Orac wants you to join the Society for Science-Based Medicine

Because of my involvement in this organization, I am hijacking my own blog for one day for my own nefarious purposes. To that end, I am republishing an announcement that originally appeared yesterday at a blog that a significant fraction of you are familiar with, but nowhere near all of you. And I want all of you to know about this, because I hope that some of you will join our cause.

I’m also going to add a few words of my own, because I can’t help it. (As Hans Solo once said, “Hey, it’s me.”) The reason this new organization, the Society for Science-Based Medicine, is so needed is because, quite frankly, in the skeptical movement SBM is but one area of many areas of concern, and, in my estimation, one that doesn’t receive attention proportional to the real societal damage done by quackery. That has changed a bit (this year’s TAM featured two talks on Stanislaw Burzynski, and the skeptical movement has shown a gratifying movement towards combatting the antivaccine movement over the last few years), but, even so, I don’t think I exaggerate too much when I say that, even now, SBM tends not to be as prominent a concern in organized skepticism as other brands of pseudoscience and unreason, in particular creationism, religion, and the paranormal. This viewpoint should be nothing new to regular readers of this blog; I’ve made no secret of my opinion. It should also come as no surprise that I tend not to be an anti-theism warrior, if ever I was. I’m perfectly happy to let others fight that battle. These days, the only time I ever address such issues tends to be when they intersect with medicine, as in the case of Sarah Hershberger or Christian Science believers using prayer instead of medicine to treat diabetes in children. Nor should it surprise anyone that I write much less about evolution and the paranormal than I used to do back in the early years of this blog, although I do still occasionally wander back to revisit those territories from time to time, particularly when evolution intersects with medicine, as it does so much in cancer.

No, these days I’ve pretty much specialized, and that’s what’s needed in medicine, a specialization in promoting science and combatting pseudoscience in medicine, hence the need for a new organization. SBM and how pseudomedicine threatens public health are my main topics now. The harm pseudomedicine does is undeniable; it is direct and indirect; and it is often immediate. Worse, as I’ve described time and time again, both here and at my not-so-super-secret other blog, it is invading and metastasizing throughout the field of medicine, in particular in medical academia, a phenomenon I like to refer to as quackademic medicine. Those of us who try to slow or block the rise of pseudomedicine are scattered, outgunned, underfunded, and beset by a profound apathy in the medical profession, also known as the “shruggie” phenomenon. It’s a rag tag band against Dr Oz and his media empire. Skeptical organizations, on the other hand, have segments of their membership who are interested in combatting quackery, but they tend to lack the expertise, with relatively few physicians and other medical professionals available. The problem is that so few physicians actually know what “complementary and alternative medicine” is, why “integrative medicine” is the “integration” of pseudoscience with SBM, and what the basis of much of CAM really is, and fewer still have an interest in skepticism.

A new organization is needed to counter unreason and pseudoscience in medicine. That is why the Society for Science-Based Medicine is being founded. That is why I want you to join us.

For more details, please read Mark Crislip’s announcement and, if the idea of such an organization appeals to you, join:

We are proud to announce a new organization: The Society for Science-Based Medicine.
A Society for a community of like-minded individuals, both in and out of health care, who support the goals of Science-Based Medicine.

People should not suffer, die, go bankrupt, and lose time and hope because of complementary and alternative pseudo-medicine.

The mission of the Society for Science-Based Medicine includes, but is not limited to,

  1. Educating consumers, professionals, business people, legislators, law enforcement personnel, organizations and agencies about Science-Based Medicine.
  2. Providing resources and information for information concerning all aspects of Science-Based Medicine.
  3. Providing a central resource for communication between individuals and organizations concerned about Science-Based Medicine.
  4. Supporting sound consumer health laws for the practice of Science-Base Medicine and opposing legislation that undermines Science-Based Medicine.
  5. Encouraging and aiding legal actions in support of the practice of Science-Based Medicine.

Why another organization? Why a Society for Science-Based Medicine?

A problem with Science-Based Medicine (SBM) is what we support often manifests in what we oppose: those medical practices that are not based in science and reality. Those who promote Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine are well organized and well funded: There are organizations for every conceivable pseudo-medical therapy, dozens upon dozens of them.

In contrast there are almost no organizations devoted promoting Science-Based Medicine. There is the Institute for Science in Medicine, an excellent policy group, and in Australia the Friends of Science in Medicine.

That is it.

In the US there are the two organizations, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), both of which address issues related to SBM but as a small component of their overall mission.

This lack is due in part to the expertise it requires to critically address issues related to complementary and alternative pseudo-medicine. If you have not spent a life immersed in medicine and the medical literature, it is more difficult to critique a study on the efficacy of acupuncture or understand why antineoplastons are not an effective therapy for cancer.

And yet.

Medicine is a team sport. Medicine cannot be practiced well by the lone provider. You need all the other medical and nonmedical colleagues. There are many who contribute to the care of patients. The Society for Science-Based Medicine will be no different. We will all get ill, we will all decline, and we will all die. We all need to participate in, and understand the complex issues around, medical care, both science-based and fantasy-based.

We need to do it together.

Health care providers and skeptics are notoriously difficult to organize. We pay for our lack of organization. Little voice in the political process, little recognition, and few resources to advocate for change. Scattered bloggers, however eloquent, will not have the impact of even a small but organized and modestly funded organization.

