Nov 03 2015

David Katz Tilts at Straw Men

How one responds to legitimate criticism is a very good indication of their intellectual fortitude and integrity. I pay specific attention to whether or not they address the actual criticism, rather than attack a convenient straw man, and whether or not they acknowledge fair points on the other side. Intellectual discourse, which often contains pointed criticism, is critically important. It is how we work out big ideas and move forward.

In a recent blog post on the HuffPo, David Katz launches into a fallacy-ridden attack on Science-Based Medicine, managing to entirely mischaracterize our position, despite the fact that our position has been exhaustively discussed on our blog and elsewhere. His post, Science and Medicine, Fools and Fanatics: The ‘Fluidity’ of Woo, contains the usual alternative medicine tropes draped in protests of his academic credentials. David Gorski has already responded over at SBM, and I would like to add to his analysis here.

David Katz first defends his infamous statement advocating that medicine should use a “more fluid concept of evidence.” He writes:

Colleagues and I proposed, based on years of wrestling with complex patients, many of whom, urgent medical needs still insufficiently addressed, had tried and exhausted all of the well-supported, conventional treatments, that evidence traversed 5 key considerations. Those include: what is known about a treatment’s safety; what is known about a treatment’s efficacy; how well those first two are known (i.e., the clarity of evidence); the patient’s preferences; and, importantly, the availability of other, untried treatments for the condition in question.

He argues that when science-based alternatives are exhausted, a caring clinician should consider treatments with a more “fluid” standard of evidence. Since he apparently did not understand our original criticism, I will spell it out carefully here.

First, the suggestion that we “abandon” patients when rock-solid treatments are not available is a straw man (not to mention insulting). He is desperately trying to equate adhering to high standards of science with not caring about patients. The opposite, of course, is true. We advocate for high standards precisely because we want what is best for all patients.

In fact, the 5 considerations he outlines above are all reasonable, as far as they go. I agree and have agreed in the past with taking a tiered approach to treatment – start with the best, most evidence-based treatment and then work your way down. Where David and I disagree (and we have had this discussion face-to-face) is on two critical points: plausibility, and evidence for lack of efficacy.

The hallmark of science-based medicine is that we think evidence needs to be looked at in the context of overall scientific plausibility, otherwise you are ignoring an important chunk of the scientific evidence. David explicitly rejects plausibility as a consideration. He does so again in this article, writing:

The guardians will be there all along, telling us what is possible, and what isn’t — until it turns out it is. At which point, they will revise their fluid definition of woo, and pretend it never happened.

He uses the tired, “Science doesn’t know everything,” argument (complete with the Galileo gambit), and equates anyone who makes a plausibility argument with a fool or fanatic. In practice, his position is equivalent to, “We don’t know everything, so let’s behave as if we know nothing.” This position, however, is absurd,

While decrying proponents of SBM for committing a false dichotomy, as if evidence either exists or does not exist (which is a straw man, since we don’t do that), he himself commits a false dichotomy logical fallacy here. He is essentially arguing that unless we can be 100% certain of a scientific claim, we can safely ignore it.

However, SBM does not hold that we currently know anything scientific with 100% certainty. Scientific knowledge is all about probability. When we give a treatment to a patient we want to have the best assessment possible of the probability of risk vs the probability of benefit. Our point is that in order to know the probability of both you need to properly consider direct evidence in the context of scientific plausibility.

Plausibility is similar to prior probability. If a treatment, like homeopathy, which David Katz advocates, violates multiple fairly solid scientific principles, then the probability of the treatment working is low. It seems like a trivially true statement that scientifically plausible claims are more likely to be true than scientifically implausible claims, almost by definition (unless you think that our current scientific knowledge is literally worthless).

The second point on which we disagree regarding the tiered approach to medicine is how far down the list of possible treatments a practitioner is willing to go. I think there is a line below which you are no longer practicing medicine but something closer to witchcraft. Yes it’s a fuzzy line, but it’s there. I would put below the line treatments with extreme implausibility and treatments for which there is evidence of lack of efficacy.

When I suggested this to David on one occasion he literally responded, “how can you have evidence that something doesn’t work?”

This is generally how proponents of alternative medicine behave – claims for any treatment are ratcheted up with any positive evidence, and negative evidence is ignored (as is plausibility).

Another aspect of SBM that David ignores are the many studies that show how challenging it is to do reliable clinical research. There is a massive false positive bias in the literature, for example. Most preliminary studies turn out to be wrong, in the positive direction.

It is unequivocally true that if you use David’s “more fluid concept of evidence” and ignore plausibility you will be giving patients many treatments that do not work, all the while defending it as compassionate. I don’t think giving a patient an ineffective treatment is compassionate. It is a waste of time and resources, is not without risk, gives false hope, violates patient autonomy, and instills counterproductive unscientific beliefs that may hamper proper medical treatment in the future.

