Great article at The Atlantic by David H. Freedman:
Again and again, carefully controlled studies have shown alternative medicine to work no better than a placebo. But now many doctors admit that alternative medicine often seems to do a better job of making patients well, and at a much lower cost, than mainstream care—and they’re trying to learn from it.
I saw a lot of “alternative” “medicine” in my teenage years, and it was all complete bullshit. But it has always worked for other people in my family to alleviate minor ailments or pain because they believe in it. It drives me nuts that they blow money on scams and quackery, but it solves their problems, so it’s hard to argue with them.1
Freedman does a great job of explaining the complicated issue: alternative medicine is complete bullshit, but it actually does work for many common health problems due to the incredible power of the placebo effect — often more effectively than real medicine, which is much less effective than many of us assume.
The interesting dilemma is whether it’s possible to integrate some voodoo bullshit into real medical care to significantly improve overall health with no negative side effects, such as people eschewing real care when it’s really necessary, blowing more money than they can afford on fake treatments, or being injured by practices or products that aren’t held to any standards or testing.
The answer isn’t clear-cut, especially since “real” medicine also doesn’t have a very good track record of avoiding unnecessary drugs and surgeries, keeping patient costs low, and minimizing negative side effects through rigorous testing and consistently high standards.
The same applies to a lot of expensive wine and audio equipment. ↩︎