Modern Skepticism: An Authentic Pseudoscience of Irrational Deception
Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
Progressive Radio Network, December 10, 2019
Many of us working in healthcare professions believe that medical science, in theory, is at a transformative moment. Hundreds of thousands of scientists and physicians worldwide are conducting basic and applied research into the mechanisms for altering the genomic blueprint to help prevent genetically vulnerable illnesses. This is applicable for helping repair damaged eyes, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, muscles. etc. These researchers are frequently funded by universities and private industries amounting to billions of dollars. Having been invited to present my own anti-aging data at many international conferences, I have discovered that these scientists speak with an enthusiasm towards the progress being made to eventually reverse much of the physical and mental damage caused by our lifestyle, diet, attitude and behaviors. At a Chicago anti-aging conference where I gave a keynote presentation on research the late neurologist and former Mt Sinai physician Dr. Martin Feldman and I conducted to naturally improve mental wellness and reduce problematic symptoms in menopausal women, there were thousands of board certified doctors and scientists in attendance, many from our most prestigious institutions. Following our presentation, they were eager to learn about the non-drug protocols we employed in our clinical trials.
Every physician and healer is not starting their journey in anti-aging and alternative medicine from the same launching point. That is why these conferences are so important. Organizations such as the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) are particularly open and accepting of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and the new discoveries emerging from epigenetic research. According to A4M’s co-founders Drs. Robert Goldman and Ron Klatz, their organization has approximately 26,000 active members who have published countless articles in peer-reviewed publications. These academicians and physicians, are not quacks, but represent many of our leading medical institutions such as Harvard, Chicago and Yale. Worldwide its membership represents 120 countries and hosts dozens of international anti-aging conferences annually. Moreover, the A4M has trained upwards to 150,000 physicians through their anti-aging certification programs, now recognized by the American Medical Association. Yet rarely do we ever hear about these advances and their leading institutions in the mainstream media. On the other hand, Wikipedia’s entry for A4M is full of ridicule and cherry picked references to discredit its value and successes. Because many physicians and researchers in the field of anti-aging medicine advocate natural hormone therapies, dietary regimens, supplemental therapies, exercise and lifestyle changes, Wikipedia editors make efforts to characterize the organization as a promoter of pseudo-science and quackery. Granted, the threats this field poses to the trillion dollar drug industry are very real. It is a move away from our now dominant drug-based paradigm. Nevertheless, this is the future of medicine and healthcare we are moving towards. Unfortunately there are very powerful, reactionary and regressive forces who believe it is their mission to halt scientific progress and maintain the status quo of Big Pharma’s reign over our healthcare system. Without the science on their side, these radicalized factions, as we shall see, have resorted to malicious attacks, defamation, and acts of shaming alternative health practitioners and researchers as enemies of the public, “lunatic charlatans” and quacks. And this is all permissible on Wikipedia because the evidence seems clear that the encyclopedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales espouses this faction’s discriminatory philosophy.
Today, more than ever, people are confused about what is true or false for issues that have an immediate impact upon their lives, health and well-being. Global warming. Is it a hoax or will there be apocalyptic events during our lifetimes? Is the economy booming and job growth rising as the White House and the mainstream media would like us to believe, or are we only being given a thin slice of the actual picture? For health and medical matters, the noise is even louder. Is a plant-based diet optimal for my health, or can I continue to subsist on burgers and junk food? Do I need supplements to maximize my health or I am throwing money away? Are most diseases really caused by genetic anomalies? Is this treatment my physician prescribes the best for my condition, or is there a safer and more effective alternative? These are legitimate questions. What we do not know is who is being truthful. To find answers, patients increasingly turn to the internet. Wikipedia, for example, has become the leading source to find answers for medical questions. But is this information reliable?
Unfortunately, on health matters, we place too much unwarranted trust in sites such as the CDC, WebMD and Wikipedia. The average person, including most professionals, accept what they read on face value and fail to undertake any deeper investigation into the legitimacy of the claims found therein. Our own investigations during the past two years have shown that Wikipedia’s information for many medical and health topics, especially regarding non-conventional medical or Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), is consistently misleading .
