The Alternative Medicine Racket

We are so used to the bad press that pharmaceutical companies and the health service get that it is worth standing back and having a critical look at what the “natural”/alternative health industry gets up to.

And that is not jut the pseudoscience and magical claim. It also the political manipulation and manoeuvring.

This video is quite timely.

Source: The Alternative Medicine Racket « Science-Based Medicine

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17 responses to “The Alternative Medicine Racket

  1. “Do you believe in Magic”is a good read on this subject
    Paul Offit’s excellent book concentrates on alternative medicine in the USA, with little mention of the rest of the world. He describes how American pork barrel politics have given supplement hucksters an almost unrestricted right to make stuff up. 
    Following the thalidomide tragedy, which led to birth defects in babies in the 1950s and 60s, many countries passed laws that required evidence that a drug was both effective and safe before it could be sold.  This was mandate by the Kefauver-Harris amendment (1961) in the USA and the Medicines Act (1968) in the UK.  Laws like that upset the quacks, and in the UK the quacks got a free pass, a ‘licence of right‘, largely still in existence. 


  2. Insurance companies will be liking integrative practitioners if they decrease costs. Drug companies may not. They may be trying to suppress the actuarial picture.


  3. “Dr. Jacobs, who is the associate medical director of the molecular diagnostics division of Abbott, the pharmaceutical and medical research company,”


  4. “What do you call alternative medicine that works? Medicine.” (Sorry, can’t remember the original source of the quote).

    In other words, if it is called alternative medicine, then it has either not been shown to work or it has been shown not to work.


  5. Stuartg, it depends what is meant by, “works.”

    Conventional works better than placebo, but placebo still works. Alternative may only produce placebo level of healing but cost per cost it may be what an insurer finds a good deal.

    Such vids as Ken posted above need to be checked for possible bias. Joseph Jacobs, the person of “Indian heritage,” is obviously so but when you look further as I referenced he is also the associate medical director of the molecular diagnostics division of Abbott, the pharmaceutical and medical research company, Will he easily admit that quite a percent of what his pharmaceuticals bring about could also have been brought about by placebo?


  6. An interesting example of the effectiveness of placebo vs paracetamol for low back pain. One of the authors moved on before the study was complete. When she found its results she asked for retraction of the article. Very annoying for some people if placebo does better than drugs.
    Another article backing it up:


  7. soundhill,

    I suggest that you look up the history of placebo, what it is, and what it does. Ignore the sCAM crowd and their re-defining of things they don’t understand.

    If you can’t be bothered looking up placebo, then a tl;dr meaning is “do nothing, without the patient or researcher knowing”.

    So, the “placebo effect”, as it’s been labeled, is actually what happens when you don’t give any form of treatment at all. By definition, there is nothing there to “work” or be “effective”.


  8. Stuartg, the way you define placebo could be misinterpreted. It is really do “nothing” or do something and the patient does not know which. In order for them not to know which the “nothing” and the “something” have to look the same.

    The nothing then carries with it a sort of caring approach or hypothetical healing which can raise expectation of healing and change health like a smile may, or human contact and don’t advertisers know that when marketing many things to make people feel good.

    There is another sort of do nothing which some cancer sufferers choose, as opposed to mastectomy &c. Maybe they get alternative treatment or maybe they do not. There needs to be better measurement of outcomes of that approach to measure conventional treatment against.


  9. soundhill,

    As I suspected, you didn’t look up the history of placebo. You appear to rely on recent re-interpretations of the meaning by the sCAM crowd.

    In the late 18th century it was used as a term for something doctors prescribed just to keep patient’s happy (latin: placere). During the two centuries since then, science has been used to advance medicine and that meaning of the word is no longer used in medicine. Interestingly, sCAM practitioners still use placebos by that definition.

    When the term placebo is used in science and medicine, there is a completely different, 21st century meaning.

    Here’s a few recent definitions:
    a substance that has no therapeutic effect, used as a control in testing new drugs
    an inactive substance or other sham form of therapy administered to a patient
    a pill or substance that is given to a patient like a drug but that has no physical effect on the patient
    a tablet, liquid, or other form of medication that actually contains no active ingredients, no actual medication or no therapeutic effect
    something given to a person that has no physical effect on them even though they may think that it does
    a neutral treatment that has no “real” effect

    I don’t define placebo; it’s already been done for me. By definition, there is nothing in a placebo to “work”.

    Compare a trial medicine to a placebo. If it’s more effective than the placebo, then it “works”. If it is only as effective as a placebo then it has been shown not to “work”, because it does the same as nothing.


  10. Stuartg: “Compare a trial medicine to a placebo. If it’s more effective than the placebo, then it “works”. If it is only as effective as a placebo then it has been shown not to “work”, because it does the same as nothing.”

    Then why compare to a placebo, why not just compare to nothing?


  11. soundhill,

    It has become obvious that you have only the vaguest idea of what a placebo is, its role and its function.

    You are now asking commenters on a blog to teach you about it!

    A much better way would be to educate yourself on the subject. There are many textbooks on medical research and they all refer to the primary sources. That will allow you to evaluate potential bias for yourself.

    Failing that, there’s always the ‘net. Unfortunately, as you have previously demonstrated, it’s much more difficult to evaluate bias on the ‘net.


  12. Stuartg, teaching you, the reason for testing against a placebo is that patients respond to any pill better than no pill. (If we are only talking pills.) So part of the result of the “real” pill is just that psychological effect, and that part cannot be claimed as an effect of the “real” drug. Only part of the effect of the “real” drug is its biochemical action.

    The child of similar affliction, pain &c, who the doctor visits may improve more than the one who is not visited, even before they get the medication.

    Insurance companies (into real actuarial science) are recognising the powerful effect of a positive psychological impression on patients because it can reduce costs. Drug companies (‘ “Science” Based Medicine’) are resisting since it cuts into their profits.


  13. Soundhill,

    I suggest that you look up the difference between definitions for “placebo effect” and for “placebo”.


  14. soundhill,

    Your comments demonstrate your lack of understanding of placebo.

    Read one or two texts about medical research.

    Then you’ll understand.


  15. soundhill,

    Consider a trial – placebo versus identical placebo, no active arm. Nothing against nothing. Inactive against inactive. Sham therapy versus sham therapy.

    It’s effectively a trial of placebo effect.

    What would you expect to happen?

    The trial has been done. Read about it in the textbooks.



  16. Stuartg it would depend on the patient’s trust in the various medics, the colour of the pills or liquid, any psychological conditioning that had been performed on the various subjects, the suggestibility of the various subjects, whether they know they have been “treated,” what the administering person knows about what is happening, any diabetic effect relating to types of sugars in the placebos, and probably more things.

    A drug company rep will probably agree that placebo effect exists and that anything worth it ought to be associated with a real drug and not a sham. I disagree if a placebo can produce a placebo effect without side effects that a real drug produce. Or if the real drug or treatment is not immediately affordable or available I think it is unethical to leave a child suffering for that philosophy when suggestion could have relieved some suffering. If you adhered to that philosophy you might have banned my mother from lying down beside me and telling me a story about a train journey taking my mind off the severe ear pain I used to get, and increasing my circulation. Just so that the drug company can get the profit.


  17. soundhill,

    You are babbling.

    Until you educate yourself about what a placebo is, and what it is used for, there’s no point in commenting further.

    Hint: in medicine it is unethical to use placebo without informed consent, so it is almost never used outside of trials. In contrast, almost everything the sCAM crowd get their “patients” to purchase from them is placebo.


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