“We have actually touched the Borderland where Matter and Force seem to merge into one another, the shadowy realm between the Known and Unknown … I venture to think that the greatest scientific problems of the future will find their solution in this Borderland, and even beyond; here, it seems to me, lie Ultimate Realities, subtle, far-reaching, wonderful.”
Sir William Crookes
Poor Professor David Colquhoun. He’s so caught up in his personal identification with what ‘science’ means to him that he’s driven to ever greater efforts in his attempts to excommunicate subjects like homeopathy from not just his own world view but everybody else’s as well.
He’s not alone, of course. But the more he and those like him rant and rave about what does or does not deserve to be given the status of card-carrying member of the ‘science’ club, the more they reveal the emotional foundation of their position, and the less the argument has anything to do with real science. His latest effort is an article in March 22nd’s Nature magazine entitled ‘Science degrees without the science‘ in which he lambasts British universities for offering science degrees in complementary medicine, judging this as “anti-science”.
Of course, the universities are just drawing their boundaries wide of Prof Colquhoun’s personal comfort zone, which has very little to do with the fundamental nature of rigorous scientific enquiry. (See the essay Unscientific Attachment for more on this subject.) The paradoxical thing about Colquhoun’s increasingly high profile position on the subject is that findings from disciplines likely well within the boundaries of his own definition of ‘science’ have already proved his thinking to be hopelessly flawed. (Not to mention that Jungian psychology also shows it to be highly self-reflective).
Many of the arguments put forward by complementary medicine’s detractors owe more to 19th century scientific reasoning than they do to the 21st century, and where they do make a valid observation, they usually fail to see that exactly the same mechanisms are at work in their own field.
80 years after Werner Heisenberg demonstrated that events do not possess an absolute deterministic predictability independent of the people who are ‘observing’ them, medical science continues to worship the gold standard of the randomised double blind clinically controlled trial for all the world as if it’s based on solid foundations instead of an invalid assumption and the type of linear logic that’s more appropriate to understanding machines than living systems. While being able to readily perceive the fundamental flaws in RCT methodology when applied to ‘unacceptable’ subjects, the same individuals appear totally blind to the same flaws operating within the bounds of what they view as ‘acceptable’. Trumpeting that ‘belief’ plays a large part in complementary medicine’s effectiveness, they miss the fact that exactly the same process is operating in conventional medicine, and with far greater strength at that. Instead of taking the intelligent scientific view that such phenomena need to be properly investigated, tested and incorporated into our understanding of the processes at work, they simply let the evidence feed their unthinking prejudice.
“The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth”
What’s more, that tired old chestnut that dilutions which contain no trace of material substance cannot possibly produce any result
” … relies on a quaint old idea from the nineteenth century that the ONLY way that the property of water can be affected or changed is by incorporating foreign molecules. This is the Avogadro-limit high-school level chemistry argument. To a materials scientist this notion is absurd, since the fundamental paradigm of materials-science is that the structure-property relationship is the basic determinant of everything. It is a fact that the structure of water and therefore the informational content of water can be altered in infinite ways” ( Prof Rustum Roy PhD, Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State Emeritus; Professor of Science, Technology and Society Emeritus; Professor of Geochemistry Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University)
Landmark achievements in scientific enquiry owe most to individuals who have been able to step outside the prejudices of their conditioning and perceive natural processes in a fresh light without attachment to underlying assumptions. If anyone is “anti-science”, it’s those who cling noisily and somewhat desperately to the sacred cows populating their maps of the world, behaving exactly as one would expect from people who have projected their own individual sense of identity onto their chosen occupation and who experience some kind of personal affront when faced with a challenge to what they perceive as that occupation’s fixed consensus view of the world. (In reality, no such consensus exists and what is generally held to be ‘true’ by any majority of the individuals involved is constantly changing and evolving.) People like Prof Colquhoun seem to feel that the solution to the problem is not to rise to the challenge but to try to bully everyone else into ignoring it or rejecting it in the hopes that it’ll go away. Unfortunately, life just isn’t like that and truth has a way of coming to light regardless.
Interviewed by Nature magazine for an accompanying news item on the subject of university degrees in complementary medicine, Ben Goldacre, a London-based medical doctor, journalist and frequent critic of homeopathy, says. “I can only imagine that they teach that it’s OK to cherry-pick evidence. That’s totally unacceptable.” Indeed it is. But it seems that both Dr Goldacre and Prof Colquhoun are no mean cherry-pickers themselves. Didn’t their mothers teach them to check themselves in the mirror before venturing out into the big bad world?
“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
George Bernard Shaw