The demand for evidence-based medicine
PETALUMA, CA, May 5, 2014 – As the story goes, John the Baptist once sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask if he was the promised Messiah. Rather than giving a simple yes or no answer, he said, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”
In other words, look at the evidence.
These days the scenario would look a lot different. Instead of John the Baptist you might have the general public wondering if a particular drug is really as effective as its advertisements make it out to be; and instead of Jesus you might have any number of researchers, scientific journals and pharmaceutical companies saying basically the same thing: Look at the evidence.
That makes perfect sense – that is, if you can always rely on the evidence.
Not too long ago, a group from Bayer HealthCare decided to check the results of 67 of its research papers. Only 25 percent of them could be replicated. The results of another investigation conducted by scientists at biotech firm Amgen were even worse. Out of 53 “landmark” cancer studies, only six could be reproduced.
“Even knowing the limitations of preclinical research,” wrote David Gorski on the Science-Based Medicine website, “this was a shocking result.”
This is not to suggest that the spiritual approach to health care practiced by Jesus and his disciples is seeing the same success rate it did 2000 years ago – although there are plenty of verified accounts from those who have experienced similar cures using similar methods – only that it’s important to double-check the data when evaluating the effectiveness of any form of therapy.
One such effort is already underway at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It’s called PubMed Commons, a combined clearinghouse of published studies and on-going discussion amongst researchers about a broad range of scientific issues, including health care.
“The goal is to wean scientists from the idea that a cursory, one-time peer review is enough to validate a research study, and substitute a process of continuing scrutiny,” writes Michael Hiltzik about the new initiative in a recent Los Angeles Times column.
A similar conversation is taking place in the public sphere regarding the subject of spirituality, albeit in a much less formal setting. The consensus forming is that our thinking has as much to do with maintaining mental and physical health as anything else, if not more so. In fact, experience shows that exchanging unhealthy elements of thought such as anger, resentment, and fear for healthier qualities such as gratitude, compassion and forgiveness provides huge benefits, without any unhealthy side effects.
The evidence for this won’t convince everybody, of course. It’s not lab-based evidence, for one thing. But it is experience-based; and for many people that is the most important litmus test of all.
Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.