Throughout history there have been reactionary movements and groups of individuals who have attempted to impose their personal ideologies, as an act of self-righteous defiance, upon the public in order to shape public opinion. In recent times we have seen this scenario being played out by government war-hawks and neo-cons eager to topple Middle Eastern governments, the agro-chemical industry and corporate giants such as Monsanto to usurp hegemonic control over our food supply, and the Wall Street elite making every effort to take advantage of federal loopholes for personal gain at citizens’ expense. Another area is the full-spectrum dominance — a complete control over public discourse and legislative policy — by the private pharmaceutical complex, including our bloated for-profit insurance industry, to rule over the diagnosis and treatment of disease. In short, today, our health is largely at the mercy of whatever the pharmaceutical industry offers and dictates. To step outside this regime, and to act upon the freedom of health choice, therefore has to be done on one’s own efforts and costs.
Yet there are other specters behind pharmaceutical interests who with or without intention make efforts to undermine the pharmaceutical paradigm’s competition. Today, public health is being seriously threatened by an international movement, however for the most part being orchestrated in the US, that purports to be non-partisan, independent and based solely on evidence based science. It has also initiated a successful propaganda agenda that has managed to keep the larger public completely unaware.This movement known as Skepticism has managed to grow and infiltrate university departments, Silicon Valley firms, the internet — notably the open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia — the popular TED talks, and major publications, news sources and the media without any honest or serious scrutiny nor investigation into its underlying premises and motives. Under its bombast of claims to serve consumer protection, Skepticism’s war against CAM to the contrary is premised on serious fallacious arguments, irrational beliefs and a systemic sanctimonious hubris that upon closer examination reveals it is perhaps one of the greatest threats to the advancement of science and the democratic dignity of human beings.
There is nothing particularly new in what Skepticism exemplifies. We can look back at history to find other extremist attempts by a medical elite to achieve institutional prominence and to extinguish its competition.
In 1910, the Flexner Report was published. The report was commissioned by the newly founded American Medical Association and funded by elite industrialists at the time such as Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefeller Foundation. Its mission was to advance the emerging drug-based medical model in medical school curricula and to eradicate its competitors, including homeopathy, naturopathy, eclectic therapy, physical therapy, osteopathy and Chiropractic. Before the Report’s release, medical schools, with very few exceptions, offered most of these non-drug based natural therapies alongside manufactured medications. The consequence was that over 80 percent of medical schools teaching alternative therapies were shut down. For the Carnegies, Rockefellers and other industrial elite, a drug-based medical system promised enormous investment opportunities in the growing corporate drug industry to increase profits that natural medical therapies could not provide.
Abraham Flexner, the Report’s author and primary ringleader, may be the original radicalized Skeptic and the forefather of modern Skepticism’s adversity against all non-conventional medical therapies practiced today. Similar to Skeptic editors on Wikipedia, Flexner called the practitioners of these disciplines — which he characterized as “medical sects” — “charlatans” and “quacks.” Modern Skeptics are the de facto inheritors of Flexner’s reactionary medical extremism.
One could argue that the Flexner report was an attempt to establish a “gold standard” along the scientific lines at that time in order to create a dominant medical paradigm for the new 20th century. However, 110 years later, such a gold standard has never been met. Commenting on the long term results of Flexner’s experiment, Yale Medical School professor Thomas Duffy remarked:
“There was maldevelopment in the structure of medical education in America in the aftermath of the Flexner Report. The profession’s infatuation with the hyper-rational world of German medicine created an excellence in science that was not balanced by a comparable excellence in clinical caring. Flexner’s corpus was all nerves without the life blood of caring.”
It is in this critical omission where Flexner’s, and now Skepticism’s, socio-economic experiment fails. On the other hand, clinical caring and customized medical attention is an area in which alternative medical remedies excel. According to Duke University’s definition of Integrative Medicine, it is
“an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. Employing a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances, it uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines [including natural, non-drug interventions alongside allopathic practice] to heal illness and disease and help people regain and maintain optimum health.”
Skepticism categorically denies the legitimacy of Duke University’s claim, and this is further reinforced on Wikipedia’s pages for alternative medical therapies. In fact, Skepticism and Wikipedia are today’s regressive and scientifically-arrested response to the new directions taking hold in the evolution of accepted medical theory, albeit still in its early stage. Skeptics are not shy to voice their disdain for federal health agencies and medical schools’ efforts to support effective, non-toxic and safe natural therapies into the mainstream, including naturopathy, dietetic and nutritional therapies, acupuncture, a variety of massage and mind-body therapies, stress reduction techniques (e.g., meditation, yoga, tai chi) and other ancient practices predating Flexner’s purge.
