Total Drek

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Just rub some dirt on it. You'll be alright.

Perhaps it's just me and my snobbishness about education and expertise but, somehow, this just sounds like a terrible idea:

Some people just can’t get rid of their acne, or chronic pain, or psoriasis, no matter what treatment their doctor recommends. Now, just like looking for a hotel recommendation, they can turn to strangers with the same ailments for advice at an online community called CureTogether.

The website is much like Yelp, but its members review remedies, instead of restaurants and barber shops. It allows anyone who is facing a tough medical decision to draw upon the experience of crowds.

“People with acne report treatments they have tried and rank how well they worked,” said Alexandra Carmichael, co-founder of the website. “Everyone else with acne can then see the community stats.”


My concern is not, of course, to imply that common wisdom about medical ailments is often stupid but... well... uh... common wisdom about medical ailments is often stupid. And given how many people think magnetic bracelets can improve their health,* it's less the "wisdom of crowds" and more the "dumbassery** of crowds."

And the truly scary part of this comes later:

Every bit of that user data is also available to researchers, so it could potentially cut the cost of evidence-based medicine research, studies that aim to evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments.


Lovely. Because if there's one thing we've learned over the years in biomedical research, it's that people totally know when a treatment is working and when it isn't. So a bunch of reports of varying thoroughness and accuracy from a self-selected pool of people who may or may not have the stated disorders and who may or may not have tried the remedies in question? Oh yeah. That's classic scientific data.

Gah!


* If you're one such fan of magnetic bracelets, consider this: if that tiny, weak magnet on your wrist exerts enough force on the iron in your blood to improve circulation, why the hell doesn't the massively more powerful magnetic field in an MRI machine basically cause the human body to explode? Something to ponder.

** I feel like a true sociologist, because I'm pretty sure I just made up the word "dumbassery." Now, if only I could figure a way to smuggle it into ASR...

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