Thursday, June 04, 2009

Mainstream Science and Medicine, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Legal Action and Double Standards from the Mainstream

In the 16th May Issue of New Scientist David Allen Green, otherwise known as Blogger Jack of Kent, wrote a piece entitled “Don't criticise or we'll sue” New Scientist 6th May 2009, page 24. Until the the British Chiropractors Association legal action against Simon Singh, I had not heard of much by way of legal action by Complementary and Alternative therapy practitioners, against any mainstream scientists, or anyone else, or vice versa. Even in the situation between the chiropractors and Simon Singh, the chiropractors gave an opportunity for the offending comments to be withdrawn, though that was declined, even though it would have made little difference to the thrust of the argument.

Everyone I know in the CAM field is somewhat bemused and, to some degree, amused by the general attitude of the mainstream people, both scientists and their “hangers on”. Their arrogance is, admittedly, an irritation, though the immaturity of their absolute certainty in themselves and their ways, as well as their juvenile language is, usually, met by indulgent smiles, gently shaking heads and wondering how long it will take them to grow up.

In the current issue of New Scientist (6th June 2009, page 26) there is a letter from Dr George Lewith, who also writes that, until the chiropractors' action against Simon Singh, he was unaware of any CAM people taking legal action against critics. On the other hand he has been on the receiving end of legal action from anti-CAM people. The was of no great surprise to me as the ant-CAM brigade, as George Lewith refers to them, as well as a vast swathes of mainstream scientists and their supporters are consistent in very few ways, though one of those ways is inconsistency. Another way is the obvious juvenility; I deliberately hold back from using the word “childish” for the simple reason that to so characterise the behaviour and attitudes of very many of the anti-CAM brigade and many other of the mainstream types, would be an insult to children. There is a similarity with children in the “running to mummy” syndrome that rapidly develops. While they are deriding and “bad mouthing” others everything is fine; as soon as someone hits back, “Wah!, That's not fair.” I think we have a long wait before they grow up.

I have reproduced George Lewith's letter below:

George Lewith,
Complementary and Integrative Medicine Research Unit
University of Southampton, U.K.

David Allen Green suggests that there is an increasing trend towards complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners threatening libel action against those who criticise them (16 May, p 24). I am unaware of anybody prior to the chiropractors he describes taking this course of action in the U.K.

Furthermore, as a medically qualified researcher of CAM, I have experienced two prominent members of the “anti-CAM brigade” attempting to take legal action against me, which I had to defend. It should be noted that the article you published on this matter is from a prominent member of the anti-CAM brigade.

Science, Knowledge and Noblesse Oblige

The matter of Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association rumbles on.

For some strange reason there are many who still try to characterise the situation as a freedom of speech issue. If there was absolute freedom anyone would be able to say what they wished to anyone else, do what they wished to anyone else, a complete free for all. It would also deny people freedom from unnecessary and undue harassment and harm. Usually, there is a balance with everyone being able to say and do as they wish, up to a point.

Simon Singh could easily have made his points on chiropractic procedures without using the word “bogus”. You do not have to be more than an average “word smith” to achieve that.

However, there is also a problem which many have overlooked. Just because someone is a scientist that does not make them sufficiently knowledgeable, generally able, or qualified to move into areas outside their own.

The first sentences of the Preface of “What is Life” by Erwin Schrödinger (Cambridge University Press Edition, page 1) reads as follows:

“A scientist is supposed to have a complete and thorough knowledge, at first hand, of some subjects and, therefore, is usually expected not to write on any topic of which he is not a master. This is regarded as a matter of noblesse oblige.”

Noblesse Oblige:
Literally “the obligation of honourable, generous, and responsible behaviour associated with high rank or birth “
Merriam Webster Dictionary

In practice the implication is that those who have inherited, or attained, a position with which comes wealth, power and prestige, also comes social responsibilities including a moral obligation to act with honour, kindliness and generosity.”

In this context and similar, a scientist should keep to the subject, or subjects, that he has mastered, tread very carefully if he ventures outside them and moderate his behaviour towards others.

A physicists going well outside his area or making strident assertions without proving those assertions hardly fits with those requirements on any count; not just the chiropractic matter but the repeated use of the word “lies” in the book “Trick or Treatment”, co-authored with Edzard Ernst.

Admittedly with Edzard Ernst it could be argued that he is not outside his area of expertise, or at least supposed expertise. However, his ways of delivering judgements tends to wards the strident, seeming to have become more unpleasant, and he is co-responsible for the repeated use of “lies” in the book. However, since he, along with Simon Singh does not know the definition of Spiritual Healing, or any idea of the “mechanism” and he carried out experiments on the subject that failed to rule out an obvious variable, one wonders how competent he is. To spend fifteen years as a Professor of Complementary Medicine and not know the definition of a major topic in the field, let alone make such basic errors in experiments, is a major achievement, albeit a perverse one.

Admittedly, Schrödinger goes on to write:

“For the present purpose I beg to renounce the noblesse, if any, and to be freed of the ensuing obligation. My excuse is as follows:”

… which I will leave any interested reader to follow up.

However, the point is that Schrödinger was well aware of his limitations and the dangers of stepping outside his field of knowledge and expertise. Not only that, when he did so Schrödinger progressed with extreme care, a tightly argued and carefully structured approach, and always conscious of his limitations.

Contrast that with the approach of Simon Singh and, is his own particular way, Edzard Ernst; neither of them are remotely in the same league as Schrödinger. Their approach to science and evidence, let alone analysis is nowhere near that level.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Simon Singh, the British Chiropractic Association and the High Court Ruling by Sir David Eady

Over the last day or two, reports have appeared on the Internet about the High Court Ruling on the legal action taken against Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association by the Judge, Sir David Eady.

As usual, one of the most comprehensive descriptions and assessments in on Jack of Kent's Blog.

The passage in Singh's original article which caused most difficulty is:

“The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”

The judgement revolved around ruling whether the passage was a “comment” or “statement of fact”, Singh's lawyers arguing the former and the BCA's lawyers arguing the latter.

The Judge ruled that, although the passage in Singh's article was a comment piece and published on a comment page, it was a statement of fact.

Jack of Kent writes that this ruling did not even refer to the fact that Singh's use of the word bogus is actually set out in the following paragraph in the original article:

“I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects he examined the evidence of 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.”

That is fair enough, if it is fully substantiated, though would still be better couched in less emotional terms, science is supposed to be objective after all. However, not finding evidence that chiropractors could treat such conditions is not proof of anything other than that inability to find evidence; it might suggest something else, it may be possible to tentatively infer something else, but it is not proof of anything else. It is certainly not proof of the treatments being bogus; they may be, they may not be but no evidence was brought to bear to prove that they were bogus.

In any case, I have read and wrote a review of Singh and Ernst's book, “Trick or Treatment” and it is certainly not a good science book; a populist book but not science book, certainly not in the textbook sense. Although, of course, many of Singh and Ernst's supporters laud it as science as it confirms their prejudices. “Trick or Treatment” contains no references and an extremely limited bibliography, while I would expect a book of science to have at least references, preferably references and bibliography; science is about providing evidence, after all, or at least it is supposed to be. “Trick or Treatment” is peppered with the word “lies”, in the “untruths”, “falsehoods” sense of the word, though I did not come across any proof that anyone was telling lies. The book has only one page on the knowledge, area, of “Spiritual Healing” and makes numerous errors in just a few hundred words, displaying a complete lack of understanding of the subject, wrongly describing the procedures involved and failing to give an accurate definitions of Spiritual Healing, quite an achievement for supposedly competent sceintists, let alone Ernst who has specialised as a Professor in a field that includes Spiritual Healing for fifteen years. I reviewed the Spiritual Healing section of “Trick or Treatment” separately as I practice it and, clearly, know more about it that either Ernst or Singh.

