Quack science and medicine

April 24, 2011

I’m doing a poor job at keeping up my blog (funny how teaching 2 classes and working on a dissertation will do that) but I wanted to share this link and this link to pharma chemist Derek Lowe talking about quack science and medicine, because it’s pretty much exactly what I would say. Especially the stuff about the quest for “natural.”

Natural isn’t necessarily good for you. Lots of natural things are poisonous. They don’t want to be eaten/ingested.

Also, a big point that Derek mentions just briefly but that I think is really important is the (false) idea that we are, by default, perfect and healthy. Modern medical interventions, “lifestyle” problems, bad upbringing, or other human mistakes are required in order for poor mental or physical health to result, and we would all be happy, well-adjusted, and cancer- and disease-free if we would shun the evil ways of modern science/industry and get back to living/eating/bathing/parenting the way that Nature intended.

There’s this related idea out there that it is possible to optimize. That there is some ‘perfect’ way to live, and if you can just find that perfect way, you will have perfect health and well-being. I actually think this kind of thinking comes about from living in a technological society surrounded by things that are designed to function in a particular way, and if you use them correctly, they’re not supposed to break (and if they do, you can collect on that warranty and get a new one). But our bodies aren’t warrantied. They’re not even designed to work properly. They’re designed (by natural selection) to work WELL ENOUGH, MOST OF THE TIME, to have babies that survive to do the same thing. That’s it.

And nature can only work with what it’s given. It doesn’t design out of whole cloth. We’re really just a set of kludgy hacks–unlike in software development, nature can’t say “Screw backwards compatibility–we’re going to do a complete architectural redesign with the next version, because that will let us have better features and performance!” Nope, you get whatever features and performance are possible within the constraints of the current system. Slowly. Incrementally. And non-intelligently (so even if a better system is THEORETICALLY possible given the current system, if the cards don’t end up falling that way, it doesn’t happen).

So there aren’t guaranteed to be “natural” solutions to any of your problems… in fact, there aren’t guaranteed to be medical solutions (another weird thing I see a lot–anger if there is nothing a doctor can do for someone, even in non-life-threatening circumstances, because “they should be able to fix you”).

Personally, I can’t wait for cyborg bodies.


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