MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Guest post by Pete Attkins

Commentator “jm” asked a profound and pertinent question: “What DOES it take for people to get real in this world, practice some common sense, and pay attention to what’s going on with themselves?” This question was asked in the context of asserting that personal experience always trumps the results of large-scale scientific experiments; and asserting that alt-med experts are better able to provide individulized healthcare than 21st Century orthodox medicine.

What does common sense and paying attention lead us to conclude about the following? We test a six-sided die for bias by rolling it 100 times. The number 1 occurs only once and the number 6 occurs many times, never on its own, but in several groups of consecutive sixes.

I think it is reasonable to say that common sense would, and should, lead everyone to conclude that the die is biased and not fit for its purpose as a source of random numbers.

In other words, we have a gut feeling that the die is untrustworthy. Gut instincts and common sense are geared towards maximizing our chances of survival in our complex and unpredictable world — these are innate and learnt behaviours that have enabled humans to survive despite the harshness of our ever changing habitat.

Only very recently in the long history of our species have we developed specialized tools that enable us to better understand our harsh and complex world: science and critical thinking. These tools are difficult to master because they still haven’t been incorporated into our primary and secondary formal education systems.

The vast majority of people do not have these skills therefore, when a scientific finding flies in the face of our gut instincts and/or common sense, it creates an overwhelming desire to reject the finding and classify the scientist(s) as being irrational and lacking basic common sense. It does not create an intense desire to accept the finding then painstakingly learn all of the science that went into producing the finding.

With that in mind, let’s rethink our common sense conclusion that the six-sided die is biased and untrustworthy. What we really mean is that the results have given all of us good reason to be highly suspicious of this die. We aren’t 100% certain that this die is biased, but our gut feeling and common sense are more than adequate to form a reasonable mistrust of it and to avoid using it for anything important to us. Reasons to keep this die rather than discard it might be to provide a source of mild entertainment or to use its bias for the purposes of cheating.

Some readers might be surprised to discover at this point that the results I presented from this apparently heavily-biased die are not only perfectly valid results obtained from a truly random unbiased die, they are to be fully expected. Even if the die had produced 100 sixes in that test, it would not confirm that the die is biased in any way whatsoever. Rolling a truly unbiased die once will produce one of six possible outcomes. Rolling the same die 100 times will produce one unique sequence out of the 6^100 (6.5 x 10^77) possible sequences: all of which are equally valid!

Gut feeling plus common sense rightfully informs us that the probability of a random die producing one hundred consecutive sixes is so incredibly remote that nobody will ever see it occur in reality. This conclusion is also mathematically sound: if there were 6.5 x 10^77 people on Earth, each performing the same test on truly random dice, there is no guarantee that anyone would observe a sequence of one hundred consecutive sixes.

When we observe a sequence such as 2 5 1 4 6 3 1 4 3 6 5 2… common sense informs us that the die is very likely random. If we calculate the arithmetic mean to be very close to 3.5 then common sense will lead us to conclude that the die is both random and unbiased enough to use it as a reliable source of random numbers.

Unfortunately, this is a perfect example of our gut feelings and common sense failing us abysmally. They totally failed to warn us that the 2 5 1 4 6 3 1 4 3 6 5 2… sequence we observed had exactly the same (im)probability of occurring as a sequence of one hundred 6s or any other sequence that one can think of that doesn’t look random to a human observer.

The 100-roll die test is nowhere near powerful enough to properly test a six-sided die, but this test is more than adequately powered to reveal some of our cognitive biases and some of the deficits in our personal mastery of science and critical thinking.

To properly test the die we need to provide solid evidence that it is both truly random and that its measured bias tends towards zero as the number of rolls tends towards infinity. We could use the services of one testing lab to conduct billions of test rolls, but this would not exclude errors caused by such things as miscalibrated equipment and experimenter bias. It is better to subdivide the testing across multiple labs then carefully analyse and appropriately aggregate the results: this dramatically reduces errors caused by equipment and humans.

