Dr. Harriet Hall, known as the "SkepDoc" and a former guest on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast, died unexpectedly on January 11, 2023 at the age of 77. She had been in poor health including heart issues for the past three or more years. I was very sorry to hear the news. She was an intelligent person with integrity.
Dr. Hall was a critic of "alternative" medicine that so many people involved in Taijiquan seem to believe in. She did a lot of good work bringing critical thinking skills to the discussion of science and medicine. As Dr. Steven Novella wrote about her:
"....Harriet has been tireless in her efforts to help educate the public about how science should inform the practice of medicine, and how medicine, and even common sense, can go horribly wrong when we abandon good science as our guide. Among her many contributions, Harriet is remembered for coining the phrase, Tooth Fairy Science, which nicely crystalized and communicated one of the many core problems with alternative science. To paraphrase, you can study in detail all of the aspects of the Tooth Fairy phenomenon without ever getting to the core question – the only question that really matters – does the Tooth Fairy actually exist?"
Dr. Hall was a family physician and a former Air Force Flight Surgeon who retired at the rank of Colonel.
I have been a skeptic about alternative medicine since I studied acupuncture in the late 1980s and early 90s, and attempted to learn how to read someone's "aura" and other bogus things as part of my Traditional Chinese Medicine studies with a former kung-fu teacher. I opened my mind and gave it a shot, studying acupuncture for two years. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the traditional "science" behind acupuncture is superstitious fantasy. If acupuncture works in some cases for minor pain or nausea relief, it is not for the reasons explained in TCM.
Among the points Dr. Hall made in our podcast interview:
** Our ancestors, and people in China, evolved in an environment without books or, of course, the internet. They relied on personal experience and information from others to learn about the world. As a result, we are programmed to listen to stories and anecdotes more than scientific research.
** There is a lot of bad research coming out of China. In fact, you cannot trust medical studies on alternative medicine from China.
** Many studies of alternative medicine are financed and supported by organizations with a financial interest in the outcome of the studies.
** If alternative medicine was proven to be true, it would be called "medicine," not "alternative medicine."
** Skeptics are not closed-minded, they are completely open to evidence.
** Belief in something like alternative medicine can be similar to belief in a religion, where it causes the believer to reject evidence that suggests they believe in something that is not true.
** Medical doctors are not necessarily scientists, and many of them lack the rigorous training in scientific methods that help them evaluate the true validity of clinical studies.
** If a medical treatment works in Beijing, it should also work in Dallas or it is not medicine.
** Alternative therapies such as "breathing in colors" and healing sounds are unfounded and their claims are ultimately false.
** Misinformation about TCM can cause harm if it leads to people rejecting legitimate treatments.
There were so many important points made by Dr. Hall in our interview that it is important for anyone interested in the internal arts or TCM to listen. You can listen online or download the podcast with Dr. Harriet Hall through this link.
Some people in the world of Taijiquan and TCM got angry with me after I released this podcast, and I can't help that. Evidence is evidence, and when someone makes a medical or scientific claim, it is our responsibility as intelligent creatures to demand valid, rigorous evidence before we believe. So as I can imagine Dr. Hall saying, "Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out."
I am sorry she is gone. We need more people like her, not fewer.
--by Ken Gullette