Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: You just might be an “altie” if… (2007 edition)

I didn’t get back home until late last night; unfortunately there was no time to do a segment of Your Friday Dose of Woo that was up to my standards. Fortunately, there’s something that I’ve been holding in reserve for just such an occasion that fits right in. Long-timers may remember that, near the very beginning of my blog, I did a post entitled What is an altie? It was basically a Jeff Foxworthy-like listing of “You just might be an altie if…” statements that, I think, had a good point. For those of you not familiar with the term “altie,” it was coined about three or four years ago on the Usenet newsgroup to describe a certain hardcore variety of alternative medicine aficianado who is utterly immune to evidence or reason. Alties are often militant and always highly suspicious of eeeviiilll “allopathic” medicine and doctors.Part and parcel of being an altie is an anti-intellectual and antiscientific attitude that does not allow a little thing like evidence to sway one from one’s belief in the power of alternative medicine. The original series of “You just might be an altie if” items appeared on back in the mists of time (around three or four years ago), and I appropriated the concept and expanded the list with some entries of my own within a month of starting my old blog.

I promised to update it every year (actually, every few months), and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s been more than a year since the 2006 edition. An update is long overdue. And what better place to do an update to this infamous series of posts than here in the series that is dedicated to giving you your only the finest woo? No? Well, consider this: Who is responsible for producing the woo that I deconstruct here every week? Alties, of course, which is where the appropriateness of posting this update comes in! Wouldn’t you like to understand them better? Of course you would. So, here, without ado is the brand new, spiffy, updated, encyclopedic, complete “You might be an altie if…” for 2007:


  1. If you believe that doctors, scientists, and the pharmaceutical companies conspire to suppress your favorite “alternative medicine” modality, you just might be an altie.
  2. If you like to claim that science is a religion, you might be an altie (or at the very least a creationist).
  3. If you accept without questioning vague and/or poorly documented anecdotes and testimonials as sufficient evidence for you that an “alternative” therapy can produce remarkable results “curing” cancer, heart disease, autism, Alzheimers, heart disease, etc., but routinely brutally nitpick and then dismiss well-designed randomized, double-blinded Phase III clinical studies for conventional medicine, you just might be an altie.
  4. If you believe that liver “flushes” actually cause gallstones to be “flushed” from your gallbladder and remove “toxins” from your liver, you just might be an altie. (Actually, if you believe that liver “flushes” do anything except give you exceptionally stinky diarrhea, you are almost certainly an altie.)
  5. If you believe that dichloroacetate is not cancer chemotherapy because it is a “compound” or because it is not a product of big pharma, there’s only an outside chance that you’re not an altie.
  6. If you believe that coffee enemas and megadoses of carrot juice can cure cancer, you just might be an altie.)
  7. If you make claims for a product or therapy like, “strengthens the immune system,” “restores balance,” “detoxifies the liver,” “cleanses the colon,” or “cleanses the blood,” you may be an altie.
  8. If you are impressed by such claims when made by others, you just might be an altie.
  9. If you do most of your “scientific” research on websites that exist to sell “alternative health” products, you might be an altie.
  10. If you believe that a chiropractor can manipulate your spine without touching you and cure your back pain, you are probably an altie.
  11. If you carefully avoid any criticism of any “alternative medicine” practitioner, product, or theory, regardless of how mind-numbingly obviously unscientific (homeopathy, for example), illogical, internally inconsistent, or fraudulent it may be, you might be an altie.
  12. If you think it’s perfectly acceptable, nay, laudable, for shady Internet entrepreneurs to launch a website that claims to be about “education” but in reality exists to sell a cancer treatment that has only shrunk tumors in animals and has yet to be tested against cancer in humans (and lie by claiming that it’s being sold to treat pets), you’re not only an altie, but you’re an idiot.
  13. If you accept or agree with every vilification of medicine and science as The Truth, regardless of the source or of how obviously irrational, without basis, or unjustified the vilification is, you might just be an altie.
