Living Medical Traditions

Our fifth floor gallery, The Science and Art of Medicine, touches on issues as emotive as abortion and third world health – so it is no surprise that it has been the subject of comment over the years.

A recent blog post and subsequent comments on Twitter have breathed life into an old debate about the presence of content relating to living medical traditions in the gallery.

First some basic scene setting for those who haven’t visited the gallery – it is made up of three sections – 2 large areas called Modern Medicine and Before Modern Medicine and a smaller area called Living Medical Traditions which was updated in 2006. Within this section there is a small area devoted to ‘Personal Stories’ which show how people choose to use medical treatments from different traditions.

Personal stories explanatory text

Explanatory text from the gallery

On this subject we have an official statement from the Museum:

In our ‘Living Medical Traditions’ section of the Science and Art of Medicine Gallery we take an anthropological and sociological perspective on medical practices. We reflect patient experience in a global setting. We do not evaluate different medical systems, but demonstrate the diversity of medical practices and theoretical frameworks currently thriving across the world.

Our message in this display is that these traditions are not ‘alternative’ systems in most parts of the world. Instead they currently offer the majority of the global population their predominant, sometimes only, choice of medical care. We do not make any claims for the validity of the traditions we present. For example, we include the use of acupuncture but do not say that acupuncture ‘works’. We consider that these ‘alternative’ medical practices are of considerable cultural significance. We also recognise that some may consider the inclusion of these practices in the Science Museum controversial.

As with all Science Museum galleries independent experts were consulted when developing this gallery. In this instance advice was sought from leading academics in the history of non-western medical traditions as well as practitioners and users of these traditions. We maintained editorial control throughout and resisted equating local medical practices with the western medical tradition.

And now some comments from a curator who worked on the exhibit:

In the Personal Stories section of ‘Living Medical Traditions’ we chose to present the patient / practitioner perspective and describe their experiences. With this approach, we felt it would be clear that it was the patients and practitioners who had confidence in the efficacy of these other traditions, rather than the Science Museum. We certainly did not feel that by displaying such things in the Museum we were endorsing them. For example, another controversial exhibit – the Euthanasia Machine – is on display on our ground floor, but by displaying it we are not advocating assisted suicide. We appreciate that our visitors will have their own views.

In the same way that the gallery presents the medicine that the Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Renaissance physicians and so on and so on believed in and practised, we are doing a similar thing for TCM, Ayurveda etc which happen to still be practised today.

On the specific subject of homeopathy, we felt that the approach was very careful in explaining that the belief was with the users, but not us.

There’s a snapshot of the display here.

One final, rather cheeky point – critics of homeopathy are keen to point out that ‘Anecdotes are not data’. Quite right – and on that note we’d would love to encourage people who haven’t actually visited the gallery to come and see it for themselves. It’s free and if it stimulates this kind of debate then it can’t be all bad…

53 thoughts on “Living Medical Traditions

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  3. David Colquhoun

    This defence, which is much the same as that offered to me when I wrote some time tp protest, bears no relationship to the actual nature of the exhibit. Ant reasonable person would conclude that the exhibit promotes quackery. It is a national disgrace and it merely adds insult to injury when you come out with a load of PR guff like tbat posted here. Why cannot yui jsy put up your hands and say “sorry we made a mistake”. You would come out of it looking much better if you did that.

    I see that the story of this dreadful exhibit has already reached the USA. P Z Myers has 49,000 followers on Twitter alone.

    Reply
  4. Dr Diven Topiwala

    While I appreciate the point and the story you are trying to tell in this exhibition, but I have to admit, I am at a loss to understand where the science (or the history of science) is and why you feel you need to tell this story within the Science Museum.

    I strongly believe that something so fundamentally unscientific, really has no place in a science museum, no matter how anthropologically and sociologically interesting.

    However, that doesn’t mean that I believe that displays on homeopathy, and other unproven complimentary treatments have no place in this Gallery. They could be displayed under an alternative title, perhaps “The Power Of Placebo”, then you could have an interesting exhibition on one of the most amazing, and most misunderstood areas of medicine.

