Scientists have noticed that patients may experience improvements just from thinking they’ve had medicine, even if that medicine is fake. But why does the placebo effect work, and why do some researchers believe it’s growing stronger?
by Jerry De Luca via My Best Buddy Media
One can’t help but be perplexed by the bizarre world of homeopathy. From miracle cures to snake oil peddling, from deceptive advertising to FDA warnings, from questionable medical claims to rigorous scientific testing, it’s an uncanny circle of health declarations and assertions. Here is hopefully a comprehensive overview of the evidence in 17 concise reasons……
1 • The active ingredient of a homeopathic remedy is diluted to a ratio of: 1 : 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Or to look it another way, combine all the world’s oceans, let one drop of the active ingredient plunge into the middle, stir, and the result is a genuine homeopathic cure. The world’s most powerful microscope would be needed to locate even a single molecule in the average pill or tablet. When two completely different homeopathic remedies with two completely different “healing” agents are compared under a microscope, they are INDISTINGUISHABLE from each other!
2 • Homeopaths claim their pills work because “the water remembers” – the active ingredient has made “contact” with it. This has never been proven in any field of science – chemistry, physics, and molecular biology. Furthermore, many homeopathic remedies are dry tablets or pills. There is no water to remember.
3 • The FDA does not require manufacturers of homeopathic products to prove their efficacy or safety. They are under no obligation to test their products. You have to take their word for it.
4 • Homeopaths advocate the “Principle of Similars”. They assert if you take the substance that made you sick in the first place, and dilute it to almost total invisibility, then ingest it, you will be cured. With a couple of rare exceptions (anti-venom is derived from venom, but contains numerous other elements), this has never been proven scientifically. A comparable is the homeopathic remedy that is supposed to help you fall asleep – the sleeping pill. What is the miniscule active ingredient? Caffeine! Time and again skeptics have publicly ingested several full bottles of “sleeping pills” without exuding even a yawn (http://www.1023.org.uk/the-1023-overdose-event.php).
5 • Many homeopathic manufacturers lie when they claim on their product labels that the remedy is FDA approved. Most consumers assume this refers to its efficacy. In fact the FDA has only ratified its safety. These are the exceptions, as most homeopathic products are not sent for any testing to the FDA.
6 • In recent years the FDA has successfully sued several homeopathic companies for making unsubstantiated claims to cure a variety of diseases. However, many companies have found a legal loophole by claiming cures for general illnesses, not specifics. For example, the product will help your “liver problems”, with no mention whatsoever of hepatitis. Also, many homeopaths will make these claims verbally in one-on-one sessions with the patient, where there is no legal liability.
Why do some people continue to use alternative medicine?
Despite all the information there is about alternative medicine and how not only does it not work, but that infact it can even be harmful, people still use it and believe that it really does work.
So why is it that people still use alternative medicine? Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve come up with quite a few reasons why:
Science based medicine is an incredible thing and can cure many diseases and fix a lot of things that can go wrong with the human body, but unfortunately it can’t cure every disease, or fix everything that goes wrong with our bodies (not yet atleast). So when science based medicine can’t fix or cure what ever is wrong with us (or atleast not doing so in a way that is fast enough for us) some people, even rational people, might become desperate enough to use alternative medicine.
This sort of situation especially happens when someone has a terminal disease and they are told by their doctor that there is nothing they can do to cure what ever it is that is killing them. Some people will not accept this and will seek out anything that is claimed to be able to cure them (even if all the evidence says otherwise).
They think it’s cheaper
Because alternative medicine isn’t manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies (who are for profit businesses) it is assumed by some people that alternative medicine must be cheaper than science based medicine because they believe that the people who are manufacturing these alternative medical products are not doing it for a profit, plus when a person is told about a product that is suppose to be cheaper and work better than the conventional product, people tend to buy the supposedly cheaper product.
Now if you seriously believe that alternative medicine is cheaper than science based medicine, and that people who make these alternative medical products are not doing so for a profit, then I know a Nigerian prince that wants to give you $15,000,000.
A friend told them it works
Probably the best form of advertising there is is word of mouth. You don’t do have to pay for anything, and people tend to trust the opinion of a friend or family member over a creative ad in a newspaper or a TV commercial. Same thing holds true with alternative medicine.
Lets say you’ve been sick for a while and you have been taking some medicine for what ever has been ailing you, but so far it has had little to no affect. You tell a friend or a family member about your health issues and they might recommend that you take some herbs, or to go see this “doctor” that they recommend (who turns out to be an alternative medicine practitioner and not a real doctor) because they claim that it helped them, or it helped someone they know. Because you trust the person whom is recommending this “doctor” or this product, you might be more willing to see this “doctor” or try this product than you would if some stranger had told you.
