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What is it with Skeptics


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What is it with Skeptics - people that think of themselves as part of the Skeptic movement?

I am having a discussion with someone who seems to draw most of their thinking from the Science Based Medicine website - basically a skeptic approach to everything.  I find them extremely untenable in many of their arguments.  I'm not finding it easy though to put my finger on why, other than that they seem to be positivists.

Any thoughts?

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Yes, this is right on with my sense of these people.  What I am finding a little difficult is communicating this to someone - it's almost like it's kind of a criticism proof view, since it simply doesn't allow any authority that contradicts it as valid.  It's weird, what seems to be the main characteristic is the lack of sceptisism!

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1 hour ago, Bluegoat said:

 

I am having a discussion with someone who seems to draw most of their thinking from the Science Based Medicine website - basically a skeptic approach to everything.  I find them extremely untenable in many of their arguments.  I'm not finding it easy though to put my finger on why, other than that they seem to be positivists.

 

Science based medicine is a science based website not a skeptic website. Their approach is based on science and every post has links to scientific studies to back up their statements. When they are wrong they admit it just as scientists do. When some things that aren't yet proven science are in fact showing progress, they point that out. I have to wonder just how familiar you are with the site if you think it has a skeptic approach. A scientific approach is not the same as a skeptic approach.

Cue the "you just proved my point" type comments.

Edited by Lady Florida.
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10 minutes ago, texasmom33 said:

Science is not now, nor has it ever been infallible.

Of course, and anyone who claims it is doesn't understand science. 

“Science knows it doesn't know everything; otherwise, it'd stop. But just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.”


 Dara O'Briain

 

Just to clarify - That quote is from a comedian but it fits.

Edited by Lady Florida.
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Just now, StellaM said:

 

I check this website when someone makes a claim about a health treatment that seems ??? It's a good starting point, I've found.

Entirely possible to be anti woo 'medicine' and not ID as a skeptic.

 

Exactly. I agree that there are skeptics who get ridiculous but disagree with the OP that the Science Based Medicine website is among such skeptics.

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1 minute ago, StellaM said:

 

I actually don't know anything about the website or the owner of the website

I suppose it's entirely possible he's a dude bro too! (Or not)

It's actually a group of male and female contributors from both scientific and medical fields. But it does lean male. 

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/contributors/

 

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1 minute ago, texasmom33 said:

I think my reaction, personally stems however from the backlash within certain scientific communities when things are questioned. And there is a backlash. It may come in different forms, but the scientific community is as great as censuring people as any religious one I've ever encountered. And I find studies being lorded around at every turn as the be all end all. I think there are a lot of people who are fair scientists, but that doesn't mean they are these bastions of unemotional reaction and understanding when the beliefs and tenets they hold dear are questioned. Ego is a real think with some scientists. So to Bluegoat's post- I am not saying all science believing people are like that. But I do think that it is often like that. I mean, "I don't know" is not going to get you published, and publish or perish is a very real thing. 

My only beef with Bluegoat's post is her trashing of the SBM site. 

ETA: I'm using the word trashing loosely. She didn't seriously trample on it. That's why I questioned how familiar she is with the site.

And @Bluegoat this is for you. Because it feels weird to talk about you as if you aren't in the room so to speak. ? 

Edited by Lady Florida.
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22 minutes ago, texasmom33 said:

Is this the website? https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/

I'm not familiar with it. Was going to take a look, but wanted to make sure it was the right site! 

Yes, that's it. Most of what it criticizes are unproven alternative medicines, and alternative medicine that has actually hurt people. They will also criticize anything that is claimed to be a cure-all. But they don't automatically dismiss everything natural. For example, they have a very long (4 or 5 part) series on medical marijuana. The series says there's no evidence of its effectiveness but also points out two things: 1. There are some promising studies that it's effective for some ailments, and 2. that the U. S. federal government needs to allow studies so we can find out more. They also point out the reasons it's better to turn natural medicines into medicines - for effective dosage and delivery reasons as well as being able to follow side effects (alternative medicines have no regulation and therefore can harm you without any oversight).

Edited by Lady Florida.
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2 hours ago, Lady Florida. said:

Science based medicine is a science based website not a skeptic website. Their approach is based on science and every post has links to scientific studies to back up their statements. When they are wrong they admit it just as scientists do. When some things that aren't yet proven science are in fact showing progress, they point that out. I have to wonder just how familiar you are with the site if you think it has a skeptic approach. A scientific approach is not the same as a skeptic approach.

