Is quackery popular because it is useless?
Posted: 02 May 2009 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Perhaps so ... see HERE:

Quack remedies spread by virtue of being useless

12:32 01 May 2009 by Ewen Callaway

Eating a vulture won’t clear a bad case of syphilis nor will a drink made of rotting snakes treat leprosy, but these and other bogus medical treatments spread precisely because they don’t work. That’s the counterintuitive finding of a mathematical model of medical quackery.

Ineffective treatments don’t cure an illness, so sufferers demonstrate them to more people than those who recovery quickly after taking real medicines. ...

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El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

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Posted: 04 May 2009 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yes, I think that’s also one of the reason why homeopathic “medicine” became popular: it was safer than bleeding the patient.

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Posted: 04 May 2009 07:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks for the link Doug. I never thought about it that way before. In a way its analogous to the pathogen that doesn’t kill its host. Pathogens that are highly virulent kill off their hosts and don’t spread as fast because the host isn’t around to spread it to others. In this case good medicines are like the virulent pathogen except instead of killing the host they kill the complaint. I guess we just have to make quack medicines more effective or more lethal LOL

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For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, obvious,.... and just plain wrong

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Posted: 21 May 2009 02:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Alternative medicine can often be better than evidence-based medicine for some people.  Which people you ask?

People with ailments that have no biological cause i.e., psychosomatic ailments.

When they go to a homeopath, the homeopath will “know” what the problem is and the placebo effect will often take care of the problem.

Of course psychiatrists (and even psychotherapy) also have a good cure rate.  But it can be slower. smile

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Posted: 21 May 2009 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Herf, you are working on the false assumption that alternative medicines are safe. Unfortunately many people make this incorrect assumption. Alternative medicines/treatments should really be renamed and called “Untested Medicine” since that is really what they are. Perhaps then people wouldn’t so readily assume that they are somehow safer than evidence based medicine when in fact just the opposite is true. When you consider that fact, homeopathic medicines are never a better choice than traditional medicine.

In addition, people with psychosomatic complaints should never be treated with placebos. It is unethical and it does not cure the underlying problem. The only hope for a real cure is through psychiatric treatment. Homeopaths get away with it for several reasons. They are not bound by the ethical restrictions that bind physicians, they are not regulated by the government, and both they and their patients actually believe there is a rational basis for what they are doing - they don’t actually believe its a placebo effect. People who improve through the placebo effect usually do not improve for long. They get temporary relief only which requires repeated visit to the quack ( oops, I meant homeopath).

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Posted: 21 May 2009 02:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Good point.  I know they are often not safe.

I was merely thinking of say, someone who thinks they have fibromyalgia and they get relief from having their aura balanced by a massage or certain (expensive) aromas in their living room.

In other words, I’m referring to flakes getting typically harmless placebo treatments, not potentially harmful diets or supplements.

You are obviously correct. Severe psychosomatic illnesses definitely need to go to a psychiatrist.

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Posted: 21 May 2009 03:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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There is something of an ethical conundrum I think about prescribing—or accepting—harmless placebo treatments for benign psychosomatic illnesses. On the one hand they can help some with mental alleviation. On the other hand, there are several causes for concern.

(1) Expensive placebos have been found to be more effective than cheap ones. Is it ethical to lie about that fact to the patient?

(2) Since placebos do not effect the cause of the illness, they cannot cure it. So if there is some psychological problem which is manifesting itself through some sort of psychosomatic symptom, it will not be cured by the placebo. The symptom may recede for awhile, but it will almost certainly return, so long as whatever problem is the root cause has not been dealt with. This is part of the subject of the above paper. Of course, it is also true that we do suggest palliative therapies for illnesses for which we have no other effective treatments, but at least those therapies do not involve lying to the patient. And if the palliative is given by a competent doctor, he or she will at least be able to know if there is a possible cure. If the placebo is given (as it typically is) by a quack, there is no assurance that any notice will be taken of a possible underlying cause.

(3) Typically placebos are surrounded by a lot of mystical nonsense, e.g., about auras or chi or water memory or crystal healing or whatever. Insofar as the person suggesting the treatment is pushing this sort of woo, it will also tend to mislead the patient about the effectiveness of these nonexistent powers. If they believe that chi can help them with their back pain, they may well decide that it could help them with a more serious illness as well. That is, the mendacity involved with suggesting placebo palliatives for benign psychosomatic illnesses can bleed over into less benign cases.

So I think it all has to be done very carefully. I am not absolutely opposed to a doctor who prescribes a sugar pill for something that he believes is nonsensical and non treatable. At least one can accept the sugar pill without accepting a lot of woo. (And so long as he doesn’t charge some exorbitant amount for the sugar pill, or claim that it can do anything more than alleviate some symptoms). But in general it seems to me that placebos should be avoided.

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Posted: 21 May 2009 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Excellent post.

Please don’t mistake me for trying to endorse homeopathic quackery.  It is total bunk.

I was only trying to say that in the short term, they can sometimes get relief from woo when they can’t from real medicine.

Your point about the possible long term effects is well taken.

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