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Questão de Ciência Magazine is the Portuguese-language digital publication of Brazil's Questão de Ciência Institute (IQC), a non-profit association founded in 2018 and dedicated to promoting scientific thinking and the use of scientific evidence in public policy .
WHO's Evidence Anyway? The Extra Careful Mainstreaming Of Alternative Medicine
Carlos Orsi

WHO's Evidence Anyway? The Extra Careful Mainstreaming Of Alternative Medicine

The World Health Organization has long walked the uneasy tightrope between evidence-based and traditional medicine. It is time to dismantle this unrealistic balance.


The World Health Organization (WHO) held its First Global Summit on Traditional Medicine in August. The event, held in the city of Gandhinagar, India, was preceded by a social media advertising campaign that left scientists and serious science communicators reeling. It presented in a "friendly" way – equivalent to an implicit endorsement – alternative practices that contradict the best scientific evidence, such as homeopathy and naturopathy, and that are in no way “traditional”: the first was invented in Germany 200 years ago and the other in the U.S., a little over a century ago.

Here's an excerpt from WHO's introduction to the subject on the summit's website:

“For centuries, traditional and complementary medicine has been an integral resource for health in households and communities. It has been at the frontiers of medicine and science, laying the foundation for conventional medical texts. Around 40% of pharmaceutical products today have a natural product basis, and landmark drugs derive from traditional medicine, including aspirin, artemisinin, and childhood cancer treatments. New research, including on genomics and artificial intelligence are entering the field, and there are growing industries for herbal medicines, natural products, health, wellness and related travel. ”

At first glance, this paragraph contains two confusions and a riddle. The first confusion occurs between what some philosophers of science call the “context of discovery” and the “context of justification.” The context of discovery is the one from which scientists get their ideas, where they will find the questions they want to answer and the problems they set out to solve. The “justification context” is where scientists perform the heavy work of testing hypotheses, controlling confounding factors, conducting experiments, and producing or seeking evidence – in short, everything that allows a discovery to be called truly scientific.

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Image of Dr. Thiago Celso Andrade Reges on Instagram
Marcelo Girardi Schappo

Case Of Fake Brazilian Doctor Sparks Outrage — But Is "Alternative Medicine" Any Safer?

Fear and anger spread in Brazil after a man posing as a doctor was found treating patients. But it raises the question of the dangers of those openly using “alternative medicine.” Who should be regulating these practices?


SÂO PAULO — Earlier this spring, Thiago Celso Andrade Reges was arrested in the Brazilian state of Ceará for illegal practice of medicine, after having worked in several hospitals in the region.

He had previously gone to court in Brazil to get a validation of his Bolivian diploma, which turned out to be false. The Regional Council of Medicine of Ceará (Cremec) suspended his professional license and opened an internal investigation.

Easy question: why arrest someone who commits fraud by impersonating a doctor? I imagine the answer should not generate great disagreement among readers: it put people's health and lives at risk. Fake doctors don’t have adequate training, and they prescribe medicines and treatments, and issue diagnoses, which are not reliable. There is no reason to assume that their advice is based on a scientific background, or on the best knowledge available in the medical field.

But there's more to it than that. The case raises another intriguing question: would not the practice of “alternative medicine” be just as responsible for putting the lives and health of patients at risk as the practice of medicine without a degree?

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Ghost hunters photography a haunted ballroom in the hopes of catching a ghost in one of the photos at the Shining's Stanley Hotel in Colorado, USA.
Carlos Orsi

Caça Fantasmas: Brazil's Hi-Tech Ghost Hunters Turn Catholic Mysticism Inside Out

The rise in popular culture of ghost hunting has had a big but strange effect in Brazil. YouTubers and bloggers aim to create a bridge between Brazilian popular spiritism and American ghost-hunting.

Ghost hunting has become a popular activity around the world recently, riding the wave of successful TV shows like Ghost Hunters

Despite the lack of any conclusive evidence of the existence of ghosts, even after years of high-tech searching, many still find it an immersive and meaningful pastime — having helped launch crowded conventions of enthusiasts and specialty stores offering equipment and kits to go searching for ghosts.

In Brazil, this new popularity fits into a broader historic investigation and explanation of the apparent supernatural from the domain of religions — though it is increasingly focused on high-tech gear and the hope of achieving internet fame and glory.

