My sister is a nurse practitioner who runs a wound care clinic (think hard-to-heal problems like diabetic ulcers and bed sores). She has a nearly infinite array of cutting edge creams and bandages and therapies at her disposal — the result of decades of scientific medical research costing untold billions of dollars.
And yet one of the best infection preventatives for flesh wounds she knows of is something I had for breakfast this morning — honey. Plain old bee food. Honey is remarkably antimicrobial, tends to stick around (ha!) and create an airtight seal on top of wounds, has no side effects to speak of, and doesn’t create antibiotic resistant super-bacteria (bonus!).
Now that the science has been done, she and other doctors can prescribe honey (medical grade honey is tested to ensure it’s clean and pathogen free, but is otherwise identical to any raw honey you can buy in the store) and feel good about it.
But it wasn’t that long ago that she would have been laughed out of the room for suggesting that (for example) honey is the anchor of a legitimate and very effective post-surgical would care regimen.
At some magical point in the recent past, honey sold its house in the unincorporated village of Oldwivestaleton and bought a new penthouse condo in downtown Respected Science, and its new neighbors all started pretending it had been there the whole time.
This phenomenon — where something that once tended to be ridiculed as laughable becomes mainstream, data-backed, good science — is fascinating to me.
Some other examples that come to mind:
- Meditation used to be a joke; now it’s prescribed by medical doctors as a way to reduce cortisol.
- The richest people in the world really do get together in a once-secret, allegedly debaucherous place called Bohemian Grove that for years was a central plank in many conspiracy theories.
- When Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis recommended that doctors could prevent deadly infections by washing their hands, he was ridiculed and ostracized by the medical community. He died after being beaten in the mental asylum he was later committed to [~5 minute read].
- Plate tectonics (the theory of how the continents and other parts of the surface of the earth move around on the underlying magma) was thought ridiculous for decades before the evidence started to pile up. Its outspoken detractors included a little-known genius called Albert Einstein. Similar stories for heliocentrism (the Earth revolves around the sun rather than the other way around), evolution, electricity, radiation, and a bunch of other old world mysteries.
The guy who won the Nobel Prize for figuring out that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria [~6 minute read] was fighting against a scientific community that was so sure he was wrong that he had to resort to experimenting on himself. He swallowed a bunch of bacteria, got a stomach ulcer, and then cured himself.
The reason this process is so interesting is that it makes debunking current pseudoscience and conspiracy theories really complicated (in a way that a lot of debunkers tend not to understand).
If all of these amazing scientific discoveries were made by people who were making claims the scientific establishment thought ridiculous at the time, this tends to indicate that some small portion of the things the current scientific establishment holds dear is also incorrect.
The anti-vaxxer would tell you that blind spot is the dangers of vaccines. The climate change denier thinks most scientists aren’t seeing that set of evidence for what it really is. The flat-earther has his own ideas. And so on.
It’s easy to point at a person who believes the earth is flat and say, “How could this person believe this when so many smart people have explained very well why he shouldn’t?” And indeed, many smart people have
. It seems clear that on this issue, the science really is overwhelming, and the earth is quite round(ish). But how do we confidently distinguish between overwhelming scientific evidence and an overwhelming chorus of incorrect scientists?
I think that this is harder than we let on, and every time we make fun of someone for getting that judgement call a little bit wrong, we do both science and that misguided person a disservice.
In it he talks about experimenting with a process called Focusing. Developed by a psychologist called Eugene Gendlin, Focusing involves “communicating with ‘felt senses’ in your body to achieve insight into previously hidden parts of your mind”.
This sounds like utter hippie bullshit, and the author admits as such. Yet it has some significant scientific research backing it up, and an avalanche of mounting evidence that it really works.
This led to the above screed on honey and pseudoscience because it seems like exactly the same kind of thing — something that sounds weird and hackneyed and silly now but will seem obviously effective and scientific to our grandchildren, given the hindsight of future research.
I’ve ordered the book
. I’ll let you know.