How to Recognize Pain Pseudoscience

Is there anything to weed out those who have substituted hunches for hard science? Karl Popper gives some suggestions for recognizing pseudoscience.


Recently, we have received communications concerning various theories of pain treatment. Many of them are based on very broad, unconfirmed ideas. In general, overbroad generalizations are not helpful for pain. To be sure, there is a placebo effect in most medications, not in pain only. For many years, such things as leeches were used for conditions where they are now known to be useless or even harmful.

Pain sufferers are not obligated to try things simply because someone, somewhere feels they should. Such people usually do not have central pain, and may know nothing or almost nothing about it. Well meaning professionals may lump central pain with other conditions which do not belong with Central Pain. Pain of central origin involves abnormalities in the thalamus and other brain structures which do not appear in most pain conditions. Methods of treatment for normal pain (nociception) are not transportable to central pain.

Correspondents tell us of doctors recommending yoga, concentration, breathing, meditation, or even denial to end central pain. This has all gone on long before and failed. Taking an edge off something is NOT curing it. We are not even convinced these things can take the edge off CP. Such “remedies” are often just annoying and amount more to an attempt to gain discipleship or conceal a failure to take pain seriously than to help pain. Frankly we are tired of disproven remedies which keep popping up as new cures in the popular press.

The ancient near east was full of placebo medicine. Placebo features prominently in societies which have nothing else. One scholar has complimented biblical people for relatively sound medical practices in a time of almost total reliance on placebo. However, the Bible records that women still cried out during labor (Isaiah 42:14) The pain of labor was not changed by placebo. It took the epidural to do that. In the old times, mankind had little choice, but in this enlightened age (a presumptious statement, we admit) placebo medicine has little to recommend it

To support funds for research, we must combat the public’s misperception that we have been cured at all by those who recommend slight measures for severe pain. “Conservative management” is not going to help CP, and it may weaken the public’s knowledge of what needs to be done.

Those who claim to have crafted a CP cure with meditation, magnets, or mysticism should meditate on how egotistic shams are more concerned with self importance than those in pain. We need hard science. It is true the doctor should “first do no harm”; however, accusing the patient of weakness or delusion does not avoid harm, but causes it.

How then should a CP patient evaluate the various claims for the answer. To help in solving this, we turn to the famous scholar, Karl Popper, one of the brightest minds of the past century. His book,