On YouTube, two Brazilian channels stand out: Rosa Jaques and João Tocchetto, a pair from Rio Grande do Sul calling themselves the “Caça-Fantasmas Brasil” (Ghost-Hunters Brazil), and a group from Guaratinguetá (SP), called the “KBC Caçadores de Fantasmas” (KBC Ghost-Hunters).

Jaques and Tocchetto have been working together since the 1990s, and their YouTube channel dates back to 2008, with around 390,000 subscribers. Their work can be considered a bridge between Brazilian popular spiritism – which mixes the spiritist doctrine itself with Afro-Brazilian systems, Catholic mysticism and folkloric superstitions – and the American style of ghost-hunting.

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Photo of Rio's carnival 2015
Daniel Gontijo E Pirula

A Brazilian Plea For Science, Religious Freedom And The Right To Samba As You Wish

An evangelic group has threatened to take legal action against a samba school because of its mix of religious iconography at the 2023 Carnival festivities. A Brazilian secular institute has a response.


SÃO PAULO — To celebrate religious diversity at 2023 carnival, the samba school Gaviões da Fiel in São Paolo combined Christian symbols with imagery from African religions — for example, Christ with Oxalá (a deity from Candomblé, an African diasporic religion).

Gaviões received a disclaimer note from the country's conservative Evangelical Parliamentary Front (FPE). In these politicians’ view, "one cannot compare Christ and Oxalá … under no circumstances", and there would only be one god, one Son, and one Holy Spirit.

Having interpreted this artistic syncretism as an immoral, vile act, the FPE is now threatening to take legal action against the samba school.

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Image of Zombie in "The Last Of Us"
Natalia Pasternak

The Last Of Us? How Climate Change Could Spawn A Deadly Zombie Fungus

The TV series “The Last of Us,” where a fungal infection creates a pandemic that turns people into violent zombies offers hints of what could become more possible as global warming creates the conditions for the spreading of killer fungi.

Let's face it: having just gone through a pandemic where denialist political discourse turned a significant part of the population into something resembling zombies, the prospect of a new pandemic where a microorganism itself devours the victims' brains is an unsettlingly real prospect.

The TV series, based on the video game of the same name, begins with an interview program from the 1960s, where a scientist argues that humans should be less concerned about viruses and bacteria, and more afraid of fungi, which can control the behavior of insects, and with global warming, could in theory adapt to a temperature closer to the human body and infect us.

With no current way to develop drugs or vaccines for such an infection, we would be lost.How much of this is a true story? There really are fungi that infect and alter the behavior of insects. One of these, the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, inspired the creator of the videogame "The Last of Us." Popularly known as Cordyceps, the fungus produces spores – reproductive cells – that infect ants and multiply in the haemolymph, an insect's blood. After a few days, ants begin to show changes in behavior.

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Image of holographic bodies standing next to each other in an office
Carlos Orsi

Star Trek And The Journey From Science Fiction To Pseudoscience

Fans of Star Trek live in a Golden Age where old and new series are readily available. As one hardcore Trekkie points out, the franchise is a reminder of the similarities and differences between pseudoscience and science fiction.


For my Trekkie part, I'm still a fan of the old ones: I still remember the disappointment when a Brazilian TV channel stopped airing the original series, and then there was a wait (sometimes years) until someone else decided to show it.

Living deep in São Paulo, Brazil in the 1990s, it was also torturous for me when “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” premiered on a station whose signal was very bad in my city.

I don't remember when I saw the original cast for the first time, but I remember that when Star Trek made the transition to the cinema in 1979, in Robert Wise's film, the protagonists James Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) and the Starship Enterprise were already old acquaintances.

And I was only eight years old. Nowadays, given the scarcity of time and attention that are the hallmarks of the contemporary world, I limit myself to following spinoffs Picard and Strange New Worlds and reviewing films made for cinema, from time to time.

So, when a cinema close to my house decided to show the 40th anniversary of The Wrath of Khan (originally released in 1982), I rushed to secure a ticket. And there in the middle of the film, I had a small epiphany: the Star Trek Universe is pseudoscientific!

This realization does not necessarily represent a problem: contrary to what many imagine, science fiction exists to make you think and have fun, not to prepare for a national test).

Yet in a franchise that has always made a lot of effort to maintain an aura of scientific bona fides (Isaac Asimov was a consultant on the first film, and the book The Physics of Star Trek has a preface by Stephen Hawking!), the finding was a bit of a shock.

And what made me jump out of the chair?

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