The Ministry of Alternative Stuff

I was saddened, rather than surprised, to discover that the US government had set up an office of complementary and alternative medicine.  Why not surprised? Because this, after all, is America, the land that gave us intelligent design, but still, it set me back a little to discover that they actually had an entire civil service department to promote such horseshit.

What is this about alternative medicine?  If it makes you better, it’s medicine.  The end.

You never hear people demanding an alternative pilot flying their plane, some guy who rejects the traditional view of aerodynamics and tells you the plane will be ok as long as everyone projects good feelings and drinks herbal tea.  No indeed.  A character like that at the controls would be stormed by the passengers and killed on the spot.   When we fly, everyone demands hard science to prove the goddamned thing will take them safely to their destination.

Would you get into a plane if you knew the wings hadn’t been tested properly?  Of course not, and yet that’s exactly what people do when they rely on untested remedies.

Nobody goes to an alternative dentist.

The Department of Alternative Fishing?  Talk nicely to them and the fish will jump into your net.  No.  It doesn’t happen.

The Ministry of Alternative Transport?  Forget wheels, wings and water.  We’ll astrally project ourselves wherever we need to go.

Nope. That don’t work neither because it’s bullshit.

In every area of our lives, we rely on solid scientific evidence before we take a chance, except in the most vital thing of all — our health.

Why is it that  in this area alone we allow bullshitters, bunco artists and con-men to sell us ridiculous, unscientific remedies based on absolutely nothing?

Your car has to be tested.  Why not your medicine?

If it’s medicine, it’s not alternative.


69 replies on “The Ministry of Alternative Stuff”

I’m not sure Bock.I felt quite awful this morning after yesterday’s over indulgence but having chewed through my left kneecap there was no headache no churning stomach and no tiredness whatsoever.The alternative approach made my day at the Ministry Of Silly Walks much easier.

I agree to a certain extent. But our bodies are not machines.
We can take holistic approaches to health for optimal results.
For instance, in the U.S. especially, they seem overly keen to prescribe medicines for every ailment. Kids diagnosed as A.D.H. something or other, can’t remember the rest… but all they might need is healthier food, less sugar. Would that be called alternative?
There’s plenty of not alternative chancers too. Look at what’s his name, Harold Shipman. His patients never had any ails again after seeing him. They’d have been better off with the Herbal tea!

Ah yeah, definitely. Nothing wrong in testing medicines. But I think some doctors are just legal pushers for the pharmaceutical companies too.
If your body can heal itself naturally, with change in diet and exercise and even some herbal teas, why wouldn’t that be optimal over what is really in effect a poison to your body. They all come with side effects.
I mean if you look at the rise in instance of type 2 diabetes in society, that’s preventable and even reversible at the onset of it, if the diet is changed and there’s a reduction in weight.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a holistic/alternative approach to health if it’s been shown to work.
Fo back pain for instance Yoga or acupuncture might work rather than vast amounts of painkillers.

I suspect positive thinking can help in certain medical circumstances (and maybe that and ‘gut instinct’ are evolutionary traits we pay less attention to these days), but i don’t anticipate chemists dishing it up in tablet form any day soon. Possibly just another form of medicine that some might classify as ‘alternative’? Just musing…

How do you feel about cancer? Should that be treated with medicines that have not been tested? Maybe we should treat it with chanting and herbal tea?

Don’t think that question’s for me, but anyway yep cancer patients should be offered tested medicines only. But if they choose to go down the chant and herb route then that’s just a matter of personal choice wouldn’t you say. It’s when people make false promises that it becomes a prob.

You could be onto something there Bock.
It worked for this woman anyways. I don’t know if she chanted as such. ‘Heal your Body’ by Louise L.Hay
‘This handy “little blue book” offers positive new thought patterns to replace negative emotions. It includes an alphabetical chart of physical ailments, the probable causes, and healing affirmations to help you eliminate old patterns.’

‘Louise was able to put her philosophies into practice when she was diagnosed with cancer. She considered the alternatives to surgery and drugs, and instead developed an intensive program of affirmations, visualization, nutritional cleansing, and psychotherapy. Within six months, she was completely healed of cancer.’

You’d never know what’s possible.
In terms of cancer, chemotherepy agents are substances which are extremely poisionious and even though targeted at the cancer cells to kill them, kill healthy cells also. You have that and the cutting out of cancer cells and radiation. Not great options really.

If feeling good emotionally has been shown to have an affect on the body, why not?

