From Galen's Log:

The general response of the medical community has been to ignore them, and hope they go away. It is a tempting strategy. Arguing with the alties and their followers is a Sisyphean struggle to overcome the religious zeal of alternative medicine. Logic has no place in a debate where anecdotal stories carry the same weight as randomized, double blinded, controlled trials. You may try to ignore the problems posed by alties, but the problems don't ignore you...


This is not to say that all areas of alternative medicine is utter crap. Many therapies have been researched, and those I am happy to recommend if the data supports their use. But much of it is soundly lacking in evidence, and people are all to willing to take their claims at face value. The field needs an evidence based revolution.

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Can't read that without

Can't read that without thinking about the episode of South Park, where "Native Americans" Cheech & Chong supply the local alti-shop with all kinds of silly bullshit, like cherokee-hair tampons, and the people eat it up.

Though, to address the above post, if there was an evidence-based revolution, the "field" would cease to be, because its identity is based primarily on myth and anecdote. Take that away, and it's just regular ol' medicine, and no longer "alternative". If it's proven to work in clinical trials and experiments, then it won't be banished to health food stores and head-shops, thus rendering it no longer alternative.

It's not just a difference

It's not just a difference between science and nonsense. The medical establishment is shaped by government intrusion, is defined by government-backed barriers (e.g. licensing and medical drug regulation) which inevitably warps it. This at least should be high on the list of suspects among those who have learned from many other examples that state interference in the market tends to produce a lot of problems.

Let's not mix up two different things:

a) falling outside of government-sanctioned medicine
b) falling outside of evidence and reason

Maybe some of these alternative practitioners are selling snake oil. But the government makes things hard for people who are outside of the system who want to conduct serious studies. Not only does the FDA need to approve the sale of drugs and devices, but the FDA can block the testing of drugs and devices as well.

Any thoughts on this with

Any thoughts on this with Bryan Caplan's posts about medicine? I mean, if someone accepts Caplan's premises, then the difference betweel alternative and scientific medicine should not be important.

"Maybe some of these

"Maybe some of these alternative practitioners are selling snake oil."

There's no maybe about it--*many* of them definitely are. The amount of fraud that goes on *in spite of* a sweeping regime of government regulations never ceases to amaze me. For all that bureaucracy, regulation, and money being spent, there is really precious little to show for it.

I work in the field of network security, and have worked to try to get criminal spammers prosecuted--people who are hacking into people's computers, using stolen credit card information, selling fraudulent products--and the results have been pretty dismal. The main enforcement that occurs is from private investigations and civil litigation by Earthlink, AOL, and Microsoft, which occasionally gets followed up with criminal prosecutions by a state AG's office. Case in point: Spammer Scott Richter settled with the NY AG (Spitzer) with a $50,000 fine and no admission of wrongdoing; Microsoft then forced him to disgorge $7 million.