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Jonathan Jarry

I’m Majoring in Science, With a Minor in Wishful Thinking

McGill’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy counts among its faculty a chiropractor. This unlikely pairing seems to be well tolerated. One wonders what the backlash would be if the Department of Astronomy were to tenure-track an astrologer. It is not easy for the average citizen to dissociate science from its increasingly sticky cousin, pseudoscience. Not only do we live in a torrential downpour of (mis)information thanks to the Internet, but universities themselves find it more and more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. This newfound legitimacy of pseudoscience by houses of learning has been termed “quackademia”, with integrative medicine (or “quackademic medicine”) gaining particular traction. What used to be a shibboleth—a phrase such as “evidence-based”—is now commonly used by quackademics as a smokescreen to deceive funding agencies, the general public, and perhaps the quackademics themselves. Everyone is engaging in “evidence-based practice”. The phrase has stopped to carry the meaning it once had and now serves as a fashion rule. If you don’t put “evidence-based” in front of what you practice or research, you will not be taken seriously. The critical assessment of the evidence that used to follow is no longer a requirement. Quackademia is thriving south of our border. Dr. David Gorski has been reporting on the infiltration of unscientific and discredited techniques, such as reiki and homeopathy, in many prestigious American cancer centres. The main arguments for this academic masquerade are that patients are screaming for these remedies and that, you know, we just need to study them more. The problems are that scientific and medical truths are not voted in by popularity and that most of these remedies have been thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) discredited. Reiki is magic, pure and simple. For university health centres to allow its practice within their hallowed halls is… Read More

Homeopathy is not scientific

Can you overdose on homeopathy? International demonstrators over the years have shown that such an overdose looks highly unlikely. One might imagine that hundreds of people ingesting an absurd dose of sleeping pills would drop dead in the streets. So why the protest and why the lack of a lethal reaction? In the mid-2000s, semi-isolated acts of “suicide by homeopathy” were performed as demonstrations of the lack of efficacy of this antiquated belief system, culminating in the Liverpudlian 10:23 challenge which extended this act of rational defiance to 30 countries. If homeopathy consists of natural but potent alternative medical treatments, as many people believe, how can you not overdose on them? There is more than meets the eye with regards to homeopathy. The first claim of homeopathy is that “like cures like”. This is not unlike the folk saying that a hair of the dog that bit you is a valid cure for hangovers: homeopaths believe that to treat diarrhea, a small dose of a substance that causes diarrhea should be administered. This runs counter to common sense and is quite distinct from the principle of vaccination, in which an inactivated virus is used as prevention not treatment. What is the basis for “like cures like”? Not scientific evidence but rather a metaphysical belief. The second claim of homeopathy is its most absurd, that diluting something actually increases its potency. By that token, half of an aspirin is better than the whole pill, and a drop of alcohol in a vat of water creates a deadly drink. The dilutions performed by homeopaths are so incredible, there is often no molecule left of the initial ingredient. All you get is a bit of water encapsulated in a sugar pill. The lack of an active ingredient does not worry these pseudomedical salespeople,… Read More

Western medicine is not relative

In a recent piece published in the McGill Daily, environmental studies student Joelle Dahm argues that Western medicine is neocolonial and a symptom of a racist viewpoint. The oral traditions of non-Westerners, she argues, may be just as valid as the medical science from which her student insurance allows her to benefit. The article, entitled “Decolonizing healthcare”, is a study in logical fallacies. These errors in reasoning are sometimes willfully used by dishonest debaters, but more often than not stumbled upon by the ignorant. Let’s take to the blackboard, shall we? Fallacy #1: False equivalency. Dahm claims that any system of knowledge is as good as the other. This particular fallacy is symptomatic of postmodern liberalism, where every opinion and fact is merely relative. In actuality, there are good systems of knowledge (empiricism, deductions) and there are bad systems of knowledge (flipping a coin, accepting every claim at face value). The fact that “there are other systems of knowledge creation” does not mean they are all equally valid, as we shall soon see. Fallacy #2: Argument from antiquity. The author states that traditional knowledge has been handed down from generation to generation and must thus have some value. The mere fact that bloodletting was commonly used by healers for 2000 years does not make it a safe and optimal approach to prevent inflammation. Let’s not forget that from antiquity we derive the word “antiquated”. Fallacy #3: Association fallacy. Because Western medicine has, at one point, produced drugs that turned out to be ineffective or dangerous (see Vioxx), any treatment associated with Western medicine must be thrown out. These “bad drugs” have in effect poisoned the well from whence they came. By that logic, any system must produce perfect results or else be dismissed in its entirety. Fallacy #4: The straw… Read More