Science and pseudoscience in medicine

Today I was reading one of my favourite blogs, Science Based Medicine. A new post on there titled Stop Making Sense touched on just how much work goes into discovering new facts and theories in science, and how modern medicine has failed at allowing unscientific principles to spread while other scientific fields seem to dismiss them quite easily.

I came up for a few reasons this might be, based on what I have begun to learn of medicine and what effect I have seen alternative medicine have on those around me.

1. Most areas of science do not have a noticeable direct effect on your daily life and well being. Yes our understanding of things like electricity, chemistry and genetics have done amazing things to improve our quality of life, but few things so directly affects a person as a medical diagnosis that can drastically change that quality of life. A person confronted with that situation is going to do all they can to try and overcome or prevent illness, which leads to a personal vested interest in this particular field of science. It only makes sense that there is going to be more public interest in cancer than astronomy.

2. Everyone cares about health care, and everyone has a story or theory about what works to be healthy. This leads to millions of products, techniques or systems available for someone to try, and for science to systematically debunk each and every one of them would be a waste of resources on an epic scale! Of course every separate product or system has anecdotes or ‘science’ explaining why theirs is better than the others and will truly work. What really works… doing research and using critical thinking!

3. Money. Since there are millions of people disillusioned with science based medicine and how it works, there is an incredible money making opportunity there. Whether or not people actually believe what they are selling works, or are complete snake oil salesman, the money to be made by exploiting peoples misunderstanding or desperation for a treatment is huge!

4. Belief. Once you have tried one of these alternative therapies, and if you have had positive results, you are likely to believe it was the therapy. You are not as likely to admit it may have been the Placebo effect, having some relaxing time during the therapy or just having a practitioner give you a calming but ineffective treatment. If you are expecting a positive result you are more likely to get one, and once you believe in it and have resources and time invested in it, you are not as likely to be open to criticism as to what it actually is.

5. Distrust of science. People are more likely to trust those they know, a friend or someone you can actually meet. A scientist working in a lab developing a drug is about as far from personable as you can get! Whereas the energy healer or homeopath you can meet can engender much more trust. As well, the medical system is flawed. Of course it is, it is a human made and run system, but it is what we have. Science is still and will always be the best method for understanding the world around us and how it works.

Those are my ideas on why alternative medicine is so popular, I know there are plenty more out there, hopefully to be explored at a later time!

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