MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

One of the biggest danger of SCAM, in my view, is the fact that SCAM-practitioners all too often advise their patients to forego effective conventional medicine. This probably applies to most medicines, but is best-researched for immunisations. A recent article puts it clearly:

… negative attitudes towards vaccines reflect a broader and deeper set of beliefs about health and wellbeing… this alternative worldview is influenced by ontological confusions (e.g. regarding purity, natural energy), and knowledge based on personal lived experience and trusted peers, rather than the positivist epistemological framework. [This] view is supported by recent social-psychological research, including strong correlations of vaccine scepticism with adherence to complementary and alternative medicine, magical health beliefs, and conspiracy ideation. For certain well-educated and well-resourced individuals, opposition to vaccines represents an expression of personal intuition and agency, in achieving a positive and life-affirming approach to health and wellbeing. These core beliefs are not amenable to change – and especially resistant to communications from orthodox, authoritative sources.

The authors concluded suggesting that a better long-term strategy is to combine with other disciplines in order to address the root causes of vaccine scepticism. Vaccine scepticism is unlikely to thrive in a cultural context that trusts and values the scientific consensus.

If I understand them correctly, the authors believe it is necessary to change the societal attitude to science.

I am sure they are correct.

We live in a time when anyone’s opinion is deemed as valuable as the next person’s. Pseudo-experts who have their knowledge from a couple of google searches are being considered as trustworthy as the true experts who have the background, knowledge and experience to issue responsible advice. Science is viewed by many as just another way of knowing, or even as the new cult or religion that must be viewed with suspicion.

It is clear that these are deplorable developments. But how to stop them?

This is where it gets complex.

One is tempted to lay the blame at the door of our politicians. Why do we tolerate the fact that so many of them have not the slightest inkling about science?

But hold on, WE elected them!

Why?

Because large sections of the public are ignorant too.

So, one must start much earlier. We need better science education, and that has to begin in the first year of schooling! We need evening classes in critical thinking. We need adult science courses for politicians.

But this is not going to happen, because our politicians fail to see the importance of such measures (and, of course, they might feel that an uneducated public is easier to govern than an educated one).

How to break this vicious circle?

It is clear from these simple (and simplistic) reflections that a multifactorial approach is required. And it is clear that it ought to be a strategy that prevents standards in the most general terms from slipping ever lower. But how?

I wish I knew!!!

4 Responses to Vaccine scepticism, alternative medicine and slipping standards

  • Internet searches were the bane of my life when I was practising. Patients would come to my clinic with reams of paper leading to odd conversations of the sort:

    “What effect will this treatment have on my B-cells?”
    “Tell me, what do you understand by B-cells?”
    “I don’t really know.”
    “Well, if you would like to go and read up about B-cells, then I will be able to answer your question next time.”

    My Director of Studies at Cambridge always used to say that you couldn’t learn to play the violin by reading a book about it.

  • I can’t help but think that ‘critical thinking’, i.e. skepticism is a basic skill that should be taught from a very young age. The principles are not hard to understand. However, I do not think this is going to happen.

    A critical thinker is by almost by definition a non-religious thinker. While critical thinking does not demand or even assume the absence of deities, it also does nothing to increase the probability of their existence and clearly shows that the deities promoted by the holy books of most popular religions cannot possibly exist, or if they do, are actually worse characters than the worst vilains known in human history.

    No religious group will accept a teaching, however objective and dispassionate, that is all but guaranteed to lead to non-belief. As a result, critical thinking will not be taught and belief in even the most ridiculous forms of SCAM will remain possible and largely unchallenged.

    But hold on, WE elected them!

    Indeed. Nobody said it better than Minister for Administrative Affairs Jim Hacker: “Ministers are not experts. They are chosen expressly because they know nothing.”

    https://youtu.be/yUMAdL7w8N0?t=19m54s

    • Indeed. It’s why kids are the main recruitment target for religions – kids and the control of those with a womb.

      Be it planetary movements, non-demonstrable energy fields, deities or faith healing, such woo trains our critical faculties to accept that magic works sometimes. It’s utter folly, totally irresponsible to disable curious and vibrant young minds.

  • When I was working in the NHS, I used to have a copy on my desk of Karl Popper in the hope that a bit of scientific rigour would magically disseminate across the organisation. Predictably, it didn’t. Presumably because it was too dilute.

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