Monday, November 05, 2007

Something I Really Hate About Quackery

It's unethical human experimentation. That's what it typically boils down to, especially when "try it yourself, anecdotally" is favored over research for the informed half of informed consent.

Ethical human experimentation involves willing, informed people. The only information I can think to hold back would be whether they're in the control or treatment group. People undergoing experiments should be aware of possible side effects. This information should have come from what we know of chemistry, biology, and animal experimentation.

I'm sure someone will come along and provide a little more detail on the different, necessary phases of trial.

Alties, on the other hand, don't bother with that sort of stuff. They get an idea in their head about what causes a disease, generally don't test it or they rely on exaggerations of actual studies that make modest claims. From that point, they'll typically move on to coming up with a treatment for the alleged cause without testing for it. I've seen it come up a lot with anti-vaxxers going over the 'autism is caused by thimerosal transforming into an unknown mercury compound' line, followed by chelation routines where they never bother testing for the chemicals they're chelating for. I doubt quacks would perform a test that'd negate the excuse for potentially expensive routines.

When an altie tells you to try something before concluding whether or not it works, they're usually end up being tight-lipped about further details. They also ignore the necessary details in determining causation. A lot of problems clear up, improve, or at least fluctuate on their own, regardless of treatment. That's why double-blind control studies are so vital: They let you see the difference between inaction and the treatment. Alties would rather we believe a living, organic body is no more complicated than a toaster, therefore we shouldn't worry about details like that. On/Off switches and light/medium/dark dials are obvious, therefore, they can fiddle around with whoever without worrying about potential nastiness. If things go badly, they can just refuse to publish your testimonial and cherrypick some good ones. It's not like they have to keep records like medical scientists do.


Bing said...

You have a personal connection with autism (a family member?). I heard this on the radio this morning and they seem to be doing some really interesting research into mirror neurons and autism. They were only able to offer anecdotal evidence at this stage, but they were talking about using biofeedback to control computer games, thereby "exercising" the neurons, and another way of increasing affect, showing children their own hands moving on a screen (a baby step toward sociability). Actual science being done, with testable hypotheses and everything!


Bronze Dog said...

No, nothing personal with autism.

Closest was that phase where my geekiness got my mother worrying I had everything from dyslexia to autism. You know how mothers worry.

Don said...

My mother has just decided that I and all my friends are aliens.

Though I'm sure autism was not ruled out at some point in the distant past.

Dikkii said...

In comments to a blog post that I wrote recently, I put this tendency down to laziness.

I probably should add hubris to this as well. Not to mention outright dishonesty in the case of homeopathy.

What makes me mad, is when opportunism rears its ugly head and if the research is finally done (never, of course, by woo merchants themselves), if there is any effect at all, woo merchants (it was herbalists in my comments) have the temerity to say "I told you so!"

Hey, this is kinda like a good post that Akusai stuck up recently. Must be something in the water.

Mongrel said...

I'm sure someone will come along and provide a little more detail on the different, necessary phases of trial.

You could always check the aptly named, here is probably a good place to start