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The Media Censorship United Kingdom Science

In Britain, Better Not Call It Bogus Science 754

Posted by timothy
from the oh-nothing-just-dowsing-for-magnetic-vitamins dept.
Geoffrey.landis writes 'In Britain, libel laws are censoring the ability of journalists to write stories about bogus science. Simon Singh, a Ph.D. physicist and author of several best-selling popular-science books, is currently being sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for saying that there is no evidence for claims that visiting a chiropractor has health benefits. A year earlier, writer Ben Goldacre faced a libel suit for an article critical of Matthias Rath, who claimed that vitamin supplements can treat HIV and AIDS in place of conventional drugs like anti-retrovirals. In Britain, libel laws don't have any presumption of innocence — any statement made is assumed to be false unless you prove it's true. Journalists are running scared.'
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In Britain, Better Not Call It Bogus Science

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  • by RIAAShill (1599481) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:28PM (#29446607)

    Perhaps Singh should argue that in calling the treatments bogus, he could not have libeled the British Chiropractic Association because the BCA is not a treatment, it is an organization. Thus, Singh could only have libeled the BCA (i.e., the members of the BCA) if they did not, in fact, promote such treatements (bogus or otherwise). In other words, Singh can say that he attacked the message (the treatements), not the messenger (the BCA), and therefore cannot be found liable for libel against the BCA.

    Would the British courts buy it? I have no idea (INABL). But it seems like a reasonable distinction, one that fits well into wide-spread notions of civility as well as the vigorous public discourse required for the advancement of science.

  • Well Then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:29PM (#29446621) Journal

    Well, since I'm not living in a country where kooks and liars are given the benefit of the doubt, let me say quite publicly that chiropractors are frauds, along with naturopaths, healing touch types and all the other absurd lying pieces of worthless trash out there who profit off of the superstition and naivety of those with more money than brains.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:36PM (#29446719)

    where there is freedom and democracy

    Oh wait....

    Pax,
    Philboyd Studge

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:40PM (#29446753)

    If every statement is false then you would be establishing the validity of a statement with a series of false statements.
    Each statement used would need further verification and so.

    This would essentially mean that nothing could be sufficiently proven unless a core set of axioms were adopted.

    What are the axioms for life?

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:43PM (#29446781) Homepage Journal

    Penn and Teller [wikipedia.org] solved this by calling people assholes (not liars or scammers) and talking about their bullshit (not lies and scams). "Bullshit" is sufficiently (at least in US) vague and opinionated. So: call it bullshit science, written by asshole scientists.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:53PM (#29446937)
    How do you prove something true? Eventually you get to the point where you either have to assume something without proof, or spend your life searching for a basic truth. Lets take George Washington, everyone knows he exists but could he be a patriotic fabrication? You can only trace his linage back so far and even then public records were inaccurate many times. You hit a point where you can't prove anything. Some things should be assumed without full proof. Nothing can be fully proven.
  • Re:Well Then (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:56PM (#29446957)

    Ancedotal evidence does not prove a fucking thing, awesome your dad lasted longer but giving charlatans the benefit of the doubt because you have emotional stake in the whole thing is just absurd.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:56PM (#29446959) Journal

    I'll go easy on you because you clearly have some emotional attachment to the notion that those con artists can do what you describe they do. But the fact remains they can't. I'm very glad your father lived longer than expected, but it had nothing to do with these people. They are, at best, self-deluded, and at worst, scammers.

    And surely you must realize the worst kind of evidence short of fabricated evidence is anecdotal evidence.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by millennial (830897) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:56PM (#29446967) Journal
    Yeah, because you're TOTALLY JUSTIFIED to say that your dad WOULD NOT have lived those extra five years WITHOUT wasting money on bullshit. Which is more likely: 1. A treatment that, under rigorous testing, fails to produce any results better than placebo deserves 100% of the credit for the extra five years. 2. His doctor gave a bad prognosis.
  • by Tim4444 (1122173) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:59PM (#29447001)
    I'd rather people rally behind a mantra such as "Once we've proven something false, stop saying it's true."
  • Re:Well Then (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @05:59PM (#29447007) Journal

    Why do people keep thinking anecdotal evidence has any particular value at all? Science long ago abandoned the idea that reliable and useful data could be gained by "After I did X, Y happened".

  • Re:Well Then (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:00PM (#29447015)

    Or maybe the doctor's estimate was just that--an estimate. It's clear that no doctor is going to be able to forecast longevity that precisely. They can give you an approximate median timespan for people with the same illness at the same age and with the same pre-existing conditions, but everybody's mileage will vary.

