Monday, January 14, 2008

Lighting the Spark of Reason

"In Science the authority embodied in the opinion of thousands is not worth a spark of reason in one man." - Galileo Galilei

Most science is bad science, based more on flawed logic, poor statistical practices, and "the opinion of thousands" rather than sound evidence. Though critical thinking is supposed to be the cornerstone of science, it is rarely exercised by its practitioners, the media which reports science to the public, or the public itself. For much of science, this is simply an annoying sociological artifact; evidence ultimately prevails over dogma, though it may take a century or two.

Unfortunately, the same criticisms apply to medical sciences, often quite literally resulting in matters of life and death. Bad science is rampant in public health recommendations and current medical practice. The organizations and individuals charged with preserving our health, while perhaps having good intentions, tend to exhibit behavior which is more self-interested than altruistic.

I hope to provide a "spark of reason". Unlike most of those pushing health-related "science", I don't ask for your unconditional trust. I will provide information which I believe to be supported by scientific evidence and logical thought, but it's up to you to assess validity of what I say, and how it applies to your own health. Modern society increasingly places blind faith in scientists, doctors, government, and the media. Our reward has been continued decline in the health of the population. About the best thing you can say for modern medicine is that it does manage to stave off early death, extending life in the face of the poor health caused by modern medicine in the first place. Ivan Illich nicely expresses this idea:

A world of optimal and widespread health is obviously a world of minimal and only occasional medical intervention. Healthy people are those who live in healthy homes on a healthy diet in an environment equally fit for birth, growth, work, healing, and dying; they are sustained by a culture that enhances the conscious acceptance of limits to population, of aging, of incomplete recovery and ever-imminent death. Healthy people need minimal bureaucratic interference to mate, give birth, share the human condition, and die. Man's consciously lived fragility, individuality, and relatedness make the experience of pain, of sickness, and of death an integral part of his life. The ability to cope with this trio autonomously is fundamental to his health. As he becomes dependent on the management of his intimacy, he renounces his autonomy and his health must decline. The true miracle of modern medicine is diabolical. It consists in making not only individuals but whole populations survive on inhumanly low levels of personal health. Medical nemesis is the negative feedback of a social organization that set out to improve and equalize the opportunity for each man to cope in autonomy and ended by destroying it.

In other words, optimal health depends on you taking responsibility for managing yourself. Only you place your own interests above all else, and by placing your health in the hands of other individuals and organizations, you are doomed to a fate which serves their best interests, not your own. To put it bluntly, illness is money: optimal health in the general population puts a lot of people out of business.

The path to optimal health lies not in "the opinion of thousands", but instead must be lit by your own "spark of reason".


Anonymous said...

Hey Dave--

Congrats on your excellent blog. Glad to see you took the plunge. I look forward to reading more. The name is brilliant; I wish I had thought of it first. Is it for sale?


Dave said...

Hi Dr. Mike. Thank you, glad you liked it. Hopefully I can find the time to keep it up.

I suppose since Galileo coined the "spark of reason" phrase, it is arguably in the public domain. But I went ahead and locked up, just in case :-)


GreatnessBlog said...

I'm starting to believe that there's really something to this low-carb stuff and I'm trying it myself. You're blog seems fascinating -- I'll definitely be reading.

I must admit this is the first time I've heard of anyone who's not obviously a clear crank (like some brutal African dictator with a clear agenda) argue that HIV does not cause AIDS and so I'm quite skeptical of your claim, as I'm sure you would agree I should be. Then again, I'm not a scientist and certainly haven't done any of my own research into the evidence behind that claim.

Still, the plain fact that HIV+ people in America with access to the new treatments are living years and years longer than their counterparts of only a couple of decades ago causes me to believe that the medical community is doing something right.

Dave said...

Hi GreatnessBlog. The biochemical details of why low-carb works are actually pretty well-understood, all the way down to the molecular and cellular level. If you're interested in learning more, I suggest reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. It's a dense book, but will arm you with the kind of information you need to make the best decision for your health.

Gary also gave a lecture at UC Berkeley, which you can watch here: It's almost two hours long, but worth the time.

The AIDS/HIV business is definitely a head-scratcher. The HIV "dissidents" at least appear to have logical and well-thought arguments, but I'm no virologist, so it's difficult for me to say. The best I can say is that I can't find any logical holes, given my limited knowledge.

For instance, as I understand one of the main issues is that the HIV virus has never been isolated. The only evidence for its existence is indirect, things like the presence of reverse transcriptase in samples from infected individuals. The "dissidents" argue that these effects could easily have their origin in other causes.

Now, presuming they had the evidence, it seems like it would be easy enough for the pro-HIV crew to say something like this: "It's true that the aforementioned effects can come from other origins. However, given that they all occur together in such-and-such proportions, the odds of it being due to something other than active HIV infection is one in a million." Somebody ought to be able to make this statement, and if they can't, you have to wonder if they know what they're talking about in the first place.

Anyway, none of this means that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. It could just be examples of questionable human behavior. It would be nice to be able to get past all of that nonsense, and have somebody present the actual evidence supporting the hypothesis.


Vesna VK said...

Hi, Dave! Congrats on your new blog. I look forward to reading more posts!

I wanted to share a Blogger tip that was not easy to me to find. Notice that after the text formatted as "quote," the leading is all scrunched up. The solution is to put a < p > tag immediately after all specially formatted text at the paragraph level. (That is, after things like lists and blockquotes, but not after things like italics.) Enjoy!

Oops, I just got an error attempting me to leave this comment. It messed up the comment to include an HTML tag. I went back and put spaces within the tag so I could submit. The tag should be written < p > without the spaces.

Dave said...

Hi Vesna. I hadn't noticed that at all - thanks for pointing it out and the solution!