Thursday, April 29, 2010


I grew wary of the word holistic because quacks of every persuasion began their spiel by saying that their treatment is holistic. And what do they mean by this? They will say that they "treat the whole body." Fine, but what does that mean? They will say that they "treat the main cause of the disease not just the symptoms as conventional doctors do." And what does that mean? They will say that their medicines will first extract the bad things from the body and then they will do good things. (Rough translation from Malayalam). Their bluff and bombast used to resonate among many but my thoughts are illustrated by an American expression: 'Where's the beef?'

Some Ayurvedic doctors prescribed tonics that I was given when I was a child when I was told that they were for general health. I think there is some difference between a brain stem stroke and general weakness. Some told me that their medication was ineffective if given through the feeding tube and for them to be really effective, I had to swallow them. Obviously no one told me why this was so. (If these guys had come after I had started this blog I would have definitely asked the reason and posted their answers.)

Woody Allen wrote a short story called The GossageVardebedian Papers in which one character said :
How curious your last letter was! Well-intentioned, concise, containing all the elements that appear to make up what passes among certain reference groups as a communicative effect, yet tinged throughout by what Jean-Paul Sartre is so fond of referring to as "nothingness."
I had this same feeling of "nothingness" when I listened to quacks. I was not interested in listening to tales of how their treatment proved beneficial for arthritic patients or how they had cured some 'paralysed' patient. Not one of them told me how they treat brain stem strokes or even whether they had ever seen such a patient. I don't want to belabour the point but they wanted me to be impressed by anecdotes of people getting cured of various unrelated ailments.

In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre said (he was talking of nutritionists) :
... I would argue that they lack the academic experience, the ill-will, and perhaps even the intellectual horsepower necessary to be fairly derided as liars. The philosopher Professor Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University discusses this issue at length in his classic 1986 essay 'On Bullshit'. Under his model,'bullshit' is a form of falsehood distinct from lying: the liar knows and cares about the truth, but deliberately sets out to mislead; the truth-speaker knows the truth and is trying to give it to us; the bullshitter, meanwhile, does not care about the truth, and is simply trying to impress us:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction... when an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

1 comment:

  1. Oh!!How well I understand this...Have encountered such bullshitters in my last 7 years of diabetic life..