I have battled alternative medicine on this blog and in Facebook threads, conversations, letters to the editor, and e-mails to hospitals. While the embrace of ideas with no scientific backing or even plausibility is unfortunate (or tragic in cases like Jessica Ainscough), adults in the end have to make these decisions for themselves.
However, in many cases, they are also making those decisions for their children, which is problematic when it comes to issues like vaccine refusal. Even more revolting are those who disallow all medicine for their children, as is done by members of Followers of Christ church. This extremist sect in Idaho allows children to die from treatable conditions, protected by a statute that allows them to do precisely this.
While not tragic like treating childhood leukemia with anointing oil, there is another way stupid adult decisions impact those whose care they have been entrusted with. That’s because alternative medicine is also practiced in the veterinary field.
It comes with varying degrees of danger. Persons who perform Reiki on their cat are wasting their time and annoying the pet, but as long as genuine treatment is also employed, no harm is done. Substantially worse is the advice dispensed by veterinarian Will Falconer, who recommends jettisoning antibiotics in favor of homeopathy. He began doing this himself after treating his calico’s uterine infection with Chinese herbs, flushes, and something he concocted from rotten beef. As a doctor, Falconer should understand the post hoc reasoning fallacy and the fluctuating nature of many illnesses. Instead, he reports that the cat’s recovery was “an a-ha moment and I tossed my antibiotics in the trash.”
A wise move, says veterinarian Wendy Jensen, who cites some shortcomings in medicine – namely that it has yet to conquer all disease and death – to take a non sequitur dive into deciding we all need homeopathy. She writes, “The reason homeopathy does what scientific medicine cannot is because it doesn’t heal the body but the immortal soul, also known as the Vital Force. Illness begins at the energetic level and this is the level at which homeopathy heals.” No word on how this treatment works with rabies.
Alt-vets like these two will cite a bulldog here or a cockatoo there that showed some improvement, but anecdotes cannot alter the fact that there has never empirical evidence of homeopathy’s efficiency. Homeopaths have done nothing to increase lifespans, arrest disease, mitigate symptoms, or ensure that waiting rooms have more variety in their magazine selection. In short, they have made no verifiable contribution to the health field.
Again, if a 30-year-old person wants to treat their tuberculosis with a homeopathic potion, I strongly advise against it and will point out the invalid nature of the treatment, but in the end it’s their decision to make. However, those 30 in dog years should not be subjected to it.
Homeopathy won’t harm by itself, but could allow a serious condition to go untreated. A more direct danger comes from cupping, which the blog Skeptvet has documented with disturbing pictures of canine and equine victims. Cupping is placing a glass or plastic container on the skin and creating a partial vacuum with heat or a suction pump. This leaves a visible bruise, which is supposed to help with preventing injury, treating afflictions, increasing blood flow, expelling toxins, moving chi, or winning gold medals.
The aforementioned blog is run by a veterinarian who fights alt-vet tactics. These techniques include the Tellington Therapeutic Touch for Turtles, a creation of its namesake, Linda Tellington. She actually uses it on all animals, I just used turtles for alliterative purposes.
Tellington uses science terms without being scientific, such as in this sentence: “The intent of the Therapeutic Touch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence and turn on the electric lights of the body.” And if your doctor dreams fizzled when you flunked anatomy and physiology, your second chance has arrived. Tellington assures us, “It is not necessary to understand anatomy to be successful in speeding up the healing of injuries or ailments.”
Her website includes a standard list of several dozen disparate ailments that the touch can cure. It covers pretty much any affliction except for the likes of blindness or the inability to walk, since it would be readily apparent the touch was doing no good against those. For her evidence of all this, Tellington cites “anecdotal evidence,” an oxymoron.
There are three reasons why anecdotes must be discounted in medical research and why double blind studies must always be the gold standard of evidence. First, “Thyme cured Grandma’s gout” and other tales are unreliable because uncontrolled observations are prone to error, misinterpretation, false conclusions, and selective memory.
Second, testimonials can be found to support every treatment ever devised, no matter if they are useless, harmful, or even fatal. If anecdotes are proof, everything works. Most important, nearly 100,000 years of trial-and-error treatments and their accompanying anecdotes left humans with no increase in quality or quantity of life. Conversely, 200 years of Germ Theory, vaccines, double blind studies, and the Scientific Method have tripled lifespans, conquered some diseases, and mitigated others.
Probably the most extreme of the alt-vets is Patricia Jordan, who authored “Mark of the Best Hidden in Plain Sight: The Case Against Vaccination.” She offers up silly phrases and the appeal to nature fallacy in an unusual mix of ideas that would be endorsed by both New Agers and Young Earthers. She writes, “True health and wellness comes from a very natural setting and from the relationship of the individual in balance with the earth and all the treasures a healthy ecosystem has to offer. Vaccines are the grafting of man and beast. They and drugs are at odds with the intelligence of the almighty design.”
With examples like these, it’s easy to see why Skeptvet said veterinarians who are using these alternative practices should stop. Failing that, they should stop abusing the professional title they use to lure unsuspecting pet owners who want their furry friend cured. “They should not present themselves as veterinarians,” she wrote, “but as homeopaths, herbalists, or whatever type of alternative practitioner fits their ideology.”
That way, veterinarians can practice their medicine and Jordan can continue doing what the sagebrush and invisible force in the sky are telling her to.