Like it? Share it!

Sign up for news and updates!






Enter word seen below
Visually impaired? Click here to have an audio challenge played.  You will then need to enter the code that is spelled out.
Change image

CAPTCHA image
Please leave this field empty

Login Form



The Wall Street Journal Debunks the Myth of Alternative Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Harriet Hall   

We frequently criticize the media for gullible reporting of pseudoscience and inaccurate reporting of real science. But sometimes they exceed our fondest hopes and get it spectacularly right. On December 25, 2008, the Wall Street Journal gave us all a Christmas present: they printed an article by Steve Salerno that was a refreshing blast of skepticism and critical thinking about alternative medicine.

Salerno points out that 38% of Americans use "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) and it is being increasingly accepted in hospitals and medical schools. He says this should be a laughing matter but isn't because of the huge amounts of money being spent on ineffective treatments. Not to speak of the huge amounts of money being wasted on implausible research at the NCCAM.
He highlights a painful irony: the same medical centers that once fought quackery are now embracing it, not because they think it will improve patient care, but because it will increase their revenue.

Salerno quotes Dr. George Lundberg, one of the many who have said there is no such thing as CAM. There can be alternatives within medicine (like which antibiotic to choose) but there can be no "alternative medicine." There is only medicine that has been proven to work and medicine that hasn't. If science showed that an "alternative" treatment really worked, it would be promptly and enthusiastically incorporated into standard medical practice and would no longer be considered "alternative." So the very term is misleading.

"Alternative medicine" is not a scientific concept. It is a political, ideological ploy intended to raise public respect for a mishmash of untested, unproven, and even disproven treatments that are rejected by the scientific community. We used to call those treatments quackery, folk remedies, untested, belief-based. A rose by any other name...

Why should we have "alternative" medicine if we don't have "alternative" engineering? Dr. Mark Crislip wrote a brilliant satire entitled "Alternative Flight." 

He says,  "Americans want choice....People need to be free to choose their mode of flight based on alternative concepts of gravity and alternative airplane design....you can focus your Qi dong to harmonize with the airplane to decrease the mass of the airplane and provide a more efficient forward motion. Or collapse your personal wave function to arrive at your destination early."

It's easy to see why alternative flight is nonsense. Why is it so hard for most people to see that most of "alternative" medicine is equally nonsensical? Most people are smart enough not to fly on an "alternative" airplane, but they're eager to fork out $125 for an hour-long session of DNA Activation Healing, they buy water disguised as homeopathic remedies, and they let reflexologists treat their gallbladder by pressing on their feet.

For most of human history, people used medicines recommended by friends or tradition. Sometimes they worked; sometimes they didn't. Then humanity discovered a wonderful thing: the scientific method. Medicines could be tested to find out the truth about what really worked. Alternative medicine is a step backwards: it asks us to forget about good science and believe in testimonials, untested treatments, irrational, and even disproven treatments.

I can hear readers now, saying "But some of those treatments might really work." Maybe, but only science can tell us which ones. Science doesn't waste time testing every crackpot idea; it has to choose promising avenues of research. Would you want to divert funds from cancer research to re-evaluate the efficacy of bloodletting for balancing the humours? Or to re-examine all those alleged perpetual motion machines?  It may have been reasonable to test St. John's wort; but it is not reasonable to keep testing ultra-dilute homeopathic remedies. It is not reasonable to keep looking for a mythical chiropractic "subluxation" after a century of failure to find it. It is not reasonable to fund studies on "therapeutic touch" unless someone can demonstrate that "human energy fields" exist and can be detected by nurses' hands.

Is there any "alternative" treatment that was ever tested, found to be effective, and subsequently incorporated into standard medical practice? I don't think that has ever happened except for herbal remedies. Herbal remedies are a special, plausible subset of "alternative" treatments in that they contain active ingredients with physiologic effects. They are drugs. Plants are regularly evaluated by scientific pharmacology. Many of the remedies touted by "alternative" advocates have not been properly tested by pharmacology, usually because they don't offer enough promise to warrant further testing.

