Monday, January 18, 2016

Scientific “Ultimatums”

The seemingly overwhelming problem with mass consumption of science is the idea that science can find the be-all and end-all of human problems. Science, in conjunction with engineering, can develop technologies to ease life. Science can develop pills to make us work better, run further, and think smarter. And, most importantly, science can cure all ailments in all people, and make death impossible. The general public, and even some scientists, lose perspective when faced with the most recent “miracle breakthrough” and, ignoring rationality and realism, conclude that yes!, finally!, this is the product that will change humankind as we know it! Journalists can only take some of the blame for this – they, like scientists, need to publish or perish. A majority of the blame, though, can be placed on the shoulders of those who chose what research should be funded. Buzzwords like “novel” and “exciting” are thrown around in grant applications as through no other adjectives exist, and it makes logical sense that journalists with minimal scientific training would follow the trend – if the scientists find these ideas exciting, they absolutely must be “transformative,” “groundbreaking,” and “revolutionary.”
Personally though, this medical overhype in scientific journals and newspapers is not terribly worrisome; as mentioned in an article by Julia Belluz, almost all of these “miracle” drugs are not available to the public. She mentions that the worst result of this practice is the creation of hope in the desperate, and while hope is important for healing and mental health, a loss of hope cannot hurt a patient or group of people to the degree that a non-FDA approved, pseudoscience “cure” can. Just yesterday, my mother – a highly trained operating room nurse - called me to ask me to research “MMS drops,” after being unable to find any information on the FDA website. Her friend’s husband, an injured, uninsured immigrant, was given these drops by a “friend” for some back pain a couple of weeks ago, and has been experiencing chest pain since taking them. For those of you that are unfamiliar, MMS, or miracle mineral supplement drops are a toxic solution of NaClO2, loosely equivalent to dilute bleach. These drops have been falsely proclaimed as a cure for HIV, malaria, hepatitis, flu, common colds, autism, acne, cancer, and much, much more, without a single clinical trial. However, due to a few anecdotal reports and a book by Jim Humble, in conjunction with sale of the product as a “water purifier” to circumvent medical regulations, countless individuals have been throwing their money, hope, and health into a product that realistically causes renal failure, nausea, vomiting, and airway corrosion even at small doses. Countless products like this exist as unregulated “miracles,” and countless people buy into the anecdotal “evidence” in vain hopes for cures that science cannot yet provide.

Instead of focusing on the relatively harmless effects of the failure of scientifically backed – and publicly unattainable – products, the “medical” hype that should be vehemently and much more commonly disputed are products that, in the end, were made to make a profit off of the scientifically ignorant, without fear of consequences.

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