Thoughts from the ever-quotable Dr. Harriet A. Hall.

On being a skeptic. . .

I’m an equal opportunity skeptic. I’m skeptical about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, and quackery; but I apply the same standards of skepticism to conventional medicine. I don’t write about conventional medicine so much, because I don’t need to. Science itself is inherently skeptical and scientific medicine is self-criticizing and self-correcting. When better evidence comes along medical practices change.

—Harriet Hall

I actually find it flattering when someone attacks me so stupidly. It means what I wrote was so accurate that they were unable to find anything they could legitimately criticize.

—Harriet Hall

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.

—Harriet Hall

On alternative medicine. . .

Alternative medicine embraces many things: treatments that have never been tested or have not been adequately tested; treatments that have been tested and shown not to work; treatments that are based on nonexistent phenomena such as human energy fields and acupoints; treatments such as homeopathy that would violate established scientific knowledge; and treatments that have been proven to work but that mainstream doctors have good reasons not to recommend.

—Harriet Hall

Alternative medicine envies the prestige and power that good scientific evidence lends to therapeutic claims.

—Harriet Hall

If you listen to complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, there are at least 67 different ideas about “the one true cause of all disease.”

—Harriet Hall

The beauty of science: It reaches provisional conclusions based on the best available evidence and it changes those conclusions when the evidence changes. Also, science self-corrects through peer review and expert consensus.

—Harriet Hall

We have regressed from the Age of Enlightenment to an Age of Endarkenment. The public is appallingly ignorant about science.

—Harriet Hall

Science is critical—but it isn’t perfect. Things that need correcting:

• Poor quality studies
• Publish or perish
• Publication bias
• Lack of replication
• Mistakes missed by peer review
• Pay-to-publish
• Big Pharma malfeasance

—Harriet Hall

My how you’ve grown! Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and Integrative Medicine used to be known simply as “quackery.” Amazing what a little marketing can do!

—Harriet Hall

Complementary and alternative medicine is a shortcut from idea to bedside, bypassing good science.

—Harriet Hall

On science. . .

Science is not a philosophy or a belief, it is just a practical method of figuring out how the world works, a method that has demonstrated its worth and its ability to predict.

—Harriet Hall

There are so many ways we can get it wrong! And there is only one way we can get it right: controlled scientific testing. 

—Harriet Hall

Our world is under threat, and science is our only hope.

—Harriet Hall

Scientific discoveries have identified the cause of HIV/AIDS, have saved lives, and have turned a deadly diagnosis into a manageable chronic disease that doesn’t even shorten life. Science works.

—Harriet Hall

We can’t rely on logic or common sense. Assumptions may seem very convincing, but they must be tested with controlled scientific studies.

—Harriet Hall

Science is a way of correcting for human misperceptions and cognitive errors. Unfortunately, scientific thinking doesn’t come naturally.

—Harriet Hall

On chiropractic. . .

Chiropractors (DCs) are not doctors. Settled.

—Harriet Hall

Chiropractic theory is based on three principles: (1) bony displacement causes all disease; (2) displacement interferes with nerve function; (3) removing the interference allows Innate (a vitalistic force) to heal the body. All three of these principles are false.

—Harriet Hall

Based on pseudoscientific and metaphysical ideas, chiropractic has been trying to establish scientific respectability for well over a century but has failed.

—Harriet Hall

I won’t try to predict what will happen with chiropractic, but I can confidently predict that skeptics will never stop supporting science and critical thinking.

—Harriet Hall

On homeopathy. . .

Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine that was conceived by a single misguided individual in a pre-scientific era. It is based on imagination, not reality; on stories, not science. It not only doesn’t work, it couldn’t possibly work. Its practices and principles are laughable. Some people have been fooled into thinking it works because of factors like suggestion, placebo effects, the influence of the doctor/patient interaction, regression to the mean, the natural course of the disease, and other sources of human error.

—Harriet Hall

Homeopaths believe that if something makes you feel sick, a diluted version of the same thing will help. If every molecule is diluted away, no worries! The water will simply “remember” and you’re good to go. Yes, it’s that silly.