Cue the "you just proved my point" type comments.

 

The same people who run the website are involved in/run skeptic groups, and their approach is the same at SBM.  I feel comfortable calling that a skeptic website.

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Anyway, I am off to see a play and in a rush, I will come back later with more to say - but yes, that is the website.  An example of what bothers me is their approach on midwifery care - I don't think it cuts the mustard, and I see them making the same kinds of arguments elsewhere - a lot are similar to what taxasmom said above and what I see on other skeptic websites.  

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Hmm, so the play isn't for an hour - I think.  There is a difference in the ticket and the website.  I am going with the later time since dh is just getting off a plane.

Here is the article on midwifery - it really is a good example of my problem with their approach.  Lots of midwifery practice has not justification in double-blind tests?  Shocking, neither does most OB/childbirth care, (and not surprising in either case really as how do you do a study like that for this stuff) - the Cochran Review tells us most OB childbirth practices are unjustified.  But as is typical for this site, whatever the "real" medical people say they will ay is scientifically based.  THat midwifery care is considered standard medical practice in other countries seems not to count with them.

I see the same rhetorical tactics in areas addressed on the website which I know less about, and so I am pretty doubtful about trusting their arguments - and I think this approach is very typical of positivistic, skeptic approaches.

What I am not sure of is how to explain this in a more efficient way to someone.

Edited by Bluegoat
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I personally like the science based medicine site as a reference but I hear you  on the skeptic thing.  I feel like there’s sometimes a certain arrogance of viewpoint that can prevent a genuine argument for certain things being recognised.

I have someone in extended family like this who is super skeptical of anything outside very mainstream western medicine and yet ironically he’s one of the most unhealthy people I know, with never ending health problems way outside the normal for his age.

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1 hour ago, Bluegoat said:

Hmm, so the play isn't for an hour - I think.  There is a difference in the ticket and the website.  I am going with the later time since dh is just getting off a plane.

Here is the article on midwifery - it really is a good example of my problem with their approach.  Lots of midwifery practice has not justification in double-blind tests?  Shocking, neither does most OB/childbirth care, (and not surprising in either case really as how do you do a study like that for this stuff) - the Cochran Review tells us most OB childbirth practices are unjustified.  But as is typical for this site, whatever the "real" medical people say they will ay is scientifically based.  THat midwifery care is considered standard medical practice in other countries seems not to count with them.

I see the same rhetorical tactics in areas addressed on the website which I know less about, and so I am pretty doubtful about trusting their arguments - and I think this approach is very typical of positivistic, skeptic approaches.

What I am not sure of is how to explain this in a more efficient way to someone.

I hadn't heard of this website before today. But this article on midwifery rubs me wrong as well. Actually, I just realized the author is Amy Tuteur who is a well-known critic of homebirth in general. She seems like a very unpleasant person. But I've also chosen the non-traditional for a couple of my babies' birth.... 

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I think the other thing with science based medicine studies is a lot look at statistics.  Ie statistically more people respond well to this treatment than to a placebo etc.  but there is the percentage of people who don’t respond well.  These kind of studies are useful for figuring out what medications or procedures should be funded for a population as a whole and what should be the first line treatment but they are less useful for an individual who may be a statistical outlier.  Also studies are far more likely to be undertaken where there’s a commercial possibility than on a substance that’s commonly available so provides no profit motive for a drug company.

it doesn’t mean that overall the scientific research model is a problem or broken just that there’s room in making individual medical decisions for people to consider other options when the first line of defence doesn’t work.

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After perusing the website I'm confused. Calling it a skeptic website I assumed it was going to a website challenging the mainstream and the status quo. Like skeptical of mainstream medicine and the status quo. Apparently I misunderstood what you were saying because this site is dedicated to proving that the mainstream is the only way to go. 

I just glanced over the chiropractic section's headlines.... I spent months fighting headaches after a car accident with all that modern medicine could do for me, and a chiropractor finally healed me.


There's a lot I disagree with actually. 

 

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Oh my goodness texasmom, you are making me laugh my butt off.  But I feel better - I was starting to feel a little like I was looking at the back of a mirror, as the people I was talking to all seem to think that this was great stuff.