Science based medicine can be harsh
Science based medicine (or modern medicine, or real medicine as some people like to call it) is a great thing. It has cured a lot of stuff, and has extended our average life expectancy by years, but it can also be pretty harsh at times as well. Because of this some people might either choose to stop using a science based medical treatment because they feel that it has become to harsh on them and that they believe that it might kill them if they continue to use, and so they decided to use alternative medicine instead because they believe it will help them without any side effects, or they might already know (or atleast believe) that the medical treatment that they’ve been recommend that they do could or will be harsh on them, and they decide to forgo it and use alternative medicine instead.
- Prince Charles and homeopathy: crank or revolutionary? (telegraph.co.uk)
- Affordable Care Act Raises Status Of Alternative Medicine; Insurance Companies ‘Shall Not Discriminate’ Against Practitioners (medicaldaily.com)
- Integrative Medicine’s Collateral Damage|Jann Bellamy|Science-Based Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Indian board of alternative medicines fake? Talking about Alternative medicines (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Is Indian board of alternative medicines fake? Orthodox Medicine Vs Alternative Medicine (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Because the world needs more Mark CrislipTM|Mark Crislip|Science-Based Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Can the IoE Revolutionize Alternative Medicine? (blogs.cisco.com)
- Online USA Doctors is Now Offering Complimentary, Alternative Medicine (prweb.com)
- This Is Actually A Fast Breakdown Of Alternative Medicine (healthmarketpress.wordpress.com)
by Dr. Steve Novella via www.randi.org
In June of 2009 the British Homeopathic Association declared “homeopathy awareness week.” I obliged by writing a post making the public more aware of the superstitious nonsense that is homeopathy. I, in fact, want people to be aware of exactly what homeopathy is, because most of the public does not know what absurd pseudoscience it is.Now I have to extend the favor to naturopathy – because the US has declared October 7-13 Naturopathy Awareness Week. They managed to squeeze in this critical vote prior to shutting down the government. Here is the resolution:
S.Res.221 – A resolution designating the week of October 7 through October 13, 2013, as “Naturopathic Medicine Week” to recognize the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who apparently is enamored of alternative medicine, sponsored the resolution. The resolution is not a law and does not have any specific effects, but it is concerning none-the-less. Pseudoscientists are always desperate for the trappings of legitimacy and respect. They have become quite good and finding creative ways to make it seem like their nonsense is legitimate, because they cannot gain the one true measure – actual scientific legitimacy.
Naturopaths could, for example, conduct high quality clinical research that would establish in a convincing way that one or more of their preferred treatment methods are safe and effective, equal to or superior to standard medical care. They can’t do that, however, because their treatments are largely nonsensical and worthless, so instead they seek to have naïve politicians give them the recognition they crave.
Here is how naturopaths define their approach:
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.
This, of course, is propaganda and spin. They claim to use “scientific and empirical methods,” but that is mainstream science-based medicine. If they really used scientific and empirical methods, they would be practicing mainstream medicine.
The focus on the “inherent self-healing process” is a little closer to the truth, in that they tend to use modalities that make that claim. CAM practitioners in general have relied upon the “self-healing” gambit because they cannot actually treat diseases or identifiable entities – because their treatments do not work, because they are not based in reality.
Saying that a treatment “supports the body’s self-healing ability” is just hand-waving marketing hype. It gets around the fact that they do not have a plausible biological mechanism addressing a specific biological problem.
This claim is often attached to energy-based or vitalistic treatments, those that are based on the pre-scientific superstition that living things have their own “life energy” which is responsible for health. No such life energy exists, and therefore any practice based upon the notion of such energy is hopelessly worthless.
In practice naturopaths cobble together a wide range of unscientific, disproven, discarded, and fanciful treatments. They seem to prefer treatments that do not work to those that are safe and effective. Since regular medicine uses science to determine which treatments are safe and effective, this is the only way to distinguish themselves.
- Quackery Awareness Week (randi.org)
- Thanks to the U.S. Senate, the week of October 7 to 13, 2013 is now Quackery Week [Respectful Insolence] (scienceblogs.com)
- Naturopathic Medicine Week 2013, or: Quackery Week 2013 (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
It’s a multi-billion dollar scam industry that millions of people around the world use the products and services of year after year.
Many people who use alternative medicine will say it works, while many, many others will say otherwise.
