Potent Nonsense

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

Pseudoscience has teamed up with erectile dysfunction to wipe several species of rhinoceros off the face of the earth.

A dead Javan rhinoceros. Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia.

From the Telegraph:

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which publishes an annual ‘red list’ of endangered species, said the Western Black Rhino could soon be joined by the Northern White Rhino of central Africa which is “possibly extinct” and the Javan Rhino which is “probably extinct.” Though overall numbers of black and white rhinos have increased, the three subspecies are particularly vulnerable owing to a lack of political will in their habitats and poachers who target their valuable horns which are used in Asian medicine.

When this article first appeared, I linked to it on Facebook, with the title, “Fuck you, Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

An acquaintance from my dinner theatre days (with whom I’ve always been on friendly terms) took umbrage. What follows is a transcript of the short discussion that ensued.

Brandi: The sad part is, western medicine and antibiotics kill and harm ALOT more animals than chinese medicine will ever do. And to add to that, western medicine also kills human beings. Just a way of looking at the other side of things!

Gem: Good to know where you stand on the whole real medicine versus fake medicine thing.

Brandi: Lol my comment was not meant to be offensive or opinionated but rather to shine a light on the subject. Facebook is tough for that!! I do not agree with senseless killings. People could argue for days about what medicine is real and what medicine is fake but the key is education and as I mentioned, there are certainly outs to allopathic medicine as much as anything else. I always say, you bring me your research and I’ll do the same! Only then can one really get into it;)

Gem: Bring you what research? I don’t do medical research, and I’m not qualified to evaluate it. Luckily, we have physicians and medical researchers whose expertise lies in just those areas. I’m certainly always interested in learning more about so-called “alternative” medical practices, [but] citing a positive study or two is unlikely to persuade me of efficacy, because cherry-picking is rampant in the alt-med community and I understand what a p-value is and I recognise that we expect the occasional false-positive. Not only that, but alt-med studies tend to be poorly blinded and controlled. I suggest that if you’re interested in learning more about science-based medicine, you visit http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/.

The fact that you use the absurd and discredited term “allopathic” to describe modern scientific medicine illustrates your biases on the subject. This pejorative term was coined by arch-quack Samuel Hahnemann to distinguish the (in many ways prescientific) medicine of his day from his new (and absurd) “homeopathy”. (For more on the subject of homeopathy, feel free to read this: http://www.startleddisbelief.com/2010/04/winnipeg-skeptics-presentation.html.) Hahneman asserted that allopathic interventions were those that treated the symptoms, rather than the cause, of the disease. Most science-based medical treatments today do not conform to this definition, because they either seek to prevent illness or they remove the cause of an illness by acting on the etiology of disease.

Occasionally, remedies that were once labelled “alternative” are integrated into science-based medicine—but this should happen only after a large body of medical research has demonstrated that the intervention is effective to a reasonable degree of certainty. And it’s always important to consider each study in the context of the entire body of the medical literature. To quote the wonderful comedian/musician Tim Minchin, “By definition … alternative medicine … has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”

Brandi: Lol clearly you have decided to take this much further than it needs to go:) There are plenty of scientific studies to support every field of medicine. I understand how to read them and I can tell you by the abstract alone whether it’s even worth reading the entire study, or if it’s a waste of time:) It’s nice to see you take an interest in the subject as well, hopefully you didn’t need to fork out the thousands of dollars that I did for the education:) I would like to say that using words like “absurd” to color what I have said, clearly states you are not up for the open minded discussion that I was after. I’m always interested in facts and any science to back them up, however I’ve also learned that it’s really not about a cold competition when there are so many things to learn on all sides. I’m sorry to have sparked such a battle, that was not my intention, clearly it’s not something you take lightly. Nor do I:) So let’s leave it here? If we ever run into each other I think the topic would make for some good conversation!!! Hope you are doing well and kudos on the Clue (party?) that was awesome! Was that for Halloween? And who’s idea was it? Good stuff!!!!

Scott: ‎”western Medicine” aka scientifically-shown-to-work-medicine is backed my empiracal evidence. If Chinese medicine doesn’t kill people directly it’s probably because it doesn’t actually do anything, so it would kill people directly in the fact that whatever health issue the person has isnt actually being treated.

Scott: Either a treatment has.

Gem: I’m not being “closed-minded” or dogmatic about this, Brandi. I will gladly change my mind about any given intervention when large, reproducible, randomized, well-controlled studies can consistently demonstrate efficacy. That’s called being intellectually honest.

And if you don’t consider homeopathy absurd, I would wager that either (a) you don’t know anything about it or (b) you have some sort of vested interest in it. It is mathematically hilarious and the body of the medical literature demonstrates that it works no better than placebo.

Gem: Brandi seems to have deleted all of her comments. Interesting.

You’ll note that I ignored her offer to move the discussion on to a more friendly subject, which I’d imagine was what prompted her to stop responding and delete all of her comments. And fair enough; she doesn’t owe me a response! But I think that this is a very important subject, and I was unwilling to be derailed.

Scott later pointed out to me that not only does she work at a health food store (that’s fine, I suppose), she’s also attending the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. As I’m married to a Registered Dietitian (you know, one of those science-based nutritional experts) and I’m a nutritionist myself (not that that means anything) I find quack colleges such as these distasteful.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s the same Scott who blogs for the Winnipeg Skeptics and who co-hosts our new podcast, Life, the Universe, and Everything Else (Facebook, iTunes).

Luckily, I still had the comment thread open on one of my other computers when Brandi deleted her comments, so the discussion is preserved here, in case there’s anything to be learned from it.

The bottom line is that these animals almost certainly would not be dead if it weren’t for the idiotic notion that rhino horns (and other phallic objects) can aid those suffering from erectile dysfunction. Even if it were true (it’s not!), it would still be horribly unethical to kill these animals for their horns.

About Gem Newman
Gem Newman is a Canadian skeptic, software developer, and beard advocate.

One Response to Potent Nonsense

  1. Pingback: Canadian School of Natural Nutrition | Abbotsford Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists

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