Sunday, July 15, 2007

Is conventional medicine a cult?

Journalist and health crusader Mike Adams recently blasted conventional medicine with a tirade entitled The false gods of scientific medicine revealed: It's a cult, not a science. I would have dismissed the article (pointed out by Science Blogger Mark Hoofnagle) as just another piece of anti-science trash but for something that piqued my interest in a certain way.

Let me explain. I have long puzzled over some activist groups which criticize the pharmaceutical industry for its corrupting influence on science but are silent (or worse yet, promotional) concerning the implausible and unproven claims of alternative medicine. Adams’s article may help resolve the inconsistency. It reinforces an idea I considered before when I tried to reconcile the American Medical Student Association’s Pharm Free campaign with its promotion of quackery: that the purveyors of pseudoscientific woo share a common mindset with anti-Pharma activists. As I posted on this subject about a year ago:

That suggests a common thread in the AMSA’s seemingly contradictory positions: the notion that Big Pharma is leading a medical-industrial conspiracy to suppress research in (and the integration of) alternative methods.

Adams’s depiction of mainstream medicine as a cult certainly has a conspiratorial flavor. (And if you wonder whether or not he pushes woo, decide for yourself after you take a gander at his web site).

So, let’s examine some of the claims in the article. From the opening paragraph:

…what passes for "science" today is a collection of health myths, half-truths, intellectual dishonesty, self delusion, fraudulent reporting and wishful thinking.

Though Adams engages in a bit of hyperbole here I’ll meet him half way and acknowledge that there are some shortcomings in the application of conventional medical science. The problem is, aside from a few testimonials his arguments for his own incredible health claims amount to little more than bashing mainstream medicine with exaggerated and often baseless statements, such as:

This is how doctors have come to believe the incredible: That food has nothing to do with health, that antioxidants will kill you, that herbs interfere with drugs, and that only drugs can treat or cure disease.

These straw man positions have been advanced many times before. It would be amusing, I’m sure, to see Adams try and provide evidence that doctors believe food has nothing to do with health or only drugs cure disease.

Adams goes on---

Mainstream media stories that parrot the cult-like beliefs of conventional medicine are the singing of the church choir, and the altar boys getting sodomized in the back room by high priests are like the public being chemically assaulted by pharmaceuticals. (A kind of "medical violence" perpetrated against the general public.)

And there’s this:

All drugs get an automatic thumbs up, no matter how ludicrous the underlying science, while all natural therapies are automatically and routinely criticized by skeptics who equate their own lack of understanding with proof that something mysterious can't possibly work. They say homeopathy can't work, for example, simply because they can't find any mechanism to explain how it could work.

Well, not quite. Many drugs have been rejected by mainstream science, based on clinical trials. As for homeopathy, the “mechanisms” that have been purported have no plausible basis in chemistry or physics.

Rather than pick apart the rest of the article I’ll jump down to this little gem:

Cholesterol drugs, for example, may artificially lower cholesterol numbers, but they completely ignore the root cause of elevated cholesterol. This is why cholesterol drugs have been scientifically proven worthless in preventing heart attacks or other fatal cardiovascular events.

One little problem with that. It disregards the overwhelming evidence proving cholesterol drugs quite effective in preventing heart attacks and other fatal cardiovascular events.

The piece concludes with:

After the collapse of Western medicine, real health care will inevitably end up returning to its roots: The healing power of nature.

The irony of that statement is that all too many of today’s “natural” healing claims are based on anything and everything but an understanding of nature.

By the way, Hoofnagle’s post does a good job of debunking Adams’s claims about chemotherapy and biomarkers.


angry doc said...

"After the collapse of Western medicine, real health care will inevitably end up returning to its roots: The healing power of nature."

Such as smallpox? :)

Anonymous said...

Much of pharmacopeia is based on 'the healing power of nature', such as aspirin, penicillan, also what is used to treat malaria. That's my understanding. Medical/pharmaceutical researchers are forever testing various plants and animals around the world for potential treatments for disease. Without this age-old research into nature (nature includes chemistry, does it not?), and pharmaceutical companies paying for such research in hopes of finding cures (and making a profit), people would still be dying at young ages for lack of any treatment for many diseases.

Abuse can arise in any undertaking, but you have to know that the claims of the 'back to nature' activists against Western medicine are spurious when they refuse to acknowledge any good in it.

If anyone is a cultist, it is those activists, not western pharmaceuticals and doctors.

Personally I take a variety of vitamins and supplements, doing what research I can on each one, and testing on myself to see whether my life is improved. BUT, I would never rely on such to cure a disease. And would never consult a naturopath, chiropractor or accupuncturist or massage therapist, etc. I'd want the best Western medicine care available. And I suspect Mr. Adams would, too, if he found himself with cancer. Cult leaders are notorious hypocrites.

beajerry said...

Nice post!

All extremists are cultish in their thinking.

Anonymous said...

i agree with the anonymous post. i have been a massage therapist and have worked in the healing arts for over 5 years. i do feel alternative therapies can help with quality of life issues. however when it comes to serious diseases and conditions the individual should always consult a doctor. there is corruption in all organizations and institutions. and the pharmaceutical/health care industry is no exception. however at the same the alternative community is corrupt and operates in a cult like fashion. many alternative institutions and teachers promote the idea that alternative healing is a panacea. both western and alternative medicine have alot to offer. but western medicine is a money based system and alternative medicine is a cult. the best advise when consulting either group is "let the buyer beware."