It’s not a miracle!

It’s not a miracle!

It’s not a miracle!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 12 2007 12:33 PM

It’s not a miracle!

Update 2: an article in the news said a fund has been set up for Ms. Malloy by Wells Fargo bank. As I write this it's evening and they are closed, but I'll check tomorrow to see if there is a way to donate to this fund online. I didn't see anything at their website.

Update (Monday, May 14): This blog entry has incited quite a reaction. I expected some, given that I am poking at what is essentially a religious viewpoint about miracles, and a superstitious viewpoint on luck. However, somewhere along the line while writing it I lost track of my ultimate goal which was to simply point out how we tend to ascribe causes to random events, and how this leads to uncritical thinking. Where I blew it was jumping right into this discussion before acknowledging where it comes from: a real human who has suffered a horrible accident. I know it's hard to tell tone from words, but I am being very honest when I say I wish nothing but good for Ms. Malloy on her road to recovery, and I apologize for any grief she's had about this. While I disagree with many (if not most) of the negative comments about the meat of my claim, what I cannot disagree with is that the tone of this entry is more snarky than it should have been. I let my irritation get the better of me stylistically, and again I apologize. I hope that my extended comment on this entry clears that up. Given the number of comments and the back-and-forth of them, I will leave this entry intact as I wrote it (except for the insertion about the chiropractor); but it can also serve as a reminder to any of us who blog, comment, or just plain discuss topics, that many times there is a reality behind the discussion, and people who are affected. Some of the comments below cross well over the line as well, so I hope that everyone involved here has learned a lesson.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Man, I get tired of this kind of stuff:

A car crash in Nebraska on Jan. 25 threw Malloy up against the vehicle's dashboard. In the process, her skull became separated from her spine. The clinical term for her condition is called internal decapitation.

That's the gist of the article: a woman survives a bad injury that in most cases would kill the victim. But the amount of bad thinking that continues from there is astonishing. Let's look:

Miracles do happen. That's what doctors said about 30-year-old Shannon Malloy.

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Ah yes, a miracle. It has nothing to do with pure statistics and probability. Or the fact that medical science has advanced enough to save someone's life.

Dr. Gary Ghiselli, a chiropractor an orthopedic spine surgeon at the Denver Spine Center, said Malloy's will to survive is what saved her.

A chiropractor said it was her will. Right. I suppose someone involved with what is at the very best a borderline quack field would say it was her will, and not, say, probability and medical science. Note added Monday, May 14: The original news article said that Dr. Ghiselli was a chiropractor, but that has been amended in that article to indicate that Dr. Ghiselli is an orthopedic spine surgeon -- a profession that I can say with some confidence and personal experience is a lot more trustworthy, reliable, and scientific than chiropractic.

"I had a fractured skull, swollen brain stem, bleeding in my brain, GI tube in my stomach, can't swallow, and nerve damage in my eyes (because they cross)," said Malloy.

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Doctors are working on that but she has been lucky enough to get the halo removed.

I know I shouldn't get upset when people talk about luck, but it still irks me. Luck is probability taken personally, as the saying goes. She wasn't lucky to get the halo removed, it's just the way things worked out. I have actually specially worked on not using the word "luck" anymore. It's just another accepted notion that's incorrect, and I don't want to promote it, even colloquially.

"Oh my God, it's a miracle," said Malloy.

I guess then it was also a miracle that God made the terrible, horrifying accident to happen in the first place, too. You can't pick and choose which random events to ascribe to God, folks. If He throws the dice for one, He throws the dice for all.

"It's a miracle that she was able to survive from the actual accident. It's a miracle that she's made the progress that she's made," said Ghiselli [the chiropractor].

See above. I suppose then it's a miracle her skull was severed from her spine, she sustained nerve damage, and she cannot see well or swallow properly.

That's some miracle. Tell you what: I'll take my chances on probability.