    Kindest Regards

    Reply
  5. Rob Hinkley

    I understand you don’t endorse the use of the Euthanasia Machine but I assume it would work as described. Unlike, say, homeopathy.

    Reply
  6. Domitella

    Both the statements by the Museum above only make sense if one has not seen the exhibition itself.

    They do nothing to explain the nebulous way these therapies are described in the exhibition – for example the panel on homeopathy states that studies have been done into it’s effectiveness, but *not* that they have shown it’s ineffective, which I would have thought would be worth mentioning.

    I agree particularly with Dr Topiwala above – it’s hardly going to work towards the SM’s goal of being “the best place in the world for people to enjoy science”!

    The museum simply does not seem to have the courage of it’s convictions, if indeed it has convictions at all.

    Reply
  7. Guy Chapman

    The problems with this exhibit must by now be well known to the museum. Evidence-based medicine is the triumph of science over anecdote, yet here anecdote is presented as if it is valid science. Therapies based on intangible, invisible, undetectable and objectively non-existent “energy fields” are not science.There is science i the history of medicine, and in the way herbal remedies have been analysed and refined to become modern pharmaceuticals, but your galleries are likely to be disrupted by howls of derisive laughter from any scientist reading the uncritical treatment of blatantly pseudoscientific concepts such as homeopathy.

    The most serious danger is that you give a veneer of legitimacy to what are, in several cases, dangerously fraudulent industries. If you want to deal in anecdote then perhaps you should be covering the cases of people who have died agonising and preventable deaths due to using these alternatives to evidence-based medicine.

    After all, the technical term for alternative medicine that can be proven to work is: medicine.

    Reply
  8. Rebekah Higgitt

    I think that, given that the Science Museum has care of the wonderful Wellcome Collection, their historical and anthropological approaches to medicine are entirely justified, as is raising questions about science, knowledge, belief and tradition across cultures and across time. For those uneasy with this approach, surely the fact that these exhibits are included in the discrete section ‘Living Medical Traditions’ rather than being included within ‘Modern Medicine’ (despite the fact that, as traditions currently active, they are equally ‘modern’) makes it very clear to visitors where the boundaries lie. Or do the critics feel that visitors might get equally confused within the historical section and need to be told that hysteria is not caused by wondering wombs or that mercury is not a suitable treatment for syphilis?

    I see nothing to suggest that the Museum lacks the courage of its convictions, only that some commenters appear not to share them.

    Reply
  9. Paul

    The museum claims that the practices are “of considerable cultural significance.” If that is so put them in the cultural section along with rain dances and voodoo. Don’t confuse traditional practices, even if still practiced today, with science based medicine. (Note I have not been to the Museum so if rain dances and voodoo are not displayed I would wonder why homeopathy etc is.)

    Reply
  10. Steve Baker

    “we take an anthropological and sociological perspective on medical practices. We reflect patient experience in a global setting. We do not evaluate different medical systems, but demonstrate the diversity of medical practices and theoretical frameworks currently thriving across the world.”

    Errr.. WHY?

    If I wanted a news report of what’s going on around the world I would watch the news, or read a selection of literature.

    In what perspective does reporting on data that has no scientific significance, indeed in the case of homeopathy probably has very strong scientific evidence against it does such an approach have a place in a scientific museum.

    The argument of whether you support or endorse the display is largely irrelevant. As Rob mentions there is scientific evidence that the Euthanasia machine works – its of scientific interest that some people to choose (or have chosen) this in the past.

    Although clearly people choose alternative therapies (lets not call them medicines as they are not) displaying them in a scientific context without clearly indicating the understanding of the scientific community as to their lack of effectiveness seems unbalanced and misleading at the very best.

    Reply
  11. Simon Singh

    I am disappointed that:

    a) the Science Museum continues with a shoddy and unscientific (indeed anti-scientific) exhibition.

    b) the Science Museum fails to see why the exhibition is problematic.

    c) the Science Museum believes that “if it stimulates this kind of debate then it can’t be all bad…”

    What next? An uncritical exhibition about creationist beliefs around the world? It would be controversial, but “if it stimulates this kind of debate then it can’t be all bad…”

    I saw the exhibition several years ago, and it was the final straw in a series of poor decisions by the Science Museum. I then decided to resign from the board of the Science Museum.

