So Open-Minded Your Brain Falls Out
May 4, 2015 6:45 AM   Subscribe

When they returned home, the Laidlers took David off his restrictive diet, and he continued to improve—rapidly. Louise stopped Ben’s supplement regimen—without telling Jim—and Ben’s behavior remained the same. Then, after months of soul-searching, Jim Laider took to the internet to announce his “de-conversion” from alternative medicine—a kind of penance, but also a warning to others. “I had this guilt to expunge,” Jim says. “I helped to promote this nonsense, and I didn’t want other people to fall for it like I did.”
--An Alternative-Medicine Believer’s Journey Back to Science
posted by almostmanda (63 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, the comments...
posted by frumiousb at 7:06 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Protip: if you resort to death threats when speaking to people who disagree with you, then you're probably not coming from a place of rationality.
posted by Avenger at 7:31 AM on May 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

"No acupuncturists are up front about the reality of what they do."

If there's one thing that will solve this issue once and for all, it's categorical blanket statements.
posted by Behemoth at 7:34 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

“I got angry with the baby books,” Louise Laidler recalls. “Whenever your child was supposed to do something, Ben did it one month later.”

jesus christ

My 1st girl spoke 20 words when she was 1 year old; my third didn't speak at all till she was 2. They're both fine, the latter is starting college this fall. I can imagine what these parents would have done to her.

I can't read this shit.
posted by sidereal at 7:35 AM on May 4, 2015 [23 favorites]

When I finally left home for college and was not subject to my family's strange ideas about eating, I ate tons and tons and tons of sugar cereals from the big hoppers in the cafeteria. One of the happiest times of my life.
posted by sockerpup at 7:37 AM on May 4, 2015 [26 favorites]

Excellent article.

The scale of the "alternative medicine" scam is astounding.

LOL gluten-paranoia/hypochondria too.
posted by spitbull at 7:38 AM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

So Open-Minded Your Brain Falls Out

This bugs me. Being open minded doesn't mean accepting ideas without analysis. When you do that it's not called 'being open minded', it's called being gullible.
posted by dazed_one at 7:42 AM on May 4, 2015 [13 favorites]

The kid found a better kind of waffle.
posted by Segundus at 7:42 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

All that being said, pro-homeopathy people do have a point: when faced with a choice between extraordinarily expensive treatments that have limited benefit verses somewhat cheaper "treatments" with only emotional benefits, most people will choose the option that they feel gives them more agency and control over their lives.

I'd argue that rapacious capitalism and our culture that refuses to have healthy attitudes towards disease and death are responsible for "alternative medicine" rather than pure ignorance.
posted by Avenger at 7:43 AM on May 4, 2015 [38 favorites]

So, waffles are good for us, yes?

We must all have waffles forthwith!
posted by sidereal at 7:49 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

I prefer pancakes.
posted by dazed_one at 7:50 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I thought the point about the follow-on effects of visiting an alternative medicine practitioner was important. People tend to think "what's the harm" with some of these treatments, but there can be a huge opportunity cost.

As the parents in this article noted once they stopped the various diets and treatments they were able to focus on what they needed to do to provide their son with long-term care for his whole life.
posted by dweingart at 7:51 AM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

sidereal - that quote is a little bit unfair. The mother is recalling it in hindsight, and it did not seem to be the motivator for the alternative therapies. When the kids were older, the parents' behavior was developed after a spectrum diagnosis from their pediatrician. It's completely fabulous that your daughters are healthy and thriving (congrats on the college acceptance!) but some kids have a more difficult path, and it is devastating to the parents to struggle with that. (FWIW, I am STRONGLY against "woo", but have a lot of compassion/sympathy for parental overzealousness born of fear/anxiety.)
posted by synapse at 7:51 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Avenger - the problem is that the pro-homeopathy people don't make it clear that their treatment has only emotional benefits. They say that it will help your physical ailments as well.
posted by dweingart at 7:59 AM on May 4, 2015 [13 favorites]

don't make it clear that their treatment has only emotional benefits. They say that it will help your physical ailments as well.

There's a very well documented connection between emotional and physical health. Dr. Conventional in the article recognizes that acupuncture can treat lower back pain, in his opinion by making the patient believe it is being treated.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:14 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Note that the parents are both doctors, which confirms a prejudice I have: Most books with "M.D." after the author's name on the cover have highly questionable content inside.

I'm not sure why this is.
posted by clawsoon at 8:15 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

People's attitudes about alternative and conventional healthcare sure would be different if healthcare was considered a right and given universally.

I wonder *how* it would be different.
posted by n9 at 8:20 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I so appreciate that Wired, and other sites, have moved on to the model of having a "View Comments" button, as opposed to just having them load automatically.
It allows you to hover your mouse over for a few seconds and contemplate your life choices.
posted by Theta States at 8:21 AM on May 4, 2015 [49 favorites]

Relatedly, The New Republic yesterday argued that the wellness craze and its pseudoscientific foundations are becoming passé, in part because it's no longer exclusive to the affluent, and thus no longer a way to signal how "enlightened" you are.

In the case of the Laidler family, I do think it's important to remember that their embrace of pseudoscience came in response to their sons' autism, about which there are still so many unknowns about its causes, let alone potential treatments. So embracing anything that might potentially help is at least understandable. Like ~synapse, I always try to begin with compassion when it comes to people embracing the woo; nothing will cause someone to shut down faster than telling them they're stupid.