It is difficult to appreciate the implications of our different approaches to evidence and science in medicine completely in the abstract. How our different approaches manifest puts them into better relief. David gives two examples in his article, his acceptance of homeopathy and energy medicine.

Homeopathy is not just implausible, it is the poster child for incredible implausibility. For homeopathy to work, water must retain the memory of complex molecules that had been diluted in it, and that memory must survive processing, storage, ingestion, digestion, absorption into the blood, and then somehow have a biological effect. Every step in this chain is massively implausible.

Further, there must be some mystical connection between the original substance and the process that is causing the symptoms the treatment aims to relieve. Homeopaths base their choice of original substance on fanciful notions that resemble witchcraft.

To see the truly bizarre depths that this logic leads, some homeopaths offer a homeopathic dilution of a small piece of the Berlin Wall in order to treat things like a feeling of isolation or oppression. This may seem transparently absurd, but it follows the same logic as all other homeopathic remedies.

You have to ask yourself, what is the probability that the universe actually works this way, and that one German physician figured this all out 200 years ago? Further, what is the chance that the universe works this way, but that 200 years of subsequent science has failed to find anything in the workings of nature that support these notions or could provide a plausible mechanism? Philosophically I have to acknowledge it’s not zero, but I think it is absurd to treat it as anything other than zero from a practical point of view. David Katz apparently thinks that position is fanatical and foolish.

David also makes an elaborate argument for the existence of an unseen bio-energy field, something which is used as a hand-waving explanation for many implausible treatments. He argues that because some animals can see frequencies of light we cannot see, or hear frequencies of sound we cannot hear, that perhaps there are energy fields that most people (except a special few) cannot detect.

Of course he is missing the big flaw in this analogy – we can use instruments to measure frequencies of light and sound humans cannot biologically detect. We have a coherent theory of how light and sound work that is supported by a mountain of evidence.

His bio-energy field is not detectable by any scientific instrument, is not part of any model of physics, and further is completely unnecessary to explain the biological functions of life. A life force was nothing but a placeholder before we figured out how biology works. Over time it faded into uselessness – there was nothing left for the life force to do.

Physicists would also have a hard time explaining the existence of another type of energy entirely, one that has not been observed at work in the universe. I can’t say it’s impossible, and it’s hard to prove a negative, but the arguments against the existence of a bio-energy field are massive and cannot be blithely ignored.

At the same time, proponents of energy medicine have no solid or even mildly compelling clinical evidence to suggest that such an energy field can be exploited for any clinical outcome.

There is a pattern here, one that I am very familiar with as a skeptic – highly implausible claims tend to be supported by incredibly weak evidence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Proponents then use special pleading to rescue their failing claims: science doesn’t know everything, I’m still right because Galileo, my critics are arrogant, there’s a conspiracy against my new and fabulous ideas, science cannot penetrate my subtle and profound energies, but ancient wisdom, etc.

Conclusion

David Katz does not make any new arguments in his screed, and manages to completely miss the point of our prior criticism. He ends in the same vein:

Bertrand Russell famously said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” How ironic that those ranks are now expanded by self-proclaimed sentinels of science, devoted instead to dogma, demagoguery, and the certainty that if it matters, they know it already.

It is amazing that he has this entirely backwards. It is the skeptics who are advocating for doubt. One major point of SBM is that we need more doubt. Our methods are still a bit crude, and we need to refine them, to question everything a bit more carefully, and to root out bias and error.

It is the gurus who defend magic as medicine who are so certain of themselves that they will stick to their claims despite an utter lack of plausibility and credible clinical evidence.

SBM is a philosophy of humility. Alternative medicine or whatever proponents want to call it is the ultimate hubris. It is the elevation of their personal wisdom above science, evidence, and even logic.

68 responses so far

68 thoughts on “David Katz Tilts at Straw Men”

  1. mumadadd says:

    I’ve always loved that Russell quote. Seeing it used in the service of woo has tainted it — I feel dirty!

    Great article, by the way.

  2. tmac57 says:

    You should ask David Katz where hedraws the line on medical claims. For instance, does he accept ‘psychic surgery’ as legitimate, despite the fact that we know for sure that it is a magic trick? And if not why not. After all, people absolutely swear that they have been healed of their cancer following a trip to a ‘psychic surgeon’.
    I suspect that he will have doubts about certain medical scams, but how then could he reconcile that with his acceptance of other dubious claims?

  3. carbonUnit says:

    The amazing thing about homeopathy (or one of them) is that water not only remembers the desired cure, but doesn’t do anything with all the other stuff it has come in contact since who knows when. How many times has that water molecule been part of or in contact with urine? Been in a stagnant swamp with all sorts of nasty organisms? Leached heavy metals out of rock? Somehow it ‘ignores’ all but the desired material diluted to zilch in it and does the right thing when consumed by the patient? Tapping somehow filters all the other stuff out??

