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Science Is My Friend. Science Likes Me. What's Your Problem?

I had to restrain myself on the telephone today, during a conversation with a very nice person. I did so.

I did not call this person a fuzzy-brained example of what happens when pregnant mothers are frightened by Deepak Chopra best-sellers. In fact, having had previous experience with  this very nice person, I'm ashamed that I was caught off guard by the comment delivered to me over the phonelines.

You see, during a discussion about BB's health, my acquaintance tendered the following, which made me grit my teeth and search, silently and desperately for some inoffensive bromide with which to respond:

BB should take milk thistle to "clean his liver" of "impurities." .


Milk thistle? To clean his liver???? Are you  in-frakking-sane??

Let's leave aside the fact that I haven't got one frail clue on god's green earth what milk thistle is, except that it sounds vaguely unpleasant. It's just everything that the entire impossibly medieval-tinted comment encompassed and represented to me.

It's the fucking fuzzy-headedness that assumes that Western medicine is EEEvil, and Science is Baaaaad, (wooooo! Pretty scary, eh kids?) And that non-Western medicine works better. Why? Because ... because ... because it's not Western Medicine.

Or perhaps it's because our animal spirits reach through our chakras and straighten out our fucking subluxations when we eat macrobiotic goat feces, and refuse to take our insulin, because if the Great Ascended Beings who sank Atlantis and govern us through the stars wanted our bodies to, you know, work right, they'd do it naturally. Organically. Without medicine.

Geez, I hate it when unnatural inorganic shit works to keep me alive, don't you?

Chemistry, folks. Titrated doses. Medicine that works.

Case in point: We don't take slippery elm for headaches, because Evil Scientists were able to replicate what slippery elm did, improve upon it, oh, about A GAZILLION TIMES, make sure that each dose had the same amount of really effective painkiller (and, hey, all without stripping the damned elms of their slippery bark!) Oh, and no misplaced powder of amanita mushroom to gum up the works.

It's called aspirin.

Did you ever notice how much Evil Science has added to our lives? Like light bulbs, central air, life-span and good teeth?

In addition to saving vast forests of slippery elm, Evil Scientists also found ways to control diabetes, fight cancer, attack mental illness (because that whole "trepanning to let out the sick humours/devils/bad blood" thing was going so well - oh, wait. It wasn't.)

Evil doctors work their hearts out to keep us alive, along with Evil Nurses, Evil Nurse Practitioners, Evil Nurse's Aides and Physical Therapists, Evil Psychiatrists and Evil ... well, you fill in the blank.

And to forestall what may be inevitable "Oh, she doesn't understand the intangibles of the spirit/what about the Third World and the way shamans keep their tribes healthy and centered/doctors never listen, and they're arrogant, and make mistakes" responses - let's be real clear on a few things.

Drug companies can do awful things. That's called greed and bad policy.

Doctors can be assholes. That's called ... being an asshole.

The Third World? The tragedy is that we're not providing them with the Evils of Science. Evils like clean water, medicine, and enough food.

That failure isn't one of science, or medicine, or the scientific method.

It's one of humanity.

Science doesn't fail us. Medicine doesn't fail us. We fail us. It's the spirit inside us, that fails us, that fails our brothers and sisters in the Third World, or our own cities and rural countryside. We Don't Share. We Don't Play Well With Others.

That isn't Evil Science. That's Stupid Humans.

Western medicine isn't the problem, and I don't want to live without it.  So keep your goddamned milk thistle to yourself.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 20th, 2009 07:19 am (UTC)
Sing it, sister!
I'm with you on the science angle. Far too much woo-woo out there preventing people from doing sensible things for what ails them. See the Making Light post about immunizations today, for example.

That said, it appears, "Evidence exists that milk thistle may be hepatoprotective through a number of mechanisms: antioxidant activity, toxin blockade at the membrane level, enhanced protein synthesis, antifibriotic activity, and possible anti-inflammatory or immunomodulating effects." Though the same article concludes, "Clinical efficacy of milk thistle is not clearly established."

So "clean his liver?" Probably not. Have some substances that may, with additional scientific methodology, be found to have some benefit for liver diseases the way slippery elm had analgesic properties? Maybe.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Sing it, sister!
You betcha - and that's the whole point. People took slippery elm when there was no such thing as aspirin, then turned to aspirin, because it maximized what slippery elm had been able to do in a raw state. When research and development are able to do the same thing with milk thistle, it'll be way cool, and way helpful. But it'll be cool because of its quantifiable, identifiable, controllable, titratable ingredients.
Feb. 20th, 2009 09:13 am (UTC)
Wow, that really was a rant, wasn't it?

I have a friend who is into every faddish "health diet" she comes across. I can't remember what the most recent one was, I think it was the "blood type" diet. These things always seem to have two things in common: a pseudo-scientific theory, and testimonials. They wouldn't know what a clinical trial or a double-blind experiment would be if they hit them on the head. When my friend starts talking about her latest one, I've learned to nod and smile.