Foxglove was a folk remedy for heart disease. It clearly worked. The effects were robust and consistent, not marginal and erratic like so many alternative remedies today. It was promising enough to warrant proper scientific testing. It was analyzed, purified, and a standardized product was developed. It had side effects and the therapeutic dose was dangerously close to the lethal dose, so scientists developed a synthetic variant that was safer. Today we can buy a Digoxin pill with a precise dose instead of crushing a foxglove leaf and taking potluck.

Is foxglove an example of an alternative medicine that was adopted by scientific medicine? Not really. It's simply a good example of science in action.

As Bob Park says in his book Superstition, if it's not science, it's superstition. There is only one kind of medicine we can trust: science-based medicine. We should be trying to weed out every vestige of superstition in scientific medical practice, not embracing new superstitions from alternative medicine. Thank you, Wall Street Journal, for the injection of sanity!

Trackback(0)
Comments (33)Add Comment
...
written by Kuroyume, December 30, 2008
Superb, crisp reasoning with a direct counter-argument to these types of notions as 'alternative'. They are only 'alternative' to 'known efficacy'.

As I mentioned in another Swift article, my friend thinks that Intelligent Design should be put up for examination aside Evolutionary Theory because science has to be open to all hypotheses and that, since it might have merit (a slim chance) it might prove useful. Well, my answer is: to a certain extent. Once a hypothesis or hypothetically beneficial treatment fails to deliver on, if not general practical ground, fundamental grounds, it should be abandoned. Homeopathy is a hypothesis that failed and continues to fail not just on practical grounds but on fundamental grounds (maybe even sane grounds since the idea that diluting the substance out of existence still retains some beneficial factor quotient in the solution requires circumventing all known laws of physics and chemistry!).

Intelligent Design has really been relegated solely to the realm of abiogenesis since there is not a shred of evidence for continued intervention in the Evolutionary process. The best we can expect is that some genius ID proponent can show that certain events (such as asteriodal/cometary impacts or cataclysmic environmental changes) cannot be explained scientifically (best o' luck on that). The watchmaker might make the watch but he never adjusts the timepiece. The intelligent designer (eh hem: god) is cast into a role of initiator and observer thereafter. More god-o-the-gaps in my opinion. Again, god only does things for which we do not yet have a more definitive explanation.

I love science. smilies/cheesy.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +5
...
written by Kimpatsu, December 30, 2008
I, too, love science, but what exactly is your black dream...?
(Hey, first two posters, and we both have Japanese user names! It must be one of us channelling the other... or not.) smilies/grin.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -2
...
written by Kuroyume, December 30, 2008
My black dream? That Bush declares himself Emperor of the First Galactic Empire and leads us gleefully into the next theologic dark age with his clone army. smilies/cheesy.gif

The name is from a Japanese rock band with a couple of songs that I like (esp. Like@Angel - if you read inbetween the lines, this song is about sexual gratification).
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -1
...
written by Kimpatsu, December 30, 2008
All I have is blond hair...
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -4
...
written by Marcus Hill, December 31, 2008
I have friends who say I'm close minded due to my refusal to give credence to their favourite "alternative medicine". I invariably reply that I am, in fact, completely open minded. I'm entirely willing to use any form of medicine whatsoever, no matter how bizarre. All I ask is that its efficacy be proven in reproducible randomised double-blind placebo controlled trials which are reported in respected peer reviewed journals. If they say that's a big ask, I point out that it's exactly the same hurdle I use for "conventional" medical treatments.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +18
...
written by Geoff, December 31, 2008
I didn't see a link to the original article. I apologize if I missed it.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123024234651134037.html
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
WSJ comments
written by Marcus Hill, December 31, 2008
I just took a look at the comments on the WSJ site and they are disappointingly pro-woo. Unfortunately, you need to subscribe in order to comment there - if any of the rational folk reading this have a subscription, please try to add an air of sanity to the proceedings!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +6
...
written by AMFCook, December 31, 2008
This week I received the winter adult education pamphlet from the local school district. The following classes are listed in the book:

Herbal Healing
Emotional Freedom Technique - Never heard of this. This is the description: EFT is a techinque that involves tapping with your fingertips on energy centers of the body while focusing on an issue, problem, or addiction.- Uhmm hmmm!

Energy Healing - Explore ways to unleash the power of your inner healing energy. Learn about the energy field that may surround you along with the seven major energy wheels and the body systems that they represent.- We have wheels in us?

