One of the great things about this blog is the community that has built itself up over the last eight and a half years of this blog’s existence. It’s a truly amazing an humbling thing to me. I can’t believe that such an incredibly smart and talented bunch of advocates, gadflies, and quackbusters. True, I’ve also had my share of trolls, most frequently of the antivaccine variety, but you guys all take care of them so well that I only seldom feel the need to intervene myself. That’s why, from time to time, I like to try to intentionally (rather than unintentionally) spark a bit of conversation and then sit back and see what you guys come up with. Besides, you might come up with something that I can blatantly steal to use as blog fodder. This particular idea came to me while I was working on today’s post for my not-so-super-secret other blog.
An important fundamental difference between CAM and real medicine is that CAM practices are not rejected based on evidence. Unlike science-based medical treatments found to be ineffective, they never go away. Take homeopathy, for example. It’s the ultimate chameleon. Even 160 years ago, it was obvious from a scientific point of view that homeopathy was nonsense and that diluting something doesn’t make it stronger. When it became undeniable that this was the case, through the power of actually knowing Avogadro’s number, homeopaths were undeterred. They concocted amazing explanations of how homeopathy “works” by claiming that water has “memory.” It supposedly “remembers” the substances with which it’s been in contact and transmits that “information” to the patient. No one’s ever been able to explain to me why transmitting the “information” from a supposed memory of water is better than the information from the real drug or substance itself, but that’s just my old, nasty, dogmatic, reductionistic, scientific nature being old, nasty, dogmatic, reductionistic, and scientific. Then, of course, there’s the term “quantum,” which has been so widely abused by Deepak Chopra, his acolytes, and the CAM community in general, while the new CAM buzzword these days to explain why quackery “works” is epigenetics.
Basically, whenever a proponent of alternative medicine uses the word “epigenetics” or “quantum” to explain why an alternative medicine treatment “works,” what he really means is, “It’s magic.” This is a near-universal truth, and even the most superficial probing of such justifications will virtually always reveal magical thinking combined with an utter ignorance of the science of quantum mechanics or epigenetics.
This got me to thinking: What other scientific terms do quacks appropriate to “explain” how their woo works? To me, “epigenetics” and quantum mechanics are the big two. Another is surely “energy.” But I know there are others. Who knows? I might—ahem—appropriate your ideas for a post on the use and abuse of scientific terms.