10-Lecture Course on Science Based Medicine – And Alternative Practices

10-Lecture Course on Science Based Medicine - And Alternative Practices

Introduction

I started watching these lectures on Youtube about two months ago, a bit every day, slowing digesting the information and doing additional searches on the web whenever I found that a topic sparked my interest.

These lectures are presented by Dr. Harriet Hall, a retired family physician and Air Force Colonel. According to Skeptic:

“She writes about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, an advisor to the Quackwatch website, and an editor of Sciencebasedmedicine.org, where she writes an article every Tuesday.”

You can find more about Dr. Hall at SkepDoc.info.

I appreciate the work Dr. Hall and others are doing in informing the public about the perils of quackery. And from what I perceive from her work, she doesn’t only try to bring awareness about bad science in alternative and non-scientific practices, but also in conventional medicine.

Thus, I consider her a good example of impartiality. She takes on conventional medicine and its numerous inconsistencies in lecture 9. No matter the pitfalls of conventional medicine, I’d say that it’s better regulated and more science based (given that you can filter through poorly conducted studies – see lecture 9) than bogus medical practices and claims.

I recommend this course to people who want to become more educated in critical thinking and to those who want be less prone to being phished for phools. Here are the titles of the lectures and a few notes on each.

Science Based Medicine Course

  1. Lecture 1 – Science Based vs. Evidence Based

“We are so good at pattern recognition that we see patterns that are not real.” [1]

See that face in the clouds?

“Science is a way of correcting for human misperceptions and cognitive errors, and scientific thinking doesn’t come naturally.” [1]

Just because I’m the owner of a brain, it doesn’t mean that I know how to use it (how to think). Critical thinking and reason are skills that are developed, not inborn. I wrote about this here.

Science based medicine is different from evidence based medicine (which is better than pseudoscience, but it has its own pitfalls).

The full lecture (37 minutes) is here.

  1. Lecture 2 – What is CAM?

CAM, according to Dr. Hall:

“A spectrum of implausible beliefs and claims about health and disease. These range from the untestable and absurd to the possible but not very intriguing. In all cases the enthusiasm of advocates vastly exceeds the scientific promise.” [1]

CAM:

– absence of proper and rigorous testing
– emphasis on anecdotes and poorly conducted studies
– some CAM is more plausible (herbal medicine) while other has 0 plausibility (homeopathy).

“Some CAM providers are deliberately fooling patients; others have fooled themselves.” [1]

Here, you also learn about placebos and integrative medicine. The full lecture (36 minutes) is here.

  1. Lecture 3 – Chiropractic

Chiropractic research [1]:

– low quality studies, often lacking control groups
– lack of evidence to support spinal manipulations for the treatment of somatovisceral diseases
– has never found any of their treatments ineffective (what do you know? it works wonders for everything!)
– stagnation of progress for more than a century.

The full lecture (36 minutes) is here.

  1. Lecture 4 – Acupuncture

“Acupuncture increases endorphins, but so do placebo pills.” [1]

Acupuncture also cures them all, according to its proponents. It works for all-things-diseases, including: allergies, anxiety, asthma, constipation, addiction, facial tics (really?), MS, PMS, PCOS, pain, tinnitus, ulcers, sprains, injuries, you name it [1]. Can it be less specific than that?

Here’s the full lecture (32 minutes).

  1. Lecture 5 – Homeopathy

“Many people have no idea what homeopathy is; they think it’s just some kind of
herbal medicine. Actually it’s incredibly silly. It has been called the ultimate fake
and delusions about dilutions.”
[1]

Dr. Hall explains how homeopathy is supposed to work, by exemplifying [1]:

– if the effect of coffee is to keep you awake, diluting it will make you sleep. More diluted => stronger effects (In your face, reasonable thinking!)
– diluting all coffee molecules (how is this even possible?) will make the water remember them => even stronger effects.

I don’t want to go on…Watch and learn for yourself. I cannot contain my incriminating comments.

As Hall points out, current clinical trials do not support its effectiveness. And if homeopathy was to work, it would simply mean that main concepts in well established sciences like chemistry, physics and biology are wrong.

“Early successes: homeopathy appeared to be more effective than medicine because doctors of that time did more harm than good, and homeopathy did nothing.” [1]

In a book on homeopathy, Jay Shelton analyzed evidence supporting it, and he found that homeopathy helps people, but the remedies do not contribute! The repertoire of homeopathic remedies includes:

– dog’s earwax
– fossilized dinosaur bone
– south pole of a magnet
– tears from a weeping girl (huum?)
– eclipsed moonlight (how can you dilute that?)
– and on…

Silly? It may be…But, sadly, many people fall victims of such unsubstantiated and ridiculous practices and remedies.

The full 32 minute lecture is here.

