Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Vaccine-autism claims, “Frankenfood” bans, the herbal cure craze: All point to the public’s growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter. He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.


TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes, Pattie Maes on the “Sixth Sense” wearable tech, and “Lost” producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts.

Comments

  1. #1 Leigh
    April 19, 2010

    Haven’t watched the video yet, but… Herbalism, Chinese and otherwise, has been around a lot longer than Western medicine and has tried and true results. If the video addresses folks who try to self-diagnose, then that’s important. But dismissing a branch of natural medicine because it’s not “scientific” enough for you is not only a bummer, it’s harmful. I am self-employed and cannot afford insurance. If it weren’t for my herbalists (who have routinely prescribed me remedies that work effectively) I’d be in rough shape. A responsible herbalist, like mine, will also refer me to Western remedies when she feels they are more efficient than the herbs.

  2. #2 rork
    April 19, 2010

    Plenty of science based medicines started from herbs. No one is dismissing them. Claims of efficacy without good evidence are another matter, and are extremely common. Skepticism should be high since folks making the claim are trying to make money, and there are insufficient checks on the seller’s ability to make false claims. Where results are “tried and true” there is no opposition – aspirin makes taking a known dose easier than drinking that willow-bark tea is all, and makes it easier to study in clinical trials and follow on studies, where one not only asks if it works, but also whether it causes some harm. We ask for drugs to meet certain standards, and for the sellers to not make false claims – what’s different about herbs, bear gallbladder, diluted duck liver, or my special snake oil?

    Usual points: It’s not “western” medicine any more than relativity is Jewish physics, in fact less so.

  3. #3 Ryan Koz
    April 19, 2010

    Leigh: You’re exactly the type of person who needs to watch this video. Please realize that he’s right in the fact that you need to believe evidence and not anecdotes when data are given to you, and colloquially…get your head out of the sand.

  4. #4 Drew
    April 20, 2010

    Leigh, he is advocating an evidence-based approach. Anecdotal evidence is next to useless when trying to objectively measure phenomena.

    I’ve never heard a scientist or a proponent of science say anything remotely like “Down with Chinese medicine because it is really old” … conversely you hear proponents of Chinese medicine say all the time that it is more reliable because it has been around for a long time.

    Trephination has been around for a long time too. Would you rather that than take an aspirin?

  5. #5 Zahir
    April 20, 2010

    Hmmmm, I wonder how much Big Pharma paid him to say that?!!!

  6. #6 jonmc
    April 20, 2010

    Leigh-Up to 1900 the average life span of the Chinese was about 40 years. Since the introduction of ‘Western’ medicine around that time the life span has risen dramatically. Do some research.

    Start here

    http://english.people.com.cn/200610/30/eng20061030_316501.html
    http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/herbs.html
    http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/paraherbalism.html