Monbiot: Environmentalism and Alternative Medicine Shouldn't Mix

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Environmentalism and Alternative Medicine - Oil and Water?
George Monbiot is undoubtedly no stranger to controversy - my post about his climate change book, Heat, drew 81 comments, while his well publicized opposition to aviation can also be relied on to fuel a good debate. Monbiot's been at it again over at The Guardian website this past week, arguing why environmentalism needs to sever ties with alternative medicine. As usual, he's managed to stimulate quite a fuss. Monbiot puts it like this - environmentalism should be unashamedly science-based if it is to win the support of the masses. He claims there's no room for sentimentality, wishful thinking or superstition, given the urgent crisis we face:

We must doubt everything, question everything, believe nothing until it has been demonstrated, and even then subject it to continued scepticism and enquiry. Above all, we must never allow ourselves to imagine that we are finally and definitively right about anything. The great majority of alternative medicine, by contrast, relies to some degree on wishful thinking. Indeed, as the admirable Ben Goldacre keeps showing, such efficacy as it might possess is largely due to a deep and subtle variety of wishful thinking known as the placebo effect. Yet despite the fact that these two disciplines are, or should be, chalk and cheese, I know plenty of people who subscribe to both: who call themselves environmentalists but who use, promote or practice alternative medicine.

The most famous example is Prince Charles, who has just been attacked by Edzard Ernst, professor of alternative medicine at Exeter university, for promoting "outright quackery" and engaging in "make-believe and superstition" by selling something called Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture. The facts, as Rose Shapiro's excellent book, Suckers, explains, appear to favour Professor Ernst.

Meanwhile the commenters have waded in, both for and against Monbiot's position. Here's Architection's take on the matter:

Environmentalism's full of fruit loops. I once worked on a land-care project in an Australian rain forest and there was a man who lived in a treehouse who thought you could heal your car with crystals. Rather than take a rational approach, working through the steps set out in the Haynes manual, as a normal person might do, he would dangle bits of rock over the bonnet.

But it's mostly only these kind of idiots that care enough about the environment to harangue society into becoming more sustainable. But then they harangue us into wrong things based on sentiment and things people told them while they were stoned.

Meanwhile, Tater disagrees:

This blog and the comments show an elitist snobbery that is rampant in the science educated that their world view is superior. It is not. It is a world view that takes no note of the value of gut feelings that some things are wrong and others right. Anti nuclear and anti GM arguments are mostly dressing on a gut feeling. People experience life in different ways and we impoverish our selves if we participate in the tyranny of science as the only and always right basis for action.

Head on over to The Guardian website to join the debate, or just continue the fun right here in the comments below.

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