$23.00 for each course.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
I wrote the Journal piece
written by iwroteSHAM, December 31, 2008
I hope this doesn't sound too self-serving, but what would be enormously helpful in this shared endeavor is for people to send supportive feedback directly to The Wall Street Journal, congratulating them on commissioning pieces such as this. As you may be aware, any time you publish a piece like this in a mainstream setting--even a literate/sophisticated setting like the Journal--you're going to provoke an avalanche of emails from people who (a) complain that you're "against progress" and all of your facts are wrong, and (b) wish for you to contract some exotic rain-forest microbe and die an agonizing death. (I'm certainly aware of it, as the person who wrote the article and receives the emails.) A number of these people have already commented to that effect on the Journal's site. It always helps when editors see that there's some appreciative feedback to counterbalance that kind of outcry (which, in my experience, is often an organized protest).

Anyway, thanks for the mention. It was a labor of love, believe me.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +39
...
written by bosshog, December 31, 2008
The increasing acceptance of (or perhaps reluctant resignation to) CAM may be partly laid at the doorstep of Holy Diversity. To refuse to take folk remedies seriously is tantamount to denying the folk themselves and is seen as cultural bigotry and Big Science. Also, modern medicine is so complex that most common people can't get their heads around it. To many it seems as magical as therapeutic Touch or Bioreflexology and so all are taken as equally viable. Also, modern medicine frequently fails or is unequal to the challenge. This creates a strange situation in which the legitimacy of CAM is supported by the fact that both approaches often leave the patient dead. The religious mindset contributes as well: belief in God is only a step away from believing in Madame Gazonga's Healing Hands.
The term "allopathic medicine" is frequently used today in connection with modern medicine and should be avoided by reasoning people. It originated as an "alternative" to homeopathic medicine and means basically "opposite heals opposite" which gives modern medicine a sinister, negative aspect when compared to the gentle embrace of the "like cures like" of homeopathy.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +4
Contacting WSJ
written by EricLR, December 31, 2008
While you need to subscribe to WSJ to comment, you could find a contact email here: http://help.wsj.com/contact-us/ to let them know rational people appreciate these kinds of articles.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +3
Comic
written by julianrod, December 31, 2008
The comic on the WSJ is great!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Referred WSJ Article and Dr. Hall's Comments to AARP
written by MDeaver, December 31, 2008
In my ongoing effort to get AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) to tread carefully and do better research when they write articles in their publications about CAM, I referred them to the WSJ article and to Dr. Hall's comments about that article on this blog.

My comments to AARP were in a follow-up email to one I had sent several days ago. See http://www.randi.org/site/inde...mment-1243 for a copy of the original email.

As an AARP member myself, I would hate to see them mislead their members on CAM.

Dr. Hall: In my follow-up email to AARP, I suggested they consider contacting you for advice when they are preparing future CAM articles. I did not reveal your contact information, merely pointing them to your SkepDoc home page if they wish to ever contact you. I hope I haven't overstepped my bounds in doing this. Obviously, you are free to help them or not as you see fit if they ever contact you.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Don't thow out science
written by ashomsky, December 31, 2008
There’s a link on wsj.com that says “register for free,” so I did that and attempted to post a comment on this article. However, the website seems quirky and I don’t think it worked. I don’t see my comment there so I guess not. I’ll post it here but I feel like I’m just preaching to the choir:

Human beings in general are hugely inept at judging the efficacy of medical treatments and one can hardly deny that we are highly prone to mistaking useless treatments as useful. The scientific method has been an admittedly imperfect but still spectacularly successful aid in separating myth from truth and represents a great step forward in human thinking. “Alternative medicine” is alternative only because it hasn’t been proven to be effective by the scrutiny of the scientific method to the satisfaction of the scientific community. That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t effective; it just hasn’t been proven yet.

Unproven alternative medicines are indistinguishable from placebos, and some alternative medicines, even the most credulous of us must admit, are certainly nothing more than placebos. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all alternative medicines are placebos; I couldn't know that for sure. But how is one to judge which are useful and which are not? Anecdotal evidence is unreliable to say the least; one could easily collect a list of sincere testimonials for fraudulent treatments. The only reliable way to determine a treatment’s usefulness is through scientific studies. Those treatments that pass muster after proper testing will be welcomed into the fold as standard medical practice, and we all benefit.

