Science Times implicitly endorses magical thinking

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Just 24 hours after New York Times editors launched their attack on Happy Meals as irresponsible corporate activity, the paper’s Science section printed an article implicitly endorsing a range of ideas which can best be described as based on magical thinking.

The article depicts the travails of radiologist and breast cancer specialist Dr. Marisa Weiss. Some years ago, Dr. Weiss was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, from which she was cured. Times’ reporter Roni Caryn Rabin is rightly sympathetic to Dr. Weiss in her battle, and she properly notes that the physician’s life may have been saved by a routine screening mammogram, which Dr. Weiss believes supports her viewpoint that such annual screenings are of vital importance.

Where the article goes wrong is in its uncritical — and seemingly laudatory — presentation of Dr. Weiss’s turn to unproven remedies as preventives and possibly cures. Dr. Weiss is quoted as promoting “filtering her tap water, no longer cooking in plastic, and buying hormone-free meat and organic fruit” in an attempt to ward off further flare-ups of her cancer. Although appreciative of the pain and difficulty of Dr. Weiss’s struggle, ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan notes that these responses are like “an attempt to make a pact with God in which you agree to give up something in return for your life. They’re an emotional reaction and not based on science.” She also noted that even physicians and scientists well-versed in epidemiology and statistics sometimes turn towards magical thinking when personally confronted with a life-threatening disease.