—Harriet Hall

On naturopathy. . .

The things naturopaths do that are good are not special, and the things they do that are special are not good. 

—Harriet Hall

On acupuncture. . .

There were originally 360 acupuncture points (based on the number of days of the year rather than on anatomy). Currently more than 2000 acupuncture points have been ‘discovered,’ leading one wag to comment that there was no skin left that was not an acupuncture point.

—Harriet Hall

Acupuncturists have done a systematic review and reveal they can’t reliably locate acupoints. No wonder. They don’t exist.

—Harriet Hall

Studies have shown that acupuncture releases natural opioid pain relievers in the brain: endorphins. Veterinarians have pointed out that loading a horse into a trailer or throwing a stick for a dog also releases endorphins. Probably hitting yourself on the thumb with a hammer would release endorphins too, and it would take your mind off your headache.

—Harriet Hall

Acupuncture is a theatrical placebo. It is not supported by good evidence. Any apparent improvements are subjective rather than objective; they are small in magnitude and not clinically significant.

—Harriet Hall

On the vaccine–autism manufactroversy. . .

There is no vaccine–autism controversy. The evidence is in. The scientific community has reached a clear consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism. There is, however, a manufactroversy—a manufactured controversy—created by junk science, dishonest researchers, professional misconduct, outright fraud, lies, misrepresentations, irresponsible reporting, unfortunate media publicity, poor judgment, celebrities who think they are wiser than the whole of medical science, and a few maverick doctors who ought to know better.

—Harriet Hall

On ancient wisdom. . .

If ancient wisdom exists, so does ancient stupidity.

—Harriet Hall

On gay conversion therapy

Sexual orientation can’t be changed. Gay conversion therapy doesn’t work, causes harm, is unethical, and is illegal for minors in many places. It’s not treatment; it’s brainwashing, physical and mental torture, coercion, and child abuse.

—Harriet Hall

On medical testing. . .

Doctors order too many tests. Some are useless, some are harmless (except for the cost), but some can lead to serious bodily harm.

—Harriet Hall

Screening Tests can save lives, but not as many as most people think. They can also lead to unnecessary treatments or initiate a diagnostic wild goose chase that can harm or even kill patients.

—Harriet Hall

Many people, even doctors, tend to think of tests as giving consistent, reliable, yes/no answers. They think a test can make a diagnosis. No. The history and physical are more important. Misconceptions about tests abound.

—Harriet Hall

On organic choices. . .

Sometimes locally grown foods that are not technically ‘organic’ are a better choice. We should ask questions rather than reflexively buy ‘organic.’

—Harriet Hall

On opioids. . .

Opioids are good when used appropriately. They are bad when they lead to addiction, crime and death. They become ugly when unscrupulous people spread misinformation and market drugs aggressively simply to increase their own profit.

—Harriet Hall

On detoxification. . .

People who want to ‘detoxify’ often don’t have any idea what ‘toxins’ they’re talking about. They may vaguely believe that modern life contaminates us with lots of bad things that we ought to get rid of. It’s reminiscent of religious fasting and purification rites.

—Harriet Hall

On smart pills. . .

Forget smart pills. To maintain cognitive health, get physically, socially and intellectually active, manage high blood pressure and diabetes, don’t smoke, get enough sleep and avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.

—Harriet Hall

On free speech. . .

I wish the US would ban practitioners who spread false and dangerous lies. Yes, we value freedom of speech, but can’t we draw a line when irresponsible free speech risks the unnecessary deaths of our most vulnerable citizens?

—Harriet Hall

On fake news. . .

Journalists have codes of ethics, and these fake news stories clearly violate them. I understand that newspapers need advertising income. But I can’t condone the newspapers’ disguising ads as news stories and making it hard for readers to distinguish real news from fake news. They are deliberately misleading their customers with false information about health. Shame on them!

—Harriet Hall

On having first-hand experience. . .

Some say no one should form an opinion about anything they have not tried themselves. That’s ridiculous. By that reasoning, I would have to jump out of an airplane without a parachute to find out if the fall would kill me.

—Harriet Hall