Re: [asa] Consensus science

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sat Aug 29 2009 - 01:41:22 EDT

Heya Jack,

As I said to Iain, there's a considerable gulf between "that stuff is a load
of superstitious nonsense" and "that stuff works, but we have a different
explanation of why". If consensus is the former one day, and the latter the
next day, the consensus has shifted - and in a big way. In part because if
you write something off as the former, you may never realize that the latter
is the case.

I agree that I would have picked different examples - the shift from miasma
theory to germ theory, Lynn Margulis' work on endosymbiosis, numerous
examples in psychology, etc. A good illustration also comes up in the link I
gave to Iain. In that case, the "placebo effect" turns out to be playing a
major role in explaining the success of mainstream, consensus treatments (in
that case, pills and the like.)

A real apt quote here would be from Max Planck: *A new scientific truth does
not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but
rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up
that is familiar with it.

*Either way, I think it's a mistake to pit what Cameron is saying as
'popular opinion versus scientific consensus'. I think (Cameron can correct
me if I'm wrong) he was aiming more at something Max Planck seemed to be
touching on - namely that consensus is only so valuable, especially when it
comes to being a measure of accuracy/truth.

On Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 1:16 AM, Jack <> wrote:

> It is possible, that the effect you report here is what is behind the
> placebo effect. It is not enough to say, "if it works, it works," there
> needs to be an explanatory mechanism behind it for it to be scientific. I
> am not trying to imply in anything that I said that acupuncture or
> chiropractic is dangerous or useless. Cameron was using the increasing
> popularity of these practices as an example of how the consensus opinion is
> wrong, but in my opinion this was a very bad example because the consensus
> is based on scientific opinion, and the popular opinion is pseudoscientific,
> for lack of a better term.
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Friday, August 28, 2009 3:56 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Consensus science
> Heya Jack,
> A note: I'm not all that enthused with "alternative medical practices"
> myself, whatever they may be. I've heard some interesting anecdotes, but for
> my own part I tend to put at least a bit more stock into mainstream
> therapies.
> That said, I don't think the issue is as clear-cut as you say. I decided to
> check out if there have been any studies indicating acupuncture actually
> works. Sure enough:
> "The study showed that acupuncture increases the binding availability of
> mu-opioid receptors in regions of the brain that process and weaken pain
> signals -- specifically the cingulate, insula, caudate, thalamus and
> amygdala. By directly stimulating these chemicals<>,
> acupuncture can affect the brain's long-term ability to regulate pain, the
> study found."
> Now, I'm not a big fan of science journalism (and I have a healthy
> skepticism of scientists reporting on their research too), so take this with
> a grain of salt - at least if you trust the reports about that helping. But
> at the glance I took, it seems that there's at least recognition that
> acupuncture could honestly be achieving some valid results. (Chiropractors,
> I didn't look into much.) I could care less what chi is or what mystical
> principles acupuncture is based on - if it works, it works. And if it seems
> to work, it warrants investigation. Even use.
> I think Cameron could have picked some better and less controversial
> examples to drive his point home, but I don't think he's completely off-base
> on this.
>> There are so many things wrong with this paragraph it is hard to know
>> where to begin. Chiropractic and acupuncture are considered "alternative"
>> medical practices, for good reasons. First there is no scientific basis to
>> them. I have never seen an electronmicrospy of Chi, nor a Chi gel, or fMRI
>> of Chi states. Western Medicine, for all its flaws, is based on science;
>> anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc. Acupuncture is based on mystical
>> principles. Chiropractic is based on a philsophy that almost all modern
>> chiropractic practioners have abandoned. The other difficulty is a lack of
>> clear definitions. When someone does a study of chiropractic techniques,
>> they are rarely rigourous in defining exactly what the manipulation is.
>> There are just about as many manipulations as there are practitioners. I
>> find it surprising that you place higher authority in the general public,
>> "everyone goes to chiropracters", and congressman, than you do on the
>> "consensus" medical opinion. I guess that tells us a lot about you.
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Received on Sat Aug 29 01:41:54 2009

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