May 29, 2012
Science matters. Data matters. Rigorous, careful analysis is vital. But sometimes you just want to go with your feelings, don’t you?
Look at the (warning: massive generalisations coming!) new age or ‘alternative’ industry and its offshoot, ‘complementary medicine’. Some people seem to just accept that anything old, or just plain alternative, will work better than modern ‘scientific’ medicine. And bless them (irony intended), it seems to work – for them, anyway. When put under the microscope, as it were, it plainly fails. Trialled in a scientific manner, it doesn’t stack up. Crystals, naturopathy, astrology, whatever. The evidence just isn’t there. Yet the adherents – the true believers – will swear that they feel better for it. And whether it’s because of a psychological effect or not, be it via a placebo or some form of self-hypnosis, it’s undeniable that something is drawing them in and making them feel, well, better. So does it matter?
Well it does matter if there is harm to come out of it. And I guess that’s the real problem here. How do we estimate harm? Is such mild self-delusion harmful? Does it spread (is it contagious)? Does it necessarily lead to poor judgement and delay, as in the celebrated (and possibly untrue) account of Steve Jobs’ pancreatic cancer? Maybe, maybe not.
But, direst consequences aside, what if it usually works? Should we not embrace it?
I can see the fun (and sometimes, though rarely, the good sense) in the ‘alternatives’ but they generally don’t ring true for me. It’s a bridge too far. But for many others, why not?