The persistence of alternative medicine demonstrates our ignorance in modern science

Our love affair with alternative “medicines” still demonstrates that as a species, we still have a lot of growing up to do. The persistence of reiki, acupuncture, crystals, homeopathy, and just about every other bullshit “medicine” is due mainly to the mysterious placebo effect, which seems to suggest our bodies respond positively to treatments, even when they do nothing at all.

I think we can easily dissect this phenomenon if we accept human beings are social animals who require just as much comforting as real medicine. A person who visits a homeopath is often given a great deal of time and attention, much more than they would going to the doctors. This simple act alone has a profound effect on the health of the “patient”, and it’s what makes fighting this flim-flam so difficult.

I think it’s sad the gap between medicine and well being is being filled with nonsense. I would be lying if I claimed it didn’t at least help some people heal faster, but I also can’t forget about all the people who have died because they chose alternative medicines rather than the real thing. I’ve often been asked “is it ok to believe in a lie if it’s comforting, or is it always better to tell the truth?”. On an individual level it’s hard to argue that the truth is better, but that’s only if you discount the external effect of one’s belief. Think about all the people who have died because they refused to listen to the truth about their diseases (Andy Kaufman, why did you fall for such a simple scam as psychic surgery?). Do you really believe that ignorance is a virtue, people?

Comments (7)

  • avatar

    Numerous

    Actually, I’m pretty sure there’ve been double blind trials for acupuncture with 1 “dummy needle” which doesn’t penetrate the skin, but is indistinguishable from the normal acupuncture needle. It got good results.

  • avatar

    Numerous

    Besides, the theory behind it isn’t that bad, it just isn’t that effective.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    What do you mean “the theory behind it isn’t bad”? Meridians? Chakras? These are good theories? The measure of whether or not a theory is sound depends on what it predicts. Acupuncture predicts only one thing: that people are fucking gullible.

  • avatar

    AussieYank

    I tend to think of this as a social-evolutionary pressure. Those groups that are not willing to take advantage of the ingenuity that has been an inherent part of our climb up the food chain tend to perish because of it. I honestly wonder how many ancient humans sat around disparaging those around them that used the first spears or the first simple bow and arrow.

    “Damnit, if god wanted us to use a sharpened stick he would have designed us with a sharpened limb! …wait, what are you doing?? No! Stop! RESPECT MY BELIEFS!”

    The beauty part of the human experience has been our ingenious nature that has allowed us to make such awesome discoveries as antibiotics, medications, and the thousands of now-commonplace diagnostic techniques and tools that have made it possible to extend human life.

  • avatar

    Nachtfalter

    Actually, there have been various studies that prove correctly applied acupuncture to have effects different from simply poking people with needles randomly. I’m most familiar with one commissioned by a German health insurance company (which has consequently started paying for acupuncture treatments). I’m aware that there are also studies that seem to suggest the opposite, but it would be factually incorrect to claim acupuncture was useless with absolute certainty.

    My personal doctor has recently started using acupuncture to support orthodox Western methods in some cases (like light headaches, weight issues, fatigue, dizziness and things like that). I did lose over 20 pounds after starting getting acupuncture, although I wouldn’t say the Chinese needles were the only or even the most important factor in that. I don’t know, I’m not an expert, but my doctor studied medicine for years, so I trust her judgment. Obviously, acupuncture isn’t going to cure cancer nor could it ever be thought of as an alternative to orthodox treatment, but it’s at least conceivable it can function as an effective supplemental treatment.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    ^ You credit losing 20 pounds from getting poked with tiny needles?

  • avatar

    Nachtfalter

    No, I credit losing 20 pounds to eating less. But I credit being able to eat less partially to getting poked with needles ;)

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