Oh yeah, sure. Definitely.
But if I were sick and I found a treatment that works for me and the results of tests were inconclusive, I’d care not a damn for the results.
I think there was an interesting debate on this one time here in terms of some acupunture findings.

It isn’t about what works for you. That’s not the way mass medicine works. This clinic is selling its cure to everyone, not just to you, and therefore it needs to be tested, just like an aeroplane wing.

Not to be too picky, but – ‘The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine’. (As quoted on their about page).

So looks like they’re applying scientific rules to their assessment of alternatives.

Mick — Not really. Here’s a quote from their website:

Rigorous, well-designed clinical trials for many CAM therapies are often lacking; therefore, the safety and effectiveness of many CAM therapies are uncertain. NCCAM is sponsoring research designed to fill this knowledge gap by building a scientific evidence base about CAM therapies—whether they are safe; and whether they work for the conditions for which people use them and, if so, how they work.

Translate this into English.

There’s no evidence for this horse-shit but we’ll try to provide it using tax money.

Still think there’s a middle road here somewhere though. Alternatives aren’t going to clear a clogg up artery and neither is prescribed medication, but possibly between lifestyle changes and cholesterol reducers you’re still going to extend your life. So, if chanting relaxes you and reduces stress where does that fit into the equation?

I agree that there’s a lot of charlatans and chancers involved in alternative medicine. That agency seems legit to me though.
From here:
‘The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine’

And I happened to click on one of the digests.
Says ‘In each issue, you’ll find evidence-based information for several complementary health practices used for the highlighted condition.’

For headaches:
There’s a scientific literature section there.
The ‘Randomized Controlled Trials’ link shows about 8 different links – a lot mentioning acupunture.

I’m just saying some testing will always be inconclusive, but may work for the individual. I definitely agree with testing though.

I quoted a few bits off that site, but went into spam I think.
There seems to be a lot of papers and trials there Bock.

I’m in agreement with Mick too.
Mick with the conquering conkers and google crome I take it.. ha. :) Christ why do I remember this shit.
Is there any treatment for forgettin stuff.

There are may papers and trials, all written by those trying to make money.

Nothing independent.

If you were making a scientific claim, wouldn’t you welcome unbiased tests of your findings?

Ha UFB, always gets me curious when someone remembers stuff like that so i just had to do a Google images ‘Une Fille Bien’ just out of devilment! – is that really you :-) Anyway, i digress! Now, how would one determine that a test is totally unbiased?

If you want me to redefine everything humanity has ever done in testing scientific experiments, you’ll have to give me a bit of time. Who pays for testing your car, your bicycle or your water?

I would definitely welcome unbiased tests.
I’d have to read the papers to be honest, and I’m not sure I’ve the inclination at the moment.. funnily enough I’ve a bit of a cold at the moment and there’s nout that can be done about it, bar resting up and lots of water.
In saying that, pharmaceutical companies are out to make money also and there are factors that influence a prescribed (conventional) medication’s effectiveness on an individual – similar to alternative treatments, sometimes they just don’t work for the person.

Me, and if i could give it a pass on the NCT i might be tempted if it was just a case of an iffy wiper? Guess what i’m saying is nothing is necessarily absolute until science has absolutely proven otherwise.

And I’m saying that nothing is alternative. If it works it works, and that’s medicine. If it doesn’t work, it’s quackery and that’s not medicine. Why do people find this distinction so hard to grasp?

To paraphrase that great humanitarian, Hermann Goering, whenever I hear the words homeopathic, natural medicine, or alternative medicine, I reach for my gun. It’s all shite.

Nah Mick, that’s probably not me. I’m like something the cat dragged in at the moment. ha.

That crowd reckon 38% of Americans use alternative treatments.
That’s an awful lot of gobshites isn’t it?

I read somewhere that 50% of Americans think Iraq had something to do with the 9-11 attack.

In what sense would Americans be a reliable indicator of anything?

“In what sense would Americans be a reliable indicator of anything?”
In no sense I suppose.

RE: “And I’m saying that nothing is alternative. If it works it works, and that’s medicine. If it doesn’t work, it’s quackery and that’s not medicine.”
What about the times when medicine doesn’t work though?

Agree Bock, when brought back to that simple proposition, but it avoids (as ufb says) those circumstances where what might work for one person doesn’t for another. At which point the quandary raises its ugly head again.

And yep, that is an awful lot of gobshites, but is that because they’re using alternatives or would they be gobshites before that anyway?

Oh and BTW, horses use natural medicines very effectively.

