Michael Specter on the Dangers of Denying Science

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 15, 2010 in Science

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Hermes April 15, 2010 at 10:56 am

The problem with a good argument is that it is hard to offer comments to improve upon it.

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lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Yup.

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lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 1:02 pm

I hope somebody puts this up on HuffPo.

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Liam April 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm

“You may have heard of kasava. It’s like a potato. It sucks” :D

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Briang April 15, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I watched this video this morning. I think the motive for turning to alternative medicine / herbs / vitamins / etc. is more then merely a rejection of science. I’m not an expert on medicine, but I find myself bombarded by medical claims, many of which are inconsistent. Some natural remedies I’ve looked into and they seem like they have some science behind them. For example, there’s been some research showing ginger can reduce symptoms of nausea. On the other hand I’ve also found alternative medical claims that are so kooky that I haven’t bothered to research them. For example, crocodile blood curing AIDS.

Then there’s the problem of experts that disagree with each other. I think I’m the kind of person that tries to stay informed. I can search for medical journals on a topic and see there is some actual research being done. I find the the sheer amount of information on human health overwhelming. What about the person who has never looked at an academic journal on any topic? How are they suppose to know who’s legit and who’s not?

The other problem is the cost benefit analysis. Take the example of vaccines. Apparently there’s a very small percentage of people who have adverse reactions to a vaccine. But often times there is also a very low risk of contracting the disease. (Often times because vaccines have worked so well.) How does one weight a very small risk against a very small risk? Making up numbers as an example, suppose 2 people in a million will die from being vaccinated for polio and 1 in a million Americans will die of polio. In this scenario, the risks for a given person outweigh the benefits. However, maybe it would be better for society as a whole if everyone was vaccinated, then we could eliminate the disease completely. But should a parent act for the good of society or the good of his child? I don’t think the answer is clear in this case.

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manicstreetpreacher April 15, 2010 at 11:30 pm

I cannot really improve on perfection. So I just wanted to add my thumbs up to Specter’s superb talk and hope that he keeps up the good work.

I’ll definitely investigate his written work in future.

MSP

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Hermes April 16, 2010 at 7:04 am

He was right to poke at the TED attendees on vitamin and supplement nonsense. I’m as guilty as any of them. Over the last few weeks, I checked my medicine cabinet and I’ve tossed out about a dozen different supplement bottles, and added only vitamin D. What a mess.

Some of the supplements I tossed were initially bought because one study looked promising, so I thought ‘what the hell’ and picked up some. When the follow-on research didn’t appear, or was not supportive or even contradictory, I stopped taking them and moved the bottle to the back of a towel closet. (At that point, I should have tossed them, but keeping them wasn’t costing me anything so I kept them.)

One thing that helped tip the scale from keeping the clutter and tossing the nonsense was this overview chart. Importantly, though, the chart can be deceptive. Some careful investigation of the specific items was necessary to make informed decisions.

After that bit of work, I ended up making a few changes;

1. Kept a multi-vitamin, but split it between breakfast and dinner.
2. Added vitamin D + calcium (though calcium may go).
3. Kept a vitamin B multi (though it may go).
4. Dropped most refined and/or packaged foods.
5. Added more whole foods.

Is this ideal? Probably not. Like spring cleaning, I’ll take a look at it again next year. At a minimum, if I talk to a nutritionist I’ll have some idea if they know what they are talking about or not.

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