Now there are a lot of things that I have notice about alternative medicine, but I have narrowed it down to five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about alternative medicine:
5. It has a lot to do about nothing.
Alternative medicine products and services basically comes in two different forms: does nothing and uses nothing.
Most alternative medicine just doesn’t work at all (such as homeopathy), and the few that actually does do something, the effects are minor and no where near as effective as real medicine, and could even be harmful if done improperly.
Then there are some that not only does nothing, but uses nothing as well. Reiki healing is a prime example of this as practitioners of Reiki healing practitioners claim that they use “energy” from some unknown source to “heal” people. Sometimes they will use crystals to harness this power. Sometimes they’ll just use their hands. Regardless of how they “harness” this energy, they all do the same thing: nothing.
4. It works off of anecdotal evidence
Some of the best “evidence” that practitioners of alternative medicine have about how effect the products and services they offer works is anecdotal evidence. In fact it’s not just best evidence they can give, it’s also often the only evidence they can ever give (besides the stuff they make up) mainly because scientific experimentation and testing have proven that their products and services are useless.
Most practitioners of alternative medicine will tell you that their products and services does make people feel better, what they often don’t tell you is how long it took to fix or cure whatever was ailing those who used their products or services, or whether they were using real medicine and medical services along with the alternative medicine, or how many people it didn’t work for and ended up having to go and get real medicine and medical services when the alternative medicine failed to cure any thing but perhaps a heavy wallet. And that’s another thing about alternative medicine…
3. It gets expensive.
Some alternative medicine is cheap (or at least it seems that way) but a lot of it is either over priced and even cost to much for some to use (which can be a good thing in a way, because the expense forces that person to go get real medicine). Even for people with health insurance it can still get expensive because most health insurance companies will not pay for alternative medicine, so a person who wants to use alternative medicine will have to pay for it out of pocket.
Even for the alternative medicine that isn’t expensive, and can still get expensive because . . .
- Misinformation from Mayo Clinic|Steven Novella|Neurologica (theness.com)
- Indian board of alternative medicines is not fake! (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Doctors are too trusting of alternative medicine (irishtimes.com)
- The Best Critique of Alternative Medicine Ever (slate.com)
- Findings from Shanghai Jiao-Tong University Provides New Data on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (hispanicbusiness.com)
- How To Improve Kidney Function With Natural And Alternative Medicine (healthsandbeauty.wordpress.com)
- Dr. Paul Offit On Believing in Magic in Medicine (ieet.org)
- Indian board of alternative medicines is not fake: Scope of alternative medicine (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Communing with a Reiki Master (travel-monkey.me)
- Indian board of alternative medicines not fake : Positives of alternative treatment for cancer (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
Why do some people believe in pseudoscience?
It’s a question that I’m sure that many skeptics have asked when they encounter someone who believes in something that has been discredited for years (sometime centuries).
Doing a little bit of research into the subject, as well as a bit of thinking, I’ve come up with quite a few reasons why some people actually believe in pseudoscience.
11. It goes along with their beliefs.
Due to either religious or personal beliefs (or a combination of both) some people will believe in the pseudoscientific explanation for something, rather than the scientific explanation for something, if the pseudoscientific explanation goes along with their beliefs. Sometimes this will even go so far as to out right reject and ignore the scientific explanation, so long as the pseudoscientific explanation goes along with their beliefs, and the scientific explanation does not.
Examples of this would be people who have strong biblical beliefs rejecting the theory of evolution in place of intelligent design because intelligent design goes along with the creation story, or people who reject modern medicine in place of alternative medicine or believe in claims that vaccines cause autism because they believe pharmaceutical companies are evil, or people who believe that GMO foods are bad for you because they believe that organic foods are better for you and that GMO foods aren’t tested or regulated.
10. Real science can be difficult to understand.
I have to admit, there are some things in science that are just difficult to understand, and unless you already have a decent amount of knowledge about a certain scientific field, you probably aren’t going to understand whats going on if someone is discussing something about that scientific field.
Pseudoscience on the other hand is usually much easier to understand than real science, and because pseudoscience tends to be much easier to understand than real science, it can attract some people who have become frustrated with real science and their inability to understand it.
9. It sounds more awesome.
Besides being difficult to understand, science can also be boring to some people.
Because some people find the real scientific explanations to certain things to be boring and uninteresting, some people will go over to the pseudoscientific explanations, because it sounds a lot more exciting.
An example of this would be the explanation by ancient astronaut theorists that the Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed by aliens using their advanced technology for reasons unknown. Sounds a lot more exciting than the actual scientific explanation in that it was a giant monument and tomb constructed over a 20 year period by thousands of people for some egotistical Pharaoh.
8. It sounds more logical.
For some people that don’t have a good understanding of both how science and logic works, a pseudoscientific explanation can actually sound a lot more logical than an actual scientific and/or logical explanation for certain things.
Lets take crop circles for example. Some people believe that crop circles are made by aliens as a way to send us a message. To some people this sounds more logical than the actual explanation of a bunch of pranksters getting together and creating these geometric shapes in wheat fields using rope and 2x4s.
7. It makes them feel smart.
Because real science can be hard to understand, it can make certain people feel dumb when they try to understand it and just can’t. On the other hand because many things in pseudoscience are easy for most people to understand, and because of the false assumption that it is real science, it can make people feel smart when they understand it.
Because of the fact that they can understand it (and because they feel that it makes them look smart because they understand it) they might be more inclined to believe in it.
Via The Soap Box
Psychics, and alternative medicine practitioners. Two different groups of people who peddle BS pseudoscience that wastes gullible peoples money. But which one is worse?
Now many people would say that alternative medicine practitioners are worse, because not only are they peddling something and taking peoples’ money for products and services that do not work, they’re also physically harming people as well, and even risking peoples lives by not only selling them products and services that makes them think they can forgo real medicine and medical services that could help them and even save their lives for the alternative stuff, but also selling them products and services that really can cause harm, and possibly even kill you.
So it sounds like a no brainer, right? Alternative medicine practitioners are selling you products and services that could harm you and possibly kill you, while psychics are just taking your money. Except… many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they are doing is harmful, because some do seriously believe that alternative medicine does work (this is mostly due to anecdotal evidence).
People claiming to be psychics on the other hand are different, because while many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they’re doing is fraud, psychics on the other hand almost always know what they’re doing is fraud.
Psychic powers simply do not exist. Every person who has ever been tested for psychic powers under controlled scientific testing conditions have always failed to prove that they have psychic powers, and the really famous so called psychics have never gone and had their alleged powers proven under controlled scientific testing conditions, so it is very safe to say that psychic powers don’t exist, and that anyone who is claiming to be a psychic is most likely lying (although it is also possible that they may be self-deluded and have actually convinced themselves they are psychic, or they’re just mentally ill) and therefore if they do take any money from you for their services, are knowingly committing fraud.
Besides committing fraud, psychics also . . .
For thousands of years, humans have tried — and failed — to achieve physical immortality. At least, most of us. Rumors of immortals have abounded throughout history, but did anyone actually achieve eternal life? Tune in to learn more about modern medicine and the bizarre story of Henrietta Lacks.
- “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (goddessbnl.com)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (kwetoday.com)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (abookandabutton.wordpress.com)
- Henrietta Lacks & The SCOTUS Ruling NO on Gene Patents (3chicspolitico.com)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Part 1 (apbiology2014mathew.wordpress.com)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (tsundokureviews.wordpress.com)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (ndgarcia.wordpress.com)
About a year ago the editors of Anesthesia & Analgesia solicited a written debate on whether or not acupuncture is effective or simply an elaborate placebo. Four experienced acupuncture researchers agreed to write the pro-acupuncture article, Wang, Harris, Lin and Gan.
The article is fortunately published in open access, and so I can reprint it here (full article is below). What I think David and I convincingly demonstrated is that, according to the usual standards of medicine, acupuncture does not work.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Clinical research can never prove that an intervention has an effect size of zero. Rather, clinical research assumes the null hypothesis, that the treatment does not work, and the burden of proof lies with demonstrating adequate evidence to reject the null hypothesis. So, when being technical, researchers will conclude that a negative study “fails to reject the null hypothesis.”
Further, negative studies do not demonstrate an effect size of zero, but rather that any possible effect is likely to be smaller than the power of existing research to detect. The greater the number and power of such studies, however, the closer this remaining possible effect size gets to zero. At some point the remaining possible effect becomes clinically insignificant.
In other words, clinical research may not be able to detect the difference between zero effect and a tiny effect, but at some point it becomes irrelevant.
What David and I have convincingly argued, in my opinion, is that after decades of research and more than 3000 trials, acupuncture researchers have failed to reject the null hypothesis, and any remaining possible specific effect from acupuncture is so tiny as to be clinically insignificant.
In layman’s terms, acupuncture does not work – for anything.
This has profound clinical, ethical, scientific, and practical implications. In my opinion humanity should not waste another penny, another moment, another patient – any further resources on this dead end. We should consider this a lesson learned, cut our losses, and move on.
I suspect, however, human nature being what it is, that this will not happen anytime soon.
Read the entire article Acupuncture Is Theatrical Placebo (Anesthesia & Analgesia).
