Saturday, March 13, 2010

Weil & the "Evidence of Experience."

Reading Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter. Fun and enlightening read, I recommend it. I don't agree with everything he says, but it got me thinking, and I certainly value that in a book. His chapter on alternative medicine moved me from thinking to blogging. Specter quotes health guru Andrew Weil on randomized trials:
There is a great movement toward "evidence-based medicine" today, an attempt to weed out ideas and practices not supported by the kind of evidence that doctors like best: results of randomized trials. This way of thinking discounts the evidence of experience.
Weil misses the point here quite quite badly. A randomized trial aggregates the experiences of the dozens or hundreds or thousands of people who participated in the experiment. By valuing the findings of a randomized trial more than the intuition generated by our own narrow worldview, we are paying attention to the experiences of others. Counterquote from Dara O'Briain, Irish standup comic:
Just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill up the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.
You can see Dara's routine here.