    Alt med often feels like there is a person trapped on the roof of a burning building. Rescue is currently not possible (and may not come in time), but alt med would encourage the victim to flap his arms REALLY hard to fly to safety. Yeah, there’s no evidence this is plausible or has ever worked, but we should not leave the victim without some sort of out… that would not be compassionate.

  4. RickK says:

    “It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
    Water has memory!
    And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite
    It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!”

    — Tim Minchin, “Storm”

  5. CU – homeopaths claim that the water memory only works when you succuss the vial of potion. You have to shake it and hit it with your hand. Or…”Some Homeopaths believe that striking the solution into a copy of Hahnemann’s “Organon” while repeating verses from this text may give some additional psychic properties to the remedies.”

  6. GWD says:

    @mumadadd

    It was tough hearing the Russell quote especially since he is the one who is very sure that homeopathy and bio energy fields are a thing. Sadly the whole article was a misrepresentation of famous scientific thinkers. When uses E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins as examples part of me hope Dawkins would see this article.

  7. John Danley says:

    There exists a spectrum of charlatans willing to capitalize on the empty spaces between any regression toward the mean.

  8. carbonUnit says:

    I wonder if anyone has looked into what forces water undergoes during succussion and found like forces that water normally undergoes, such as being jostled around during sewage treatment…

    Random thoughts:
    If you start with something harmless/nice, does that yield a harmful formulation?
    Has anyone been accused of homeopathic murder?

  9. RickK says:

    Yesterday was the 200th birthday of George Boole, the guy behind the Boolean logic that drives digital computers.

    Interestingly, his death resonates a bit with this thread. From Wikipedia:

    “In 1864, Boole walked, in heavy rain, from his home at Litchfield Cottage in Ballintemple to the university and lectured wearing his wet clothes. He soon became ill, developing a severe cold and high fever. As his wife believed that remedies should resemble their cause, she put her husband to bed and poured buckets of water over him – the wet having brought on his illness. Boole’s condition worsened and on 8 December 1864, he died of fever-induced pleural effusion.”

  10. KeithJM says:

    RickK–

    This:
    “As his wife believed that remedies should resemble their cause, she put her husband to bed and poured buckets of water over him”

    Makes me think he was pretty lucky his injury wasn’t caused by violent trauma, like being kicked by a horse or run over by a carriage.

  11. banyan says:

    For those who haven’t read Gorski’s takedown at SBM, I feel like I should draw attention to this photo caption contained in it: “David Katz’s bragging reminds me of the threat display of Chlamydosaurus king, or the frilled-neck lizard, except that his neck frill consists of pages of his CV.”

  12. steve12 says:

    On the plus side, this article provides the long sought identity of Hardnose….

  13. hardnose says:

    “A life force was nothing but a placeholder before we figured out how biology works.”

    Who exactly are these amazing geniuses who figured out how biology works? And why has it been kept secret? I think we all have a right to know.

  14. Lukas Xavier says:

    You don’t need to know everything to disprove a specific claim. I may not know exactly what number will come up when I roll a die, but I know it’s not going to be seventeen (assuming a standard D6). It can’t be. That number just isn’t on there.

    When it comes to biology, we know quite enough to relegate the notion of a vital force to the dustbin to history. It’s simply an obsolete concept. Move along already.

  15. steve12 says:

    Lukas:

    “You don’t need to know everything to disprove a specific claim. ”

    Of course.

    But as crazy as it sounds, HN’s point is that because we don’t know everything about biology, we don’t know anything about biology.

  16. SteveA says:

    Steve12: “But as crazy as it sounds, HN’s point is that because we don’t know everything about biology, we don’t know anything about biology.”

    In the same vein: if you don’t know what’s under your sofa; you know nothing about your house.

    HN’s ignorance must be infinite.

  17. tmac57 says:

    Cam of the gaps.

  18. hardnose says:

    “HN’s point is that because we don’t know everything about biology, we don’t know anything about biology.”

    Your interpretation of what I said is wrong. Steve N said “we figured out how biology works.” I interpret that to mean that Steve N thinks “we” (or someone) knows ALL about how biology works.

    Steve N is obviously wrong about that.

    Actually the life force concept was discarded merely because some scientists decided to discard it. And others followed like obedient sheep.

    The life force concept should be reconsidered and evaluated based on science, not the politics of science.

  19. mlegower says:

    HN – Incredibly intellectually dishonest. Dr. Novella has stated many times in his writings (and almost certainly in some articles on which you have previously commented) that there are shortcomings in the scientific understanding of biology. The quote you intentionally and dishonestly misinterpret was almost certainly shorthand for something like:

    “A life force was nothing but a placeholder before we figured out enough about how biology works to render it impotent as an explanatory variable.”

  20. hammyrex says:

    Which biological phenomenon does a “life force” describe more concisely in comparison to other explanations while at the same time introducing fewer assumptions?

