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alternative medicine: science or quackery?


Today we will revisit a debate that’s been around for hundreds of years (maybe longer) — the debate between MECHANISM -VS- VITALISM.  As is often the case, today’s version of the controversy has been dressed up to look like a dispute between those who are scientific and those who aren’t.  This post is based on a video of a discussion between two hardcore mechanists; Yale professor Perry Wilson, interviewing Yale neurologist STEVE NOVELLA. The piece is called What Used to Be Fraud Is Now Alternative Medicine: Perry Wilson, MD, Discusses the New Quackery with Steven Novella, MD. Fasten your seat belts folks, and get ready for a rip-roaring good time!

Novella, along with the ever-vitriolic DAVID GORSKI (as well as Hall below), are the editors of a site called Science-Based Medicine.  Their home page is a scree against alternative medicine and quackery (which in their world are always one and the same), warning us about fake diagnoses like LEAKY GUT, ADRENAL FATIGUE, and any number of others. 

There is currently an article by the anti-chiropractic pundit, HARRIET HALL, telling us why Consumer Reports got their LATEST BACK PAIN ISSUE wrong (she said it addressed “customer satisfaction rather than scientific evidence of effectiveness“) as well as another by Novella talking about the recent “Presidential Warning” by the American Heart Association concerning Coconut Oil. 

Remember that earlier this month the AHA told us that we should avoid COCONUT OIL because it’s extremely unhealthy / dangerous, and should instead go back to consuming more man-made vegetable oils such as SOY OIL because these have the equivalent heart protection value of STATIN DRUGS.   Just to show you where we are headed, Novella stated in his article that….

“The bottom line is that coconut oil is not a health food. It is very high in saturated fat and you should avoid consuming it in any significant quantities. If you want to use it for its cooking properties or because you like the taste, that’s fine, just consume it in moderation (like all sweet and fatty treats). But do not be confused by the misleading marketing – coconut oil is not good for your health.”

In What Used to Be Fraud Is Now Alternative Medicine, Novella picked up where he left off by condemning the COCHRANE REVIEW (the world-wide medical community’s gold standard for taking hundreds of studies on a particular topic, crunching the data, and at least trying to come to some sort of conclusion).  It should come as no surprise that Novella and SBM previously ripped Cochrane on an issue my brother, a medical doctor in Kansas, is an outspoken critic of; the utter worthlessness of the FLU VACCINE.  In explaining why Cochrane cannot be trusted, Novella provided gobblety gook such as this.

“You have to look at all the science. You have to look at prior plausibility as well. In fact, we know now rigorously that you can’t really interpret clinical trials unless you know the overall scientific plausibility of the hypothesis that you’re testing. So science-based medicine, in short, considers all of the scientific evidence completely and doesn’t focus narrowly on just the clinical evidence and throwing out … in our opinion, they tend to throw out prior plausibility.”

After explaining what he means by this, Novella went on to say that the most interesting phenomenon in medicine, “has been the re-branding of what 50 years ago was universally known as health fraud to an alternative to medicine.”  What sort of “health frauds” is Novella picking on here specifically?

He mentioned naturopathy, homeopathy (widely accepted by the European medical community), reflexology, and acupuncture by name, although he thoroughly disdains CHIROPRACTIC as well.  What’s most interesting about the whole interview, however, is that in a roundabout way Novella admitted what this battle is really about.  You already know without me telling you. Hint: it’s not really about alternative medicine.  It’s about money. 

We can see that Novella’s true concern is not for patient’s health and well being as he complains about the dollars being siphoned away from allopathic medicine.  After being asked by Dr. Wilson where he thinks the intersection between medical practice and skepticism of alternative medicine is going to be in ten or twenty years, Novella provides a telling answer that proves this video is nothing more than a vendetta against his competition.  A “turf war” if you will.

“I think if the academic infrastructure isn’t going to try to educate our patients just society-wide about the nature of the relationship between science and medicine, then we are going to lose to the people who are trying to mis-educate the public about that because they have billions of dollars on the line, right?

