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Medical Alternative medicine

  1. Apr 23, 2012 #1
    The following, rather depressing, article from the Economist highlights the growth of alternative medicine currently.

    Well, obviously one should try to keep a healthy diet and get regular exercise! I get very frustrated when people take this to the other extreme and say things like "big pharma companies don't want you to know, but homeopathy can cure everything". I know plenty of people who practice this at the cost of forgoing regular medicine altogether because "it has chemicals". There is absolutely no way of getting through to these people. As the article says at the end "Misplaced faith has its costs." Should governments start branding the sale of such medicine illegal? Should medical schools start teaching how to interact with patients (if they don't already do so)?
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  3. Apr 23, 2012 #2


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    I saw a commercial with Dr Oz, his show was about alternative medicine and it showed people banging on bowls and other nonsense that would do absolutely nothing to prevent or cure illness. (he promotes alternative medicine) And people believe this stuff. WHY?
  4. Apr 23, 2012 #3


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    A lot of reasons, potentially.

    The "clutching at straws" phenomenon. Wishful thinking, as in the case of people with terminal illnesses that (real) medicine cannot cure, they may be in denial, and cling on to a desperate hope.

    Mistrust and skepticism of the medical and pharma industry. When scandals are publicised about doctors and "big" pharma, some members of the public adopt a blanket defensive cynicism.

    Advertising, and lack of regulation with respect to it. The public is inundated with lots of info, both good and bad, about "alternative" treatments. As the lay public are not specialists and lack discernment, they cannot critically evaluate the claims made, and place the same degree of faith in them that they would in proper medical advice.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect: exacerbating the problem above, it is often the case that the more incompetent someone is, the less able they are to recognise the magnitude of their own incompetence. So a patient may mistakenly think he knows better than a seasoned medical professional, because he overrates his own competence. This is compounded by the mistrust/skepticism I alluded to earlier.
  5. Apr 23, 2012 #4


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    I'm dealing with this in my direct family. It is extremely frustrating and grieving to watch this person spend thousands of dollars on complete nonsense. No matter how much evidence I show them, they still believe this quackery.
  6. Apr 23, 2012 #5


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    Two things to add to this:

    Lack of understanding/communication; this is partly a failing of the education system and partly a failing of the scientific community to not play a bigger role in rectifying the problem (the Royal Society in the UK is starting to pay attention to the latter). People aren't taught what exactly science is, if I was in charge of education then all science classes would include a module on the scientific method every year so that everyone knows that it's a process and not a body of people with dogma. We've also got to remember that the public gets its information from media sources so from their perspective they've just got a bunch of people in white coats saying X and a bunch of other people in white coats saying Y.

    Tradition/culture; in Asian communities alternative medicines are far more common and are intertwined with culture. This has a negative effect on that community as a whole and also has a wider effect as people look onto said culture and think "they all do it therefore there must be something behind it."
  7. Apr 23, 2012 #6
    According to the National Science Foundation 20% of Americans still believe the sun revolves around the earth and 70% believe in psychic phenomena. In the wealthiest country in the world these kinds of percentages can't be dismissed as a lack of access to information or even innate stupidity. Believing the sun revolves around the earth can't be dismissed as something promoted by religious institutions or whatever. Clearly these people are grasping at straws in a winner-takes-all society that encourages them to grasp at straws.

    You can mock people for grasping at straws all you want, but in some cases it has proven its value. For example, children in poor neighborhoods who attend church services have higher grades. It has nothing to do with how religious their families might be and the effect doesn't occur in wealthier neighborhoods. Psychologists speculate it promotes what they call "resilience" or the ability to bounce back quickly from extreme stress and crisis. That such effects might also account for increased interest in alternative medicine goes without saying.

    It's interesting that the OP mentions getting exercise and eating a healthy diet, but avoids the subject of mental health altogether. It is the classic dualistic mindset of western society. The AMA was confronted with this issue ten years ago when a British study showed that, all other factors being equal, job related stress determined how long people lived. Should the AMA now get involved in issues such as work place bullying? My own view is that until the overwhelming underlying dysfunctions in society that promote such behavior are addressed you might as well be spitting into the wind and attempting to deal with it in a purely intellectual manner is pointless.
  8. Apr 23, 2012 #7


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    While I can't dispute the claim that the "grasping at straws" method can help build "resilience," I do not believe that entertaining bogus ideas is the best way to to do so, nor do I believe it to be necessary, ever. Build "resilience" with methods that don't completely undermine the foundations of science.
  9. Apr 23, 2012 #8
    As I have already alluded to it is an economic and cultural issue rather then an intellectual one. The growing majority of the world's thriving democracies are all secular and even in the US religion has been on the decline for the last 40 years. As economies have thrived and entitlements grown people have evidently felt less of a need to grasp at straws in the first place and more of a desire to support scientific alternatives. You could argue that the scientific evidence supports using the carrot instead of the stick in such cases.
  10. Apr 23, 2012 #9
    The fact that it's called "alternative" medicine and not just "medicine" should be a red flag to these people.