  21. steve12 says:

    HN:

    “Your interpretation of what I said is wrong. ”

    Nah. You’ve been saying this same nonsense for a long time – it’s quite correct.

    “Steve N said “we figured out how biology works.” I interpret that to mean that Steve N thinks “we” (or someone) knows ALL about how biology works.”

    Nah, you didn’t interpret it this way. You knew quite well that Steve does not think all of the science re: biology is finished, but decided to pounce on some inexact phrasing to push you favorite point:

    ***We don’t know everything, so we don’t know anything.***

  22. mumadadd says:

    hn,

    “The life force concept should be reconsidered and evaluated based on science, not the politics of science.”

    Correct me if this is just my memory playing up, but I don’t recall you ever linking to or referencing any specific science — be they studies or findings — in the whole time I’ve been following this blog (about 4 years).

    I think the other commenters have distilled you to your essence, or “life-force” if you will, and it is simply this: we don’t know everything so we don’t know anything.

    Case closed — next…

  23. Willy says:

    C’mon, HN. You know good damn well that Dr. Novella doesn’t believe that we know everything about biology, or anything else for that matter. Why did you choose to intentionally misrepresent what he said? Really, why?

  24. hardnose says:

    Dr. Novella very often minimizes what is not currently known by science. He is certain that the origin and evolution of life can or will be explained by currently known substances, forces and fields. He is certain that modern science has contradicted and made irrelevant all ancient and prehistoric belief systems.

    Dr. Novella, and similar others, think that science has figured out the basics and just has to continue filling in details.

  25. mumadadd says:

    And you, of course, choose to abandon all rigour and embrace fringe science and magic.

  26. mumadadd says:

    This is a good one: The appeal to unknown unknowns in order to prop up ideas that are either contradicted by the evidence or have no supporting evidence. Bravo!

  27. mumadadd says:

    There is undiscovered physics, which current physics doesn’t even predict as a gap in our understanding, that supports magic energy fields! It will explain the effects of these magic energy fields, which are also currently undiscovered and not predicted by our current understanding of biology to be a gap that needs to be filled!

    Yay, I win!

  28. BillyJoe7 says:

    “Steve N thinks “we” (or someone) knows ALL about how biology works”

    has morphed into

    “Dr. Novella, and similar others, think that science has figured out the basics and just has to continue filling in details”

    The second statement is, of course, correct.
    (Apart from the atrocious grammar!)

  29. hardnose says:

    There is a powerful need to feel superior, and it probably existed in all humans everywhere. How many ancient or primitive tribes have called themselves “The Chosen Ones?” I don’t know, probably a lot.

    One of our many current intellectual tribes is that of the atheist/skeptic. At the center of their belief system is the idea that the knowledge of all cultures prior to modern science was inferior, and most of it was worthless.

    In my opinion, genuine scientific skeptics would be interested in looking at the evidence for various philosophies. They would not assume one is vastly superior to all others, without actually making fair comparisons.

    The atheist/skeptics are a small minority, and relatively new. They don’t wonder why most of humanity, past and present, disagrees with them — they KNOW why. They know it’s because most of humanity, past and present, was and is intellectually inferior. Most people have not been taught “critical thinking skills” and that is why they have all those silly childish beliefs.

    I agree that many ancient and primitive belief systems (including those that have survived until now) seem childish and silly. But they are attempts to comprehend and explain the incomprehensible and inexplicable.

    And so is modern materialism, and it’s just as silly as any of the other attempts.

  30. daedalus2u says:

    Hardnose, project much?

    There is no hint in physics that there are any mysterious and as yet undiscovered “forces” that could possibly couple to biological entities.

    What the physics community is looking for at CERN is stuff that is ~10^12 times more energetic than the forces that are important in biology. The center of the Sun is only ~10^6 times more energetic.

    Skeptics are interested in looking at things with an open mind. Proponents of energy treatments are the ones with closed minds. They “know” it “works”, so they don’t “need” to do any double-blind placebo-controlled trials to “test” it. Anyway, when they do use double-blinded trials, negative results “prove” that all the “negativity” of doing blinded trials makes them not “work”.

  31. hammyrex says:

    “I agree that many ancient and primitive belief systems (including those that have survived until now) seem childish and silly”

    By what shared methodological approach can we assess which belief systems are/were and aren’t/weren’t “childish”, if not by using science to test claims?

  32. Willy says:

    HN: I’ll repeat my question: Why did you intentionally misrepresent Dr. Novella’s statement?

    It’s a simple question.

  33. RickK says:

    hardnose,

    On what basis should “life force” be investigated.

    This is good – you’ve almost come out in favor of something. Let’s roll with that. What is your evidence that “life force” is worthy of more study than it has received in the past several hundred years?

  34. arnie says:

    HN-“I agree that many ancient and primitive belief systems (including those that have survived until now) seem childish and silly. But they are attempts to comprehend and explain the incomprehensible and inexplicable.”