In medicine, this testing process is performed via systematic reviews of multiple, independent, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials — every trial that is insufficiently powered to add meaningfully to the result is rightfully excluded from the aggregation.

Alt-med relies on a diametrically opposed testing process. It performs a plethora of only underpowered tests; presents those that just happen to show a positive result (just as a random die could’ve produced); and sweeps under the carpet the overwhelming number of tests that produced a negative result. It publishes only the ‘successes’, not its failures. By sweeping its failures under the carpet it feels justified in making the very bold claim: Our plethora of collected evidence shows clearly that it mostly ‘works’ and, when it doesn’t, it causes no harm.

One of the most acidic tests for a hypothesis and its supporting data (which is a mandatory test in a few branches of critical engineering) is to substitute the collected data for random data that has been carefully crafted to emulate the probability mass functions of the collected datasets. This test has to be run multiple times for reasons that I’ve attempted to explain in my random die example. If the proposer of the hypothesis is unable to explain the multiple failures resulting from this acid test then it is highly likely that the proposer either does not fully understand their hypothesis or that their hypothesis is indistinguishable from the null hypothesis.

35 Responses to What DOES it take for people to get real in this world?

  • Kinda weird example using the whole sequences of die rolls (or any other repeatable test). The distribution of the individual rolls is the thing that counts, and this is also true for medical studies. The sequence is irrelevant and given the properties of a fair roll, rolling a hundred times the same number is way more unlikely than getting every number in about similar amounts.
    If this was part of the point, then I fail to see it mentioned, if it was aimed to be a simple example then is has unnecessary (and in my opinion wrong) detail – it would be true if the point would be to illustrate that picking the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6 in a lottery has the same chance of winning as all other combinations (I`d expect that such specific freak numbers would mean that you will have to divide the winning money far more than you would expect).

    I avoided everything but the most basic statistic courses during my study, so what I personally would`ve expected is some example with a hypothesis that the dice is biased to have twice the probability of a 6 compared to the other numbers, and then some example of how many rolls you would need to prove it for the usual 95% CI.

    This would illustrate that “biased” is a very weak statement unless you can say
    *) In which way its biased
    *) Have some numbers to express this mathematically
    *) Can compare your trials to the null hypothesis, and calculate the probability
    *) Have those necessary big number of trials to back this up

    And it would allow some more people to have some basic understanding of studies, and why there is a differnce compared to plain statistics.

    • Some simpler and easier example, how your intuition can fail you would be for example the birthday paradox: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_problem

      • Many thanks for your replies, Npl. I’m really pleased that you highlighted the birthday paradox because it is a classic example of our intuition failing abysmally to guide us towards understanding reality.

        Sorry for not addressing your other points. I have chosen to refrain from writing a long explanatory essay out of respect for Professor Ernst and his readers. All my essay would really convey is that to increase our confidence level in a source of unreliable, i.e. stochastic, numbers seems to be a silly exercise, perhaps a non sequitur or an argumentum ad absurdum. However, exacting tests require not a 95% CI, they require a minimum of six sigma validation, which for normal distributions approximates to 99.99966% certainty.

        • I follow Npl on this one… I’m sorry but I don’t see the point here. Indeed one hundred 6 roll is as probable as another combination, if you want that one specific succession of number, but it’s not what we are looking for in a study – we are looking at distribution -. And it’s what people need to understand : it’s not because you get one hundrer 6 roll that the dice is biaised, but because you were expecting a fair distribution among the value. So it’s why good sampling is the most important thing in the world. If your sampling is not normally distributed you are f— right at the start, and with low number of n you can’t know if it’s normally distributed or not (because it’s supposely random ! and as you say, every succession are equal, and on low number of roll the only thing you’ll see is succession of number not distribution !). So why not talking about this ?

  • Excellent, Pete.

    I remember having a conversation at work about the National Lottery shortly after it was introduced. My colleague was pondering how incredibly unlikely it was that the same numbers would come up in successive weeks. He took a lot of convincing that the probability of those numbers appearing were exactly the same as for any other set of numbers appearing that week. But I’m not sure he was entirely convinced, preferring instead to cling to his belief that the coincidence was so unlikely as to be utterly impossible.

