Atheists reject god(s) for lack of empirical evidence, so what about alternate medicines?

I'm skeptical about the lot, unless they are tested by double-blind type techniques. As is often said, 'data' isn't the plural of anecdotes. Even though there seems very little hard evidence supporting alternate medicine methods, supporters say that they should be evaluated under a different paradigm than other areas of science. How do other fellow atheists feel?

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Comment by Alex McCullie on October 11, 2009 at 10:32pm
whoops! I meant improperly assigning cause and effect e.g. the Daniel Wegner "I Spy" experiments.
Comment by Alex McCullie on October 11, 2009 at 5:41pm
Another book that I've found useful is:

Snake Oil Science by R. Barker Russell (2007 Oxford University Press), professor Uni of Maryland, was research director into complementary medicine.

He lists the psychological factors inhibiting rational analysis:

(1) reluctance to admit when wrong (cognitive dissonance)
(2) simple optimism
(3) respect for authority
(4) 'National Enquirer' approach to life (propensity to believe the absurd or the wondrous)
(5) conspiracy-oriented view of the world
(6) complete lack of skepticism (gullibility) p. 55-56

I'd also add a couple of points. The complementary medicine practitioners are invariably user-friendly and take time to listen to the clients. They make their clients feel good. And, also, we are notorious at properly assigning cause and effect.

Comment by Chrys Stevenson on October 11, 2009 at 5:15pm
For those interested in this subject, may I recommend the book Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

"Noted science writer Singh and British professor of complementary medicine Ernst offer a reasoned examination of the research on acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine and other alternative treatments. Singh (Fermat's Last Theorem) and Ernst work hard to be objective, but their conclusion is that these therapies are largely worthless. As they examine the research on various alternative therapies, the authors explore the principles of evidence-based medicine on which their conclusions are based, including clinical trials and the placebo effect; they also explore related ethical issues. The authors report that many patients will improve with any alternative remedy—but no more than those given a placebo. Exceptions exist; some herbal remedies (e.g., St. John's wort, echinacea) can be helpful though not always advisable, and chiropractors can relieve low back pain under certain circumstances. This is a stimulating and informative account that will be indispensable to anyone considering an alternative treatment, though it may not dissuade true believers. "

AN member, Podblack Cat provides an excellent overview of the book in her blog.

You can also listen to Simon Singh talking about the book on Point of Inquiry.

Edzard Ernst established the first Chair in Complimentary Medicine at the University of Exeter to test the claims of complementary medicine using the tools of science. Ernst was spectacularly qualified for the position as he had been a practitioner of complementary medicine himself, as well as earning the the post nominals: MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Ernst qualified as a physician in Germany in 1978 where he also completed his MD and PhD theses. He has received training in acupuncture, autogenic training, herbalism, homoeopathy, massage therapy and spinal manipulation. He was Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) at Hannover Medical School and Head of the PMR Department at the University of Vienna. In 1993 he established the Chair in Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter. He is founder/Editor-in-Chief of two medical journals (Perfusion and FACT). He has published more than 40 books and in excess of 1000 articles in the peer-reviewed medical literature and has been given visiting professorships in Canada and the US. His work has been awarded with 13 scientific prizes. In 1999 he took British nationality. His unit’s research is funded from two endowments by the late Sir Maurice Laing, by research grants and fellowships (not, however, by ‘Big Pharma’ as sometimes speculated).

Ernst and Singh are both well-credentialed to give an honest and scientific appraisal of natural therapies and while they find some that do work, their conclusion is that most of them are useless and many of them are dangerous.
Comment by Madeline (Brigit) on October 11, 2009 at 4:48pm
@Duane: My kitty could die from bronchitis if she wasn't taking steroids to reduce inflammation. In her case, she had risk of death either way...
Comment by Madeline (Brigit) on October 11, 2009 at 4:34pm
Alternative Medicine is a bunch of balderdash that only seems effective thanks to the placebo effect. The fact that that industry (also a multi-million dollar, for-profit one) is not regulated, and their products are not tested for safety makes it potentially dangerous. Add to it that who knows how are ingredients metabolized and by whom - making dangerous drug interactions more possible- and you have why this pharmacology grad will not touch one without making sure there is reputable peer-reviewed papers of their effects.

Conventional medicine (when ghost writing and manipulation to increase the therapeutic window are not at work) has measurable effects on whatever the condition. Additionally, the peer-review system usually works, by having researchers willing to repeat the experiments and make sure that they are reproducible.
Most of the secondary effects arise due to issues that are fucking hard to take care off, although new techniques are arising that make drug targeting more specific. When a bunch of other targets (like proteins) "look" like each other because they evolved from the same molecule, all will change their function (to a different extent, they are not identical after all) because the drug will bind to all of them. So a drug intended to work on one molecule will work on it, but it would also work on "cousin" molecules that look similar enough.
Comment by Emily Dietle on October 11, 2009 at 3:53pm
I reject conventional medicine for the same reasons. Large drug companies exist to make money, not generally better people. They take short cuts and thier "medicines" have so many horrendous side effects that they keep you on the drugs to combat the damage. I would be more inclined to trust a plant than a pill. I have seen massage and chiropractics work wonders, I have had pain relieved by arnica gel and have had sinus treatments with neti-pots and aromatherapy- breathing in peppermint oil through a stuffy nose gives temporary releif. Yes, there is a lot of bogus alternative medicine out there, but I would reach for a bag of herbs before a bottle of pills. Above all, eating well is most important.
Comment by mick keogh on October 11, 2009 at 3:08pm
If you convince your self that drinking nettle tea is good for you then it is, just like when i was a child i did ont tread on the nicks it made me feel better. I dont feel that we should dismiss things we dont understand. Doctors now cannot give out plocibos but they do work.
Comment by vjack on October 11, 2009 at 10:59am
I reject alternative medicines for the same reason you mentioned (i.e., insufficient evidence of their efficacy).
Comment by the antithesis on October 11, 2009 at 8:47am
Oh alternative medicines work wonders on a wide variety of ailments! Placebos usually do.
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on October 11, 2009 at 7:26am
I had to laugh when my (very good) doctor recently advised me against taking drugs for a niggling complaint and recommend a 'natural' treatment. He took out an information sheet, highlighted the herbal remedy he recommended, and said, "You might like to read that sheet when you get home."

So, off I toddled to the pharmacy and bought the recommended pills. At home, I sat down to read about this 'wonder cure'. The leaflet noted that the herbal remedy my doctor had recommended had, indeed, been tested under clinical conditions for my particular problem and was found to have no therapeutic value whatsoever. There was a small rider - that there may be some relief of symptoms due to a placebo effect.

Next time I visited the doctor, I suggested that if he was going to recommend pills for their placebo effect, it was probably not a good idea to give the patient the literature which said they were worthless!



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