Nor would Skeptics support a recent World Health Organization report that confirmed Traditional and natural alternative medical systems as “an important and often underestimated health resource with many applications, especially in the prevention and management of lifestyle-related chronic diseases.” In addition, the WHO Director General stated that these non-conventional traditional medical practices are essential for sustaining healthcare and are a “human right.”
Now that modern medical error has risen to the third leading cause of premature deaths in the US, conventional medical protocols taught in medical schools across the nation can be judged as a dismal failure. In addition, the public is quickly losing confidence in the medical profession. Last year, a New York Times piece reported that only 34 percent of the public trust medical doctors and 25 percent trust our current healthcare system; this is an enormous decrease compared to 75 percent in 1966. As for public trust in our federal health agencies, it stands at a miserable 14 percent. For that very reason, the alternative medical systems the Flexner rules intended to stamp out are regaining their rightful place in healthcare and now being reincorporated into medical school curricula, hospitals and physician clinics because of their much lower risk. The remainder of the New York Times article is utter nonsense and comes to the defense of the pharmaceutical industry to account for this growing lack of trust. In the Time’s opinion, it is those patients who do not follow the drug regimens and procedures religiously that are to blame. If they were to continue to follow their physicians’ advice, they would restore their trust. Well we must give it to the Times for its ingenuity to consistently conjure foolish logic!
The decline in the public’s trust of conventional medicine begs a serious question. May this be an indication that more Americans are waking up to the fact that many of the medical establishment’s therapeutic promises and protocols are scientifically baseless and not dependable? Are the real quacks perhaps those graduating from our medical schools after having been unknowingly fully indoctrinated by a drug-dominant paradigm? It is no secret that almost every American medical school has been hijacked to a greater or lesser degree by corporate pharmaceutical interests. More than ever before medical institutions depend economically on funding from our compromised federal agencies and private industry. It is not uncommon to find pharmaceutical officers and drug sales representatives invited to lecture or even teach courses. Conventional medical education has become a singular revolving door with drug companies that have deep financial interests for commanding power over every day clinical practice.
As public trust continues to diminish, Skepticism has become the advance guard, the shock troops, to preserve the delusional and aberrant purity in a drug- and surgical-based medical paradigm that Flexner, Carnegie and Rockefeller hoped would become the final barometer for a national healthcare system. While purporting to be rational, Skepticism at the same time is incapable of ascertaining other forms of scientific value as well as non-scientific truths, such as ethical and moral, metaphysical and aesthetic truths. Although the scientific method is completely incapable of either confirming or disproving these other truths, they nevertheless also follow a certain reason and logic every bit as rigorous as evidence-based science.
Although modern Skepticism can be said to have found its place as a powerful voice in the scientific community during the nineteenth century, it has become more radicalized and militant during the past several decades. This radicalization has increased because Skeptics largely go unchallenged by the scientific profession and media. Rarely do we find any leading publication taking Skeptic claims to task. Since Skeptics believe they represent the pinnacle of rationalism and the scientific method, many of the movement’s celebrity leaders and principal organizations, Quackwatch and the Center for Inquiry, they have taken on the mission to redeem modern civilization from thousands of years of religious history, superstition and earlier traditional medical practices that rely upon botanical plants or that incorporate a more mind-body systems-theory philosophy for understanding the etiology and progression of diseases and illness.
The great sociologist Ivan Illich prophesized in his book Medical Nemesis, “the medical establishment has become a major threat to health.” Skeptics refuse to acknowledge or even perceive the facts behind this claim and its long term consequences while America’s infant mortality rate increases as the average life span declines. This is a system that relies more upon a barrage of manipulated science, biased and invalid trial results in medical journals, conflicts of interest, armies of Big Pharma lobbyists and false propaganda incubated within the federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services instead of honest, independent facts that best serve public welfare rather than the drug industry’s coffers. Furthermore the corporate media has also assumed a role in fueling this culture of medical deception in order to protect one of its major revenue bases: Big Pharma. The US and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that permit drug advertisements on television.
