SBM in 2023

This is my last post for 2023 and as always I want to look back SBM during the past year and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.

2023 was a sad year SBM because we unexpectedly lost one of our founders, Harriet Hall. He was a tireless defender of science and reason in medicine, and his contributions are sorely missed. Over the years, he has written hundreds of publications SBM and was a welcome addition to every conference we attended.

SBM moving into our 16th year. Mark Crislip returned to the series in 2022 after a hiatus. We missed his special science-based sarcasm and are happy to have him back. We still have a strong backbone of regular writers, including Clay Jones, Jonathan Howard, and Scott Gavura, in addition to many contributors (too many to name, but thank you all). We also have some regular contributors with official or unofficial publications such as Frank Han and AJ Eckert. And of course, our Editor-in-Chief David Gorski, in addition to anchoring our lineup each week, does an excellent job of pulling it all together. Behind the scenes, Ian Callanan (worked with me and Jay Novella through the New England Skeptical Society) handles the back end and our hosting.

While this is a strong lineup, we are always looking for new either one time, subject matter experts or regular contributors. The more voices we have, the better. We welcome feedback from everyone – just see the submission guidelines above – and are happy to receive many high quality submissions. Being a regular contributor is a serious commitment, which is why I am so grateful to everyone who has given so much of their professional time to this project.

with SBM is also a great way to work with experienced journalists in a field that requires specialized expertise – science communication, critical thinking, science literacy, media literacy and medical pseudoscience. We desperately need these skills among all professionals, and probably the need is most acute in medicine. This is a never-ending project, and we are especially eager to develop the next generation SBM advocates and spokespersons.

The topics we’ve had to deal with the most over the past year have been fairly typical. The same pseudoscience “headlines” are still our top targets. Acupuncture continues to gain a foothold in mainstream medicine despite lacking a coherent mechanism or theory, internal validity, or the slightest compelling evidence of efficacy. That’s the best example of an emperor wearing no clothes in medicine that I can think of.

Except perhaps homeopathy – the “air guitar” of medicine. Although Homeopathy is nothing more than magic water, it is still a multi-billion dollar industry that has managed to get a free pass from most regulators. It perhaps benefits the most from the “knowledge gap problem” – most people don’t know what Homeopathy actually is. Here, a little training can go a long way. Often, the simple explanation that homeopathic potions do not contain the actual active ingredients (that have not been diluted out of existence) is sufficient.

And of course we continue to be the watchdog of alternative medical professions like chiropractic and naturopathy who have managed to establish medicine without science or with a very poor imitation of science. They are prime examples of what happens when you practice medicine without a clear and dedicated anchor of high-quality science.

The usual suspects of snake oil peddlers, magical energy devices, science denialism, anti-vaxxers, COVID and other conspiracy theorists all continue to threaten public health. Along the way, we’ll take some time to celebrate real breakthroughs in science and medicine, providing a nice contrast to the perpetual false claims and promises of medical pseudoscience. And we look at our institutions and society as a whole, where things are going wrong and how to get back on track.

We never expect to win. This is an eternal struggle. Science, critical thinking and professionalism are all very high energy states. They require constant work and introspection and need institutional support. At the same time, many forces are working against them. There are psychological forces such as the lure of false hope, the desire for cures that may not exist, or easy answers to complex questions. It is greed that drives (at least) the multi-billion dollar counterfeit drug industry. And misinformation and emotional appeals have inherent advantages in mass and social media.

The modern world challenges the sustainability of all our institutions, and science and medicine are no different. Hopefully, our contributions will help to some extent through education and influence. But there is always more to do.

Finally, thanks to all our regular readers and commenters, and of course to our patrons. You are a community of thoughtful and curious individuals interested in what we have to say about science and medicine. You are a vibrant community that keeps our humble blog afloat. This applies especially to our patrons. Thanks and looking forward to more SBM in 2024.

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