Medical Skepticism: Today’s Scientific Cultural Disease
Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
Progressive Radio Network, August 5, 2019
Modern day Skepticism is one of those annoying contagions that won’t go away. It is rather like a persistent Candida yeast infection. It is painful to common sense. Worse, Skepticism flares up when you least expect it. On the internet, primarily on Wikipedia, its ideology and propaganda go largely unnoticed, camouflaged by sharp criticism serving as a non-appointed jury rather than an objective voice of logic. Therefore, we have no reservations in stating that the extreme scientific reductionism represented by Skepticism, especially biological and medical skepticism, is a serious threat to medical innovation, scientific discovery and in the long term public health. Although Skepticism has been a worldview dating back to the nineteenth century, today’s Skepticism is far more radicalized. Because Skeptics believe they represent the pinnacle of scientific materialism, many of the movement’s celebrity gurus feel they are the entitled saviors to redeem modern civilization from thousands of years of past history when human societies utilized medicinal plants and ancient mind-body practices to treat illnesses and the role of religion, spiritual practices, faith and belief to promote a sense of well being and psychological wholeness. As with so much of our dysfunctional postmodern world, Skepticism is therefore a natural outgrowth of white-dominant, patriarchal entitlement that continues to plague postmodern society. It is another perversion of identity politics however disguised under the banner of science.
Within the larger Skeptic movement is a faction that goes under the name of Science Based Medicine (SBM). For the past 25 years, modern medicine has been steered by what is commonly known as Evidence Based Medicine (EBM), a widely accepted theory that sound clinical decision making for treating diseases should rely upon reliable evidence from randomized clinical trials and high quality published papers and meta-analyses.
In principle, Science Based Medicine largely supports Evidence Based Medicine. And to their credit, SBM’s foremost spokespersons Steven Novella and David Gorski opening criticize EBM’s shortcomings, including the now epidemic of erroneous research being published in medical journals, the increasing trends in professional bias in order to reach positive results, and journals’ financial incentives to publish junk studies. However, considering EBM’s flaws and failures, SBM perceives itself as the next great leap for modern medicine in order to establish scientific consensus on medical discovery and therapeutic practices by including the plausibility principle. Repeatedly, without any sound understanding for why a certain alternative health therapy either succeeds or fails, Skeptics invoke plausibility as the only necessary criteria to discard outright non-conventional practices and therefore to advocate against funding research to investigate any promises they may hold.
Yet relying upon the plausibility argument is simply a lazy-person’s way to lie to oneself. And Skeptics are easily outraged whenever accused of entertaining subjective biases that taint their evaluation of medical therapies outside their cherishing-held belief system. Whenever Skeptics are confronted with a scientific or medical narrative that is contrary to their own subjective biases, and in the absence of a scientifically valid argument based upon strong evidence to support Skepticism’s counter-narrative, the Skeptic mind simply fills in the blank with the “plausibility” argument. Plausibility thereby is conflated with reality. In one of his many screeds against homeopathy, Gorski undertakes his typical long-winded attempt to discredit the evidence that defines “plausibility bias,” also known as “belief bias.” It is not surprising therefore that SBM’s most militant voices convey a brutally amateurish understanding of human psychology.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Yale reported in their paper “The Curse of Knowledge in Reasoning About False Beliefs” that there can be a “curse of knowledge bias” that contributes to false beliefs used by young children. That is, the researchers report, “adults’ own knowledge of an event’s outcome can compromise their ability to reason about another person’s beliefs about that event. The curse of false beliefs as contingent upon the plausibility argument goes to the heart of the “science wars” between Skeptical materialist views of medical science and advocates of non-conventional medical practices, including nutrition, naturopathy, Chinese and Ayurveda medicine, etc., whose world view is less narrowly linear and more akin to modern systems theory and the physics of cause and effect. What some psychologists call the “plausibility fallacy” is nothing other than being convinced about an irrational assumption that a plausible explanation is final proof. Aside from exaggerating its belief in the power and value of science, Skepticism in the biological sciences can more accurately be described as nihilistic skepticism, a trenchant to assert impossibility a priori and to convert reasonable doubts into unreasonable incredulity. When understood in this manner, SBM can be viewed as a kind of skeptical medical imperialism, an excess of science that muddles its own subjective and biased values with being scientifically factual. Do not schizophrenics also apply their twisted reasoning and logic in order to convince themselves about the truth in their hallucinations?
From the standpoint of quantum physics, perhaps the gold standard of the modern hard sciences, implausibility is never a certainty, and not a yardstick to banish and ignore something that might only have a slight possibility of being true. In physics, it is always worth pursuing further. But rules of proof in Skepticism do not follow sound scientific inquiry. It is not surprising therefore to find that most militant skeptics, aside from Cal Tech astrophysicist Sean Carroll, hold professions in the life sciences. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist; Sam Harris is a neuroscientist; Jerry Coyne and PZ Meyer are biologists; Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker are cognitive scientists and philosophers; Paul Offit, Ben Goldacre, Stephen Barrett and most of the active members of the SBM cult are practicing medical physicians.
We can review a case of applying the Skeptics own “plausibility” criteria to a medical legal decision that they have fervently disapproved of. It is an excellent example of how Skeptics’ irrational beliefs in fact trump rational plausibility.
Skeptics and pro-vaccine advocates alike were appalled at the US Court of Federal Claims’ August 2007 decision to award damages for vaccine-induced autism to the family of Hannah Poling, a 19 month old toddler who received five vaccines during a single pediatrician visit. Prior to the case, the Court’s rulings under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program relied solely on the “preponderance of evidence” (EBM’s criteria) for assessing causation for vaccine-injuries. In other words, subjective testimonies, for example by the parents of vaccine-injured children, were excluded from the evidence. However, the Court changed its rules to include “plausibility,” and this is what led to the Court’s conclusion that it is biologically “plausible” that vaccines and their toxic ingredients can trigger adverse conditions leading to autism. This was the Court’s ruling regarding Hannah Poling.