    But you can just imagine the uproar in the media if this did happen! (I assume it hasn’t?) The credulous media (and public) would more likely believe the game/machine/balls/cosmos was fixed in some way, because, well, things like that just can’t happen, can they?

  • Nice reading, but the example with the die really is not very good. Obviously 100 sixes in a row is just as unlikely as any one random previosly defined sequence of numbers. But (as you mention) the same number 100 times in a row is much less likely than this nit happening. If you are able or not to use this test for finding out if the die is biased, depends on your definition of bias. If you define it as “not random”, then the test is of not much value. If you define it as “tends to always show the same side up”, then it is a very good test indeed. So the validity of a test also depends on your hypothesis being specific enough.
    It’s the same for the lottery really. If your hypothesis is, that the machine or the balls are fixed in a way, that leads to a tendency of drawing the same numbers every time, then the exact numbers week after week are good evidence to support that.

  • Pete,
    Actually, it was “Franko” that asked the question. I only added the emphasis on the word DOES. But I agree it’s a pertinent question, especially in the context Franko asked it. The context, of course was:

    – Jody Winters → said she was getting help from chiropractics
    – Franko → said that wasn’t evidence (which of course, it’s not)
    – I said → it’s better than evidence. She knows what’s helping her.

    The reality is that she’s getting help. If Jody quit doing what she knows works for her simply because of results from a study….that would be absolutely bat shit crazy. And by bat shit crazy, I mean the opposite of getting real.

    The dice example is interesting. Npl’s is simpler and easier, but yours is more interesting. To make the dice example simpler, gut reaction → something’s weird/interesting with the dice rolls. Common sense → test the dice.

    You said “In medicine, this testing process is performed via systematic reviews of multiple, independent, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials — every trial that is insufficiently powered to add meaningfully to the result is rightfully excluded from the aggregation.
    Alt-med relies on a diametrically opposed testing process.”

    I don’t know about Alt-med, but all Traditional Medicine systems (Chinese med, Ayurvedic med, Greek med, Thai med, Burmese med, etc etc) have always used (and still use) scientific methodology. It looks a bit different, though. It seems that the modern method considers only what can be measured. Most traditional systems but a lot of value on aspects that cannot be measured – and their scientific methods take that into account.

  • A couple of interesting books on this topic are

    Thinking fast and slow – Daniel Khaneman

    Risk Savvy – Gerd Gigerenzer

    A good podcast on statistics etc is the BBC’s more or less podcast – covered the Birthday Paradox

  • Oh, and Pete – you totally made this part up: “and asserting that alt-med experts are better able to provide individulized healthcare than 21st Century orthodox medicine.”

    Given the title of the post, the addition of your fiction is quite funny…

  • A good example of how “common sense” misleads us, is the Monty Hall problem. Surprising is not that most people favour a solution that is wrong, but that many people stick with that wrong solution, even when they are shown all possibilities, and are unable to dismiss the realities of the problem. Just as with religion, they believe the wrong solution is true, not because of but in spite of the evidence.

    In other words: presenting reality, even in simple open-and-shut cases, is not enough to encourage many of our fellow primates to “get real”.

    Sister Gerda, a retired principal of a large school in Belgium once told me that there comes a time that one has to declare defeat and accept that the correspondent simply lacks the intelligence required to see reality for what it is. James Randi says that people refuse to accept reality because they want/need their fiction to be true.

    But no one, as far as I can tell, has ever been able to point out what it takes for people to get real, only somewhat plausible explanations of why they don’t get real.

    I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem lies in our general tolerance of religion. Catholicism and Mormonism are just as improbable and plainly wrong as homoeopathy and chiropraxy. However, while many of us would not hesitate to denounce the latter for the nonsense they are, far fewer of us would use similar terms to describe the former. What grounds do we have to accept and even encourage religious irrationality and reject and discourage quack irrationality, and how does that help those of us who are unwilling or incapable to “get real”?

    To my horror, it seems that Prince Charles’ quack imperium is also getting larger. I saw a few days ago that Duchy Originals can now be found at our local Loblaws grocery store. I only saw relatively innocent-looking cookies, but isn’t that how drug dealers and preachers lure their customers?

    • “What grounds do we have to accept and even encourage religious irrationality and reject and discourage quack irrationality…”

      I have posed this question many times. The usual answer is something about tolerance. I say to that: I am only obligated to tolerate your right to believe something; I am not required to think you are correct, or even sane.

      It is a matter of degree, however. I have friends who are very much among the faithful, but they keep it in the spiritual realm and it does not interfere with their health care being science-based. It seems to come down to credulity and the literalness of one’s religious beliefs–that is, fundamentalism is the bugaboo.

  • Going back to the original question of the article: It takes some proper science education being a compulsory part of every child’s education. In particular, drum into them from an early age the principles of scientific method, basic statistical theory, logic, rational argument and how to spot fallacies etc. and keep bringing it up until they leave school.

    So long as I hear people saying things like “I never eat anything with chemicals in it” and “Well it worked for me so it must be true” I know that the charlatans will continue to laugh at evidence – all the way to the bank.

    • The question would then become: what is *proper*? Much science taught in school is uninterestingly and boringly presented by teachers who barely understand what they are doing and who administer pointless exams that are better suited to tape recorders than to thinking beings.

      My own, very tentative, proposal would be to teach the scientific/skeptical method from the youngest age possible, while using some basic science to illustrate how this works in practice.

      This may be (in)adequate. One of the issues that will almost certainly be raised is that of religious freedom. Religious people tend to interpret honest doubts as deliberate attacks on their guaranteed freedoms. Almost certainly, exceptions will be made to protect religion from criticism, and as a result, the teaching of the scientific method will become useless and confusing because children will not understand why religion should be exempt, and will lose interest because the whole thing will look and feel (and be) like a smoke screen, a conspiracy, intended to keep children from learning what is true, leading them to look for ‘the Secret’ in all the wrong places for the rest of their lives.

      • Certainly there is already plenty of resistance from religious lobbying to the teaching of science – not as bad here in the UK as it is in the USA. But teaching of scientific method is the important thing, rather than the teaching of particular scientific theories, because that would, I hope, enable people to see through everything from “superfoods” to “8 out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas”.

  • We really haven’t moved forward since Skinner’s classic experiments with pigeons indicated how even birds develop superstitious conviction that a particular set of behaviours is required to achieve a particular goal, e.g. most forms of CAM (http://www.psychologistworld.com/superstition.php). Derren Brown effectively repeated Skinner’s experiments with a group of humans in his Second “Trick or Treat” series in 2007*.
    The OP and follow-up comments suggest several examples of the inability of individual humans to comprehend true statistical probabilities. Optical illusions and a number of psychology experiments (see, for example, Richard Wise’s website) clearly demonstrate how utterly useless individuals are as witnesses (yourself included). Yet we go on endlessly accepting the words of folk whose sole evidence for what they claim is “common sense” or “gut feeling” or “belief” or “conviction”. Subjective wisdom is a very shaky business!
    Courts of law have slowly begun to favour objective data over personal testimony as evidence. Scientists have preferred the former for centuries. Slowly, our collective experience moves us into accepting well tested evidence for reality over nonsense pulled out of backsides. Yet the braking effect of the latter remains a remarkably strong force. All of us, if we’re honest about it, have sometimes been surprised to discover that what we thought was sound and reasonable is, in fact, dead wrong and demonstrably so. If only those who “believe in” quack medicines — as opposed to the charlatans who deliberately profit from such human gullibility — could get the message.
    *There are two posts of the full Derren Brown episode on YouTube but they’re banned to UK audiences (search “Derren Brown Superstition”). There’s a set of excerpts on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-FuV8LB3gU. If you can gain access to the full 10-minute piece it’s worth it: the participants become so intensely involved in trying to make a link between what they do to affect a scoreboard, they fail to notice a message projected overhead for a short time that tells them explicitly where to find a trunk containing a lot of money!

