Fighting Terrorism — The Homeopathic Way!
The Pentagon is apparently marshalling all of its resources in the war against terrorism–including prayer and homeopathic medicine.
Ask Wayne B. Jonas why the scientific foundation he directs is funding research into the effects of prayer, the use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism and whether magnetic devices can heal orthopedic injuries, and he offers a straightforward answer: Science is the way to determine whether they work.
“We’re trying to stimulate good-quality research,” said Jonas, a former chief of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who directs the nonprofit Samueli Institute for Information Biology (SIIB) in Alexandria. “There is a good case for looking at these things scientifically, because we don’t know a lot about them.”
But, the 51-year-old board-certified family physician and retired Army doctor adds, “it’s difficult to walk the scientific fence” — dodging criticism from “the hard-core skeptics” who dismiss alternative medicine as quackery and the “hard-core advocates” who accept it uncritically.
Jonas has headed the institute — named for its principal benefactor, California philanthropist Susan Samueli — since its inception in 2001. What began as a two-person foundation has grown into a research organization with four offices and a staff of 15. It has an annual budget of about $4 million provided by the Samueli family, and an additional $5 million in contracts from the Department of Defense (DOD) to study alternative treatments. Currently the institute is funding about 50 projects, awarding grants ranging from $20,000 to $250,000 to researchers in the United States, Europe and Asia. Some grants have been awarded to institute staff members.
Sad as this seems, there is in fact a long and depressing history of the use of pork, especially by the military and intelligence services, to investigate the “paranormal” realm, including hypnosis, mind control, and remote viewing. Still, one would hope that in the 21st century, we would use defense research dollars on actual science, not witchdoctory. Alas, this hope is a vain one.
(link via Danger Room)
An interesting read on this sort of thing is Jon Ronson’s “The Men Who Stare At Goats.” Kind of funny, yet very sad. These mysticism/gnosticism fads keep popping up, and have a curious durability.
A good dose of James Randi or Penn & Teller has very little effect on True Believers, though. They seem to retreat into the “if it feels true to me, it must be true” stance. I’d like to blame the post-modernist movement (and, to a large extent, I can), but this phenomenon appears to impact folks equally. Left or right, religious or secular,young or old.
I think that the power of paying me lots of money for no particular reason would be particularly effective at curing cancer and fighting terrorism. I think the proper scientific approach is to have a long-term trial of my theory to see what results it produces.
Where do I sign up for a grant?
Just stamp “For Homeland Security” at the top of a sheaf of papers and you’ll get funded by pretty much any agency these days.
Keep in mind that astronomy started as astrology, chemistry as alchemy. Science has inevitably been born out of “witchdoctory.”
Does that mean that every new age fad has use? No of course not. But it does mean that there are almost certainly many areas of life in which we currently have such a limited understanding that they are dominated by mysticism.
Those areas very much should be rigorously investigated to be better understood.
Biofeedback is an example of a field that just a few decades ago was thought to be superstitious mummery and now has a strong credible scientific basis.
While it is gullible to buy into the latest crystal fad it is ALSO gullible to assume that our current array of scientific fields cover all that is, and I say that as a physicist working in what is with no exaggeration one of the finest materials analysis laboratories in the world.
Astrology did not become Astronomy, Astronomy evolved as a better mechanism to explain observations of Astrology, just as Chemistry evolved as a better mechanism to explain parts of Alchemy. In both cases, the mysticism didn’t create the science, the skepticism did.
You misunderstand me. I’m not saying the mysticism created the science. What I’m saying is that in both cases a general field of knowledge evolved. This field was heavily polluted with false ideas but it was only after the field had some critical mass that it could change from the mysticism burdened general field into a sceptical scientific enterprise.
Same thing with astrology. Without the millions of measurments of star and planetary positions, often made for ludicicrously bad reasons, there is no foundation upon which to start astronomy.
The mysticism comes first because anything we don’t understand generates mysticism, it’s one of our charming foibles, but it is only afterwards (and consequently) that a new science can evolve.
Gee, I wish it was this easy at LANL, where we’re being threatened with a RIF of 2,500 staff due to budget uncertainties.
Are you sure you have a clue?