The science delusion
August 14th 2007, 17:38
Richard Dawkins, Darwin's self-proclaimed rottweiler, has been turning his laser on what he calls the 'enemies of reason'. These enemies are growing in number, and they are people - no doubt a little like us - who believe in 'unscientific' things such as alternative medicine. As a result, we're slipping back into the Dark Ages and to a pre-rationalistic time when superstition, myth and folklore ruled.
Our one constant should be evidence and proof, and our guardian should be science, Dawkins believes. Sadly, science is rarely pure, and evidence can come a poor second to belief, prejudice and, indeed, finance. But scientists don't call it any of these things: instead, they call it a 'paradigm'.
I was thinking about these things while I was reading the life story of an extraordinary medical pioneer called Dr Emanuel Revici. He died in 1998, believing his theories about cancer and treatment had been discredited, and his reputation in tatters.
And yet he was the first person to define lipids according to their molecular properties and activities, he was the first to use lipids in order to carry chemotherapy harmlessly around the body, he was the first to successfully treat cancer with high-dose selenium compounds, and he was a pioneer of the use of omega-3 for treating cancer.
He arrived in New York in 1947, and his treatment protocols had been blacklisted in 1961 by the American Cancer Society. As a result, his book - in which he outlined his 40 years of research and therapy - sold hardly a copy, and the edition was destroyed.
In 1984, the New York State Health Department began proceedings to revoke his licence, and two malpractice suits were started against him. Ultimately, their complaint against him was that his therapeutic approach "departed radically from community practice", another term for the paradigm, this time of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The National Research Council had tried in the 1950s to evaluate Revici's work, but they claimed he was "difficult", and had set unrealistic expectations on the reviewing committee. However, a re-reading of the transcripts reveals that Revici's therapy was complex and multi-factorial, and wasn't the single 'magic bullet' approach that medicine still clings to. Another paradigm, in fact.
A year before he died - at the age of 102 - he regained his licence to practise medicine (and which had been taken away four years earlier). Usually a doctor must apologise before his licence is returned, but speaking on Revici's behalf, Dr Burt Schoenbach told the hearing: "Why should Dr Revici apologise? He was right on selenium and right on other lipid compounds he pioneered to treat cancer patients."
The enemies of reason were the scientists themselves.