    • Franko – Pete start this post inaccurately referencing comments on another post (which you already know).

      “This question was asked in the context of asserting that personal experience always trumps the results of large-scale scientific experiments;”

      Not really true. As you know, Jody said she was personally responding well to chiro treatments. You responded saying that wasn’t evidence. Which is true, but she never claimed that it was evidence. She said it was working for her. Finding a therapy that works for you is very different than large scale scientific experiments. This should be obvious.

      “…and asserting that alt-med experts are better able to provide individulized healthcare than 21st Century orthodox medicine.”
      This is just an outright fabrication on Pete’s part. Not sure where this came from. Definitely not from me – nowhere on this website have I said that one therapy (whether it’s considered alt-med or conventional) is inherently better than another. Or worse. Find what works for you, individually. Find a great practitioner, no matter what the modality. I’m not dogmatic about treatment methods.

      If I broke my leg, I wouldn’t care if the practitioner uses modern evidence-based medicine or knowledge that has been passed down and refined for thousands of years. Doesn’t matter as long as they practice their art well, and treat my leg.

      So where does Pete’s interpretation of the comments come from? Maybe related to superstitious pigeons? But, your original question “What the heck does it take for people to get real in this world?!” is a good one, in and of itself. Maybe a good place to start would be to get real regarding the context for the comments?

  • Jm, I regret that my decision to use a semicolon in my sentence setting the context of my post has caused you so much consternation. On reflection, perhaps I should’ve used an em dash to make it clearer to you and other readers that I was using your comment in both the direct and the indirect contexts within which you wrote your statement (which is the title of my post).

    You posted your statement/question on an article by Prof. Ernst that ended with: “My conclusion is that, at least in Canada, there is very little evidence that chiropractic is about to become an ethical and evidence-based profession.” Your decision to post your comments on this article, supporting another commentator who seems to think that their personal anecdotal evidence for chiropractic outweighs scientific evidence to the contrary, forms a very large part of the wider context of your question.

    Furthermore, your plethora of comments in support of alt-med on Prof. Ernst’s website leads to the inescapable conclusion that not only you, but most alt-med advocates do indeed support the notion that alt-med experts are better able to provide individulized healthcare than 21st Century orthodox medicine. Anyone and everyone who has the time can verify this by carefully reading through all of the articles and comments on this website.

    Either you have not yet read the profoundly informative books (that are thoroughly grounded in the scientific method and independently verifiable evidence) “Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial” and “Healing, Hype or Harm? A critical analysis of complementary or alternative medicine” or despite having read them, you have an ulterior motive for endlessly deriding the robust results obtained by using the scientific method.

    In my humble opinion, your comments on my post serve only to demonstrate your true agenda. If you continue with your complaints about my article then I shall ask the website administrator to replace my semicolon with an em dash.

    • No worries Pete. No consternation here – change the punctuation if that makes you sleep better. You do jump to a few conclusions, that aren’t really based on reality.

      You say “Your decision to post your comments on this article, supporting another commentator who seems to think that their personal anecdotal evidence for chiropractic outweighs scientific evidence to the contrary, forms a very large part of the wider context of your question.”

      First, I’m not supporting Jody. She doesn’t need (and probably doesn’t want) my support. But her comment in no way indicates that her personal experience qualifies as evidence. In fact, if you go back and re-read her comment, she’s implying the opposite. It’s here: http://edzardernst.com/2014/12/the-chiropractic-profession-struggling-to-define-themselves/#comment-62798.

      Second, you say “Anyone and everyone who has the time can verify this by carefully reading through all of the articles and comments on this website.” And they won’t find anywhere me “asserting that alt-med experts are better able to provide individulized healthcare than 21st Century orthodox medicine.” You made that up. They will find me saying that it’s all about the practitioner, regardless of modality. I hope you can see the difference. They will also find me saying that different modalities (from conventional med to fill in the blank) all have their strengths and weaknesses. And it’s pretty wasteful not to take advantage of the strengths.

      Finally, this part you got right “personal experience always trumps the results of large-scale scientific experiments”. In the end, it’s all about the individual. I’d be willing to bet that MDs who say they practice EBM will do whatever it takes to help their patients. In medicine, studies and experiments exist to assist and hopefully enhance the experience of the practitioner – so they can serve the personal experience of the patient.

      • Jm, alt-med claims to prevent and/or cure diseases that orthodox medicine cannot. Whether or not you have made such a claim is irrelevant because you support [advocate; approve; defend; promote] a system that does make such claims. E.g. if I were to support astrology then I would be supporting the claims made by astrology; it is not possible to support astrology while at the same time rejecting its claims. I hope this clears up your misunderstanding of my post — if it doesn’t then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        Alt-med that has been proven to work has been incorporated into orthodox medicine, it is no longer alternative medicine. Alt-med is the collection of hypotheses and modalities that have, at best, no evidence for efficacy, and many of its branches have a mountain of evidence to show that they most definitely do not work beyond placebo. More importantly, the risks outweigh the benefits.

        You seem to be claiming that if a patient finds a branch of alt-med [note: “Traditional Medicine systems” are classified as alt-med in many regions around the globe] to be effective then the treatment is/was effective for that person. For many people this seems to be good common sense, but it fails the test of logic. If I try treatment X for an illness then my health improves does not mean that X caused the improvement. If X has been thoroughly tested and shown to be effective for that illness then it is likely that X did cause the improvement. If X failed rigorous testing then it is extremely likely that the improvement was caused by something else, such as natural recovery.

        Human brains are hard-wired to be superb at pattern recognition. This is because, on average, it’s far better to suffer the effects of frequent false positives than it is to be more accurate, which would dramatically increase the number of false negatives (failures to recognize patterns that are critically important to our survival). Simply put, we are hard-wired to use the logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent”: if X then Y; Y occurred therefore X must have been the cause. This fallacy is a major cause of superstitions and all other belief systems that lack good evidence and/or have untestable hypotheses.

        Many branches of alt-med claim to be incompatible with testing using the scientific method, which is how they explain their continual failures in RCTs. I would accept this claim if the proponents had produced an alternative method of testing that can withstand the test of fundamental logic. This has not happened.

        You wrote: “I don’t know about Alt-med, but all Traditional Medicine systems (Chinese med, Ayurvedic med, Greek med, Thai med, Burmese med, etc etc) have always used (and still use) scientific methodology. It looks a bit different, though. It seems that the modern method considers only what can be measured. Most traditional systems but [put] a lot of value on aspects that cannot be measured – and their scientific methods take that into account.”

        Of course they use science that “looks a bit different”, as does creation science: The reinterpretation of scientific knowledge in accord with belief in the literal truth of the Bible, especially regarding the origin of matter, life, and humankind.

        Using science that “looks a bit different” in engineering leads only to failures, as it does in alt-med. Attempting to change the fundamental laws of the universe to fit one’s belief system is not just a fool’s errand, in the 21st Century it is well known to be a strong indicator of having become delusional. Delusion: an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder. NB: This is in no way intended to be an insult to anyone, it is just an inescapable well established fact.

        If you wish to ask me a question about anything I’ve written then please exercise civility and respect. If instead you wish to continue complaining then any further discussion is pointless.

        • Pete – I think you misunderstood what I meant by ‘looks a bit different’. But don’t worry about it. And thanks for trying to explain how you justify your opening paragraph. That’s quite an interesting take on things…especially considering the title of the post. As you say, looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree. Cheers.