    Although I'm sure there are plenty of people who would be happy to take the credit for anybody living past the median expectancy (or, 50% of people).

    I don't blame anybody for looking at alternative/'natural' medicine when they're terminally ill. I understand that anybody providing any hope at all looks attractive (this is why they're still in business). Just so long as the naturopaths don't do any damage and the patient is still being treated with scientifically demonstrated medicine by a doctor who's studied it for decades.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:02PM (#29447043) Journal

    You know someone has reached the end of epistemological line when they have to start invoking nihilism to justify an absurd belief. If all knowledge is suspect, as you seem to indicate, then the whole exercise is pointless. Hell, maybe you don't exist.

  • Not new... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:03PM (#29447071)

    It's like that here in the US if you question evolution.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:07PM (#29447111)

    Wow, what arrogance. Who the fuck are you to say that those people did not heal anyone?

    And you're bringing your emotional study of size n=1, which had no control, into this for what reason exactly?

    Everyone has family members who die. Doesn't alter reality. Bullshit quack "medicine" is still bullshit.

  • by oneandoneis2 (777721) * on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:08PM (#29447131) Homepage

    Having RTFA, I can't help but consider it to be sadly biased.

    e.g. One of the criticisms it makes is "in English libel cases, the burden of proof is effectively on the defendant. In other words, the defamatory statement is presumed to be false unless the defendant can prove it is true."

    Maybe I missed something. Isn't this just a perfectly sensible extension of "innocent until proven guilty"? If I call you a thief and you sue me for libel, why should the burden of proof be on *you*, exactly?

    What's more, it makes it sound like Singh has made the claim that chiropractors are completely bogus and can't help you with anything. When in fact, what they quote is that he argues there's no evidence to back up claims that getting your bones cracked can help with things like ear infections. Well, that's fair enough. I've been a chiropractor a few times for joint pain. They helped. Would I go to one for ear infections? Like hell would I.

    In Britain, if you say "This person is a fake", you have to be able to prove it or you're liable for libel. If you say "I believe this person is a fake", that's a statement of opinion and not fact, and is held to a less rigorous standard. What, exactly, is wrong with this?

    If this NY times article is an example of how good the journalism is outside of the UK, I'll stick to the current 'scared British journalists', thanks.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:09PM (#29447147)

    We still don't know which one of those "absurd lying pieces of worthless trash" delayed his death this much

    Delayed? Versus what? A "prognosis", which itself is based on a probability distribution, i.e. "82% of patients with this type of cancer do not live longer than x years"? Your dad could have simply been in that last few percent of cases. Or the doctor could have mis-estimated the size of the cancer or its state of advancement.

    In other words you have absolutely no reference point to measure a "delay" of any kind. This, combined with all the other scientific evidence against the quacks mentioned leaves you in no position to call the GP "arrogant". In fact your attitude, i.e. your emotions shutting off your higher brain functions, is what makes these parasitic hucksters possible in the first place.

    Desperate people with little or no means of evaluating scientific knowledge will do most idiotic things imaginable in order to try to save their loved ones. This is understandable, but it is no excuse for trying to pretend that anything these quacks offer is actually working or is in any way based on reality.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:11PM (#29447175)
    Science long ago abandoned the idea that reliable and useful data could be gained by "After I did X, Y happened"

    Really? You mean like "after the development of the automobile, the global climate started getting warmer"? Like "after I crossed one pea having quality X with another pea having quality Y, a pea with both X and Y was produced"? Like "after I mixed solution A with solution B, a yellow precipitate formed"? Like "after I dropped a small marble and a large rock from the balcony of this tilting building, they both hit the ground at the same time"? Like "after I bombarded a lead target with a high-energy beam of electrons, a bunch of particles were produced"? Like "after I stood in front of the radar antenna, the bar of chocolate in my pocket was melted"?

