Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Medical Delusions

The wonderful Quackwatch site, which keeps track of aggressively-marketed medical frauds, has reprinted Worthington Hooker's book on medical delusions from 1850. It is remarkably wise for its era, noting how many conditions cure themselves over time because of the body's natural processes, and we should not credit that the cure results from Tar Water (Bishop Berkeley) or Homeopathy (Samuel Hahnemann) simply because they were precedent to the cure. Hooker identifies many general medical fallacies in his time which are still prominent today. I nodded serenely as he cut them down, but was brought up short on page 76:
But while we should avoid this ready and prurient credulity, now so prevalent, we should also take care not to run into the opposite extreme of skepticism. The precept of the skeptic is practically "doubt all things; hold fast to nothing but your doubts. He ever sits in his "doubting castle" well fortified against all the shafts of truth, sneering in self-satisfaction at all the rational beliefs, and the changing delusions of the world around him, as if the one were as unfounded as the other.
The pages are short and quick, BTW, no need to be intimidated by the length.

The errors of wise men are always useful for instruction.
True, that.

The fascinating part is how well this advice applies for all science, and indeed all belief. There are lessons to be learned about political and religious enthusiasms as well, here.

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