Organization leads to the power to change the status quo, and in part due to well-funded organizations, as well documented in the Bravewell report, pseudo-medicine is becoming part of the status quo. Organization results in a larger voice and money. And, unfortunately, money is superior to a pure heart and good intentions for accomplishing goals.

The issues related to science-based medicine need a larger voice and more prominent position since there no areas of pseudo-science that result in as much daily morbidity, mortality and expense as the use of pseudo-medicine.

No one routinely declares bankruptcy over issues related UFOs or dies because of Bigfoot or has chronic disability from ghost hunting. Pseudo-medicine routinely kills, damages, and financially exhausts patients and their families.

Complementary and alternative pseudo-medicine is a minor issue for main stream medical organizations who lack the interest and expertise to oppose them. Most in the medical world shrug their shoulders when it comes to pseudo-medicine. As the Bravewell Collaborative demonstrates, when busy people shrug their shoulders, medical nonsense insinuates itself into otherwise-excellent medical schools and hospitals.

What we are for, our guiding principles, were summed up by Steven Novella, slightly modified:

Respect for knowledge and truth – SBM values reality and what is true. We therefore endeavor to be as reality-based as possible in our beliefs and opinions. This means subjecting all claims to a valid process of evaluation.

Methodological naturalism – SBM believes that the world is knowable because it follows certain rules, or laws of nature. The only legitimate methods for knowing anything empirical about the universe follows this naturalistic assumption. In other words – within the realm of the empirical, you don’t get to invoke magic or the supernatural.

Promotion of science – Science is the only set of methods for investigating and understanding the natural world. Science is therefore a powerful tool, and one of the best developments of human civilization. We therefore endeavor to promote the role of science in our society, public understanding of the findings and methods of science, and high-quality science education. This includes protecting the integrity of science and education from ideological intrusion or anti-scientific attacks. This also includes promoting high quality science, which requires examining the process, culture, and institutions of science for flaws, biases, weaknesses, and fraud.

Promotion of reason and critical thinking – Science works hand-in-hand with logic and philosophy, and therefore SBM also promotes understanding of these fields and the promotion of critical thinking skills.

Science vs. pseudoscience – SBM seeks to identify and elucidate the borders between legitimate science and pseudoscience, to expose pseudoscience for what it is, and to promote knowledge of how to tell the difference.

Ideological freedom/free inquiry – Science and reason can only flourish in a secular society in which no ideology (religious or otherwise) is imposed upon individuals or the process of science or free inquiry.

Neuropsychological humility – Being a functional SBM proponent requires knowledge of all the various ways in which we deceive ourselves, the limits and flaws in human perception and memory, the inherent biases and fallacies in cognition, and the methods that can help mitigate all these flaws and biases.

Consumer protection – SBM endeavors to protect themselves and others from fraud and deception by exposing fraud and educating the public and policy-makers to recognize deceptive or misleading claims or practices.

What we oppose is summarized in Dr. Mehmet Oz’s pronouncement:

“Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.”

Dr. Oz is wrong. We have a way of determining what works: the methods of science. Like all tools it is only as effective as the person wielding it.

There are many short-term and long-term goals and projects for the Society. While we are starting small, our vision for Science-Based Medicine (SBM) is large.


The site will be a place for like-minded individuals to communicate, educate and organize. Unfortunately, being online, without beer.

We want there to be local branches of the SfSBM, at your medical school, to have your own SBM at the pub, to organize lectures, and to advocate for SBM in your community.


We want the site to be a central repository for all aspects of SBM: reference material, blogs, wiki, audio, video, reviews, legal and legislative advocacy, links and more.

The SfSBM blog

There are two blogs for the society.

There is Science Based Medicine, which has been publishing since January 1, 2008 and the site blog, which concerns activities of the Society and the web site.

The SfSBM conference

There has never been a scientific conference devoted to SBM and there needs to be a regular meeting. It should be CME-accredited.

The SfSBM podcast

Currently the Quackcast is the only SBM-related podcast.

The SfSBM wiki

Available at http://www.sfsbm.org/wiki2, eventually to become the central source for information on all aspects of SBM.

The SfSBM medical school core curriculum

Many medical school curricula are designed by proponents of complementary and alternative pseudo-medicine. There needs to be a core body of information, perhaps as an iBook or other ebook format, for all health care students.

The SfSBM journal

Once there was the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, “Devoted to objectively analyzing the claims of alternative medicine.” This journal, or an equivalent, needs to be revived, perhaps as an electronic journal on the model of PLOS.


Currently available at the JREF, Amazon, Nook and iTunes, the essays through June 2011 from the SBM blog have been organized into a dozen volumes. Every two years there will be new versions.

SfSBM advocacy

Complementary and alternative pseudo-medicine proponents are actively engaged in expanding their practice by legislative means. There needs to be a voice of reality to counter the efforts of Complementary and alternative pseudo-medicine practitioners.

And more.

So welcome to the Society for Science-Based Medicine. Those who agree with the concept that the best medical care should be based on reality and science need a voice and an organization for everyone.

An educational organization devoted to understanding and education, ‘exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine.’

As a group we can accomplish almost anything.

Jann Bellamy

Mark Crislip

David Gorski

Harriet Hall

Steven Novella

Founders and Officers, Society for Science-Based Medicine