It is true that the scientific method does not guarantee success. However, dismissing science is like saying “people still die in car accidents despite wearing seatbelts and using airbags, so let’s just get rid of seatbelts and airbags.” The scientific method, like seatbelts and airbags, is helpful but not infallible. As Carl Sagan said, “it’s just the best we have”, and throwing it out is a huge step backwards.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +5
...
written by Kuroyume, December 31, 2008
My biggest quip is that these alternative medicines typically skirt around the required clinical tests because they don't fall under pharmeceutical or medical regimes. By being 'herbal supplements' or 'massage 'therapies'', they slide under the regulatory radar even if they claim real medical efficacy. Ephedra was a killer and it was allowed to be sold without prescription because it was labelled as 'herbal'. I should sell some foxglove or hemlock as 'herbal'. These will cure all your ills (since you might be dead).
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Alternative?
written by kenhamer, December 31, 2008
This should be a laughing matter, but it isn't -- not with the Obama administration about to confront the snarling colossus of health-care reform.


Perhaps he could pay for the "alternative medicine" with "alternative money."

http://elcofrecito.net/wp-cont..._money.jpg
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +4
Perhaps this is the Problem?
written by GusGus, December 31, 2008

Modern medicine has worked wonders. With the development of vaccines, steroids, antibiotics, and opiates physicians appear to be able to work miracles. This has led to unrealistic expectations by the general public. Not everything is treatable and/or curable. However, MOST of the time we go to the doctor we are prescribed one of the wonder drugs and everything is OK in a short time. Even self-treatment with aspirin has wonderful results most of the time. We learn from this to expect wonderous results EVERY time! Of course, that's unrealistic, but that's what experience teaches us. If people don't get the wonderous results from scientific medicine, they seek wonderous results elsewhere.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by Kuroyume, December 31, 2008
This is the problem with public perception. Modern medicine (and science) isn't a 100 percent perfect solution to anything. It is a slow, progressive, methodical gathering of information that leads to better solutions over time. We can't cure AIDS. We can't cure cancer. This isn't because medical science doesn't work. It is because medical science is humans trying to understand extremely complex things. The alternative is to be simplistic and offer some mumbo-jumbo and say that it cures it without any real backing or understanding (alternative medicines). I'd take Spock's 'best guess' over some fuzzy bull any day of the eon.

The public wants expediate, authoritative solutions. And that is a weakness in humans which has always led to bad decisions and exploitation. The hard facts are that it takes real work to do real things and it doesn't come easily. The old mantra remains true always - if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. This should be taught every year from kindergarten to Ph.D. just to reinforce a bit of skepticism at random claims of efficacy without objective backing.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
On behalf of the credulous
written by DrMatt, January 02, 2009
On behalf of the credulous, let me point out that they are the same species as us. We're all susceptible to the same kinds of delusions, errors, and frauds. So they remind us to never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never relax the controls of science...and to always publish our results, whether we like them or not.

I'm frustrated by recent reports of confirmation-bias in drug trial publication (http://www.sciencenews.org/vie...ublication) but heartened that scientists and science writers are exposing the ploy and fighting back, demanding truth. This shows not that science is intrinsically corrupt but rather that there are motivations for people to pass off corrupt practices as if they were science--i.e., science is prestigeous. That's exactly why "CAM" departments sought validation at research hospitals.

Medical centers are shrinking to cut costs now; we'll see whether they cut their "CAM" departments as cost centers doing redundant research on implausible topics with no benefit to patients, or retain them as market-based hopes for eventual moneymaking regardless of patient impact.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +3
...
written by ashomsky, January 02, 2009
DrMatt

Good points. As Carl Sagan pointed out, one of the great virtues of science is that it has self-correcting machinery built-in. When scientists make a mistake, it is other scientists that correct it. We all make mistakes, which is human, but some refuse to acknowledge they may be in error while others are open to the possibility. Whether you happen to be right or wrong in a particular instance, this attitude of assigning an appropriate level of certainty is of key importance.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Doesn't skeptic mean questioning everything?
written by plantfood, January 03, 2009
I think we need to be careful that as skeptics we don't automatically agree with everything that fits our worldview, either. If we do, if we automatically accept any account that says something we in our gut feel is wrong, then we are as bad as people who blindly follow the faith of their parents.

