“‘Herbal medicine’s been around for thousands of years!’ Indeed it has, and then we tested it all, and the stuff that worked became ‘medicine.'” – Dara Ó Briain, Dara Ó Briain Talks Funny – Live in London
The thing about skepticism is that it can sometimes be misinterpreted.
The goal of skepticism is to look at the world through a scientific lens, because science is the best method we have of finding the truth. And through this lens, it becomes quite obvious that things like ghosts, astrology, alternative medicine, and homeopathy, are all bunk.
It’s not simply because none of them fit in the standard scientific model of the universe that has been developed and fine-tuned over the past several thousand years. It’s because there is no evidence to support any of it! There have been trials on various alternative treatments, and none of them have been proven to be better than nothing.
So why do some people buy into it? Well, part of it could be due to something called ‘confirmation bias.’ If you believe in a treatment that does nothing, but get better on your own shortly after taking it, you credit the treatment rather than your own immune system. And when it doesn’t work, you never really notice, or remember.
Basically, we ignore the misses, and we count and exaggerate the hits. Astrology tends to work the same way.
And add to that, a bizarre phenomenon known as the placebo effect. Basically, if you think you’re taking something that’s supposed to treat some ailment, the very act of treatment can make you feel better, and make you think you’re getting better, even if the treatment is nothing more than a sugar pill. Combine this with confirmation bias, you end up crediting a glass of water for something that didn’t really happen.
Now what causes the placebo effect? I don’t know. I honestly wish I did. For the most part, it can be explained as a simple psychological trick. But this thing is way more powerful than that. But I don’t really want to get into the details.
The point I’m trying to get at is this: Just because you think it works, doesn’t mean it works. You have to test it. You have to run a proper analysis, and count not only when it does work, but when it doesn’t work. And you have to check to see if it really is nothing more than a trick of the mind.
‘But what’s the harm?’ you may ask. ‘What’s the harm in letting people believe that a bay leaf can cure the common cold?’ Well, do you mean aside from the money spent on it? They don’t give this stuff away for free! And for people to take money from desperate and sick people, and give them literally nothing? As Randall Munroe once said, “Telling someone who trusts you that you’re giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying–it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.”
But that aside. Often times, these salesmen advise their customers to forgo real medical treatments that could actually help them, because they claim it would interfere with their sugar-water. And when it comes to serious, treatable illnesses, people have actually died because of this. They died, because they were told not to take a life-saving treatment, and instead took ginkgo biloba or something.
I could elaborate quite a bit more on this, but I think I made my point. Is it any wonder why people such as myself try to convince others to give up these pointless endeavours? We’re not trying to be mean or ‘ruin your mojo’ or something, we’re trying to help! I just wish more people understood this.
Well, perhaps they finally will, as a recent episode of My Little Pony covered this very same topic. And if any show can spread an idea to the masses, it’s My Little Pony! Continue reading