Why Ben Carson Isn’t the Worst Doctor

I stole this idea from a post on a science blog, the headline in particular:

Most Doctors Are Not Scientists

It was mainly about Ben Carson spouting anti-vaccine and creationist views. The comments section was actually more interesting than the article itself. There was at least some acknowledgment that doctors have a “God complex.” Surgeons seem to suffer from this even worse, since they really do hold people’s lives in their hands.

As someone who has just wound their way through the medical system, this complex isn’t, to me, even the worst problem. The real problem is that they lack what scientists have, which is curiosity. They don’t have the ability to form hypotheses, and then attempt to test them. They just want to know the answer. If they don’t, they go for the quickest and easiest next solution. This is what’s known as a “trashcan diagnosis.”

Before I was injured, I’d never heard this term. And didn’t realize that was what they were doing to me. I really worried that somehow I had psychologically created intense pain following an injury. Or, I worried that I had somehow picked up some kind of genetically determined pain syndrome.

The doctors didn’t take me aside and say, “I’m just saying this stuff because I don’t understand what’s going on with you, and this is what we doctors do when we don’t understand something.”

So on top of the physical torture, I had the additional torture of thinking I’d somehow created all this pain and agony I was going through. Or that through some very unlucky genetic dice roll, I was going to be stuck with this pain for the rest of my life. It was a really dirty trick on the part of the doctors. I’m still pretty bitter.

Now, I am seeing their lack of science once again. I found a chiropractor who knows what he’s doing. The pain has gone down dramatically, and I’m on the mend. When they see this, the doctors are very happy for me. But when I try to tell them why, they get a certain look on their face. It’s a combination of blankness and a little bit like they just sucked on a lemon.

In my last appointment, which was with a Nurse Practitioner, she told me she had never seen anything like this. She chalked it up to me being incredibly motivated. My husband and I both explained that while of course I’m a very motivated person, I can’t take credit. The credit goes to the chiropractor, who is treating the problem.

Now call me crazy, but if you had a patient that was making recovery you’ve never seen before, wouldn’t you be just a little bit curious about this chiropractor she’s crediting? You see, that’s what scientists do. They see something, and they get curious about what’s causing it. Then, they investigate whether there is a real causal connection between the two.

I’m not saying she should take what I’m saying on faith. But considering the abysmal results they’re used to getting this particular clinic, which is a pain clinic — and a very prominent one, at that — you’d think there’d be a couple of brain cells rubbing together and asking “why?”

But there isn’t.

In that post about doctors not being scientists, they talk about the training doctors receive in medical school. It’s science, but it’s applied science. So they don’t really learn the scientific method. Still, they learn enough that they should be aware of how scientists come to their conclusions. I have very little scientific training, basically none, but I do know that starts with forming a hypothesis and then moving towards testing the hypothesis, and then throwing it out if it doesn’t stand up.

Many of the comments talked about how acupuncture and homeopathy are pseudoscience, and doctors should know it. But that’s taking it secondhand. If you have a patient who’s clearly benefiting from one of these alternative therapies, and you really are a scientist, you should look closely to see if there’s something there. It may be the placebo effect. But maybe it isn’t.

Interestingly, I had several pain doctors try to push acupuncture on me. I told them that it wouldn’t be useful. What I had was a neck injury. Acupuncture isn’t the right tool for that job.

I am aware that a lot of chiropractors are quacks. I saw a couple of those before I found the one who is helping me. Then again, the doctors I saw — and I think we counted 50 in all — were mainly a complete waste of time. They told me things that were completely wrong, and which sent me down the wrong road. They made pronouncements without any evidence to back them up. Isn’t that the definition of quackery?

Of that 50, only a tiny handful seemed to be able to think at all. They did what none of the others did, which is to ask me questions and then think about what the answers might suggest. And no surprise, these were the ones who got me the help I needed. It was within the limitations of what medicine can offer somebody with a neck injury like mine, but it was at least palliative. And doctors aren’t supposed to be quacks at all. These doctors were associated with or part of major, highly ranked institutions like Stanford and UCSF. They should be a cut above, not snake oil salesmen. I think what a lot of them do is read digests, many of them prepared by pharmaceutical companies or makers of medical devices, and then spout what they’ve read at the patient.

I got a lot of talk about art therapy. Some art therapy group is doing a major PR push right now, I have no doubt. It’s totally ridiculous to tell somebody with a neck injury to do art therapy. It’s painful to lift things, for one thing. Sitting or standing for long periods is also painful. The whole idea is beyond insulting to an injured person. But these doctors are reading this marketing, and swallowing it so completely that they don’t even notice the person sitting in front of him. It’s totally pathetic. I still can’t believe these are doctors — the people we put our lives in the hands of. They’re as far from scientists as you can get.

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