March 28, 2023

What is pseudoscience and how it can harm your health

During the Covid-19 pandemic, numerous practices without scientific proof were used to combat the disease. The use of ivermectin and chloroquine has even been advocated by health professionals, based on a mixture of bad science, scientific fraud and pseudoscience.

But these practices were present in public health long before the pandemic. The incorporation of pseudoscience as homeopathy and family constellation in the SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde) was approved by the Ministry of Health in 2006, despite the lack of support from the scientific community.

This is because such practices are not effectively based on science—although try to be like her. “These are initiatives that use the language of science, they want to show scientific publications, scientific terminology, experts… They dress up as science, wanting to use the credibility that science has as an institution to sell a product, a service or an ideology.” designates the microbiology doctor and president of the Questão de Ciência Institute (IQC), Natalia Pasternak.

Pseudosciences such as aromatherapy and reiki were included in the SUS in 2006.Pseudosciences such as aromatherapy and reiki were included in the SUS in 2006.Source: Shutterstock

IQC is the first Brazilian institute dedicated to the defense of public policies based on scientific evidence. One of their struggles is over calls Complementary Integrative Health Practices (PICs) which were included in the SUS in 2006, such as homeopathy, ozone therapy, reiki and aromatherapy, are no longer publicly funded.

But if there is no scientific proof, what does the PICs offered by SUS do? According to Pasternak, there is no doubt that the roomthe pressure of financially motivated organized groups on public authority was instrumental in this process.

“They take advantage of this permeability of the Brazilian legislative and legal system and, with the flip of a penny, from the executive or legislative branch, they manage to legitimize these pseudosciences in a way that they would never succeed in an academic or scientific way. .”

The expert explains that the inclusion of such practices in the SUS has a direct impact that practices without scientific evidence are financed with public moneysplitting the budget with essential health care areas such as vaccination or contraceptive distribution.

On the other hand, its inclusion in the SUS offers reliability in such practices. “The average citizen will see all this and think that if it’s on SUS, it’s because it works, so I’ll use it.” Thus, the search for such practices is motivated outside of public health.

Using treatments without scientific evidence can delay or prevent proper diagnosis and treatment.Using treatments without scientific evidence can delay or prevent proper diagnosis and treatment.Source: Shutterstock

Furthermore, Pasternak states that the use of such practices can delay or prevent the diagnosis of serious diseaseswhich could be solved if they had a clear and timely diagnosis.

“You treat a person with different kinds of complaints with practices that are not proven but work placebo or instant comfortbut not lasting and much less curative, it can delay the diagnosis of a cancer that could be surgically removed or the treatment of diabetes that should be started as soon as possible,” explains the researcher.

How to fight pseudoscience?

For Gabriela Bailas, physicist and communication scientist, the fight must start with basic education in schools, encouraging critical thinking and a better understanding of the role of science in everyday life.

But day-to-day recognition of what is pseudoscience is not easy. “This is a very complicated exercise, because we are talking about people who deceive others through vulnerability. As good as ours Critical Thinking And no matter how skeptical we are, in the moment of vulnerability and despair we believe in everything.”

In this sense, Bailas recommends not believing in easy or miraculous cures and asking some basic questions when reading any information:

  • Who said that?
  • Why would this person want me to believe that?
  • What does he gain from me believing it?
  • What do I know about this topic and what have others said about it?

In addition, his care science journalists and communicators It makes the difference. “Many journalists help spread pseudoscience by reproducing information without verifying or talking to scientists,” he explains.

Pasternak agrees that this is a complex assignment and that it is encouraging Critical Thinking necessary. “Normally we would tell citizens to get information from official sources, but in Brazil, if you go to the Ministry of Health website, you’ll read a description of PICs as if they were the most wonderful thing in the world,” he comments.

Therefore, it is necessary to recognize and reflect on the mechanisms of pseudoscience, which were similar to many used during the Covid-19 pandemic. “What we see today, and unfortunately it’s all too common, are people who were absolutely against the miracle drugs for Covid-19 like chloroquine and ivermectin, but are fervently defending equally unlikely techniques like homeopathy and don’t realize that the acceptance mechanism of these techniques is exactly the same.”

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