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Jimmy Wales To 'Holistic Healers': Prove Your Claims the Old-Fashioned Way 517

Barence (1228440) writes with this excerpt from PC Pro: "Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has issued a sharp response to petitioners calling for his site to "allow for true scientific discourse" on holistic healing. The petition, currently running on the site, claims that much of the information on Wikipedia relating to holistic approaches to healing is "biased, misleading, out of date, or just plain wrong". It has attracted almost 8,000 supporters at the time of publication. Wales's response to the petition, posted on the same page, is far from conciliatory: 'No, you have to be kidding me,' he writes. 'Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful. What we won't do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of 'true scientific discourse'. It isn't.'"
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Jimmy Wales To 'Holistic Healers': Prove Your Claims the Old-Fashioned Way

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  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:56AM (#46573379) Journal

    Anecdotes are useful as a startig poiny if you're looking for some new phenomenon. That's all, nothing more.

    If the effects are real, you can discern them through repeatable tests.

    The vast majority of alternative claims have been disproven, shown to have no effect.

  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:13AM (#46573525)

    Once it's been proven to work?

    Meh. That's not really true. There's a reason there's an entire field called evidence-based medicine [], which from its very name makes it distinct from just plain-old normal "medicine."

    There's plenty of hokum peddled by physicians, too. Lots of clinical decisions are based on "gut feelings" and tradition. And let's not even get into the multitude of embarrassing medical debates where various new drugs or foods or practices were widely accepted and then shown to be even more harmful than the things they replaced (which were originally thought to be harmful or unhealthy).

    Spend some time sifting through all of the research on some medical topic at some point, and it quickly becomes clear that lots of medical conclusions are based on studies with serious flaws (either methodological or statistical), which is why you end up getting the "X is bad for you! Don't do/eat/use X!" one year and "X is good for you! Do it all the time!" the next year crap.

    Don't get me wrong -- medical research is hard. Human bodies are very complex systems. And the kind of blind randomized studies necessary to evaluate medical practices (particularly "accepted" practices, which are assumed to already work) are often (1) expensive, (2) potentially unethical, since they might involve denying someone treatment that is assumed to be necessary for good health and/or exposing people to dangerous practices, (3) really difficult to control for all potential variables. And even if you managed to construct some sort of artificial laboratory situation where you could really isolate a variable, it may have questionable real-world applicability once the subjects head back out into the messiness of real life.

    It doesn't mean we should throw up our hands and give up, but there is significant room for improvement in everyday "medicine," based on things that are ACTUALLY proven to work, hence "evidence-based" medicine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @10:29AM (#46573687)

    And being crappy evidence is enough reason to dismiss in the realm of medicine, since there are dangers inherent to the field.

    You haven't been paying attention to the scope of medical research recently have you? While there are some useful studies, much of medical science recently has been about either overdosing rats on something to 'prove' that it's dangerous, or data mining through previous records of patient information to try to assert universal truths from the 4 subjects that fit whatever detail is relevant. The biggest source of actual testing is done by pharmaceutical companies trying to prove that their new random chemical is not significantly more dangerous than a placebo and also makes an actual difference to patients.

    Nutritional science is a really strong example of this kind of bad study techniques. In my lifetime I've seen every type of meat (mammal, fish, bird, invertebrate, etc.) and about half of commonly eaten plants cycle between 'healthy', 'will kill you', 'not as bad as we thought', 'surprisingly beneficial', and 'overhyped.' I've seen the same cycle with alcohol and caffeine as well. At this point, I can only believe that 'nutritional science' is guided by efforts to manipulate food purchasing behavior more than any actual evidence.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:21AM (#46574157)

    On the other hand, they ARE making the arguments in exactly the correct place. They know their views cannot stand the scrutiny of actual evidence based review processes so they try to legitimize their views by "catapulting propaganda" as it were.

    Wikipedia, news, blogs are all equally good targets. They don't care about accuracy. They care about legitimization through publicity.

  • by efalk ( 935211 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @11:57AM (#46574553)

    I believe the full quote goes along the lines of:

    Alternative medicine has either been not proven to work, or proven not to work. If it's been proven to work, we call it by another name: medicine.

  • by ImdatS ( 958642 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @12:17PM (#46574707) Homepage

    Actually herbalist's (the traditional ones') approach was this:
    They either had heard from some other person that a specific herb worked successfully against a specific sickness, or they tried out herbs against certain ills to see if it worked.
    When they saw that it worked with one patient, they kept using it with other patients with the same ills or sicknesses. For example, daisy-flower tea was recommended against kidney-stones or to remedy it a bit or so.
    What the herbalists didn't know though was why it worked. For them, the only thing that counted was the result. If a given herb didn't work with a given illness, they tried a different herb or a combination of many herbs until they either gave up or they saw that it worked. Traditional herbalists (ages ago) actually only kept those herbs (and combinations) in their "portfolio" that reliable delivered the same results with the same/similar sicknesses. If they couldn't replicate the result, they dropped that herb (or combinations) from their "portfolio"...