Then there is the matter of definitions. Although, as Jack of Kent wrote, the ruling did not refer to Singh's use of the word bogus being set out in another paragraph of his article, there seems no pressing reason that it should need to do so. Surely an intelligent man and experienced writer like Simon Singh is aware of language and tat it is wise to check definitions. There seems little point in having a language and dictionaries if anyone who wishes to can simply come up with their own definition. I am probably too pedantic but I tend to write on my word processor with dictionaries to hand, both usual and technical, with several browser windows open to check definitions, references, etc. No-one is perfect but it does reduce errors somewhat.

Bogus: counterfeit, not genuine, spurious
Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

1. An apparatus for counterfeit coining
2. adj. Counterfeit, spurious, sham 1852
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

The statement made by Simon Singh seemed fairly definitive and the way I was brought up to learn and practice science, along with engineering, which uses science at times, as well as life in general, if you make a definitive statement you provide the evidence to back it up, or have the evidence to hand if asked for it. If there is not enough evidence to make a definitive statement, you make a qualified statement commensurate with the strength, weight and reliability of the evidence.

It is a matter of thoroughness, completeness and precision which seems to have gone out of science in recent years, decades, even to be replaced by a juvenile howling down and name calling. Never mind the quality of the evidence, if any at all for their positions, feel the juvenile bile and weight of numbers.

“Trick or Treatment” comes over as very much in that vein. So, recent utterings and writings by both Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst being even stronger in that sense have come as no great surprise.

It is not just the language that is juvenile, much, most, of the so-called science brought to bear is of a similar level.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Science, wisdom, the human brain and supposed “discoveries”

Scientists ‘discover’ source of wisdom in the human brain, the opening two paragraphs of which read:

“Scientists have discovered the source of wisdom in the human brain, it was revealed today.

Experts have pinpointed the part of the brain that guides people when they are battling with difficult moral dilemmas, according to the study.”

As usual the reality of the research is somewhat different to what is claimed for it.

The author of the study is Dilip Jeste, Professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California in San Diego. He is quoted as saying, “Our research suggests there may be a basis in neurobiology for wisdom’s most universal traits”.

Although the findings of the study are described as “a significant departure into the area of expertise that has long been regarded as one of religion and philosophy”, as is most often the case, further reading and just a little thought is far short of such claims and interpretations.

The research of Jeste and his colleague, Thomas Meeks, which is to be published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, claims to show that a person weighing up an issue that just called for am altruistic response used the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is linked to intelligence and learning, but that when someone is considering a moral dilemma other areas of the brain are used, such as those parts that are linked to rational thought and primitive emotions.

According to the report, “Professor Jeste admitted the possibility that wisdom and free will are based on the make-up of someone’s brain rather than metaphysics is unsettling”, though is quoted further as saying, “Knowledge of the underlying mechanisms in the brain could potentially lead to developing interventions for enhancing wisdom”.

Well there are certainly many mainstream scientists, among numerous other people, science reporters included, who could do with a strong infusion of wisdom, though that is unlikely to be the way to obtain it, at least not the best, or lasting, way.

Although many in mainstream science tend to consider the brain as the source of mind that is not proven and is only opinion. Many others are of the opposite view that the brain, along with other material world constructs, emerges from mind. On a practical experience and direct knowledge level that is my view, more properly my knowing. I am well aware of the underlying structure to the physical world, the body and the brain included. I am also aware of thoughts, wisdom, etc., that are of mind in origin without that mind having a physical brain.

Professor Jeste is more careful with his words than the reporter is and, I suspect, many others will be. Indication of processes in the brain is not indication of the processes being only there let alone proof that they are.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pendennis, Dawkins and The King delusion

In his Observer Diary Pendennis Column (Sunday 22 March 2009 ) Oliver Marre writes:

“A new 'ism' for Richard Dawkins. An excited source at pressure group Republic, which campaigns against the monarchy, says Dawkins is an official backer. Suggestions that he's cross because he's never been knighted are perhaps less pertinent than that he enjoys a fight.”
The story seems to be not that recent, going by an entry on the Republic Web Site, “Richard Dawkins backs Republic's campaign for end to monarchy”.