One important thing to note is that alternative medicine does not necessarily mean non-Western medicine. I have a friend who is a naturopath who prescribes Western medications as well as herbal remedies. Most of my friends (mostly athiests and skeptics) use naturopathic medicine. The difference is that naturopathy sees the whole body as an inter-related system that has to be taken as a whole, that illness has to be taken within context.

I am not a conspiracy theorist and I am always skeptical of anything reaking of paranoia. However, I think we also need to take into account the plethora of articles (including mainstream articles) about drug companies monopolies on their products, their suppressing research that goes against their own moneymakers, etc. Where would funding to test something that appears to work and is very very cheap come from? It is not in the drug companies best interest to fund such things. I am not saying this is widespread or even particularly common but I do think it is something to consider.

I have never believed in even herbal remedies but through friends forcing echinacea down my throat at the onset of illness, I do believe it has immune system elevation properties. Consumer Reports agreed with this assessment on that remedy alone. Yet this has not been tested by the FDA and probably never will be. Yes I saw above that herbal remedies are considered to be possibly effective but the discussion also says that if things worked they'd be sold as medicines not herbs. That's contradictory.

The other thing to think about is the power of the mind. I don't mean psychic minds, I mean the power we have to convince ourselves that something works even if it doesn't. My hypochondriac mother takes a lot of medication that works and way more that doesn't work. But she also frequently finds homeopathic remedies that work for her. Of course they don't work for me--I don't believe in them. So how can you say alternative medicine doesn't work? It works, just not the way the taker thinks it does: it's not the medicine but the person's own mind that makes it work. If the end result is the same, who are we to say it's bogus?

I'm just bringing this up because I believe my duty as a skeptic is to question *everything*. I am not a theist but I am not an athiest either. I cannot prove there is a god but I cannot prove there isn't one. I don't believe in God but I cannot say with certainty their absolutely isn't one, either. (I'm 99.9% sure there isn't but still...) There are lots of things I pretty much believe in, such as atoms and electrons and black holes that I cannot see or prove, either.

Anyway, as someone above said, let's be a little more tolerant of believers and remain focussed on the deceivers.

Remember, less than a century ago psychiatry was an alternative medical practice and the idea that doctors would ask about a person's stress levels as related to their health was laughable. Just because it isn't mainstream doesn't mean it's wrong.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -3
...
written by plantfood, January 03, 2009
More observations:

ho·me·op·a·thy
A system for treating disease based on the administration of minute doses of a drug that in massive amounts produces symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the disease itself.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.


Any vaccine fits this definition.

Randi asks "Is there any "alternative" treatment that was ever tested, found to be effective, and subsequently incorporated into standard medical practice? I don't think that has ever happened except for herbal remedies."

Modern medicine changes its mind, too. (Should babies be put on their stomach or on their backs to sleep? Huge reversals several times over the past two decades by the medical establishment on this issue.

A woman having a baby at home with a midwife is alternative medicine.

Accupuncture has been proven scientifically and yet it is considered an alternative medical procedure. An example:
http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/0306987795901175

The term alternative medicine is just too general.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -8
The difference between vaccines & homoepathic preparations
written by Trish, January 03, 2009
Whether the vaccine is a live vaccine or a killed vaccine, it causes changes in immune system cells. Immune system cells, being alive, cna reproduce, and increase in number and, therefore, effectiveness.

The inert substances used in homeopathic preparations cannot increase in number in the way that living cells can. When inert substances are diluted and the diluted liquid is divided into separate containers, the more-diluted are going to be less effective than the un-diluted. When the dilution is so great that it's impossible for there to be even a molecule of the original substance in most of the containers of diluted "preparations", it means there is nothing available to be active.

Think of this, if water really had a memory of things that had once been dissolved in it, or in adjacent water, then all water would be salty, sulufrous, and otherwise poisonous and unpleasant to injest.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by The SkepDoc, January 04, 2009
Plantfood, you are sadly misinformed.

