Re: Alternative medicine (was Ethics)

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Thu, 2 Jan 1997 23:33:56 -0800 (PST)

> Very good. Like anything pioneering, the establishment, with its
> respected authority, declares newness as quackery, without scientific
> proof. It happens with ANYTHING that advances ANYTHING. The status
> quoers always fear change, and will use propaganda and paranoia to
> protect their status.

And this emotional, contentless analogy is relevant to something?

> WHile you demand scientific anlysis of such quackery, you do not demand
> scientific analysis of your opinion of quacks. Very hypocritical and
> unscientific...Using anecdotes to form your opinions?

But I /do/ demand analysis and criticism of my opinions. If you have
anything of substance to offer, please do. I do not, however, hold
opinion--anyone's opinion--to the same standard of proof as medicine,
simply because opinions don't kill people like quackery does. If you
have another opinion, please express it, and show me the facts that
give rise to it, and the reason behind your conclusions from those facts.

> And today's quackery is often tomorrows allopathy. How many shamans
> herbs are now big profit drugs?

The ones that have been shown to work by responsible scientists.

> > The nature of most alternative medicines is mysticism. Authorities
> > are revered over results--the older the authority, the better.
> Maybe thats because they have centuries of anecdotal evidence that in
> sum adds up to a statistical analysis.

If they do, then they should publish those statistics in a peer-reviewed
journal, search for explanations for why they work, test them under
varying conditions, and otherwise behave like scientists so that they
can /show/ us that they work, not just /tell/ us. Authority by itself
is utterly meaningless. Authorities in science gain stature by how
often their ideas come to coincide with reality, and how often others
try to disprove them and fail.

> And "Allopathic" doctors know the power of the placebo to heal. Pure
> faith has the property to induce the body to heal itself. I know an
> anesthesiologist who is a good freind, who just was confirmed into the
> Catholic Church because he finally had one too many experiences of so
> called "miracles" happen before his eyes. One was a patient who had a
> near death experience come back to tell him many things about his own
> family members who were dead. WEIRD. I can't say I beleive him, but he
> is one of your so called "allopathic" scientific doctors.

If his Catholicism is for reasons of family or culture, I might
forgive a moment of weakness. But if he honestly expresses to me
the belief that theology is a proper method of epistemology, I
would not hesitate to find myself another doctor. But I suspect
that he still thinks leprosy is an infection and not a judgment
from God; that he does not believe in the virgin birth. In short,
I suspect that the same abilities of his mind that led him to
become a doctor rather than a psychic healer are still there, even
if he is momentarily confused by emotional reactions.

> And how many "allopathic" medical procedures eventually turn out to be
> more harmful than helpful to patients? let me count the ways......

Quite a few. There's a whole field of medicine called iatrogenics,
devoted to conditions caused by medical treatment. But that field
of medicine evolved precisely because doctors saw the reality of it,
and created the study based on the facts as they were, not based
upon old authorities or prejudices or mystic theories. Knowlege
changes as facts emerge. This is not a reason to reject our earlier
reasoning--indeed it is an opportunity to verify it.

> how many drugs are indtroduced which have more harmful side effects.
> Here's some shocking statistics for you: Over 10,000 people die each
> year due to prescribed drugs conflicting, inducing allergic reactions,
> or being switched. Guess how many people died from nutritional
> supplements, herbs, marijuana use, and natural hormonal supplements: 2
> and they were both from Ma Huang taken in overdose.
> WHich is more harmful?

Shameful abuses of medicine by doctors who should know better has
utterly nothing at all to do with the moral deficiency of alternative
practitioners. I refuse to sacrifice my mind to "us/them" thinking.
Taking sides is an intellectually lazy way to avoid finding principles.

You fail to consider the lives lost by those who forsake traditional
medicine for the sake of admittedly harmless but ineffective alternatives.
Sure, nobody ever died taking feverfew, but how many took it instead
of seeing a doctor and died of pneumonia? Nobody died from Laetrile,
but how many people died of the cancer they were treating with it
because they abandoned radiation and chemo? How many people have
masked minor aches and pains with DMSO and later found a serious cause
too late to treat it?

