Category: Herbal medicine

The homeopathic drugs DO work. Because they’re drugs


So, how can it be that homeopathy sometimes seems to work? Well there are a few possible explanations:

  1. The universe is broken
  2. Placebo etc.
  3. They’re cutting the stuff with real penicillin

Full marks to those of you who selected #3. Because, that’s right, it’s yet another example of alternative drug pushers contaminating their products with undeclared industrial additives. Continue reading “The homeopathic drugs DO work. Because they’re drugs”

The costs of complementary medicine

Here is an opinion piece I wrote for in this week’s Modern Medicine magazine. The version below is the final draft prior to some very minor typographical edits. The article also appears online at irishhealth.comwhere you can also read a companion article presenting an opposing perspective on complementary medicine. Modern Medicine is published by Medmedia Publications and edited by Ken Fitzsimons.

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Last year saw the death from cancer of Steve Jobs, the entrepreneur who brought us the iPhone, a visionary credited with enhancing the lives of millions through insight and intellectual brilliance. Nonetheless, although acclaimed as a technological sophisticate, Jobs had a proclivity for the esoteric. When diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he chose to eschew ordinary medicine and instead turned to complementary and alternative medicine (or CAM). His therapies included dietary treatments, “hydrotherapy”, acupuncture, naturopathy, and even the occasional visit to a psychic. Continue reading “The costs of complementary medicine”

Why is this paper still cited?

What’s the most cited academic paper on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)? Is it an evidence-based trial demonstrating the efficacy of a particular therapy? Is it a systematic review of a collection of efficacy literature? Is it a paper that explains a single major CAM modality, such as acupuncture or chiropractic, or one that explains them all? Or is it a treatise on how biological mechanisms (such as the placebo effect) can help explain how such therapies appear to work? Actually, it’s none of these. The most cited CAM paper in history doesn’t tell us how CAM works, how effective it is, what its limitations might be, or even what it actually comprises – instead, it tells us how popular CAM is. Yes, that, and how much it costs. In other words, it’s a paper about the marketing and commercial dimensions of the CAM industry in the US. And it appears in one of the most widely read medical journals in the world.

Now you might expect that a heavily cited paper must be a terrific one to consult, given that so many wise academics have found it to be such a useful source. For example, its methodology and conclusions must be pretty robust, and its take-home message impressively reliable, right? Right? Well, no, not really. Despite the fact that its findings are regularly cited, they are so wholly unreliable as to be highly ambiguous, if not downright misleading. The reason it gets cited so much has little to do with academic rigour or scientific validity. It gets cited because it makes the right point from a partisan perspective: namely, that CAM is just so hugely popular that everybody is using it! Continue reading “Why is this paper still cited?”

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