We’ve often discussed the tactics favored by denialists, and prominent among these is the ad hominem attack. Physicians who speak out against quackery and speak up for science-based medicine are often often accused of lacking compassion. Orac wrote a little bit about the topic today. (OK, Orac never writes a “little bit” about anything, but it’s worth the read.)
The basic argument is that “conventional” doctors ignore patients’ experiences, deny them care that may work simply because science says it won’t, and a whole bunch of other things I don’t really understand. And while they whine about our lack of compassion, they wish ill on us and our loved ones. I don’t hear a lot of real doctors doing that.
Let me tell you what physicians’ compassion is: it’s listening to a patient, talking to a patient, and formulating a plan for a patient based on science and the doctor’s knowledge of the individual.
What clearly is not compassion is making false promises, and offering miracles. What is not compassion is convincing a patient that you are the only one with access to these miracles, and that everyone else has it wrong. One of the wonders of science-based medicine is that, for the most common and serious problems, most doctors will give you similar advice, and that advice will be based on what is likely to help, and less likely to harm.
Cranks and denialists hate being confronted with truth. An ignorant fool over at some fringe autism website recently launched an attack on a doctor whom he perceives to have wronged him. Orac wrote quite a bit about it, so I won’t repeat his points, but there are a few things that need re-emphasizing.
This anti-vaccination cult leader singled out Dr. David Gorski, a surgeon and scientist who writes for sciencebasedmedicine.com. I know this guy. I’ve sat down and broken bread with him. I’ve read his posts over at SBM. This guy does not lack compassion. More importantly, he is a real doctor. He doesn’t promise miracles, and he actually cures cancers (by most conventional definitions). And that requires teamwork. He actually has to be able to work and play well with oncologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, and the rest of the supporting staff of a modern cancer center. If he can’t cure someone, he won’t lie to them. Would it be more compassionate for him to lie and then perform unnecessary operations?
That is what the cranks and quacks offer: bad information, bad advice, and bad outcomes. But they wrap it in a veneer of pseudo-compassion, as if that makes it OK.
It’s not OK. Real doctors are out there every day preventing and treating disease, and occassionally saving a life. Quacks, at there mildest, offer pipe dreams, at their worst, a clean kill.