    Yeah, you're right. No data ever comes of "after I did X, Y happened". It's a good thing we simply ignore any data produced that way.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:14PM (#29447197)

    The fact that he lived longer than the doctor said doesn't even prove there was a placebo effect. People live longer than doctors say all the time with or without any "alternative" therapies. Life expectancy is just a guess, not a scientific statement. You should really educate yourself about the scientific process and the difference between correlation and causation, I promise it will only help you in life.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nithendil (1637041) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:14PM (#29447211)
    The problem is that even though there is evidence that some traditional therapies work, MDs have converted to 80% pharmaceuticals and 20% lifestyle changes, and they are trained in little else. So if you don't want stimulants for your kid with ADHD (now they have straterra, but it isn't very effective), the MD offers nothing else. If you have trouble sleeping, their toolkit consists of hardcore hypnotics. Mild depression or anxiety? All they have are brain-altering and or addictive drugs. Indigestion? You'll probably be on calcium or cimetidine the rest of your life. The reason "alternative therapies" exist is because MDs do such a terrible job of family care; they even joke family care is the specialty you go into if you fail your boards. All they know is pharmaceuticals. So these specialties exist because there is a demand for them, because they aren't getting better from the MDs (excluding the crazies who won't take any drug just because). I suffered from daily stomach problems for over a decade and saw several MDs and never got anything resolved. The best they could do was cimetidine which barely provided any relief (they found no ulcer, but I had daily abdominal pain). I finally got so frustrated I saw a "quack" licensed naturopath and after cleaning out my diet and replacing my gut bacteria I'm finally pain free. I don't buy into the homeopathy or "cracking your back can cure your asthma" bullshit but thankfully there is exists some other profession that isn't 100% pharmaceuticals.
  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ZombieWomble (893157) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:15PM (#29447219)
    Your father did not prove the official story wrong, it's mentioned in your post and numerous of the sibling posts - the placebo effect. That's all there is to the vast majority of these cases - sometimes, stuff which demonstrably should not work does, because human bodies are funny things like that. Sometimes, a sugar pill really could save your life.

    However, the other 99 times out of 100, the real medical treatment is what gives you the best chance of a cure. And when people are advocating their magic sugar pills rather than proven medical treatments, people will (and did) die. That is why "live and let live" style outlooks are not a suitable approach to these issues, and no number of anecdotes changes that.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) * on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:18PM (#29447273) Journal

    We should strive to understand *whether* these things work. The fact that your father lived longer than expected only means that the doctor was wrong, it doesn't mean that herbs did it. It only means that the doctor was wrong, which honestly is to be expected with something as complicated as biology.

    If herbs (or whatever) actually have an effect, it should be possible to randomly assign animals with cancer (before the human trials of course) to a treatment and sham treatment group, and observe a statistically significant effect on survival rates. That would be actual evidence that this treatment works. If there is no effect, then there is no "how" to understand.

    Chances are your father would have lived longer than expected with or without "alternative medicine". When you think about it, doesn't it disgust you a little that people are profiting off of desperate and vulnerable families when they have no actual evidence that what they are selling works?

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:19PM (#29447281)

    Well, since I'm not living in a country where kooks and liars are given the benefit of the doubt,

    Not possible if you have libel laws at all. With such laws, either:
    1) People characterized as kooks and liars accurately are given the benefit of the doubt when they sue for libel (British system), or
    2) Kooks and liars whose lying consists of defamatory lying about others are given the benefit of the doubt when they are sued for libel (American system).

    The burden of proof has to be somewhere, and whichever side you put it on, with regard to libel, is going to give "kooks and liars" the benefit of the doubt.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:20PM (#29447305)

    That's correct -- all of those are insufficient to show causality. That's why all of the scientific theories you refer to were confirmed by substantially more thorough experimentation than you suggest.

    If Y follows X, it suggests that properly investigating the possibility that X causes Y would be a worthwhile endeavour, nothing more.

    In short, you just have a poor understanding of how science is done.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Artraze (600366) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:22PM (#29447323)

    > Why do people keep thinking anecdotal evidence has any particular value at all?

    Because most people don't have the time/money/resources to scientifically verify everything.

    > Science long ago abandoned the idea that reliable and useful data could be gained by "After I did X, Y happened".

    Really? Because, last I checked, that's called an "experiment". You may have heard of them, they are the basis of the scientific method, and thus, science.

    Science is based on observation. The only difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence is that anecdotal evidence is not as rigorously controlled and analyzed. In particular, not all of the variables involved in the occurrence of event Y are accounted for, so X does not necessarily effect Y. However, a sufficiently diverse collection of anecdotal evidence can be quite reliable. The more cases there are, the fewer other statistically meaningful (non-X) causes of Y. It doesn't replace a proper scientific study, but shouldn't be completely ignored either.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nextekcarl (1402899) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:23PM (#29447355)

    My grandfather is dying right now of congestive heart failure (among other things). He was supposed to die in December of last year. He's done absolutely nothing (just called hospice) because he's resigned to dieing (he has plenty of other health issues which prevent any surgery, and his second wife just served him with divorce papers, etc) but he is still alive. Sometimes estimates, even when very close to death, are just wild guesses.

