Credulity and ignorance, alternative medicine, by Alejandro Vázquez Cárdenas

Why do so many otherwise intelligent people pay considerable sums of money for so-called “alternative medicine” products and therapies? Are they really unaware that most of them, if not practically all of them, have not passed (or tried to pass) any scientific test? Could it be that their culture is not enough for them to know what the so-called “placebo effect” is? Do you have no idea that the hackneyed argument “It worked for my aunt and my friend” is not a valid argument in the so-called “research methodology”? Are we that bad?

You can think of a good number of reasons to understand this situation. First: Inability to make an informed choice about a product. Second, an anti-scientific attitude mixed with vigorous marketing and exaggerated claims. Third, a pathological aversion towards scientific medicine fueled by the false belief in the superiority of “natural” products. Fourth: Psychological reasons such as a craving for healing coupled with errors in judgment. Finally, the wild illusion that a certain therapy, of proven ineffectiveness, worked in “x” cases of an acquaintance, when really other factors were at work, such as the natural course of the disease itself, the placebo effect, spontaneous remission or even, why not, a wrong diagnosis.

A basic fact. An average medicine has a testing, verification and surveillance phase of more than 10 years. In in vitro studies, its efficacy is verified in cells, then it is verified in animal models and, subsequently, clinical trials are carried out in people. At first, with a very small subgroup and later in larger groups. In turn, many clinical trials in the so-called Phase 3 are carried out with a “double-blind” mechanism, which means that the patient does not know if he is taking the tested drug or a placebo and neither does the doctor. All this in order to avoid any bias.

It is still strange that reasonably intelligent and moderately educated people adhere to beliefs rejected by science. University graduates and even some doctors accept certain aspects of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, such as astrology, parapsychology, magnetotherapy, Bach Flowers, iridology, homeopathy, psychoanalysis, etc. This is especially valid if they are evaluating situations in which they have an emotional, doctrinal or most serious interest, a monetary interest as is the case with psychoanalysis, an activity in which a patient is held captive for years.

All those who advocate pseudo-therapies, such as homeopathy and psychoanalysis, have an obligation to prove that their products are safe and effective. But none can do it, for the simple reason that they do not meet the basic requirements to be taken seriously in a research protocol. At most they resort to the so-called “fallacy of authority”, which is when they try to support a belief by its origin and not by arguments.

For a long time, there have been procedures that have been developed to evaluate the effectiveness of drugs and that have helped to distinguish the changes therapeutically induced by said drugs in a certain disease, separating them from the improvement that may follow any other intervention. These procedures form the bases of the so-called “Evidence-Based Medicine”. We can affirm without margin of error that without the demonstration that a treatment is safe and effective, it is ethically reprehensible to offer a treatment to the public. Since many “alternative”, “complementary”, or “integrative” therapies lack this type of support, one must wonder why many consumers confidently pay considerable sums of money for unproven and possibly dangerous health products.

If an unorthodox therapy is inadmissible to a priori evaluation (because its implicated mechanisms or its accepted effects go against established laws in physics, chemistry, or biology), if it lacks acceptable scientific reasoning on its own, it does have insufficient supporting evidence from controlled clinical trials; and it has also failed in controlled clinical trials carried out by impartial evaluators, it is still surprising, even for laymen on the subject, why so many people continue to believe and buy this type of treatment. Naivety or some other adjective?

A remedy for the above? With our schools, our television, with the current health laws and with the saturation of fake news on the networks, we can affirm that there is no remedy. not our generation

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