    I remember talking to a guy at work who bought that book "cures THEY don't want you to know about", or something like that.
    He was telling me about it, and I felt bad for having to tell him he wasted his money, but I had to do it. I told him how the guy who wrote the book is a conman who writes fraudulent books for a living, preying on desperate and ignorant people.
  11. Apr 23, 2012 #10
    That's what we have been discussing. The simple fact is these people often don't trust the government or science and why should they? The government supports gross income inequality, perpetual war, and last year even seriously debated allowing the military to suspend habeas corpus altogether and round people up like cattle into camps. The single largest manufactured export in the US today is weapons and that's what a great deal of all that scientific research goes into. Trust and respect are things you have to earn and complaining about that simple fact of life does not earn trust and respect.
  12. Apr 23, 2012 #11
    Why does one not trust science just because one doesn't trust the government? I don't understand why science gets lumped into the government category.
  13. Apr 23, 2012 #12


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    Probably because "everyone knows" that all scientific research is done at the behest of the government.
  14. Apr 23, 2012 #13


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    Maybe both are part of "them" :rolleyes:.
  15. Apr 23, 2012 #14
    Some 80% of all research today is done by corporations, another 10% by governments, and only the remainder is done by universities and private institutions. The idea that science is some sort of abstract practice divorced from big business and governments, which in the US are very intimate bedfellows, is laughable.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2012
  16. Apr 23, 2012 #15


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    I think the lure of alternative medicine is the same as the lure of the supernatural, and new age mysticism.

    I'd feel safe betting that a high percentage of people that believe in alternative medicine also believe in the above.

    Oprah Winfrey is greatly responsible for the popularity of it. She touts alternative medicine, spiritual healing, and a lot of other questionable beliefs.


    The Newsweek article.

  17. Apr 24, 2012 #16
    That's no reason to abandon the scientific method and critical thinking. People don't trust the government or big corporations; that's fine. It's good that people are skeptical, but it seems like they're selectively skeptical. They don't trust the government, but they'll trust some nutcase who says they can lay on hands and cure what ails you.
    Out of those two choices, the scientific research provides the most realistic option, while the alternative option is quicker and makes promises of grandeur that lure people in. It's not that people really don't trust the government and corporations so much that they refuse real scientific treatment, it's that the alternative medicine makes claims that can't be topped.
    I think people know deep down that alternative medicine is most likely bunk, but they need to make excuses to help convince themselves that it works to make themselves feel better.
  18. Apr 24, 2012 #17
    I do not favor at all alternative medicines, but am an 'atheist' of conventional medicine too. I think that 80% of doctors thinking comes from an ideological and cultural background, not from a sound scientific reasoning. When I was young and decided to become vegetarian I could here lots of doctors telling me how dangerous it is, science shows that... Today a balanced vegetarian diet is accepted by almost every nutritionist. But now I'm vegan too, and again lots panic when I tell this. Despite the fact that there is today sufficient scientific evidence that shows how this is perfectly possible and reasonable, most physicians got stuck in their ideology and continue to repeat an old song. I don't believe in or practice any alternative medicine, if not a form of self-healing of my own, but I deeply mistrust the medical mind set based on fear and a superficial view of mind and body. Most of the things I got to hear from them turned out to be simply wrong, that had nothing to do with critical thinking but is based on a belief system which is the alter ego of that of alternative medicines. And friends of mine who are so worried about my health however are regularly ill for some reason or another and have to visit doctors one or more times a year. Me it is 25 years now that I don't step into a doctor's studio and am perfectly fine. I think it is quite natural that people become skeptical. It is perhaps not so much that alternative medicines are gaining ground, but the allopathic one is loosing it. And not without good reasons.
  19. Apr 24, 2012 #18


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    I'm sure that doctors vary from country to country. In the US, where I am, I would say doctors are more in line with current medical science.

    You do know that a vegan diet is not healthy/sustainable without supplements, either separately, or pre-added to the food by the manufacturer. I prefer to get my nutrients naturally by eating a balanced, healthy diet.
  20. Apr 24, 2012 #19
    Every diet, if not balanced isn't healthy/sustainable. It is a general rule. And when it is, the only supplement a vegan should take care of is the B12 vitamin. Apart from that there is nothing that vegetables, legumes, cereals and fruits, can't supplement. And they do it even more 'naturally'.
  21. Apr 24, 2012 #20
    Oh snap, nice retort.

    I wonder if the research directives come from the marketing department for that 80%.
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