They have something to sell and it’s in their financial interest to misinform patients about the nature of placebo, the nature of evidence, all these things, about the nature of the institutions of medicine. I mean, they’re telling a very unflattering narrative about mainstream medicine, creating all of these false narratives and false dichotomies.  So, I don’t think we can bury our head in the sand and just ignore it. I think that we need to engage.”

Why does Novella think the medical community needs to “engage“?  Because for three decades, research has consistently shown that the American public is making more visits to “alternative medicine” practitioners than they are making to traditional medical practitioners.  For instance, look at the conclusions of a study from the January 1993 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine called Unconventional Medicine in the United States — Prevalence, Costs, and Patterns of Use

We found that unconventional medicine [alternative medicine] has an enormous presence in the U.S. health care system. An estimated one in three persons in the U.S. adult population used unconventional therapy in 1990. The estimated number of visits made in 1990 to providers of unconventional therapy was greater than the number of visits to all primary care medical doctors nationwide, and the amount spent out of pocket on unconventional therapy was comparable to the amount spent out of pocket by Americans for all hospitalizations.” 

These trends are not getting any better for the medical community.  In a 2015 article from Kevin MD’s site (Why Patients Flock to Alternative Medicine Providers), the author discussed a similar study, also from NEJM, this one from 1997.

“The number of Americans using an alternative medicine rose from 33% in 1990 to 42% in 1997, and some research estimates that the number may be as high as 70% today. The NEJM study also found that, in 1997, Americans spent more than $27 billion on these therapies [out of pocket / non-insurance], exceeding out-of-pocket spending for all U.S. hospitalizations, and that the number of patient visits to CAM providers exceeded those to primary care physicians.”

Novella wants us to believe that people are flocking to practitioners of alternative medicine simply because the public is stupid.  They’re being duped. Although there have always been and will continue to be unscrupulous providers on both sides of this debate; if you want people to forgo their insurance and pay out of pocket, you had better provide solutions, and you had better provide them quickly. The alternative medicine practitioners already have the game weighted against them because insurance does not cover what they do. 

In other words, people are willing to pay their hard-earned money out of pocket for one reason and one reason only —- results; something I show you over and over via our hundreds of VIDEO TESTIMONIALS, CASE STUDIES, or this super cool piece from my sister on the EXIT STRATEGY she used to lose 100 lbs in 7 months and solve her five (5) autoimmune diseases (she was essentially bed-ridden while under standard medical care).  The proof, folks, is in the “alternative medicine” pudding.  It’s that simple. 

People are tired of the same old medical treatments that IN MANY CASES have been shown by the very science that Novella himself loves to flout, not only not to work as advertised, but are dangerous to boot.  And as for the scientific evidence itself, the “unflattering narrative” that Novella was whining about earlier is completely and 100% self-induced.

The problem, as I showed you just a FEW DAYS AGO, is that the so-called “evidence / science” is being manipulated by BIG PHARMA in ways that our increasingly educated and increasingly pissed off public is just beginning to grasp.  For instance, only half of the studies started are ever finished or published, and research has conclusively shown why.  The 50% being published is the 50% that shows what the companies paying for the research wanted it to show. 

And if you click the first link in this paragraph, you’ll see that this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as corporate jimmy-jacking with the research is concerned.  There are so many ways that biomedical science is being manipulated that it will boggle your mind. I have dozens of “fun” articles on the topic filed under my EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE ARCHIVES.  

Don’t waste your time watching this interview — essentially one doctor from the old-way-of-thinking-club interviewing another.  Instead, head straight to the transcript below the video, and below that, to the comment section.  Always fun and frequently dogmatic on both sides.  In my opinion, you can see from the comments why Novella and his bretheren are losing this battle, and why the label “QUACK” doesn’t hold much water with the American public anymore. Like I said earlier, the bus labeled “alternative medicine” left town a long time ago.


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