Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Righteous Indignation, Reasonable Doubts

This week's guest on Righteous Indignation was Dr. Alastair Miller, consultant physician to the tropical and infectious disease unit at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital to discuss alternative medical modalities, and a speaker at the Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub.  Maybe I am just used to Mark Crislip's style of ridicule, but Dr. Miller seemed almost laid back and accepting that some alternative medicine is okay to partake just as long as you do not need it to actually perform any verifiable benefit.  Sure if you have lymphoma, then homeopathic treatment alone is not advisable as it will surely expedite the patients demise.  However, acupuncture or a homeopathic preparation for back pain are fine if the patient is subjectively is afforded some relief.  He also indicated that complementary and alternative medicine when practice in conjunction with science based medicine is fine, but the danger is more to the wallet than the body. (I am paraphrasing.)

While I agree to a modest degree that CAM treatments for more subjective disorders is not the end of the world overall I cannot agree with this more live and let live view.  Dr. Miller seemed to hint that homeopathy and acupuncture might have some use in pain control (I do not wish to overstate what he said in anyway, and therefore I stress he said it might repeat might have some effective uses)  It has been consistently shown that these are at best a placebo as discussed ad nauseam at Science Based Medicine.  It seems to me if evidence/science based medical practitioners let slide apparently harmless alternative (crap) based medicine the patient might think it fine to use CAM medicine when it really counts such as to treat depression, hormonal changes, heart disease, etc.

I do not wish to convey that I equate Dr. Miller with the likes of Andrew Wakefield or some back alley chelation therapy charlatan.  Dr. Miller clearly is on the side of sound medicine, but I do have concerns that physicians that seem to imply that CAM at the edges, so to speak, is not such a terrible thing, may inadvertently enable the use of CAM treatment when the stakes are higher by granting them legitimacy in the minds of their patients and the public.

D.J. Grothe 

Grothe was a guest on Reasonable Doubts.  The bulk of the episode was a critical examination of C.S. Lewis's apologetic work Mere Christianity at the challenge of a christian listener.  I am not an expert on apologetics by any stretch, as I noted elsewhere on this blog I've read a little Lee Strobel and listened to a lot of podcasts and watch a bit of religious television.  From what Jeremy, Luke, and David discussed, it did not appear to be anything more than an old wine argument in an old fancy well written bottle.  Strobel has recast some of the same arguments if memory serves me.  Anyway, the hosts did a admirable if slighted disjoined job in pointing out weaknesses in Lewis's arguments.

The most interesting part of the show to me was not the Fort Hood shooting discussion at the beginning of the show.  It was horrible.  One soldier murdering thirteen others soldiers and wounding over thirty others is terrible.  For me I cannot simply ignore or overlook that he was Muslim.  I cannot ignore that he clearly had contacts with those who wished harm to the United States.  I cannot ignore that there were signs that he was mentally unfit, and the military system ignored or was ill equipped to handle these warning signs.  The ugly murders/terrorist attack regardless of the underlying motivations of the murder is both extremely tragic and now a political football.  I think the hosts agreed.

No, the most interesting part of the show was Grothe's interview.  It was not his argument that a divine moral lawgiver is not necessary and likely improbable.  Grothe arguments are consider and he is well versed in this regard.  What was interesting was that Grothe sounded more down to Earth than I have heard him before.  I know on Point of Inquiry he has a interviewer's role to fulfill, but he seemed relaxed and having a good time, telling gay jokes, and just not seeming so "on" for once.  Call me shallow, but I thought it was interesting.


  1. Hi Nigel - thanks for the reviews! I wasn't involved in the interview with Alastair as I was working. Whilst I agree entirely with your sentiments as to potential harm I think his viewpoint is possibly very typical of many British health professionals. Perhaps they may be in something of a bind as we have a state healthcare system that advocates use of some CAM treatments such as aromatherapy and homeopathy.

  2. That is an good point and one I had not considered. Again, I do not intend to be overly harsh on Dr. Miller. Actually, if the National Health system of the U.K. does put many physicians in a bind over such things as CAM, that is even more disconcerting to me. This is especially so given the current health care debate raging in the U.S.

    Thanks for the post and thank you for reading.