“Doctor Hooey” (Anti-medicine arguments)


Today we will go over some of the criticism of mainstream doctors that is sometimes leveled by proponents of Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM).

Critics will sometimes use past science failures, real or imagined, to suggest that it can’t be trusted. But as comedian Dara Ó Briain noted, if science knew everything it would stop doing science. But gaps in knowledge cannot be filled in with whatever the listener finds most appealing.

When science screws up, it admits it. In fact, attempting to falsify a hypothesis is a cornerstone of the Scientific Method. Conceding one does not have all the answers and changing one’s mind when presented new evidence is better than wrongly insisting that one has all the answers.

For an example of the latter, I offer this Ken Ham Tweet: “I’m glad the Bible is not a textbook of science like those used in public schools, as it would change all the time. Many ideas have come and gone but God’s Word remains the same.” This word includes a declaration that the moon has its own light. There is nothing admirable in refusing to admit this is wrong. Science is a process, not a set of rules or dictates, and this fluidity is one of its strengths.

Yet SCAM proponents criticize science for what they call this wishy-washy nature, then turn right around and call science dogmatic, unyielding, and set in its ways. This more accurately describes reflexologists, chiropractors, and other SCAM practitioners, who continue to use methods that rely on meridians, auras, and chakras, all of which have never been shown to exist. Mainstream medicine does change when warranted, which is why it has embraced vaccines, CAT scans, anesthetics, antibiotics, and organ transplants.

Doctor detractors also frequently employ a number of ad hominem assaults. These may include charges of bias, being a shill, being closed-minded, or trying to protect the mainstream. None of this has any bearing on what is true.

Or we may see an ad blaring, “Doctors are TERRIFIED of this!!!” However, the first question to ask when trying to see a doctor for the first time is, “Is the doctor accepting new patients?” About half the time they aren’t. Most have more patients than they can handle and are regularly 90 minutes behind schedule by the end of their office day, at which point they head to the hospital for another round of work, although they should be checking themselves in for exhaustion. The only fear doctors have over someone using an unproven, untested miracle panacea stems from their human compassion about a patient treating a serious illness with wheatgrass and craniosacral rubs.

One of the more hackneyed claims is that doctors only treat symptoms, not the underlying causes. I’m not a doctor, nor do I portray one on this blog, so here’s what a genuine one, Harriett Hall, had to say about this charge: “If a patient has pneumonia, doctors don’t just treat the fever, pain, and cough; they figure out which microbe is responsible and provide the appropriate antibiotic. If a broken bone is painful, they don’t just treat the pain, they immobilize the fracture or insert a pin so it can heal. If a patient is in agony from pain in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen, they don’t just treat the pain, they try to figure out if the underlying cause is appendicitis, and if it is, they operate.”

The sad irony here is that a SCAM artist would give patients suffering from pneumonia, broken bones, and abdominal pain the same treatment. Applied kinesiologists, reflexologists, iridologists, and the like all assert that a certain body part is key to all health, and that manipulating the flow of Qi (which has never been shown to exist) can cure or prevent almost any malady.

A similar argument is that mainstream doctors fail to do anything to keep the illness from arising in the first place. Yet mainstream medicine offers vaccines, encourages annual checkups, gives preventive screenings, and advises breast cancer self-checks. Doctors also advise patients on lifestyle choices like diet, exercise, weight control, handwashing, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and helmet use.

Another SCAM tactic is to point to failings like adverse drug reactions, treatment complications, or blunders like amputating the wrong leg or sewing the patient back up with medical equipment inside.

But if safety is the overriding concern, medicine is the way to go. Medicine saves far more patients than it kills and many patients who develop complications would have died sooner without the treatment. These treatments will all have potential side effects, but the effects of doing nothing is likely worse. Doctors conduct a risk/benefit analysis when deciding which treatments to administer.

Finally, even if all these criticisms were legitimate, it would say nothing about SCAM’s efficiency and would be no reason to have your tonsillectomy performed by a shaman instead of a surgeon.

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