26 June 2012

‘Alternative’ medicine is just as anti-scientific as creationism

The concept of ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ (CAM) carries a tacit rebuke of ‘mainstream’ medicine. CAM advocates use the terms ‘complementary’ and ‘alternative’ to suggest that mainstream medicine is only one option on the healthcare menu, and therefore it has no right to claim that it’s the only valid kind of medicine. The CAM faithful shore up their position with postmodernist twaddle that rejects the very idea that there are objective, testable and efficacious methods to determine what kinds of medicine work, or don’t.

This sort of ‘my-truth-is-just-as-true-as-your-truth’ subjectivism is used by pushers of homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture and other woo to paint science-based medicine as a conspiracy by arrogant ‘experts’ and know-it-all scientists trying to shut down the competition. It’s a good way for woo-mongers to play the heroic rebel fighting against the tyranny of the establishment. This victim/rebel mentality is on display in this excerpt from the introduction to a CAM conference:

The popular experiences of alternative healing, DIY and free and open source technology are everyday experiences of the contemporary individual. These experiences are being conceptualised by Fuller (2010) as ‘anti-establishment science movements’ which tacitly challenge the highly socially positioned ‘scientific expert’, the social agent of the establishment science. In the field of health, these movements are challenging the biomedical domination in the field. One of the responses to deal with the authority challenges has been the absorption of selective alternative healing practices (such as acupuncture, homeopathy) into the established health systems while reasserting the central place of biomedicine with continued usage of the referents ‘alternative’ and ‘complementary’.

Neurologist and woo-buster Dr Steven Novella has shown in a blog post just how full of fail this paragraph is. Here’s my favourite part of his savaging:

The notion that “science” is just another narrative is absurd. At its core science is a set of methods for looking fairly and objectively at all available evidence, isolating variables so we can make some judgments about their individual contributions, carefully defining terms, and using consistent and valid logic. If “science” is rejected as a socially determined narrative, then which aspect of science are they rejecting, specifically? In practice what CAM advocates are promoting is the selective use (cherry picking) of evidence, not isolating variables (mixing variables so that effects are confused), using sloppy methods, poorly defining terms, and using invalid or inconsistent logic. If you read the criticisms of the “social agents of the establishment science”, for example here or at Science-based Medicine, you will find countless documentations of such bad intellectual behavior on the part of CAM advocates. That is the core of our criticism – bad thinking, bad evidence, bad logic leading to unreliable conclusions that all seem to be biased in a certain direction.

CAM-ists and creationists share a similar attitude towards facts and reality: they twist, ignore and cherrypick the former to create their own imaginary version of the latter.


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