My remarks on alternative medicine evidently pushed some buttons. Jacob of Family Medicine Notes commented on yesterday’s post: "You are joking right? These people are doing research. I don't get why you would discount something just because it is not mainstream big-pharma funded. If a well-researched alternative to the traditional treatments turns out to be effective - I would call this SCIENCE .. and your knee-jerk rejection of all things "integrative" to be the pseudo-science. Shame on you!"
Wow. Where to begin. Jacob reminds us that research is being done. I acknowledge and applaud high quality research in CAM. Note the proviso high quality. If, for example, the large NIH sponsored placebo controlled chelation therapy trial demonstrates benefits for patients with coronary artery disease I’ll accept chelation as something that works. Mainstream or not the real distinction is between health claims which have been scientifically proven to work and those which have not.
Other notions proffered for “research” are, in my considered opinion, exercises in pseudoscience---attempts to validate claims that have been debunked and have no biologic plausibility. What’s the point of looking for clinical effects of energy fields undetectable by instruments of physicists and Star Wars forces left behind in water after active ingredients are diluted out?
A strict empiricist might object to my requirement of biologic plausibility, but I maintain a line must be drawn. Otherwise we might as well burn the chemistry and physics books and study every claim that comes along. Why stop with Therapeutic Touch, Homeopathy and Reiki? Let’s go on down the slippery slope and fund studies of astrology, telekinesis and shamanism. And while we’re on the subject of energy medicine why not resurrect Franz Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism? If only we do enough research his claims will surely be validated. (Discredited in the 18th century, Mesmer would likely be on faculty at a medical school today).
But it’s not so much the research I criticize as the uncritical promotion of baseless methods. Jacob thinks I'm pseudoscientific. Is it pseudoscientific to be skeptical, ask questions or require proof? Having now elaborated on the basis for my objections I hope Jacob and other readers will not regard my opinions as knee-jerk. Finally, I’m afraid I’m missing Jacob’s point about big-pharma funding---it hasn’t entered into my opinions on pseudoscience.
If it seems I’m beating the drum on pseudoscience, I have a distinct purpose: exposure. People who expect institutions of medical education and health care to be based on rigorous science and intellectual integrity need to know what’s going on. Or maybe I’m just full of negative energy.