  • I guess there’s a risk we’re going to get repetitive if we keep adding more comments. But I feel like taking that risk.
    “Finding a therapy that works for you is very different than large scale scientific experiments. This should be obvious.” “If I broke my leg, I wouldn’t care if the practitioner uses modern evidence-based medicine or knowledge that has been passed down and refined for thousands of years. Doesn’t matter as long as they practice their art well, and treat my leg.” Thanks or these lines, JM. I DO understand what you’re saying: personal experience trumps science, at least as far as every individual is concerned.
    This is fine, liberally minded, and allows each person full rein to believe whatever they want. If you’re happy to have your leg treated (presumably with a cure of whatever ailed it) by any practitioner you consider effective, that’s the end of the story.
    Except that it’s not. You then go on and tell other people with the same or similar problem you found a particular practitioner good. The word spreads. Some of those who try the practitioner end up agreeing on his/her efficacy; most of those who don’t get a cure probably say nothing more and move elsewhere. If you or the practitioner is particularly attracted to whatever rationale they use for their therapy, you might end up writing books about it.
    We worked this way for thousands of years trying to understand the sun, the moon, the seasons, the tides, storms, floods and the rest of the natural world. Slowly but surely, we gained closer, reproducible understanding by interpreting reproducible, objectively observable and measurable phenomena. Our communal understanding of biology progressed more slowly than that of physics, astronomy, chemistry and geology. Medicine lagged even further behind.
    Today most of us would scorn someone who believes the earth is flat, even though by your standards if a flat earthist is happy with that view, that’s fine. I just hope no-one ever gives him a pilot’s licence. Most of us would try to reason with someone who’s deeply religious say “I’m going to step in front of a moving bus because God will protect me”; in fact, curiously, even deeply religious people seem to prefer the scientific knowledge of the consequences of a bus-person interaction over subjective beliefs.
    Your attitude, in which anyone is free to follow whatever kind of pseudo-medical nonsense they feel works for them, is insulting to the thousands of people who’ve devoted their working lives to increasing understanding of genuine cause and effect in medicine. It encourages superstitious belief over reason. It plays to the profound inadequacy of individual humans and their opinions. And it contributes to retarding progress in the interests of personal subjectivity. Sorry, but I think you are mistaken.

    • Franko – you said “I DO understand what you’re saying: personal experience trumps science, at least as far as every individual is concerned.”

      Apparently, you don’t understand what I’m saying. I said “personal experience always trumps the results of large-scale scientific experiments”. That’s different. If a large scale scientific experiment says that treatment x works well, but it isn’t working for patient y…that’s not the fault of science. But you still have to treat the patient. Just not with treatment x for that individual.

      Odd that you bring up the flat earth society – that’s the image that comes to mind when I read comments about traditional medicine not being scientific. I’m not sure how people arrive at that conclusion, other than personal bias and superstition. The other image that comes to mind: one dog barks a lie, and 100 more repeat it as the truth. I keep hoping that someone will explain how they came to the conclusion that traditional medical science is not scientific, rather than just barking.

      • No, you are mistaken. The results of large-scale trials do not conclude: X was verified to be effective therefor X always [in every instance] leads to outcome Y. If the results approximately conform to the normal distribution then we know for sure that within two standard deviations (2-sigma) X will be 95% effective and 5% ineffective.

        Conversely, if X was verified to be ineffective then we know for certain that X is 95% ineffective and might have appeared to be effective in 5% of the samples for specific reasons that the test was underpowered to reveal.

        I always avoid consumer items and healthcare systems that have been demonstrated to be 95% useless.

        You stated: “Most traditional systems [put] a lot of value on aspects that cannot be measured – and their scientific methods take that into account.”; and “I keep hoping that someone will explain how they came to the conclusion that traditional medical science is not scientific, rather than just barking.”

        Three salient points:
        1. You need to fully explain the procedures used for taking into account aspects that cannot be measured.

        2. You need to fully justify why you think traditional systems remain valid considering that they totally failed (and still fail) to take into account things that can be easily measured in the 21st Century, such as diseases caused by bacterial and viral infections.

        3. Rather than keep hoping that someone will explain to you how they came to the conclusion that traditional medical science is not scientific, why not submit a guest post fully explaining you assertion that traditional medical science is scientific? Until you do, I shall continue to rely on the results of large-scale trials, critical thinking, and the modern scientific method: all of which served me more than adequately throughout the whole of my career.

        • Pete – your ‘salient points’…let’s use gua sha as an example, as it’s pretty easy and straightforward. Let’s say you wake up with a stiff neck, and a family member treats it with gua sha.

          1. For gua sha, it’s primarily visual. Where markings appear after scraping, there’s illness or injury. Quantity, color, texture, etc would be assessed by the practitioner, and treated appropriately. Where there are no marks, no treatment. Simple and straightforward, taking into account aspects like cold, heat, wind, dampness that aren’t measured in modern med. The practitioner would also take into account tissue quality, patient’s constitution, vitality…things like that. As far as I know, these types of things don’t measure well, other than in a relative way.

          2. Gua sha works quickly, painlessly, and thoroughly without any adverse side effects. You can do it at home, without much instruction, using household tools. I’d say that’s a valid reason.

          3. Gua sha developed over time by observing nature, organizing the observations, experimenting, evaluating the evidence, verifying. It’s duplicatable. Scientific method, critical thinking. And talk about large scale trials, eh? Used all over the world, for thousands of years, with very consistent results. Different cultures will evaluate the evidence (the markings, in the case of gua sha) differently – Greek medicine will talk about humours, Thai medicine will talk about elements, Chinese medicine will talk about xieqi. That type of thing. But they are all observing and evaluating the markings, and treating them within their own medical structure. Easy as pie, quick, safe, free.

          • Gua Sha involves traumatic scraping of the skin. Just Google the term and look at the images and ask yourself how, to any but a pathologically uncritical mind, causing abrasions and bruises down a person’s back can be regarded as a legitimate therapy for a stiff neck! It’s purported to release chi (whatever that may be — there seem to be umpteen different versions despitre all the marvellous scientific observation you talk about).
            If this stuff has a scientific basis please point us to the data; something that eliminates as far as possible all explanations for causes and effects other than gua sha. Greek humours and Thai elements are completely different in concept and implementation from each other and from chi. On what basis do you lump them together as if they say the same thing? It seems the more we move on in comprehension of the world around us the more our cultures are beset by people who think the ‘ancients’ knew more than we do.
            If you think this way, please be consistent. Eschew travel by car and air; walk or ride an animal. Never watch TV, listen to the radio or work with a computer: post your messages on the village tree.

          • Franko – You’re completely misinformed about gua sha. You can go read my comments on the gua sha thread if you’re genuinely interested. No trauma whatsoever.

            “please point us to the data; something that eliminates as far as possible all explanations for causes and effects other than gua sha.” You’ll only get marks where something is going on with the patient. Where there’s not, you can scrape all day…nothing will come up. Repeated treatments to an injured area → marks are less each time. Etc etc. The therapy provides its own data. It’s actually used diagnostically as well as therapeutically. The cause & effect is so simple and straightforward, anyone can do it at home (and, most gua sha/scraping is done at home) quite effectively. And if you know of a safer therapy, I’d love to know what it is.

            “Greek humours and Thai elements are completely different in concept and implementation from each other and from chi. On what basis do you lump them together as if they say the same thing?” I didn’t say they were the same thing. I said that the different systems would interpret the marks differently according to their medical system. That’s why I used Chinese, Thai, and Greek – they are quite different. Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Ayurvedic…much more similar to each other than different.

            “It seems the more we move on in comprehension of the world around us the more our cultures are beset by people who think the ‘ancients’ knew more than we do.”
            I have to disagree with you there. It seems that most parts of the world use traditional and modern medicine systems side by side, and employ whichever best fits the circumstance. Like gua sha for a stiff neck, modern surgery for a pulverized cervial disc, for instance. Cupping for cold/flu, cupping plus antibiotics for bacterial respiratory infections. That type of thing.

          • …here we go again. If only the resident GuaSharlatan would produce data to substantiate his/her fantasies.

          • Bjorn – why don’t we save a lot of space in this particular comment section. Let’s pretend you’ve invoked various fictional characters, while pretending you know something about gua sha. I point out that in terms of gua sha – you’re the dictionary definition of a quack, and wonder out loud if you make stuff up on the chiro etc posts as well.

            Did I miss anything? If not, that should save 50 comments or so. (although I am curious as to the fictional character du jour)

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