Skeptics base their aggression against alternative medicine with the false argument that positive clinical trial results are not reproducible. Consequently, there is “plausibility” to confirm that such therapies are ineffective and there is no rationale for continuing to pursue them, let alone fund further research. They also consistently argue that their opinions are settled facts based on scientific consensus. But the real facts show otherwise, notably in the trends noted above that alternative and natural practices are being increasingly accepted by conventional medical institutions. In the largest national survey of its kind, researchers from UCLA and the University of California, San Diego, measured medical students’ attitudes and beliefs about CAM. The survey found that 84 percent of medical students believe that conventional medicine would benefit from natural integrative and complementary beliefs, ideas and treatment modalities. Seventy-seven percent felt conventional physicians who learned other complementary medical disciplines would benefit their patients. However, in the opinion of Skeptics, these students are delusional and victims of magical thinking.
Careful readings of Skeptic diatribes, essays and opinion pieces may raise serious doubts about their authors’ capacity for critical thinking skills. During a talk at a National Capital Area Skeptics’ gathering, when asked by an audience member why he defends genetically modified foods, David Gorski made the disingenuous reply that “all foods are genetically modified” — a likely misleading reference to a belief in the now discredited “substantial equivalence” hypothesis coined by the agro-chemical industry in 1993 to argue that genetically engineered crops are no different than their natural counterpart. The FDA adopted this expression to make the assumption that since GMOs are essentially genetically the same as their conventional originals, there are no additional human health and safety concerns for consumption. It was also a strategy for the FDA not to require data to review GMO’s safety on human health. Of course, during the past two decades, independent researchers, such as Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini at France’s University of Caens, continue to discover clear differences in nutrient ratios, yields and serious disease risks between GMOs and their organic counterparts. Gradually, the verdict regarding the myth of GMO safety is being shown to have been based upon pseudoscientific arguments.
In recent years, we finding detractors from within the Skeptic movement coming forth to criticize institutionalized Skepticism’s shortcomings. For example, PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, has held a reputation for being one of the more belligerent celebrities in the Skeptic movement. Myers along with Skeptic Jerry Coyne and astrophysicist Sean Carroll were largely responsible for the censoring of biologist Rupert Sheldrake and alternative historian Graham Hancock from the TED talks. However even the Skeptic movement has become too much for Myers. In his public statement on Free Thought Blogs to announce his resignation from the movement, he wrote, “it is clear that ‘scientific skepticism’ is simply a crippled buggered version of science with special exemptions to set certain subjects outside the bounds of its purview.”
“Skepticism has no sacred cows, “ writes Myers, “I was also annoyed by the skeptic movement’s appropriation of the term “scientific” all over the place… except that it’s a “science” that doesn’t make use of accumulated prior knowledge, that abandons the concept of the null hypothesis [the assumption that there is no relationship between variables in a population selected for statistical data collection], and that so narrowly defines what it will accept as evidence that it actively excludes huge domains of knowledge. It’s toothless science that fetishizes “consumer protection” over understanding.”
Massimo Pigliucci, an evolutionary biologist and philosopher now teaching at City College of New York, is a former prominent Skeptic and columnist for the Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Pigliucci too has withdrawn from the “skeptic and atheist movements (SAM)”. He notes that the movement “has become a somewhat inhospitable environment for philosophical dialogue.” It “worships celebrities who are often intellectual dilettantes, or at the very least have a tendency to talk about things of which they manifestly know very little.” He also accuses the movement as being saturated with “groupthink” and narcissistic regard for its own intellectual stubbornness “that is trumped only by religious fundamentalists.” Finally, Pigliucci identifies a fundamental problem that we too have encountered in Skeptic websites, blogs and notably Wikipedia, which is an atmosphere of “public shaming and other vicious social networking practices any time someone says something that doesn’t fit [their] own opinions all the while of course claiming to protect “free speech” at all costs.”