The point on standards of care and such is interesting, I recently had a conversation with the same person about a vaccination that isn't offered routinely here, though you can pay for it.  It's offered in most other provinces, and she's convinced it should be offered here - it's just black and white wrong that it isn't.  Now, I don't know that maybe it wouldn't be good to offer it - I think they don't for monetary reasons - but it is totally not the same as them not offering measles vaccinations or something - there really is some diversity of medical opinion, and question about its relative importance compared to other things you might fund with the same money (like, would it be more effective with that illness to spend on breastfeeding support?).  She doesn't seem to be able to think about it that way though.  Maybe that is a real issue with people who think that way.

I think maybe this sort of thing is the problem - there seems to be no ability to see that a lot of these issues are really multifaceted.  Why was my sister supposed to have a yearly pap in one province, but only every five in another - well, because there are arguments for both approaches, among other things.

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3 hours ago, StellaM said:

 

I can see that article has rather a sneering tone, and I agree that there isn't much of an evidence base for some OB practices either - in fact, there's plenty of evidence for discontinuing such practices. Maybe the truth is - like everything, it seems - we need more and better studies. And certainly, the idea that all births need to take place in hospital settings isn't really something you see in some other countries, which do fine re maternal and infant morbidity and mortality.

I do see quite a lot of woo in the homebirth and freebirth community I have a very tangential relationship with. It's the one issue that my rad fem group simply cannot discuss, because any time anyone even dares try to discuss the dangers of say, freebirthing, they are shot down in cries of 'how can it be worse than birthing abuse in the medical system'! And honestly, it drives me a bit crazy, because we can talk about two things, but apparently not.

I'm not sure what positivistic means, so I will go look that up and have a think - OK, that wasn't too hard! So it's the idea that everything must be validated by science or logic, or be sneered at/rejected?

I used to be a bit like that. I probably still am. But I wouldn't describe myself as a skeptic. I do like an evidence based practise though - I mean, same in education, really. There are a lot of fads with zero evidence behind them. Does that automatically mean they are wrong ? Noooo...although the Reading Recovery program that was the fashion here for helping kids who feel behind in literacy didn't work over a decade, and just got replaced with an evidence based intervention, so, bad luck for ten years of kids. 

It's an imperfect tool, science, that's for sure. And it can't investigate everything. Because not everything is investigable (is that a word?)

Enjoy the play.

 

 

 

So, positivists are focused on evidence more than rationality.  Something can be logical, but unless it is shown by evidence, they won't say it is knowable.  And for many they actually say that only things that are empirically observable can be real.  Science for them is how you look at things empirically.  It was a poplar view at the end of the 19th, first part of the 20th century, very influenced by people like Russell. It's been largely abandoned in philosophy though because it contains a logical contradiction - you can'y empirically show that it's true.  There had been some thought that problem could be overcome, but over time that failed to materialise and new avenues to make it work kind of dried up.  But it's still popularly influential in the form of the skeptic movement, and people like Dawkins and Pinker and the like.

I actually think evidence based practice is important too, and I will often argue positions on that basis.  But there is something about this that is really reductionist, it seems to want to iron out complexity and depth somehow.

Yes, so - if we are looking at evidence based approaches, then isn't it kind of important evidence when people who use another approach have results that are just as good?

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10 minutes ago, texasmom33 said:

Okay, this article is about to make me stroke out. I didn't make it past part one before I developed a severe eye twitch. 

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/retconning-traditional-chinese-medicine/

Notes to the author (who, for love of all that is holy, if he's your oncologist please take note): 

1) If your "scientific based article" requires you to school me on comic books before you can even begin to make your point, that's a massive red flag. You shouldn't need to teach me about comics to develop your hypothesis. This is almost a perverse article in the amount of ego-m@sturbat!0n going on here. (Sorry it that's blunt.)

2) If your refutation and primary citation is a freaking SLATE article, you should hang up your credentials and flee in shame. 

3) If your theory of why Eastern medicine is now a trend in the U.S hinges on the point that is was a long range conspiracy developed by Chairman Mao decades ago, you better come slinging more than a Slate article to back yourself up, or else I might get a sneaking suspicion that there is at best case, some intellectual superiority going on your behalf, and at worst case, some definitive racism dripping through the writing. Oh and citing a Scotsman from the late 19th/early 20th century as some point of unbiased judgement on the racial front with an opinion towards Chinese medicine is doing zero to help your cause. Imperialism anyone? 

4) If every "citation" simply takes me to another SBM article instead of an actual works cited list, I'm going to call BS past a point. Why are you hiding your citations? Are you trying to tire me out so that I can't track down any legitimate, heaven forbid SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL SOURCE? 

