Cancer, CNN and the Shuttle

One reason I haven’t blogged much in the last few weeks is that a friend’s wife was dying. Note the past tense; she died yesterday morning, after losing a year-long struggle with cancer.

When she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer, she and my friend jointly decided to pursue alternative therapies – alternative to the mainstream therapies of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. She radically altered her diet, alternating juice fasts with healthful eating, and took a zillion supplements a day; she visited a number of alternative practitioners of a variety of arts.

When they started on this path, I took her husband aside, and asked him about it. Are there statistics that support this? I asked. He had a number of stories – testimonials – of people who had been cured in these ways. I dug a bit, and came up with some numbers (can’t find them now) that suggested that the cure rate for alternative therapies was essentially the same as the cure rate for doing nothing; cancer just goes away sometimes.

I’m no oncologist, and both as an observer and a friend, I’d be careful about asserting that she would have lived had they only…(pick something). But I will confidently assert that they followed a path that was more based in belief and hope than provable fact.

They were not alone. Honesty has been much in the news lately.

[Update: It’s apparently in the air, as well. Not only has Trent got a piece up on this, but Glenn Reynolds has one at TechCentralStation]
Many commentators have suggested that the Iraqi regime collapsed as fast as it did because at no level was anyone telling the truth.

MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq – (KRT) – Maj. Gen. Sufian al Tikriti left Baghdad on Sunday in a white Toyota sedan, in uniform and alone except for a chauffeur.

Just outside the city, the Republican Guard general came upon a Marine Corps roadblock, where he died.

His sudden death, and a great deal of other evidence, suggests how little Iraq’s military knows about the whereabouts and movements of the U.S. and British soldiers who invaded their country three weeks ago.

“I think they are basically clueless,” said a senior officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF). “They have no situational awareness,” he said, using the military term for knowing the locations of friendly and enemy forces.

and this:

A captured Iraqi colonel being held in one of the hangars listened in astonishment as his information minister praised Republican Guard soldiers for recapturing the airport.

He looked at his captors and, as he realized that what he had heard was palpably untrue, his eye filled with tears. Turning to a translator, he asked: “How long have they been lying like this?”

“Everyone lies”; there is a whole discipline in philosophy (epistemology, or the study knowledge) which was once summed up to me in those words. We humans don’t have direct access to facts, we construct realities as best we can.

But some of those realities have proven to be more durable than others.

The power of Western society is ultimately its willingness to adapt to facts. All societies that survive do at some level; you can only eat illusions for a while. But Western society is probably the first that makes a positive goal of factualness, and where a claim to fact is a claim of virtue.

That is why I react so strongly to the bureaucratic stifling of fact that led up to the Columbia disaster, and why I react so strongly to Eason Jordan’s weasel words.

These are examples of corrosion of the core value – of the value of truth – that make the West successful, and they are a far greater threat than any terrorist attacks.

It is also why the dream societies discussed by Porphyrogenitus in his great post (and he is carrying the banner for The War on Bad Philosophy!) and exemplified by my fantasy-ridden engineer friend will ultimately fail.

The goal, of course, is to make sure we don’t fail first.

2 thoughts on “Cancer, CNN and the Shuttle”

  1. Your friend and his wife were in a very hard situation. My sympathies to him and to you. Many people are disenchanted with traditional health care. Especialy in situations that are terminal. True, the path they chose turned out no different than it might have with traditional medical treatment, but it reminds me of a saying offered by my boss, “the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over expecting a different result” Your friends probably thought anything different had a better chance at a good outcome than to continue doing what everyone else was doing. I hope you will recall the good times you had with this woman. We should all think about how we will be remembered after we are gone, everyone has a chance each day to do something good for someone else. Peace,

  2. Your friends probably thought anything different had a better chance at a good outcome than to continue doing what everyone else was doing.

    The problem is that ‘everyone else was doing’ the standard therapies because they work better than everything else.

    Harsh though it sounds, it appears your friend and his wife put their faith in “new age” alternative remedies – and suffered the consequences.

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