I’ve been reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map. One thing that struck me was how important our modern evidence-based medicine is, and how the cacophony of pseudo-scientific medicine can all but drown out actual cures that work.
While sometimes I might think that modern medicine is under a threatening assault by quack medicine, I was reminded of how much worse medicine was a long time ago. Even the so-called “medical establishment” of respected doctors were as flaky as many of the more ill-reputed health providers of their day, when wishful thinking and anecdotes ruled. Despite a simple treatment of cholera by rehydration being already discovered, it was all but unknown among the myriad of so-called cures that did nothing or even accelerated the progression of cholera in a patient. If evidence-based methods had been used to determine which cures were actually effective, instead of declaring efficacy by fiat, they would have been able to save many more lives as they narrowed down the range of potential cures.
This makes me so glad that I live in modern times, where there are government agencies that use the scientific method to determine whether drugs or treatments actually treat a disease. Even if the process is not perfect, with the occasional mistakes and corruption, it’s much more reassuring than a free-for-all, where laymen like me would not be able to tell the difference between effective treatments such as rehydration or quack cures such as blood-letting when treating cholera. I hope the current state of affairs continues or even improves, and with any luck, flaky practitioners of alternative medicine won’t be able to obscure real cures ever again.