I just finished watching the documentary MS Wars: Hope, Science and the Internet
, presented by the indomitable David Suzuki in the CBC's "The Nature of Things" series.
I loved this documentary. The issues involved are intense, painful and devastating for patients, and fascinating for science. All the issues were presented in a fair and balanced non-sensationalist and non-conspiratorialist way.
I would have liked to see a more rigorous explanation of *why* anecdotal evidence is so low on the evidential scale, on what the placebo effect really is, since the patients interviewed clearly had not an inkling of understanding, but I also realise that it is darned hard to explain this to the general public. I've been trying for years to do exactly that, and I'm just not succeeding. That pains me, but reality is often painful, and that's not a valid reason for denying it.
While this is not limited to "liberation therapy" specifically, the documentary also clearly showed what the potential is for damage by non-scientific ways of thinking in combination with social media.
"What's the harm?" asks someone. The harm -or the benefit, as the case may be- is, what we will see 20, 30 years or a century from now, when we see how many people have been helped by this non-cure (we already know for a fact that "liberation therapy" is not a cure) and how many have been harmed.
Unfortunately, as the documentary shows, even without knowing the benefits yet, we already know part of the harm: the hopefully temporary derailment of genuine research and the search for therapies that work.
In my opinion, this documentary demonstrates that we need better education. People should learn from the youngest age possible why scientists do what they do and how they do it. These rules have not been created by lazy bureaucrats and selfish politicians who enjoy torturing people.
These rules have been established by scientists to protect themselves against drawing false conclusions and as a way to ensure that science and medicine are not contaminated with the seemingly plausible but utterly false and harmful.
This is the only way to keep the heroic medicine and quackery of the past from harming us again.
While this documentary is necessarily superficial in its explanations because of time constraints, it does a masterful job at pointing out the issues and explaining why they matter while not -even for an instant- forgetting the deeply human aspects of the tragic situations that bring people to irrationality.
The documentary can be watched online on the CBC's website