I am not really surprised. Dawkins often does give the impression of being “spoiling for a fight” rather than reasoned debate, though that goes for many, most(?), of the self-styled sceptic, limited classical science and materialist community in general.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Human Aura, Science, Non-Science, the Esoteric and That Which Falls in Between

During a recent meeting, connected with esoteric matters, that I attended, the subject of auras came up, largely in connection, at least initially, with a person who was new to not just auras but mediation and matters to do with the non-physical in general.

One of those present described the aura as the magnetic field around the physical body, adding, if I recall correctly, that it emanated from the body. I pointed out that the field of the aura was not magnetic and that the physical body emanated from the field of the aura, not the other way round, adding that referring to the aura as a magnetic field compounded the problems that people like me, who understand science, were having with the mainstream science people when non-science people were persisting in using such terminology.

When the magnetic field explanation was repeated, I said that it was not detectable with magnetometers, it was not physical but was an etheric field. A person who taught yoga then said that the people she taught were of mixed religions, many of which could not handle the term “etheric”, so she insisted on calling it a magnetic field. Then the matter of the ancient science connected with yoga was brought up. Since the ancients did not know about magnetic fields I could not see how that made any sense. Either way it came down to people being told that the aura was something that it was not and, apparently, science, of a fashion, being brought into it as well. By such routes is disinformation and misunderstanding borne.

As it was then put that the aura not being magnetic was just my opinion, I started to explain what I understood and include the science, as far as it could go, thought about it, then just said that it was at the quantum physics level, really beyond that; I was talking to people who would be lost a that level anyway; not an adverse comment on them, it was just that I would be using terminology and concepts that were outside their knowledge and experience.

I thought about such matters on the way home, maybe thought too much, then decided that I really must try to finish the explanation for auras, as well as other matters, that I started writing a couple of years ago, or more, for my Psychic Engineer Web Site. The problem, as is usually the case with me, was spending too much time and effort getting everything as right as possible, before actually publishing it. Were it not for such a trait there would be far more on my Web Sites and Psychic Engineer Blog. My book "Remembering Lorelei" might also be finished, though the reticence there is partly, largely, to do with the eruption that will take place when certain information on events in Havant finally emerges into the public domain.

I recalled an article that I had read “A Brief Scientific Look at the Human Aura, Its existence and Meaning” by Violet Aura on Associated Content. While I have no doubt that it was written with the best of intentions it is, regrettably, far from scientific and much of the rest of the article does not fit very well with my understanding of such matters.

A great deal of work, with apparent progress, has been carried out on auras by Konstantin Korotkov and Alexander Levichev, with much being explained in “The 3-fold way and Consciousness Studies”.

For the time being a reasonable approximation would be to view the aura as an energy field, more properly a field that can be represented by a stress-energy tensor which is not in Einstein-Minkowsky space-time; it is to form structures in physical reality but only partly in physical space-time.

Wikipedia is useless for non-physical matters, or anything non-mainstream, though the mainstream itself is very questionable, due to the large number of amateur editors with a heavy materialistic bias who “know it all”, though have not a clue. However, for limited instances involving mainstream explanations, it has its uses; from that point of view the Wikipedia explanation of the stress-energy tensor may be useful.

As already pointed out, the aura does not emanate from the physical body, the physical body emanates from the aura. That is generally applicable in that all biologically living entities have a comparable structure, as well as other “entities”, plus physical reality being generated by and supported by non-physical energies and structures.

The spiritual is prime, the non-physical sub-prime, the physical sub-sub-prime; at least as an approximate explanation.

The aura is part of the non-physical level of existence that is close to the physical, part of what David Bohm referred to as the implicate order, supporting the explicate order of physical reality.

For an overall understanding without the science mentioned above, this is best achieved by referring to
Barbara Brennan’s books, such as “Hands of Light: A Guide to Healing Through the Human Energy Field” and Web Sites relating to Barbara’s work. Barbara Brennan gained mainstream science degrees before she developed knowledge of this field. Though I do not see as much as is illustrated in Barbara’s books, all that I do see and feel corresponds with those descriptions and illustrations, similarly for my Healer colleagues.