Must be the weather – gusty in West Cork, early night methinks!

“what might work for one person doesn’t for another”
I think this is covered by running a double blind randomised test with a control group sample. If you can show that a statistically significant number of people have a measurable benefit from the treatment, reproducibly, then you have yourself an effective treatment (drug, diet, whatever). If you can’t, then you have yourself some quackery.

Some “natural” treatments (I assume this means plant-based drugs mostly) work very well. So can diet, or preventative measures such as exercise or quitting smoking. And some “man-made” treatments do not work well, or have horrible side effects. And no doubt for-profit drug and device manufacturers will seek to sell them anyway if they can. They are charlatans too.

For possible examples of the latter, the following are interesting reading:

I’m with Bock on this. If you can’t reproduce a statistically and medically significant effect under controlled scientific testing, then its witch-doctoring garbage. If you can, it’s medicine.

They can test remedies for all they like in science labs, but many traditional forms of medicine in China and elsewhere have been ‘tested’ pragmatically for centuries on millions of satisfied customers. Numbers of westerners have gone to China, India and elsewhere to study acupuncture, aromatherapy and herbalist techniques, have graduated with certificates and returned to their own occidental places to set up private practices.

Quack doctors set up shop sometimes, but the alternative medicine people do have their professional associations and well-established learning centres in Britain, Germany and places. There have been rogue doctors in the established medical profession too.

According to ” Wiki ” Alternative Medicine is described as such because it is ” Outside the realm of Conventional Medicine ” reliant on ancient remedies….or words to that effect, Outside of Scientific testing.

There is an interesting programme running on BBC 1 these past few weeks called ” Food as Medicine ” where people with specific ailments are given food programmes to adhere to, The specific foods containing elements which will potentially improve their various conditions.

After a certain time on these ” Diets ” they return to the Clinic for further tests and compare before and after, without exception all people had very improved scientifically tested results including dramatically reduced cholesterol from dietary change alone, No remedies, No treatments, no pills, the only addition in some cases was an exercise regime.

I’m not really sure what Mick meant by ” Horses use natural medicine very effectively ” humans generally control what animals eat, if there is a poisionous plant in a field a horse is very likely to eat it.

Studies carried out on people who live long healthy active lives have shown the majority had very basic and moderate lifestyle choices but the one that was found to be the largest common denominator was they did not worry and just hugely enjoyed being alive and doing their thing.

A well balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle is not alternative medicine – it’s something that any good doctor will tell you. Why? Because it has been scientifically proven to play an important role in your health. Just because some of these quacks add “woo” to these ideas doesn’t make their woo science as well.
I haven’t seen “Food as Medicine” but it’s not surprising these people got better – you’d have to be a complete idiot to be surprised when an improved diet and exercise helps with things like cholesterol and diabetes.
Nearly all of these “alternative” treatments have failed miserably when properly tested so what they tend to do is repackage them together with a bit of common sense as “holistic” to make it more tricky to sift through the horseshit.
People are often too quick to throw the word “scientific” into the discussion without understanding how the scientific method works. Without double-blinded tests and a control group the results aren’t worth a wank ;)

I gather that in modern China there are two kinds of hospitals people can go to for treatment: modern hospitals with state-of-the-art drugs and machines; and TCM traditional chinese medicine hospitals. Staff in the latter institutions will have studied approved courses in order to graduate and qualify. I don’t know how much laboratory testing goes on for the treatments on offer in the TCM institutions.

Some treatments work well for some patients, often depending on metabolism and absence of allergies. If a treatment works for somebody then it’s ok. Does scientific testing make it better? New drugs need testing if we are to avoid another Thalidomide disaster. On the other hand there are thousands of traditional herbalists (often misnamed witchdoctors) treating customers throughout Africa to the satisfaction of many. African universities have tested various roots and herbs to see what medicinal properties they may contain. Traditional herbalists carry on in the towns and villages oblivious to whatever reports appear in the learned academic periodicals. The main hazard in African, and Asian, herbalism is the hygiene or absence thereof involved in the treatment of patients.

Dave. I think you might be surprised by the numbers of ” complete idiots ” who do not see the connection between diet and illness, there is a total lack of comprehension for many in this area, this is why the junk food and take away business is growing in spite of the amount of accessible information available to demonstrate the evidence, it is a multi billion euro industry.

