A Short History of Medicine
I have a headache:
2000 BCE: Here, eat this root.
1000 AD: That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 AD: That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 AD: That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 AD: That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2011 AD: That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.
As people who read this blog or TMS Facebook are, no doubt, well aware, I have problems with pseudoscience. This includes stuff like animal communication, energy healing, ‘natural’ cures, herbal supplementation and a whole schwack of stuff marketed as ‘holistic’.
It’s not because this blog is funded by ‘Big Pharma’; unfortunately, it’s powered only by Cafepress and Tierce’s ego. It’s because I really, really don’t like anything that purports to have The Answer™. I view it as potentially harmful to pets and, ultimately, the people who love them.
What you don’t know can hurt your dog.
There are a lot of people who say, “Live and let live! It might work and, even if it doesn’t, it makes the person who’s trying it out on their dog feel better! Who are you to attack something that you can’t prove isn’t true?”
Problem is that if it doesn’t work (or works too well), it can kill or seriously harm your dog. I remember being contacted about a ‘natural’ remedy that someone was giving their Shiba. Unfortunately, when I looked it up on WebMD, it was listed as directly conflicting with Atopica, something she was also giving the dog.
Anti-Science Advocates Harm Pets
It’s distressing to me how many people completely discount or cherry-pick science when it comes to ‘natural’ cures. If it works, why don’t more people want to prove that it works beyond a doubt? Also, why don’t more people want to know the exact parameters of effectiveness? What about conflicts with other treatments? Wouldn’t you want to know if that herbal supplement has some effect on the pills your vet prescribed?
What is worse is that the same people touting ‘natural’ cures are also spreading distrust of vets and veterinary medicine. Vets aren’t miracle workers; they’re applying the knowledge that thousands of people before them spent their lives learning and extrapolating for use by future generations. Treatments that are proven to work in most cases. And, no, not every treatment is going to work for every pet, but chances are that if it worked for the last several hundred dogs, it’ll work for yours, too.
And, of course, when it comes to people claiming powers of telepathy to ‘speak’ to an animal and telling you that they can help you make medical decisions for your pet, you are wandering into dangerous territory. There is no proof – and I mean studied, verified proof – that ‘animal communicators’ or ‘pet psychics’ are able to in any way communicate mentally with animals. Let’s not even get into the whole looking at a picture thing, because… no.
Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
If something simultaneously cures ADHD, cancer, headaches and the common cold, I want to see a lot of people in double blind studies that prove that yes, actually, it does do that thing. If someone is going to claim the existence something that present-day science indicates there is no evidence for, they should be prepared to provide evidence. Irrefutable, reliably replicatable evidence. If what they claim is true, then there is nothing stopping them from proving it to everyone. There really is no excuse.
The Presence of Belief Does Not Validate It
Believing something doesn’t make it real. Reliable, repeatable results make it real. I believe that if someone’s marketing something they claim will help your pet, it should have ample proof that it works, not anecdotes, not stories of how much someone believes that it works - proof. How good it makes you feel is not proof.
Proof is obtained through study. Studies provide parameters for the claimed phenomenon that help prevent personal bias, concurrent treatments and the placebo effect from affecting the results and the conclusions drawn from them. The scientific method is based on a genuine desire to increase knowledge, whether or not it supports the original theory.
Research is Biased
Science isn’t exact and research is prey to the same practicalities that plague many areas of life, namely funding, public support and the availability of qualified personnel to conduct research. What is studied is also largely dependent on funding and interest.
While it would be nice if pharmaceutical companies would freely fund cancer research, the reality is that if they don’t make money, they can’t afford to pay the nice people who do the boring job of checking petri dishes and filling out spreadsheets. So, they pour the majority of their funding into research that’s likely to provide reliable results.
How those results are interpreted by society at large is often highly dependent on the news sites and special-interest sites that write about them. And they do spin them. They spin them like dreidels at Hannukah. I can take a study that associates aggression in Shibas with a particular genetic polymorphism.
“Shibas are aggressive, study says.”
“Inbreeding in Shibas Could Mean Danger.”
“Shibas Have An ‘Aggression Gene’, Study Says.”
None of these are really true, but if someone reports them thusly, how will you know if you don’t read the study and have your bullshit detector light blinking?
Can you trust studies? By and large, my opinion is yes. However, if you have a real interest in them, teach yourself how to understand them so you don’t need someone interpreting them for you through the lens of their own bias.
How To Understand Scientific Studies and Research
Here are a couple of links to pages that explain how to understand and interpret a study:
Stumptuous.com: How to read a scientific study
How to Read and Understand Scientific Research
As always, when looking at a work on Wikipedia, go to the citations at the bottom.
Wikipedia: Scientific Method