- A closer look at vitamin injections (illuminutti.com)
- Energy Medicine – Noise-Based Pseudoscience (illuminutti.com)
- A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind (illuminutti.com)
- What You Need To Know About Acupuncture (thehealthandwellnesszone.com)
- The acupuncture debate – is it over? (scienceornot.net)
- Science-Based Medicine Ebooks, Volumes 7-12 Now Available (randi.org)
- Science Journalism (theness.com)
- The Science Behind Acupuncture As Treatment For Osteoarthritis (wholesomeone.com)
I was recently asked about this article, Bedrock of vaccination theory crumbles as science reveals antibodies not necessary to fight viruses, which is a year old, but is making the rounds recently on social media. I was asked if there is any validity to the article. It’s from NaturalNews (not to be confused with NatureNews), which means, in my experience, it is almost certainly complete nonsense.
For the average consumer my advice is to completely ignore NaturalNews and Mike Adams. He is, among other things, an anti-vaccine crank. This article is written by staff writer Ethan Huff. Let’s take a close look and see if it lives up to the site’s reputation.
While the medical, pharmaceutical, and vaccine industries are busy pushing new vaccines for practically every condition under the sun, a new study published in the journal Immunity completely deconstructs the entire vaccination theory. It turns out that the body’s natural immune systems, comprised of both innate and adaptive components, work together to ward off disease without the need for antibody-producing vaccines.
He opens with a bit of hyperbole – medical science is developing vaccines for infectious diseases that respond to vaccines, not “practically every condition under the sun.” Further, his word choice marks his piece as propaganda, referring to the medical “industry” rather than medical “science.”
He takes a nose dive, however, in his next sentence – he claims that one study (already a dubious claim) deconstructs the entire vaccine theory, which is built upon thousands of studies over decades of research. The study in question: B cell maintenance of subcapsular sinus macrophages protects against a fatal viral infection independent of adaptive immunity, is not even a study of vaccines.
He claims that the study shows . . .
If alternative medicine wants to be taken more seriously, the studies must be better designed and be put in the proper context.
UK’s The Telegraph reported last month that a study published in the journal Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed that reflexology was “as effective as pain killers.” It’s a bold claim.
However, this claim is backed up by nothing in the study. In fact, all the methodological flaws encourage a reflexive rejection of the study’s conclusions.
No Control, No Power
You don’t have to be a scientist to know what questions to ask about a study. Some of the most basic are “What was the sample size?” and “Was it double-blinded?” Even these basic questions can tell you a lot about what researchers find.
The reflexology study had a sample of 15 participants, most of them women, and each received both experimental conditions (we will come back to this point later on). If 15 sounds like a small number to you, that’s because it is. In fact, because the statistical analyses they were using looked at group averages, this small number gets broken down even further. With so few participants, this study does not have the power to comment on very much. In larger studies, vexing variations between individuals “cancel out” to hit on some average value. Whether this study hit on something interesting or not, we wouldn’t be able to tell—values are lost in the large variations between so few people.
And what of the TENS treatment that was supposed to act as a placebo? One systematic review concluded that there is “no benefit of TENS compared with placebo.” Another review found that “evidence for the efficacy of…is limited and inconsistent,” in regards to treating chronic back pain. The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “treatment with TENS is no more effective than treatment with a placebo, and TENS adds no apparent benefit to that of exercise alone,” also referring to treating chronic back pain.
So, according to much larger studies, there is no reason to believe that TENS does much for pain. TENS could then effectively be a placebo, but the authors of the reflexology study . . .
- Small Study of Reflexology Finds Nothing, Headline Should Read (randi.org)
- Reflexology ‘as effective as pain killers’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Use reflexology to complement drugs in pain treatment, survey findings suggest (independent.co.uk)
- Combining Conventional Drug Therapy With Reflexology can Help in Pain Treatment (medindia.net)
Via The Soap Box
Alternative medicine is a really big business, and is practiced around the world (in some places more than others).
In some place in the world it might be practiced because the people there either can’t afford modern medicine, or more likely they either just can’t get access to modern medicine, or they feel they have no need for modern medicine because they have been taught that their local folk medicine works. In other places in the world it could be just simply that they don’t trust pharmaceutical companies.
So back at the subject at hand, alternative medicine can be basically categorized into three different types:
While many people might say that no forms of alternative medicine work, there are in fact a few that do work to some extent, they just don’t do to the extent that many of the practitioners of that alternative medicine claims, and that there are more effective (and sometimes cheaper) conventional medical practices that can be done.