Benno, what do you mean by “if it works for someone it is OK” – medicine is not about making somebody happy by convicing them that something works and believing they are being helped.
We use the scientific method to test if something works better than placebo. If it doesn’t, the patient should be told without the spin, woo or the sales pitch. My tax money should also NEVER be spent on it!
If we come across “various roots and herbs” (and many other things) that seem to have medicinal benefit, we test it. If it works we call it medicine – that’s where we got things like asprin and penicillin from.
As Dara O’Briain so nicely put it: “we tested it all, and the stuff that worked became ‘medicine'”. We also continue to do so. I’m not saying the system is perfect but it is by far the best we have.
Norma, I’m not sure it’s the lack of comprehension in this area that is the problem. Even knowing that my blood pressure and blood sugar levels won’t thank me for it, I still eat way too much junk food ;)

Well Dave, herbalists in Africa, Asia and Europe functioned for centuries before the scientific revolution that began at the end of the 18th century. They applied herbal remedies that often worked (and often didn’t work with many patients for metabolical reasons)and the fact that they worked for some was enough to keep herbalists in business. Aspirins and other headache tablets have been tested in science labs, but that doesn’t rule out the efficacy of herbal drinks as different remedies for irritating ailments. Tablet manufacturers have commercial reasons for pushing their products – and for denigrating scientifically untested roots and herbs. The tablet producers offer ‘inducements’ to members of the medical profession to recommend branded products, and dentists are often approached by branded toothpaste producers to hand out free samples to patients.

Benno, I don’t think that anyone is disputing that some herbal remedies work. Or that some “corporate” remedies are bull***t.
But if a treatment works, really works, then it will show up in a proper scientific test. It can be validated, stripped down to its essence and measured against other potential therapies. If it can’t then it is exposed as a waste of time and money. That’s all science is – a rigorous testing of hypotheses.

The default assumption for treatments (of any kind) that won’t subject themselves to such testing discipline is that they’re fake.

The phrase ‘won’t subject themselves to such [scientific] testing’ is important, but the fact is that promoters of alternative, mainly herbal remedies, are not refusing to have the remedies tested. It’s just that smart researchers trying to make names for themselves haven’t got around to swinging grants to test all the remedies currently being used by herbalists, aroma therapists and other practitioners. In the meantime the certified alternative healers can get on with their useful work until such time as their remedies are proved either bogus or efficacious. In developed countries some people have voluntarily switched away from pharmaceutical medicines to traditional herbal-based remedies because they think their bodies have become resistant to tablets and things, or they think that it is unhealthy to become tablet-dependent and may suspect the motives of the pharmaceutical industry.

‘Louise was able to put her philosophies into practice when she was diagnosed with cancer. She considered the alternatives to surgery and drugs, and instead developed an intensive program of affirmations, visualization, nutritional cleansing, and psychotherapy. Within six months, she was completely healed of cancer.’

Do you think that the visualization, nutritional cleansing etc. cured cancer or do you think that she was one of the lucky few who just got better? Because a small fraction of people, as with a lot of diseases, just get better. Thats randomness for you.

Benno, alternative therapy institutes can hand out as much certificates and diplomas as they want. Shit in, shit out.

“Do you think that the visualization, nutritional cleansing etc. cured cancer or do you think that she was one of the lucky few who just got better? Because a small fraction of people, as with a lot of diseases, just get better. Thats randomness for you.”

Well she was obviously one of the lucky few who just got better. Maybe the stuff she did helped, who knows. I’m not going to say for sure that it didn’t make a blind bit of difference.

I’ll tell you, I have a bit of a dry cough at the moment. Bought Benylin for Dry Coughs, Non Drowsy disgusting syrupy stuff. It’s not making a blind bit of difference. The main ingredient is Dextromethorphan hydrobromide, whatever the hell that is. It’s woeful shite.
I googled a natural rememdy for a cough – come up with one with honey and cayenne pepper. Definitely sounds like it might be better than this shite anyways. Better as in taste and might work!
Would that be considered alternative?

We have every reason to be suspicious of the pharmaceutical industry, but remember this: herbal remedies are pharmaceutical too. They also rely on the chemicals in the plants. The only difference is that you don’t know what dose you’re getting. And if anyone thinks the alternative medicine industry is benign, think again: it’s a multi-billion-dollar operation.

But this is all getting away from the main point. If it works, it’s medicine. If it doesn’t, it’s horse-shit. Alternative doesn’t come into it. It either works, in which case doctors will use it, or it doesn’t, in which case people are paying for nothing. There’s only one way to test that: by systematically studying large numbers of patients, and by making sure that nobody — not the researchers and not those evaluating the results – knows what remedy is being used. Double-blind trials, in other words. This is to prevent collusion. The absence of these safeguards is enough in itself to invalidate any tests claimed by quacks sellling snake oil.

