It started innocently enough. A comment on Facebook from a patient about how homeopathy was helping them recover and the typical knee jerk reaction from the naive sceptic “Homeopathy doesn’t work”. The quick retort of “My doctor recommends it!” was quickly followed with “but none of the studies show homeopathy works and it is a waste of money.” The entire discussion quickly degraded into “Yes but my doctor has over 30 years of experience in this field and until you can show you have more medical experience for this I will follow my doctor’s recommendation!”
It’s odd that the general public highly respects medical practitioners, especially their personal physicians, but yet there is so much suspicion of science. The general public does not see the medical profession as being the result of science but see them as trusted elders.
Our doctors are not necessarily scientists or critical thinkers. To become a doctor, the average doctor starts with an undergrad degree with some science chiefly biology and physics followed by years of learning how to diagnose patients and treat. In other words, our average doctor is a glorified mechanic for the human body. One only has to look at Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon presidential candidate who is also a young earth creationist (YEC). Most of us would not trust a carpenter to design a house, but we will follow our doctor’s recommendations without question. (I’ll hasten to add that I know there are critical thinking sceptical thinkers in the medical profession since I follow several of them on twitter and Facebook.)
Timothy Caulfield talks about what he calls the “Flat earth-like beliefs”, FEaBel for short.
“But do Canadian universities and health care systems dismiss the practice in the way Neal deGrasse Tyson dismissed flat-earth beliefs? Nope. They offer classes, demonstrations and space for practitioners.” (“Flat earth-like beliefs”)
So what can we do? Any sceptic who trots out the line “Argument from Authority” has a major battle to fight. Not only do the general public lack critical thinking skills, the public respects their medical doctors and any advice they give health wise. We need support from inside the medical profession itself to fight the growing influence of junk science and it’s obvious we aren’t getting this support.
Dr. Brian Goldman, host of the CBC “White Coat Black Art” talks about naturopathy and medicine on one of his episodes Naturopathy what’s the harm?
“At Brampton Civic Hospital, you’ll find the only naturopathic clinic that’s inside the sliding glass doors of a major Canadian hospital.” But he side steps directly calling it bunk. “Dr. Brian Goldman, host of White Coat Black Art says that naturopathy is personal choice people are free to make, but “the choice should be an informed one – that’s they way you avoid possible harm. And that means naturopathic doctors who want respectability with the public and integration with physicians and hospitals need to earn it by embracing scientific proof of what they do.””
How are we as sceptics and educators supposed to help people become informed to understand the science when the medical profession out rank us in the eyes of the general public and refuse to help educate people so “the choice is an informed one?”
To be honest, I am not hopeful at all.
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Even worse than doctors may be engineers, my own people. Frankly engineers are not taught to suss out pseudo-scientific nonsense, and thus are often easily suckered by it. They are, if I may say, brilliant about knowing a little bit about a lot of things, but a little bit of knowledge is often more dangerous than no knowledge at all. And of course, their authority often suffices when actual scientists – physicists, chemists, biologists – cannot be found to peddle some crap. Whenever you see pseudo-scientific bullshit being pushed, you can usually find an engineer involved.
This is a very Canadian phenomena. I keep saying these things to my own adult children. For the past winter I’ve been reading Dorothy Murdock’s book about Moses. This is an encyclopedic book bringing together all the textural and archeological scholarship about this Red Sea pedestrian. After a lot of random reading through her work a picture of how the writing of the Biblical story took place emerges.
If our engineers and surgeons had been acquainted with this type of scholarship in their public school days they would have turned out to be much different adults. Our country is filled with Catholics who know next to nothing about the history and creation of Catholicism. The same holds true for all those followers of some American invented, religious practice that plays such a central roll in their deluded thought worlds.