Occasionally, a big deal is made about doctors not knowing everything, a condition they share with every other occupation. If medicine thought it knew everything, it would no longer be conducting research into diseases, treatments, and cures. But gaps in knowledge cannot be filled with seaweed wraps, therapy touch, and ionic bracelets. We need to continue the search for truth using the Scientific Method, the same process that conquered smallpox and landed a probe on a comet.
A common refrain from alternative medicine advocates is that medicine has made mistakes before, whether it involved leeches, thalidomide, or failing to ask about allergies when prescribing medications. But in every instance, it was medicine that discovered and corrected the mistake. Medicine will continue to make mistakes (see, I’m not inherently anti-clairvoyant), but the field is a self-correcting practice that eventually gets it right. Scientists and doctors change their positions when dictated by the evidence. Science is forever trying to prove itself wrong, and healthy, robust debate is encouraged.
Sometimes proponents of medicine are accused of being unable to think for ourselves. Like science, I don’t know everything either. So I have no issue deferring when 98 percent of those with advanced degrees, having evaluated published research and studies, arrive at the same conclusion. I know the field has its flaws, but it is continually researching and advancing.
No one has thrown the accusation of closed-mindedness at me, though I’ve seen it applied to those with my mindset. But we will always consider new evidence attained through proper studies and science. I talked with a crystal healer who had various rocks for different ailments. Had I mentioned my skin cancer, maybe she would have recommended amethyst. But there is no alternative medicine, there is only medicine, treatments that have been proven to work in repeated double blind studies. There is no bias here. Gems, Reiki, and detoxifying foot pads are held to the same standard as pills cranked out by pharmaceutical companies. All must be judged according to the Scientific Method.
Some alternative medicine publications run advertisements with insinuations of cover-ups, warning that doctors don’t want you to know about a miracle treatment. First, it is a pseudomedicine tip-off if claims are taken straight to a sympathetic audience, rather than submitted for peer review. Second, doctors are concerned about their patients’ well-being and would recommend any cure or treatment that was proven effective. This is demonstrated by their embrace of continual research that, if ever completely successful, would put them out of business.
I sometimes hear that doctors treat only symptoms, not the cause. This idea is refuted by antibiotics, vaccines, annual check-ups, and doctor’s office brochures promoting a healthy lifestyle and letting readers know what warning signs to look for.
Some object to mainstream medication because of horror stories centering on drug reactions, medical miscues, and even death. Like all fields, medicine has pulled some doozies, such as amputating the wrong limb or allowing anesthesia to wear off during surgery. But the harm of medicine must be considered alongside the tremendous benefits. Medicine has killed, but it has saved many more. Vaccines, sanitation, and the advent of Germ Theory have caused the average life span to double in 400 years.
Numbers about medical dangers can also be misleading. Many who develop treatment complications lived as long as they did only because of the medicine. Some patients die while receiving last-ditch experimental treatments. All effective treatments have side effects. Indeed, the very property of it being medicine can make it risky. To reduce the dangers, doctors conduct a risk-benefit analysis and base treatments on it. They reject treatments where risk outweighs benefits.
The seeming safety of alternative medicine is offset by its inefficiency. There’s no chance of overdosing on homeopathic cough remedies. Misdiagnosis is sometimes a problem in medicine, whereas there’s not much danger if you slap on frankincense instead of thyme. And the only way someone dies from crystals is if they try to pull them from their pocket while driving.
There are also outright fabrications, such as the recent Internet claim that 108 persons have died in the past decade from the Measles vaccine. In actuality, there were 108 persons who received the vaccine and later died, but the deaths were unrelated to being immunized. It would be like seeing how many persons ate Rice Krispies and died later in the decade, then using those numbers to justify an anti-cereal stance. The Measles vaccine death falsehood was usually accompanied with a note that there have been zero U.S. deaths from Measles in the same time. The actual number was four, but the larger issue is that it was an absurd point to be making in an anti-vaccine post. It was a successful Measles vaccination campaign that eradicated the disease from the U.S., while 145,000 persons worldwide died from it during the same decade.
Another claim is the medical field is resistant to new or natural cures, yet half of prescription drugs were derived from plants. And any original idea is welcome to be submitted for peer review and double blind studies. If the evidence seems valid, it will be published and investigated further and considered for approval by the FDA. Doctors discovering new diseases or treatments are honored, with the greatest accolades reserved for those who disprove traditional wisdom. For instance, treating ulcers with antibiotics went against accepted medical methods, but the two doctors who discovered this use won the Nobel Prize.
I also have an affinity for the field, since a routine physical led to the discovery of my skin cancer. Since the discovery, I have been back to the doctor three times for treatment and am disease-free, with a follow-up scheduled for a few months from now. The best part is, there are free suckers in the waiting room.