    Now if there were things you could do that had a great likelihood of helping people like your dad to live longer, wouldn't you want to know about them? People who lie about treatments make it much harder to get people to the treatments that actually work. They cloud the issues and attempt to make everything look equally acceptable, when that's simply not the case. After all, fraudulent treatments are usually extremely low cost (to the professional 'providing' them, usually not so much to the patient) so the profit margins are insane. If we do nothing about people like this we will be flooded with them.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:2, Insightful)

    by onceuponatime (821046) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:29PM (#29447431)

    Now scientology really is bullshit!

  • Re:Well Then (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:30PM (#29447459)

    What? That's exactly how empirical sciences gather information. If not in this way, how do you propose it should be done? Of course X and Y happening in that order doesn't prove that X leads to Y, but it verifies that X doesn't rule Y out, very important in science.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:2, Insightful)

    by darkstar949 (697933) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:31PM (#29447475)
    Actually, over the course of history herbs have been proven time and time again to have a therapeutic effect and can also be an effective treatment of illness (e.g. Cinchona bark) so you need to be careful about how you dismiss herbs as they don't always belong under the heading of "alternative medicine."
  • by drunkenoafoffofb3ta (1262668) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:32PM (#29447481) Journal
    Try enforcing that. PR firms supply newspapers with no end of bullshit spun to their clients' message. Time-poor journalists, under stress often end up churnalizing it. Bullshit pseudoscience turns up in good newspapers and people believe it... as they read it in the 'paper. It's one hell of a battle to keep that nonsense out of the media.
  • by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:42PM (#29447621) Homepage

    All knowledge about the universe—as opposed to logical tautologies, which, while often useful, tell us nothing about the world around us—is suspect. That's the most fundamental principle of scientific reasoning. For a given set of observations there exist two classes of models explaining them: those which may be true, and those which have been proven false via contradiction (either internal or in relation to the observations).

    The closest anyone can get to the "truth" within the realm of science is a model which is self-consistent and compatible with all known observations and which involves no unnecessary assumptions or entities (Occum's Razor). The model could still be demonstrated false by future observations, however. The concept of absolute truth, propositions which once (correctly) proven can never be falsified, is the domain of pure logic and/or philosophy, not science.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:44PM (#29447645)

    Science is based on observation. The only difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence is that anecdotal evidence is not as rigorously controlled and analyzed. In particular, not all of the variables involved in the occurrence of event Y are accounted for, so X does not necessarily effect Y. However, a sufficiently diverse collection of anecdotal evidence can be quite reliable. The more cases there are, the fewer other statistically meaningful (non-X) causes of Y. It doesn't replace a proper scientific study, but shouldn't be completely ignored either.

    Yep, and that's exactly how clinical drug trials are done: they're just a bunch of anecdotal accounts of people who tried out drug X and what side effects they experienced. There's no proof that their side effects were caused by the drug, because due to the nature of humans and drug testing, it's simply impossible to isolate all variables. The best they can do is find out a little about all the people being tested, like their medical background and other current medications, etc. But it's really not much better than some random Joe taking the drug and reporting he felt nauseous.

    Or how about paleontology? There's another scientific field where information is spotty, and there's no real ability to perform experiments. In a "dinosaur graveyard", it can be hard to tell which bone goes with which skeleton if they're mixed up.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by westlake (615356) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:48PM (#29447701)

    Science long ago abandoned the idea that reliable and useful data could be gained by "After I did X, Y happened".

    But that is where you begin. There is no other place to start.

    If you kick a dog and it bites hard into your leg - perhaps you have learned something significant and useful.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:53PM (#29447745) Journal

    My dad lasted five years longer with his cancer than the doctor told him he would,

    We can't even predict the weather. What makes you think we can predict cancer?

    When you are going to die in horrible pain, you stop giving a shit about "truth" and "science", and start looking for anything that works.

    I hope I don't, because if the choice is between dying in horrible pain, and dying in horrible pain while pissing away the estate on nonsensical claims...

    Now, I'm not going to side with GP on this issue and say that it's all a con or self-delusion... If nothing else, I feel good after a chiropractic session. But I'm sure as hell not going to use it in place of western science, and I'm not even going to consider demonstrable bullshit like homeopathy.

