As a general rule, when I’m writing for our dental blog, I try to keep my personal feelings out of it; “….just the facts, ma’am,” as it were. But when it comes to pseudo-science and pseudo-medicine, as I discussed recently in my article Can Cavities Be Cured? and Do Silver Fillings Poison You?, it’s hard to stay purely objective and informative, because it’s not easy to keep my cool in the face of total BS. And today I’m going to talk about that BS a little, but I promise I’ll keep my cool while doing so. BTW – I do apologize in advance to any grammar purists out there, because I’m going to use a lot of quotation marks in this article. 😉
Why Real Science Matters
To be honest, I’m not really sure why people have so many problems with genuine science and research in medicine, and why they spend so much time looking for “alternative” medicine solutions. I think that is has to do with the rather normal human desires to avoid pain and to find the easiest possible solution. Heck, I don’t like pain either, and I would ideally like the easiest possible solution, too, but the problem is, in medicine and science, those usually aren’t how things work. The foundational principles of science are simple yet profound:
- It must be measurable
- It must be testable
- It must be repeatable
- It must be falsifiable (this is really a critical one that is often misunderstood). This means that there must be a way to determine if it’s false or incorrect.
In other words, if you can’t consistently do the exact same thing and get the exact same results, then you falsified it – you proved the idea was wrong. If you do the same thing over and over again, and it always gets the exact same results, then you proved the concept is right! But if you don’t do enough testing, and do strict statistical analysis (sorry, guesswork is not allowed, nor is your “gut feeling”), then your answer has to be, “Well, I don’t know.” And if that is your answer, you keep testing until you know.
Holistic/Alternative Medicine Fails the Science Test
And the thing is………alternative medicine fails every single one of these tests! Alternative medicine’s principles usually seem to be just the opposite:
- They rely on personal anecdotes
- The anecdotes can’t be compared because they’re never measured
- Since they’re never measured or compared, no one can know if they repeated it exactly right in the future
- Because they’re never measured, tested, or exactly repeatable, it’s impossible to know if they’re falsifiable.
And that last point is really the most important one! Alternative medicine doesn’t want you to be able to test it, because it can’t take the chance it will be proved wrong.
The Myth of “Big Pharma”
One of the most common excuses you’ll see in discussions about “real” medicine vs. “alternative” medicine is this “Big Pharma” idea that’s never spelled out exactly. Generally, though, it’s the idea that somehow, somewhere, there are some really powerful people who control what is or isn’t allowed in medicine, and that these powerful people have a vested interest (huge amounts of money) in not letting these alternative medicine types get research funding or be allowed in hospitals, etc. It sounds so appealing, right, and it is amazingly effective at explaining why alternative medicine doesn’t get a “fair hearing.” Of course, somehow people kind of forget how much money goes into the sales of all the alternative treatments – herbs, vitamins, juicing products, etc. Why is it that people think there’s no money connected to that? There are some real problems with the whole idea of Big Pharma, though:
- It assumes that a relatively small group of people is able to control an entire industry with such an iron fist, that no one else is able to do anything;
- It also assumes (in total contradiction to the first point) that somehow that group can control everything with an iron fist except somehow this minority that “sneaks through the cracks” or something like that. ‘Cause I mean….if they’re that powerful, do you really think they couldn’t squash the huge internet sites like NaturalNews.com or WellnessMama.com? They’re so powerful that they control everything, but at the same time so powerless that they can’t even stop a simple website? Heck, Anonymous can do that any time they want by hacking it! It’s a hilarious contradiction, but people don’t take the time to think it through.
- Lastly, it somehow assumes that all the hundreds of thousands of people who work in pharmaceuticals and medicine (researchers, doctors, etc) are somehow so dumb and blind, or they are so evil and awful, that they apparently have no clue that everything they’ve spent their entire adult lives on is part of a conspiracy! I mean………c’mon people! You really think that the hundreds of thousands of people with Masters and Ph.D degrees are that dumb and blind? Or they’re all so evil and awful? And all the doctors who use chemotherapy and radiation somehow are evil people who love to inflict torture on people because they’re slaves to the conspiracy?
- Lastly, it assumes that none of the research that comes out of real science is valid. Well……OK – PROVE IT. That’s the thing about real science, people – it welcomes a challenge! Find the flaws in the methods; find the flaws in the materials; find the flaws in the analysis…..and real science will take note. That’s why things in science get better – it’s always trying to do so.
- Lastly, alternative medicine often likes to tout the idea that “my mom came up with it in her garage,” as if medicine is something you can do like an inventor. Sorry – doesn’t work that way, people.
Quackery Wants You to Think There’s a Simple Secret Only They Know
There are usually 3 parts to the madness (after the conspiracy part):
- One simple ingredient is somehow able to curing almost anything and everything; OR
- One simple problem is the cause of every major illness
- Only this one person/company/group knows the secret and can sell it.
Your Mama Done Told You
I really tend to think that we’ve forgotten a lot of really powerful sayings that our parents use to teach us. It’s so easy for crap to spread on the Internet, and there’s no automatic filters for truth or accuracy, but have we really forgotten about snake oil salesmen and the like? You know the other old saying, “….and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll sell you for cheap, too!” Or, depending on your part of the country, it might have been some great “waterfront property in Florida (i.e. the Everglades),” or whatever.
Science is Hard
And that’s the thing…….good science is rigorous. it requires testing – LOTS and LOTS of testing. You know why the FDA is so strict about what medicines it allows, and why “Big Pharma” has to do so much research (they spend an average of $12 BILLION dollars per EACH new drug developed on Research and Development alone)? Here’s why:
If a side effect is only found in .001% of the people tried, you have to have at LEAST 1,000 people in the trial to get just 1 person with the side effect. Even if it’s 0.01%, you need a minimum of 100 people. And because you can’t rely on just 1 person having the side effect, you need to see if that person wasn’t just a freak occurrence, you have to do this on many many many people. And you’re not even allowed to try i ton people until you’ve tried it on animals with enough genetic similarity to figure out if it’s worth testing on people.
You know, it would be really nice if it weren’t so hard and expensive. It would be great if it were easy. But it’s not. It takes an unbelievable amount of hard work, testing, retesting, analyzing, re-analyzing, testing more, etc. And yes, that’s why it’s expensive. I don’t like it any more than you do, but I sure hope those “Big Pharma” companies are doing the work necessary, and what I do know, is that all those “alternative” medicine sites don’t. Plain and simple, they don’t, so how the heck am I (or you) supposed to trust anything they say? Because they say so? Sorry, that isn’t good enough for me or my family. Anyone has the power to say anything on the Web, whether it’s true or not, and I want a way to find out if they’re telling the truth.
The Real Differences Between “Alternative” Medicine and Real Medicine is Simple
- REAL medicine has research behind it that is publicly available for ANYONE who wants to see it.
- “Alternative” medicine doesn’t even have it in the first place, or even if they do, somehow it’s impossible to figure out.
- REAL research can be tested by other people to see if the first people did it wrong, and if they did, it has to be taken back, which is why there are recalls.
- “Alternative” medicine’s NEVER get recalled, because no one ever tests them to find out
So really…….if you trust holistic/alternative medicine, WHY? What PROOF do they have? I mean…..ANYONE can say ANYTHING on the Web…..can they back it up is the real question.