Saturday, December 10, 2005

Non-scientific medicine and healing

I am a little ambivalent about doctors at the best of times. To me there is a yawning gap between the assumption or theory of doctors using science to give every patient the best chance of healing and health, and the reality where for 99% of patients, scientific method has nothing to do with either typical or best possible results. That brings me to my thoughts on say, accupuncture, which has been practised for centuries (millenia?) before any scientific work was done on it. This goes for all mainland provinces medicine, I guess. Whatever the actual benefits of accupuncture, I don't think it has much to do with Yin and Yang energy flows. Just because it isn't scientific, doesn't necessarily mean practitioners are loopy, nor that we can generalise from any particular case that they are proven wrong to say that they always are, or even that they are more often wrong than are non-mainland provinces medicine. The placebo effect is a mighty powerful thing sometimes. It is way stronger when there is complete trust of the practitioner by the patient. What is my point here - Healing is often an art form rather than a science. I may therefore trust an experienced healer without a university degree, more than an inexperienced doctor with a degree. But if it is about advice, I trust my own research on the internet more than any professional's advice about anything to do with health.


Jenny said...

From my own experience in a health related field, the biggest problem most of the people here have is when one of those in the alternative medicine field try to use the scientific method to show their practice works - ie statistically based experiments - and either use very poor methods/data/analysis and say "See! it works!" or use good science and come to completely different conclusions to any scientist who looks at their data.

Theres a good example I've heard of someone who was vaccinating chickens with water from a container banged on the table "with feeling". All the chickens died when challenged with a virus, and the vaccine vaccinated ones didn't. The researcher claimed the results showed that the water vaccinated chickens were protected. What the?

But I'm willing to consider that alternative medicines may work (even disregarding the placebo effect) until and unless thorough scientific examination proves they have no effect. My very sceptical father had acupuncture for his back after the doctor ran out of other things to try and he was very surprised to find that it worked. That wasn't a placebo effect or the things he'd tried first that he thought would work would have given him the same effect.

Dr. Clam said...

There was a report of a study done at some german university a little while ago where they found that acupuncture did have a positive effect, but it was completely independent of the whole network of force lines and pressure points- they saw the same thing whatever random location they stuck the needles in.

"See! Statistics show it works!' is not science.

"This is why it works, and these are the experiments we have done to test the mechanism," - that is science.

Anything that works belongs in a Medicine degree; things that have some rational explanation belong in a degree with 'Science' in its name.

Marco said...

The argument that say, Chinese medicine, or homeopathy doesn't belong in a science degree is very strong. However, the corollary that one or another group of non-scientists "is loopy" doesn't necessarily follow and in some instances can't be proved one way or the other. The fact that non-scientific medicine is "popular" is being twisted around into politically based decisions to associate it with scientific medicine. I am not sure of the best way to attack this trend.

Dr. Clam said...

Jenny has it right- if you pretend to be scientific in order to get your method accepted, and prove that you are a clueless nitwit by doing so, then the appropriate technical adjective for you is indeed, 'loopy'.

Marco said...

Well, yes but you have to objectively demonstrate that they are loopy. They are at an advantage, politically, because in a sense we have to prove to the powers that be that they are frauds (scientifically) but within their peers, they can be "qualified" as following correct doctrine and procedures as proscribed by their loopiness, much as an outsider has to trust scientific peer review, without being capable of understanding what is being reviewed.