Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Posts Tagged ‘Peter Gøtzsche’

What to believe? Science is a red herring and a wild-goose chase

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2016/07/24

To be certain about things is reassuring. It allows feelings of safety, security.

For knowledge, for understanding the world, humankind seems to have turned at first to what could be inferred from the spirits of things — the spirits associated with or inherent in everything: in mountains, in trees, in bodies of water. The spirits could be understood, at least partly, because they were similar to people in having emotions and desires.

Eventually — quite recently, only a few thousand years ago — the plurality and hierarchies of spirits and gods yielded to monotheistic religions in most parts of the world. Even more recently, and only in the most powerfully developed countries, religion yielded to science.

That is to say, traditional religion yielded to scientism, the religion of science. Even the monotheistic gods have emotions and desires, but science doesn’t. So knowledge became entirely impersonal, at least in principle.

Nowadays, then, for real certainty we look to science. “Scientific” stands for unquestionably true. Science is the gatekeeper of truth. “Science” and “scientific” are mediators of being certain, being sure about something.

Consequently, a great deal of arguing to-and-fro has to do with whether something is scientific:
Does it emerge from use of the scientific method?
Is it reproducible?
Is it falsifiable?

And if a claim doesn’t satisfy those criteria or equivalent ones then it’s dismissed as not scientific, or as pseudo-science, or as just plain not to be believed.

That’s an indirect way of judging believability, and arguments about whether something is scientific can be and have been highly abstract, complicated, and sophisticated as technical philosophical discourse tends to be.

Instead, why not go directly at the issues of certainty and truth and just ask, what does it take to be justifiably and reliably certain about something?

In any case, although we use science as mediator of certain truth, we’ve also learned that contemporary scientific knowledge and understanding really isn’t always reliably true. Even when an explanation has been based on tangible evidence, and withstood challenges and tests — if it’s properly scientific, in other words — we’ve learned that it may be misleading. Scientific progress with periodic scientific revolutions has continually revealed flaws, deficiencies, errors, in what were for a time the most widely and fully accepted scientific theories.

If something has always happened in the past, can we be certain that it always will happen in the future? We’ve learned that we cannot be quite certain.

When an explanation has always worked in the past, can we be certain that it always will work in the future? We’ve learned that we cannot be quite certain.

When tangible things are sub-divided into their ultimate components, those turned out to be nothing like objects accessible to direct human observation. They do not fit our concepts of particles or energy, although many of their reactions can be calculated using sometimes particle equations and sometimes wave equations. They behave sometimes as though they were locatable, delimited in space-time, and at other times appear to be “non-local”, not so delimited.

In other words, we’ve learned that we cannot get certain and humanly comprehensible understanding of everything about the whole of the natural world. It’s surely time to accept that, that human beings will never attain complete certainty.

That could be liberating. It would make more feasible pragmatic, non-ideological communication and cooperative action — if only we could be rid of the ideologues: the true believers in a religion, including the true believers in scientism, the religion of science. Anyone who claims complete certainty has insufficient warrant for that claim. The world and its behaviors can be known only within degrees of probability. Instead of arguing about whether something is scientific or whether it is true, we ought to be discussing plausibility, likelihood, utility, risk.

Instead of dismissing as pseudo-science the claims that Loch Ness Monsters are real animals, we should be content to say, “Feel free to believe that if the evidence seems to you sufficiently convincing. For my part, I’ll wait until someone shows me an actual specimen or an indubitable bit of one”. And similarly with yetis and other cryptids, and with UFOs, and with all other anomalous or Fortean reports or claims.

Instead of arguing over being for or against vaccination, we should ask for the statistical data of harm possibly caused by each specific vaccine. For instance, since in many countries the chance of becoming infected by polio is less than the risk of contracting polio from the oral vaccine. perhaps official sources might be less dogmatic about enforcing use of that particular vaccine (“Polio vaccines now the #1 cause of polio paralysis”; “Oral polio vaccine-associated paralysis in a child despite previous immunization with inactivated virus”; “Bill Gates’ polio vaccine program caused 47,500 cases of paralysis death“).

And so on. For every drug and every treatment, we should demand that the Food and Drug Administration require data on NNT and NNH — NNT: the number of patients needed to be treated in order that 1 patient benefit, compared with NNH: the number of patients who must receive a drug in order to have 1 patient experience harm [How (not) to measure the efficacy of drugs].  That would go a long way to decreasing the number of people nowadays being killed by prescription drugs, which are the 3rd or 4th leading cause of death in First-World countries (Peter C. Gøtzsche, Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted

Healthcare [Radcliffe, 2013]; David Healy, Pharmageddon [University of California Press, 2012]).

