Drowning real cures among quack cures

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.

6 Replies to “Drowning real cures among quack cures”

  1. Well, in a purist sense, one could hope that as medical science knowledge improves over time, the glaring difference in effectiveness between conventional medicine and quack medicine would lead to a decline in the latter. Or, from a Darwinistic standpoint, those that stick to scientific medicine will survive to produce offspring and those that visit hucksters will die off. Problem is, of course, that the dumbest are also the most reproductive.

    On a "what are you going to do?" sidenote, your Google ad on the right sidebar of this page has picked up on article keywords and is advertising an "Alternative Cancer Clinic, Effective Alternative Immunotherapy (in Mexico)". Sigh.

  2. Maybe a certain amount of gullibility is advantageous, and then the bell curve could mean there will always be some portion of the population that are too gullible. I just hope the number of overly gullible people steadily decreases.

  3. Crud, the quack ad is making me wish Google AdSense supported negative keyword matching ...

    It's also a bad sign that there are too many quacks advertising compared to conventional practitioners. :(

  4. Don't hold your breath waiting for quack medicine to fade away. There will always be morally bankrupt thieves selling their potions and there will always be gullible patrons to buy into their nonsense. All the quacksters have to do is claim that medical practitioners and pharmaceutical companies are conspiring to suppress the truth (in order to protect their profits, obviously) and the conspiracy-minded masses will nod their heads and reach for their wallets.

    The single best book I have found on this topic is The Health Robbers by Stephen Barrett. I have personally purchased several copies of this book and sent them to local libraries to add to their circulation.

  5. Fortunately, I'm not going to suffocate since I don't expect all quack medicine to disappear anytime soon. ;) However, I do find it fortunate that I can at least find out what medical practices have some authenticity with the research to back it up. If I was alive hundreds of years ago, even the "established" medical practices would have been quack medicine.

    I'm hopeful that medicine endorsed by the "medical establishment" will only get increasingly better, even though I expect quack medicine to be around for a long time. Even though a lot of effort is being spent on including quacks among the establishment, hopefully they will ultimately fail in the long run.

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