One of the traditional complaints I get about my penchant for debunkery is that I am supposedly discouraging people from trying treatments that might work for them. But that’s not what I hear from most readers, and one of them really nailed this in a recent email: she expressed her gratitude for the assistance in prioritizing her self-treatment experiments. She thanked me for putting treatments in perspective without actually dismissing them. It was lovely to get that recognition.
I want to help people prioritize the options, not demonize them.
The gray area between overt quackery and proven medicine is huge, so patients have to prioritize. You have to develop some kind of criteria for choosing what long shot to try next! And that takes education. And sometimes it also involves taking out the trash, because there is plenty of true snake oil.
At its worst, skepticism overzealously dismisses anything and everything that isn’t considered “proven.” While that kind of simplistic absolutism is rare among experienced skeptics — people who have actually made a point of learning about science and critical thinking — it’s disconcertingly common in doctors and other frontline representatives of scientific medicine. Unfortunately, many of them are amateurish skeptics: they have the right suspicion of unsubstantiated claims, but that’s about as far as it goes. I have often been irritated by their shallow, knee-jerk skepticism and scientism.
I am definitely not cool with shaming a treatment idea just for a lack of evidence. It’s got to be worse than that: biologically absurd, predatory pricing, real risks … that kind of thing is worthy of debunking and my “negativity.”
See also: Why So “Negative”? Answering accusations of negativity, and my reasons and methods for debunking bad treatment options for pain and injury.