In which I echo PalMD…

Blog bud PalMD was asked this most difficult question:

A colleague of mine asked a great question: if you have one question to ask a booster of so-called alternative medicine in a public forum, what should it be?

To which he responded:

My answer: “Can you please give specific examples of alternative medicine theories and modalities that have been abandoned because they have been found to be ineffective?”

I tend to agree. If there’s one difference between so-called “alternative” medicine and science- and evidence-based medicine, it’s that ineffective therapies in general are abandoned. Now, I don’t claim that it always happens as fast as it should. All too often it does not. Sometimes, in extreme cases, it takes the older generation of doctors retiring and dying off and the newer generation taking over. Nor do I claim that the process isn’t messy. Scientific and clinical studies often take years to shake out, and in the meantime there can be a great deal of confusion. But make no mistake. Ineffective therapies do disappear in science-based medicine. The examples are legion.

Now contrast that to “alternative medicine,” where “ancient wisdom” is prized and faith-based “cures” are the rule. Is there any “alternative medicine” that CAM practitioners have ever stopped using because the evidence showed it not to work? I can’t think of any. Homeopathy and reiki, for example, have time and time again been shown to be nothing more than water and faith healing, respectively. Yet they are as popular as ever among CAM practitioners. That’s why this is an excellent question.

But there must be others. What other questions directed at a CAM believer could limn the essential difference, the faith-based nature of CAM, for a general audience? For me, the question would be this:

“What specific evidence would it take to convince you that homeopathy {or whatever woo the CAM practitioner believes in} is ineffective medicine?” Then I would press for specific examples.

The comments are now open for your ideas.