By Keir Liddle
A long time ago, in fact a shamefully long time ago, I hit upon an idea for some constructive Skeptical activism. Regrettably since then real life that thing that plagues us away from keyboard, took precedence and the idea remained just that an idea.
I still don’t have enough time, what with PhD to complete and other skeptical commitments, to take it forward on my own but I wanted to revisit it and apologise to all the people who offered help and assistance in response to this post.
The idea remains centred around what I feel is one of the central issues in modern skepticism concerned with alternative medicine in that as skeptics we currently are ill placed to offer those who seek the hope of alternative treatments anything other than the cold harsh reality of evidence.
A quack can promise a full recovery from illness and disease, a quack can promise a lifetime of perfect health, a quack can promise the Earth and never deliver.
What can a skeptic promise? Regrettably not much more than the dusting off of lofty academic tomes and studies in order to tell people that the promises of a quack are empty. We can do nothing for a vulnerable an desperate individual seeking some small dim ray of hope for a terminal or chronic condition.
Currently we can only tell people that they have placed their hope in the wrong hands. Given that it is really small wonder that Skepticism and Skeptics are often viewed with either a sneering contempt or negatively.
We are those who dash false hope while seeming to be more concerned about being “right” than being “right“.
I feel this toxic view of Skeptics is unfair. Many are motivated, as I am, by a desire to prevent people being taken in by quacks and charlatans. Motivated by a desire to save people the pain of false hope but what do we over in it’s place? Almost nothing regrettably.
There are I feel a number of ways to remedy this. We can try and ensure that where alternatives exist we highlight and report on these so people tempted by the promises of those with miraculous snake oil cures have somewhere else to go and we could ensure that there is someone there to pick up the pieces when false hope inevitably fails to deliver.
These are not easy tasks by any means. It is difficult for skeptics to research both why a treatment or alternative health modality works while also researching the alternatives (if indeed there are any alternatives to research beyond palliative care). It is also difficult to expect individuals who find themselves dealing with these issues simply because they tweet or blog about the failures of alternative medicine to offer legal or psychological support to those harmed by them.
So I propose, again, a fairly simple thing.
Directories of information are available online from a number of reputable health charities internationally offering advice on treatments for specific conditions and diseases. We could and should try to point people who come to read our debunking posts towards these directories so if an evidence based treatment for their condition is available or there is the option for them to get on a potentially life saving clinical trial they can.
This is in theory a relatively easy thing for us to do, though it may be difficult in practice but the next point is not.
How do we support those who have been harmed by alternative medicine? How do we advise them on their legal position if a treatment has failed and left them with a huge amount of debt? Who do we send the victims of quacks to for counselling and support if they should feel they need it?
At present I have no idea. But I still think it’s something that we should be finding out. Regrettably I don’t have time on my own to explore these issues as fully as I would like (or if I am honest I barely have time to explore them adequately at all). But it does trouble me that since November 2011 I have done very little to pursue the idea of helping those harmed by alternative medicine forward.
I want to take at least one small step towards changing that today.
I prose that interested parties reading this blog (in the UK and internationally) get in touch with me and we form a steering committee. This committee would formulate the ideals and values upon which any future endeavours are based. It would seek out resources, initially at least, that could be used to help those who feel they have been harmed by alternative medicine.: these would likely incorporate elements of legal advice and finding out where access to counselling and other health services can be found.
We will likely have to take it slow at first, I know that I have no time to do this by myself, but there is no reason that we cannot start to do this together.
Please spread the word and please consider helping. Even if you are only sharing information about services that might assist and don’t want to be directly involved.
Let’s show people that despite their prejudices skeptics do care. Let’s show people that we haven’t forgotten about the victims of quacks.