http://facebook.com/ScienceReason … Harriet Hall with her talk “Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM): Fairy Tale Science and Placebo Medicine”, World Skeptics Congress 2012 in Berlin. Introduction by Willem Betz.
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Harriet Hall, MD, aka “The SkepDoc,” is a retired family physician and former Air Force flight surgeon who writes prolifically about science, critical thinking, alternative medicine, and quackery. She is a CSI fellow, a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer magazines, an editor of the Science-Based Medicine blog, an adviser to the Quackwatch website, a founding fellow of the Institute for Science in Medicine, and is on the editorial review board of the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is an artificial category covering a wide variety of treatments that are dubious, untested, or inadequately tested. Medicine that has been proven to work is just “medicine” — not CAM. Science is the only reliable way to find out if a treatment really works, and proponents of CAM have recognized the need for scientific studies to support their claims.
Unfortunately, good science requires more than just getting positive results from a controlled study. When therapies based on fantasy are studied with the tools of science, it produces confusing noise. Studying how much money the Tooth Fairy leaves under the pillow doesn’t prove she exists. Pragmatic studies give an unfair advantage to treatments that have no specific effects but are dressed up like Cinderella with non-specific effects.
Energy medicine modalities like Therapeutic Touch are a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes: they have impressed adults with apparently supporting studies; but a 9 year old child, Emily Rosa, pointed out their nakedness with a simple experiment showing that practitioners were deceiving themselves. Meta-analyses and systematic reviews are often flawed, especially when applied to improbable modalities.
When science shows that a CAM treatment works no better than placebo, some CAM advocates accept the results but argue that we should use the treatment anyway, because placebos make patients feel better. This constitutes a double standard, because we wouldn’t accept that argument for prescription drugs. Prescribing placebos is unethical, and placebo use can lead to harm in several different ways.
There is only one science, and it must be rigorously applied to determine the effectiveness and safety of any treatment, whether alternative or mainstream. Recent emphasis on evidence-based medicine (EBM) is encouraging, but in practice EBM tends not to give enough consideration to basic science and prior probability. We need truly science-based medicine to determine whether CAM treatments really work.
World Skeptics Congress: Promoting Science and Critical Thinking in a World of Uncertainty.
Why do people turn to pseudoscience for help? What makes alternative medicine so attractive – and how can we find out what really works? Why is it so difficult for us to deal with risk and uncertainty in a rational way? Can we teach children to think critically and scientifically? And how can academic disciplines like biology or psychology protect themselves from pseudoscientific contamination?
The 6th World Skeptics Congress in Berlin was an intellectually stimulating three-day event dealing with paranormal and supernatural claims, fringe science issues, and scams. Major topics at this event were science and pseudoscience in education, in particular anti-evolution claims and origin myths, and the problems of risk and benefit assessment, especially in alternative medicine.
Gerd Antes, Wim Betz, Johan Braeckman, Edzard Ernst, Chris French, Luigi Garlaschelli, Harriet Hall, Ray Hyman, Chris Mooney, Simon Perry, Massimo Polidoro, James Randi, Gita Sahgal, Eugenie Scott, Simon Singh, Samantha Stein, Kylie Sturgess, Rebecca Watson and Tomasz Witkowski are just some of the world-renowned presenters who took part, taking apart the claims and conspiracies of the modern world.
Tags: complementary alternative placebo medicine cam fairy tale science treatments studies harriet hall homeopathy pseudoscience education skeptical rational critical thinking skepticism world skeptics congress 2012 berlin