    Reply
  12. PJ

    “We do not evaluate different medical systems”

    Then where is the science?

    To sidestep this issue is not only misleading, it is dangerously misleading. To know which treatments work and which don’t, and to withhold that information, is failing not only in the narrow duty of the museum to educate people about science, but in the broader duty to protect the public from misleading health claims. An exhibit on homeopathy could easily be brought within the museum’s proper remit.

    If it’s free and helps convince someone to opt for a homeopathic measles vaccine, it can’t be all good.

    Reply
  13. Furry Canary

    This exhibit would be entirely legitimate and understandable if you were a museum of anthropology, or sociology, or history, or indeed a museum of woowoo. But you are not, and it isn’t.

    ‘In this instance advice was sought from leading academics in the history of non-western medical traditions as well as practitioners and users of these traditions.’
    In other words, you consulted everybody, it appears, except bona fide scientists.

    ‘We maintained editorial control throughout and resisted equating local medical practices with the western medical tradition.’
    In other words, you deliberately chose not to do the one thing that any self-respecting science-based institution would have done first under the circumstances.

    ‘It’s free and if it stimulates this kind of debate then it can’t be all bad…’
    Well, it’s free, I suppose. Otherwise, it certainly can be all bad. This is exactly the kind of lazy, glib argument we see used to defend all manner of indefensible positions. Try applying this argument to Richard Hammond’s recent comments about Mexicans on ‘Top Gear’, then ask yourself how comfortable you are with your position.

    Shame on you, Science Museum.

    Reply
  14. Tom Maydon

    It’s wonderful to teach people about cultures and traditions in an anthropological sense. I’m not religious, but I like learning about religions. There is a time and place for all of this.

    Perhaps I’m mistaken, but a sceince museum should be about science education. It is difficult to understand why a “science museum” might want to exhibit pseudoscience – unless if it wishes to emphasise the difference between science and pseudoscience or illustrate the placebo effect, in which case this message should be explicit.

    It’s a bit like a vegetarian restaurant selling beef and lamb – not exactly consistent with the message of vegetarianism…so too alt med exhibits are not quite consistent with the message of science.

    Reply
  15. thay

    Dear Curators/who ever wrote this PR

    you have a perfect opportunity to educate the general public of what is science and what isn’t science. This exhibition unfortunately doesn’t. As it stands, it should be in the Natural History museum instead.

    It really doesn’t matter if its in their belief system or its the only affordable treatment, it still isn’t science.

    Its great you can start a discussion but you need to give the general public the tools to debate it sensibly. ie the scientific principle, belief systems, placebo and the historical context of how we develop medicine from “alternative medicine”

    the least I expect the Science Museum to do is promote the Scientific Principle

    Reply
  16. Chris Richards

    I have seen this exhibition and was dismayed to say the least that the Science Museum has chosen to present quackery as science. The entire purpose of the Science Museum has always been to ‘improve the public understanding of Science’. Indeed they entered into a partnership with Imperial College to develop an MA on public understanding. How on Earth they can try to argue that lazy representations of homeopathy without any objective assessment of their efficacy using the scientific method can in any way promote improvements in the public understanding of science is beyond me.

    You cannot present this type of material in a science establishment without making reference to efficacy – to do so is both immoral and dangerous given that it could influence someone who is genuinely ill into trying this rubbish rather than seeking proper medical advice.

    Either the Science Museum is about science or it is not. Perhaps it should be renamed ‘The Museum of Myths, Bad Science & Quackery’…

    Reply
  17. Mike Marcus

    There is a significant difference between homeopathy and other non-evidence based forms of “medical” practice such as acupuncture and ayaveda.

    In 1811 Amedeo Avogadro universally and unquestionably disproved the very basis of homeopathic theory. Since then anyone who has chosen to practice it is no more than a simple scam artist exploiting peoples vulnerabilities for their own profit.