1. Naturopathy does not have a monopoly on treating the whole body and treating the illness in context: that is exactly what good scientific medicine does. Naturopathy is a bizarre mixture of evidence-based and belief-based ideas. See: http://www.quackwatch.org/01Qu...pathy.html which concludes "the average naturopath is a muddlehead who combines commonsense health and nutrition measures and rational use of a few herbs with a huge variety of unscientific practices and anti-medical double-talk."
2. Echinacea has been tested and has been found not to work.
3. Alternative mediciine certainly does have placebo effects. Of course, placebo effects work only on subjective symptoms, not on anything that can be objectively measured. You are using the "what's the harm as long as you think it makes you feel better?" argument. Check out the What's the Harm website. Fuzzy thinking kills. Placebos are unethical. The truth matters.
4."Let's be more tolerant of believers" - no let's not. Let's encourage everyone to use their critical faculties and to go by evidence rather than by belief.
5. Psychiatry was never classified as alternative medicine.
6. "Just because it isn't mainstream doesn't mean it's wrong." Very true. But unless it has been tested and proven to work, there is no reason to think it's right.
7. Anyone who thinks vaccines can be compared to homeopathy doesn't understand either.
8. "Modern medicine changes its mind." Yes, and that's the strength of the scientific method. When new evidence shows that something doesn't work, we give it up. Can you think of a single instance of alternative medicine ever changing its mind or giving up a treatment they have proved ineffective?
9. A woman having a baby at home with a midwife? Essentially the same as a woman having a baby in the hospital with a certified midwife. Not alternative, just more risky because of delays if emergency intervention is required.
10. Acupuncture has not been proven scientifically. Read Snake Oil Science, Trick or Treatment,and http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=252

report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by Steel Rat, January 04, 2009
The WSJ also debunks the myth of Global Warming, but get soundly criticized for it.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
rebuttal. ;)
written by plantfood, January 04, 2009
Trish, I completely agree that the homeopathic remedies you describe are ridiculous. I was just saying that the word homeopathic is as vague as alternative medicine. My mother takes these weird little black balls she sticks under her tongue. No water involved. I still don't believe they work but they don't fit under the description of homeopathy mentioned above.

Steel Rat, that's funny.

Skepdoc,

I am not misinformed about naturopathy. You are getting your definition from a biased source. Have you ever been to a naturopath? Have you ever looked at the curriculum at a naturopathic college? I live in Seattle, home of Bastyr, one of the best naturopathic medical schools in the world. There are definitely some quacks out there, but not all. And I never said they had a monopoly on holistic healing. However, they focus on it whereas it has only recently become a focus in mainstream medicine.

Echinacea has been tested and found not to work and to work by different scientific communities. Take a look at who is funding the research to determine the bias. Besides, the original statement above validated herbal remedies. The efficacy of them was not the issue.

Alternative medicine is a new term. Psychiatry was mainstream before the term was invented. It was definitely NOT mainstream for a VERY long time and is still considered "soft" by many. Now you're just getting into semantics.

I did not compare vaccines to homeopathy. I was simply saying the definitely of homeopathy is vague as well and does not include just water essences. However I do NOT believe homeopathy works. You clearly did not even try to understand what I was saying because you are as narrow minded as the people you are judging which is my point.

As to number 8, that just shows how little you know about alternative medicine. There are so many different types and different practitioners who believe different things that to say that they all agree and never change their minds is absurd. Chiropractic, Chinese medicine including accupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy are all types of alternative medicine. Most people I know who go to naturopaths have regular physicians as well and don't believe in homeopathy either. They have discarded it.

How long have insurance companies been funding midwives? It's a controversial issue because mainstream medicine does not believe that a midwife is legitimate without a doctor standing next to her. The US has a much higher neonatal mortality rate than Europe despite the fact that more of our children are born in hospitals.

Some quotes from a compilation of statistics by a woman who did not have a preference before doing her research:

* A study in Australia found a perinatal mortality rate of 5.9/1,000 out of 3400 planned home births (Kitzinger 41).
* Joseph C. Pearce states in his landmark book Evolution’s End that homebirthed babies have a six to one better chance of survival than a hospital-birthed child (117).
* A study in the Netherlands done in 1986 on women who were having their first babies showed these results: out of 41,861 women who delivered in the hospital, the perinatal mortality rate was 20.2/1,000. Of 15,031 women who delivered at home with a trained midwife, the rate was 1.5/1,000 (Kitzinger 44). I know, I thought it must be a typo too.
* Marsden Wagner, formerly of the World Health Organization, states that every country in the European Region that has infant mortality rates better than the US uses midwives as the principal and only attendant for at least 70% of the births (Jones 2). He also states that the countries with the lowest perinatal mortality rates in the world have cesarean section rates below 10% (Jones 13). How does this compare with the US rate? Miserably.

Number 10, again, you are using very biased sources. I gave you a source from an accredited university, not a website who has an agenda. Your references are as unreliable as a fundamentalist christian referring me to Focus on the Family for their "facts."

You didn't even understand my point because you just proved it again by only hearing what you want to hear. If someone goes to a doctor and does not get better by "accepted" medical practices and seeks alternative medicine which they feel relief from, it is not your business to tell them they are wrong.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -5
On rational thought
written by plantfood, January 04, 2009
(I forgot to mention that I do not go nor have I ever been to a naturopath. I don't agree with everything they do and prefer mainstream medicine myself. I have worked for a hospital, though, in a new innovative, dare I say "alternative" program focussing on preventative medicine for chronically ill patients and really hated the rigid mindset of the rest of the hospital.)

I believe in rational, critical, logical thinking. But there are things we take as fact today that would have seemed fantasy a few hundred years ago. Things we see as fantasy and absurd now will be proven facts another hundred years from now. If we close our minds to the possible, without even accepting that maybe, just maybe, our experiences are not all there is, then advancement is not possible. Science begins with "what if?" If you close those doors tight, do not allow people to ask "what if" and instead say, "no, it can't be" then you are dooming our world to the dark ages.

You cannot know everything. You cannot possibly have all the facts. The universe is infinite as is what is knowable. Just because something is not true in your experience does not make it never true. My only point, which you have missed entirely is simply that as skeptics we should be questioning ourselves as well as everyone else.

"Unanswered questions are far less dangerous than unquestioned answers."

4."Let's be more tolerant of believers" - no let's not. Let's encourage everyone to use their critical faculties and to go by evidence rather than by belief.

There is a huge difference between agreeing with and tolerating. You can tolerate someone's beliefs while still questioning them. You can tolerate them while still avowing your own beliefs and exposing those people to new ideas. Intolerance is one of the biggest problems in the world today and you can't expect people who differ in beliefs from you to tolerate you without you tolerating them back. (Freedom of religion and freedom from religion go hand in hand and both ways.)

I actually agree with almost everything you all and Randi say (which is why I posted on this thread. It actually shocked me.) I just think some here are too adamant, too black and white, and as self-righteous as the people we condemn. People won't listen to what you have to say if you go out there to change their minds with that attitude. Some of the most amazing change in the world has come from religious leaders who believe things I do not: Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Dalai Lama, Jesus. But I do agree with nonviolence and peace. Do you condemn them because they do not think "rationally?" Or do you take what they say that matters and tolerate their religious beliefs? Even Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist of our times, was not an athiest.

"Unanswered questions are far less dangerous than unquestioned answers."

We are not always right. Maybe most of the time but not always. smilies/wink.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -2
...
written by The SkepDoc, January 05, 2009
plantfood,

You remind me of the person who cancelled his subscription to Skeptic when they started publishing my SkepDoc column - he said it was OK to be skeptical about some things, but if we were going to be skeptical about alternative medicine that was going too far!

I won't get into an argument here. The arguments you offer have all been proffered and demolished on http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/ For instance, I addressed home births at http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=64

I would strongly urge you to read Trick or Treatment - it is a book by the world's first professor of alternative medicine a former homeopath who wanted to believe alterative medicine worked and who has looked at the science behind alternative medicine and concluded: "While there is tentative evidence that acupuncture might be effective for some forms of pain relief and nausea, it fails to deliver any medical benefit in any other situations and its underlying concepts are meaningless. With respect to homeopathy, the evidence points towards a bogus industry that offers patients nothing more than a fantasy. Chiropractors, on the other hand, might compete with physiotherapists in terms of treating some back problems, but all their other claims are beyond belief and can carry a range of significant risks. Herbal medicine undoubtedly offers some interesting remedies, but they are significantly outnumbered by the unproven, disproven and downright dangerous herbal medicines on the market." As for naturopathy, he says, "Many lifestyle recommendations of naturopaths are valuable, but a general judgement about the wide variety of naturoopathic treatments is not possible. Each naturopathic treatment must be critically assessed on its own merits, and it is likely to be coveed elsewhere in this appendix. For any serious condition, naturopathy should not be seen as an alternatibe to vonventional medicine."

If you are going to seriously advocate for alternative medicine, you owe it to yourself to read that book, as well as Snake Oil Science. Spending some time on the Science-Based Medicine website will help you understand my reasoning (which is identical to that of most skeptical doctors).

Scientists don't claim to always be right or to know anything, but science is the only way to find out whether a belief is right. You seem to be arguing for untested beliefs. I am surprised to see such an argument on the JREF site.

By the way, I have no objection to people using irrational or belief-based treatments: I only object to the misrepresentation of those beliefs as based on good science when they are not.

You call SBM a "biased source" - yes, it's biased in favor of rigorous science, reason, and critical thinking. So is JREF.

report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
SBM
written by BillyJoe, January 06, 2009
Skepdoc,

If it's any consolation, one of the reasons that I renewed my subscription to Skeptic magazine is that your articles appear there. smilies/smiley.gif


Plantfood,

Science Based Medicine = Plausibility + Evidence

Homeopathy, acupuncture, and chiropractic have zero plausibility. There is no qi or chi. There are no meridians. No subluxations. And "like cures like" is a nonsense. The only reason to conduct proper sceintific (double blind placebo controlled) trials on claims that have zero plausibility is because the science ignorant public use these treatments despite their zero plausibility.

SBM is the way to go if you want to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Good luck!


"Let's be more tolerant of believers"

Let's show respect to others as fellow human beings - provided they show similar respect to their fellow human beings (ie I'm excluding charlatans here). Let's not, however, give their ideas the same respect (or tolerance) unless and untill they can provide evidence that their ideas are correct.


BTW: It's neither here nor there, but Einstein was an atheist.

regards,
BJ
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by sfdyoung, January 10, 2009
Plantfood, it may not be correct that those little black balls your mother sticks under her tongue have no water involved.

It's a misconception that all homeopathic remedies are water-based. Accepted diluents for homeopathic remedies are water, alcohol, and sugar. In some cases, the homeopathic solution is prepared in water or alcohol to the proper dilution, and then dropped onto tiny round pills. I've heard that the pills are sugar, but I don't know that for sure.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by BillyJoe, January 31, 2009
I've heard that the pills are sugar, but I don't know that for sure.

Yes, it is "milk sugar" or lactose

Another sugar is "fruit sugar" or fructose
And "table sugar" is sucrose

BJ
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Follow-up: AARP and CAM
written by MDeaver, February 08, 2009
Follow up to my comment earlier in this blog post:

Here's part of a response I received from the AARP to my email
protesting their cavalier publishing of CAM claims in their AARP
Magazine:

"On behalf of President Jennie Chin Hansen, thank you again for
sharing your concerns with AARP regarding a recent AARP Magazine
article about Complementary and Alternative Medicines. We
appreciate hearing from you and have taken note of your comments.
Views like yours represent a critical resource for shaping the
legislative policies of AARP."

This response email was written to me by a person in their Member
Communications department.

Well, I guess it's better than no response, although it's vague and
does not promise any retractions of what they published, nor does it
promise any other actions on their part. I can only hope that I've
helped them decide to take a closer, skeptical look at CAM claims in
the future.

Notes:

AARP used to be known as the American Association of Retired Persons.
They're an advocacy organization, based in the USA, for older Americans.

The article in their magazine, some of which I objected to in my
emails to them, is here:
www.aarpmagazine.org/health/drug_free_remedies_chronic_pain.html

A copy of my email objecting to CAM claims in their article is here:
www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/355-hands-licensed-to-kill.html#comment-1243
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by feralboy, March 09, 2009
If I collapse my personal wave function, won't I then become a bunch of particles? Wouldn't I end up in different places than I normally would, like with the double-slit experiment? And didn't John Denver have an alternative airplane? I'm sorry, that was cruel.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0

Write comment
This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comment.
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.

busy