Those who object to scientific testing don’t know what scientific testing is. It’s just a way of finding out if people, on average, tend to get better, while weeding out the things that muddy the water. The occasional patient will get better spontaneously, for no reason anyone understands, and unfortunately, that’s where quacks and witch-doctors take advantage by claiming the credit.

Scientific testing is only what any sensible person would do. It takes a long hard look at the claims, based on the evidence available, not on subjective, anecdotal and, in many cases, superstitious testimony. Why would we not be objective when testing something as important as medical treatment?

As I already said, we wouldn’t ask a witch-doctor to test our aeroplane wings.

Bock gave an excellent description above, UFB.

I googled a natural rememdy for a cough – come up with one with honey and cayenne pepper. Definitely sounds like it might be better than this shite anyways. Better as in taste and might work!

You already have a positive expectation that this natural remedy will ease your cough, maybe it will. Positive expectations can lead to positive results, the placebo effect is well documented.
Another phenomenon that quacks, and some doctors, take advantage of is regression to the mean. That is, a person who is sick tends to get better over time. That person will more likely go for help when their illness is at its worst, leading them to believe that whatever they have been done has surely cured them.

Bock is correct, herbal remedies contain chemicals, as do pharmaceuticals. It can be argued that one or a number of these chemicals are what give some natural remedies their medicinal properties. In fact, a lot of pharmaceuticals have been inspired by herbal remedies, the most successful drugs have been extracted from plants or made synthetically. Just because its a natural remedy doesn’t make it safe, I would say it’s the opposite in most cases.

“Bock gave an excellent description above, UFB.” Why’d the need to say that? I agree with what Bock said.

If what was once considered not conventional now works and has been tested it’s not really ‘alternative’. That’s grand. I’ve no problem with that.

“You already have a positive expectation that this natural remedy will ease your cough”
Yeah cause this horrible shite definitely isn’t IC.
It’s only honey and some pepper.

And regarding “Just because its a natural remedy doesn’t make it safe, I would say it’s the opposite in most cases.” Are you trying to tell me I can overdose on honey? I can’t operate machinery with honey is it? I’ll get dizzy from the honey? Diarrhoea, confusion, excitation, shortness or difficulty breathing. That’s all listed on leaflet here of the cough medicine. Just noticed too 6% alcohol.. yeehaw. ‘May be harmful if you have alcoholism’.. haha. says that too.

Nobody said you could overdose on honey. The point was about natural remedies. Some are safe and some are deadly poison. Honey happens to be safe, and any rational doctor would recommend its use. Therefore it isn’t alternative. It’s mainstream.

“Are you trying to tell me I can overdose on honey?
I’m not, but what do you think?”

What do you mean what do I think?
Cognito ergo sum?

And yes I have very positive expectations for the honey. I’d had even better expectations if it was in a hot whiskey at the moment.

Regarding rational doctors. They’re few and far between I find.
Over paid idiots a lot of them. Personally I don’t take their word as gospel.

Bock RE; “You’d be better off consulting people who never studied anything. That makes sense, obviously. Studying stuff makes people stupid.”

All I said was I don’t take their word as gospel.
In fact you had similar sentiments in a previous post yourself.
‘For generations, the medical profession in a largely uneducated society supplied us with men and women of authority, and for generations, when people went to their doctors, they accepted their word without question — even when the word of those men and women sometimes sent them to their death…
Isn’t it about time we called their bluff, just as we question the politicians, the bankers, the lawyers and the priests?’

That post was about people misusing their positions. It didn’t mean that we should consult ignorant people. It meant that we should demand higher standards of those who have been properly trained.

Bock – Witch Doctors designing planes? No. He/She may prescribe some remedy or other for ones stomach ache and cure the pain in ones arse as well.
Feng Shui and Ayurvedic teachings used in plan design? No. He/She may be good for finding a great spot for the leaba or a grand spot on the wall for your photo of Guru Krishannaballa kristi.
Your local GP designing planes? No. He/She may in some cases be able to tell what’s wrong, but in most cases will write a prescription for a rake of pills that may or may not fix your problem.

Either way, I would have none of the above designing planes.
Are you secretly planning a flight to Australia and feeling a wee bit nervous?

“Imagine if Boeing designed a plane using Feng Shui and Ayurvedic teachings. How many people would fly on it?”
I’m starting to think that quite a few would be persuaded. Once.

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