Will the Real Quacks Please Stand Up!

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I’ve never been much of a fan of alternative medicine and those peddling their cure-all treatments.  For one, their typical pitch being an attack an the profits of conventional medicine is actually a red flag about their own motives. 

And, secondly, testimonials (or anecdotes) are fabulously awful evidence.  A person can say anything they want or attribute their current positive feelings to whatever, but it doesn’t mean their A led to B assessment is actually correct. 

Unless there is concrete evidence, I dismiss the alternative quacks.  Sorry, I simply do not want to take or sell your mystery juice.  It is disturbing that so many can’t see through this kind of nonsense.

But what is far more disturbing?  

When the mainstream starts to resemble these frauds.  

Yes, it is obvious that modern medicine works.  My successful neck surgery as proof of this.  There were measurable results nearly overnight, almost immediate relief to pain and the numbness.  The whole process was very straightforward.  However, that was a cut and dried form of treatment.  In that they took the old broken stuff out, put some new hardware in, and gave my pinched nerves a chance to heal.  

And yet, while it is amazing what can be done, not everything in our human biology is as simple as disks and vertebrae. 

Indeed, there is a murkier side to modern medicine, things that aren’t 100% clear even after many years of study, having to do with the more complex parts of our physiology and how these systems interact, and this is something that must be explored.  More than that, however, our own psychology, tendencies towards bias, could be leading the collective enterprise in the wrong direction.

#1) Money Money Everywhere 

The first stop is profit motive.  If I don’t mention this then someone else will.  It is the low hanging fruit in this discussion and certainly a factor.  People need paid, and medical professionals get paid for treating disease.  Healthcare is a 4.1 trillion dollar industry in the US and pharmaceuticals are a significant part of that overall cost.  Does this mean that the medical establishment wants to keep us sick and dependent?

Public health officials and regulatory bodies are, indeed, potentially compromised by this opportunity to cash in.  Top US physician, Dr. Anthony Fauci had received undisclosed royalties, part of the $350 million paid by third-parties to NIH and scientists employed by this agency.  No, this isn’t itself proof of corruption, people should get paid for their contributions and lobbyists may very well believe in what they’re promoting.  But there is the reality that money can overrule ethics and potentially cause people to turn a blind eye to problems.

Still, this is not my go-to explanation and for the simple reason that this accusation could be made against any for-profit enterprise.  I work for a truss manufacturing company and we do profit off of fire jobs and wind damage.  Does that mean we intentionally set fires or build an inferior product so it fails every ten years?  Absolutely not!  To make such a claim is, again, more an indication of the heart of the person making it and not proof of anything unless there’s clear evidence.

#2) Testing 1, 2…Good Enough…

Testing and peer-review is also one of those areas of concern as well.  And not because there is nefarious intent either.  But more a matter of scope or methodologies. 

My neck surgeon, for example, opted out of being a participant in a study involving a new line of disk replacement hardware because it was comparing it to a far inferior older product rather than newer better products already available.  In other words, it was a stacked deck or research that is designed to lead to a particular conclusion.

That’s the big problem I have with these broad often unqualified “safe and effective” claims.  It begs the question: Compared to what?  Bungee jumping?  A placebo? 

Most people, including physicians and scientists, simply do not have the time to be experts at everything.  The body is incredibly complex and nobody can actually do their own scientific research for every issue.  For that reason those in the medical field must, as a matter of practicality, rely on diagnostic manuals for treatment and various journals to stay on top of things.  Coloring outside the lines, challenging powerful government agencies, doing unproven or experimental treatments, is a risk of their license or a malpractice lawsuit and ill-advised.  There is an inherent need for those employed in these fields to trust the system and accept what other professionals do. 

If not this, if  their training and education, what else are they going to rely on?

I don’t expect those employed in the medical industry to doubt the very foundation that they stand on. 

Unfortunately, this reality is what makes their consensus useless.  Sure, they might know much more than the average person about the science.  Still, are they up all night, in the laboratory, carefully repeating the results of the latest studies themselves?  No, when other experts in related fields endorse what another expert is saying it is merely a sign of statement of their faith—that being their faith in the overall system.  

But it seems every other week a study comes out that seems to contradict prior findings.  Most of this is due to how limited the focus of research actually is.  They can’t possibly test every variable and especially not in a very short amount of time.  This reality, of finite resources, is a legitimate cause for healthy skepticism and abundance of caution.  The problem is that most people, including those well-educated, don’t have great critical thinking skills or even the ability to know the right questions to ask—it is far easier to “trust the experts” and go with the program.

#3) Confirmation Bias Is Always a Problem 

The problem with research is that we often go in looking for a particular result.  Sure, a double blind study is designed to reduce this as a factor.  However, the underlying bias can show up as far as what gets tested and what does not.  It can also be a factor in how we interpret the data available.  Group think and echo chambers, things like functional fixedness, are as much (or more) a problem with those very knowledgeable as it is with anyone else.

One example of this is how “effective” kept getting redefined down.  What once was supposed to prevent the disease and stop the spread would shift, overnight, to being a way to merely lessen the severity of the symptoms.  Which is a foundation so subjective and shaky that it is basically in the same category of the testimonials used by snake oil salesmen.  It is another area where the studies aren’t as conclusive as many would assume.  And, at the very least, correlation does not equal causation.  In other words, the vaccines could simply be acting as a placebo for those who believe that they are effective. 

What is not taken into proper account is how these perceived benefits, that are shrinking day by day, weigh against both short and long-term risks. 

For example, someone very dear to me, fully vaccinated, boosted, is currently suffering from a persistent respiratory illness, starting a month or so ago, and now is having flu-like symptoms again.  Could this be this is a result of an immunosuppressant effect of the injection?  It sure does appear that way and would be worthy of a study of the things presumed to be unrelated to the vaccines that very well may be related.  There is only a trickle of information coming out, discussion of side-effects buried in the search results and censored on social media.

What is most unsettling is the reality that our mainstream medical establishment is as prone to confirmation bias as those pushing alternatives.  They see what they want to see in the evidence and dismiss or downplay anything that contradicts what they were expecting to see.  The biggest difference is that it is more convoluted than it is with the obvious quacks, whole institutions get on board with a solution and too often it just gets cycled through, reinforced in each cycle, without enough awareness of the potential failure due to the blinders we all wear.

#4) Political Bias Is Endemic

One of the most troubling revelations of the past few years was how awfully politicized the coverage of a pandemic was. Anyone who thought that partisan differences would disappear in times of a national crisis was dead wrong.  If anything it is what likely drove much of the response.  At first leading to charges of racism (for travel restrictions from the virus epicenter) and accusations of over-hyping the threat of Covid—before swinging wildly in the other direction with onerous state-level mandates that destroyed great economy on the eve of a national election.

But one of the most disturbing episodes (and disgusting) is how proven medications, like hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin, were treated as if they were especially dangerous and controversial simply because the ‘wrong’ person mentioned their potential as being a treatment option.  It is truly a great way of explaining how propaganda works.  The partisan media would pick the most extreme case of an overdose, ridicule a proven multi-use medicine as “horse dewormer” despite the many uses, and then misleadingly ‘fact-check’ the technicalities of language.

I mean, sure, these proven medications do not “cure” the disease.  But they are most certainly treatments that are effective for preventing severe symptoms if taken prior to the infection taking hold.  This is why several older doctors that I know (whom I will not mention by name for their protection) were quietly stockpiling these much maligned substances.  They didn’t dare speak too loudly either or they would be risk their own medical licenses for promoting unproven cures or some other nonsense.  Bullying and peer-pressure is as real for a professional as it is for anyone else.

This, along with other much more expensive (and profitable) treatments being pushed, is fodder for the conspiracy theory crowd and for good reason.  For me it disproves any notion that the system we rely on, including the medical establishment, is impartial or fair.  Sure, I’m glad that The Lancet, a trusted medical journal, eventually retracted a study that falsely claimed that hydroxychloroquine led to death for some Covid patients (as they have with another study linking vaccines to autism) and yet the damage was already done.

#5) Lost in Oversimplification 

One of the harder or more difficult problems to explain is how the common models of are often too dumbed down to be accurate.  

Up until recently depression was explained as being “chemical imbalances in the brain” and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) the solution.  This overly simplistic explanation has been called into question and this is a cause of alarm for those told to “trust the science” when it comes to the professionally prescribed answers.

I love metaphor and analogy to explain things less visible or intuitive.  However, if these tools are misunderstood as being exactly the same as the thing being described this can lead to very wrong conclusions. 

Just like a ball and stick model of atoms is useful yet doesn’t truly explain the reality (an electron is more cloud of probabilities), the various illusions used to sell parts of the pandemic response are as flawed.

Sure, the theory of “flattening the curve” is great on a graph, and swiss cheese makes a very compelling illustration of how a multi-faceted approach could work, in theory, but both give a false impression of being complete or unquestionable. 

But is this theory working in reality?

Of course, how diseases spread in the real world is different from the even the best models and it is quite possible that slowing the spread only makes things worse, as is the case with attempts to manage forest fires. In that effort to control can eventually lead to much more devastating fires. Slowing down the process could result in a scenario where the burn is thorough, everything gets consumed, rather than the alternative of a fire that moves quickly and skips over areas.  The point being that analogies don’t account for the nuances and could lead to the wrong ideas taking hold in the public imagination.

No, this is not to claim that I have a better grasp of virology than those who have studied these things their entire lives.  It is only to say that these illustrations give too many undue confidence.  There are many factors that these crude analogies gloss over and factors that could vastly change the final outcomes.  The problem is that many are unable to see the more complex picture as a result of these elementary level descriptions that are used to sell a particular approach.

It makes us unbalanced.

In Conclusion…

There is no individual that can provide an opinion that is completely infallible nor any agency that is able to offer a perspective free blindspots or bias. 

Our “settled science” today make seem as bloodletting in a generation or two.  And the same kind of thinking that leads crackpots to their ‘alternatives’ is also all too present in the mainstream.  There is always the money motive, with the lack of adequate testing, the confirmation bias, the influence political agenda and faulty or misleading explanation, all tainting both the perception of the general public and professional opinion.  The biggest difference between those who believe the quacks and those who insist that the vaccine is effective is the level of funding behind their perspectives.

This doesn’t put the outliers and mainstream on equal footing, there is such thing as strength in numbers, yet what is popular is sometimes only a product of propaganda and common ignorance. 

Don’t be so sure that the things being ridiculed in the current paradigm are any different from what is being promoted.  We know less than many think we know.  There may be future studies or new discoveries that will completely upended the too hasty conclusions of our time. 

No matter how confident we are in our own position or settled we believe a topic is, it is always best to stay humble.

Liturgies of Life

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The readers of this Irregular Ideation most likely noticed that I was down and struggling a bit.  No doubt the prayers of my family and good friends have been heard.  While the neck and other issues linger, there has been a break in the form of some good news that has brought with it that glimmer of hope again.

These cycles of mood and emotional swings have been something that I’ve pondered.  Despite there being events that are involved, there is also this sort of rhythm and inevitability to these things.  The phase “what goes up must come down” comes to mind.  Sure, I’m probably on the more neurotic end of things, with higher highs and lower lows.  But most people, no matter how good or bad their life is compares to others, seem able to identify with these ebbs and flows.

I mean, we have that time before coffee in the morning then that time after where the brightest of the world returns.  There are those the weekly slow starts “a case of the Mondays” contrast with that euphoria of Fridays.  Then the longer cycling patterns tired to holidays or weather.  Has anyone else had encounters with SAD or Seasonal Effective Disorder?  Descriptions like “terrible twos” or “the midlife crisis” exist for a reason.  Is the “sophomore slump” real?  I think so.  

And there does seem to be a preordained nature to this all, like the seasons or how the sun rises and sets. 

This kind of constant change is confirmed in Scripture:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1‭-‬8 NIV)

To me this is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.  The woman who brought a man such joy in their youth may make him all the more lonely when the season of death and seperation comes.  The attributes that make a nation rise in prominence, say a focus on equality, can be the very thing that brings about their collapse once it finally does reach the top.  

Not to say that any of this is meted out evenly across board either, some do have it easier or a higher baseline mood and others not as fortunate, nevertheless there are patterns.  

Bigger dreams lead to bigger despair.  But a harder struggle can also lead to greater joy and a more wonderful triumph for the faithful than those who lived for their own comfort.  There is balance, there is growth, larger and smaller patterns, a predictability that seems could be modeled.  How it plays out across groups of people is also a fascination of mine.

My own thought is that we could probably remove the triggering events and still end up with the same patterns in the end. 

In other words, there would have been a world war even if the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated, my disenchantment with the Mennonite denomination would have eventually boiled over even if not for the same specific reasons, and Elon Musk’s Twitter account isn’t the reason the crypto market dropped from those all time highs either.

First, Let Me Talk About Stocks…

If cycles of human emotion could be mapped out, the stock market might be the place to start.  The euphoria of a “bull” market and seeming endless pessimism of a “bear” market show how our emotions, collectively, shape the direction or mood of the market.  But it is more than just random noise, it is a complex dance of feelings and facts, that produces the ‘right’ price in the end.  It can often be algorithmically predicted.

A little story, for example, of how it works: I have bought and sold Dogecoin over the past few months.  My first purchase, in December, at a cost of $1000 then, would have been worth hundreds of thousands at the peak.  I sold it for a small gain.  But later, as not to miss out, I bought in again, and saw my portfolio balloon when the “meme coin” finally caught fire.  However, over the past few months, things haven’t been too good and the price was going down and down.

At first I had complete resolve.  The smart investor holds, I did my due diligence, this is only a correction cycle and things will reverse soon.  But eventually the pressure broke me.  I decided that it was time to save what was left of my gains and move to something that would produce a better return.  I thought this down trend would continue indefinitely or at least go lower—give me a better buy-in price later, right?  

I’ll show you where I sold around 80% of my Doge…

Oh well, I think I’ll be able to get more later.

Yup.  I picked the very bottom of the downward trend.  Even knowing that cryptos have gone through similar corrective phases in the past before continuing their upward climb, and even telling my coworkers that Bitcoin (despite the plunge) would end the year above $70,000, I fell victim to fear, uncertainty and doubt precisely at the wrong time.  I had waited for two months to see that trend reversal, at the bottom, and would have gotten it had I held on for another couple more weeks.

But more than to talk about my missed opportunities, I’m interested in that larger cycle of the market and how human emotions (in an aggregate) create this clear pattern.  Many people want to blame events, like a Tweet from Elon Musk or what have you, for their change in fortunes.  However, while we could see these events as being triggers, it seems the larger patterns are something more or less baked in.  

Elon Musk speaks as Doge sells

Dogecoin, for example, could not continue straight up forever.  Smart investors, who know the adage, “buy the rumor, sell the news,” started to sell before Musk’s SNL appearance.  And the sell-offs came with mentions both good and bad.  It was not the autistic billionaire businessman’s fault that so many people decided on that moment to cash in nor that others began to panic sell as the price dipped.  It was all predictable, part of some sort of fractal meta-pattern, can be modeled (like this), and would have happened (triggered by something else) regardless.

Smart investors learn to zoom at, look at the longer trend, rather than let the emotions of a bad day get to them.  Cryptos, despite their recent dip, have remained in an ascending pattern with the recent lows still higher than the high of the prior cycle, which is why the smart money (unlike your’s truly) continues to buy the dip and HODL (Hold On for Dear Life) rather than give up.  Most people miss on big gains because they’re impatient.

Despite Recent Lows, An Upwardly Building Pattern Prevails…

It was after my most recent dip in mood that I realized something.  In my prior lows over the years, as a Mennonite, I would still go to church for the fellowship and yet would not sing if the words didn’t feel authentic coming from my mouth.  

But this past time, despite my feeling low, I still showed up to sing and did because (despite my pain and depressed mood) someone had to carry my part in the choir.  Music was my worship, spiritual combat, rather about how I felt.  This time I soldiered through the liturgy, toothache, emotional turmoil, and all.  I left immediately after the service, rather than do the social ‘coffee hour’ thing, because I was miserable.

It might seem to be virtuous to only show up or sing when the feelings are there and yet it is hardly sustainable.  If I only showed up for my job when I was in the mood or having a good day, my paycheck would be small to nonexistent.  Many marriages end in divorce because the ‘love’ therein depends on their feelings in the moment and is not an actual commitment to love through better or worse.

So, in short, this duty-driven devotion, rather than being led by emotions, is actually progress.  It was not simply another dive into the same dumps as before.  No, I have changed, improved, from the “be true to yourself” advice to doing my job, for the good of others (including my choir director), gutting it out.  Two steps forward, one step back, will eventually get you where you need to be.