    And especially, I am going to make the point to people like you that truth and science are the most reliable way of finding what works -- they are the sum total of what we know to have worked in the past, and they are the reason your dad had a chance at all. Remember, it wasn't the "absurd lying pieces of worthless trash" who removed two-thirds of his liver and his right lung, without which I assume he'd have died much more quickly.

    Maybe it was the placebo effect, who knows.

    Yes, maybe. And you know what? The placebo effect is measurable. Things which are more effective than that become medicine.

    Or for that matter, sometimes things like this -- especially things which aren't fully understood -- seem to clear up completely on their own.

    It's especially interesting how you "don't know which delayed his death" -- you're assuming that it was one of them, but you were doing so much that you have no idea what it was. That's about the most unscientific way to do things, even considering you're already an anecdote.

    When you live with someone who should've been dead for 3 years already, you tend to look a bit differently at medical science.

    Yes -- if I lived with someone who would've been dead three years ago without actual, real, peer-reviewed, government-approved medical science, I'd have a hell of a lot more respect for it than you seem to.

    I certainly doubt it would give me any sort of belief in medical superstition.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:54PM (#29447747)

    The people of the United Kingdom have been far freer, and had far more rights than the citizens of the USA have ever had.
    While the USA was trumpeting their "Freedom" from the Great Britain, a large portion of their population owned other human beings - a practice made illegal in the British isles. (Something they managed to achieve _without_ fighting a major war - they just did it because the people decided it was wrong, and should be fixed).

    Other previous colonies of the United Kingdom are completely free of them, and generally achieved that freedom through a peaceful act of parliament. The Commonwealth of Nations is a loose collection of like minded and friendly nations, any member of it is free to leave at any time they want, and the only real power the Commonwealth has over its member states is the power to kick them out of the Commonwealth.

    In short, you haven't got a clue what you're talking about. So go back to saluting the flag every morning, and don't forget to repeat your oath of allegiance, or you might lose your "freedom".

  • MOD UP (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:54PM (#29447749)

    Great post, and exactly right. These anti-alternative-therapy people keep claiming alternative therapies "aren't scientific", but neither is traditional medicine. Doctors are just trained to compare symptoms with available pharmaceuticals and prescribe something and see if it works. It's totally shooting in the dark, and there's very little work in the medical industry that I see to understand how the body really works and develop safe and effective therapies for problems. Worse, all the pharmaceuticals have loads of negative side-effects.

    There's a lot of people with various problems (like chronic fatigue syndrome) that traditional medicine has done absolutely nothing to find relief for, so they're forced to turn to anything that might help. You can cry all you want that it's bogus, but trying nearly anything beats sitting on your ass and suffering.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vivaelamor (1418031) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @06:54PM (#29447753)

    He proved the official story wrong

    This seems to be a common theme when people are arguing against science. Because a doctor got it wrong or because the person who doesn't believe in science cannot understand it somehow that is supposed to add to the legitimacy of other approaches.

    We should strive to understand how these things work when they do work

    In science being right is having the best answer not necessarily having all the answers. All science, including biology, falls within the limits of empiricism when subject to reality (as Einstein might have put it). Unfortunately what you are saying is about as good an answer as flipping a coin. You tell people to look into "how these things work" without proving that they have worked. Hell, you haven't even provided a statistical correlation let alone anything that would constitute proof, all you have given is an anecdote of coincidence. People don't laugh at you because they believe in doctors or scientists they laugh at you because they believe in science itself which as a concept is merely a formula and thus irrefutable.

    because we can prove they're lying.

    Who is lying, the doctors? You certainly don't offer any evidence that they are, being wrong isn't the same as lying. Maybe you should stop treating doctors as fortune tellers who see the future but instead fallible people who practice empiricism.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:01PM (#29447821)

    alternative medicine that works is called medicine

  • Re:Well Then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:04PM (#29447855) Journal

    Obligatory XKCD [xkcd.com].

    Indeed, all science is derived from inductive reasoning, which is exactly "After I did X, Y happened." It just tends to get more accurate when you do it a bunch more times, and try to control other variables.

    It's not really very hard to imagine a chiropractor working for some actual, physical, skeletal/muscular issues. Chiropractic is far from entirely bullshit. It's just that throughout its history, it's also been plagued by the stupid idea that chiropractic can do anything -- all the way back to the anecdotal story of Palmer curing someone's deafness by adjusting their back.

