There Can Only Be One
January 3, 2012
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One of the most common and perhaps most annoying rhetorical tactics against science-based medicine is the notion that there are different categories of valid medicine. We have all heard these claims like: western medicine versus eastern medicine or allopathic medicine versus homeopathy or conventional medicine versus alternative and complementary medicine.
The reason that this is faulty is because there is only one kind of legitimate medicine: the ones that work (compared with placebo). If it does not, it is not valid medicine, but dangerous quackery. People spend their hard-earned money on stuff that does not work, it can make innocent people not use life-saving medications and instead invest in worthless products and it makes us less likely to think critically.
There is no “eastern medicine” that you can compare with “western medicine”. There is only science-based medicine that is used by real doctors in both the eastern and western hemisphere. People who try to equate the both as being “different, yet equally valid approaches to human health” are performing the fallacy of false balance.
There is also no “alternative” medicine. If it can be shown to work better than placebo in clinical trials with suitable methodologies, it will simply be incorporated into standard medicine. There is no alternative category of medicines called “alternative”. “Alternative” is just a buzzword for substances that either have been tested and shown to be ridiculously ineffective or things that have not yet been tested.
Also, this business that alternative medicine “cannot be tested” is just an post hoc attempt to salvage these preparations after they have failed the test. If they do not work in clinical trials, there is no “alternative” way in which they work. The most reasonable hypothesis is that they do not.
To be sure, science-based medicine can sometimes, on rare occasions, be problematic, but there is a strong self-policing, which makes this a minor problem compared with the problems with so called “alternative” or “eastern” medicine.
Am I “angry”? Yes, I am. Because worthless quack medicine threatens the health, economy and critical thinking of millions of people around the world. You should be angry, too.