Science and how we know we are right 2
Mr Wang comments on the issue of aesthetic 'medicine' in his post today, and once again angry doc finds himself disagreeing with his take on science.
Specifically, angry doc takes issue with the following passages:
"I am quite confident that most, if not all, the aesthetic treatments offered by your neighbourhood HDB beautician are also "scientifically unsubstantiated". This does not mean that all these aesthetic treatments do not work.
It merely means that the treatment either does not work, or the treatment works, but has not been "scientifically" proven to work. And most of the time, the latter simply means that scientists have not bothered to do research on that particular treatment."
It is quite common to see supporters of unproven therapy argue for their pet therapy this way, but in reality those passages actually contain a few separate flawed arguments.
First of all, by saying that an unproven therapy may actually work but "scientists have not bothered to do research on that particular treatment", one is trying to shift the burden of proof from those who propose and support such treatment. The logical way is of course to require those who propose and support the claims of such treatment to offer evidence for its efficacy, and not the other way round - otherwise anyone can make unfounded claims and there will not be enough scientists to go around debunking these claims. The legal equivalent would be to put the onus on the defence to prove the innocence of the accused, instead of requiring the prosecution to prove its case of guilt.
Also, for some forms of unproven therapy there is not only an absence of evidence of efficacy, but there is in fact evidence of a lack of efficacy. angry doc is unable to find any study on the efficacy of facials (OK, he didn't bother to look), but a quick search on "mesotherapy" on PubMed revealed more articles on the complications of that mode of therapy than articles on efficacy, and the latter do not support the claims of efficacy in body contouring.
Of course, it is true that scientists "have not bothered to do research" on certain modes on unproven therapy. The burden of proof aside, this is also due to consideration on the prior probability of a claim, or the lack of any plausible physiological or known physical mechanism by which these therapy claim to work. If angry doc claimed that he could shoot invisible bolts of energy from his hands to calm your pet cat, he would not be surprised that scientists will not bother to research his claims; that doesn't mean his claim is true, it just means that scientists may have more important things to do, like finding a cure for AIDS or cancers.