    It's kind of like science fiction writers explaining anything they want with "nanotech" or "quantum mechanics" or whatever the Phlebotinum [tvtropes.org] of the day is. It's clearly absurd, and could be considered pseudoscience if anyone took it seriously (which is why it's science fiction), but quantum physics is real, hard science, and we are actually trying to build some nanotech.

    Or, as Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] puts it:

    Serious research to test chiropractic theories did not begin until the 1970s, and is continuing to be hampered by what are characterized as antiscientific and pseudoscientific ideas that sustained the profession in its long battle with organized medicine.

    I find GP's story entirely plausible, and it's easy to imagine how that might be true. Now, if he said that chiropractic cured deafness, or gave him the ability to walk, or anything like that, I'd be much more cautious...

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:04PM (#29447857)

    Wow, what arrogance. Who the fuck are you to say that those people did not heal anyone? My dad lasted five years longer with his cancer than the doctor told him he would, after having two thirds of his liver and his right lung removed. When you are going to die in horrible pain, you stop giving a shit about "truth" and "science", and start looking for anything that works.

    Having family members with chronic diseases has taught me a little about medicine. The first misconception to be dispelled is that medicine is all an exact science. The more complex conditions involve a lot of educated guessing. So when a Doctor says something like one having X years to live, it's not because he's gleened some hidden expiration date stamped on your foot. It's a guess. People die unexpectedly. People survive longer than could be expected. My father-in-law lived for over 30 years longer than Doctors initially expected he would (though he wasn't cured and his life was extremely difficult and painful). I don't blame the Doctors for being "wrong" any more than I'd credit "healers" who's methods can't live up to scientific scrutiny (not that I am aware of him putting any trust in any such individuals).

    I realize that desperate people do desperate things. But that doesn't make those who pray on desperation respectful or desperate acts any more sensible.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:19PM (#29448001)

    Wow, what arrogance. Who the fuck are you to say that those people did not heal anyone?

    I'll bite. Among other things I'm a logical thinker and am a trained (though not practicing) scientist. My wife is an MD and we've discussed this very issue many times.

    My dad lasted five years longer with his cancer than the doctor told him he would,...

    That is a happy state of affairs but your logic is failing you. Doctors are wrong all the time. I know because I'm married to one who specializes in cancer diagnosis. It is an imperfect science and cancer is nowhere near being completely understood. Some cancers regress spontaneously for no explainable reason. Some cancers progress more slowly than average. No doctor can tell you more than a statistical likelihood for time to live and their answer is most likely incorrect - the only question is by how much. If your father sought unproven "alternative" medicines that is his right but the burden of proof is on you to show that they had some effect. I'm not about to assume that some snake-oil works just because some people believe it may have helped without any evidence to back up that assertion. That may sound cold but science is cold in a way.

    I know a ton of doctors personally and I don't know a single one that wouldn't use something to save a patient that could be *proven* to work or even had a logical premise for why it should work. All progress in medicine is exploratory and comes about through trying things that we don't know if they'll work. But there is a threshold for absurdity. Claiming that you can cure cancer through chiropractic joint manipulation or acupuncture is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof.

    We still don't know which one of those "absurd lying pieces of worthless trash" delayed his death this much.

    Quite possibly none of them. Cancer doesn't always behave the way we think it will. Survival statistics are simply probabilities and sometimes people beat the averages by quite a lot.

    Maybe it was the placebo effect, who knows. But do you think we care? When you live with someone who should've been dead for 3 years already, you tend to look a bit differently at medical science.

    I have lived with dying people. My wife has worked in a hospice and diagnoses cancer patients daily. It hasn't changed my view on medicine one bit. The human body is incredibly complicated and there is far more that we don't understand than what we do. Getting cynical about medicine because we can't cure or even diagnose every disease is a waste of energy and time. If seeking emotional solace in "alternative medicine" or religion or whatever else help you cope, I guess I can't argue with that. But I certainly can and will argue against quackery because it hurts more people than it helps.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:21PM (#29448013)
    That's correct -- all of those are insufficient to show causality.

    The statement was not about causality, the statement I replied to was "Science long ago abandoned the idea that reliable and useful data could be gained by "After I did X, Y happened"". There is a big difference between "proving causality" and "reliable and useful data".

    In fact, each of the examples of "I did X and Y happened" are part of "science". Mendel's genetic experiments, analytical chemistry, Galileo and gravity, experimental subatomic physics, and the discovery of the modern microwave oven.