I'm calling it. This is a crap site. Argue with me if you want. Maybe there is some hidden gem in there, but I'm 7 articles in and the vast majority read like utter carp. If anyone wants to post some awesomely cited article that links to ACTUAL JOURNALS and makes evidence based arguments instead of emotionally based, evidence lacking screeds, I'm all ears. But your time would honestly be better spent on Google Scholar reading abstracts than going through this. I mean, the freaking Today show website would probably give you a better scientific summary of much of this and that's a pathetic low in and of itself. This is just crap. 

What's funny is there is ample material out there to make the points they are hysterically failing to make. Maybe they don't have the funds for the journal access? I don't know. And now I've fallen into the snide derision I've accused them of. But it's merited at this point I think. I'm not trying to garner Patreon donors to further my cause and they are. I'm just sort of baffled as to how this ever became a preeminent, or at least well know site? Is there seriously nothing better out there? I don't want to be ashamed of science. I like science. They are not doing a lot to further the cause. I haven't read the marijuana article Lady FL cited earlier, so I'm going to tackle that one tomorrow and see, but I honestly don't have it in me at the moment. I've got to refresh before I take on more skepticism about the skeptics! 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, I am wondering this as well.  

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I often find myself trying to research something my woo-radar says might be woo (retained reflexes?  CBD? gentian violet? etc.) without much success, just because I can't parse the scientific lingo in abstracts well enough and I don't know who to trust.  A website that provided that service that was actually good at it would be very useful.

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This is all why I’m not “a skeptic”.  I’m just skeptical.  I question things, especially popular things, including higher than thou science and people who present as smarter than everyone else and calling everyone who doesn’t automatically agree with their position as fools. If the numbers don’t work for me or something doesn’t make sense or seems off, I question it.  Skeptical - no group to join. 

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Astroturfing is a big part of the problem nowadays. Some websites are being funded to purposely discredit treatments that threaten profits.

One of the best sites on the internet to discuss health issues is FoundMyFitness which is run by researcher Rhonda Patrick, who studied under Bruce Ames. She invites other researchers to discuss their studies and findings. A lot of researchers follow her.

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8 hours ago, StellaM said:

 

I'm gonna take your word. You've got the background to suss it out, and you did the hard yards of reading and critquing.

I'd like to know if there's another site that sort of summarises evidence for and against different treatments, especially the faddish ones. 'Cos that can be quite handy, especially if you can't get in to do a search of all the most recent papers, and at least read the discussion sections.

 

It is pretty usual in the humanities to have only one or a few authors for papers.  One might be the most common.

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19 minutes ago, BeachGal said:

Astroturfing is a big part of the problem nowadays. Some websites are being funded to purposely discredit treatments that threaten profits.

One of the best sites on the internet to discuss health issues is FoundMyFitness which is run by researcher Rhonda Patrick, who studied under Bruce Ames. She invites other researchers to discuss their studies and findings. A lot of researchers follow her.

 

I've never heard the term astroturfing.  I think I have noticed some of this kind of thing though with relation to organic foods or GMOs.  It's not even necessarily that what they say is untrue - like about industrial organic using lots of toxic chemicals.  It's just that they completely ignore any more complex issues - nothing about understanding the actual meaning of organic agriculture beyond the industry label, nothing about the intellectual property rights around nature, nothing around errors made in the past by scientists with devastating results.  

I've wondered about whether it is industry funded.  But it's very much the same kind of skeptic approach.

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I don't know the website, but I've certainly heard of Amy Tuteur. Oy. Just on a glance, it seems like they couldn't stop their own biases from getting into their attitudes about midwifery. They're right that there aren't enough studies about midwifery practices and home birth and that many of the claims about safety are untested or overblown. I think the comparison to the marijuana stuff is accurate, just because both are things that people make a lot of claims about, but which have not been able to be fully studied because of serious taboos and laws. But because pot is a bit hip, perhaps? They were able to get over it more to be more balanced about it.

I totally agree with Stella's point above about how the skeptic movement tends to be bro-culturey. I think at the very least, they assumed (probably subconsciously) that the people who would argue them on the pot stuff would be more men, while more women would be argumentative about the midwifery. So guess which one they felt free to be super dismissive about?

Regardless, my experience is that there are intractable dogmatists in every worldview. And they're no fun to talk to even when you agree with them (and really no fun when you don't). 