    And I agree with that statement. The good news is that the scientific method has finally enabled humans to actually progress in comprehending and explaining the previously incomprehensible and inexplicable. Which,of course, doesn’t make the “ancient and primitive” peoples inferior, but it does mean many of their explanations and comprehensions were less evidence based and less complete than ours though our understandings are less complete than will be that of future peoples. I think that progress is to be welcomed and celebrated, not denigrated and denied or lightly dismissed.

  35. BetaclampDan says:

    HN,

    You said: “The atheist/skeptics are a small minority, and relatively new.”

    I would refer to this article: http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Bremmer-Atheism-24grammata.com_.pdf For an interesting look at atheism in antiquity.

    Certainly atheism is not a new concept but as this article quite rightly states: “Even if we may assume that mankind always has known its sceptics and unbelievers, the expression of that scepticism and unbelief is subject to historical circumstances. Some periods
    are more favourable to dissenters than other times, and later times may interpret as atheism what
    earlier times permitted as perhaps only just acceptable theories about the gods or the origin of religion.”

    And the size of a group says nothing about the validity of its stance, so unsure what the point is of suggesting that atheism/skepticism is a minority.

    You also said: “I agree that many ancient and primitive belief systems (including those that have survived until now) seem childish and silly. But they are attempts to comprehend and explain the incomprehensible and inexplicable.

    And so is modern materialism, and it’s just as silly as any of the other attempts.”

    Which is why we judge results, for instance the medicines of Galen compared to the evidence-based standards of today. It is of course obvious that as we progress in our understanding of the world we do away with the foolishness of yesteryear, just as Vesalius exposed the anatomical shortcomings of Galen so too is science doing away with myths and pseudoscience. Is the fact that skepticism is a minority a boast? Because actually it’s kind of sad that the mass populus would rather comfort themselves with a preferred opinion than fact.

    Once the results are taken as a whole and not cherry-picked we can I hope agree that we have made extraordinary progress with the paradigms in science that we have adopted.

  36. Davdoodles says:

    HN – “The atheist/skeptics are a small minority, and relatively new. They don’t wonder why most of humanity, past and present, disagrees with them — they KNOW why. They know it’s because most of humanity, past and present, was and is intellectually inferior.”

    Actually no. But I can understand it’s important for you to misrepresent us like that. You’ve got nothing substantive to say, and your dippy rearguard action consisting of sleight-of-hand, ignoring direct questions and a habitual wacky re-definition of words has only succeeeded in backing you into a cardboard labrynth full of strawmen.

    For clarity we tend to conclude, on the available evidence, that most people believe what they are told is true by people-with-authority.

    And that for a long time people-with-authority-but-without-facts have sold the majority of people a bunch of horsepucky.

    We simply say “There is no evidence to support any supernatural claims. And there is a rapidly growing body of evidence that suggests the claims that are being made are horsepucky.”

    And people like you, for reasons only known to yourself, want us to stop.

    But, we ain’t gonna.
    .

  37. Nitpicking says:

    Steve my questions for Dr. Katz would be, “If you refuse to give negative evidence or plausibility any value, why do you not practice bloodletting or use arsenic-based health tonics? Both are historically widely-respected practices. How do you choose NOT to use a particular intervention? Do you also recommend mammary artery ligation and vertebroplasty? How do you rule out any possible therapy?” I’d be curious to read his answer.

  38. Charon says:

    Two things David Katz does not understand:

    “The nonexistence of something is established as highly probable, not through a single experiment demonstrating its nonexistence, but through acceptance of an explanatorily powerful framework that has no place for it.”
    -Patricia Churchland (good philosopher)

    “Don’t compare yourself to Galileo. You are not Galileo. Honestly, you’re not. Dude, seriously.”
    -Sean Carroll (good cosmologist)

  39. hardnose says:

    I HAVE NEVER CRITICIZED THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD. NEVER.

    I have been criticizing philosophical materialism and atheism — NOT SCIENCE.

    I have said that countless times at this blog.

  40. steve12 says:

    HN:

    “I have been criticizing philosophical materialism and atheism — NOT SCIENCE.”

    Unfortunately, naturalism (really materialism by another name) is a working assumption of science, so if you don’t agree with that assumption you don’t agree with the scientific method.

    But we’ve been down this road many times and it turns out you don’t know what materialism or naturalism are, so this is essentially a big waterhead f*** around…..

  41. RickK says:

    Hardnose,

    And you’ve been reminded repeatedly that science and the scientific method are built upon the foundational assumption that natural phenomena have natural causes. Science is the methodical search for natural causes.

    While your definition of materialism is consistently and conveniently fluid, there is no room for deities and other immaterial forces within the confines of the methodological naturalism that is at the heart of science.

    So your position as stated in the above comment is inherently inconsistent.

