Recognizing Pseudoscience

(Randy) #1

Although medicine and origins are different branches of science, similarities exist. For example, both require the scientific method to produce reliable results… Probably because the implications of what we discover deeply affect our beliefs and fears, many with incomplete understanding construct pseudoscience that fits what they want to believe… Frequently in false medicine, terms such as “powerful,” “energy,” “all natural,” “stimulate your immune system,” “treat the cause and not the symptom,” and paranoia about “what your doctor won’t tell you” alert you to the presence of pseudoscience. Alternative medicine practitioners also sometimes claim to have special knowledge that others have not discovered.

In contrast, from my understanding, even if the real science is difficult to understand, the true practitioner should carry the mark of willingness to explain how he/she came to their conclusions. Like Dr Cootsona and @jpm noted, the mission is to open knowledge up to empower others.

Also, it’s been argued that alternative and placebo medicine help people by making them feel better. This point of view implies that it’s OK to let them take a sugar tablet or herb (though all biochemically active substances can harm), even if it is not achieving the desired effect, because the person taking it feels better… Is there a parallel in origins science? Is it ever ethical to let people believe what they want, even if it’s wrong? Or what do you find is a helpful way to discuss the scientific method and relevant information?

Here are some websites relevant to medicine: --Britt Hermes, ex naturopath Vaccines/pediatric infectious disease endocrinologist

To clarify, I like to think of a quack as someone who wants to help you, but is mistaken. In contrast, a fraud is someone who knows what s/he is selling is snake oil, but continues to provide it. In that respect, everyone who has made a mistake is a quack–and that means we all can take that name!

(Laura) #2

Good topic – funny, I was just thinking of bringing this up myself, in terms of how to tell the difference between pseudoscience and real science. As a layperson, I think a lot depends on trust, and I think that’s often why people get sucked into pseudoscience – because whoever they’re talking to seems more “trustworthy” to them, or uses sciencey-sounding jargon, and most of us don’t know where to go to really look into claims.

I think placebos might be okay as long as they’re not actually making things worse or costing an inordinate amount of money.

(Randy) #3

I struggle about this a lot. I think that if we do use placebos, physicians have to inform the patient that they are placebos. I am not sure of the ethics committees’ take on if that’s OK, either, even then. I’m interested in how we talk with people about pseudoscience, too. Thanks.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

Hmm, this reminds me of another topic. :stuck_out_tongue: Plus there is letting people believe what they want, which I guess I’m okay with, and encouraging people to believe wrong or suspect or scientifically unsupportable things because it makes them feel better. I’m not always okay with that.

Alternative medicine is tricky for me because I think there is such a thing as ancient cultural wisdom that has discovered things that really do help people physically for reasons science can’t quite put its finger on. I would try acupuncture. I learned some helpful stuff for labor reading uber-granola midwife natural childbirth books.

I have chronic lower back problems and I definitely have had good results treating certain symptoms over the years with chiropractic manipulation. But I also believe that some percentage of what my chiropractors believe and endorse is total hooey. The last one I saw, I really appreciated because on the third visit she said, “I don’t think chiropractic care is going to help you, here’s an order for an MRI, you should go see a surgeon.” And she was right. But I have also been to ones who want to sell me all kinds of supplements and tell me not to eat gluten and dairy (because…“inflammation”) and insist if I just came every week for the rest of my life to be “realigned” all my non-back pain related health problems would be magically fixed. I had a chronically unstable shoulder that needed reconstructive surgery because it was barely held into it’s socket after ten years of dislocating all the time. A chiropractor told me I just needed massage and vitamins and an aligned spine and I should under no circumstances let them cut me open. You would have thought real doctors were just out to milk me for money and leave me maimed. It was terrible medical advice.

I think the fact that there really are some unknowns about the holistic nature of human health makes people more susceptible to believing the kooky stuff. Plus it’s almost impossible to isolate all the variables when you are talking about people’s testimonials. I’m sure most people who all of the sudden start paying really close attention to what they eat, eliminate all processed food, refined sugar, gluten, and dairy definitely feel better and are more healthy. But is that because refined sugar, gluten, and dairy were these big evil things, or because they used to eat garbage and now they are mindful?

(Dominik Kowalski) #5

Doesn´t this prevent the placebo effect from ever taking place or at least from being as strong as it could be? I read about a study with placebos with parcinson patients and the effect vanished pretty much completey after the doctors had to inform them, that they were in the placebo group (a rule which says, that a patient has to be informed after a certain amount of time)

(Randy) #6

Here’s an interesting article on that. A trial would be an exception, but then you know you have a percent chance of getting the placebo.


Great post!

The internet, for all its helpful information, helps to fuel conspiracy theories.

(George Brooks) #8

@Elle and @Randy

Doctors are now beginning to explore “designer placebos” … where the patient knowingly designs a harmless substitute… and the placebos STILL have curative powers!

You can start to relax …


Amazingly… KNOWING they are placebos doesn’t necessarily affect their helpfulness…

(Christy Hemphill) #9

I wonder if there is a correlation between how much you pay for your placebo and its curative powers? I have some friends who spend A LOT of money on their magic pills and it seems like the more expensive they are, the more they cure.

(George Brooks) #10


The articles I read says that there are occasions where a patient decides on the more expensive placebo because he or she finds that it does its placebo-effect better.

I have a neighbor who who thinks much of medicine is a sham because of placebos. So I once asked him if he knowingly received a placebo that made him feel better, would he stop taking it?

He never answered me.

(Dominik Kowalski) #11

Sure, it very much correlates with the patients belief in the curative power, my point was just, that the belief goes away most of the time once the patient knows that he´s taking placebos and therefor the effect vanishes. And the mentioned “honest placebos” are similar to the so called “Globuli” here in Germany which is basically sugar. If people wouldn´t have the belief that it actually helps them, it wouldn´t show a positive effect. A survey here has shown that a majority of Germans have once in their lifetime taken such “medicine” and reported positive experiences.

(Randy) #12

But is it ethical? Does treatment with placebo delay recognition of cancer or heart disease for example? That is a real concern. How does that translate to origins science? Thanks.

(George Brooks) #13


Apparently you are not reading any of the articles.

The effect does NOT go away in many cases.

In many cases, the patient has helped SELECT which kind of “useless placebo” he wants to start taking.

(Randy) #14

Interesting one.

(George Brooks) #15


Is what ethical?
Is it ethical to let someone with inoperative cancer knowingly select a placebo?

How would any of this translate into the origins of science?

The original term was Natural Philosophy.

And Natural Philosophers for more than a century were convinced that fire and burning was due to the release of something called Phlogiston. And conflicting theories of how Phlogiston abounded!

And then, finally, through careful SCIENCE, the fantasy of Phlogiston disappeared.

So … is science SO baseless that someday it might be discovered that there really is phlogiston? No. I don’t think so. As Isaac Asimov observed, the window of progressive science continues to narrow over time.

Gravity will not be discovered to be in error… but a more refined theory of gravity might indicate what is necessary for gravity not to work as expected.

(George Brooks) #16


Charles Shaw wine displayed in a Trader Joe’s grocery market.

Charles Shaw display in California after the 2013 price increase to US$2.49

Charles Shaw is a brand of bargain-priced wine.[1] Largely made from California grapes, Charles Shaw wines currently include Cabernet Sauvignon, White Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Valdiguié in the style of Beaujolais nouveau, and limited quantities of Pinot Grigio.

These wines were introduced at Trader Joe’s grocery stores in California in 2002 at a price of US$1.99 per bottle, earning the wines the nickname “Two Buck Chuck” and eventually sold 800 million bottles between 2002 and 2013.[2][3] In 2009, an international version of Chardonnay from Australia was introduced in limited stores. Prices in states other than California have increased to as much as US$3.79 per bottle.[4] The price was later raised.[5] As of February 20, 2017, a bottle of Charles Shaw retailed for US$2.99 in California. The actual wine costs about 30 to 40 percent of the price with the glass, cork and distribution the bigger part of the cost. The cost of shipping Two-Buck Chuck anywhere out of California becomes too high to support the US$1.99 price.[6]

In April, 2018, the winery introduced a line of organic wines, at a price point US$1.00 higher than their standard line. [7]

(Dominik Kowalski) #17

I read the article. But I completely fail to come up with an adequate comment to it. Thanks for posting anyway

(George Brooks) #18

If you need a summation, try this: “Human psychology is complex.”

(Randy) #19

Could prescribing a placebo imply to a patient that no more workup needs to be done for something, and they would miss something dangerous? Could it also be treating mental illness with a sugar pill, leaving someone open to mania or psychotic breaks under appropriate situations? I don’t think that’s the implication you mean. It seems that the American Medical Association’s and New England Journal of Medicine’s pronouncements that placebo are not appropriate treatments are reasonable.

By the way, I didn’t post yet that the application of the scientific theory in medicine is usually termed “evidence-based medicine.” (I have only skimmed the Wikipedia article, but it looks pretty close in the overall) Thanks.

(George Brooks) #20


I would imagine that if you can imagine it … then the situation has probably happened somewhere.

Is it a surprise that people do brave things? that they do foolish things? that they do non-sense-ical things?

Are you expecting someone on these boards to champion the exploitation of the ignorant?

What does any of this have to do with Christianity and Evolution?