Evaluating the Claims of Alternative Medicine. Professor Matt McCormick Department of Philosophy California State University, Sacramento [email protected] Conventional Standards of Evidence . Where do we get our justifications?
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How do we reason most of the time?
When I am considering whether or not X is true, I should believe X when most or all of these conditions are met:
Important: Do we actively seek out disconfirming evidence, try to disprove it, or reflect on the adequacy of our information with regard to ~p?
Seems pretty good. In lots of ordinary cases, something like this seems to work well—we can recall many times it led to good results or true beliefs.
When you get a cold, or a backache, or have allergies, it is quite common to hear someone say,
“You should try echinacea—I used it and it cleared my cold up right away.”
“That new supplement, Airborne, really works if you want to get over the flu.”
“I have an herbal tea that cured my back pain.”
“If you are going to be on a plane, you need to take some Germbuster—that label says it boosts your immune system.”
Science gives us a method that proves to be much more reliable and accurate.
These observations require that events that repeat, that can be measured, and that can be observed by multiple observers.
Example: It has been alleged that echinacea shortens the length and reduces the severity of colds.
Example: researchers developed a set of questions to determine how the effects of echinacea on colds could be determined.
Example: If echinacea reduces the length and severity of the common cold, then we would expect users in a test group to have significantly fewer colds and colds of significantly shorter length than subjects who do not take it.
This step must employ double-blind testing procedures: Neither the researchers nor the test subjects are in possession of information that could skew the results of the test, especially by the placebo effect.
The sample populations must be large, there must be control groups-- as many causal factors as possible must be controlled for.
This step will often generate more questions and hypotheses to be explored.
6. The whole process is carefully peer-reviewed—other experts in relevant field scrutinize the experiments and data gathering for mistakes, alternative explanations, problems, and so on.
7. When the research passes peer review analysis, and when the results of the investigation have been repeated and corroborated in many more clinical trials, the scientific community reaches a consensus.
But even that consensus is defeasible.
Conventional Standards: word of mouth, common sense, people we know, personal experience suggest p is true, therefore I believe p.
Science: Gather relevant data, form a hypothesis, investigate thoroughly, actively seek out disconfirming evidence, critically scrutinize the investigation and inferences, draw provisional conclusions, repeat, keep investigating.
Discovering science as a means for finding truth is the single most important development in human history.