  14. If you are utterly convinced that autism is a “misdiagnosis” for mercury poisoning, despite the fact that epidemiological and basic scientific studies do not support this hypothesis, that the number of new autism cases in the U.S. has not shown a sign of falling since thimerosal was removed from vaccines three years ago (ditto Denmark, where thimerosal was removed in the early 1990’s), and that autism does not share the symptomotology of mercury poisoning, you just might be an altie.
  15. If you believe that changing the bond angle of water can cure cancer (or that a simple distillation and electrochemical apparatus actually can change the bond angle of water), you just might be an altie.
  16. If you believe that Hulda Clark is being unjustly “persecuted” by “conventional medicine” and/or “the government” because she is a “threat,” you are very likely an altie.
  17. If you believe that Hulda Clark has ever cured anybody of cancer or AIDS in her life and that her clinic is a place of hope, you just might be an altie.
  18. If you believe that a liver fluke can cause all the diverse kinds of cancer out there and that “zapping” that fluke can cure all cancer and AIDS, you just might be an altie.
  19. If you absolutely, positively cannot ever admit that a conventional therapy, any conventional medical therapy, can cure a disease, any disease, you may well be an altie.
  20. If you believe that vaccines “don’t work,” that they “hurt the immune system,” or that they are a major cause autism or other chronic diseases, you just might be an altie.
  21. If you routinely use or Cure Zone as sources for medical information, you just might be an altie.
  22. If you regularly post to the message boards on Cure Zone and haven’t been banned, you’re certainly an altie.
  23. If you think should be a sunny little support group where true believers in alternative healthcare share testimonials and gleefully trash science and medicine without comment from skeptics (in other words, if you want it to be like Cure Zone), you may be an altie.
  24. If you underwent conventional therapy for cancer and then underwent alternative medicine treatment but attribute your survival and present cancer-free condition to the alternative medicine and not the conventional therapy, you just might be an altie.
  25. If you think it’s OK for (or any other such newsgroup) to be awash in advertising for snake oil quackery and other spam, you may be an altie.
  26. If you frequently use the term “allopathic medicine” to refer to accepted evidence-based medicine (particularly if you either turn your nose up or sneer as you say it), you just might be an altie.
  27. If you believe the trace of a dog’s milk molecule diluted 30C times has more healing power than 875 mg of amoxicillin, you might be an altie.
  28. Speaking of amoxicillin, if you can believe that a coroner’s autopsy report that showed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, signs of chronic illness, and HIV encephalitis is more indicative of the cause of death being due to an acute allergic reaction to amoxicillin rather than to AIDS-related complications, you just might be an altie.
  29. If you consider someone “doctor” because they have a diploma-mill ND, you might be an altie.
  30. If you believe that alternative medicine practitioners are far more caring for their patients and far more moral (and therefore, by implication, less corruptible by money) than conventional doctors, you just might be an altie.
  31. If you believe it’s perfectly logical that some alt-med clinic tucked away in a remote corner of some South American country (or on the outskirts of Tijuana) has been able to achieve amazing cure rates for many usually highly fatal cancers for years, all without publishing any data and without attracting the attention of any Western medical or science institutions or media whatsoever, then you must be an altie.
  32. If seeing a company charge exhorbitant prices for herbs or other alternative medicine treatments doesn’t bother you in the least but you castigate pharmaceutical companies (which spend hundreds of millions of dollars and many years to get each new drug developed, tested, and approved) for price-gouging, you are very likely an altie.
  33. If you dismiss every well-designed randomized clinical study that fails to show a benefit for an alternative medicine or therapy over a placebo control as either not proving that the therapy is ineffective or as having been manipulated by nefarious forces (conventional medicine, the pharmaceutical companies, the government, etc.) to produce a negative result, you may well be an altie.
  34. If you call your backyard herb garden “the pharmacy”, you might be an altie.
  35. If you think skeptics are close-minded and paranoid with no possible exception and they’re all out to get you, you might be an altie.
  36. If you can go on and on for hours about how many people die from medical errors but become confused and defensive when someone mentions the victims of alternative medicine, you might be an altie.
  37. If you get sicker and sicker while taking echinacea but tell everyone you’re feeling better, you might be an altie.
  38. If you say your healer “is too busy people making people healthy” to conduct evidence-based trials but have never met a single person helped by them, you might be an altie.
  39. If you excuse your healer and other alternative medicine practitioners from conducting evidence-based clinical trials of their treatments on the grounds that there is no money to support well-designed clinical trials testing alternative medicine even though the yearly budget for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is over $120 million, you just might be an altie.
  40. If you believe that there really are herbal cures for diabetes and cancer, but the government forbids their sale because pharmaceutical companies need to make money from their “expensive drugs that don’t work,” there’s a good chance that you’re an altie.
  41. If you’ve read Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About and consider it to be truthful and chock full of useful medical information that you can’t wait to try out, you are without a doubt an altie.
  42. If you’ve actually forked out $499 for a lifetime membership to Kevin Trudeau’s website and consider it money well spent, you are without a doubt an altie. (And an easy mark, as well. Are you interested in some investments in land in Florida that I could hook you up with?)
  43. If you believe that chelation is a valid treatment for autism, Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery disease, or any medical condition other than heavy metal poisoning properly documented with appropriate symptoms and laboratory tests, you are well on the way to being an altie; that is, if you’re not one already.
  44. If you think that vaccines do far more harm than good, you’re probably an altie.
  45. If you believe that the Mohammed Al-Bayati is a credible authority on pathology and does good science, you just might be an altie.
  46. If you think that HIV can be cured with herbal supplements that “boost the immune system,” you’re an altie.
  47. If you can look at a study that doesn’t mention alternative medicine and that actually points out that its results should cast doubt on claims of “miracle cures,” and still conclude that the study shows that alternative medicine can cure “incurable” cancers, you’re definitely an altie.
  48. If you speak of the AMA as if it were a government regulatory agency, you just might be an altie.
  49. If you believe that a “healthy” person’s shit literally doesn’t stink, you’re definitely an altie (I suspect the reason chlorophyll has a reputation as a “detoxifier” is that it’s actually an effective stool deodorizer).
  50. If you assert that dosage, mean dosage and standard deviation of dosage are all “pharm concepts” that aren’t relevant to your favorite remedy, you’re probably an altie.
  51. If you talk about the pH of the “body,” you’re either an altie or have access to a very large blender.
  52. If you’re standing at the blackboard writing,”HIV does not exist. HIV is harmless and does not cause AIDS. HIV is a genetically engineered bioweapon,” you’re the AltieBart.
  53. If your definition of “acceptable risk” is, “What the hell, let’s give it shot, what have we got to lose”? You might be an altie. (Apply this one to DaveScot.)
  54. If you “think” recommended dosages are for sissies, and that median ED/LD’s are best determined by experimentation on your child…you might be an altie.
  55. If you think shifting burden of proof onto someone who doesn’t have access to medical information on an unverifiable, unblinded, uncontrolled anecdote is the height of debate, you might be an altie.
  56. If you think someone pointing out your failed efforts to shift the burden of proof is “evasion,” you might be an altie.
  57. You might be an altie if you view cherry picking quotes from the abstracts available on pubmed to be the main duty description in your role as soldier in the war against vaccinations.
  58. You might be an altie if you cite a contentious review as gospel and declare victory over your imagined enemy (99.99% of the world) in the process.
  59. If you think that your kid is getting better when you dose him with something recommended by a “Defeat Autism Now!” doctor or Rashid Buttar because the kid grows pale, vomits, breaks out in a rash, loses hair, skin starts peeling and he has a serious change of fecal color or has a seizure and/or a high fever, you are probably John Best or one of his altie antivax buddies from the altie autism boards and the quacks just love you to bits.
  60. If you are like John Best and you refuse to see that your buddies are a quacks and liars who are ripping off parents, then you just mightbe delusional.
  61. If you write about Herxheimer reactions in autistic kids but you can’t spell “Herxheimer” you are probably Rashid (coffee enemas are our friends) Buttar.
  62. If you think you can put a paste of bloodroot on your skin that will eat a big hole through your flesh and that what is happening is really that cancer is being pulled out of your body and that the accompanying pain is necessary and better than what allopathic medicine would offer you, you are likely an altie.
  63. If you are saving up for your own Ondamed ™ device, you might be an altie.
  64. If you’ve ever grown/brewed your own jar/crock of “Kombucha tea”, yup, you’re an altie.
  65. If reading the words “” makes you break out in a cold sweat, you might be an altie.
  66. If you think moxabustion, high colonics and ear candling are really fun things to do, you’re probably an altie.
  67. If you named your child Mugwort, pretty good chance that you’re an altie.
  68. If you think natural is synonymous with good then you’re probably an altie.
  69. If you tell me not to touch my apple because it’s covered in pesticide while you’re eating a Big Mac, you may be an altie.
  70. If you buy your kids cokes while protesting against water fluridation, you may be an altie.
  71. If your grandmother never talks about the two children she lost as infants and you hear other family members and your friends talking about how dangerous immunization is and so you become concerned for the health of your children, you may be human.
  72. You might be an altie if even with overwhelming evidence that you might be wrong, you absolutely refuse to admit any error in your thinking.
  73. If you believe the soil depletion theory and stock up on megadoses of vitamins, you might be an Altie.
  74. If you believe that removing your amalgams will help your illness, you might be an Altie.
  75. If you believe that a clinic on a dirt road in Mexico can cure your cancer, you might be an Altie.
  76. If you believe that a Naturopath has more medical knowledge than a Medical Doctor, you might be an Altie.
  77. If you try every protocol found on the Internet to eliminate mercury/parasites/allergies, you might be an Altie.
  78. If you think medicine is organized, you ARE an altie.
  79. If your replies to skeptics start with “lol” there’s a preety good chance that you are an altie.
  80. If you try bazillions of cures until symptoms go away, then declare the last one to be a cure, you might be an altie.
  81. If you think researching a possible cure is a waste of time because you have to cure people right now with your shot in the dark, you might be an altie. (This one’s definitely DaveScot.)
  82. If you like to talk about some anonymous guy’s finances before you talk about a critical medical issue in a blog entry about that very critical medical issue, you might be an altie.
  83. If you think financial motivations alter the laws of thermodynamics, you might be an altie.
  84. If you complain about the chlorine in Splenda while putting salt on your dinner, you might be an altie.
  85. If you complain about Coca-Cola’s acidity while drinking a glass of orange juice, you might be an altie.
  86. If you believe the plural of anecdote is data you are probably an altie
  87. If you believe alternative and complementary therapies cannot adequately be studied using randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trials because they miss the essence of the therapy, as was recently suggested in an article in the BMJ, you are almost certainly an altie.
  88. If you have a conspiracy theory that requires the non-existence of doctors who are both compassionate and require double-blind control studies to make decisions, then you might be an altie.
  89. If you prefer to use the term “babies” to describe all children under the age of 10, there’s an outside chance you’re an altie.
  90. If your arguments tend to degenerate to comments about “baby poisoners” while never once considering the concept of “infant mortality rate”, the massive reduction in infant mortality in industrialized societies in the last 150 years, or what that means in the grand scheme of human happiness, you’re almost certainly an altie.
  91. If you’ve ever screamed “won’t somebody please think of the children?!”, you might be an altie.
  92. If you refuse to believe that any disease or condition could possibly cure itself or regress to a mean, that all improvements in health are driven by outside influences, while simultaneously describing the body’s own miraculous healing powers, you are an altie.
  93. If you don’t know that many diseases are caused by the immune system, under the term “autoimmune disorders”, and that “boosting” or “energizing” one’s immune system is the key to health and longevity, you might be on the path to being an altie.
  94. If you respond to skeptics by pointing out how Semmelweis was ridiculed for his ideas, you are probably an altie.
  95. f you don’t know the difference (or know that there is a difference) between ethylmercury and methylmercury, yet still claim you know that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism, you might be an altie.
  96. f you attribute the sudden, radical decline in polio incidence that occurred when the Salk vaccine was introduced to the fact that “polio rates were already declining anyway” … you may be an altie.
  97. If you believe that…
    — A worsening of symptoms proves your alt.therapy is “cleaning out the toxins”
    — An improvement in symptoms proves your alt.therapy has cured you
    — Unchanged symptoms prove your alt.therapy has “halted the progression of disease”… you may just be an altie.
  98. If you insist that “the flu shot gave you the flu,” and your evidence is that you got a “stomach flu” 3 months after getting the shot… you may be an altie.
  99. If you can utter or hear the words “psychic surgery” with a straight face… you could just possibly be an altie.
  100. If you believe that any efficacious treatment for anything ever could, or should, be 100% safe for everybody… you must be an altie.
  101. Corollary: If you believe that a drug/vaccine that saves 1,000,000 lives and kills 5 people is no better than rat poison… I’m afraid you might be an altie.
  102. If you believe that this makes logical sense:
    — My child did not get the pertussis vaccine.
    — Yet my child did not get pertussis.
    — Therefore, the pertussis vaccine is useless…
    … well, it looks like you might be an altie.
  103. (Corollary: If you react violently when someone suggests your children stay healthy because of the herd immunity bestowed by all those kids who did get the vaccines… you might be an altie.)
  104. If you refuse treatment for depression that is an understandable side-effect of your chronic, painful illness because you think receiving such treatment would mean admitting your illness is “all in your head” and you wouldn’t then be able to access further treatment for the disease itself, you might be an altie.
  105. If you believe your overweight or obesity is caused by “toxins” and take great pains to remove these toxins from your diet and home, while neglecting to look at whether you may simply need to eat less or get more exercise (or indeed check for underlying medical conditions like hypothyroidism), you might be an altie.
  106. If being seen to be right about your chosen theory or treatment is more important to you than recovering as much of your health as possible, you might be an altie.
  107. If you use the term “allopathic” without irony when referring to evidence based medicine.. you’re an altie!
  108. If you believe pro biotic yogurt cures measles.. you’re an altie.
  109. If you spout anti vax propaganda while relying on herd immunity to protect your(unvaccinated) children.. you’re an altie , and a selfish hippocrate to boot.
  110. If you believe polio was not wiped out by vaccination, and that FDR in fact had EPV .. you’re an altie ( and probably posting on
  111. If you believe chiro works.. you’re an altie.
  112. If your response to any criticism of your pet woo woo is- “allopathic medicine and evil big pharma kill 100,000 people a year”… you guessed it , there is absolutely no doubt that you are an altie.
  113. If you believe measles is harmless… altie
  114. If you believe enemas cure anything other than constipation… altie
  115. If you use the words- energy, vibrations and quantum when discussing vitamins/crystals/homeopathy etc.. altie through and through.
  116. If you believe carl sagan and james randi are members of the illuminati…. altie!
  117. You know you’re an altie when you are horrified that they are serving cookies and sweets in the chemo room because you know for certain that sugar feeds cancer…..and then you rant and rave about the wonders of juicing, that your off to drink a huge glass of beet juice (as if cancer can differentiate the types of sugar you are feeding it)
  118. If you think the bald assertion of the possible existence of completely unspecified logical fallacies is devastating to your opponent, you might be an altie.
  119. If you think that ridicule designed to highlight your logical fallacies is inherently immoral and fallacious, you might be an altie.
  120. If you think that skeptics should hold a straight face when dealing with your silliness, AND that they should be more emotional when they do keep a straight face, you might be an altie.
  121. If you think your “putting babies on spikes” treatment is legitimate because a handful of kids had an allergy to something in the widespread, successful evidence-based treatment/prevention, you might be an altie.
  122. If you think hydrogen, hydrogen ions, hydroxide ions, oxygen, ozone, water, and hydrogen peroxide are all the same and can be labelled the same because they all contain H’s or O’s, you might be an altie.
  123. Finally, if you are deeply offended by the above list, you just might be an altie!

Thanks to all who contributed to the list. I know that its sheer size makes it difficult, but please, feel free to post more “You just might be an altie” items in the comments! Come on, folks, don’t you like a challenge? Don’t let me down. Get me more “You just might be an altie…” items. Give them to me in the comments! Let’s see how many “You might be an altie” items we can come up with!

Maybe next time it won’t take me more than a year to post a new and updated iteration of “What is an altie?/You might just be an altie if.” I hope to have at least two times the number of items by the time the 2008 edition rolls around, as we’ve more than doubled the number since last year. Let’s get this thing growing exponentially, at least for a while.

Finally, apologies to Rich Shewmaker, who originated the list.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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