    And given that most of the findings that you rail against are scientific (methodologically natural) findings, the only conclusion is that you are in fact anti-science. A conclusion heavily supported by how much disdain you display for scientists.

    Therefore, the only conclusion we can draw from your posts is that (1) you are philosophically and fundamentally anti-science; (2) you don’t want to be labelled “anti-science”; so (3) you constantly back-pedal whenever anyone shows you an undistorted mirror.

    It’s not working, so you can stop.

  42. steve12 says:

    HN is not alone when it come to this.

    People generally want science to simply mean ” a search for truth” and anything goes from there. When I tell them that science has these rigid assumptions, they see it as somehow confining or less grand. If the assumptions cannot be satisfied, it’s not science. It doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong, just not science.

    E.g., your search for personal meaning, or why you love your kids, etc. cannot be answered by science (beyond a mechanistic chemical explanation that most agree is insufficient)

    I always try to make 2 points with this:
    1. A GOOD epistemological system can be clear on what it doesn’t tell you, instead of overselling itself like religion or new age nonsense.

    2. With these assumptions in place, science built the modern world. It’s the ultimate form of validity for those assumptions being good ones. IOW, If naturalism and materialism were not true, science wouldn’t tell us much about how the world works.

  43. hardnose says:

    “Unfortunately, naturalism (really materialism by another name) is a working assumption of science, so if you don’t agree with that assumption you don’t agree with the scientific method.”

    That is just not true. Materialism is IN NO WAY a working assumption of science. Science doesn’t even tell us what matter is!

  44. hardnose says:

    “If naturalism and materialism were not true, science wouldn’t tell us much about how the world works.”

    That is pure nonsense, and will remain nonsense no matter how many times it’s repeated at this blog.

  45. steve12 says:

    Horseshit Hardnose.

    This is introductory scientific methods at every University in the world. YOU are at odds with the entire scientific community and need to make your case for abandoning the assumptions that have been so successful.

  46. steve12 says:

    HN – you don’t know what you mean by materialism and that has been well established as the source of your saying this.

    I suggest putting some work in to understand basic science methodology and it’s philosophical underpinnings as it is clear you have never done this

  47. steve12 says:

    My last comments sound like an appeal to authority, so let me expound a bit:

    Materialism and naturalism DO NOT mean that our current understanding of the universe is somehow fixed. This is where I think HN is mistaken about what materialism and naturalism mean. If we find a new force or whatever, we’ll characterize it and then THAT will be part of nature.

    Naturalism means there is not magic – no whole other category of existence that is mechanistically capricious and not subject to any form of order – A Magic Realm. This is the point where we run into the problem of defining materialism or naturalism. Non materialists always seem to hang their hat on our inability to satisfactorily define materialism in terms of what it is not, but this is essentially describing a Unicorn. It’s on YOU to show that a Magic Realm exists, not on me to describe it for the purpose of differentiation.

    So when investigating events in the physical world that we DO know about, we assume that the Magic Realm does not exist, because we cannot account for the effects that the Magic Realm has on causal manipulations (i.e. experiments) in the physical world.

    What’s to stop you from saying that my experiment came out as I predicted because it curried the favor of the conscious universe you believe in RATHER than because of my physical manipulation? Nothing. So my experiment is uninterpretable. It could be the physical manipulation. It could be something unknowable from the Magic Realm.

    If I do not assume naturalism (at least methodological naturalism), this is a perfectly valid alternative explanation, and science is meaningless nonsense.

    If you disagree PLEASE explain to me how I can interpret my experiments.

  48. RickK says:

    hardnose, define materialism. Then explain which scientific discoveries have been made, or which mysteries of nature have been solved with non-materialist answers.

    Otherwise we’ll just watch you continue to wander lost in your cardboard labyrinth full of strawmen.

    (Kudos to Davdoodlea for the imagery)

  49. hardnose says:

    “Naturalism means there is not magic – no whole other category of existence that is mechanistically capricious and not subject to any form of order – A Magic Realm.”

    That is NOT what naturalism, or materialism, means.

    And even people who believe in a “magic realm” would still expect things to be orderly and follow laws.

    I do believe that the universe is made out of information, and that therefore everything is ultimately mental. There are things that materialists insist can’t possibly exist (such as life energy), and they will not even look at the evidence. I do look at the evidence for those things, since I am not a materialist.

    There is nothing in modern science that says life energy is not possible. Materialism says that life energy is not possible. Science and materialism are NOT the same thing.

  50. steve12 says:

    HN:

    Again, you do not know what materialism is. You’ve simply carved out your own definition that allows you to conceive of yourself as an iconoclast against the establishment.

    “There is nothing in modern science that says life energy is not possible.”

    I agree. Now whether it’s true or not is a whole other matter. And if there is such a force it is part of nature. It’s almost like you wrote that sentence for no reason whatsoever.

