Evolution Intelligent design/creationism Medicine Pseudoscience Science Skepticism/critical thinking Surgery

Stop it! Just stop it, Discovery Institute!

I really, really wish the Discovery Institute would stop putting out idiocy like this:

We have blogged in the past about the growing numbers of doctors who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution to explain the complexity of life.

Those numbers are continuing to grow, and conesquently doctors are beginning to organize themselves and reach out to others who hold similar positions. Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity (PSSI) has for sometime had a website at Recently they have begun using the site to organize and promote conferences about Darwinian evolution around the world.

As you know, I’ve had something to say about these clowns before, as I have about a number of creationist physicians, particularly one Dr. Michael Egnor. I’ve lamented the attitude among some physicians that we don’t need as much basic science as we are taught.

As has been pointed out by me and by many others, it’s rather risible of the DI to be bragging about having “over 264 members from 15 different countries.” That’s out of–what?–tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of physicians. The silliness of bragging about such a small number of physicians as “evidence” that there is some sort of huge groundswell of support for “intelligent design” creationism among physicians has been amply documented here, here, here, and here, here, particularly if you take into account that a large number of these health care professionals “doubting Darwin” are actually dentists. As Steve Reuland pointed out earlier this year, the claims of the DI that huge numbers of physicians “doubt Darwin” is a lie, pure and simple. Indeed, the only good thing that the whole Doctors Doubting Darwin bit does is to provide a handy list of physicians and dentists who are proudly advertising their utter ignorance of biology and thus should be avoided.

But perhaps what most annoys me about this whole “doctors doubting Darwin” thing is that it gives certain abrasive scientists with an apparent superiority complex vis-à-vis physicians a convenient excuse to give free rein to their contempt for physicians in science. As a now fairly well-published surgeon-scientist with an NIH R01 grant and a large private grant thus far to support my research, seeing such gleeful mockery of physicians as a class as scientific ignoramuses based on 264 boneheads who signed the Discovery Institute’s vaguely worded petition annoys the hell out of me. The fact that it’s the Discovery Institute who is facilitating this and making it easy for such scientists to spew contempt for M.D.’s makes the whole thing even harder to swallow.

All I can say is that it’s one way to make a surgeon like me very, very angry. Perhaps a good retort would be to point out that Michael Behe is a biochemist, and he’s spread far more idiocy about evolution in a decade or so than these 264 doctors and dentists could ever hope to spread in a lifetime. And if we want to broaden our net a little bit, one only has to look at HIV/AIDS denialism to find a bunch of biological scientists, such as Peter Duesberg and Andrew Maniotis, spreading a far more dangerous form of pseudoscience than ID.

It is true that all too many doctors are not sufficiently scientific, but it’s also true that there is an aspect to practicing medicine that will never be (nor should it ever be) entirely scientific, namely the doctor-patient relationship. It is also true that I’m often frustrated when I see that a lack of scientific thinking leads some doctors to ID but far more doctors to embrace pseudoscientific “alternative” medicine. However, to me that is a reason to introduce more training in the scientific method in medical school, because, after all, one of the reasons for this problem in the first place is that little in the way of evolution specifically or scientific thinking in general is emphasized in medical school. The problem of physicians embracing pseudoscience is, in my opinion, largely attributable to insufficient emphasis on the scientific method in their training. Scientists like Behe, Duesberg, and Maniotis, among others, do not have that excuse to embrace pseudoscience, and, besides, no profession is without its cranks.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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