Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, December 04, 2004

How Can Intelligent People Use Alternative Medicine? ; It is Not Harmless to Profit From Selling Lies to Sick and Dying People

Posted on: Friday, 3 December 2004, 06:00 CST

RedNova News - How Can Intelligent People Use Alternative Medicine? ; It is Not Harmless to Profit From Selling Lies to Sick and Dying People

This summer, I was sitting in a diner in midtown Manhattan with a small posse of evangelicals from Tennessee. They were explaining why they were delegates to the Republican National Convention - "Because the President is doing the Lord's work in Washington" - and I was trying to resist the urge to drown myself in a bowl of tomato soup. Suddenly I was distracted from their fundamentalist blather when I noticed that one of these 21st-century disciples was quietly flicking through a book called What Would Jesus Eat?

Oh, it's the best way to lose weight," she said. "You should try it. It's simple. You eat what Jesus ate, and the Holy Spirit works through you and sends your fat to heaven." She handed me the book which has, it turns out, sold more than two million copies. The author, Don Colbert, beams on the back cover, explaining that "Jesus wants YOU to be thin."

What do you eat, I asked: Hundreds of baskets of loaves and fishes, and some watery wine? "Yes, that's right," she said matter- of-factly, and a quick flick through the book showed she was right.

Last week I was telling a friend about this, and we chuckled at the unscientific superstitions of red-state America. Then she glanced at her watch and gathered her stuff quickly. "I have to go," she said, "I'm going to be late for my homeopathy session."

Hello? If you are one of the six million Brits who use "alternative medicine" - now a pounds 1.5bn-a-year industry - you cannot sneer at the Jesus Diet dupes. There is no more scientific evidence for the alternative treatments that now fill a corner of every chemist in Britain than for the Jesus Diet. Every homeopath and practitioner of alternative or "Chinese" medicine in this country is as scientifically respectable as Don Colbert.

Yet 40 per cent of GPs' surgeries in this country already provide some alternative medicine services, and the Tories this week stepped up their campaign in defence of alternative medicine.
The reason we all scoff at the Eat-Fish-For-Jesus plan is that it confuses two things: science, which is based on measurable facts, and "spirit", which is based on imagination and delusion. There is an exact parallel with the alternative medicine industry. The evangelicals believe the Holy Ghost is working through their stomachs; the practitioners of "ancient Chinese medicine" base their "treatments" on a mysterious energy flow called "Qi", which cannot be detected by physics or biology. What's the difference? Both are unscientific fictions - yet people like my friend who roar with laughter at the evangelicals will nip in for some unscientific "herbal treatment" on their bad back.

The defenders of alternative medicine - like the scientific illiterate Charles Windsor - say it is "a spiritual cure" that treats "the whole person and his relation to the cosmos", as opposed to "cold, rationalistic science". There's only one problem: their treatment is - like the Jesus Diet - an absurd lie. It doesn't work. The journalist John Diamond - when he was dying of cancer - offered to give pounds 10,000 to a charity of Prince Charles' choice if he could offer a sliver of proof for his claim that alternative treatments could heal a cancer patient.

Richard Dawkins, one of Britain's most eminent scientists, explains why, by definition, alternative medicine doesn't work. If a particular alternative treatment can be shown before a panel of qualified doctors to work, then it isn't called "alternative" any more. It's just medicine. "`Alternative' is another word for `ineffective'", he says.

Whenever a journalist points this out, a cascade of furious e- mails bursts forth. "But I was cured by aromatherapy/acupuncture/ snake oil!" they say. But a certain number of people will react positively to any treatment - even a completely worthless one - if they believe strongly enough that it will work. So of course alternative medicine very occasionally works; anything does. But can it be proven to be more than a placebo? We don't need to speculate about this. An overview of the thousands of studies of alternative medicine was recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It found that "none had performed better than a placebo... They had no specific effect beyond suggestion." It's official: alternative medicine is a con.

Some people might shrug and assume alternative medicine is a harmless Western indulgence. But how can it be harmless to profit from selling lies to sick and dying people? Materialists can offer you cures; spiritualists can only ever offer you honeyed lies. How can we consider it harmless when our public figures say that real medicine - which has eradicated horrific diseases like smallpox from the human condition - is equivalent to "spiritual" non-medicine, which has eradicated no diseases ever?

So keep visiting your homeopath if you like - but please don't imagine you are any better than the evangelicals waitin' for the Lord to send their triple chins to Heaven.

j.hari@independent.co.uk
Source: Independent, The; London (UK)










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