    Thus, the traditional herbalist were in fact using "scientific methods" without knowing that they were using them: Trial -> Result -> Try to Replicate Result -> Communicate to other Herbalists; The other herbalists again: Trial -> Result -> Replicate;

    While growing up in a backwater-village in central Turkey in the 1970's, I learned much about herbs and "household remedies" (to reduce the impact of a common cold or to protect wounds becoming infectious, etc). For example: when you're wounded (e.g. while carving a stick or so) by a knife or anything that was not clean, the first thing to do (that I learnt) was to pee on the wound. Nobody knew why it worked, but they knew that that helped against infections... (well, after having gone to school, now I know why it worked ...)

    Today, I am happy to use "household remedies" (as long as they deliver, reliably, same/similar results for a given situation) as well as "School Medicine" (as it is called). But I would never think of trying to cure an infection with a tea - I'll prefer an anti-biotic, thank you very much (so far, there are no herbal solutions I am aware of against infections, but antibiotics are proven to work ...) - in fact, anything that can be scientifically proven is fine with me - whether it herbs, medication, surgery, - I don't care as long as it is proven. And no, homeopathy, "Energy-whatever", or "holistic medicine" (what is it actually) is not my "cup of tea"... (no proof there)

    The difference (for me) between scientific and non-scientific approach is very simple:
    1) Can you reliably reproduce the results under similar conditions but changing at least one parameter (for example with other patients)
    2) Can third parties reliably reproduce the results under similar conditions but changing at least one parameter (e.g. other patients)

    If the answer to both is "YES", then, for heaven's sake use whatever means you come up with to help people. But if either you or other people can't reproduce it under similar conditions, chance is that the result was a "random fluctuation in space-time" and had nothing to do with your "(alternative) medical approach" (or any other approach).

  • by ImdatS ( 958642 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @12:24PM (#46574771) Homepage

    Actually, the "herbal medicine" is NOT "alternative medicine". At least over here in Germany (and most of continental Europe) herbal medicine is a "classical medicine" segment called "Naturheilkunde", which could be translate back as "Medicine using natural ingredients" (i.e. natural grown) instead of "artificially created" ingredients (i.e. lab-generated ingredients).

    "Naturheilkunde" is the segment of medicine looking at the healing effects of herbs, teas, fruits, etc. But it still, thankfully, uses scientific approach (Trial->Result->Replicate Result->Communicate; Trial by Third Parties->Replicate by Third Parties->Communicate).

  • The placebo effect doesn't cure anyone of anything.
    It may allow them to feel better. The strength and length of the 'feeling better' will be determined by a lot of factors.
    It SEEMS, based on research, that when you have a problem your brain keeps alerting you with an increased awareness of a pain. Once you have done 'something' the brain ignores the pain for a little while.
    That was a very small nutshell. There are some interesting neurological papers and blogs on the topic.

  • NO they were NOT using scientific methods. Not at all.

    What they used was called "Observational bias" with no null hypothesis, and no trials, nothing blinded, no taking the placebo effect into account.
    The VAST MAJORITY of what they did, did nothing, A few times they got lucky.

  • by Christianson ( 1036710 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @01:17PM (#46575301)
    For example, I believe its generally accepted that acupuncture [] does something, we're just not sure how and what.

    The problem with acupuncture studies is that they can't be done double-blinded: that is, the acupuncturist always knows whether he is doing "real" acupuncture or "sham" acupuncture*. This then leads to a bias effect, in which the patient is unconsciously cued as to whether or not the treatment "should" work, and expectation effects are stronger than any purported acupuncture benefits (e.g., Bausell et al 2005, Eval Health Prof). I remember a study, which I cannot dig up at the moment, in which the researchers gave acting lessons to the acupuncturist to ensure that they behaved in exactly the same way with respect to the patients between real and sham treatments, and when they did so acupuncture did not outdo the placebo.

    * You can, in theory, do double-blinded by randomly assigning patients to one of two technicians, both of which were naive to acupuncture treatment before the study's beginning. They are then trained equally on two different sets of acupuncture points, one valid and one invalid, with no knowledge of which one of them is which. However, objectively this isn't really a fair test of acupuncture: consider the case where you tried to tackle the effectiveness of heart surgery using the same model.
  • by Agent0013 ( 828350 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @01:55PM (#46575659) Journal
    Some of the conventional medicines that cost lots of money have been found out to work no better than a placebo either. The drug makers stage their testing to look as positive as possible even if they end up hiding the truth. I think it was a heart medicine I read about last where it worked only as good as a placebo while the older, out of patent drugs, worked much better.
  • by greenfruitsalad ( 2008354 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @04:23PM (#46577295)

    i'll give you an example. i once came across a homeopathic product that I could reliably prove worked!

    i used to get horrible rash every time i shaved. my dad's quack of a girlfriend gave me some kind of gemmo/homeo-therapeutic oil made from a shoot of a citrus tree diluted gazillion times and then mixed with olive oil to use on my face. it worked and we all lived happily ever after

    until i showed her (a week later) that using plain olive oil was 50x cheaper and just as effective.

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