Edited by Farrar
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50 minutes ago, texasmom33 said:

I think you meant to quote me. I get that for the humanities, but it’s not the norm I’ve seen in scientific journals. Even if it’s just a review- you usually have people clamoring to attach themselves. And since it sounds from his bio that he’s an instructor it seems like he’d have grad students or someone else on this stuff. It’d be a great dissertation. It’s just weird. 

 

Oops, yes I did.

I guess I am thinking the skeptic stuff is really humanities, not science.  Which is kind of funny really.

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41 minutes ago, Farrar said:

I don't know the website, but I've certainly heard of Amy Tuteur. Oy. Just on a glance, it seems like they couldn't stop their own biases from getting into their attitudes about midwifery. They're right that there aren't enough studies about midwifery practices and home birth and that many of the claims about safety are untested or overblown. I think the comparison to the marijuana stuff is accurate, just because both are things that people make a lot of claims about, but which have not been able to be fully studied because of serious taboos and laws. But because pot is a bit hip, perhaps? They were able to get over it more to be more balanced about it.

I totally agree with Stella's point above about how the skeptic movement tends to be bro-culturey. I think at the very least, they assumed (probably subconsciously) that the people who would argue them on the pot stuff would be more men, while more women would be argumentative about the midwifery. So guess which one they felt free to be super dismissive about?

Regardless, my experience is that there are intractable dogmatists in every worldview. And they're no fun to talk to even when you agree with them (and really no fun when you don't). 

 

I think there is a qualitative difference between some of the mj question vs midwifery.  For mj, it's really a pharmaceutical question. The kind of thing double blind studies work pretty well for as long as they are done properly and honestly.

OB care in general involves a lot more elements.  Synergies, and practices you don't want to randomly change, psychological elements.  The demand for clear evidence in clinical trials, for everything, just seems out of place.  

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4 minutes ago, Bluegoat said:

 

I think there is a qualitative difference between some of the mj question vs midwifery.  For mj, it's really a pharmaceutical question. The kind of thing double blind studies work pretty well for as long as they are done properly and honestly.

OB care in general involves a lot more elements.  Synergies, and practices you don't want to randomly change, psychological elements.  The demand for clear evidence in clinical trials, for everything, just seems out of place.  

I mean, I think there's still a need for studies. But I totally agree that it's going to be dramatically more complex. Like, with mj, you can study and tell if it's going to do what you wanted or hurt in the way you feared by looking at the study. Sure, there's variables, but it's much more straightforward. But with childbirth... there's a million different factors. It's risk this with the midwife vs. risk of that in the hospital. I think studies could tell us more... they're just not going to tell us the whole thing ever. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do some or look.

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2 minutes ago, Bluegoat said:

 

 

OB care in general involves a lot more elements.  Synergies, and practices you don't want to randomly change, psychological elements.  The demand for clear evidence in clinical trials, for everything, just seems out of place.  

I don't know--when I was making decisions about OB care I was grateful to have studies that showed which course was more likely to have the desired outcome. OB has the added difficulty that the "safer" option is sometimes different for mom and baby. And in the US, adding in midwifery care further muddies the waters, since there are different ways of certifying midwives and not all types of midwives are recognized at a national level. 

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Oh, I think it's possible to do studies, and useful, but you have to be aware of the limitations.  The SBM website seems to be unwilling to consider that something is complex and multifactorial, or that it simply isn't possible to do the kinds of studies they want on some questions.  Or even that sure, look at a study on risks of homebirth, but then you also need to look at special risks of hospital birth, and maybe see in systems where midwifery homebirth is common, if there is or is not a difference in outcome. You need to build up a picture to try and encompass as much of the complexity as possible. Or while there might be a certain cultural around midwifery practice, the fact that is mainstream does not mean that OB practice is free of cultural elements without a medical basis.

There also seems to be kind of a weird attitude to patient autonomy.

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Whenever I see this sort of attitude about childbirth - and about patient autonomy - I genuinely think misogyny is often at the heart of it. I know their expert is female, but that doesn't mean this implicit bias isn't there. Women's pain, women's needs, women's views... all treated worse by the medical establishment.

In terms of medical issues in general, I find that people tend to either be like, doctors are gods, or like, doctors and medicine is all suspect. When you try to have a nuanced view... most doctors are great, but they have limitations and blind spots, Western medicine is usually the right choice but sometimes alternative treatments help people's experience of care or pain management better, etc. then people with views don't want to hear it. It's frustrating.

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