    Reply
  18. David W

    I will in fact be visiting the Sci Museum next weekend with this explicitly in mind. Are we OK taking snapshots of components in order to facilitate discussion?

    (MSc student, science and society, OU)

    Reply
  19. Richard

    I have a 9 year old boy who I am trying to educate about the scientific method, use of evidence and skeptical thought. How does this exhibit further this understanding of these critical tools?

    Reply
  20. Noreen

    I haven’t seen the exhibitions so can’t comment on any of them.

    However it’s a museum and about science. That’s a broad canopy.

    You seem to think the Science Museum exists for the purpose of promoting one particular view of human inquiry, and worse than that, you seem to think that it should only include one strand of healthcare.

    It’s a museum. It’s not the Wellcome Trust.

    It can show failed aeroplanes or useless designs for space rockets, can’t it? Or does it need permission from you?

    I suggest you grow up and stop thinking that these institutions exist to follow your agenda.

    The Science Museum tells people about many things. It doesn’t have to endorse any of them, whether they work or not. It’s telling you about the human endeavour to understand the Universe in which we find ourselves. It’s not an outlet for YOU.

    Reply
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  22. Rebekah Higgitt

    I would be deeply worried if the Science Museum considered its role merely to teach us what is currently considered ‘Science’, not least because that is something that has always been and always will be changing. Rather, it should be a museum *about* science and its meaning, historically and today. It is entirely apt that the Science Museum should acknowledge that Western scientific medicine is not as triumphant in much of the world as it appears from our perspective. We might like to ask ourselves why this is the case, and patients’ testimonies are part of the answer. It is only by hearing these, rather than ignoring or dismissing them outright, that we can frame our arguments constructively.

    I entirely agree with @thay’s comment above: the Museum should teach us what is considered science and what is not. They can best do this by examining views from history and other cultures alongside what is *currently* considered mainstream. So, for @Richard, this is how best to educate your son. If he is not allowed to know what you’re being sceptical of, and the reasons for your scepticism, what has he learned?

    Reply
  23. Matthew

    @Noreen:

    The Science museum is very specifically a museum “To promote understanding of Science”, not a museum “To promote superstitious made up nonsense as science”.

    ‘Science’ is about hypothesis, experiment, evidence and theory. It is not about “Things I want to believe in but can’t prove”.

    The Homeopathic display, for instance, missed an excellent chance to explain several things about science and how it is practiced: for instance the “scientific studies” mentioned, should have been followed up with their conclusions: “no well conducted scientific study has ever found evidence to show homeopathic remedies to be more effective than a placebo, and furthermore there is no mechanism understood that could explain how homeopathy could work” (or: no evidence, no theory, no science), and this itself should have been followed with discussion of the studies that have shown homeopathy to be effective and the flaws in these studies; and the corresponding efforts required to create a valid study.

    @Rebekah Higgitt:

    Your comment “I would be deeply worried if the Science Museum considered its role merely to teach us what is currently considered ‘Science’, not least because that is something that has always been and always will be changing” is inaccurate. Scientific knowledge is always being refined and expanded; ‘Science’ itself is just the method we use to expand that that knowledge — there is nothing about it which is amenable to change in the sense that I think you mean.

    Your comment the “Western scientific medicine is not as triumphant in much of the world…” may well be valid as quoted by me, but the alternatives to scientific medicine are not science (they are either of unproven efficacy, or they are proved to be not efficacious — either way they are not science) and thus should not acknowledged by the Science Museum at all, except perhaps in relation to studies about understanding how the human mind can generate beliefs in things that do not exist.

    Reply
  24. AndyD

    Sorry Susannah but it looks like the old “weasel word defence” to me used by people to advertise their favourite brand of quackery…

    “We never actually claimed that it worked, your honour – just that some people believed it worked for them.”

    As for comparing the ethical/political dilemma of euthanasia (and I assume that machine is known to work as expected) with the quasi-religious practices of homeopaths, well, I’m gobsmacked. I’m not fully up-to-speed on all the logical fallacies but I think that might have been a straw man, or maybe a red herring.

    Reply
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  26. Hywel Owen

    The Science Museum is the reason I went into a career as a scientist. As a child, I used to go weekly to the museum, seeing the same exhibits again and again, and soaking up the feeling of what science is and what it can create. The Apollo capsule, the early computers, the engineering gallery all inspired me to do what I do now – to try to make the world a better place through science.

    Recent visits to the Science Museum – when I’ve had the time – have been disappointing. It’s not just that I’ve grown up to demand more from exhibits, it’s also that the exhibits themselves have become sterile, and concentrate too much on description, and not enough on interpretation.

    The homeopathy exhibit is a case in point. It’s fine to have an exhibit that describes homeopathy, but where does it interpret whether homeopathy is right, or wrong? It doesn’t.
    (for an example, take a look at the Science Museum’s own picture here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sciencemuseum/5415814080/in/photostream/ )

    Part of teaching science, especially in the popular domain, is to interpret complex ideas and to make *conclusions*. In the case of homeopathy, you perhaps wouldn’t couch it in terms such is ‘it’s all cobblers’, but perhaps some text along the lines of the following should have been added:

    ‘Modern physics and medicine has concluded that there is no scientific basis for homeopathy, and as such it should be regarded as a historical folk medicine, despite its continuing use.’

    Similar comments could also be made about acupuncture, ear candling, Reiki, therapeutic touch, and many other new-age drivel that has increasing influence in our uncritical age. The Science Museum ought to be a bastion against this rising tide of nonsense.

    Reply
  27. Rebekah Higgitt

    @Matthew I think that over history science has changed a great deal, in content, in what parts of knowledge are considered science and what are not, by what methods it is advanced, why it is done, how it is communicated etc. Aside from this, I think that science being “refined and expanded” can look a lot like “changed” from the outside. As we all know, scientists are proud of changing their minds if led to do so by the evidence. While this indicates continuity of approach for the scientist, the fact that it may lead to changing advice to the public means that it can generate a degree of confusion and distrust.

    @Hywel Owen I think that the Science Museum does essentially say exactly what you ask for by placing homeopathy and the rest in a section called “Living Traditions”, that is distinct from the section on Western scientific medicine called “Modern Medicine”.

    Reply
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  29. Diven Topiwala

    @Rebekah Higgitt

    Thanks for your input on this. It made me stop and think about my assumptions about the role of the Science Museum. In the end, I still think that any display about homeopathy at the Science Museum should either not be there, clearly point out that homeopathy has no basis in science, and even though it is a “Living Tradition”. As I pointed out before The Science Museum could use homeopathy as a great example of how the nebulous thing that clinical researchers call the placebo effect can affect the human body. I suspect you would disagree as you come across as someone who believes in the efficacy of homeopathy.

    With respect to your use of the term “Western Scientific medicine”, please remember that it is wholly based on a global scientific method which has as many roots in Ancient China, India, and the Middle East as it does in Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, and 19th Century Europe . As such it isn’t really a “Western” science at all, but a global one and a combination of many traditions.

    Additionally, whether or not a treatment comes from “Western scientific medicine” is irrelevant to the issue I think you are hinting at, which is whether or not homeopathy, or any alternative treatment actually works. Clinical trials are designed and analysed based on the sound mathematical grounding of population statistics. It is understanding the statistical results of many different types of trials that lead to how clinical trials are now conducted, and where every effort is undertaken to remove expectations, biasses, prejudices, and false associations from the results. I’m afraid to say that no well designed clinical study, where all possible alternative explanaitions are accounted for, including those studies that individualised homeopathic treatments for each patient, have ever shown homeopathy to be better then placebo. This is why so many of us scientists do not believe Homeopathy has a place in the Science Museum, except as an example of a placebo treatment.

    As you say, scientists love to change our minds (well actually we like to prove each other wrong), so I’m not saying that homeopathy can never have a place in the Science Museum as a legitimate medical treatment. It just needs to be shown that it actually works beyond a statistical doubt, and that means once all alternative explanations have been taken into account. This is the process that every other medical treatment has to go through and homeopathy shouldn’t be a special case, should it?

