Health: The Scientific Establishment - Dead Horses & White Elephants

The accompanying post, "Cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's are Metabolic Diseases" features a series of talks by pioneers in the field of energy metabolism and the associated pathologies arising from its dysfunction. Their  research and discoveries are leading to a "backdoor" revolution in treatments for diseases that, so far have thwarted the modern western medical establishment. In this post we'll look at the obstacles that slow such progress.

"Thomas Kuhn pointed out that even very careful scientists take in the world through a lens of prior concepts, or engage in “theory-laden observation.” Science is driven by ideas to start with, and our engagement with the world is based on this active lens of ideas. Sometimes we do change our conceptual filters [a “paradigm shift”]."   - David Kaiser on the legacy of Thomas Kuhn


Q. What does modern medicine have in common with cosmology?

With so much money, will and effort directed to finding cures for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, we need to ask why we've failed so badly? To answer this question, we need to understand how a wrong idea can become an  entrenched doctrine and in the process turn true pioneers into heretics and thwart genuine progress.

To do this, it's helpful to wander across domains. So let's have a look at two fiercely defended doctrines that have birthed myriad theoretical models that don't appear to be having the kinds of success originally promised :

  1. In cosmology, the concordance, hot big bang, expanding universe model (spawning theoretical models predicting: dark matter, dark energy, inflation etc.)
  2. In western medicine, the idea that genetic mutation is the root cause of cancer and many neurodegenerative diseases.

Four steps to nowhere good

How did these ideas take hold? Here's a generalised snapshot of the process:

Step 1:  Genuine scientific discovery:

  • Cosmology: Hubble's redshift velocity-distance relation, i.e. Hubble's Law (1929)
  • Modern Medicine:  The discovery of the double helical structure of the DNA molecule in 1953 by Francis Crick and James Watson

Step 2:  Theoretical models are then built atop these discoveries and in the process assumptions beyond the scope of the original discovery are then added (examples: The big bang, inflation, dark matter etc ... and in medicine - the somatic mutation theory of cancer).

Step 3:  Money flows into these fields and an entire army of researchers, hardware and infrastructure develops into an ecosystem devoted to further discovery.

Step 4:  Now livelihoods, reputations and even institutions are at stake, and any opposing theories must be fiercely attacked and their proponents beaten down and sometimes ostracised.

The Costs

This is how, in terms of cosmology enormous sums are spent in search of theoretical red-herrings like dark matter and dark energy (e.g. CERN) and complete distain is reserved for heretics like Halton Arp, the Burbidges, the Electric Universe proponents and Plasma Cosmologists, while all the time the evidence builds and builds in their favour, until hopefully there's a capitulation and enlightenment prevails.  Here the costs can be measured in terms of money, effort, and progress. 

In the case of modern medicine, billions and billions are spent in search of a noble (or perhaps Nobel) cure for cancer (see the 2 billion GBP London Cancer Hub), Parkinson's, Alzheimer's etc.  while the "heretics" featured in Part 2 of this post, like Thomas Seyfried, Young Ko, Dominic D'Agostino and Doug Wallace are persistently frustrated, either with funding, review board bureaucracy, the constant battle against the prevailing entrenched doctrine, sheer ignorance or a combination of all of these. 

When it comes to medicine, the costs are similar to those of cosmology, but one has to add human suffering to the balance sheet. Millions of people will have suffered greatly and died prematurely because of a rigid adherence to an idea - and that burden will sit on the consciences of those too proud, too insecure and too conflicted to entertain new and sometimes, as in the case of cancer, old ideas (see Otto Warburg).

Progress in a topsy-turvy world

Modern cosmology and medicine, for the reasons outlined above (but fundamentally due to entrenched interests), have ceased to be centres of scientific enquiry. You'll notice we've still not found any dark matter and there are structures in the universe that took longer to form than the age of the universe itself (go figure), while cancer rates continue to grow and cancer treatments remain medieval and ineffective: namely, the slash (surgery), burn (radiotherapy) and poison (chemotherapy) method we currently, with no sense of irony, call "the standard of care". 

Modern medicine has no cure for cancer or the list of neurodegenerative diseases whose spectre haunts all who approach later life. In addition, the big hope (fuelled by the prevailing somatic mutation theory of cancer), the "Cancer Genome Project" which was supposed to unlock the hidden secrets of this mysterious disease has instead radiated enormous amounts of noise, but no clear signal (as I've stated before, if you like surprises, a bad theoretical model is an indispensable tool).

On the other hand, the pharmaceutical industry has treatments for everything! There's plenty of financial incentive to treat; there's a countervailing, disincentive to cure. Afterall, what fiduciarily responsible pharmaceutical CEO wants their revenue stream interrupted by a clean bill of health?

Finally, what is most upsetting, is that very often the kinds of medical intervention being studied, trialled and expounded by these pioneers, do not slash, burn or poison, instead they are generally  benign (first do no harm?) and many are profoundly beneficial for not only the sick but also for those who wish to remain well. Yet, the medical establishment puts up the kinds of barricades one might expect if they were promoting mustard gas as a treatment. Yet, chemotherapy drugs (whose development was founded upon mustard gas) can travel unmolested through the review process as though these carcinogenic agents were god's own multivitamin.

It's surely a strange and topsy-turvy world we live in.

Part 2 - Cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's are Metabolic Diseases (Promising Research into Effective Therapies for Cancer, ALS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's)