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?”
This is a slightly unusual format for a post on this blog, but I thought it was worth recording for posterity. It concerns the rather bizarre suggestion made yesterday by some UK-based homeopaths about a good way of defending homeopathy against formal complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. Rather than follow the traditional homeopathic route of accusing skeptics of ignorance (i.e., not understanding how homeopathy really ‘works’), arrogance (i.e., not believing the testimonials of homeopathy advocates), or scientism (i.e., not accepting that there are more ways to consider the world other than scientifically), instead the idea would be to accuse them of — drum roll please — racial discrimination! Continue reading ““Racecardgate” on Storify”
Last week, the British market research firm YouGov published findings from a national UK opinion survey on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). While the survey focused on CAM in general, YouGov chose to focus on the findings for homeopathy in their publicity materials. In summary, 43% of the sample believed homeopathy to be either “definitely” or “possibly” effective. Given that 20% reported not having a particular view (i.e., “Don’t know”), this meant that only 37% explicitly reported skepticism. In other words, of those adults willing to express an opinion, the majority expressed some level of belief in the effectiveness of homeopathy. This is despite the well established biological implausibility and medical inefficacy of homeopathic treatment.
Similar results emerged for other CAM treatments, suggesting that belief in pseudoscientific medicine continues to prosper in the UK. Noted science writer, blogger, and top skeptic Ben Goldacre even posted a tweet implying that the figures undermined claims that science advocates were “winning” the war on quackery (a point he elaborated in a subsequent blog post). However, should we really be that pessimistic? Because despite these initial impressions, the details within the figures may actually contain some encouraging signs. Continue reading “Skeptics vs. Quacks: Who’s winning?”