    Reply
  30. Rebekah

    @Diven I am wondering what on earth I could have said that makes you think that I consider homeopathy to be effective in any way beyond the placebo effect. I do not. I would never use it myself and would never encourage anyone else to use it. I do not think the Science Museum does either. This does not mean that it should not be considered within a museum that explores science and medicine across time and cultures.

    I thank you for taking time to explain your position – and I hope that your points may help explain matters to anyone who is confused about the differences between evidence-based medicine and any other traditions. However these are points that *I* fully understand.

    Reply
  31. KG

    “if it stimulates this kind of debate then it can’t be all bad…”
    What cowardly tosh! Are you planning to host a Holocaust denial exhibit on the same grounds? After all, the Holocaust deniers are a “living tradition” too, and it would certainly stimulate plenty of debate.

    Reply
  32. AnthonyK

    Homeopathy et al is nonsense, pure and simple, and, they are of course non-science. Why give shelf space to these failed modalities and examples of (genuinenly) primitive, mistaken, thinking?
    Where are the counter examples? The response of doctors and scientists to this fraudulent load of bollocks?
    Surely this is an ideal way of demonstrating how science has thrown out the poor ideas, however firmly they may be held in the alt.med community.
    OK, keep the nonsense as described, just add an extra room labelled BUT…. then let the rest of us tear it all apart.
    In fact, perhaps it’s time for a whole gallery of stupidity, and the entertaining reasoning that lets us know it aint so!

    Reply
  33. David Lloyd

    Deeply depressing, both the exhibit and the museum’s attempt to justify it place within a museum which is dedicated to the education and celebration of science.

    Reply
  34. Pseudo

    This really is deplorable. I guess I can just sit back and watch science pander to superstition. I had much more respect for the museum before I saw this. sickening.

    Reply
  35. martha

    The science museum as a science museum has a duty to its patrons to not in any way mislead them as to what the science may be. It also has a duty to show the science. So, if you are going to have alternative medicine exhibits you better state clearly that there is no evidence that homeopathy or whatever works beyond placebo effect. A science museum could show how dollars are wasted on pointless care, to the detriment of a population’s health. Or describe how the placebo effect works. Or describe how tradition is not science and just because people believe in something does not mean that it works.

    The museum did not do its job.

    Reply
  36. valdemar

    Perhaps one way to ensure this kind of debacle doesn’t happen again is to ensure that people who run the Science Museum know a bit about science? Perhaps – here’s a crazy thought – that they have a science degree?

    Reply
  37. Rob Czar

    What people are missing is that so-called “science museums” have long ago abandoned the goal of promoting science understanding or interest. They seek to attract as many people as possible and, at least in the US, have turned to what is popular rather than what is scientific. For example, my local science museum as featured “exhibits” (traveling shows seeking profit) about skinned corpses placed in amusing poses, the Titantic, and Star Wars movie paraphernalia. When the authorities are asked if such events have anything to do with science they say: “Of course, it is in a science museum.”

    The sad part is that science doesn’t need to be dumbed down or filled with seductive details to be interesting to some people. Science museums need to cater to those people, not the general population, who can get mindless entertainment elsewhere.

    Reply
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  39. Chris Wallis

    Deeply depressing. The Science Museum was one of the dwindling supply of good things about the UK. It has now apparently become a market stall for quacks.

    Reply
  40. Arthur

    Just had a look at the display. Good grief, how on earth did that non/anti-science homeopathy tripe get into the Science Museum? And who sanctioned it?

    What a disgrace and what an embarrassment. People funding this garbage at the SM need to know, and some kind of campaign needs to be implemented to get it removed asap.

    And why does this blog post begin by citing displays on abortion and third world health, which have nothing to do with the subject at hand? The topic is the spreading of damaging pseudoscience..

    Reply
  41. Tom

    Well I guess that’s my trip to the smoke with the family cancelled., I may as well go to Disney Land for some Living Traditions education.