And in the long run, how much brain power has been wasted memorizing
chi lines that could have been devoted to studying something that
might have actually helped people? How much money has been spent on
garlic tablets that might have been spent at a hospital that does
real research?

I don't have numbers on any of that, because my arguments were not
pragmatic, but moral. I suspect, though, that the pragmatic costs
of the flawed reason of alternative practitioners is significant.

> A child with a ruptured spleen can choose either the
> > scientifically verified method of surgery, or the older authoritative
> > method of prayer. There are no guarantees either way, but odds are he
> > will survive in the first case and die in the second. A woman with
> > headaches may well find comfort and ease of pain with acupuncture. But
> > if they were caused by a brain tumor, her delay in seeking reponsible
> > diagnosis could kill her.
> Yet healthful, nutritionally balanced living will prevent both.

Nutrition won't stop you from getting into a car crash, or from
getting any number of organic diseases like cancer. Germs find
everyone; viruses find everyone. 100% prevention is not possible.
When the inevitable disease does happen, I will use the standard
of reason, not mythology, to choose my course of action, and I hold
others to the same standard of action.

> Acupuncture is scientifically recognised to reduce pain by stimulating
> natural production of endorpins.

It may well be possible to stimulate such production by means of
needles (though I suspect it is a placebo effect). That doesn't
mean that studying lines of chi is moral. It means that some old
folks may have stumbled onto to something that worked, and then
invented a mythology to justify it, rather than using proper
reason to prove it and find out why.

> Personally, I think that you are ignorant and are just spouting off. I
> highly suggest that you do some real balanced research on what studies
> have been done. Your opinion does not equal the weight of the studies
> that have been done by real MDs and PhDs and ARE out there.
> I was once a big skeptic like you, but I was also ignorant. I then did
> some research, and my opinion changed.

I am not a skeptic, I am a rationalist. And I must repeat myself,
because I keep being misinterpreted: it is /not/ any specific practice
that may or may not work to which I object; it is the method by
which it is evaluated that matters. It is the methods of the quacks
who list anecdotes and wildly anti-scientific jargon on labels that
make them morally deficient. Some of this stuff, as you quite
properly point out, might actually work. But the charlatans are
more interested in selling bottles and books than in doing the real
research to prove it or disprove it. I have nothing but respect for
honest scientific researchers who investigate anything strange. And
I have nothing but disdain for those who sell false hope to the
sick /before/ the research is in, and who use deliberate evasions
of reality to boost their sales.

Another chant I contantly hear from mystics is to "keep an open
mind". But isn't the mystic, who tenaciously clings to a belief
after years and years of evidence to the contrary, the one who is
closed-minded to the possibility of reaching a conclusion other
than the one he started with? Mystics start with conclusions;
skeptics never reach them; a rationalist makes rational conclusions
from evidence and reason.

I like one of Sagan's analogies: Fred claims that there is a
fire-breathing dragon in his garage. We open the door and see
nothing. "Oh, it's an invisible dragon" he says. OK, then we'll
spread sawdust on the floor and look for footprints. "Oh, it's
a weightless invisible fire-breathing dragon". Well, let's raise
a fog in the room, and see if we can see its outline. Sorry,
it's a non-corporeal dragon. Hmm. Can we measure the temperature
in the garage when he breathes? No, it's not that kind of fire.

A mystic would say "There's a dragon, trust me. Someday I'll
find a way to prove it to you. Until then, I'll just assume it."
A skeptic would say "There is no dragon until you prove it to me
beyond any shadow of a doubt, and even then it might be illusory."
A rationalist, like me, says "There might be a dragon, but your
method of reasoning is flawed. I will not act on the assumption
that there is a dragon until I have some evidence--reasoning
from facts to concepts, not the other way around. Until then, I
feel quite comfortable concluding that there's no damned dragon."