Sunday, March 04, 2007

Quack Quack

Somehow I find Quackwatch to be one of the most annoying sites on the Web, and it turns up in far too many search results. (Of course, by linking to it, I'm just adding ever so slightly more to its Google PageRank.) Maybe it's because there are people who spend all their time quacking that everything is impossible. It eludes me how people think they are making sense when they try to debunk entire medical systems, like chinese medicine and ayurveda, that have been developed and used for thousands of years by billions of people. Especially with a page of nearly all inaccurate information. With those kinds of false claims, you could debunk anything.

And you'd be surprised how many people still say things are impossible even after other people are already doing those things. I've heard plenty, even in the small world of computers and the Internet, like... in 2000, "online ticketing will never happen" (I think it had already been in existence in some form for several years)... and "Google will never make money"....

It just occurred to me how scary it is that some people don't even have enough imagination to imagine things that exist in front of their eyes!

Why are pharmaceutical drugs believable, and herbal medicine not? Penicillin was derived from mold, morphine from opium, caffeine comes from tea, coffee, and other herb-ish substances, etc. Marijuana is used for pain. Where do people imagine the drug discoveries come from originally? The medical community does seem to recognize that herbs can cause problems when taken with pharmaceutical drugs, and doctors regularly ask if you're taking any herbs. Duh, so what does that mean... about herbal activity...? Does this idea of using chemistry and computers to study the chemical compounds in herbs help? Why should that make a difference whether it's believable that herbs work? The herbs don't change from not working to working after such scientific studies.

A lot of the time, it isn't even known how pharmaceutical drugs work anyway, and many uses are discovered by accident. Like the whole class of selective serotinin reuptake inhibitor anti-depressant drugs, apparently it's just a theory that what they do is inhibit serotonin reuptake. Now some people think they actually work by growing new brain cells. And apparently, the first anti-depressant drug discovered was actually an antibiotic being used to treat tuberculosis.

The problem seems to be that if people don't have the means to figure out how something could be working, to some people it's unacceptable and therefore isn't real, doesn't exist. Well, it's going to be a while before we can dissect every single molecule in the human body and follow all their actions in a lab. Science requires abstract thinking and imagination as much as logic and proof. Someday after we surpass Star Trek levels of technology, we'll be able to describe all of the quadrillion molecular activities that make up "qi" flowing through the body, "meridians", and "blockages"... or balancing vata, pitta, and kapha.... These are actually describing biological systems much more complex than the current science and technology can break down. Maybe it's a bigger number than quadrillion, how about googol?

This reminds me of a time when a friend told me how she remarked how wondrous and beautiful the stars they were looking at were, and her pre-med boyfriend at the time replied that they're just some gaseous material. Hrm, ok, well, the artist does not deny that stars are made up of gas, but apparently many "scientists" don't care to see that they can be anything more than that.

Copernicus was a quack. Anybody who ever made a discovery, invented anything, or produced new knowledge was pretty much a quack. The biggest quacks are those who call everything quacks.


TSM said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

You want to know what's funny? I've been LURKING at your for quite some time now! Really!

I'll have to de-lurk and post comments for you.

OH and I have my first rheumy appointment today. Yay! I'll keep you posted.

Tina said...

"The problem seems to be that if people don't have the means to figure out how something could be working, to some people it's unacceptable and therefore isn't real, doesn't exist."

That actually also strikes me as similar to how I've found some people respond to Christianity (or any religion in general). Now, I'm not saying that I think a personal claim is enough reason to believe something *is* real - but I also don't think that not being able to see/understand every detail necessarily means that something *isn't* real.

(Sorry for all the negatives in that sentence. :-P Did it make sense?)

dancing dragon said...

tsm - Thanks for delurking! I haven't been very good lately at replying to comments, but I do read and appreciate all of them.

tina - That's interesting that you had that reaction. I have been thinking something similar too, how much people are able to believe anything... people, science, or religion... if they can't see the proof, are similar processes. I actually vaguely wrote about it in this earlier post. Thinking that me talking to some doctors is kind of like when people in college tried to talk to me about Christianity. :)

ishi said...

Only acknowledging that which is proven in the western scientific sense seems a bit silly when there is so much that so obviously works, even if it's not understood exactly why. But on the other hand, for every inventor or discoverer, for every historical Copernicus, there have been billions of "quacks" as the website would term it. Sorting through anecdotal evidence or first-person accounts to distinguish the urban legends or non-causal explanations from repeatable, helpful advice takes some doing.
So while I think it's silly to deny things just because they're not proven, accepting things as true when they're unproven seems just as silly. I'd say that aggregate experiences of wholesale populations over the course of millenia should perhaps count for more, but... Maybe skepticism is just a coping mechanism for the want of more information.