Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Harriet Hall on toothfairy science

Ever since the most recent news (i.e., that it is a nonstarter) about acupuncture appeared in the journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain, aptly titled, PAIN, protest has erupted in the land of the true believers, in Facebook land, for sure, likely other places as well.

Here is a quick descriptive list of the publications creating the uproar:

1.  Ernst E, Lee MS, Choi TY; Acupuncture: Does it alleviate pain and are there serious risks? A review of reviews. Pain. 2011 Apr;152(4):755-64.

2. Hall H; Acupuncture's claims punctured: Not proven effective for pain, not harmless. Pain. 2011 Apr;152(4):711-2. Reproduced in full in Acupuncture Revisited, Mar 29 Science-Based Medicine blogpost.

3. Ingraham P; The last word on acupuncture? If only! March 29/11 

On the Facebook discussion a Tcm ("traditional chinese medicine") poster left a link to a rebuttal article:

4. "A response to "Acupuncture: Does it alleviate pain and are there serious risks? A review of reviews" by E. Ernst, Myeong Soo Lee and Tae-Young Choi, PAIN®, Volume 152, Issue 4 (April 2011)". The authors are not listed. The Journal of Chinese Medicine appears to be an online publication, and the rebuttal appears in a special section called "Drum Tower", which is described as "Informed news & opinion on the latest hot topics in Chinese medicine" 

What are they trying to drum up?

Anyway, much flapping, feathers and fur flying. 

My final link is to an entry about Harriet Hall's remarkable deconstruction of nonsense with the concept she originated, namely "Tooth Fairy Science". If ONLY people would just stop, and breath, and read this, and take it in, a little bit at a time, until they get it, they would see what their own fuss is about and would stop being so defensive. Everyone would be able to get ourselves onto the same page.

The Tooth Fairy Science entry makes several points (see 1, 2) and highlights several foibles common to humans, being, and thinking, and getting through life (see 3, 4, 5). 

1. Prior plausibility: "doing research on a phenomenon before establishing that the phenomenon exists."

"Fairy Tale science uses research data to explain things that haven't been proven to have actually happened. Fairy Tale scientists mistakenly think that if they have collected data that is consistent with their hypothesis, then they have collected data that confirms their hypothesis."

"You could measure how much money the Tooth Fairy leaves under the pillow, whether she leaves more cash for the first or last tooth, whether the payoff is greater if you leave the tooth in a plastic baggie versus wrapped in Kleenex. You can get all kinds of good data that is reproducible and statistically significant. Yes, you have learned something. But you haven’t learned what you think you’ve learned, because you haven’t bothered to establish whether the Tooth Fairy really exists."
2. Occam's Razor: "there may be a simpler, more plausible explanation for your data." 
"(Most readers will not find it arduous to devise an explanation for those gifts that have replaced teeth that were placed under a pillow.)"
3. Circular reasoning: the case of Ian Stevenson: "he used his data to support a belief in the reality of reincarnation and he used reincarnation to explain his data."
"a psychiatrist and head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, spent years collecting stories from people who claimed to be reincarnated. His data is extensive and he used it to make a case for present-life calamities in terms of past-life experiences. Stevenson exemplifies the circular reasoning of many Fairy Tale scientists: he used his data to support a belief in the reality of reincarnation and he used reincarnation to explain his data."
 4. Pareidolia: John Mack and UFOs
"Whatever else Mack believed about his abductees, he saw their experiences as spiritual and as fitting well with his own beliefs regarding spiritual transformation and larger environmental issues."
5. Alt Med:
"if the data shows that the CAM therapy doesn't work any better than a placebo, the CAM folks claim that proves their medicine is effective!"

No comments: