What are science museums for?

There has of late been a lot of attention focused on one small corner of the Science Museum of London. Not, sadly, the Science in the 18th Century Gallery I mentioned in a previous post but an exhibit within the galleries on modern medicine and history of medicine, called ‘Living Traditions’. Because this takes an anthropological perspective of practices such as homeopathy, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, various individuals have raised a blogging firestorm, suggesting that the Museum is insufficiently critical of the patients’ and practitioners’ testimonies that it presents. It all started on Purely a figment of your imagination, received this reply from the Museum and was further stoked on DC’s Improbable Science, on Pharyngula and with a guest post on The Lay Scientist at the Guardian.

I don’t want to discuss this particular exhibit, mainly because I haven’t seen it*. I also want to avoid comments focusing on this one example rather than the general principle. So, please don’t tell me (again) why you think there are problems with ‘Living Traditions’ in particular. Please also note, I am supportive of the right kind of campaign against homeopathy, just as I support the right kind of arguments against astrology.

Rather, I want to focus on some of the comments that have arisen from these posts regarding the nature of the Science Museum in particular and science museums in general. In objecting to a particular exhibit, many have claimed that science museums exist for science education only, and have suggested that pre- or non-scientific medicine and anthropological (and possibly historical) approaches have no place in such an institution. We are not, in other words, meant to be considering science in its historical or cultural context, or to understand by the word ‘science’ anything other than its modern interpretation.

I have already been accused of creating straw-men when making similar points, so let me point to some specific examples. (It’s funny, isn’t it, that no one ever accused me of doing such a thing until I entered this debate – it was a mode of response/attack/defence that I was hardly aware of before coming across Alice Bell’s recent post.)

  1. Many have claimed that “the clue is in the name”: it should teach science and be “obliged to present only a scientific, empirical view of the world”. Here.
  2. “I strongly believe that something so fundamentally unscientific, really has no place in a science museum, no matter how anthropologically and sociologically interesting.” Here.
  3. “This exhibit would be entirely legitimate and understandable if you were a museum of anthropology, or sociology, or history, or indeed a museum of woowoo. But you are not, and it isn’t.” Here.
  4. “Perhaps I’m mistaken, but a sceince [sic] museum should be about science education.” Here.
  5. “the least I expect the Science Museum to do is promote the Scientific Principle.” Here.
  6. “The Science Museum os [sic] meant to be about science (the clue is in the name), not about social or cultural history. It’s fine to include the history of science,of [sic] course, but [not?] in a way that is contrary to science.” Here.
  7. “Anyway, what is a Science Museum supposed to be doing if not teaching science?” Here.
  8. Etc. etc.

There is some agreement that a science museum should “improve the public understanding of science”, but who says that the only way to do that is to tell them some science? Should we not also explore the meanings of what we now call science, how they have developed historically and what other kinds of knowledge have and do compete, complement or ignore it? These are all useful things to know when trying to understand why science has (and should have) the authority it does. What kind of museum other than a science museum should do this?

I would be horrified if the Science Museum saw its role merely in terms such as in the comments above. Fortunately, it doesn’t, or at least not entirely. It is an institution that is, and long has been, a bit confused about its identity. The Museum’s displays reflect a diversity of approach, message and audience. It is in part a classic hands-on Science Centre, in part a visitor attraction, but its displays also tackle history and culture and – of course –a museum is a whole lot more than its displays. Its collections and collecting policy demonstrate the desire to “reflect the global impact of science, technology, medicine and media across all cultures”, past and present. In particular, the Museum’s medicine-related collections “richly represent social, cultural and scientific aspects of medicine” (my emphasis). This is largely because, since 1977, they have curated the Wellcome collections, created by Henry Wellcome, who was fascinated by anthropology and the history of medicine. The Museum is required to study and display these objects appropriately.

And why should anthropology not be appropriate in a science museum? It shows what actually happens and allows us to make sense of beliefs and motivations that may be very different to our own. It is the ideal way to cut through the triumphant, whiggish stories of almost unalloyed success that are still common in popular presentations of science’s history (please – no straw-man allegations here).

A science museum that has object collections – as opposed to a science centre – should as much as possible be a museum about science, technology and medicine, their processes and their place in society. Object collections are inevitably historic and may be cross-cultural. Consideration of the place of knowledge about nature, as it is understood and categorised by the people who made or used the objects, within these varied societies can and should be attempted.

* [For what it’s worth, I think that, given the historical and cross-cultural approach of the Museum’s medicine galleries, it would be grossly misleading if the continued existence of non-evidence-based medical treatments and therapies were not represented. Their decision to do this in a separate space, out of chronological sequence and with a different kind of interpretation reveals their determination to put these ‘traditions’ in a completely different box from their main narrative. I suspect (although if audience research proves me wrong I will retract this) that the meaning of these different approaches is sufficiently clear to visitors. Much of the text that people have been fuming over is clearly patient/practitioner testimony, not the voice of the Museum, and is headed with statements about so-and-so “believing” this (see this clarification). Likewise, the whole gallery begins with a panel explaining the anthropological approach.]

Recommended reading:

  1. Science for the Nation: Perspectives on the History of the Science Museum ed. Peter J. T. Morris, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  2. Exploring Science in Museums ed. Susan Pearce, Athlone Press, 1996
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About Rebekah Higgitt

Rebekah Higgitt completed a PhD in the history of science at Imperial College London in 2004 and did postdoctoral research at the University of Edinburgh. Since 2008 she has been Curator of History of Science and Technology at the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Her research and publications have mainly focused on scientific institutions, scientific biography, history of science and the relationship between science, government and the public in 19th-century Britain.
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79 Responses to What are science museums for?

  1. Jackie Potter says:

    Wonderful post. I too have not seen this exhibit, so cannot make any informed comment about it, but the statement from the museum seems fairly clear and coherent.

    Thanks too for linking to Alice’s “straw man” post. It was a phrase I only found out the meaning of quite recently.

    In my opinion a museum’s job is to give people access to information and exhibits, provide food for thought and to engender discussion. This exhibit, whether it deserves the criticism it has received or not, has clearly met those objectives.

  2. noodlemaz says:

    “many have claimed that science museums exist for science education only, and have suggested that pre- or non-scientific medicine and anthropological (and possibly historical) approaches have no place in such an institution.”

    Nowhere are we (myself, Alex, or DC, I’m thinking of here) suggesting that the Alt Med, for example, has “no place” in the institution.
    As others have pointed out though, the British Museum is a great space for anthropological exhibits, scientific and otherwise.

    The issue, as I repeatedly find myself clarifying (apparently futilely), is not that the exhibit exhists but the manner in which it is presented.

    It is not clearly described as an anthropological exhibit. The conclusions of studies, though said studies are mentioned, are not presented. The exhibits are written by people who make their livings from these ‘traditions’, not independent assessors. The story shown is incredibly one-sided, showing only positive patient/practitioner views of such techniques.

    Other interesting scientific and sociological issues are not at all explored; nothing on placebo/nocebo (absolutely fascinating stuff), nothing on the dangers of alt meds or the millions of people suffering from lack of good medical care etc.

    There will be more attention on the flip-side of alt med worldwide soon, so perhaps attitudes will shift and this will be reflected in such an exhibit, I don’t know.

    What is quite clear, particularly from DC’s post, is that this exhibit is somewhat of an advertising platform for alt med practitioners – personally I find this neither educational nor appropriate. It is simply misleading.

    Alternative medicine is an interesting topic; medical history includes things that have not stood up to scientific scrutiny. That does not merit their exclusion from the museum, but the issue people are having is with the content of the exhibit. I’m not sure how many other ways there are to say that.

    Teach about it, yes.
    It’s like religious education; it’s important to know about other cultures and practices. But you shouldn’t evangelise when you do it, presenting something as truth when it isn’t.
    The clarification, where there even is any, is very poor and you really have to want to find it in order to see it.

    That isn’t what I see. I see a very biased presentation of things that are included for what seem like fairly sinister reasons, where analogous ideas are not given any space at all.

    • noodlemaz says:

      Sorry, I apparently cannot spell at the moment. *Exists. Fingers on an exh- spree.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for your comments. However, as I mentioned in my post, I am not interested in rehearsing the arguments about this particular exhibit (until I have seen it for myself I can’t make my own judgement about how clearly distinct it is from the other exhibits) but in considering, as a curator of history of science, the comments I quote above. I am glad you can see a way that such topics might be successfully displayed, although I cannot see why you would consider the British Museum a better place to do it than an insistution that has world-class collections on science, technology and medicine in history and across cultures.

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  4. Yes, this post seems to be fundamentally straw-manning people, and ignoring many of the valid points that have been made, which is a pity.

  5. Rebekah Higgitt says:

    Martin, you seem to have missed the part where I said that I was not intending to discuss the rights and wrongs of this particular exhibit (I have already done so on some of the posts linked above) but the question of what science museums are for.

    The quotes I give above are genuine and fairly representative of many of the comments made. I don’t deny that there *may* be real problems with this particular exhibit, and this perspective has been put across clearly in all the posts I link to above. However, as a history of science curator, I was interested in and slightly alarmed by some of the comments that referred to the role of science museums *in general*.

    I also think that it is fair to take at least this aspect of the debate to a blog focused on history and philosophical of science.

  6. Alex says:

    Hi Rebekah,
    Always nice to debate these things and as scientists and academics debate is of course important.
    I would agree with you that the Science museum should show historical scientific data and ideas as I think, it neatly shows the progression that has occurred the Idea of the scientific philosophy. I think that scientific philosophy is probably one of the greatest things mankind has ever discovered. It is not natural; it is contrary to how we would normally act and think (One of the reasons for our boom in culture/technology and advancement beyond a basic survival) I would aruge with no real qualification to do so).
    So, whilst Homeopathy/astrology/perpetual motion/alchemy can be talked about in a historical context, it should do so with an emphasis on how we have changed and how we realised our initial mistakes and progressing using the idea of unbiased evidence.
    I feel that in the case I specifically highlighted, this did not happen. Yes the section about “personal stories” is separate, but it is not made clear at all that this section is contrary to scientific evidence.
    A major telling point about this whole thing is:
    Simon Singh stepped down from the board over this and the Mystic India Exhibit. That is a huge statement. It might sound trivial and as if I am rabbiting on but for a man so prominent in science communication to say No to the SM, there is clearly an issue.
    It remains to me to be a bit of a mystery as to why we would need anthropology and sociology in the science museum, that’s the British Museums remit and I would expect to find cultural understanding and medical practises there. If it must be in the Science museum, then context is the key.
    You’re argument about Henry Wellcome I cannot reply propely as I have no real knowledge of the man and/or his leanings intellectually. I would however state that the leanings of the man (in this case Henry Wellcome) has no bearing on the leanings of the institution. To take a straw man argument here Henry Ford had been a man with well known extreme right wing views, but nobody sees his company as having those…(I think I managed to avoid the Godwin here…)
    In general I think that this sort of thing is a really interesting topic to debate but I also wonder it is fuelled by two different philosophies. Almost the age old Art V Science debate but in a different, albeit, more grown up guise?
    While I would also agree that the Science museum is a collection of objects and therefore tells a historical story following the progression of medicine and medical history, We should be mindful to keep this in context.
    The personal stories section, defies such a context, and some of the wording for the other exhibits out of the PS section, also does.
    Some of us are going to go to the museum on sat and you are more than welcome to join us and we could debate this further? Email/DM me if you fancy coming along
    Alex

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for your considered response. To find out more about Henry Wellcome follow the links I provide above, but even without this remarkable collection the Science Museum has objects that can only be properly interpreted from academic standpoints that include history of science, anthropology etc. Scientists should realise that science is not ‘theirs’ alone – it effects all of us and its interpretation cannot be left to scientists alone.

      Apologies for a rushed response – I have an appointment to get to!

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Now that I have a bit more time, I wanted to come back to your interesting point about whether the ideas of Henry Wellcome should influence how we deal with his collection. No, of course not. If had made the collection in order to illustrate his ideas about, say, eugenics, we might want to explore that but we would not condone it and use the objects in order to make the same argument. But that is missing the point I was making. This was that, because of Wellcome’s historical and anthropological interests, the Wellcome Trust/Science Museum have gained a rich collection that is historical and anthropological in nature – this is a point quite aside from the question of interpretation. They could be used in any way – as art objects, found objects, scientific objects, historical objects, things collected at a particular period, things made of particular materials etc etc – but they are, nevertheless, objects made and used at different periods and in different countries. Historical, anthropological, sociological and cultural approaches are therefore likely to be some of the most important ways if studying and displaying them.

      The importance of the personal testimonies is to remind us that non-evidence-based medicine is not just part of the historic story (and therefore relatively safe to ignore) but still very much with us, despite all the wonderful scientific advances displayed elsewhere in the Museum. There may well be problems in the wording – museum exhibitions are certainly often created by imperfect processes – but it is interesting that, despite some criticism, the Museum has stuck with it for over four years.

      Thank you for your invitation to join you on Saturday at the Museum. This would be a fascinating opportunity, but sadly family commitments will prevent me on this occasion.

      • “It remains to me to be a bit of a mystery as to why we would need anthropology and sociology in the science museum, that’s the British Museums remit and I would expect to find cultural understanding and medical practises there.”

        I apologise for using too certain language in my reply. This comment actually goes against what I was originally arguing and it was stupid. However, (gulp), I don’t agree that the science museum has carte blanche to put an anthropological exhibit up without exploring the full scientific debate and, as is the case here, explaining to it’s viewers that the evidence does not back the claims made.

        I still find it hard to stomach patient stories in a science museum, but then, maybe that’s my problem and I am in a minority.

        (also apologies for basically Copy and pasting this reply from Stephen Curry’s blog, it just saved time)

  7. Two points arise

    Firstly having practitioners, here and now, advertising their private practices, is nothing to do with anthropology. If you listen to what these people actually said, in the three recordings at http://www.dcscience.net/?p=4066 I don’t believe it is reasonable to call them anthropology.

    Secondly, I have the impression that anthropology itself is divided down the middle. One section believes that it is politically-incorrect to say that ancient beliefs are wrong (a view that is only tenable if you are capable of believing several mutually incompatible things at the same time). The other section looks at how ideas were developed and corrected. The first view is incompatible with science, but is rather close to what the science museum (and you) seem to advocate. The second view is what should gave been adopted, but wasn’t.

    I fear that your defence of an indefensible exhibit will serve only to bring science historians into disrepute, at least among scientists. That would not be a good thing.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for your comments, David. Again, this post is not about this particular exhibit, but about some of the comments triggered by that discussion. Again, without seeing the whole context in which the testimonies are presented I am not prepared to comment on it further. I am not (cannot) defend this particular exhibit, but I do defend the place of anthropology, history, cultural studies etc within a science museum.

      I am not an anthropologist, but I think your term ‘politically-incorrect’ is a fundamental misunderstanding of what motivates this kind of approach. It is about understanding people, making sure they trust you enough to explain their views etc.

      I don’t *think* my comments are likely to bring history of science into disrepute.

      • phayes says:

        “Again, this post is not about this particular exhibit, but about some of the comments triggered by that discussion.”

        “This post is not about that discussion, but about things said in that discussion.”

      • Rebekah Higgitt says:

        @phayes I’m not sure what you mean by this. I think it’s clear that I am trying to discuss science museums in general not one particular exhibit.

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  9. Will Thomas says:

    Hi Becky,

    As much as I support historical and anthropological depictions of practices that withhold judgment for the sake of a better depiction of the rationales underlying practices (it is more informative to say X believes Y therefore they do M, rather than X is ignorant of Z therefore they do M), I find myself sympathetic to the critics here. After some reflection, I think I can say why:

    Effectively, by taking a historical/anthropological approach, a museum is performing an analytical withholding of information, which historians and anthropologists use to understand the coherence of actors’ actions without the distraction of knowing whether the actions are abstractly “right”. However, for the sake of putting the exhibit visitor in a historically or anthropologically “objective” stance vis-a-vis actors’ actions, the curators actively withhold information from the same public they are trying to inform. That is, if we have good evidence from research that certain medical techniques (for example) are ineffective, isn’t it incumbent upon a science museum, in particular, to divulge that information as part of the exhibit, even if it does, explicitly or implicitly, cast some judgment on the practice on display?

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks Will. I have a lot of sympathy with this view and, in fact, have some sympathy with the original points that were raised – although I also have some concern that “testimonies” have been taken out of context to make the exhibit as a whole appear worse than it really is. However, I only really got interested in and involved in the debate when I began reading the kind of comments I quoted above. So, yes, I think that including more information would probably be appropriate in this instance but I cannot accept that, in general, this kind of topic and this kind treatment (or properly-considered historical treatments etc) are not appropriate for science museums.

    • sbej says:

      I don’t agree fully with the points you have made, particulary youre main substantive one, but I also have some sympathy with critics and a concern with regard to the presentation of information.

      Anthropology is good when it comes to belief, dis-belief is something it has not traditionaly had to think about much.

      Dis-belief is going to be a factor in any “living tradition.” The Oral material used for example could have presented a fuller range of cultural attitudes towards a particular tradition within a culture; not just one perspective.

      I think when it comes to writing labels on exhibits you can’t just slap a health warning on the end of each one. The section as a whole should be focusing on the questions of belief and dis-belief in a much fuller and integrated manner.

      Particulary as it is focusing on living contemporary beliefs rather than pre-scientific ones.

  10. Marianne says:

    “Scientists should realise that science is not ‘theirs’ alone – it effects all of us and its interpretation cannot be left to scientists alone.”

    I made this exact point in my update post anyway.

    That is precisely why I (and I’m presuming others) are unhappy.
    We’re not all scientists, those of us who are complaining about this.

    People, from what I have seen (and I will come back with some links later tonight, hopefully – but also comments on the Sci Museum’s response, the Guardian article, my post etc.) are not happy with the exhibit because, as visitors, they do expect a scientific presentation in the museum.

    I realise you are asking ‘what is the science museum for?’ but by setting up your argument from complaints about a specific exhibit and then saying you don’t want to discuss said exhibit, you’re not really leaving yourself much of a basis to work from.

    Thanks to Will for his reply too, interesting stuff.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for this. I think, however, that the audience you have so far reached (and received comments from) are not necessarily representative of the museum-going public in general. People who have come to your blog, those of DC and PZ, and to The Lay Scientist – and those motivated and encouraged to respond to the Stories from the Stores post – are likely to agree with the points you make and to take a particular view of the role of science museums. The Science Museum has been happy to keep this exhibit since 2006 (and similar exhibits before that date) despite on-going complaints from, particuarly, the skeptic community. This is because, however it feels when you are in the middle of these kind of debates, this community is a fairly small element among the Museums’s stakeholders and does not speak for everyone.

      The comments I referred to were made as generalised comments about science museums and I think it is fair to treat them as such.

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  12. astrologerthe says:

    As a scientist I am not that bothered about seeing homeopathy in a science museum because of the active science within it, dilution chemistry, natural products such as Arnica and the synergy with vaccines (a diluted disease as a cure), educational as the dilution process, calculations & also showing success and failure of “dilute is good” compared to vaccines. If some people decide to buy homeopathy, what has that got to do with science or a museum apart from it being in the public interest, demand? I think it is yet another example of some scientists desire to “shake off hangers-on it doesn’t approve of, besides, the beauty of astrology lies in its alternative values & vision”, philosophy.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for adding a different perspective. I would, however, agree with all those posting on the SM exhibit that the public should be aware of the very real problems with homeopathy (particularly if practitioners claim it can be an effective *substitute* for evidence-based medicines and vaccines) [And yes, the Science Museum should make this clear - although my hunch remains that it is clear enough, since homeopathy is presented alongside the other 'Living Traditions', with ample use of the word "believes", and not within the 'Modern Medicine' section].

      There is some truth, perhaps, within what you say about some within science trying to shake of topics and people that muddy their message, although my take on this is not the same as yours, I think that it might be more productive for skeptics (for want of a better term) to think about the result that they really want to achieve and to be much more prepared than they seem to be to accept potential allies who deliver a slightly different message that, nevertheless, aims at the same end result.

  13. Alan Henness says:

    Rebekah Higgitt said:

    There is some truth, perhaps, within what you say about some within science trying to shake of topics and people that muddy their message…

    Muddy their message?

    It’s pseudo scientific nonsense like homeopathy that ‘muddies the message’ about science — the thing the Science Museum is surely there to clarify and educate the public about? Isn’t the message of a Science Museum: ‘this is science; this is how science works’?

    By all means have an exhibit about homeopathy that shows homeopathy in an historical context, but use it to explain what goes wrong when the scientific method is utterly abandoned; use it as a means to educate the public about what science is and isn’t.

    Forget the ‘skeptics’; forget the scientists. They already know what science is and isn’t. Look at it from the point of view of a member of the public: what’s the impression given to them when they see homeopathy uncritically portrayed in such a way? Why should it not be pointed out that such nonsense is non-scientific and, indeed, anti-scientific?

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for you comment, Alan. In the phrase you quote I was really referring to my previous skirmish with skeptics when I found that my attempts to suggest other/better ways of countering astrology and explaining what it cannot do than just saying “its rubbish” caused some to come down on me like a ton of bricks, despite the fact that we’re on the same side in terms of preferred outcome.

      With this post, as I’ve repeatedly said, I’m focusing on what science museums are for, not on homeopathy of anything else within the Living Traditions exhibit. I was interested and alarmed to see there are so many who seem to feel that even history does not have a place within a science museum. I’m glad that you do, although I do not think that we agree about the way it should be used. It cannot, for example, be used to demonstrate unalloyed triumph for science when things like homeopathy are still widely practiced. I think the SM should be able to explore how complicated a business it actually is to say “this is science; this is how science works” when we think about its role in society, historically and today.

      I would agree that it might be useful for the Science Museum to explore this issue a bit more thoroughly but they had limited space and resources and I still feel (but cannot know without having visited) that their approach clearly puts homeopathy in a box along with a whole range of other practices and separated from the display of mainstream medicine. In other words it is not, really, uncritically displayed, even if the exhibit allows users and practitioners to speak for themselves.

      My view is that they do make clear that these practices are unscientific. But they are not anti-scientific – many people are very much able to respect science and still practice non-scientific things (homeopathy, astrology, crossing fingers for luck). These are the people that skeptics risk alienating by presenting very black and white messages.

  14. Rebekah Higgitt says:

    I would like to point all readers to Thony C.’s excellent post The Empty Building. Before anyone shouts straw-man, this is an excellent piece of satire that points to the logical conclusion of some of the comments I quote in my post.

  15. Rebekah Higgitt says:

    Going over the comments again with a bit more leisure, I realise that this by @Alex is key:

    “So, whilst Homeopathy/astrology/perpetual motion/alchemy can be talked about in a historical context, it should do so with an emphasis on how we have changed and how we realised our initial mistakes and progressing using the idea of unbiased evidence.”

    The point is that ‘we’ (humankind) have not all changed, and that the first two on the list, at least, are still with us. It would be wrong for a science museum to ignore this, even while they can explain how science does not support them, and explore why they nevertheless still exist. Obviously this is what the controversial exhibit doesn’t explicitly do – beyond all the important markers I have mentioned above – and this is where we are all in agreement.

    Where we are not in agreement is with the idea that anthropological and sociological (and perhaps historical) approaches belong in the British Museum and not in the Science Musum. Quite apart from the nature of the SM’s collections, science needs to be studied and presented from a range of perspectives. Science *is* part of culture, and it is created by and exists within society.

    • noodlemaz says:

      It sounds to me like the problem here is not wanting to offend people.

      I’ve said it elsewhere, but I really don’t think this is justification for walking on eggshells around things that are very clearly defined.

      Just because people believe it and practice it, does not change the science behind it, which is not discussed. There are indeed complicated reasons why people turn away from scientific consensus (perhaps a subject for an exhibit all on its own…) and many consequences of that, not all harmless ‘it worked for me!’ anecdotes.

      I’m not sure the role of the science museum is to avoid offending people who believe unscientific things. Of course, it’s role is definitely not to go out of its way to offend them either. I honestly can’t see why this is included in the way that it is. All this exhibit does is validate people’s beliefs in this stuff, it doesn’t inform, question, challenge anything at all – what’s the point of it?
      I fear for the real reason it was set up.

      Also, where are these people who don’t think historical things belong in the science museum? I don’t recall reading that anywhere.

      • Rebekah Higgitt says:

        It is not to do with not offending people, with the possible exception of the SM not wishing to offend people while gaining useful testimony from them and the important point that you shouldn’t offend the people you are trying to inform, or they will stop listening to you. I agree with you that the kind of exhibit you mention – about why people turn choose these therepies despite knowing about and having access to evidence-based medicines – would be much more useful and interesting.

        But again, my point was meant to be wider than this one exhibit. And look at the quotes I gave above. Some of them *explicitly* say that a science museum is not a history museum. But it inevitably is, among other things. There were plenty of other comments I did not quote saying similar things, and asking about whether a science museum would include creationism, flat-earthism, astrology etc. Most of them referred to historical contexts as well as modern. Many of the commenters clearly had little knowledge of what is in the SM’s collections.

  16. Alan Henness says:

    Rebekah

    Thanks for your reply.

    You said:

    It cannot, for example, be used to demonstrate unalloyed triumph for science when things like homeopathy are still widely practiced.

    It is clear — and I’m sure you will agree — that science has, indeed, triumphed over homeopathy and it’s the scientific method that has shown those who care to take the time to investigate it that it is nonsense.

    However, it is not a failure of science that many still believe in homeopathy; it is a failure of education. And that is where the Science Museum (amongst others) must come in.

    • Thony C. says:

      It is clear — and I’m sure you will agree — that science has, indeed, triumphed over homeopathy…

      Really Alan?

      I live in a city with one of the largest universities in Germany, which is renowned for it’s science prowess. We have not one but two Frauenhofer Institutes and a Max Planck Institute. The city’s major employer (about 70% of all employees) is the research and development section of one of the worlds largest technology firms. The city has the highest percentage of children achieving the German equivalent of the high school diploma of any city in Germany and the highest average pass rate in that exam. However somewhere around 90% of the medical doctors in this city, and they all have degrees from the Germany university system (one of the best in the world) offer their patients homeopathic treatment and it’s not just because Samuel Hanhemann got his doctorate at the local university!

  17. Alan Henness says:

    @Thony C

    I’m not sure about the German healthcare system, but would I be right in saying that it is at least partly funded by insurers (possibly government run, but nevertheless)? Their first concern isn’t the science; it’s perceived customer satisfaction, which is not the way to determine what does and doesn’t work and whether there is any plausible mechanism of action.

    • Thony C. says:

      It is indeed a question of customer satisfaction and Germany is a major consumer of “alternative medicine”, homeopathy, accupuncture etc. However, survey’s in Germany have shown that the higher the level of education and the higher the income the higher the consumer demand for alternative medicine, so your simplistic recipe of science has won, it’s all a question of education is I’m afraid to say utopian.

  18. Alan Henness says:

    I’m sure that’s the same in many countries, including the UK. But none of that changes the science, which says there is no evidence that homeopathy works any better than placebo and that none of the purported mechanisms of action are plausible.

    • Thony C. says:

      The statement that there is no scientific proof for the claims of homeopathy, one that is 100% true as far as I’m concerned, and the claim that science has triumphed over homeopathy are not the same and I’m not splitting hairs.

      That highly educated and scientifically literate people accept homeopathy and believe in its efficacy despite the fact that it has absolutely no scientific basis what so ever is a tragedy but to claim that it’s just a question of education is naive.

  19. Alan Henness says:

    We agree that the science is settled and we agree that people believing in homeopathy is a tragedy, but I certainly did not mean to imply that it’s all a question of education, but that education — and the Science Museum in particular — have a very significant part to play, particularly in not muddying the waters of what is and isn’t supported by science and I’m sorry if that was not completely clear. I would be interested to know what else you think might help?

  20. Pingback: An Inconsistent Truth? | Reciprocal Space

  21. Rebekah wrote:
    “Should we not also explore the meanings of what we now call science, how they have developed historically and what other kinds of knowledge have and do compete, complement or ignore it? These are all useful things to know when trying to understand why science has (and should have) the authority it does. What kind of museum other than a science museum should do this?”

    Of course. It seems irrational to me that anyone would raise an objection to this. If modern medicine is part of science, then the history of medicine has relevancy in a museum, which has a remit to explore the various aspects of the history of science. A knowledge of history allows us to understand how medicine has arisen from trial and error, increasing knowledge of human anatomy, observed effects of herbs and change of diet, but also (very largely) from complex cultural philosophies which are still existent in the philosophies that underpin modern alternative medicines.
    Understanding one helps to understand the other. It doesn’t seem that the museum is taking anything more than an objective and impartial presentation of relevant material which is of interest to the public and will help people to be a little more informed.

    Actually, some people will feel more informed to decide that what they see presented is ‘ridiculous’; some people might find it very strange and yet quite fascinating as a demonstration of how different people view a subject in a way that is so alien to theirs. Museums are great for stimulating awareness of how curious the world is, and how attitudes have changed, and how diverse attitudes continue to exist, and what people turn to as an alternative to the modern scientific line (and more importantly, why?).

    Giving information does not advocate – for example, many years ago, by becoming more informed on how homeopathic medicines are prepared and expected to work, I realised that homeopathy was not for me, even though I know some very sincere practitioners of it (and I can’t think of anyone who would advocate it as a replacement to modern medicine).

    It is not the museum’s role to present the information as ridiculous, because that would run against its objective of displaying how some things that seem quite bizarre to some, have been, and still are, taken seriously by others. This is a point of interest and a museum is a place for education and public interest, not censorship. It has a duty to assume that right-minded members of the public can reflect on the matters for themselves, free of propaganda for or against the exhibits featured.

    Incidentally, I neither practise alternative medicine myself nor have a great deal of interest in. I am more concerned about the way that ‘science reporters’ seem to be increasingly turning to bigotry and misinformation to give emotively distorted information that presents holistic fields as ‘anti-science’. It would be tragic if the Science Museum followed the views of ‘Noodlenaz’ (presumably Marianne Baker who co-wrote the blog on Martin Robbins’ page) and David Colquhoun, who would allow such exhibits only if the practitioners of alternative medicine are labelled as ‘quacks’ and everything relating to the practice of alternative medicine is labelled ’quackery’ (as they define it).

    This is inaccurate and the only thing it demonstrates is a lack of objectivity in reporting. It also fails to appreciate that most cultures have recognised healing to be, to some degree, an holistic art, and that the assessment of correct medical treatment has always, and still does, involve elements of judicial skill on the part of the medical practitioner, who elects which treatments to apply to the patient.

    I did receive some acupuncture treatment once, about 12 years ago. This was appointed to me by the NHS, who were unable to offer any other suggestions for a serious problem I continued to have for many months after surgery. The problem was facial palsy and unbearable migraines (which brought on violent vomiting, which worsened the migraines, etc – a cycle of indescribable agony that was only treated by modern medicine by me being regularly taken into hospital and sedated out of consciousness). I was reluctant and unbelieving that the acupuncture would help since my symptoms were so severe (and those needles were so small); but all I can say is that the treatment coincided with the end of my symptoms and my consultant was as impressed as I was relieved.

    However, if you check this link you will see that it is not the modern medical view to speak of acupuncture as ‘quackery’; and those who would label it such are, IMO, striving to enforce their prejudice on others, lacking objectivity and being very ‘anti-science’ themselves.

    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Acupuncture/Pages/Evidence.aspx

    • noodlemaz says:

      Too many people do push alt med as a replacement, it’s nice that you haven’t come into contact with this because it’s immensely distressing, especially when the situation is not in a wealthy society such as ours but, say, an impoverished community elsewhere. This is a very real problem and one that, again, could have been explored here. Yet it is not. Lack of availability of efficacious medicine is a tragedy, not something we should celebrate as ‘patient choice’ and ‘tradition’, imo.

      I/we never said that the museum needs a big ‘LOOK OUT, QUACKS!’ sign or anything like that.
      The point is that the exhibit is very one-sided and pro-CAM as I have tried to demonstrate here http://noodlemaz.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/living-medical-traditions/
      and here https://picasaweb.google.com/noodlemaz/ScienceMuseum#

      With most comments all I am seeing is a lack of appreciation of what evidence-based medicine is (something the science museum could do a great job of informing people about in galleries such as this) and how new, yet how huge the effects have been – we live so much longer now not because of CAM, but because of clinical trials.

      Homeopathy and other CAM being ‘traditional’ should not automatically accord it respect and it doesn’t make it any more true because it’s a bit older than, say, kinesiology. If doctors always stuck to the old practices, we’d never advance.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_tradition for what I’m getting at there.

      Acupuncture is one of the few CAM approaches that may have some evidence to support its use, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupuncture#Evidence-based_medicine for a summary – but the investigation is ongoing as it’s only recently that a real negative control type-treatment has been developed to tease out whether or not it’s actually more than placebo effect alone.

      The placebo effect (there’s no need to put it in quotes, it’s a well-documented phenomenon) is very, very powerful and has a hand in medicine as well. We all experience it, as do animals and children and indeed the people providing treatments.

      Again, my problem is not the exhibit’s existence per se, but the way it’s put together; it offers very little of educational value, it is blatantly advertising in plenty of cases and it presents an incredibly one-sided view of things we know far more about than the exhibit chooses to show. Obviously it can’t show every little detail, but there are falsehoods and biases that are of concern.

      Also ‘holistic’ means very little. Medicine is holistic, everyone is aware that emotion can affect physical health and so on, it’s a vague term that has no information in it.

  22. Pingback: Living Traditions: Dead Facts « David Waldock's Blog

  23. Scote says:

    “Rebekah Higgitt says:
    February 12, 2011 at 8:36 am

    …. this post, as I’ve repeatedly said, I’m focusing on what science museums are for, not on homeopathy of anything else within the Living Traditions exhibit. I was interested and alarmed to see there are so many who seem to feel that even history does not have a place within a science museum.”

    Except that isn’t what people are saying. They are saying that you mustn’t display anti-scientific practices in a science museum without also noting their scientific context. And, in fact, many are saying that displays of psuedo-science can be excellent teaching opportunities, showing how science is a tool, a methodology, that helps us separate what is true from what merely seems to be true.

    The Living Traditions exhibit omits both the scientfic process and scientific conclusions–thus it omits science entirely. The exhibit touts anti-scientific medicine as actually being efficacious. For a science museum to omit the fact that the scientific consensus is that there is no sound evidence that any of the practices have any benefit beyond placebo is to be deliberately misleading.

    It seems pretty clear–in spite of your constant protestations to the contrary–that the omission of the most important aspect of the Living Traditions display, that the practices don’t actually work, was omitted to ovoid offending the delicate sensibilities of certain members of the public, for otherwise there is no reason to omit such from a display in a science museum. Science must follow where the sound and tested evidence leads. Period. You seem to know that but persist in making excuses why a science museum should cover that up. That kind of cultural accomodationism may be politically expedient, but it isn’t science, and it doesn’t belong in a science museum, or in defense of anti-scientific displays in science museums.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      No, it’s not what people were saying in the initial posts, but it is what people have said in comments both on other posts (as I have quoted) and here. How else to take comments like Alex’s: “It remains to me to be a bit of a mystery as to why we would need anthropology and sociology in the science museum, that’s the British Museums remit and I would expect to find cultural understanding and medical practises there”? And the many comments about whether the SM should include astrology, creationism etc etc. I don’t criticise the general thrust of the original posts, although I don’t, as I’ve explained, think the SM is as culpable as they have been portrayed. I agree that the exhibit needs more context and consistency, although it presumably omitted the science because they saw these therapies as essentially unscientific – they make this clear enough, in my view, in the gallery opening, quoted in *full* in Stephen’s post linked above, and in separating them out from the main medical narrative.

      For a bit more about the context and, indeed, some further comments by me, see today’s two excellent posts by Stephen Curry and David Waldock. I don’t deny that I do not tackle some of the important points raised by Alex Davenport and others in this post, but that was not my intention. I was responding to what I saw as an attack on the idea of science museums as historical, sociological and anthropological institutions. This attack was not within the original posts, but they led to many (by no means all) commenters making generalised statements that I (and other historians of science and curators) found problematic.

      And the exhibit does not “tout anti-scientific medicine as actually being efficacious” – if you can say this than I assume you have not seen the exhibit. It *quotes* people who “believe” it works. Not the same thing at all. And this medicine is, I would suggest, unscientific rather than anti-scientific.

      I do not buy the idea that the SM wanted to avoid offending users of alternative therapies among their visitors, although they may not have wanted to encourage ridicule of the patients and practitioners who agreed to be filmed and quoted for the exhibit.

      • I have apologised for my quote above,
        However I am a little alarmed at your comment:
        “Scientists should realise that science is not ‘theirs’ alone – it effects all of us and its interpretation cannot be left to scientists alone.”

        Surely interpretation of data IS for the scientists, that’s what we are there for. The ethical implications however are left for us all as human beings. I’m not saying “stay away from my patch” But I would argue that those who are doing the research are the best placed to interpret the results, however, if someone else would like to interpret scientific in a different way and allow it to stand up to peer review then be my guest.
        Although I may have got the wrong end of the stick with that comment. :-)

      • Rebekah Higgitt says:

        Many thanks for your comment above. I certainly also have reservations about the exhibit as a whole, but I do not think that it is as bad and as unclear as you originally described it. I also do not have a problem with the general approach, in principle and if done thoroughly and consistently.

        My sentence that you quote here obviously does not mean that I believe that non-scientists should be (or could be) in the business of trying to create science, devise experiments or interpret data. But non-scientists pay for scientific research; they listen to and have to interpret what experts tell them; they live with, benefit or suffer from the impact of science, technology and medicine – their views have to be included in any understanding of science’s role, and of course need to be considered by science communicators, policy makers, and researchers. In other words, I am talking about science not just as a body of knowledge, or science as a method or an approach, but science as it touches all of our lives.

        This, in the end, is where the heart of the matter lies, as far as my response to the recent discussions goes. My hope is that museum visitors have the chance to be educated about ‘science’ in this wider sense, as well as having some opportunity to understand aspects of the results and content of modern scientific knowledge.

        I hope this makes sense to you.

  24. Scote says:

    “And the exhibit does not “tout anti-scientific medicine as actually being efficacious” – if you can say this than I assume you have not seen the exhibit. It *quotes* people who “believe” it works. Not the same thing at all. And this medicine is, I would suggest, unscientific rather than anti-scientific.”

    That excuse doesn’t wash. Not even in advertising. You don’t get to quote people one sidedly, quoting claims that you know are contradicted by science, and claim there is no editorial responsibility for such one sided quoting. Try that trick with the Advertising Standards Authority. Make a print ad for alternative practitioner. Try quoting someone from a “Living Tradition” claiming homeopathy, or acupuncture, or what not, can treat cancer or some other potentially life threatening disease for which there is no sound proof of efficacy. Then tell the ASA that you aren’t making the claim, just the people you quote. It won’t work. They’ll strike down your ad. Because by using selective quotes it is you endorsing making the claim, cherry picking the quotes you need to make your claim. That is what the museum is doing by quoting only credulous anecdotes and claims by practitioners of anti-scientific treatments and omitting the scientific consensus that contradicts them.

    And, yes, homeopathic medicine is anti-scientific, because homeopaths reject modern chemistry, physics and the conclusions of large scale, rigorous clinical trials to hold on to their magical claims of efficacy, claims they attribute to water that can remember the ingredient it once had in it but only the magic ingredient, an ingredient which, also magically, can only do good and never harm.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      I think that, while the Museum was perhaps too hands-off in their treatment, they clearly do not endorse the therapies exhibited (this is shown, I think, by Stephen Curry’s post) and it is not analogous to advertising. Did you know that the whole gallery is introduced with a panel that says that this exhibit is a “contrast to scientifically based biomedicine” explored elsewhere in the gallery? But let’s not debate this further as I suspect that I will not be able to convince you.

      More important is your use of the term anti-science. I think that this term can only rightly be used of people who would actually like to do away with science and scientific research – and there are not many of those. Those that accept things like homeopathy, astrology, miracles, etc. etc. are generally accepting of and grateful for science. They simply feel that there is “something more” that science does not explain. In other words, homeopaths don’t “reject modern chemistry [and] physics”, they just feel that homeopathy is outwith this sphere. You (and, in fact, I) feel that nothing is outside the remit of science, but I think many, if not most, human beings do (and irrational ideas about luck, love, fate and other unscientific things like that are almost universal). I cannot feel that it helps the cause of science communication to condemn what most people think of as things that can happily coexist as “anti”, rather than “un”. It is, note, a VERY different case to, say, those who push ID or creationism against evolution, or who challenge the scientific consensus on global warming. The skeptic community, among others, would be wise to take different strategies in dealing with these different groups.

      And I hate the way the term you used above, “accommodationism”, gets bandied around. The term originally appeared in the context of US racial segregation, but I fail to see how users of homeopathy can be usefully compared to a ruling class who actively restrain the rights of a whole section of society. Very few homeopathists/astrologers etc. have any interest in restraining science in any way, and lack the power to do so even if they wanted to. Above all, seeking to understand why such practices exist, how they work and why they have significant appeal (which I agree is something the SM should have explored more than they did) is useful and not immoral.

      • I was going to make a similar point myself; that these things are not anti-science, they just present a different view. That is why they are called ‘alternative’ because they follow a different perspective – not because they present a solution that acts as an alternative to science (in order to replace it). It is more correct to refer to them as ‘complimentary’ medicines – from what I understand complimentary medicine practitioners are duty-bound to make sure that conventional medicine is explored as the priority treatment. However, as in my case (described above) even the NHS recognises the value of trying out unconventional methods when conventional methods have been exhausted.

        With regard to the acupuncture brochure that supposedly advertises the services of the practitioner; I think the display of a brochure is a relevant exhibit to show a typical approach of a modern practitioner, providing this does not make visible his contact details. I would be surprised if the Museum has displayed those details (they are usually on the reverse of a brochure, not the top); but if it has then I agree that those details should be removed (blanked out) so that the museum cannot be charged with a legitimate concern about it advertising services rather than providing information.

      • Rebekah Higgitt says:

        Thanks Deborah. I think that there are legitimate concerns about some (very few?) users and practitioners of homeopathy and other practices who do, in fact, present them as a real alternative rather than complementary therapy. The understandable mistrust or confusion that some members of the public have about vaccines and big pharmacutical companies does leave them open to being persuaded that, say, homeopathy is, at least, harmless compared to some conventional medicines.

        These are incredibly important discussions that need to be had without rancour. See these two great posts on why we should not call such people stupid. Indeed, as David Waldock says in the comments to his post linked above, why should those for whom evidence-based medicine has nothing left to offer (e.g. terminal cancer suffers) not be able to make use of something that may make life a little easier? Homeopathy is, for some, effective in this way, as a placebo or whatever, *even* if the user knows that there are no active ingredients in the liquid they are given.

  25. I think that there are legitimate concerns about some (very few?) users and practitioners of homeopathy and other practices who do, in fact, present them as a real alternative rather than complementary therapy.

    If that is the case for any potentially serious illness then it would be a legitimate concern about what I believe would be an illegitimate practice. But that would be the exception not the norm. Although I am not an expert, my understanding is that, unless the complaint is fully understood and non-critical, such practitioners have regulations which require them to refer the patient to their General Practitioner.

    BTW, I’ve seen those two links before and I think they hit the nail directly on the head by presenting the issue from the view of a parent. It’s from that emotionally driven perspective that we can understand all the nervousness and confusion that surrounds some elements of modern conventional medicine; and to what degree should we trust it when we know it’s not infallible? I don’t suppose that people who mistrust vaccines would lose that mistrust whether complimentary medicines are around or not though; I just think that vaccine concern is a thorny issue in its own right.

    Regarding the so-called placebo effect of homeopathy – my personal opinion is that what people call ‘the placebo effect’ in this situation is not just coming from the action or belief in the power of ‘that little pill’, but in the appeal of the philosophy attached to it. I think that (in general) people who utilize complimentary medicines are making more conscious efforts to understand principles of ‘harmony’ between body, mind and spirit; and that tends to trigger a healthier psychological outlook and inclination towards getting the whole body in shape through a little more exercise and a more controlled diet, etc. Unfortunately that’s also why they can sometimes turn into new age health freaks, and become bores for the rest of us at dinner parties – as can reformed smokers, as can academics who don’t understand irony unless it’s pointed out to them in a footnote, as can scientists who don’t know how to drop the language of science and need every conversation to be constrained to their own field of interest, etc., etc. To each their own – nothing that a good bottle of wine can’t sort out; even if we have to drink it all ourselves. (Or I think a pint of Rescue Remedy might do it too, since I’m pretty sure it has a heavy base of brandy).

  26. Jeb says:

    “Should we not also explore the meanings of what we now call science, how they have developed historically and what other kinds of knowledge have and do compete, complement or ignore it? These are all useful things to know when trying to understand why science has (and should have) the authority it does.”

    Yes, that is what you would expect to see in a museum of science. A museum of modern science that had a more limited historical range and intended to focus it’s research interests and exhibition space on the modern scientific method and its development in Europe. I would expect something different.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      If I decoded your comment correctly, you don’t agree with me? But what would you expect from an institution that has care of a wide range of historic objects relating to science, technology and medicine as they were variously understood across time and different cultures? That is, in very large part, what the Science Museum is. Should they hold these objects for the nation, at great expense, and keep them *all* in store (admitting that only a small percentage can be on display at any one time). Should they, say, not display, say, a gorgeous medieval astrolabe (and they have several) that would probably have been used for casting horoscopes and making medical diagnoses as well as time-determining astronomical observations?

      There is a place for what you want in a science museum, and there is also, in the Science Museum and a number of other institutions, a place for the kind of thing I suggest.

  27. sbej says:

    No I agree completly with the comments that you have made. If you look at the last comment on “hands on science” written before this subject came up, it explains the role a museum has had on my own interests and why I think a wider context is crucial.

    Sorry if I did not make things clear.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Apologies for misunderstanding your comment, and thanks for coming back to clarify things. Very glad that you agree with the point I have been trying to make!

  28. Richard King says:

    Rebekah, I have only recently come across you, via your blog posts on the latest immature, as they invariably are, dig at astrology and on the fuss over the science “controversial” museum exhibit. Given that you are, as I believe you wrote, an atheist and a skeptic, in the more recent sense of the term, your straightforward, level headed, adult approach comes as a breath of fresh air.

    “Very few homeopathists/astrologers etc. have any interest in restraining science in any way, and lack the power to do so even if they wanted to. Above all, seeking to understand why such practices exist, how they work and why they have significant appeal (which I agree is something the SM should have explored more than they did) is useful and not immoral.”

    My experience is that you are entirely correct in that observation. The majority of the self-styled sceptics seem to have the idea that CAM therapists are anti science, even to the extent of carrying out a “war on science”. In over three decades of involvement with such people, two decades on a close basis, I have yet to come across any of such people who are anti science, they simply wish to live their lives in their way. Unfortunately, there a number of people of mainstream science, most of whom do not seem to be particularly good scientists in many ways, plus hordes of amateurs, who wish to dictate how others should go about their lives. The “war on science” does not exit and is purely a figment of the imagination of a vociferous number of the mainstream self-styled skeptics.

    My background is science, engineering and higher matters in that chronological order. A childhood fascination for science, in the 1950s, grew through Grammar School, after which I “accidentally” became involved in engineering gaining a Higher National Diploma, followed by a Degree from Brunel University and later a Masters Degree, though I had to let a PhD at the University of Surrey go due to a forced career change. However, given my other involvements, I doubt that the forgoing will stop some finding fault with my science credentials. These days, as you seem to have observed, from the point of view of the vociferous self-styled skeptics, those who are not atheist, materialist, mainstream science, sceptics, are regarded as somewhere between blithering idiots and mad, and are treated as such, always being talked down to.

    My “other side” which started to develop a little from the late 1960s, more in the 1970s and “in spades” from the early 1990s, is that I have higher level perception capability (I see, hear and feel at levels beyond the physical, at appropriate times, in appropriate circumstances), I am a healer and have another attribute which will certainly send the majority of self-styled sceptics “gaga”; if the latter does not result in truck loads of ad-hominem, in due course, I will be extremely surprised.

    There is nothing I have learned, or experienced, on my non-physical side that clashes with, or disproves, mainstream science, no more so than quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity clash with, or disprove, classical/Newtonian mechanics. QM and relativity are at a level beyond the Newtonian and classical and are more refined understandings of the latter. The levels of which I am aware are even further beyond QM and relativity and are much further refined understandings.

    Although there is no clash between my physical and science side on one hand and my non-physical side on the other, I do have an interest in endeavouring to reconcile the two, and have a distinct advantage of considerable understanding and experience of both. However, certain elements of that do not fit with either side very well at times. Most of my healer colleagues do not have a strong scientific background, though there are exceptions; Sue is a former Pathology Laboratory Manager at a private hospital, now works for the NHS, is a fellow member of the network and has just registered for a Professional PhD. On the other hand, many of the scientists experimenting in and commenting on CAM, related matters and other subjects, do not have a clue what they are talking about or how to apply science to their supposed specialist subject areas, though their rubbish results confirm their own preconceptions, as well as their hangers-on; amateurish science and rubbish science but they get the “right” result.

    I am a member of the Scientific and Medical Network. One of the distinct advantages of the Network is that there is complete freedom of discussion on a sensible level. I expect to be going to the Network “Mystics and Scientists Conference” at the University of Winchester again this Spring. The network membership varies widely while having the general attribute of an understanding there is more to what is than is perceived by the limitations of the physical senses and the understandings that come from just those. I am somewhat unusual in that I am both a scientist and a mystic; as a Chartered Engineer I am also a scientist by default as a professional engineer has to be a competent scientists, even though engineering is much more than just science, or even applied science; I am a mystic in the sense that I know there is more than just the physical by direct knowledge, involvement and experience.

    On the main thrust of this blog post, there is much on which I could comment, particularly other people’s contributions, if I had the time.

    There is one significant matter that fits with your general theme. If all exhibits in the Science Museum that are not the products of science were to be removed, it really would be virtually empty. The critics of the CAM related exhibit are so clueless that they have no idea that elements, at least, of very significant exhibits are based matters, ways and procedures for which there is no scientific evidence.

    I have a business breakfast to attend in the morning but will try to write on such matters and/or blog on them after that, bearing in mind I have a much delayed book manuscript to finalise, among other things.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thank you for your comments, Richard. It seems clear that those who want to discuss important issues with advocates of CAM, such as the importance of conventional approaches and vaccines, should understand that they are a varied bunch, including in their knowledge of science.

  29. I’m afraid Deborah Holding is giving homeopaths more credit that they are due – as revealed recently by the BBC’s Newsnight investigation:

    Though an earlier BBC investigation had uncovered similar unethical practices — practitioners selling homeopathic ‘remedies’ as a replacement for malaria tablets – the Society of Homeopaths took no action.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for adding this, Stephen. It is maybe fair to say that the (nervous) lady from the Society if Homeopaths did clearly say that it is against their guidelines for homeopaths to offer *preventative* medicines. She also said that the journalist was welcome to file a complaint and they would deal with it according to their procedures. Do you know if any of this happened? Obviously there are practitioners who do not adhere to the Society’s guidelines – I presume that the Society would condemn proven incidences, strip the practitioner of membership, if they are a member, etc? I suspect they have little real power and control over all the individuals out there who set themselves up as CAM practitioners.

      A question on the difference between people and animals and the efficacy of the placebo effect (or of the ritual of going for a diagnosis) – I’m guessing that there may be an effect for some of the former and none of the latter. Is that right? If so, this goes *some* way to explaining the bizarre discrepancy over legislation.

      [I seem to have strayed a long way from where I began on this post!]

      • Thony C. says:

        There is a strong sense of unconcious historical irony in this documentary as Hahnemann is supposed to have come up with the “like cures like” principle after conducting experiments on himself with a tincture made of the bark of the cinchona tree the original source of quinine!

      • mariawolters says:

        You presume that the Society would act to strip practitioners of their credentials if they, say, flogged homoeopathic malaria vaccines. I don’t have the time right now to do an extensive search, but a £10 Amazon voucher / book token to anybody who can find a single case of this happening.

    • Jeb says:

      I am at a loss to understand why this subject has been termed traditional or why homeopathic remedies feature in a section on medical traditions.

      I would have termed it a pseudo science. Whilst Ive studied traditional culture for years my knowledge of homeopaths is not great as the subject is of no relevance.

      I think the historical relationship between elite and folk based medical traditions is certainly a valid topic but it is also a complex one. Whilst Ive not seen the exhibition, I am somewhat surprised at it’s choice of material.

      • Rebekah Higgitt says:

        I think ‘Living Traditions’ is just meant to be a catch-all to cover things that are practised in the modern world, but are not modern, scientific medicine. Their authority relying on local or family tradition rather than evidence. If homeopathy dates back to the 18thc then it is, I suppose, much more historic than modern drugs! And I suspect that many of the other more ancient traditions try today to borrow some of the authority of science. Considering pseudo-scientific medicine here could be particularly interesting (done well).

    • I also think it is good to have the video in-page and it was interesting to watch. The only problem is that it just keeps bringing everything back to homeopathy which, deriving from the 18th century, does not have the long heritage that other traditional medicines have.

      I have stressed that I am no expert, but I don’t think the video report contradicted me, since it showed that to give such treatment in that manner breaches practice (and I believe more should be done about that). One of the comments I made earlier was this:

      Giving information does not advocate – for example, many years ago, by becoming more informed on how homeopathic medicines are prepared and expected to work, I realised that homeopathy was not for me, even though I know some very sincere practitioners of it (and I can’t think of anyone who would advocate it as a replacement to modern medicine).

      That’s the truth from what I know of this. Do you really think I am giving homeopaths more credit than they are due, having shown that one result of giving information is that it allows people to realise just how dilute those solutions really are, the result being that many will then turn away from it?

      I am not an advocate of homeopathy and don’t like to see people being misinformed or making themselves subject to malaria by not being properly prepared any more than you do. But disdain for homeopathy does not justify the labeling of all traditional or alternative/complimentary medicine as quackery – which indicates fraud and dishonesty. Most of my comments here have been made with the acupuncture example in mind, which is something I did experience myself as part of NHS treatment – do people here think it is appropriate to label all such treatments as quackery, as David Colquhoun and the Lay Scientist has?

      There are things that I don’t approve of in modern and traditional medicine, but right now I am more concerned about noticing a very active movement against holistic practices by skeptics and dedicated debunkers who want to rubbish the practices without regard to their arguments and trample the systems out of existence (or away from public view). Isn’t that what’s really happening here by those who are demanding that these exhibits should be removed from the museum? I am not in favour of promotion of these subjects but I am in favour of clearer information, fairer definitions and more accountability. But that would also require science bloggers to realise that it’s hypocritical to call for libel laws to be kept out of their reports on science, whilst they go out of their way to be so offensive in tone and inaccurate in their details.
      (That criticism does not fall on some recent reports glad to say, including Rebekah’s and your own).

      • noodlemaz says:

        Sorry for all the links to quackometer, but it’s comprehensive and illustrates my points in more detail. Mostly from this search: http://www.quackometer.net/blog/?s=society+of+homeopaths

        1. The SoH were sent transcripts of conversations with homeopaths, who were telling people that they could have homeopathy instead of anti-malarials. They did nothing about it at all.
        Ben Goldacre: ‘the SoH were sent transcripts and declined to act, i’ve got the emails’
        As Simon pointed out.

        2. Not deliberately dishonest? http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2011/02/the-homeopaths-desperate-campaign-to-the-mhra.html
        Try “The key words in the version we want, which help keep homeopathy going are “…use within the homeopathic tradition”. This avoids the need to prove the science behind prescribing of remedies and allows us to practise as normal.”
        To me that suggets full awareness that supporting evidence for the efficacy of such treatments does not exist, therefore let’s make sure the loopholes still exist that will let us get on with charging for the stuff.
        Sure that’s just one woman, but do you really think everyone who advocates for and sells these things believes in it 100%?

        (Relatively) rich people in our society choosing to spend money on these things isn’t that much of an issue. It is an issue, however, that it is generally legitimised, that people have no idea what it actually is (you may have educated yourself on it, but many others do not) and in some tragic cases, people DO forsake effective medicine in its favour.

        http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2010/10/the-society-of-homeopaths-richard-barr-and-mmr.html

        Worse still, that organisations like Homeopaths Without Borders exist and peddle things to people who are in desperate need, who know no better. Africa is full of these, and I have no doubt that more information on that side of the story will become available soon – please do keep your eye out for it.

        3. How can you regulate something like this anyway? Appointing people who believe in it, with no basis except that maybe they were brought up to, they’ve decided to, or it’s lucrative – to run regulatory bodies? There’s a massive conflict of interest there. It’s all very well to put up a spokesperson who says ‘we don’t condone that’ but if they’re not going to actually do anything about their members – clearly and unfortunately that is the case – then you should surely be asking whether some other regulation should be coming into play.

        http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2011/02/how-to-spot-bad-regulation-of-alternative-medicine.html

        and

        http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2011/01/in-five-years-the-society-of-homeopaths-have-learnt-nothing.html

  30. I’m afraid you presume wrong Rebekah because, as Simon Singh says in the interview, a similar incident several years previously led to no action. I think I’m correct in saying that the Society has never barred any of its membership.

    I think the reason for the difference in legislation on use of homeopathy between humans and animals reduces to politicians not wanting to interfere with what they call ‘patient choice’. Homeopathy, for better or worse, is popular with many people. Alas, the weight of scientific evidence is that it works no better than a placebo. That the NHS should fund a placebo to the tune of £4m per annum is, in my view, a great shame. There is little harm in the practice for mild, self-limiting conditions but the NHS funding gives homeopathy a kind of validation that it does not merit — and leads in some cases to dangerous practices. I wonder if this is in part why some scientists have been so sensitised to the sloppiness of the Science Museum’s displays on alternative medicine.

    Apologies for diverting the discussion in this way (and for plonking the youtube video in a comment – I thought it would just display a link).

    • Jeb says:

      The fact that homeopathy is traditional appears to be a key factor in E.U legislation regarding the labeling of its meds.

      Directive, 2004/24/EC amending as regards traditional herbal medicinal products.

      “Having regard to the particular characteristics of these medicinal products, especially their long tradition, it is desirable to provide a special, simplified registration procedure……

      The long tradition of the medicinal product makes it possible to reduce the need for clinical trials.”

      I can see why homeopathy and other modern dabblers in similar arts would be very very happy to be placed in the living traditions section of a science museum.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Then that is, of course, hugely problematic – I didn’t catch that on the video.

      I am, in fact, becoming more and more convinced that this topic deserves space in the SM. The trouble is, to do justice to the complexity of the issue and the many interesting choices made by individuals and government, and of course the issues about access to modern medicine in some other countries, it would probably need a larger space than currently – and I’m sure people would complain about that too! (Though, perhaps, if it was done thoroughly, there could be no valid form of complaint?) I suspect that the SM’s decision to separate this section off was meant to appease sceptics, but it might be better all round to cover it within the main chronology.

      • Looks like I place my post of 8:32 am in the wrong place. I meant to post it here. (If ‘here’ turns out to be the right place ?!)

        With regard to the history of homeopathy it dates from the 18th century although its practitioners might argue that its underlying principle of similarity or ‘like cures like’ is ancient. It is, but it was never applied with anything that could be compared to homeopathic practice, or what effectively amounts to an imagined presence of something, as far as I know (I have studied the philosophies within the history of medicine but not the practice of it)

      • sbej says:

        I would agree. I think it has attempted to pull off something rather ambitious in a very small space and needs more room to explain itself fully and needs to think about it’s division of subjects.

        Given the entire range of subjects on the floor it could pull off something very interesting indeed if it can link the relationships together clearly.

        Its certainly in the correct building to pose a range of very fruitfull questions.

  31. Sorry if this is off-topic Rebekah, but I couldn’t resist posting this link to an interesting piece of sociological evidence on the ‘tradition’ of homeopathy that has just emerged:

    http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2011/02/the-homeopaths-desperate-campaign-to-the-mhra.html

    There is so much more that the museum could have done to ‘explore’ this particular living tradition…

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks Stephen, and no worries about going off-topic. I think we’re agreed that there are fascinating sociological, historical and anthropological studies and exhibitions that could look at this, investigating all viewpoints. The question of what is ‘tradition’ and what this means to consumers is certainly something that should be investigated.

      As I’ve been indicating on Twitter I am interested in what campaigners against homeopathy really want to achieve – and, of course, the tone of their campaign. Many seem to have a visceral dislike of homeopathy and homeopathists, and many homeopathists are extremely nervous of campaigners. This does not seem to be the healthiest way to work things out.

      So what I would like to have a clearer understanding of is whether campaigners against homeopathy really want to rid the world of homeopathy (and possibly anything else they consider ‘un’ or ‘anti’-scientific), or if they are *clearly* focusing on and targetting 1) any claims that homeopathy is an alternative to evidence-based medicine 2) the endorsement of homeopathy by the NHS 3) use of misleading ‘scientific’ claims and language by homeopathists.

      In my view the latter is absolutely reasonable and an important campaign. The trouble is it tends to get confused with the former, which unsurprisingly makes users and practitioners of homeopathy very defensive. In the link you give above, the homeopathist quoted is evidently concerned that the change in guidelines would mean that they would no longer even be able to dispense (rather than prescribe) remedies (rather than medicines) privately. This is a different issue from how those remedies are labelled, and one that would seem to interfere with the private choices of many individuals. Is this, essentially, what campaigners want? Perhaps it really should be dealt with as foodstuffs rather than medicines? What I want to know is whether that would satisfy you and others?

      Again, I am on the side of the campaigners, but I am fairly new to these dabates and am mostly struck by the vehement tone in which they are conducted (and I don’t know whose fault that is, who reacts to what, etc.).

      • Richard King says:

        “As I’ve been indicating on Twitter I am interested in what campaigners against homeopathy really want to achieve – and, of course, the tone of their campaign. Many seem to have a visceral dislike of homeopathy and homeopathists, and many homeopathists are extremely nervous of campaigners. This does not seem to be the healthiest way to work things out.”

        My reading, understanding of the situation is that the “antis” wish to dictate to others how to live their lives. I see no problem with them putting their point of view in a mature civilised way and letting people decide. However, the way things have developed it is more like a load of materialistic thugs bullying others into accepting their ways. If they have that much energy and concern for people’s well being, there are matters to be put right that are doing many times more harm and costing the Country vastly more financially, than all the CAM modalities put together. As with all bullies, who are invariably cowards at heart, small groups are easier pickings.

        It is not the healthiest way to work things out. If the atheist materialistic mainstreamers would come down off their “scientific” high horse and engage in an adult manner, without name calling, or talking down to people, there would be far more people willing to engage in dialogue.

        “So what I would like to have a clearer understanding of is whether campaigners against homeopathy really want to rid the world of homeopathy (and possibly anything else they consider ‘un’ or ‘anti’-scientific), or if they are *clearly* focusing on and targetting 1) any claims that homeopathy is an alternative to evidence-based medicine 2) the endorsement of homeopathy by the NHS 3) use of misleading ‘scientific’ claims and language by homeopathists.”

        The idea that medicine is evidence based is something of an illusion, certainly in the RCT evidence sense. Several years ago, at a local Scientific and Medical Network meeting, I brought up something I had heard, read, about medicines and procedures described by medical doctors being less than 50% proven. The medical people present confirmed that the true figure was even less than that.

        Medicine, in the healing sense, in my understanding, is quite similar to engineering in that it is, fundamentally, an art that, nowadays, uses science more but remains an art. There are medical judgements as there are engineering judgements and science is a servant rather than the dictator that mainstreamers seem to want to make it.

        “In my view the latter is absolutely reasonable and an important campaign. The trouble is it tends to get confused with the former, which unsurprisingly makes users and practitioners of homeopathy very defensive. In the link you give above, the homeopathist quoted is evidently concerned that the change in guidelines would mean that they would no longer even be able to dispense (rather than prescribe) remedies (rather than medicines) privately. This is a different issue from how those remedies are labelled, and one that would seem to interfere with the private choices of many individuals. Is this, essentially, what campaigners want? Perhaps it really should be dealt with as foodstuffs rather than medicines? What I want to know is whether that would satisfy you and others?”

        As I wrote the whole thrust of the campaign seems to be about dictating to people and denying them choice.

        The current focus is on homeopathy but there is a move against CAM modalities in general. There are a number of self-styled self appointed “experts” who claim to know more about CAM modalities than those involved with those modalities but, in reality, have not a clue what they are talking about.

        In engineering it would be disastrous not to be able to acknowledge ones own limitations in knowledge and experience. Many in mainstream science do not seem to be able to do that; just because they are scientists they tend to think they can “lord it” over non-scientists whom they both look down on and talk down to.

        The first year of my Degree at Brunel University was a common one; all engineers together, about two hundred of us. From the second year we specialised, my specialisation being mechanical and production engineering. Then I went into the aerospace industry. If I was involved in civil engineering I would need to take care; civil structures are easy compared with aircraft structures but there are different materials to deal with, different reserve factors, different rules, different experience, different legal requirements, etc. Electrical engineering is different again and I have forgotten most of it, not that such considerations prevented me helping a student I was tutoring at a local college a few years ago; he got stuck on alternating current circuits; it took me half an hour or so to find a relevant book in the library and run through a couple of worked examples to remind myself how to solve such problems. However, should I ever be involved in any electrical circuits on a professional basis, I would call in a qualified electrical engineer. Similarly, I know about my form of healing and something of related ones like Reiki. I know something of other modalities but I decline to go beyond my knowledge and experience.

        Many mainstream scientists are unwilling or unable to recognise their limitations. Hence we have a physicist who became an “expert” on CAM in just two years, who joins up with a professor who is supposed to be an expert in the field but might as well be talking out of his backside; how else to explain double figures of errors in a single page on which the latter will not answer straightforward questions?

        Irwin Schrödinger wrote:
        “A scientist is supposed to have a complete and thorough knowledge, at first hand, of some subjects and, therefore, is usually expected not to write on any topics of which he is not a master. This is regarded as a matter of noblesse oblige.”
        Prefacfe to “What is Life?”

        Admittedly Schrödinger then begs leave to go outside his specialisation and proceeds to do just that but he does so gently, carefully and at a modest pace with a degree of humility.

        The physicist mentioned above is no Schrödinger, very far from it; similarly with all of the other mainstreamers of which I am aware.

        “Again, I am on the side of the campaigners, but I am fairly new to these dabates and am mostly struck by the vehement tone in which they are conducted (and I don’t know whose fault that is, who reacts to what, etc.).”

        The mainstream scientists, one would have thought, would include a reasonable representation of psychologists. As far as I am aware, preaching to people, verbally bludgeoning them, taking a know-all approach, name calling, etc., is hardly conducive to persuading people or creating a dialogue.

  32. Richard King says:

    Rebekah, I said I would try to get back with other comments, after that meeting/business breakfast, yesterday, partly from my non-physical side and interests aware from what mainstreamers can get their heads around though also from my perspective a an engineer. However, I rather over did it, so, what follows, is the first half of what I wrote.

    As I wrote before, I got into engineering by “accident”, in a sense. I did not know what engineering involved, which most people, including by far the greater majority of mainstream scientists, do not know either.

    Mainstream scientists and their hangers on seem to view science as above everything else and engineering as simply applied science; neither is the case. Engineering is an art which uses science, since science came into existence in its present form a few hundred years ago. However, whether engineering uses science, or any other approach, any other heuristic, it does so on engineering terms; ultimately, it is always engineering terms, approach and judgement that rule.

    The purpose of engineering, the engineering approach, is to secure an improvement from an existing situation to a better one, by whatever means an engineer, or group of engineers, considers reasonable. In achieving some, many (?), such improvements engineering is often not particularly scientific and in some ways deeply unscientific. We certainly do things that are not “evidence based”, particularly in an equivalent to the evidence based medicine sense. So, all those “mainstream science is all types” should, if they were truly committed to science only and were honest and consistent, should strip off, put on their loin cloths and go live in a cave, or similar, never ever having anything to do with the works of engineers again. Of course they will not; their starting position is that they are always right and all subsequent “evidence”, “logic”, “reasoning”, etc., is guided and fashioned to suit.

    Are the mainstream types aware that modern aircraft, among other things, depend on matters that are not evidence based? Are they aware that the reason aircraft only very rarely fall out of the sky is down to what has been described as “a dark black art, and more akin to necromancy than sorcery” because the science is inadequate to achieve it otherwise.

    A while ago some juvenile medics described homeopathy as magic, though I doubt they know what magic is. Aircraft work, fly and stay in the air for as long as required due to “engineering magic”. Given that they are so averse to “magic”, those medics should never board an aircraft again.

    I have not been to the science museum for decades, though, as I recall from those times, there was a vast amount of engineering and technology there; the current website tends to confirm just that. Neither engineering, nor technology, is science, certainly not just science and the science is, invariably, a small part of what is there in front of the visitors.

    Science is less than 20% of the requirement to be professional engineer, Chartered Engineer, but an engineer still has to be a competent scientist. Not surprisingly, people like me, let alone others, get a bit fed up with some scientists repeatedly coming “the big I am”.

    Several years ago a physicist who is a fellow member of the Scientific and Medical Network, came to give a talk to our Healers Group. In part she related the understandings gained through quantum physics to the understanding we have on the non-physical level. That does not mean we use, let alone misuse, quantum physics in to explain matters at our level, simply that it is closer, than classical physics, though still a few levels away. At some stage she said something which I could easily connect on the science level and higher levels and made a comment agreeing with her while adding some thoughts of my own, which she, sort of caught up with; physics she knew, healing and non-physical matters not so much, though not a beginner either. It was way above the heads of virtually all of the rest of the group who were not science minded or educated apart from a nurse whose high level physics would have been limited.
    Our speaker, whose name I, regrettably cannot remember, said, recognising my background, in comparison with the others,
    “Ah, yes, but you’re an engineer.”
    “Yes,” I agreed, “And you are only a scientist.”
    We exchanged grins; she nodded, agreed and carried on with her presentation.
    The exchange was little more than light hearted banter but the significant differences between engineers on one hand and scientists on the other was becoming obvious to me several years ago. Before that I had thought about it but not too deeply.

    So as far as the Science Museum is concerned, if it truly were a science museum, all of the works of engineers should be removed. Then it really would be a rather empty building.

    I have watched many so-called science television programmes with a mixture wry humour and mild annoyance that what is shown visually as science is actually engineering with the science types claiming the credit. At that level, as well as the Science Museum, the scientists are frauds, showing the works of others and claiming it for themselves.

    Programmes like “Bang Goes the Theory” often have very visible demonstrations of one thing or another with the presenters even claiming to have designed whatever they were using. The real situation was more like thy and the producers having an idea and employing engineers to put it into practice. They would have to do so in order to ensure that the device worked, let alone for safety reasons.

    On the safety front, do you recall Han Solo, in one of the original “Star Wars” films ending up in a clear plastic tube; I believe it was flooded with liquid at one stage. British Aerospace, Weybridge, received a request from the film company for help with the design, stress analysis and safety clearance of that prop. It was passed to the Deputy Chief Stressman, Ron Boxer, who did that for them; I was working with Ron at the time. There is not a great deal we engineers do not get involved in at one level or another.

    Last year I came across an article in “The Times” entitled “Why non-scientists are a pain in the arts” in which Ben Miller seemed to claim that it was scientists who built the Large Hadron Collider, though I doubt that scientists would know where to start on such a project; hence my own article on Scientific Blogging/Science 2.0 “Why non- scientists are not the only pain in the arts” (www.science20.com/psychic_engineer/blog/why_nonscientists_are_not_only_pain_arts).

    Similarly, the bland claim by the 10-23 anti homeopathy brigade the water has no memory. Me being me I did an Internet search, the modern equivalent of the basic old-fashioned library search, of which any self respecting scientists should be easily capable and came up with apparent evidence to indicate that liquids may have a memory, following which I wrote “The Structure of Water and Other Liquids” (www.science20.com/psychic_engineer/blog/structure_water_and_other_liquids). Note that, contrary to the certitude of the 10-23 brigade and similar asserting that water has no memory, I have made no contrary assertion, simply pointing out that there are research results available that indicate that liquids may have a memory. The standard of science that I was brought up on has no certainties, only indications of probability based on starting assumptions, which, in themselves, are unprovable.

    There are at least two possible “mechanisms” which would allow something like homeopathy to work, if it does. One falls with the remit of materials science and technology the other is at a higher level. Both of those possibilities fall within my areas of knowledge and experience as my Masters Degree is in non-metallic materials, though an engineer has to know a great deal about materials science and technology anyway, and the other falls within my experience and knowledge as a healer, mystic, psychic, etc. However, I have not been in a position to research the field of homeopathy, so I do have sufficient information, knowledge, or experience, to give a particularly strong view either way.

    I am not a homeopath and never have been, not in this lifetime, nor any other lifetime that I remember; twenty-five to thirty, so far; I have lost track over the last few years.

    Once I can progress past a particularly situation, the details of which are on the Internet, I hope to be able to do some research in CAM related areas as well as other matters of interest, mostly the latter. Having spent more time than I, perhaps, should, over the last many months, on the philosophy of engineering, as well as that of science, I have concluded that the engineering method is the more powerful method and would like to try applying that to those fields that mainstream science is unable to get its collective head around; the failing is not really in science but in those who prejudge and limit what they will allow science to do; hence this pathetic notion of pseudoscience; there is no such thing as pseudoscience. It is very easy to lump engineering under the catch all definitions of pseudoscience, so again, avid scientists should have nothing to do with the works of engineers, though, as I wrote, engineering is not a science anyway, applied or otherwise.

    One of the current problems with research in CAM, as well as other areas, is that a great deal of it is carried out by people who are biased, have insufficient understanding of what they are doing, are poor scientists, or a combination of those. Unfortunately, they and there acolytes think they are brilliant because they come up with results that reinforce the preconceptions of the mainstream. Meanwhile, several respected, relatively “heavyweight” scientists cannot get research papers published because the results run counter to what the mainstream wishes to see. Many areas of modern science have thus become a science of self perpetuating ignorance.

  33. Pingback: Curiouser and curiouser (history of science & research topics) | Code for Life

  34. noodlemaz says:

    Here’s some more on my/our particular problems with the exhibit itself; comments on the photo album as well, re: specific claims made.

    http://noodlemaz.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/living-medical-traditions/

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Thanks for adding the link. I will comment over on your site: there are some interesting points that come back to the issues of what approaches are suitable for Science Museums, although there are clear failures within this particular exhibit.

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