And that non-Western medicine works better. Why? Because ... because ... because it's not Western Medicine.
Another one in the coalition of nonsense which is very similar is the "Natural is Better, and Chemicals are Nasty" one. Er, no. Here, have some Belladonna leaves, they're perfectly natural. Ooops, you just died.
Take the hysteria that surrounds different sugar substitutes. Stevia extract is "natural" (and thus good) and Sucralose (Splenda) is "unnatural" (and thus bad). The reasoning seems to be that if something is extracted by a physical or chemical reaction, it is still "natural", but if it is created by a chemical reaction, it is "unnatural". No, wait; if it is something created by a chemical reaction at the instigation and supervision of human beings, it is unnatural. No, wait; if it is something created by a chemical reaction at the instigation and supervision of human beings, it is unnatural, unless the chemical reaction is one that human beings have been using for centuries or millennia, such as cooking or cheese-making.

(rolls eyes)

What makes the fallacy so appealing to people, though, is that there is a grain of truth in it. There are a number of cases where natural is better, and chemicals are nasty. I'd rather eat Certified Organic fruit and vegetables, for example. I am glad that most places in the Western World have legislation which forces companies to say what the ingredients of their food products are. It's fascinating (and sometimes appalling) what one notices if one actually pays attention to the ingredients lists. For example, "Lite" Coconut Milk is only Lite because there's less coconut and more water and thickener in it. I feel empowered when I make my own ice cream, because I know exactly what is in it. My ice cream is made of pure, natural ingredients... and pure, unnatural ingredients.

Feb. 20th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
They wouldn't know what a clinical trial or a double-blind experiment would be if they hit them on the head.

Maybe someone should set up a double-blind experiment where people are hit on the head to see if it helps.
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! Reading labels is empowering, and appalling, and what I do without fail. It's also helpful, in the US anyhow, to read the labels on so-called organic food, to make sure that some Agribusiness marketing savant hasn't slipped The Same Stuff by overworked, underpaid and understaffed government inspectors, in order to be able to charge more. I think you and our other Antipodean neighbors have better luck with government inspectors and regulations.
Feb. 20th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
to read the labels on so-called organic food
Certainly, there's a difference between "certified organic" and "organic"; the first is a tested and passed certification, the second is a meaningless marketing term.

I think you and our other Antipodean neighbors have better luck with government inspectors and regulations.
I have no data to compare on that. I do know that our Customs department is very vigilant, because we want to keep out foreign diseases - being an island nation has its advantages and disadvantages.
Feb. 20th, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC)
I agree with you SO MUCH. I had a discussion a few months ago with my (former) boss that mostly consisted of me saying that hey, it's actually a great idea for kids starting college to get meningitis vaccines, seeing as a girl from my college would be ALIVE if it had been required when I was there, and the doctors and schools aren't out to get freshmen with their nasty and unnecessary vaccines! I had to stop talking to her before she started going off on how babies don't need vaccines either and they probably cause autism. AUGH.

Yes, some people are allergic to vaccines (or rather eggs and other bases) but if you don't vaccinate your dang kids then the rest of us are going to get sick, and ESPECIALLY those that can't be vaccinated for valid reasons! Herd immunity, morons! There's a reason there's no polio in most of the world! UGH.

Um. I'm a little bit passionate about vaccinations. (and the rest of what you were saying. you will pry my lamictal (for seizures) from my cold dead hands.)
Feb. 20th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
Holy shit - HIGH FIVES!!!!!
Feb. 20th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
I'm completely baffled by this attitude that vaccinations are bad. Where did they get that idea? Why do they believe it? I saw it first on House, where he put the fear of god into this mother that had that idea - but that was fiction.

Um. I'm a little bit passionate about vaccinations.
Go ahead; I'll applaud.
Feb. 20th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
I don't get it! I know that there are a few celebrities that talk it up (shut it, Jenny McCarthy) but I think it's something that is just spread amongst crazy mothers, often on the internet. Seriously, IT DOES NOT CAUSE AUTISM. Gah. It makes me so angry that people like that are potentially putting so many people at risk.
Feb. 20th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
The doctor that originally propogated the theory that vaccinations cause autism was recently found to have cheated on his data. He deliberately concocted the theory and made up data to support it. The simple fact of the matter is that the age at which it is customary to give a child a whole battery of vaccines is also roughly the age that children demonstrate the first symptoms of autism. They are concurrent, not causally related.
Feb. 21st, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
That's right; I'd been thinking of that news item, and I'm glad you brought it up.
Feb. 20th, 2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
I'm awfully fond of science myself. I've been on antidepressants and suchlike for more than 20 years. It makes a big difference. And no thank you, I don't want to dick around with St. John's Wort. Right now I'm on Cymbalta, which works fine, can be properly titrated, is the same dose every single time, and is checked to be pure by the FDA. Why on earth would I want to risk myself (suicide is a real risk) on an herbal remedy which at it's best works only half as well as Prozac...which doesn't work for me anymore, anyway. I can't tell you the number of people that have recommended exercise and some herbal remedy for my bi-polar disorder. I remember what life was like unmedicated, and I don't want to go there again.
Feb. 21st, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
And I sing descant to your chorus. Same here.
Feb. 21st, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
OMG your One icon is the most!!!

(Pregnant mothers frightened by Deepak???)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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