    And yes, modern science has adopted even the first piece of anecdotal evidence in the quest to prove anthropogenic causes of global warming. That's science's failure, though, not it's advantage. Science cannot use anything BUT anecdotal evidence for proving AGW because there is no experiment that can be performed to disprove it.

    In either case, "science" uses a lot of "I did X and Y happened" situations to reach valid and useful conclusions. Just the simple example of "I mixed X and Y and got a yellow precipitate" is one step in a checklist of determining the identity of an unknown substance in the analytical chem lab -- at least for students who are learning the process. That bit of data tells you something about the unknown, and that makes the bit of data both reliable and useful.

    In short, you just have a poor understanding of how science is done.

    That's funny. I do it on a daily basis. It's your understanding of how science happens that needs a bit of reworking. Or maybe just a groking of the difference between "data" and "proof".

  • Re:Well Then (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mhelander (1307061) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:30PM (#29448129)

    I thought it was more like: if we happen to get interesting enough anecdotal evidence for Y following X more often than pure chance would suggest, we do a statistically valid measurement to see if such a correlation indeed exists. Should a correlation be shown, and it is a relevant one, a model might be devised that matches the observed correlation to conveniently make predictions according to it.

    Then some poor layman foolishly goes on to speculate around causation, at which point they get tagged with "correlationisnotcausation".

    "That's correct -- all of those are insufficient to show causality."

    What _does_ sufficiently show causality? A correlation? A correlation plus a just-so story? Those two plus some elements of the just-so story followed by actual observation of them? Wish I knew, so if you do, don't hold back...

  • Re:Well Then (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_humeister (922869) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @07:55PM (#29448393)

    The problem is that even though there is evidence that some traditional therapies work, MDs have converted to 80% pharmaceuticals and 20% lifestyle changes, and they are trained in little else.

    As an MD, I'll chime in. Obesity is an epidemic in this country and is best addressed by lifestyle changes. The problem with lifestyle change is that most patients are unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to change their health. It's that simple. On the other hand, there are certain genetic predispositions that require drugs for supplements if lifestyle change is ineffective: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.

    So if you don't want stimulants for your kid with ADHD (now they have straterra, but it isn't very effective), the MD offers nothing else. If you have trouble sleeping, their toolkit consists of hardcore hypnotics. Mild depression or anxiety? All they have are brain-altering and or addictive drugs. Indigestion? You'll probably be on calcium or cimetidine the rest of your life.

    I don't deal with most of these, but trouble sleeping, mild depression, anxiety, indegestion, etc. all seem to have a lifestyle component. Now if the patient comes back and says that he/she can't change some lifestyle aspect (eg job stress, home stress, avoiding certain foods, etc), there's not much else to do but try the medications.

    I suffered from daily stomach problems for over a decade and saw several MDs and never got anything resolved. The best they could do was cimetidine which barely provided any relief (they found no ulcer, but I had daily abdominal pain). I finally got so frustrated I saw a "quack" licensed naturopath and after cleaning out my diet and replacing my gut bacteria I'm finally pain free. I don't buy into the homeopathy or "cracking your back can cure your asthma" bullshit but thankfully there is exists some other profession that isn't 100% pharmaceuticals.

    Looks like you did a lifestyle change. I'm surprised your physicians didn't ask you to take a food diary and go from there.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @08:12PM (#29448545)

    Actually, naturopathic medicine is not only legitimate, it is superior to and will eventually replace allopathic medicine (mainstream, drug-and-surgery medicine), assuming the Singularity does not occur first.

    Glad we had you to clear that up for us. Nice to know that all those incredibly smart doctors have wasted their time and energy and have no idea what they are talking about. I assume you are just waiting for your Nobel prize in medicine because you know better than all of them? Sorry to hear the Nobel committee screwed you again this year.

    For proof, read a book or two by Linus Pauling.

    Very smart people say very absurd things all the time. Hero worship does not constitute proof of anything.

    As for chiropractics, I am not sufficiently informed to make a judgment.

    You're pretty clearly not informed enough about medicine to make an informed judgment either.

  • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @09:08PM (#29449027)

    You blew it! You could have been FP with Godwin's Law and called them (UK) a bunch of Nazis.

    Nah. For Godwin's Law to really be invoked, it has to be hyperbole. I mean, look at Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown. And these fascist fuckwads are the *liberal* party in the UK. I mean, they make the U.S. look like it actually has a two party system!

  • Re:Well Then (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @10:22PM (#29449529)

    But until it is proven to work it is called alternatice medicine.

