As skeptics we can often feel like the ancient King Cnut in the apocryphal story of his attempt to command the tide of water washing over his shoes. Apparently he knew his authority was worthless in the face of natural forces as we sometimes feel like we are being washed over by a tide of alt-med woo no matter how good our data is or how persuasively we frame our arguments. Must we really bow our head to this “natural” force or is there hope for rationality ?
I rather think there is cause for hope. Every so often there comes an article in the mainstream media that is wholly sceptical and shows the woo up for what it is : vacuous, unsubstantiated, often dangerous and, more frequently than one would think, potentially lethal too. Today there is just such an article on the BBC News website. It reports on an Australian study that warns of the dangers of alternative and complementary remedies. As one would hope for and expect from our Australian cousins there are no punches pulled. For example, in the paragraph about child deaths the first sentence is :
In 30 cases, the issues were “probably or definitely” related to complementary medicine, and in 17 the patient was regarded as being harmed by a failure to use conventional medicine.
Strong stuff but is it strong enough ? Probably not but the good news is that the article becomes more hard hitting the further one reads.
The authors, from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, said: “Many of the adverse events associated with failure to use conventional medicine resulted from the family’s belief in complementary and alternative medicine and determination to use it despite medical advice.”
I say a big hooray that this article was written and another big hooray to the Australian authors of the paper. It still leaves me with a sense of frustration that such articles need be written at all and of course the deep sympathy for the ones who are harmed by the credulity and ignorance of their parents and others. I fervently hope that the realities of alternative and complementary “treatments” are disseminated far and wide. We will do our best to ensure that they are and to push back the tide of woo as hard and as far as it is possible to do so.