Alternative Medicine and Ethics

Part of the series Biomedical Ethics Reviews pp 1-42

“Alternative” Medicine More Hype Than Hope

More Hype Than Hope
  • Stephen Barrett

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“Alternative medicine” has become the politically correct term for questionable practices formerly labeled quack and fraudulent. During the past few years, most media reports have contained no critical evaluation and have featured the views of proponents and their satisfied clients. These happenings are part of a general societal trend toward rejection of science as a method of determining truths.

Under the rules of science, proponents who make the claims bear the burden of proof Instead of subjecting their work to scientific standards, “alternative proponents ” would like to change the rules by which they are judged and regulated. Instead of conducting scientific studies, they use anecdotes and testimonials to promote their practices, and political maneuvering to keep regulatory agencies at bay.

To avoid confusion, “alternative ”methods should be classified as genuine, experimental, or questionable. Blurring these distinctions enables promoters of quackery to argue that because some practices labeled “alternative” have merit, the rest deserve equal consideration and respect. Enough is known, however, to conclude that most questionable “alternatives” are worthless.

This chapter provides a critical analysis based on more than 25 years of investigation by the author. Each approach it describes has at least one of the following characteristics:
  1. 1.

    Its rationale or underlying theory has no scientific basis;

  2. 2.

    It has not been demonstrated safe and effective by well-designed studies;

  3. 3.

    It is deceptively promoted; or

  4. 4.

    Its practitioners are not qualified to make appropriate diagnoses.