Megrahi and Miracle Cures

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John MacDonald
Dubai UAE

I’ve been re-reading ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre and came across something that didn’t seem quite so striking first time round – simply because the Al Megrahi business wasn’t then topical.

John MacDonald
Dubai UAE

I’ve been re-reading ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre and came across something that didn’t seem quite so striking first time round – simply because the Al Megrahi business wasn’t then topical.

To quote:
“Over the course of many years, a team of Australian oncologists followed 2,337 terminal cancer patients in palliative care.  They died, on average, after five months.  But around 1 per cent of them were still alive after five years.

In January, 2006, this study was reported in the Independent, bafflingly, as:
‘MIRACLE’ CURES SHOWN TO WORK :–
“Doctors have found statistical evidence that alternative treatments such as special diets, herbal potions, and faith healing can cure apparently terminal illness, but they remain unsure about the reasons.”

But the point of the study was specifically not that there are miracle cures (it didn’t look at any such treatments, that was an invention by the newspaper).  Instead it showed something much more interesting: that amazing things simply happen sometimes: people can survive despite all the odds for no apparent reason.

As the researchers made clear in their own description, claims for miracle cures should be treated with caution, because ‘miracles’ happen routinely, in 1 per cent of cases by their definition, and without any specific intervention.

The lesson of this paper is that we cannot reason from one individual’s experience, or even that of a handful, selected to make a point.”

Maybe the lesson could be of value to those claiming that doctors erred in their diagnosis of Al Megrahi.