“Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.”
The above quote is from a recent article for the New Yorker by Michael Specter about Dr. Oz, the most currently popular TV doctor. Specter described this sentiment as “chilling.” To me it sounds like a manifesto – a postmodernist attack on the scientific basic of modern medicine.
In my experience, this sentiment is often at the core of belief in so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In order to seem respectable and infiltrate the institutions of medical academia, proponents of CAM will say that their treatments are evidence-based and that they are scientific. They have a serious problem, however – their treatments are not evidence-based and are often grossly unscientific. Whenever someone bothers to look at their evidence and examine their science, therefore, they start to backtrack, eventually arriving at their true position, a postmodernist dismissal of science resembling Oz’s statement above. I have heard a hundred versions of the Oz manifesto from CAM supporters.
As with the postmodernist critique of science itself, there is a kernel of truth to the notion that science has its limits (which makes the sentiment more insidious). Scientists are humans, they have their biases and flaws, scientific studies are imperfect and often conflict, and there are often multiple opinions on specific clinical practices. Where postmodernists fall off the cliff, however, is in concluding from this that science has no legitimacy, that it is entirely a culturally-determined narrative with no special relationship to external reality.
This view, while flirted with by philosophers of science, has been rejected because it neglects the fact that science uses a valid method of justification. The process may be messy, but over time scientific evidence can objectively resolve differences of opinion. Experts can eventually agree on what works and what doesn’t, and from that a standard of care emerges. High quality evidence can become so overwhelming that there is no room left for personal opinion.
Short of a solid consensus, science-based practitioners can follow a hierarchy of evidence – we can base our practices on the best evidence currently available. CAM practitioners also fail to follow such a hierarchy of evidence.
MORE . . .
Recommended Reading: Top Ten Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine – Harriet Hall,M.D. (PDF)
- Are You Ready For the Oz Manifesto (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Why Do People turn to Alternative Medicine? (illuminutti.com)
- The Great and Powerful Oz versus science and research ethics (illuminutti.com)
- Dr. Oz’s miracle diet is malarkey (denverpost.com)
- Last Week In Science-Based Medicine (randi.org)
- Dr. Oz’s journey to the Dark Side is now more than complete: It’s homeopathy time! [Respectful Insolence] (scienceblogs.com)
- The Great and Powerful (Dr.) Oz, dissected in The New Yorker [Respectful Insolence] (scienceblogs.com)
- Dr. Oz’s Miraculous Medical Advice (slate.com)