Seriously, can we just not waste time and money on stuff that isn’t possible?

This is fascinating. Steven Novella and David Gorski wrote an opinion article questioning whether it’s worthwhile to do clinical trials on medical modalities that don’t have any prior scientific plausibility, such as homeopathy and reiki. Basically, it’s an extension of their promotion of science-based medicine (which uses a Bayesian analysis of what we actually know throughout the sciences) versus evidence-based medicine (which just relies on the examination of the evidence in a specific experiment). And they’re getting flack about it – from people who thoroughly misunderstand their position.

Gorski and Novella are being criticized (by alt med proponents and some real scientists as well) for assuming that we know everything relevant about the human body that could allow us to determine beforehand which medical modalities are likely to work. In fact, they’re just saying that when a medical modality violates the laws of physics (like homeopathy does), we might not want to spend any of our limited time or money studying it, because it simply cannot possibly be valid.

Quoting their critics:

The point of science is to explore things that challenge our understanding and current paradigms of how things work. Theories need to be revised in light of available data, rather than be used to curtail the kinds of questions one can ask.

Which is great and all, except that you don’t base the space program on “alternative physics” that are dreamed up from nothingness. And you certainly don’t do this while simultaneously conducting the basic science experiments that you’re absolutely sure will prove your “alternative physics” right, if only you can tweak your data just the right way. Don’t pretend that CAM proponents are being scientific here; they’d do their business just as much even if the evidence was absolutely, 100% against them.

So we shouldn’t be treating people’s medical conditions with equally ephemeral, speculative, and baseless “alternative medicine” long before any basic science supports it. This is just common sense. It is not unscientific to say that, when available funding is limited, you’re against spending money on studies that assume the plausibility of a modality before that plausibility has even been demonstrated – and when its plausibility is seriously called into question.

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