    Reply
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  43. Ashley Lane

    Today I went to the Science Museum to see this exhibit. I can only agree with David Colquhoun; the exhibit makes no attempt to evaluate the claims of these traditions, and because of this it looks like a large, glorified advert. Whilst at no point does the exhibit say, for example, ‘acupuncture works’, it is very strongly inferred because no dissenting viewpoints are given. Had the MMR vaccine controversy been treated in the same way, the exhibition would have been filled with parents swearing up and down that the vaccine causes autism, whilst all the research refuting Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent studies would have been omitted.

    I am aware this is a strong accusation, but I really cannot see the difference.

    Reply
  44. Barry

    Let’s be blunt. This exhibit is not scientific, nor does it adhere to any kind of scientific process or method, and therefore has no place in the Science Musuem. As others have mentioned, if there was a section called ‘Explaining the Placebo’, you would have somewhere to place this exhibit. Defending this is defending the indefensible.

    Presuambly, whoever put this exhibit together, along with whoever approved it, aren’t scientists. If they are then frankly they should be fired for not doing their jobs. If they aren’t scientists, why on earth are they employed by the ‘science’ museum? I don’t see Boeing employing holistic therapists to build planes.

    Scientific modern medicine saves lives.

    Unscientific alternative medicine kills.

    Show me a disease that ‘alternative medicine’ has eliminated and saved millions of lives, and you’ll make a believer out of me. In the meantime, I’ll point you at the smallpox vaccine produced by scientists.

    For those defending this exhibit in its current form, I suggest you read ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre, and search the internet for ‘regression to the mean’.

    Reply
  45. G Wilson

    “come and see it for themselves. It’s free and if it stimulates this kind of debate then it can’t be all bad…”

    How complacent and self-satisfied. Blindly defending your position by ignoring the defective features of the exhibit does not constitute “debate”.

    And how misguidedly ethnocentric to characterise science as “western”.

    Rather than visit, I’d consider it more appropriate to not enter the establishment again while it continues to confuse superstition with science, and take every opportunity to point out why.

    Reply
  46. Scote

    “We do not evaluate different medical systems, but demonstrate the diversity of medical practices and theoretical frameworks currently thriving across the world.

    Our message in this display is that these traditions are not ‘alternative’ systems in most parts of the world. Instead they currently offer the majority of the global population their predominant, sometimes only, choice of medical care. We do not make any claims for the validity of the traditions we present. “

    Or in other words, the science museum no longer considers science as its purview. Given the above standards, there is no nonsense too anti-scientific for the museum to exhibit as true based anecdotes and credulous testimonies by practitioners commissioned by the museum. From dowsing, astrology and N-Rays through divining entrails and psychic surgery, all are potential fodder to be credulously exhibited in the Science Museum since all of those can be considered “Living Traditions,” and all sans scientific context.

    Science must follow the sound and tested evidence. Science helps us separate what is true from what merely seems to be true. For the Science Museum to omit the scientific consensus from its exhibits of current pseudoscientific medical practices is, IMO, deliberately misleading, all to sooth the delicate sensibilities of members of the public the museum desperately wishes to avoid offending with what to some are the uncomfortable scientific facts.

    The museum missed a huge teaching opportunity with the Living Traditions exhibit. The museum could have explained how living traditions based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence often create strong, but misplaced, impressions of efficacy, and how we can use science to help us separate what is true from what merely seems to be true. In that context the exhibit could have been an excellent addition to the museum and to the furtherance science, teaching people how science can directly affect us in our everyday lives. Instead the museum chose to pander to pseudo science in the misguided apparent goal of appeasing cultural sensitivities.

    If the science museum no longer considers science and facts as its purview it should remove “science” from its name.

    Reply
  47. Mike McCants

    “We do not make any claims for the validity of the traditions we present.”

    And so you include the obvious conclusion – “since these traditional techniques do not actually cure patients, the life expectancy of the people using these techniques is much lower than the life expectancy of those who use modern science-based medicine”.

    Doesn’t this scientific conclusion appear at each of those “traditional” exhibits at your supposedly science museum?

    Reply
  48. Rebekah Higgitt

    This comes late in the day, but in case anyone is interested in reading an alternative account of the display than those already provided by critics, I posted one here.

    Reply

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