  • by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @11:07PM (#29449837)

    I'm not saying out libel system is perfect but before i take shit like this from an American can you please look at which country.
    1) has news full of rampant lies
    2) has a population where 40-45% don't believe in evolution and believe the world was created in its current form

    Oh right its the US, but yeah sure, OUR legal system is busted and cripples science journalism! You still have people on your news claiming provably false [politifact.com] things, but yeah WE are the ones with the libel problem!

  • Re:MOD UP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @11:36PM (#29450081) Journal

    trying nearly anything beats sitting on your ass and suffering.

    Depends. Some "alternative medicine" practices aren't merely useless, they're actively harmful. Further harm comes when people believe they will be magically cured, and ignore traditional medicine entirely, all while illness progresses to the point where some effects are already permanent (or, sometimes, fatal).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @11:58PM (#29450233)

    In England and Wales, libel must be:

    1. A statement of fact. Just like in the US, you can't sue over an opinion.
    2. Untrue (but the defendant must prove the truth, not the plaintiff the falsehood. See "prove you're not a thief" passim.)
    3. Defamatory. I can write that a particular convicted drug dealer also fiddles his taxes, and even if it's a lie, it's not defamatory, so no libel.
    4. and 5. Libel doesn't have to be knowingly false, and doesn't have to be malicious. If a newspaper, say, publishes your name and photo, and identifies you as a convicted rapist, you have a case for libel even if the newspaper made a mistake and pulled a file on someone with a similar name from their records. Damages will be higher if it was knowing and malicious, though.

    It seems to me as though the real difference is that the assumption in England is that people speak the truth, so lying about someone can be assumed to have a serious effect on them. In the US, the assumption appears to be that people will say any kind of crap, and you shouldn't believe what you hear.

  • by julesh (229690) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:00AM (#29450861)

    I do: you're allowed to bring it up as a defense, but even if you prove your point it may not be enough for you to win the case.

    Yes, it will. Please stop spreading FUD about English law. Proof of the truth of a statement is an accepted defence in English libel law, and every source I see describing English libel law says so. Please provide a direct link and (preferably) quotation of one that says otherwise.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:2, Insightful)

    by imakemusic (1164993) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:21AM (#29451367)

    Actually, over the course of history herbs have been proven time and time again to have a therapeutic effect

    So have placebos.

  • by madcow_bg (969477) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @06:39AM (#29451889)

    Which is as it should be - if I write "Darkness404 molests goats" then unless it is true why should I not compensate you for the resulting harm to your reputation? Whereas if it is true, then I have done nothing but convey the truth of the situation to the audience.

    It does look like guilty until proven innocent, and that's what confuses a lot of people. But if you think about it, the defendant has accused the plaintiff of something, so yes, it's up to the defendant to prove it.

    Except that's not true. Simon said "science behind the treatment is bogus", not that the chiropractors were bogus, which means that tey are misinformed, not lying intentionally. And the science behind the treatments they propose is bogus.

    An old journalists' proverb is "if in doubt, leave it out".

    Yeah, that's what I say - if you can't prove that you don't molest children you must not deny the charges?

    Expecting the plaintiff to prove the statements aren't true is ridiculous. Unless Darkness404 has been shadowed by numerous independent witnesses for his entire life he can't prove that he never ever indulged in a little caprine frolicking.

    Well it depends if its libel. Simon said the treatments are not proven, which he CAN defend. The problem is the judge interprets his words as "chiropractors are lying to patient" which he did not say and did not mean.

    Justifying the statement is not an exercise in proving its absolute truth, either.

    If you can convince the court is true, then that's good enough.

    You may remember the cases that Fat Bob Maxwell won against Private Eye; at least some of the accusations were factually true, but the magazine couldn't prove it at the time. So legally, they were false.

    Yeah, the problem is the court actually misunderstood the words Simon was saying. They are trying him for the equivalent of saying "chiropractors know they are not helping people but lie to them" (which is not only not what he meant but is indefensible in every sense of the word) vs the actual words "treatments chiropractors give have not been proven to be scientifically sound". All the problems are the misinterpretation of the word BOGUS.

  • Re:Well Then (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @06:53AM (#29451939)

    read a book or two by Linus Pauling

    I read "The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals" and "The Architecture of Molecules". Y'know, books on the subjects in which he is regarded as a genius. I can't say either really changed my opinions on naturopathy. Likewise reading "Six Easy Pieces" didn't change my opinions on Feynman's bongo playing.

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