Examples of this would be acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and even vitamin supplements can be categorized into this group, and that is if these things done correctly, otherwise some of these things could be not effective at all, or even dangerous.
It should also be noted that this is the smallest category for alternative medicines as most alternative medical practices are like the next two categories.
This is the largest of the three alternative medicine categories as simply put, almost all alternative medical practices just do not work at all, and is mainly based off of anecdotal evidence, rather than real, scientific evidence.
- CAM Practitioners as Primary Care Doctors (illuminutti.com)
- A brief fable about a pharmaceutical company for the benefit of believers in “alternative” medicine (scienceblogs.com)
- What are the benefits of honey as a holistic medicine? (voicerussia.com)
- Why Australia’s Alternative Medicine Regulations Need Fixing (lifehacker.com.au)
- Alternative Medicine Founder Speaks Out (dprogram.net)
“Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.”
The above quote is from a recent article for the New Yorker by Michael Specter about Dr. Oz, the most currently popular TV doctor. Specter described this sentiment as “chilling.” To me it sounds like a manifesto – a postmodernist attack on the scientific basic of modern medicine.
In my experience, this sentiment is often at the core of belief in so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In order to seem respectable and infiltrate the institutions of medical academia, proponents of CAM will say that their treatments are evidence-based and that they are scientific. They have a serious problem, however – their treatments are not evidence-based and are often grossly unscientific. Whenever someone bothers to look at their evidence and examine their science, therefore, they start to backtrack, eventually arriving at their true position, a postmodernist dismissal of science resembling Oz’s statement above. I have heard a hundred versions of the Oz manifesto from CAM supporters.
As with the postmodernist critique of science itself, there is a kernel of truth to the notion that science has its limits (which makes the sentiment more insidious). Scientists are humans, they have their biases and flaws, scientific studies are imperfect and often conflict, and there are often multiple opinions on specific clinical practices. Where postmodernists fall off the cliff, however, is in concluding from this that science has no legitimacy, that it is entirely a culturally-determined narrative with no special relationship to external reality.
This view, while flirted with by philosophers of science, has been rejected because it neglects the fact that science uses a valid method of justification. The process may be messy, but over time scientific evidence can objectively resolve differences of opinion. Experts can eventually agree on what works and what doesn’t, and from that a standard of care emerges. High quality evidence can become so overwhelming that there is no room left for personal opinion.
Short of a solid consensus, science-based practitioners can follow a hierarchy of evidence – we can base our practices on the best evidence currently available. CAM practitioners also fail to follow such a hierarchy of evidence.
MORE . . .
Recommended Reading: Top Ten Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine – Harriet Hall,M.D. (PDF)
- Are You Ready For the Oz Manifesto (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Why Do People turn to Alternative Medicine? (illuminutti.com)
- The Great and Powerful Oz versus science and research ethics (illuminutti.com)
- Dr. Oz’s miracle diet is malarkey (denverpost.com)
- Last Week In Science-Based Medicine (randi.org)
- Dr. Oz’s journey to the Dark Side is now more than complete: It’s homeopathy time! [Respectful Insolence] (scienceblogs.com)
- The Great and Powerful (Dr.) Oz, dissected in The New Yorker [Respectful Insolence] (scienceblogs.com)
- Dr. Oz’s Miraculous Medical Advice (slate.com)
Any sociological question is likely going to have a complex answer with many variables that are not easy to tease apart. We should therefore resist the temptation to make simplistic statements about X being the cause of Y. We can still, however, identify correlations that will at least inform our thinking. Sometimes correlations can be triangulated to fairly reliable conclusions.
When the data is complex and difficult to interpret, however, evidence tends to be overwhelmed by narrative. The recent Sandy Hook tragedy is an excellent example. No one knows exactly why the shooter did what he did, so it is easy to insert your own preferred narrative as the explanation.
Another example is the phenomenon of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Why has it been increasing in popularity (and is it, really?). Is it slick marketing, relaxed regulations, scientific illiteracy, a gullible media, or the failures of mainstream medicine? You can probably guess I think it’s all of these things to some degree. The most common narrative I hear by far, however, is the latter – if people are turning to CAM it must be because mainstream medicine has failed them. This version of reality is often promoted by CAM marketing.
The evidence that we have, however, simply does not support this narrative. Studies show that satisfaction with mainstream medicine is not an important factor in deciding to use CAM, that CAM users are generally satisfied with their mainstream care, and they use CAM because it aligns with their philosophy, and they simply want to expand their options.
