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Evidence-Based Medicine

Some bad poems stick in the mind. I still remember a bit of low dactylic doggerel by John W. Campbell, editor of the science-fiction magazine Analog, who wrote an editorial in the mid-1960s complaining about increased regulation of nutritional supplements. "The FDA's gunning for vitamin pills" was the refrain, and in one line Campbell took a poke at James Goddard who was then head of the Food and Drug Administration. "Someday Goddard, not God, will be dead," Campbell predicted.

Campbell (a heavy smoker) died decades ago, but his verse resurfaced in my consciousness last month when James Goddard passed away and an obituary appeared in the New York Times [1]. Goddard tried to base government regulation on evidence, not anecdote. That's hard for people to handle. Even otherwise-rational folks—like Campbell, like activist fund-raisers for medical research on particular diseases, like science writers for the NYT who should know better—often let wishful thinking and coincidence sway them into bogus beliefs. The headline-writer for a book review last year came up with a cute (if violent) metaphor for what's needed: "Firing Bullets of Data at Cozy Anti-Science" [2]. More target practice is needed ...

(cf. VulnerableTheories (1999-05-17), AlteredNative (2002-01-24), ModernMedicine (2005-04-29), ...) - ^z - 2010-01-16