The Fallacies of Alternative Medicine
Sun Mar 1, 2020

"You know what they call Alternative Medicine that works? Medicine!" -- Dara O'Briain

I may not have posted about it before on this blog, but I have a deep dislike for alternative medicine, and I see it as completely unethical. Today I want to highlight some arguments people try and use in favor of alternative medicine, and why they don't hold up.

"It might work, it just hasn't been scientifically studied yet!"/"Science can't find all the answers!"/"Science is closed-minded!"

These are maybe the dumbest arguments of the bunch. For a start, many alternative medicines have had the proper scientific research into them, and have been shown to be no more effective than placebo. Secondly (and this is going to be a theme throughout this post), The burden of proof lies on the person making the claim. Science doesn't work like you think it does: something is assumed to be false until it can be proven true, rather than the other way around.

Also, science isn't one thing, or what one person has decided, science is a method of deducing what's true without being influenced by personal biases. This is why arguments that decry science are, at best, highly flawed. Science has no opinions, and if something could be proven to work, it would be scientifically credible. Alternative medicines haven no evidence for being effective, so they're not scientifically recognised.

Science then, also, cannot be closed-minded. When following the scientific method, you're literally removing your personal biases from the study. Closed-mindedness is a personal bias. (unless, of course, you mean "closed-minded" in that scientists want evidence, which I can hardly call closed-mindedness - I call it sanity.

"Conventional medicine is complicated, This makes more sense!"

I'm not even going to bother talking about this argument. It's a classic example of Personal Incredulity, or, on other words, "I don't understand it, so it's wrong". The human body is a complicated thing, and fixing it when it goes wrong is equally complicated. I don't pretend to understand all of medicine, but you don't need to understand how everything works for it to be effective. Do you refuse to drive a car because you don't understand how it works and instead you walk everywhere? Thought not.

"But if people feel better, what's the problem?"

This is probably the most common argument I hear, and I can refute it from two perspectives: The practical and the ethical.

Practically, a legitimate medical treatment would no doubt be more effective than whatever alternative treatment they got was. It may have made them feel better - the placebo effect is strong, but actual treatment for whatever they were suffering with is stronger. This gets worse, though. Let's use a small example.

Let's say you get a minor illness. A cold, or something like that. Instead of going to a doctor, you check out this natural health clinic that a friend recommended to you. The "doctor" there does some kind of "treatment", and you come out feeling better. It worked! Great! You pay their fee and continue with your life. A while later, you contract another illness. The symptoms are similar, so you go to the same natural health clinic. They do a similar treatment and you feel better. However, later on, your symptoms start to get worse and worse, and you finally go and see a doctor about it. They tell you that it's too late, and you should have got medical care earlier.

This demonstrates the main problem with this argument, practically. Placebo, while it can provide a subjective improvement in wellbeing, is no replacement for medicine, and the promotion of placebo alternative treatments in place of conventional medicine is dangerous because it stops people from getting medical treatment they need.

However, where this argument falls apart most for me is ethically. Alternative medicine relies on the placebo effect, and for the placebo effect to work, the patient must believe that the treatment is effective. This means that all of alternative medicine is founded on lying. A practitioner has to either know that what they're doing is placebo, and then they're knowingly giving fake medicine to people in need, and I don't think I need to explain the moral issues there. Either that, or the practitioner truly believes that what they're doing works - and then you're taking medical advice from somebody who is misinformed, or even worse, delusional.

"It worked for my friend!"

This is just another form of the "if people feel better, what's the problem?" argument. Anecdotal evidence of people feeling better is no evidence for actual effectiveness.


This has mostly been a bit of a rant, but I hope you can see my points against these arguments.

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