None of this is to imply that mainstream medicine has no problems or failings – it does. We should, however, be working toward keeping and improving what works and fixing what doesn’t, not discarding science and reason to embrace fantasy as an alternative. This is often the false choice presented by CAM proponents, and is analogous to creationists pointing out alleged weaknesses in the theory of evolution as an argument for creationism as an alternative.
MORE . . .
- Why Do People turn to Alternative Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Alternative Medicine Use Common In Kids With Chronic Conditions: Study (prn.fm)
- “Mainstream” Doctors and Nurses Often Use Alternative Medicine for Themselves (consciouslifenews.com)
- CAM practitioners versus preventative medicine (scienceblogs.com)
Originally posted on the new ussr illustrated:
During a recent gathering with neighbours I found it hard to keep my cool when someone told me recent evidence had come out supporting reflexology’s credentials as a healing technique. Expressing just a touch of scepticism, ho ho, I got the irritated response that ‘science doesn’t know everything’. I’ve already treated that ‘criticism’ in my introductory ‘fountains of good stuff’ podcast, transcribed here, but I feel the need to go further in dealing with this odd line of attack, because it annoys the shit out of me.
‘Science doesn’t know everything’ is one of those semantically not-quite-right phrases that reminds me of the half-opaque lines of Ringo Starr (examples are ‘tomorrow never knows’ and ‘it’s been a hard day’s night’) that tickled Lennon and McCartney into basing songs around them. Science isn’t a sentient being as far as I’m aware – and if it is I hope it’s not a supernatural one – so there’s no chance of it ever ‘knowing’ anything.
I’ve already had a rough go at defining what science actually is in the aforementioned ‘fountains’ intro, but any definition should, IMHO, be light and provisional rather than hard and fast. Certainly it’s about reliable knowledge, and the means of arriving at it, but it’s also, as many have said, about a way of thinking, a way of life. A way of life characterised by, and fueled by, curiosity and wonder. And what better words can there be, in our language?
What is homeopathy?
Ask many people what they think homeopathy is and you’ll be told “it’s herbal medicine” or “it’s all-natural”. Actually, it is neither of these.
Few people realise that homeopathy involves diluting substances so much that there’s literally nothing left in them.
Homeopathy is an absurd pseudoscience, which survives today as a “complementary” or “alternative” medicine, despite there being no reliable scientific evidence that it works. (keep reading)
Contrary to popular belief, ‘homeopathy’ is not the same as herbal medicine.
Homeopathy is based on three central tenets, unchanged since their invention by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.
The Law of Similars
The law of similars states that whatever would cause your symptoms, will also cure those same symptoms. Thus, if you find yourself unable to sleep, taking caffeine will help; streaming eyes due to hayfever can be treated with onions, and so on. This so-called law was based upon nothing other than Hahnemann’s own imagination. You don’t need to have a medical degree to see the flawed reasoning in taking caffeine – a stimulant – to help you sleep; yet caffeine is, even today, prescribed by homeopaths (under the name ‘coffea’) as a treatment for insomnia.
The Law of Infinitesimals
Following on from his ‘law of similars’, Hahnemann proposed he could improve the effect of his ‘like-cures-like treatments’ by repeatedly diluting them in water. The more dilute the remedy, Hahnemann decided, the stronger it will become. Thus was born his ‘Law of Infinitesimals’.
James Randi Encourages Skeptics to “Overdose” on Homeopathic Medicines
- Homeopathic Logic (illuminutti.com)
- Randi and the race-car driver (skepticblog.org)
- Huffington Post explains ‘How Homeopathic Medicines Work’, without bothering to mention that they don’t (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Can Homeopathy Treat Domestic Violence? (news.discovery.com)
- A Pharmacy That Won’t Sell Pseudoscience (sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com)
- Killed by Homeopathy (thonyc.wordpress.com)
Homeopathic logic is real logic that has been diluted into non-existence. The solvent is bias and propaganda. I was recently pointed to an excellent example of this – an article written by a homeopath arguing that homeopathy is superior to modern medicine. It’s published in what appears to be an obscure rag, but it does represent common arguments put forth by homeopaths so it doesn’t really matter.
Here is the main point of the article:
There are many differences in both the disciplines of medicines. Let’s just focus on one main difference and that is the fact that none of the homeopathic medicines introduced during the last two hundred and fifty years was withdrawn from the market.
The author, Asghar Ali Shah, uses the term, “allopathy” throughout the article. This is a derogatory term used mainly by critics of science-based medicine, and immediately reveals the author’s bias. In the statement above he is also trying to present homeopathy and mainstream medicine as two “disciplines of medicines,” which is a false equivalency. This is a common tactic of fringe beliefs, to appear as a viable alternative to the mainstream, followed, of course, by arguments for its superiority.
