Saturday, December 16, 2006

Truth and miracles

I was watching TV and there was this interview with someone about the soon to be released “The nativity story”. Nothing unusual about that.

And then the person being interviewed decided to become profound, and this is what she said (more or less).

“The present time is different, where people want everything to be empirically proven, and records to verify the truth. The old days were different. They didn’t ask if Mary was really a virgin, or of the birth of Jesus was immaculate. In the old days they had a different definition of truth.”

Bollocks.

There’s truth and there’s belief. They are not even close to being the same. This is belief. In the old days they believed the earth was flat, and that was the truth. But that was not true.

You can believe whatever you want, but don’t confuse that to be the same as the truth. And you DO want things to be empirically or quantitatively proven.

***********

Which leads me to a minor rant on another pet peeve. People talk about “miracle drugs”. Like penicillin was the first “miracle drug”.

But calling a drug a miracle drug just because you don’t understand what it does is the greatest disservice to science you could do. Most drugs came out of rigorous research, or if the were discovered serendipitously, years of research went in later on understanding how it works, or how to improve it.

It is shameful to dismiss it all as a miracle.

6 comments:

witnwisdumb said...

Uh... the term 'miracle drug' refers simply to a drug which is highly, extremely effective. It has nothing to do with people's understanding of the functioning of the drug.

And while you're on the subject of "understanding what a drug does", let me take the liberty of pointing out the fact that even to this day, the functioning mechanism of even the common paracetamol, is not clearly known.

Sunil said...

witnwisdumb...I understand why people call something a "miracle drug", but using the word miracle here is what I object to. It is not a miracle. Even if we don't know how exactly it works, that still doesn't make it a miracle.

"Wonder drug"? Quite acceptable (to me). "Miracle drug"? No way.

And as far as paracetamol (or some other drugs) goes....yes, I understand that we don't know how some of them work. But scientists constantly try to figure it out (that is part of what I do in my own research), and slowly but surely make progress. With paracetamol itself, recently scientists have found that it selectively inhibits a new enzyme COX-3 (and not Cox1 and 2), which would explain why it would not be an anti-inflammatory, or have strong gastrointestinal effects like other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. See PNAS. October 15, 2002, vol. 99(21),pp13926-13931, and continue to read many of the citations of this paper which further the work.

Still doesn't make it a miracle drug.

witnwisdumb said...

I see your point. And quite a valid one indeed. But I'd like to have you know that if I ever use the term 'miracle drug', it's not because I think it's a miracle :P

If you don't mind my asking, what field of research do you work in? Pharmacology?

Sunil said...

yes....well, at least my phd was in molecular pharmacology. But the life sciences are all so very closely related now, so it's really hard to bracket yourself in a specific field.

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