  1. Lecture 6 – Naturopathy and Herbal Medicines

“The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database is the best source of information.” [1]

The reasons for which not to choose herbal medicines, according to Dr. Hall, include:

– existence of unwanted components and substances in the remedy
– lack of adequate information supporting a certain herbal remedy
– difficulty in controlling the dose
– existence of contaminants
– the content may different from what’s advertised on the label
– possible interactions with other substances
– and a few others.

Dr. Hall does not infirm the potency of some herbal remedies, but she is against the hype of magical supplements, most of which lack substantial evidence for their asserted efficiency. And I tend to agree.

I was a heavy user of numerous supplements, but I recently adopted a more minimal approach. Plus, I go on and off of them (cycling).

If you really want to know exactly what’s inside your supplement, there are laboratories (labdoor, consumerlab, etc) that you can send it to, for a thorough analysis. And some people do that.

For more good information on herbal remedies, I’d recommend reading the book Rational Phytotherapy as well as visiting examine.com (for research on supplements).

The full take on naturopathy and herbal medicine is here (44 minutes).

  1. Lecture 7 – Energy Medicine

“Energy medicine claims that there is an energy field undetectable by scientific instruments that somehow gets out of balance, somehow causes illness, and somehow can be adjusted by practitioners to restore health.” [1]

As per Steven Novella, since energy medicine cannot be measured and cannot be falsified, it is not real science.

Here’s the full lecture (37 minutes).

  1. Lecture 8 – Miscellaneous “Alternatives

In this lecture Dr. Hall talks about the detoxification and autointoxication. If you’re healthy, your body is equipped by nature with liver, kidneys, skin, and other organs of excretion. If you live a normal life you don’t need cleanses and other detox fads.

She also examines the non-existence of evidence behind:

– liver flushes
– breatharians (those who live on air)
– longevity clinics
– ear candles
– magnet therapies
– urine therapy
– and a whole host of others.

The lecture is available here (43 minutes).

  1. Lecture 9 – Pitfalls in Research

In this lecture Dr. Hall discusses some of the pitfalls of conventional medicine, as well as why most research findings are false. She advises:

– not to trust the media
– investigate what could be wrong with a study
– never believe one study in isolation (was it replicated?)
– always ask questions and seek further evidence. [1]

And she provides a list of questions that should be asked when being uncertain of the findings of a study. I’d also recommending following the advice in Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit.

Sensible take-away message:

“Science isn’t perfect, but it’s better than anything else. It’s a collaborative effort that is self-correcting over time. We can’t trust any individual study, but when experts in the field analyze all the available data and come to a consensus, they are likely to come as close to the truth as current knowledge allows.” [1]

The full lecture is here (44 minutes).

  1. Lecture 10 – Science-Based Medicine in the Media and Politics

Key points:

“The media do a very poor job of reporting on medical science.

Politicians are science-illiterate and pass laws that disregard science.

Licensing of CAM providers is a bad idea.” [1]

Here you will be suggested further materials that can help you gain better knowledge of science based medicine and critical thinking. The materials should properly train your BS detector and allow you to filter out all the non-sense that comes your way. Such materials include: books, videos, articles, websites, and blogs. Here are a few recommended books:

  1. Michael Shermer – Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other
    Confusions of Our Time
  2. Robert Burton – Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not
  3. Robert T. Carroll – Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!
  4. Ben Goldacre – Bad Science
  5. Ben Goldacre – Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients

The list is extensive, I’ll let you discover it yourself.

This entire (45 minutes) last lecture is available here.

Conclusion

The state of affairs of today (too much BS and too much non-sense) makes me include these materials in my current repertoire of top resources to help me make better choices and become a better, more critical thinker. I am confident that I’ll go through this course recurrently. It’s not like a one-time-attendance and then fuggedaboutit.

Being aware of my personal mental flaws and fallacies as well as the ones of other unintentioned or bad intention entities is a long game. Vigilance is always desirable.

If you have recommendations that are similar or in contradiction to these resources, please send me an email or leave a comment below. I’m seeking to expand my knowledge…


Resources:

  1. Hall, H. (2015). Course Guide for the Video Series Science Based Medicine. Retrieved from http://web.randi.org/uploads/3/7/3/7/37377621/course_guide.pdf

Image: here


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2 Responses to 10-Lecture Course on Science Based Medicine – And Alternative Practices

  1. Robert Hambly says:

    Great post, Chris, as usual. You might also note another reasonable, skeptic medical doctor.

    Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Offit, Paul A., M.D. 1st (first) (2013) Hardcover
    Offit, Paul A, M.D.

    It has been said that our “Health Care System” is not about health, doesn’t care, and is not a system. Many, many doctors, of course, do care, but alternative practitioners often do better as caretakers, and they have systems that show that they do.

    Psychological connection, indeed, is sometimes missing from the “science obsessed.”

    And alternative medicine has carried the banner for fasting, even as you note in your recommendations of the fasting support centers, all run by ND’s or DC’s

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