We need more data and less dogmatism.

 

 

Posted in medical practices, prescription drugs, science is not truth, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Public (lack of) sound knowledge about medical matters

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/10/27

This is a scientific age, and medicine (among other things) is now based on science. And science, of course, is self-correcting.

At least that’s what the conventional wisdom is, the Zeitgeist, the common shibboleths, and what the slew of public pundits keeps repeating.

The truth, of course, is quite otherwise. We’re in a Science Bubble [1] in which conflicts of interest, commercial interests, and bureaucracy throughout official institutions and “grass-roots” organizations make it less and less likely that genuine scientific knowledge influences our policies and practices.

The media do not do their job as a Fourth Estate that might help to keep the other Estates honest, they are simply mouthpieces helping to inflate and sustain the Science Bubble.

Evidence for these assertions:
Over the last few decades, and especially the last one, there has been a spate of informed criticism of present-day drug-besotted medical practice, in dozens of books and many more articles, from prominent insiders and from competent and well informed observers [2].
But the public media have failed to bring awareness of these critiques to the general public. And when they do make some reference to bits of it, they fail to emphasize the conclusions or to draw attention to the wider context of the Big Picture.

Case in point:
For years, informed insiders and observers have pointed out that much routine “screening” has done far more harm than good, by leading to unnecessary and damaging “preventive” “treatment” for people who did not need it.
Shannon Brownlee pointed this out at least 5 years ago in relation to mammography screening against breast cancer [3]; and Brownlee practices what she preaches:
“I don’t get mammograms. I don’t do mammograms. Now, I may do a mammogram or two in my 60s when it looks like the benefit is greatest, but I don’t do mammograms. And it’s . . . because I am more worried about being harmed by unnecessary treatment. I’m very worried about being harmed by unnecessary treatment by overdiagnosis.” [4]
Peter Gøtzsche published a book about it in 2012 [5], as authoritative as one might wish since Gøtzsche heads the Nordic Cochrane Center — the Cochrane Collaboration  being an independent group whose raison d’être is literature reviews and meta-analyses to determine whether actual practices do or do not live up to claims and expectations.

But what does the public learn from the popular media?
In 2014, for example, THIS WEEK (ABC TV, 26 October 2014) mentioned, as supposedly current news, that there’s controversy over the benefits of routine mammography screening.

I mentioned this to a good friend who happens to be a statistician/probabilist. He had worked at the University of Michigan some 40 years ago in a group that reported already then that annual mammograms did more harm than good.

Long gone are the days when Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes programs, to the occasional bemusement and sometimes dismay of sponsors, advertisers, and executives, would actually call a spade a spade (or a bloody shovel, as Aussies would say).

When the Science Bubble finally bursts, it will do far more damage than the defective air-bags and other things that the media are currently obsessing over and describing as world-shattering risks. Much is wrong with present-day medical practice, scores of books have been written about that, but the popular media seem ignorant of it and continue to disseminate misleading and damaging material.

——————————————-
[1] The Science Bubble, Edgescience #17, February 2014, 3-6
[2] What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine
[3] Cancer screening: Doing more harm than good?, Reader’s Digest, April 2009
[4] Diane Rehm show, “Debate over the benefits of routine mammograms”, 12 December 2012
[5] Mammography Screening: Truth. Lies and Controversy, Radcliffe, 2012

Posted in conflicts of interest, media flaws, medical practices, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Big Pharma beware: The comedians are on to you

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/09/17

Authoritarian regimes, and politicians in general for that matter, are terrified of being made fun of.  In present-day Egypt, for example, the local equivalent of The Daily Show is being persecuted. So it is a very promising development that our very own Daily Show last night, Tuesday 16 September, had a segment featuring  Peter Gøtzsche describing the drug companies as organized crime, as in his book, Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare.

It was mentioned that Pharma’s propaganda for painkillers like oxycontin and percocet is misleading and damaging, and some of Pharma’s ads were satirized.

I would like to think that the clip was quite genuine, that showed a Pfizer person — perhaps a security guard? — waving away the Daily Show correspondent and the camera.

Posted in fraud in medicine, legal considerations, medical practices, prescription drugs | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »