CFI’s Skeptics Get Naturopaths to Disown Homeopathy, Reiki & Energy Therapy on TV

June 23, 2010

While I don't usually get the warmest welcome defending atheism on the religious program the Michael Coren Show, yesterday my nemesis Coren was possibly even harder on a couple of naturopaths that he had on as part of a show on Alternative Medicine that we had in fact recommended to him and his producers. These were Dr. Philip Rouchotas, Associate Professor, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and naturopathic doctor George Tardik.  On the skeptic side, CFI put up their own Behzad Elahi and Michael Kruse, spokepeople with our Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism.  

The show should be available from the CTS TV website in the next week

The panel tackled everything from homeopathy to chiropractics to the limits of fish oil treatment.  Observing the recording from my comfortable seat off set, some highlights included moderator Michael Coren putting the altmed practitioners on the hot seat, laughing at a treatment regime he had been given involving wearing different types of shoes, and finally insisting " I've seen a lot of chiropractor frauds...I wouldn't trust them with a cat, and I don't even have a cat ."  Plus, a cornered Dr. Rouchotas, who would oddly refer to everyone as "sir", admits " I'm probably more skeptical of homeopathy than you are ".

Here follows reports from Behzad and Michael.

Behzad Elahi:

It  was a great experience for both of us. although the naturopaths attending the show (Mr Philip Rouchotas and Mr George Tardik) tried to validate their position by confessing that they disagree with Homeopathy, Reiki, Energy Therapy, and crytal ball healing practices which is by itself a great success, and stuck to their best shot which was herbal medication the end result was not what they expected. They tried to personalize the debate by providing anecdotal evidence, and emotional responses which have been answered properly and effectively by us and it didn’t go very well for them.

Pseudoscience is growing, and we have to be vigilant to stop the nonsense at its roots. According to a Health Canada survey 43% of Canadians think that alternative medicine is comparable to real medicine, a potentially dangerous idea which reminds us about our responsibility to enlighten and inform society by scientifically sound evidence.

Michael Kruse

The opportunity to debate an alternative medical practitioner is a bit of a daunting one; given that I am not a doctor nor experienced at debating.  On the Michael Coren Show, my expectations did not match the result and it is interesting the changes being attempted in the practice of naturopathic medicine.  Drs. Tardik and Rouchotas did a poor job of defining Naturopathic medicine at the start, but instead of going to bat for the host of alternative therapies that skeptics routinely attack, namely energy work and homeopathy, they chose instead to bring science to the table.

Both gentlemen threw homeopathy under the bus and, both on and off camera, disavowed ever being taken in by it or using it in their practice.  After the show, however, Rouchotas was hesitant to describe why it is still being taught at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, where he is an associate professor, in light of many ND’s apparent disbelief of the practice and its implausibility. He was not able to give us a good answer.  

It is interesting what was not discussed, namely the roots of the philosophy behind naturopathy.  Not once did either ND use the words “vitalistic” or “holistic”.  They did not warn about toxins and vilify modern medicine.  In fact they both seemed eager to be considered a part of the modern model of science-based health care and rejected the more extreme claims of some of their colleagues.  In my opinion, they are attempting to seek legitimacy by hiding the ugly cousin of vitalism and magical thinking that is at the root of the current state of affairs.  To be fair, we were unable to get to this part of the debate and I am eager to find out their answer.

150 years ago modern medicine was in the same place as naturopathy today: beholden to a large compendium of treatments that may or may not have worked and based on a view of how the body works that was incomplete, at best, or seriously fantastical at worst. Medical treatments at that time were subjected repeatedly to an ever increasing array of experimental tools and statistical methods designed to uncover the veracity of the claims.  Naturopathy seems 150 years late to the table, but if they are willing to go through the same process, and willing to let go of those modalities that are completely implausible, like reiki or homeopathy, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt.  They have a long way to go.

Both Behzad and Michael did a great job, under the pressures of coming up with responses to random questions and sometimes demands for detailed examples in a given area you only became an expert in the night before, and sustaining this treatment for over 45 minutes!  Not an easy job, I assure you.   

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