As we have detailed in many previous articles, Skeptics control many if not most Wikipedia entries for alternative medicine, natural health and the paranormal. Most have no medical background nor experience in healthcare. One long time Wikipedia editor who was attempting to correct falsehoods and abusive language on the encyclopedia’s pages for Drs. Deepak Chopra and Rupert Sheldrake, went head-to-head with senior Wikipedia editors before being banned. On his blog “Wikipedia We Have a Problem” former editor Rome Viharo confirms Myer’s and Pigliucci’s charges against Skepticism’s dogmatism and arrogance,
“There is a disturbing pattern of behaviors evolving across Wikipedia – a number of skeptic activists on Wikipedia believe that only they are qualified to edit a large swath of topics and biographies on Wikipedia, and they seek to purge other editors from those articles or Wikipedia itself. Skeptic activists take this very seriously and treat Wikipedia like a battleground for their activism, where online harassment, slander, bullying, character assassination, and public shaming are all used as tactics to control editing permissions on the world’s largest repository of knowledge.”
One of the hallmarks of supporting the credibility of scientific or medical information is to provide your curriculum vitae to show an author has an established level of scholarship and mastery in the field. Presumably, this can convince the reader that the author can differentiate accurate from false, biased from unbiased information. What delegitimizes Wikipedia from our regarding it as a reliable source is that Skeptic authors inevitably remain anonymous. In the majority of cases what limited biographical information they provide indicates they have none or limited knowledge or firsthand experience in the medical profession. They are seemingly not credentialed; and one can’t assume that they hold board certifications or have a clinical background. Nor can one assume they have published in peer-reviewed journals. And with only rare exemptions do they have any knowledge or experience in CAM therapies. Even a cursory examination reveals their heavy reliance upon grossly biased sources, more often than not found in Skeptic literature, magazines or Skeptical opinion blogs, with little scientific credibility and with often times malicious content. If we were simply dealing with one Skeptic editor, we could say this was an odd ball acting outside Wikipedia’s editorial rules. However, in our opinion, we are dealing with a large group of anonymous Skeptics who have in unison collaborated to hijack the encyclopedia’s alternative health pages to slander, lie, and mislead the public by intentionally condemning many thousands of physicians, doctors, practitioners and researchers globally who are dedicated to proving the efficacy of these non-conventional medical systems and theories. A censored society is an uneducated society. It destroys progress and can even destroy careers, reputations and personal lives. This is a goal among Skeptics.
The Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell, himself an outspoken skeptic of the pseudo-science during his day, observed a dangerous and darker trend to so called institutionalized if and when it were to become a tool for the State. Today, the federal health agencies — the CDC and FDA as well as the USDA and EPA — have merged and become inseparable from private or corporate interests. This has given rise to an edifice Russell called “a scientific oligarchy.” Scientific oligarchies, Russell warns, eventually become “totalitarian.” Oligarchies have the power and ability to control a narrative irrespective of how false and deceptive their message may be. We believe Skeptic groups such as Quackwatch, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Society for Science Based Medicine, Cornell Alliance for Science and others serve as the inquisitional foot soldiers to assure that “all forms of power,” in Russell’s words, “become a monopoly of the State.” These Skeptic groups, believing themselves to be the stalwarts of rational science, are part of the new dictatorial oligarchy that is willing to ban alternative medical practices that do not pass their personal litmus tests. We should heed Russell’s warning about the scientific elite, who continue to dominate and rule over the medical establishment despite the medical trends now reevaluating and accepting CAM therapies. Russell tells us that medical tyrants and bureaucrats will tell us, “we are wise and good, we know what reforms the world needs; if we have the power, we shall create paradise. And so narcissistically hypnotized by contemplation of their own wisdom and goodness, they proceeded to create a new tyranny, more drastic than any previously known.” Skeptics don’t hide their ambitions to be modern medicine’s authoritative voice. Their faith in their own faux authority abhors our individual freedom to treat our bodies’ illnesses as we feel fit. Skeptics loathe those who would challenge their authority and who would chastise their shortcomings, failures and blatant mishandling of scientific facts and evidence to conceal Skepticism’s deficiencies and their own promulgation of pseudo-science hidden behind a veil of cherry-picked research that confirms their biased claims.
In 1954, the late great French sociologist, philosopher and Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul foresaw that every form of technology had the potential to turn into a form of control, power and a means to achieve efficiency for undemocratic causes. Today, this is clearly evident in the incumbency Wikipedia’s co-founder and his Foundation has handed to modern Skepticism to redefine alternative medicine as a pseudoscience worth banishing to the dustbin of history. Yet this is all part of Skepticism’s and Wikipedia’s efforts to further manipulate and raise the public’s uncertainty and confusion so there is no other place to turn to besides a collapsing, untrustworthy corporate medical system.