Everything You Need to Know About Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Part the Third and Last)
(One last time I state the obvious while continuing to marvel that it needs to be explained although judging from my email and comments it does. -PB)
8.You Can’t Have it Both Ways
I have some fundamentalist Christian relatives who believe the Bible to be a literal account of the creation of the world. They’re not wishy-washy Christians who get all mushy around the edges and, in an effort to reconcile science and their weak faith, allow that perhaps “a day to God is a billion years to the rest of us.” The Bible says the world was created in six days and by golly, it was created in six 24-hour days. God said it. They believe it. If you don’t you’re going to hell. Paleontology? Evolution? The fossil record? All tricks of the Deceiver to lead the faithful astray.
You may think that I dislike people who hold these beliefs, or that I am bothered by what I can only call their profound ignorance, but you would be wrong. I admire their faith and they are as welcome to it as anybody else is to theirs. I’ll even send my kids to one of their private schools if I have the chance because learning math, reading, and writing (something not emphasized in many public schools as they are in the grip of their own peculiar religion) is not strictly dependent on a belief in evolution and we can always do a little deprogramming when they get home.
On the other hand I often find myself in goofy conversations (wrestling with pigs if you know the analogy) where my relatives insist that paleontology is bunk because Carbon-14 dating, apart from being a tool of the Devil, is wildly inaccurate and cannot establish the age of ancient fossils. A little later in the coversation we usually roll around to how someone has found the Ark, a barn-like structure on a mountain in Turkey, that has been positively Carbon-14 dated to the time of Noah. I am not a smart guy and I struggle, yes struggle, with sophisticated intellectual concepts but even I can see the contradiction here, the blatant doublethink required to both believe and at the same time disbelieve something depending on what you are trying to prove.
In much the same manner do the True Believers of Complementary and Alternative Medicine try to eat the proverbial cake and have it, too. The NIH, they proudly point out, studies CAM using the same methods used to study real science. Not only does this establish the validity of quackery in their minds but the very act of a government agency studying their peculiar little beliefs is an act of validation in itself. And yet, when numerous well-designed studies using rigorous statistical methods continue to show that Complementary and Alternative Medicine is nothing more than an expensive and highly detailed placebo, the usual accusations are made that the scientific method is indequate to study qi or spiritual fire shooting from the appendages of the healer. The current meme of the homeopaths, for example, is that independent research of homeopathy is impossible because, through some quantum effect, the beliefs of the investigator influence the actual efficacy of homeopathic remedies. In other words, only a homeopath who believes in homeopathy can research homeopathic effects.
Which then, is it? Is your particular flavor of quackery a scientifically verifiable treatment modality or is it a religion whose secrets are only available to those who make the leap of faith required to believe it? You can’t have it both ways. If you would enter the arena of science then you have to face the lions.
9. You are not the Pope.
I mean, seriously now. Let’s suppose, for the sake of the argument, that there is spiritual fire that can be channeled from your appendages to cure disease. What makes youÂ think some greasy little sociology major who sat through a couple of motivational seminars is the one who can do it? The Pope, for his part, is the spiritual leader of the world’s one billion Catholics, a deeply pious and theologically sophisticated man, and yet he would be the first to deny that he can work the kind of miracles that are the regular activity of oleagenous Pentacostal preachers and their svelte, holistic counterparts in the alternative medicine world. In other words, how do you verify the claims of your dime-store miracle workers? Has your Reiki healer graduated at the top of his class in Lahore or did he go to a cut-rate Reiki training course in Klamath Falls? How do you know your homeopath is shaking the mixture the right way? If there are several schools of acupuncture with their own meridians (and there are), who’s nailing qi like a big dog and who’s just jabbing you with needles? The fact that many of you don’t even think to ask these questions but accept every smooth-talking healer as the real McCoy indicates a level of gulibility, already incredible, that should be embarrasing for any adult who purports to have any street-smarts.
10. “Holistic” is a marketing phrase.
When confronted by the evidence, the purveyors of Complementary and Alternative Medicine will fight a desperate rear-guard action as they retreat deeper into the interior of their vast, irrational country. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to hold onto even that infertile territory they will rally around the holistic banner, insisting that Complementary and Alternative Medicine treats the whole patient while real medicine does not. If you think about it however, it is real medicine, a profession with both generalists and specialists that is treating the whole patient or at least the important, non-entertaining parts. This is why there are so very few Reiki healers doing critical care medicine. Namely because the whole patient is an order of magnitude more complex than can be handled by what is essentially the entertainment committee. Cardiovascular collapse? Sepsis? Rectal bleeding? Please, they’re too busy managing how the patient feels to be bothered with objective disease.
If there’s one thing I’d like every medical student to unlearn its the supposed signficance of the term “holistic.” It’s just a word like “granola,” a clever marketing phrase which is used to disguise a bunch of unwholesome things. When I hear the word “holistic” I reach for my revolver.