Public Service: How do we know some treatment or other really works?

I wrote a couple days ago about the kind of anti-science stuff that thrives on the internet. Among the most egregious examples are those related to health, like the anti-vaxx stupidity. Ranging from risible to dangerous, all kinds of "therapeutics" are proposed for all kinds of ailments – including those totally made up, like getting rid of unspecified "toxins" – and can cause real harm. People do searches on the internet and call that "research", but without a modicum of actual knowledge about elementary things such as physiology, pathology and pharmacology, it is very hard, if at all possible, to determine what is trusted knowledge and what is BS (and I believe the large majority of health-related sites on the internet lies in the second category, unfortunately).

People can get very invested in all forms of silly ideas ("woo"), and close themselves even to contrary evidence. And when someone tries to argue, they will usually reply with a barrage of half-truths, fallacies and outright fabrications. Examples of the most frequent – and mistaken – arguments of that kind are the individual anecdote ("I took X and got cured of Y", or "My cousin took Z and died because of that"), or the "reductio ad Big Pharma" ("you only say that because you are in the pocket of the pharmaceutic industry!").

That is not definitely the way to assess if something works as medicine or presents a health hazard. Explaining the whole thing in detail would require time I don’t have, but fortunately there is a site (and a book, which can be downloaded for free) that does that, and really well: Testing Treatments interactive.

I cannot recommend it enough, and if you are really interested in becoming more informed about these issues, this should be your first step.


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