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John of God: Why Bogus Therapies Seem to Work

November 21, 2010

As a follow-up to our discussion on the previous article about John of God and also the discussion that has been occurring on Orac’s blog in response to his strong, but well-deserved critique of Oprah, several of John of God’s  supporters and followers have been urging me and others to experience him for ourselves, as if that would constitute valid evidence. There are a number of reasons why first hand experience without the controls of a scientific study, is not a good way to know if any particular treatment is valid. The late psychologist, Barry Beyerstein has written an excellent article, very readable by laypeople, that clearly explains why this is entitled Why Bogus Therapies Seem to Work.

He stated:

At least ten kinds of errors and biases can convince intelligent, honest people that cures have been achieved when they have not.

The 10 errors are (see article for a full description):

  1. The disease may have run its course.
  2. Many diseases are cyclical.
  3. Spontaneous remission.
  4. The placebo effect.
  5. Some allegedly cured symptoms are psychosomatic to begin with.
  6. Symptomatic relief versus cure.
  7. Many consumers of alternative therapies hedge their bets.
  8. Misdiagnosis (by self or by a physician).
  9. Derivative benefits.
  10. Psychological distortion of reality.

These apply to all kinds of therapies including others I have discussed on this blog, that lack scientific study, not just John of God and this list can provide people with a good guideline for investigating alternative explanations.

A good scientific study will control for these. Personal experiences, however compelling, will not.

Also note that one way true believers attempt to attack people who criticize them, is to call them “negative” people or in some other way attempt to reframe legitimate criticism (for example, followers of one of the therapists I have criticized, instead of responding to the points I raised, accuses me of “plangent bleating” a meaningless, childish name call that fools no one but other true believers — it’s sad really). And then, of course, there are the screams of “elitism” simply because I properly listed my credentials and have certainly never claimed that having a PhD makes someone better than people who do not — on the contrary, I have stated the opposite, that there are plenty of highly intelligent, successful people who don’t even have a college diploma. It’s sad to see the lengths that people will go to when they have no substantive rebuttal to criticism.

One Comment
  1. Monica,
    Another common sense response to woo. Right to the point. Reminds me of M Shermer’s 1997 book “Why people believe weird things”. I like your comment about how these ‘believers’ always respond by calling any criticism ‘ negative’. Been there!

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