“Science” as Fiction Update

By Steven Foster.

Flamingo meets Swan
All is not as it seems . . .

Nature is clean. Nature is pure. Nature is unspoiled. And if you believe that, I would like to sell you beach front property on the Moon. When we buy something labeled natural or labeled organic, that product or food category, whatever it may be, comes with an underlying expectation of integrity, honesty, truthfulness and reliability. The same expectations holds true for scientific literature, in which a process of peer review, critique of theory, vigilance of methodology and veracity of conclusions assumes that the published findings are upheld at least by the reputations of researcher(s), editor(s), and publisher(s). These are general, if naive expectations and beliefs that we hold that things are what they seem to be. Yes, it’s true. I’m a happy curmudgeon and skeptic.

Early in my career, I became intrigued by concepts related to quality, identity, and labeling of herb products. At the time I worked at the Herb Department of the Sabbathday Lake Maine Shaker Community, whose history dated back to the late eighteenth century. When I was there direct expertise in herb production no longer existed. During that time from 1974-1978, I learned by trial and error. We had a catnip tea product. The catnip I grew had a strong, aromatic fragrance, typical of catnip rich in essential oil. We sold more than we were able to grow. We had to buy bulk catnip that turned out to be left over stem and stubble from seed production. No self-respecting cat would respond to a cat toy filled with these floor sweepings.  In the company of cats, my homegrown catnip turned me into a feline pied piper. Both samples were catnip, but the quality was dramatically different. I find the same is true of published science—some is high quality. Some science is floor sweepings, created by “experts” in a narrow scientific specialty who think that they can magically transform their methods into areas of other scientific disciplines of which they are clueless, then draw conclusions, in which they prove their lack of knowledge as evidenced by their sloppy work. Would you send an entomologist in space to repair the Hubble Telescope? Of course, pride and reputation machismo prevent the authors and journals from retracting their errors.

If there’s a buck to be made, someone is going to find away to make that buck. If you don’t know what it is that you’re buying, the possibility of not getting what you expect increases. With the pressure for academics to publish or perish, I promise you, if your study is rejected by one journal, no problem, as you can always finds a journal happy to take your scientific paper no matter what the quality of the science might be. The bottom line is that you can’t always believe what you read whether it’s at website, words on a product label, “science” in a scientific paper, or reporting on a scientific paper, even if it part of “all the news that is NOT fit to print.” My next post will have the details.

I have come to believe that the only published word that is what it seems to be is fiction.

Adapted from my “Eureka Nature” column in the Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper for 6 November 2013. This entry is also an opinion piece sparked by this response to a scientific paper.

American Botanical Council Celebrates 25 Years!

As Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Botanical Council, it is my delight to share this press release—Steven Foster

HG-58-2003-Cover(AUSTIN, Texas, Oct. 31, 2013) On November 1, the American Botanical Council (ABC) celebrates a quarter century of promoting the responsible, science-based use of herbal medicine. The independent nonprofit’s 25th anniversary is a major milestone for the Austin, Texas-based organization and speaks to its enduring message of informed, research-supported healing through nature — one that has resonated with thousands of members and supporters both locally and in many countries around the world.

HG-77-2008-Cover“I’ve been affiliated with and have supported ABC since its inception, because I believe in its mission,” said internationally renowned author and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, MD, the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Dr. Weil, whose image has twice graced the cover of TIME Magazine, said, “As more health professionals are trained to use medicinal plants and other natural therapies, healthcare costs will decrease and health outcomes will improve. Education is required for this to happen, education of the sort that ABC has provided over the past 25 years and I’m sure will continue to provide.”

HG-96-2013-CoverIn the 1980s, when the modern herbal medicine movement was experiencing a revival and consumer awareness and exposure to natural medicine was slowly increasing, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal saw the need for an authoritative, science-based source of information on botanical medicine to act as a touchstone for herbal education and quality for all aspects of the herbal industry including consumers. The Texan visionary, whose passion for herbal medicine earned him the nickname “Herbal Cowboy,” together with two internationally respected medicinal plant experts — the eminent ethnobotanist James A. Duke, PhD, and the late distinguished pharmacognosist Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD — established the educational nonprofit American Botanical Council in 1988.

“I think of Mark as the great herbal diplomat,” said Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist, prolific author, educator, and founder of the nonprofit conservation organization United Plant Savers. Gladstar, whom Blumenthal nicknamed the “Godmother of American Herbalism,” praised his efforts over the past 25 years as being “beautifully, seriously, and joyfully effective.”

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