Medicine until proven quackery

Consider the attitude toward science expressed in this article on homeopathy.

The doctor’s primary concern is to offer a cure, or at least comfort. Ruminations about its scientific basis come later…Unless homoeopathy is unequivocally proven to be quackery, which is not the case, it is irresponsible of doctors to bar access to it. It smacks of scientific fundamentalism.

The stance here is clearly one of ‘medicine until proven quackery’.

But that’s nonsense. If you have a substance that you would like to have authority figures (doctors, say) offer to people under the guise of medicine, certainly you should first have to produce some level of evidence that you aren’t just selling snake oil. If medicine is medicine until proven quackery, that opens the door to anyone making a claim about something being medicine and operating a business until expensive scientific studies are able to falsify their claims.

Unfortunately, that’s precisely the situation we are in. Medicine is medicine until proven quackery. Fortunately, we get to call it ‘alternative medicine’, but on the other hand, people still call it medicine.

If you watch videos such as this

or if you read scientific studies such as this one on increasing our understanding of how acupuncture works, you would be lead to believe that these alternative medicines are on the verge of being vindicated by science. Only now are scientists learning what alternative healers have known all along.

No. Rather, scientists are learning something that nobody knew. If alternative healers understood their discipline, they would have told scientists exactly what to look for and there wouldn’t have been 175 years of null results in randomized controlled studies. If the scientists are indeed uncovering new knowledge that will eventually vindicate alternative medicine, it is not based on things the alternative healers were telling them. Of course, alternative healers will be happy to come out of the woodwork and claim they had been saying it all along (they weren’t).

So, it seems that is the price we have to pay for the ‘medicine until proven quackery’ attitude. Charlatans are allowed to profit for centuries, praying on the desperate and as long as they keep saying ‘science will come around, science will come around’, no body seems to be able to hold them accountable.

The lesson is that medicine is ‘quackery until proven medicine’. If a healer is genuine in wanting to help patients, it stands to reason that they should be concerned with high standards of evidence. Beware healers who are not.


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