Homeopathy, however, is a prescientific superstition that is at odds with basic science, and not just medicine but physics, chemistry, and biology.
Ali Shah’s argument is that real medicine has side effects, and sometimes need to be pulled from the market, while homeopathic potions do not have side effects and are never withdrawn. Ironically, he is actually making an argument for that fact homeopathic products are both worthless and not science-based.
Homeopathic products (mostly – some products labeled homeopathic may have active ingredients) do not have side effects because they do not have any effects. Most are diluted well past the point of having any active ingredient. What is left is ultimately just a sugar pill – a pure placebo.
MORE . . .
I call this kind of information “Brain Works.” All about how the brain works. I think (i HOPE) you’ll enjoy …
Vaccine hysteria is a trend of mistrust of vaccination that is almost as old as the technique itself. “Anti-vaxxers”, “vaccine deniers”, or “anti-vaccinationists” blame vaccines, or their ingredients, for a range of maladies whose mechanisms are rejected or have not been explained by current scientific research. Some of these maladies can often be childhood illnesses in order to increase the emotive factor of the argument. The ubiquity of vaccination often makes it an easy target for blame.
Vaccine-preventable diseases have been a major cause of illness, death, and disability throughout human history. The advent of the modern vaccine era has changed this significantly; most North Americans and Europeans have little memory of a pre-vaccine era where diseases such as mumps and measles – to say nothing of smallpox or polio — were common and often deadly.
Keep Reading: Vaccine hysteria – RationalWiki.
- Author talks about autism-vaccination hysteria at state Immunization Summit (wvgazette.com)
- Doctors Ramp Up the Vaccination Hysteria (txwclp.org)
- Doctors Ramp Up the Vaccination Hysteria (lewrockwell.com)
This is very funny stuff.
For example, here is the definiton of “Power-Potential Vibration Levels“:
Power-Potential Vibration Levels (PPV) believes that our general health is fundamentally linked to the state of the brain and the hands. It believes that if something is wrong with the brain, there is a problem with the nervous system. The PPV practitioner views the brain as the backbone of human health: misalignments of the hands causes pressure on the spinal nerve roots, leading to diminished function and illness. Through manipulation or adjustment of the brain, treatment seeks to analyze and correct these misalignments. The therapy can take the energy that is in the brow, metabolize it, and return it to you in a more usable form. On average PPV-therapy can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. Sessions typically take 10 minutes and take place every one to two weeks PPV can be very helpful for skin itching, nerve damage, emphysema and toxicity.
Sounds very fancy shmancy, new agey, crystal-energy-chakra-like. Doesn’t it?
Problem is, this is randomly generated new age gobble-dee-gook courtesy of a site called “the official inspiration generator for alternative medicine.”
As the creator of the site explains:
This experiment was started from the observation that alternative therapies are typically using vague, almost absurd description. You will find that an alternative therapy often
- refers to the age of the therapy (older = better)
- refers to far away/mysterious countries (oriental is preferred)
- has a very broad reach (it is useful for everything)
- has a vague number of sessions and session duration
- links itself to a recognized science
- refers to authorative figures (“Dr.” and “MD”)
I have put all of these observations in the ‘generator’.
Take a walk on over to the official inspiration generator for alternative medicine, click the button and have a laugh reading the latest new age sounding horse poop.
Very funny stuff.
There are a lot of different types of medical quackery out there, and while some might be harmless, many tend to do more harm than good.
Here is a list of what is, in my opinion, the The Five most Dangerous types of Medical Quackery.
Having your neck ‘clicked’ to relieve pain may do more harm than good – and could even cause a stroke, scientists have warned.
Reiki Is Nonsense
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Reiki is one of several nonsensical methods commonly referred to as “energy healing.” These methods are based on the idea that the body is surrounded or permeated by an energy field that is not measurable by ordinary scientific instrumentation. The alleged force, said to support life, is known as ki in Japan, as chi or qi in China, and as prana in India. Reiki practitioners claim to facilitate healing by strengthening or “balancing” it.
Reiki has no substantiated health value and lacks a scientifically plausible rationale. Science-based healthcare settings should not tolerate its use, and scarce government research dollars should not be used to study it further.
Read more – Reiki Is Nonsense.
Also see The Skeptic’s Dictionary: reiki
Comedy hour! Read, laugh, enjoy!
In a nutshell: Therapeutic touch is a kind of energy medicine. Those who do therapeutic touch wave their hands over a patient’s body to fix their energy. The science says there is no such energy.
Keep reading: therapeutic touch.