can, if #6 comes true, but by then the comments for this post might be closed–or not–or closed–or not–or closed–or not… Wait a minute, maybe it’s already come true but we don’t know it; wait a minute, er, wait a negative minute, er, Jeeziz…). At any rate, readers should know that Rothman’s language was more precise than the parts that I quoted. Each of his negative predictions included a fairly involved explanation. For #4, in particular, by “high in the air” he meant high enough to account for mag-lev trains (even on an overpass, although I get that, too–maybe you have his book on your shelf?):

    These objections do not apply to rail levitation schemes, in which a train is supported and propelled by a magnetic interaction between a train and the rail, since here we are dealing with heights of a few inches at most. Through such a small separation, reasonably strong magnetic fields can exert very strong forces.

  27. Quill says:

    @Kimball Atwood

    I’m quite amused, actually, and pleased that you would take the time to write these things.

    Thank you. I am glad and happy when anything I write brings amusement and happiness. It is interesting to me that fictional speculation with humorous intent leads to things that sound very much like current, serious CAM marketing.

    …readers should know that Rothman’s language was more precise than the parts that I quoted…maybe you have his book on your shelf?

    That is very good to know and no I don’t have his book. I will have to look it up as I’d like to read the explanations for each point.

    Speaking of precision in language. when I first read this post, one of the statements for consideration bothered me but it took me a bit to figure out why. It’s one of Kaptchuk’s:

    …It seems that the decision concerning acceptance of evidence (either in medicine or religion) ultimately reflects the beliefs of the person that exist before all arguments and observation.

    To steal something from Truman Capote, that’s not writing it’s just typing. There is no meaning in it yet it appears to have it courtesy of that old favorite of sophists, the physical metaphor. How exactly is a decision “reflected,” ultimately or otherwise, by the beliefs of a person? Are they inserting micro-mirrors into neural pathways and capturing minute sparks of light? No, the thing he -appears- to be saying is that prior bias excludes unacceptable results. But he just doesn’t say that because it is easily demonstrated to be untrue. The crux of his statement rests on a metaphor that seems suggestive of something without actually saying anything. The more of these folks I read the more I see that these physical metaphors are often found in vital places in their arguments. I can’t tell if it’s simple ignorance aided by metaphorical flights or deliberate deception but the frequency with which it happens seems to approach the threshold of racketeering.

  28. Quill says:

    Oops. The quotation should end at “…arguments and observation.” The paragraph that follows is mine.

  29. Quill says:

    @Kimball Atwood

    I’m quite amused, actually, and pleased that you would take the time to write these things.

    Thank you. I am glad and happy when anything I write brings amusement and happiness. It is interesting to me that fictional speculation with humorous intent leads to things that sound very much like current, serious CAM marketing.

    …readers should know that Rothman’s language was more precise than the parts that I quoted…maybe you have his book on your shelf?

    That is very good to know and no I don’t have his book. I will have to look it up as I’d like to read the explanations for each point.

    Speaking of precision in language. when I first read this post, one of the statements for consideration bothered me but it took me a bit to figure out why. It’s one of Kaptchuk’s:

    …It seems that the decision concerning acceptance of evidence (either in medicine or religion) ultimately reflects the beliefs of the person that exist before all arguments and observation.

    To steal something from Truman Capote, that’s not writing it’s just typing. There is no meaning in it yet it appears to have it courtesy of that old favorite of sophists, the physical metaphor. How exactly is a decision “reflected,” ultimately or otherwise, by the beliefs of a person? Are they inserting micro-mirrors into neural pathways and capturing minute sparks of light? No, the thing he -appears- to be saying is that prior bias excludes unacceptable results. But he just doesn’t say that because it is easily demonstrated to be untrue. The crux of his statement rests on a metaphor that seems suggestive of something without actually saying anything. The more of these folks I read the more I see that these physical metaphors are often found in vital places in their arguments. I can’t tell if it’s simple ignorance aided by metaphorical flights or deliberate deception but the frequency with which it happens seems to approach the threshold of racketeering.

  30. Quill says:

    A treble-oops. If someone could delete my two posts above the one above that is fixed that would be very good. Thanks!

  31. BillyJoe says:

    …what about your last post?

  32. nybgrus says:

    Want to give it a try? How about mentioning why Susan G. Komen for the Cure yanked $12 million funding embryonic stem cells research.

    Sigh, I know, it’ll never happen, cause the reason ain’t CAM.

    Sadly, it is because it isn’t medicine. I myself was infuriated at that news and ranted about it to friends over beers as well. The fact that SGK backtracked doesn’t help matters much – they’ve shown their true colors, to use a cliche.

    But it has nothing to do with medicine. It is purely politics… or more accurately religious ideology. And as we have seen here and more so over at NeuroLogica, once that train debarks the platform it goes down a long and dark rabbit hole. So to write something here on that topic would be exceedingly short and to the effect of “this is BS and bad, but this is a private company that can technically do what it wishes” lest the daring author risk pure editorialization leading to a comment thread the likes of which could crash the SBM servers.

    That doesn’t leave me any less infuriated at it though.

  33. First of all, thank you Dr. Atwood for quoting Inigo Montoya. If you only could throw in something along the lines of avoiding land wars in southeast Asia, it would have been truly inconceivable.

    You have cost me some hard earned money. I need to purchase Rothman’s books, and since they’re out of print, they’re not cheap.

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