Via SkeptVet, a must-read on ethics, placebo effect, and the dangers of the ‘just do something’ approach:
Philosophically and personally, I am comfortable with some degree of scientific indeterminism, and I believe it is possible that some things simply can never be predicted or fully understood. But even in the more pragmatic, practical world of applied medical science, the reality is that there is much we don’t know, and pretending that we have all the answers is misleading and wrong.
Unfortunately, people don’t like uncertainty, especially when it involved illness, and they tend to view the claim that something bad happened for reasons we don’t understand, or even possible just by chance and so for no good reason at all, as unacceptable and likely a cover for incompetence. Not being able to identify a clear and simple cause for something means we cannot control or prevent it, and this makes us afraid, and fear makes us angry. Facing this anger and dealing with it compassionately, and yet honestly, is a tough part of our job as veterinarians. [My bolds.]
Recommend reading the whole thing.
It’s as good a description as I’ve read of how and why people come to believe in dangerous woo, too.
Like so: vet won’t give antibiotics to treat a virus. Owner feels helpless. Owner a) demands antibiotics anyway (creating other health risks) or b) starts giving their pet some dangerous snake oil treatment that causes more damage than letting the virus run its course ever could.
Of course, people do precisely the same things with their doctors, and come up with even wackier stuff to project onto illness and health ranging from magical thinking cures to the invention of moral ’causes’ for sickness.
We are living in an age of woo.
Here’s Gilly’s contribution to the cause: