Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

A new voice takes on the inflitration of woo into academic medicine

If you think Orac’s insolence doesn’t live up to the name of this blog, at least when it comes to lamenting the infiltration of unscientific, non-evidence-based modalities into academic medicine, such as the use of reiki in a top academic trauma hospital, woo finding its way into the mandatory curriculum of a prestigious medical center and becoming more prevalent in the elective curriculum of others (even to the point of credulous acceptance of quackery such as homeopathy), woo being trumpeted by the largest medical student organization in the U.S., and even what I thought to be the most impregnable bastion of scientific medicine in the U.S., the NIH Clinical Center. Sadly, too many medical students and residents presently training seem just to shrug their shoulders at this and seem to look at doctors like Dr. R. W. and myself as old fuddy-duddies or hypocrites for even thinking that this should be a concern, while otherwise prestigious medical centers think nothing of holding a “debate” about homeopathy, as if such quackery is even worthy of being seen anywhere near an academic medical center, other than as a curiosity to be studied under the sociology of medicine. Of course, as I’ve said before, to me it’s clear that this acceptance of woo by academic medical centers is all about marketing, rather than science or improving patient care.

Now, welcome a new voice arguing against this disturbing trend, Panda Bear, MD. Indeed, he’s devoting a whole month worth of posts to the topic, and he’s not nearly as respectful in his insolence as I try to be. For example, check out the first part of his inaugural post:

No one thinks rationally anymore, not even the well-educated. While I don’t necessarily expect critical thinking from the unwashed, higher education, while of no practical value to the legions of college graduates sporting their polyurethane diplomas, should at least teach people to think critically, or there is no point to it and it becomes just a four year interlude where you learned a bunch of trivia and borrowed a lot of money to party with sorority girls. Certainly you should ask for your money back if you graduated without the intellectual skill to distinguish something that you want to be true from something that is. And you should ask for a refund if you have been awarded a diploma in any field without obtaining the fund of knowledge to recognize the difference between something that could be possible and something that can’t possibly be.

Take Homeopathy, a medical therapy which relies on the imaginary property of water to retain the memory of a substance which it has diluted to a point where not a single atom of the substance remains. People often ask me if my experience with Emergency Medicine, the most practical and hard-nosed of the medical specialties, has left me cynical about the possibility of finding some validity in Homeopathy and other equally ridiculous Complementary and Alternative Medicine therapies. Actually, by the time I had finished the eighth grade I had a sufficient background in chemistry and biology to recognize that these things cannot possibly work. How much education do you need, for example, to definitively state that spinal manipulation cannot possibly obviate the need for vaccinations (as many of our chiropractic friends believe) or that spiritual fire cannot possibly, a la Saturday morning cartoons, stream out of the fingers of Reiki healers? It’s not even as if we’re arguing some subtle point about the energy state of an electron shell or an obscure ion channel in yer’ fucking spleen. This is literally third grade stuff and the fact that many prestigious medical centers lack the institutional courage to point it out should make you cringe in shame, either at their gullibility or their venality.

Don’t hold back, Panda, tell us what you really think!

In any case, it ought to be an interesting series worth reading. Come to think of it, I haven’t said much about the infiltration of woo into academic medicine in a while. Maybe Panda Bear, Dr. R.W., and I (maybe with an assist from #1 Dinosaur) can do a bit of a tag-team match…

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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