20 June 2011

Steven Novella defends science-based medicine

Dr Steven Novella is a neurologist, educator and dedicated proponent of science-based medicine (SBM). He maintains an excellent website, NeuroLogica, where he writes well-argued criticisms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), among other scientific and philosophical topics. I enjoy reading Novella’s eloquent, straightforward essays where he calmly yet firmly corrects common misconceptions of both SBM and CAM. He neither rants nor abuses his ideological opponents; in fact, Novella often responds to his critics with admirable patience and professionalism (especially considering that these critics repeatedly make the same flawed arguments either supporting CAM or opposing SBM).

Novella’s qualities are displayed in his response to an article by David Freedman in The Atlantic. Freedman had interviewed Novella to get the SBM side of the story for his article on CAM versus SBM. Unfortunately, the published article turned out to be sympathetic to CAM (its title, ‘The Triumph of New-Age Medicine’, pretty much declares its bias). Novella may be a gentleman ideologue, but he’s also bloody tenacious. Not letting this gross misinformation go unchallenged, the good doctor has written a lengthy, detailed rebuttal to both Freedman’s arguments in his article and his comments on NeuroLogica and elsewhere defending his journalism.

It’s a lot to read, but I recommend that you do it. Novella uses his trademark critical thinking skills, measured rhetoric and deep knowledge of the subject matter to show why CAM is pure nonsense, and why promoting it is a serious mistake.

Dr Novella said it best in the conclusion of his post ‘Alt Med Apologetics at the Atlantic’:

Freedman seems to have been overwhelmed by the finely crafted propaganda of the CAM industry. The “triumph of new-age medicine” is not in patient outcomes, or in filling any perceived gap in science-based medicine. The triumph is in pulling off a massive con. They have managed to put together a very slick package of logical fallacies, misdirections, misconceptions, and outright deception that is very effective. They have an excuse for every failure, and have managed to successfully attack their critics – even science itself.

Sowing confusion is easier than careful explanation, however. And it is remarkably easy to sell people something that they want. The appealing lie will always be hard to counter with harsh reality.

A journalist’s job, however, is to tell the harsh reality. Freedman failed in this regard. Despite his intentions, in the end his article was just another advertisement for an industry of pseudoscience.

If you’re too lazy to read the whole thing, you can scroll down to the ‘Conclusion’ section of Novella’s essays, a great feature of all his posts where he summarises the essay’s main points. But c’mon, read the whole damn thing! It’ll be good for you.


No comments:

Post a Comment