    “I do believe that the universe is made out of information, and that therefore everything is ultimately mental. There are things that materialists insist can’t possibly exist (such as life energy), and they will not even look at the evidence.”

    Straw man. Materialists never said life force cannot be. Energy is material – there’s kind of a famous mathematical expression by some guy showing this. The name is escaping me…rhymes with Galbert Feinstein I thnk?

    And what’s the evidence for this life force again? Information theories already exist in physics with nary a need to reject materialism.

    “I do look at the evidence for those things, since I am not a materialist.”

    Again, what evidence? Is this a force that can be measured? What is different about this energy that makes it so unlike the energy that we know of?

    “There is nothing in modern science that says life energy is not possible.”

    Lemme go ahead and Roger that a 3rd time for ya.

    “Materialism says that life energy is not possible.”

    Lemme repeat that it says no such thing.

    “Science and materialism are NOT the same thing.”

    Well, no. They’re different words with different meanings. We agree.

  51. BillyJoe7 says:

    hn: “There is nothing in modern science that says life energy is not possible”
    S12: “I agree”

    I think Sean Carroll disagrees:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

    there’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.

    It’s absolutely possible that [unknown] particles and forces do exist, but they must be hidden from us somehow: either the particles are too massive to be produced, or decay too quickly to be detected, or interact too weakly to influence ordinary matter; and the forces are either too weak or too short-range to be noticed. In any of those cases, if they can’t be found by our current techniques, they are also unable to influence what we see in our everyday lives.

    He goes into more detail here:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/02/18/telekinesis-and-quantum-field-theory/

    And he also has a couple of follow-up posts for those who misunderstand what he is saying:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/29/seriously-the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-really-are-completely-understood/

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/10/01/one-last-stab/

    He even has an equation for the world of our everyday experience:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/04/the-world-of-everyday-experience-in-one-equation/

  52. BillyJoe7 says:

    hn: “There is nothing in modern science that says life energy is not possible”
    S12: “I agree”

    I think Sean Carroll disagrees:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

    there’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.

    It’s absolutely possible that [unknown] particles and forces do exist, but they must be hidden from us somehow: either the particles are too massive to be produced, or decay too quickly to be detected, or interact too weakly to influence ordinary matter; and the forces are either too weak or too short-range to be noticed. In any of those cases, if they can’t be found by our current techniques, they are also unable to influence what we see in our everyday lives.

    He goes into more detail here:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/02/18/telekinesis-and-quantum-field-theory/

  53. steve12 says:

    BJ7

    “I think Sean Carroll disagrees:”

    I suppose it depends on the level of certainty!

    Great links…..

  54. Khym Chanur says:

    Hardnose: how would one go about scientifically investigating the concept of “life force”? I mean, besides setting up double-blind experiments where those who claim to be able to sense/manipulate it are tested. Because that’s been done, and most of the tests have come up negative. (Of course, some of them coming up positive doesn’t indicate anything, since if you do enough tests on a certain subject some of them are going to come out to the opposite of the truth, just due to random chance)

    What do you expect the scientists to do? That if they sit and think long enough and hard enough about the nebulous concept of “life force” they’ll eventually be able to come up with experiments that will measure what was previously unmeasurable?

  55. BetaclampDan says:

    I don’t think HN was the first scholar to posit the force, I seem to recall a guy George Lucas or somebody suggesting a force. I suddenly have this image of HN being at home blindfolded and waving a kitchen implement about trying to focus the force.

  56. Khym Chanur says:

    Also, I’m not sure why “life force”, if it exists, would be non-materialistic. After all, it would be produced by material things (life) and affect material things (life). And even non-material things like energy fields and curved space-time fit into what one might call “materialistic science”. So, what would it mean for life force to be non-materialistic? That that rules that it works be couldn’t be described by math, nor could it be reduced to things which work by rules which could be described by math.

  57. Khym Chanur says:

    Oops, that last sentence (“… could be describe by math”) should end in a question mark, not a period, as it’s a question.

  58. Mr Qwerty says:

    Hardnose’s previous works:
    “Planes flying is not the result of science. ”
    “Modern technology does not depend on materialism, at all, and it does not depend on formal scientific research. ”
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/yogic-farming-in-india/#comment-102556

  59. hardnose says:

    “And even non-material things like energy fields and curved space-time fit into what one might call “materialistic science”. So, what would it mean for life force to be non-materialistic? That that rules that it works be couldn’t be described by math, nor could it be reduced to things which work by rules which could be described by math.”

    These are all problems of terminology, because no one can define “matter” or “materialism.”

  60. hardnose says:

    “how would one go about scientifically investigating the concept of “life force”? I mean, besides setting up double-blind experiments where those who claim to be able to sense/manipulate it are tested. Because that’s been done, and most of the tests have come up negative.”

    One test, by Emily Rosa, proved beyond doubt that there is no such thing as life energy. It was an experiment with 20 subjects and it showed that none of them could feel life energy. Case closed.

