Junkfood Science: The alternative energy bunny....just keeps going and going

February 21, 2007

The alternative energy bunny....just keeps going and going

Studies reaching positive findings generate snazzy headlines. They get attention and bring funding for more research.

It is popularly believed that the strength of science comes in proving something.

In actuality, it is the exact opposite.

The ability to disprove a hypothesis in a carefully designed experiment is what sets science apart from pseudoscience. Negative studies which find nothing, and are unable to support a belief, hold the most value. This is the source of Albert Einstein’s famous saying:

No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Yet these negative studies get little attention and are the ones we rarely hear about. This can be said about so many studies that have examined popular beliefs about our food, health and bodies.

In the process of science, no single study can ever prove a theory, but as each test of a hypothesis is able to support it, and an idea is retested in increasingly finessed experiments, the body of evidence grows to build scientific knowledge. Junk science, on the other hand, is created in poorly designed or conducted research which leads to conclusions that are invalid, unreliable and can never be confirmed. And the single biggest earmark of junk science is its continued holding on to a belief after it’s been disproven....oftentimes again and again, decade after decade.

Junk science keeps going and going like that pink battery-operated bunny.

This also explains why true scientists often roll their eyes and have little patience for junk science and most alternative modalities. It may seem like they are dismissing something out of hand when, in actuality, they know it’s been disproven long ago and they’ve moved on.

The current issue of Mayo Clinical Proceedings published a study by doctors of complementary medicine, led by Max H. Pittler, M.D., Ph.D., at Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth in the United Kingdom. The researchers conducted a review of all double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials of homeopathic interventions for childhood and adolescence ailments. They concluded that the evidence from rigorous clinical trials of any type of homeopathic intervention proved unconvincing and unable to support recommendations for use in any condition.

Their report received little media attention and understandably induced yawns from skeptical scientists. Yet the value of their findings was again ignored by junk scientists.

The efficacy of medicines that contain no measureable therapeutic ingredient defies even plausible, rational explanations in well-demonstrated biophysical science. At some point — after more than 150 clinical trials with all of the most careful, quality studies failing to show that homeopathy has any value over a sugar pill — one would think that the ruse has been exposed so thoroughly that even the junk scientists have to give it up. Yet, incredibly, it continues to be studied and promoted.

The reason it perpetuates was partly explained in a recent hard-hitting Times Magazine article by Dr. Scott Haig, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. There is so much money being made on these types of modalities, he said, that even mainstream doctors are jumping on the lucrative deal.

According to Dr. Haig, cardiologists and “brilliant pathologists” are making extra bucks by hyping anti-aging alternative remedies such as homeopathy and “magnetic water” even though he knows they know better. Of one doctor friend he wrote: “Now he can finally afford that Range Rover he’s had his eye on.” Doctors, he says, have sold out to market what he calls “nothing-really-works-anyway therapies” (NRWATs).

Headaches, heartaches, backaches, aching feet, fatigue, anxiety and those vague, burning pains in your legs at night — these are the nemeses of real doctors. Many people have these symptoms, but the cruel truth is that there is no reliable cure for any of them. Clever doctors watching their incomes melt away have taken notice, establishing all sorts of lucrative NRWAT practices. They've become chiropractors, osteopathic manipulators, prolotherapists, postural therapists, acupuncturists, even Therapeutic Touch practitioners. Each of these therapies proclaims the existence of force fields, bodily reactions, energies or auras that simply cannot be measured or observed scientifically. The “patients” who pay these docs run the gamut from the hopelessly deceived to the downright self-indulgent. But lest we look down too haughtily on NRWAT providers from the moral high ground of real medicine, we must admit that their patients come back again and again, seemingly happy with the treatments. And they pay them with real money—which seems, alas, to have become the whole idea.

Doctors looking for additional sources of income aren’t the only mainstream health professionals turning to alternative energy modalities. Half of the State Boards of Nursing permit nurses to independently practice as alternative practitioners. There is even a Homeopathic Nursing Association working to promote homeopathy in mainstream nursing care. Homeopathy and other alternative modalities have become so lucrative for healthcare professionals and teaching institutions that they’ve been integrated into medical and nursing school curriculums and continuing education courses. According to the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, “insurance companies are more likely to cover homeopathy when the person providing the service is a licensed healthcare professional who also practices homeopathy.”

That little bunny is likely to keep on going and going as long as there’s money to be generated.

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