This will be my last post for 2023, and as always I like to look back at SBM over the past year, and look forward to what is to come.
2023 was a sad year for SBM because we unexpectedly lost one of our founding editors, Harriet Hall. She was a tireless defender of science and reason in medicine, and her contributions have been sorely missed. Over the years she contributed hundreds of posts to SBM and was a welcome addition to every conference we attended.
SBM forges ahead into our 16th year. Mark Crislip rejoined the fold in 2022 after taking a hiatus. We missed his particular brand of science-based sarcasm and are glad to have him back. We continue to have a strong backbone of regular contributors, including Clay Jones, Jonathan Howard, and Scott Gavura, in additional to many contributing authors (too many to name, but thank all of you). We also have some regular contributors with a formal or informal series of posts, such as Frank Han and AJ Eckert. And of course our managing editor, David Gorski, in additional to anchoring our lineup every week, does an excellent job of pulling it all together. Behind the scenes, Ian Callanan (working with me and Jay Novella through the New England Skeptical Society) manages the back end and our hosting.
While this is a strong lineup, we are always looking for new either one time, topic-specialist, or regular contributors. The more voices we have the better. We welcome submissions from everyone – just see our submissions guidelines above – and have been happy to have many high quality submissions. Being a regular contributor is a serious commitment, which is why I am so grateful to everyone who has given so much of their professional time to this project.
Working with SBM is also a great way to work with experienced editors in an area that requires specific expertise – in science communication, critical thinking, scientific literacy, media savvy, and medical pseudoscience. We desperately need to cultivate these skills within all professionals, and arguably in medicine the need is most acute. This is a never-ending project, and we are especially keen to develop the next generation of SBM advocates and communicators.
The topics we have most had to deal with over the past year have been fairly typical. The same pseudoscience “headliners” remain our prime targets. Acupuncture continues to gain ground within mainstream medicine, despite being devoid of any coherent mechanism or theory, any internal validity, or the slightest compelling evidence of efficacy. It is the best example of the emperor having no clothes in medicine that I can think of.
Except, perhaps, for homeopathy – the “air guitar” of medicine. Homeopathy, despite being just magic water, continues to be a multi-billion dollar industry that has managed to get a free pass from most regulators. It perhaps benefits the most from the “knowledge deficit problem” – most people don’t know what homeopathy actually is. This is where a little education goes a long way. Just explaining that homeopathic potions don’t have any actual active ingredients (that haven’t been diluted out of existence) is often enough.
And of course we continue to play watchdog on alternative medical professions, such as chiropractic and naturopathy, who have managed to establish medicine without science, or with a very bad impersonation of science. They are great examples of what happens when you practice medicine without a clear and dedicated anchor to high quality science.
The usual suspects, of snake oil peddlers, magic energy devices, science denial, anti-vaxxers, COVID and other conspiracy theorists, are all still out there menacing the public health. Along the way we take some time to celebrate true breakthroughs in science and medicine, making a nice contrast to the perpetual false claims and promises of pseudoscience in medicine. And we take a look at our institutions and society as a whole, where are things going wrong and how can be get back on track.
We never expect victory. This is a perpetual struggle. Science, critical thinking, and professionalism are all extremely high energy states. They take constant work and introspection, and need institutional support. Meanwhile, there are many forces at work against them. There are psychological forces, such as the allure of false hope, the desire for cures that may not exist, or for easy answers to complex questions. There is the greed that drives a multi-billion dollar (at least) industry of fake medicine. And there are the inherent advantages that misinformation and emotional appeals have in mass and social media.
The modern world is challenging the resilience of all of our institutions, and science and medicine are no different. Hopefully our contributions are helping in some small way, through education and advocacy. But there is always more to be done.
Finally, thanks to all our regular readers and commenters and of course our patrons. You are a community of thoughtful and curious individuals interested in what we have to say about science and medicine. You are the vibrant community that keeps our humble blog afloat. This is especially true for our patrons. Thank you, and I look forward to more SBM in 2024.