    However, many other experiments have demonstrated life energy. We know that they are all BS though, since Emily Rosa conclusively proved them all wrong.

  61. hardnose says:

    Ok, you win, if Sean Carroll says there is no life energy no one can argue against that. He is infallible, as we all know.

  62. RickK says:

    Fact – the vast majority of studies of energy “biofields” are done by people who assume their existence. They are not tests done to actively disprove the biofield hypothesis. When studies ARE done to critically test for biofields, they don’t find them.

    hardnose, you are blind to this. It is you, not the skeptics and materialists (a word you refuse to either define or abandon) who is blind to evidence.

    Your biofields or life force have all the characteristics of N-rays, but are just more popular.

    Yes, Emily Rosa developed a dead simple test that anyone (including therapeutic touch practitioners) can replicate. Don’t you wonder why such an easy test hasn’t been overturned by replication failure? Don’t you wonder why none of these people claiming to sense biofields aren’t collecting Randi’s million?

    Why are you blind to data like this?:
    ——-
    An independent review of studies of ‘energy medicine’funded by the US National Center for Complementaryand Alternative Medicine

    Edzard Ernst, Robert Seip

    Abstract: “The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has frequently been criticised for funding research that is less than rigorous. Our aim was to review NCCAM-funded clinical trials of ‘energy medicine’. We searched MEDLINE to locate all NCCAM-funded studies of energy medicine. Data were extracted by two independent reviewers according to predefined criteria. Five RCTs were identified. Those with a low risk of bias showed no effect beyond placebo. Testing implausible treatments in clinical trials is wasteful and perhaps even detrimental.”
    ——
    Cochrane Database Review
    Therapeutic touch for healing acute wounds.
    O’Mathúna DP1, Ashford RL.
    Conclusion: There is no robust evidence that TT promotes healing of acute wounds.
    ——
    Cochrane Database Review
    Reiki for depression and anxiety.
    Joyce J1, Herbison GP.
    Conclusion: The risk of bias for the included studies was generally rated as unclear or high for most domains, which reduces the certainty of the evidence. There is insufficient evidence to say whether or not Reiki is useful for people over 16 years of age with anxiety or depression or both.
    ——-
    Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
    A systematic review of the therapeutic effects of Reiki.
    vanderVaart S1, Gijsen VM, de Wildt SN, Koren G.
    Conclusions: The serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing Reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness. High-quality randomized controlled trials are needed to address the effectiveness of Reiki over placebo.

    You claim you are a skeptic. OK, prove it. Try to comprehend that you can SELL biofields, but you can’t SELL their non-existence. Then critically review the evidence and follow it wherever it leads.

  63. Niche Geek says:

    HN,

    “However, many other experiments have demonstrated life energy. We know that they are all BS though, since Emily Rosa conclusively proved them all wrong.”

    Could you please cite some of them?

  64. BillyJoe7 says:

    hardnose,

    You could offer a snide one-liner….

    “Ok, you win, if Sean Carroll says there is no life energy no one can argue against that. He is infallible, as we all know”

    …or you could refute what he says.
    But that would be a bit difficult for you, wouldn’t it?
    It would mean understanding the physics on which he bases his argument.

  65. steve12 says:

    “Could you please cite some of them?”

    Ha! HN doesn’t provide cites or evidence. We are to overturn the science we know and the very definition of science itself based on his say-so.

  66. daedalus2u says:

    Someone may agree that some type of “life energy” or “life force” is possible.

    A good analogy for this is saying that a large island (lets say the size of Atlantis, 555 km x 370 km) in the Atlantic Ocean is also possible. Islands are known to exist. Islands exist in many places. It is perfectly possible for there to be an island that large in the Atlantic ocean. The Atlantic Ocean is large enough for an island that big to be there.

    Ancient maps sometimes show a large island in the Atlantic ocean. Plato wrote about such an island. Modern maps don’t. Which are correct? Map makers have been wrong before. Which map makers are wrong? Modern map makers or ancient map makers?

    Is it hubris to rely on modern map makers? Modern map makers who use fancy schmancy satellite imagery to make their maps? Or is it naive to rely on ancient map makers who used eye witness accounts and stories told and retold by many people?

    Ideas about some sort of undiscovered “life force” are somewhat less plausible than claims that there is an undiscovered island in the Atlantic Ocean larger than 555 km x 370 km.

    There could have been glitches in hardware and/or software each time satellite images were taken. Ships traversing the Atlantic Ocean could have happened to miss the island each time. Fog, or swamp gas could have obscured the island every time someone got close enough to see it.

    An as yet undiscovered island in the Atlantic that size is more likely than there is an undiscovered force that is important in physiology. Searching for that undiscovered island makes more sense than trying to find the “force” behind what is called “energy medicine”.

  67. mumadadd says:

    D2U — nice, but you forgot about floating islands on Jupiter.

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