No, No, No, NO! Testimonials Are Not Evidence!

We are programmed to respond to testimonials. Blame evolution. For most of human history, we had only two ways to learn about the world: our own observations, and what other people told us about their experiences. Gathering information from others gave us a survival advantage. Unfortunately, those testimonials can be unreliable. We now have something

Why We Need Science

Most patients, and even many medical doctors and scientists, have not grasped how important it is to use rigorous science to evaluate claims for medical treatments. All too often, people decide to try a treatment that is irrational, that hasn’t been tested, or that has been tested and shown not to work. Why do they

Don’t Believe What You Think

A new book by Edzard Ernst provides a concise course in critical thinking as well as a wealth of good science-based information to counter the widespread misinformation about SCAM. Edzard Ernst was once a practitioner of alternative medicine. As the world’s first professor of complementary medicine (at the University of Exeter, UK) he led a

Pitfalls in Research: Why Studies Are More Often Wrong than Right

Here is a course guide to episode 9, “Pitfalls of Research”, of my YouTube lecture series on science-based medicine. Alternative medicine relies heavily on anecdotal evidence and personal experience, but it knows it won’t convince mainstream science unless it can provide scientific validation. It is quick to crow about positive results from scientific studies, often

In Praise of Uncertainty

There is an old joke about a patient who had high praise for her new doctor. She had had headaches for years, and no one had ever been able to explain why. The cause remained uncertain. But the uncertainty ended when her wonderful new doctor promptly diagnosed her with cephalalgia. The joke is that cephalalgia

Why ‘Trying It For Yourself’ Is A Bad Idea

When I write about a treatment that has been inadequately tested (or that has never been tested or has been tested and shown not to work), someone always asks if I have tried it myself. Apparently, they believe it really works, and if only I would try it for myself, I would believe too. If it worked

Professor Gives Grades to Alternative Medicine

Edzard Ernst assigns a grade to 150 alternative medicine modalities, evaluating plausibility, efficacy, safety, cost, and risk/benefit balance. A very useful reference. Edzard Ernst has written another book, and it’s a real tour de force: Alternative Medicine: A Critical Assessment of 150 Modalities. He probably knows more about alternative medicine than anyone else alive, and he

I Was Wrong (And I Bet You Were Too)

For me, one of the great pleasures of skepticism is finding out I was wrong about something. Rather than feeling guilty about my error, I feel proud that I have learned something and have a better understanding of reality. When skeptics encounter a questionable claim, they do some fact-checking. But what if they don’t realize

The Scientific Attitude, Not the Scientific Method, Is the Key

A philosopher of science argues that science is not characterized by a specific scientific method but by the scientific attitude. Scientists value empirical evidence and follow the evidence wherever it leads. They are open to changing their mind rather than stubbornly clinging to an ideological belief system. Science is under attack. The evidence for global

Estaba equivocada (y apuesto a que tú también)

Para mí, uno de los grandes placeres del escepticismo es descubrir que me equivoqué en algo. Más que sentirme culpable por mi error, me siento orgullosa por haber aprendido algo y tener una mejor comprensión de la realidad. Cuando los escépticos encuentran una afirmación cuestionable, hacen algo para chequear los hechos. Pero ¿qué pasa si

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