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Alt-med purveyors show their true colors

by Phil Plait, Jan 27 2010

At some level, I understand the motivations of people who promote "alternative medicine". They may very well be altrustic, seeing what they perceive as a massive failing of so-called Western medicine, and feeling strongly that they know how to fix the situation, if only people would seek alternatives. I know that when I feel strongly enough about an issue, I feel morally obligated to speak up.

The problem is that for a lot of this so-called alternative medicine, there is no evidence it works, and in fact evidence it doesn’t work. Worse, a lot of its biggest purveyors actively try to denigrate real medicine, the stuff that, y’know, works, in an attempt to bolster their alt-med claims. And you have to be a little suspicious when they hawk their wares on their sites, too.

So I question the motivations of some of these people, including one Mike Adams, about whom I wrote a couple of days ago. When called out for what is apparently voter fraud for a Twitter Shorty Award, he threw an epic tantrum that displays a decided lack of grip on reality (assuming he honestly believes what he’s selling). After that fact-free diatribe he followed up with a rant about skeptics that’s so far off the mark that it’s hard to believe anyone could post something like that honestly. Steve Novella takes him down on that one.

And as if these word spasms from Adams weren’t enough, he posted a third article where he completely gets science wrong, claiming water and quantum mechanics are magic, and then a fourth about the Shorty Awards where he once again ramps up the paranoid conspiracy theories.

Sigh. The irony is that he makes my job easy since he’s self-debunking, but also makes it harder because so many people swallow what he says whole without even giving it a moment of critical thought.

Joe Mercola, the other "victim" professing to have the vapors over this Shorty Award nonsense, decided to jump into the fray as well. Instead of using facts — because why start now? — he thought it was a good idea to say that Rachael Dunlop is fat:

An arrogant group of science bloggers that have vilified me for the past few years have started a campaign to have an Australian shill to win a health award on Twitter. This overweight non-physician has arrogantly bashed nearly every alternative therapy and encourages reliance on drugs.

Rachael is a woman who has tirelessly fought quackery and the dangerous wares of many alt-med purveyors, and of course Adams and Mercola are squarely in her crosshairs. She has called out many an antivaxxer, and was a key player in the travesty involving Dana McCaffery (an infant who died of pertussis) and Meryl Dorey, an antivaxxer who claims no one dies from pertussis anymore.

So when faced with someone like Rachael who has years of experience and who wields science, evidence, and reality, Mercola decided to stick out his tongue and call her fat.

Wow, folks. There’s your alt-med hero.

And yes, I am engaging in an ad hominem, an attack directed at someone instead of their arguments. But it’s not always wrong to do so; in this case Steve Novella, Orac, Rachael, and many others, including me, have already shown that people like Mercola and Adams are full of it. But sometimes that’s not enough. I think it does a lot of good to see how vile these people can be, and something like this is not only warranted, but needed, especially when these alt-medders set themselves up to be victims, claiming to be sympathetic and only wanting to help. They don’t help; they hurt.

Happily, some of Mercola’s followers are starting to see through him.

Look. We’re not talking about goofy nonsense like ghost-hunting or UFOs here. We’re talking about people’s lives. Alt-medders like Adams and Mercola reject treatments that we know to work, that we know can cure illnesses, that we know can relieve pain and suffering on a massive scale, and that we know can save lives. That’s what you’re turning your back on when you listen to them.

And I still endorse Rachael for the Shorty Award in health. Keep fighting the good fight.

Originally posted on the Bad Astronomy Blog

22 Responses to “Alt-med purveyors show their true colors”

  1. reasonablehank says:

    Great points, Phil.

    These callous ghouls need to be openly mocked, and their outrageously distasteful behaviour presented to them everywhere they pop up their heads.

    Being pleasant to them has only fed their presence. This needs to be mainstream.

    One attempts to debate them; they delete you from the discussion. They continue the discussion as though you can still answer them. Deceit: the kind of which I have witnessed nowhere else.

    Standard Anti-vaccination Learned Pattern Behaviour.

  2. Janis says:

    Interesting article. Define alt medicine please. Do you include acupuncture, Eastern medicine (a broad category, I realize), and so on. I do not believe any one should be discouraged from conventional medicine: that is indeed scary stuff. If you could define alt medicine, I would appreciate it. I adjudicate many claims that include (possibly) this medicine and the company pays for some of them. I would like to know more about it, and certainly not to deny legit claims, but to have a better understanding to argue against paying some of these because they are dangerous medicine.

    • CW says:

      The National Institute of Health has a subsect that deals with Complementary & Alternative Medicine:

      Major types of alt-med practices:

      I don’t think there’s been one study/experiment that showed a particular alt-med treatment works – other than placebo effect.

    • Max says:

      It’s basically a double standard, where conventional medicine is proven to be reasonably safe and more effective than a placebo in clinical trials, while alt medicine isn’t.
      Nonetheless, alt medicine is used because it appeals for other reasons: cultural traditions, “natural” ingredients, fewer side effects, lower price, etc.
      For example, acupuncture was found to be as effective as a placebo in clinical trials, but it’s still used because it’s part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

    • Dax says:

      You know what they call alternative therapies proven to work? … Medicine.

