In the rough and tumble world of blogging, debate and criticism is healthy. I know I’m a better writer and blogger because the feedback from blogging is immediate and public. Yet if you’re going to blog about science, particularly pseudoscience, you’re going to encounter people who don’t share your belief in critical appraisal. And when groups and individuals cannot defend themselves with scientific evidence, they occasionally react by trying to stop that discussion from happening at all. One of the core principles of scientific skepticism is the belief that all ideas can and should be subject to fair criticism. No testable claim may escape appraisal or critique. It’s a critical component of the scientific method itself:
…at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes – an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.
– Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, Chapter 17
Andy Lewis is a prolific skeptical blogger and inventor of the handy Quackometer, a website that analyzes any website, giving a rating based on telltale signs of quackery. Recently Andy blogged about Stanislaw Burzynski and his eponymous cancer clinic. Lewis detailed the story of a child with an inoperable brain tumor and the fundraising that is occurring to send this child to Burzynski’s clinic. The concern is that Burzynski’s cancer treatments consist of an unproven therapy he calls antineoplastons. Despite the lack of any objective evidence that antineoplastons are an effective cancer therapy, Burzynski offers this therapy under the auspices of a clinical trial. Astonishingly, patients must pay for the privilege of entering these trials – in the case of the child in question, the family is trying to raise £200,000. Continue reading