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Skeptical Battlegrounds: Part III – Alternative Medicine

by Steven Novella, Dec 15 2008

Being both a skeptic and a physician I have focused a great deal of my skeptical efforts towards science and medicine. While I endeavor to be a full-service skeptic, pseudoscience in medicine is definitely my specialty. It is therefore especially painful for me to admit that in this arena, more than any other, we are getting our butts kicked. We are almost at the point of being routed, with the defenders of scientific medicine being relegated to the role of insurgency. How did this happen?

What is Alternative Medicine?

I think the biggest victory scored by the promoters of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) was the name itself. Fifty years ago what passes today as CAM was snake oil, fraud, folk medicine, and quackery. The promoters of dubious health claims were charlatans, quacks, and con artists. Somehow they managed to pull off the greatest con of all – a culture change in which fraud became a legitimate alternative to scientific medicine, the line between science and pseudoscience was deliberate blurred, regulations designed to protect the public from quackery were weakened or eliminated, and it became politically incorrect to defend scientific standards in medicine.

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