There is a sense in which it was always a choice whether or not to participate.  But my character development?  That seems like something guided, the result of years of small nudges in the right direction, and not something that I can take credit for.  In other words, I’m becoming what I was meant to be, having been placed in the right time and circumstances.

Despite Individual Progress, Are We Becoming Weaker?

That’s not to say that this kind of building pattern cannot work in reverse.  When we consider our “first-world problems” in comparison to what people face in Afghanistan, it would appear that we are becoming collectively weaker rather than use the past generations boost.  We use our opportunity to “stand on the shoulders of giants” to bellyache about ‘oppression’ because other people are not forced to pay for our lifestyle choices.

To put things into perspective?  

Charlotte, my Igorot bhest, as the daughter of a subsistence farmer in the mountainous Benguet province, was sent away to assist her grandmother.  She describes her childhood as being her “grandma’s water pump,” carrying heavy buckets to keep the garden watered.  The work was so hard that she would cry and wonder why she was even born.  That’s pretty much how my grandparents or great-grandparents lived, they did complain and probably because there was nobody to listen.  Everyone struggled, physically, and became strong enough to survive.

Not Charlotte. But how many in the world work.

Compare that to my generation, where we were mostly spared hard physical labor, yet find plenty of reason to cry injustice.  We have gone from “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” to triggered because an Amish kid stares at us.  Being looked at too long a micro-aggression, I’ve heard.  My own endless existential crisis another example and there are many other cases, in my generation, of oversensitive and dark struggles of those truly privileged compared to their hardworking parents.

While past generations in my religious upbringing may blame their insecurities on the standards and not being appreciated by their workaholic father or whatever, the latest generation can’t even eat peanut butter without breaking into hives.  It isn’t their fault either, they’ve been coddled and protected from birth, their parents worked overtime to make sure that they felt heard and connected.  Now, rather than see their discontentment coming from having to follow ‘legalistic’ church standards, our youth will struggle with questions of whether or not they’ve somehow been mis-gendered at birth.

There is little doubt that our sterile environment is likely contributing to the vast increase in autoimmune disorders and allergies.  Whereas previous generations fell to disease, endured actual physical hardship and wondering where the next meal would come from, girls married as teenagers, we now have people distressed that someone used the ‘wrong’ pronoun…

Triggered transgender

However, in a sense, over the generations it is the same struggle in different form.  No matter how improved things become, whether we get that go cart we dreamed about every day or not, there will always be another circumstance to blame our own feelings of not belonging on.  The more challenges we remove for our children, the less capable they become.  No longer comfortable in their own skin.  We blame different externalities for our despair, yet maybe it is something genetic, internal and inevitable?

How Civilizations Rise And Fall

There have been various descriptions of how civilizations rise and fall, one example below:

Many Americans see that we’re on the decline and that our fall from world prominence is now as inevitable as the sun going down.  And, given that many great empires have come and gone, this is not a big surprise.  How could a nation of immigrants, people who left the oppression of the old world, traveled across the treacherous Atlantic and conquered a continent, who understood sacrifice, lead to a generation so entitled, unappreciative, self-loathing and suicidal?

It is easy to paint a very bleak picture.  But then, gripes about the next generation are as old as human civilization and this doesn’t always mean a collapse is imminent.  Yes, there is change.  Top hats have gone out of fashion and will likely never make a return, trends come and go.  There have been times of great social upheaval, like the American Civil War, followed by periods of relative calm.  Those who lived through the Great Depression, the World Wars or Cold War all had their anxieties about the end being near, only for that “great peace” and fall of the Soviet Union to follow.

What feels like the end, under fresh leadership, could be the start of a new epoch.  Take the fall of Rome.  Sure, the Mediterranean empire fragmented, yet the common thread of Western civilization has remained to this day and is arguably stronger than ever.  Yeah, the British Empire may no longer rule the seas, but their rebellious American sons and daughters have become even more powerful than any empire ever.  So maybe after a painful declining corrective phase there will be a revival or rebirth?

Our survival depends on our optimism.  We must assume that each pullback will lead to the next increase in amplitude.  No, that doesn’t mean this is easy, doubt and despair require far less effort than hope and faith; failure is always possible even with the best efforts, but humanity has made it through many bad moments—moments many times worse than any of us will likely experience in our own lifetimes.

Maybe the down is what we needed to give us the bounce to greater heights?