One evening, as I was holding forth about the effectiveness of Taoist (ancient Chinese) medicine, my friend indicated that I embrace that which is old, while rejecting most contemporary conventional medical treatments. This well-intended criticism made me wonder if I might be letting my emotions take precedence over good scientific logic. As a result, I have been perseverating (as is my wont) for the past few days about the scientific method.
While I am not a research physician, I believe good scientific methodology existed long before someone invented the ‘gold standard’ of double-blind, peer-reviewed, medical research studies found in contemporary medical journals. I consider myself a first-rate clinician with a finely developed ability to Observe and Record. Observe and Record was perhaps the earliest approach to scientific thinking and in my opinion it may still be the best. Smallpox was eradicated and sterile operating rooms were achieved because of the observations of individual doctors.
I seriously doubt that either Lister or Pasteur sat around thinking ‘how can I become rich and famous.’ Clearly they were curious observers and perhaps they were also infused with a genuine desire to alleviate human suffering. Contrast this with most of the clinical research done in the past three decades. Yes, as I’ve said many times, I don’t trust it. The expense of fulfilling that gold standard for such research dictates corporate or government funding and it’s hard to know the full effect of individual or corporate greed.
Taoist medicine and ayurvedic healing practices are thousands of years old and are still practiced today. Some approaches have been studied by modern researchers (acupuncture for example) and the results are ‘inconclusive.’ What is true, however, is that there are no significant negative side effects. In other words, these practices do no harm. And those of us who have received relief from our pain and suffering through acupuncture, laying on of hands, special breathing techniques and dietary changes (to name just a few) can attest to their effectiveness. Of course, it could all be the placebo effect, or ‘mind over matter,’ or the healing intent of the practitioner. Maybe it all comes down to faith. Is that really a problem?
The Self Cure book makes it very clear that there are certain conditions for which modern, high-tech medicine is necessary and at times almost miraculous in its effectiveness. Briefly, this includes serious infection, severe trauma, and surgical emergencies. But for the rest of what ails us, I prefer the time honored and (to my mind) more scientific approach.
Is it not good science to wonder about the unanswered questions in regard to, let us say, cancer. If you ask an oncologist ‘why did I get cancer,’ she will say ‘we don’t know why some people get cancer and others don’t.’ This is true, but isn’t anybody besides me curious about that? It is imperative that we learn how to prevent cancer, and unscientific not to ask these questions. Hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved, far more than the ‘search for a cure’ has produced.
Perhaps my friend was indeed practicing the kind of scientific method I believe in when he made his comment that evening. I know him to have very keen observational powers, so that his observations of my beliefs and behaviors over the years are accurate. And he did not draw any unwarranted conclusions. He simply stated what he had observed and recorded (in his mind). That’s good science.