      It’s as simple as that. Does it work? It loses the ‘alt’ status.

  3. Ed Graham says:

    Every time I go into a pharmacy to buy something, I ask the Pharmacist why the stuff that doesn’t work costs as much as the stuff that does.

  4. hznfrst says:

    It’s bad enough that adults use non-treatments like homeopathy on themselves, but when they subject children and pets to it they are committing the major crime of neglect. The placebo effect works (sometimes and sort of) on people who think it works, but how could this possibly work for children and animals?

    Pure homeopath(et)ic garbage is still being sold all over the place, displayed on the same shelves as real medicine! Two major offenders are Costco with Zicam and Petco with crap from a company called Homeopet – in pill form, even though homeopathic treatments are supposed to be water-based. I shudder to think how many children and animals suffer from having serious conditions go untreated because their caretakers are such irresponsible dupes!

    All we can do at this point is to keep writing to our representatives until the issue gets onto their radar. I keep hoping some person or organization with enough resources will come forward to file a class action suit against these frauds for the sake of those who can’t defend themselves, and some fine day we will be rid of this dangerous quackery.

  5. Max says:

    I think Mercola was insinuating that Rachael Dunlop doesn’t maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight because conventional medicine doesn’t encourage it.

    • Jim says:

      That’s absurd. Practitioners of science-based medicine absolutely advocate healthy lifestyles. Mercola was being an ass, plain and simple.

  6. Trimegistus says:

    All “alternative medicine” is ultimately based on ignorance and paranoia. Why would someone seek out an “alternative” to going to the doctor? Because something has convinced them that regular medicine is somehow ignoring or suppressing an actual cure. So they go to the “alternative.” Pure paranoia.

    • Max says:

      Oh please. Why would someone seek out an “alternative” to going to the doctor? Maybe because they had a bad experience with a doctor or three. Maybe their friend highly recommended an “alternative” practitioner. Maybe they read some news about a drug recall or about deaths from medical errors.

      • rustle says:

        I got an Xray to figure out what might be causing my back pain. It didn’t reveal anything, so I got an MRI. Still nothing. My neurologist recommended gabapentin which helped but didn’t restore complete health. So, they recommended physical therapy. I had poor results previously from PT but decided to try a different facility and the results have been very favorable.

        My point in revealing this is that just because the first or second or third thing I tried didn’t help 100%, I didn’t give up on scientific methods and run to unqualified hucksters for unproven ‘cures’.

        Perhaps I’m the other side of the coin. I visited chiropractors in the past for other ailments and rec’d no relief whatsoever. The money I spent on nutritional supplements for bodybuilding that did nothing, natural cures that cured nothing, magnetic bracelets that just looked cool, exercise devices that were useless, and self-help courses that didn’t help would have paid for a nice car that I could have driven to a real doctor.

      • Max says:

        Did you visit chiropractors because of “pure paranoia”?

      • rustle says:

        I visited chiropractors because of unexamined, uncritical acceptance of ‘folk wisdom’ and ‘common sense’ instead of skeptical consideration of what it really was; unproven quackery.

  7. Karen says:

    impressive, I like how he TOTALLY blows all the stuff skeptics believe out of proportion and distorts it so we start sounding like we believe everything regardless of proof otherwise!

    NO, sorry, that’s YOU that believes everything without any proof.

    HAHAHA…best entertainment all day.

  8. Josh Ronsen says:

    While I agree with the article, I think it must be stated that “real” medicine is only proven to work on some percentage of a clinical test population (or an aggregate of different tests). When my doctor suggests a new medicine for my arthritis, he says “it helps x% of the people who use it.” He never says “it works.”

    Or is that giving ammunition to certain people? “See, they admit it doesn’t work for 100-x% of people!”

  9. Amanda Hugginkiss says:

    By the way, “Doctor” Mercola has pulled ahead of (real) Dr. Rachie in the homeopathically-diluted Nobel Prize that is the Shorty Awards. If he wins, he will go up on stage in front of tons of people who might never have heard of his bullshit, and rope in that many more suckers.

    Please vote.

  10. @Josh,

    I don’t think you need to worry about giving the Cult of Mercola ammunition. The Shorty debacle has shown that they are quite capable of pulling ammunition out of the same place they have coffee enemas.

  11. Weird thing about alternative medicine. Recently, my girlfriend, who’s been diagnosed with some form of testibular migrane that causes vertigo, was sent to a naturopath and witnessed first hand alternative medicine bunk in motion. She was asked to hold a piece of cheese and then the naturopath pushed on her hand. Obviously, the pressure applied caused her hand to move in which case, his diagnosis was she was allergic to dairy products. He then prescribed all manner of bunk medicine which included herbs, tablets etc.

    She walked out a little more skeptical and a $400 poorer. Guess what? She still suffers from her condition. Fortunately, her real medication is putting a curb on her condition and not on her purse.

  12. Amanda Hugginkiss says:

    Scratch that, I guess Mercola’s followers committed massive voter fraud, and his excess votes have been expunged. Dr. Rachie is back in the lead! (but only by 180 votes…)

    Reason hopefully prevails.