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good science is more than just evolution

Because creationism vs. evolution is the forefront of the battle between science and religious nonsense, it can be sometimes easy to forget that science is under assault from people who claim to be friends of science.

I have a friend who lost his wife to cancer some time ago. The guy was raised in basically a fundamentalist home but escaped that life and appeared to embrace reason. He is a kind, sensitive man... maybe a bit too sensitive, but also generous and open-minded. As a human being, there is really little to fault. Except that since his wife died, he has become increasingly susceptible to pro-alternative medicine, anti-science drivel. He says he wants these alternative treatments to be tested rigorously, and yet rails against the lack of innovation and imagination in science... and is apparently oblivious to the moral implications of what he suggests.

Let me be clear. I am truly sorry that science has not progressed enough to the point that it knew enough to save his wife. That does not mean that all modern cancer research is a waste of time and money.

He recently made this post (unfortunately, the whole post is friends-locked) bemoaning Lance Armstrong's new cancer center to be opened in Texas. Let me quote pieces of it (none of them 'personal').

What I want to believe is that this will be a center where truly new and promising innovative ideas can be put through certifiable clinical trials, funded and completely vetted to see what works, when it works, why it works, and what new strategies can be implemented for the successful treatment AND PREVENTION of cancer. I'm not sure that is what will happen. Everything in research that I've seen LiveStrong support so far has been essentially more-of-the-same. The board of advisors is essentially drawn from the more-of-the-same institutionally bred mindset, the research programs sponsored so far are essentially extensions of more-of-the-same ideas that have been researched before.

Or this.

While Lance certainly does provide the energy, recognition, and public focus for this work, the direction seems to be left to others, to "the experts". There are many people who are "experts" in the field of cancer research. Who is going to get funded and who is not has always been the question that has stymied the progress in the development of cancer research. From what I've seen I don't see any change in that pattern with this organization. What a shame! What a pity! With the signs of failure so evident all around us all we can think to do is to do more of the same, hoping for a different result. GRRR!

or this:

Texas has already decided they need to spend $3B to build this new cancer center. This worries me greatly! How many other states will feel compelled to "do something", to put up real money, to "fight cancer"? How many more resources will be committed to this effort. Who / what is actually directing this effort? Where do their interests really lie, with science or with industry? And what are we getting for this money spent? WHAT? WHAT???

This kind of thinking strikes me as exactly similar to creationist lines of thinking. That somehow the "experts" don't know what they are doing. That somehow the average person can see more clearly without all that useless knowledge the experts are limited by. That somehow the "experts" are to blame for us not knowing more. That somehow they are vested in maintaining the status quo and would reject any advancement that threatened their position in the field. That somehow even industry wouldn't jump at the chance to offer the first "cure".

The whole line of reasoning is classic from the alternative medicine point of view and sounds not a little insane to me. It is muddy at least, and illogical and even paranoid at worse. I feel for the guy, and I do my best to simply ignore his recent spiritual leanings, but I'm not sure how I can continue to ignore this. These arguments undermine the very credibility of science. People who know even less science will look to him as their "expert" on the "experts", but as an engineer, he learned precious little critical thinking skills to realize what he is doing. He can't appreciate that as terrible as it seems to him, when he needed answers NOW that science only gains knowledge slowly and through painstaking work. Unlike religion and charlatans, it can't produce answers it doesn't already have on the spot. And replacing all the good science they've gained and spend billions of dollars on unproven alternative treatments that can't even pass preliminary animal trials is not only a waste of time and money, it is a waste of lives and it's immoral because it's no better than the Tuskegee syphilis experiments done at the beginning of the last century.

Life is hard, and even harder when you know this is all you've got. And losing a relatively young person to cancer is a terrible thing. But we cannot pretend we don't live in the real world just because it's uncomfortable. We can't allow people to go on claiming that science is corrupt just because it works for tens of millions of people, and in other circumstances, but not the one time you needed it most. I am trying hard to simply feel sad for the guy, but when he says stuff like this, I have a hard time not feeling genuinely angry.

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