liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

Brian Dunning and the Skeptical Community's Blind Spots

He spoke tonight at Portland State University, sponsored by the Oregonians for Science and Reason.  The popular assumptions he challenged were the idea that fish fall from the sky because of waterspouts, swamp gasses cause lamplike lights, prevalent anti-government conspiracy theories,  the reliability of polygraph testing and the Myers Briggs personality inventory, the Rohrshach ink blot test, the idea that we repress memories and that vitamin C helps wihta cold, the usefulness of alternative medicine, the use of dowsing rods in Iraq to detect bombs, the dangers of nuclear meltdowns, and the origins of the Yeti.  In general I agreed with him but I found his take to be simplistic.  He says a lot of things that I don't believe, and is clearly quite biased.  Don't listen to anyone, including Brian Dunning: do your own damn homework.

I understand that it is necessary to study up on things, figure out where your position must be, and then to move forward.  I do it too. Sometimes things require re-study.  Sometimes new information intrudes and require that the thoughtful person apply critical thinking a second time to update their opinions.  This is where he appears to fall short.  He is so busy producing a weekly podcast that he can't be bothered to rethink anything, he has to keep moving.  He has a fine radio voice though, and 200,000K podcast subscribers if I am to believe what I am told.

Mind you, his science background is that of a computer scientist.  That lady who wrote that pro-homeopathy book that is so popular at NUNM was also a computer scientist.  I just want to say that a computer scientist is NOT A SCIENTIST.  A computer scientist is a programmer, a person who is good at the most basic kind of logic.  Logic is not science.  Science involves the scientific method, and requires a whole different level of neutralization of all our natural cognitive biases than simply applying logic to make a program do what it is supposed to do.  I'm getting pretty tired of being lectured to about science by so-called computer scientists.

I think my biggest beef with Dunning is his simplistic take on medicine.  His opinion jives with all of that in the skeptical world which is that "alternative medicine has failed all tests" and that is why we call it alternative, and by extension I presume that he means that conventional medicine has passed all tests.  This is utter nonsense.  It is obvious that there is plenty of evidence that has bearing on human health that has not been integrated by conventional medicine, and that there is plenty of conventional medicine that is based on outdated notions that were never very scientific to start with.  His worship of MD's and disparagement of herbs is an indication of his ignorance about medicine.

Then I had the bad luck to sit down between a retired MD and a retired nurse for a drink after the talk.  The MD told me about his Catholic upbringing and his X many years in the "skeptical community".  He asked me about vaccines and I told him I didn't agree with the ACIP schedule.   Then he told me about his N=1 experience of getting hep B (because he was not vaccinated) and what a bad experience that was.  I would have vaccinated him because he was a doctor working with needles but somehow he didn't get that done and had to learn the hard way. The RN told me that there is "science" that backs up the use of vaccines and that there is nothing I can say that will change her opinion in the least.  There was ZERO opportunity to have a nuanced discussion about where we do and do not have evidence, which vaccines are effective and which are not, how we can obtain the best herd immunity when it really matters, and how we can protect the people most at risk, because they thought that I am a vaccine denier before I even said a word, based on the fact that I have an ND degree and license.  These people, Dunning included, congratulate themselves on their critical thinking because they have debunked some popular assumptions for themselves, and then they take it no farther.

The truth is complex.  Medicine is a work in progress.  If we can take it to the level of talking about actual science, individual findings and studies about vaccines or vitamin C, then we will be able to talk.  If we can talk, discuss new findings and figure out what to study next, we might be able to devise studies to answer the new questions and eventually to refine our evaluation and treatment approaches.  If we can change those based on evidence, we can most likely improve outcomes.

I have HAD IT with being told that "the science says" WHATEVER by people who never actually read a study. Heck, they don't even read the abstracts or the summaries, they just parrot what they are told.  It's like "Simon Says" more than science.  Have you read a study about that in the last year?  In the last decade??  Have you taken a CE course about vaccines?  Or have you just lived inside that same damn bubble for the last 40 years. All you know is the news headlines, that vaccination rates are down and measles outbreaks are increasing? At least there's a little current events knowledge. That MD and that RN have worked in the field long enough to be brainwashed beyond any chance of critical thinking or new learning.  Now they are retired and they don't even study on it any more. They just know what they know.

This is the problem.  Medical professionals, and Dunning, your blind spots are getting bigger with each new study that comes out.  And all you who think you know the truth about vaccines; how about read up on it a little bit rather than assuming that everyone who disagrees with conventional practice is an idiot.  If we can't disagree and talk about it, then it will never get better.
Tags: hepatitis, medicine, portland, science, skepticism, vaccines, vit c

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