The best practitioners of alternative medicine, I've found, are pretty firm about what it can and cannot do. (Disclaimer: my mother is an RN and an acupuncturist.) If you need help with ailments in addition to conventional medicine, or where there's some complex interplay between psychic and physical well-being, then try it out. If you're looking for a cure for cancer or to fix a broken leg, then go see a regular doctor.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:22 AM on May 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

Most books with "M.D." after the author's name on the cover have highly questionable content inside.

I'm not sure why this is.

Because generally many books tend to have questionable content contained within. Being an M.D. doesn't change the chance of being full of shit. A cousin of mine was an anaesthetist and then decided he'd rather practice woo-medicine and took up acupuncture.
posted by dazed_one at 8:23 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

MDs are just as prone to Engineer's Disease as anybody else who's smart in a narrow field.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:26 AM on May 4, 2015 [29 favorites]

The inclusion of chiropracty as alternative medicine interests me. On one hand chiropracty has been vastly oversold in the past as the cure for everything that ails you. On the other hand the last ten years have produced a series of respectable studies about using chiropracty to treat musculoskeletal problems.

There is a growing feeling among chiropractors that the sneering from convential doctors is less about the efficacy of treatments and more about education and certification. Which is to say that it's more of a turf war between those who went to Med School and those who went to Chiropractic.

Still, as long as people keep making exotic claims it'll be hard to put this one to bed.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:27 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Worth reading to the end, because it becomes less about alternative treatments, and more about creating cultural structures to deal with the fact that our current systems do not offer adequate support for non-neurotypical people who still want to live productive, enjoyable lives:

"As David continued to improve (without exotic treatments), Jim and Louise were forced to confront hard questions about their oldest son. Would Ben ever move out? Who would take care of him when they died? Over many years, they developed a plan. As a child, Jim had lived on a farm, and he remembered how there had always been something for everyone to do, no matter what their age or skill set. He and Louise set up a trust and an inheritance. Then they sought out families with autistic children about Ben’s age, to see if they might be interested in joining together to start a group home.

“This planning—it was a better kind of happiness,” Jim says. “I knew it was real. It was tangible.” The Laidlers found three other families. They bought 17 acres of farmland. Together, the families found a couple to work as caretakers and built a home for their four boys, soon to be adults. At the end of this February, everything was ready. Ben and his three housemates moved into their own home.

“They grow peppers and herbs and sell them to local restaurants,” Jim says proudly. “We hire college students in the area to take them on outings, to bowling, to watch football games, go out to dinner. And we’re making sure it will keep working when we’re gone.”

None of that, he assures me, would ever have happened if he and Louise had continued to hope for an alternative cure. Although the previous regimen of supplements and dietary changes wasn’t physically harmful, it still exacted a heavy toll in financial and mental resources. Had they continued to pursue it, Jim believes, there would have been no time, no money, and no willingness to think long-term. And eventually, their son would be an adult, and they wouldn’t have known what to do. But now there is a plan, and they rest easier knowing that Ben will never have to live in a state-run home or move in with his brother. For the Laidlers, the real alternative was to stop believing in miracles—and start planning for the future."

This is not just relevant to discussions of autism. Being able to take stock and make plans is absolutely dependent on knowing what the situation actually is-- and hopes pinned on miracle cures prevent you from doing so.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:46 AM on May 4, 2015 [48 favorites]

MDs are just as prone to Engineer's Disease as anybody else who's smart in a narrow field.

MDs are trained in the practice of medicine. They aren't researchers, they aren't academics, they're practitioners. The credibility and influence given to this class of workers is mind-boggling and dangerous.

A book on SEKRIT HEALTH MAGICKS by an author with an MD should be viewed with the same degree of skepticism as a book on revolutionary fuel sources written by a mechanic with an ASE cert.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:55 AM on May 4, 2015 [20 favorites]

Which is not to say we shouldn't apply skepticism to other authors in general, of course.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2015

Protip: if you resort to death threats when speaking to people who disagree with you, then you're probably not coming from a place of rationality.

I think it is better to just assume that unless you have actually obtained credible education and sought out, read and evaluated the research yourself you are probably not coming from a place of rationality and even then it is still incredibly difficult given that we collectively know so little about everything even at the heart of science. So if you do it right you end up more uncertain than when you began.

For example do you believe any of the claims regarding running shoes? There is pretty much no good empirical support for any of the claims regarding running shoes either way (or most other athletic goods for that matter). Yet in every ask thread about running shoes here you will get a pile on of people extolling barefoot running, evaluation by shoe store salespeople (What are they? shoeologists? ) or getting shoes to match your foot strike / pronation. The current evidence is that it all makes little or no difference. Particularly telling is that shoe companies are perfectly happy to sell you whatever snake oil footwear you want to buy with zero fucks given for the internal logical inconsistency of their putative 'shoe philosophies'. The same shoe company that extols its line of minimal running shoes also sells maximal cushion shoes with over pronation correction.

I run and I just bought trainers with more cushioning because I am fighting through bad shin splints this spring for some reason. Do they help? I have no idea. It's getting better but then that is also the normal trajectory for shin splint problems. I really want to believe they help because it would be nice to have this handy solution in my back pocket should the problem arise again. Unfortunately, I just can't know because I have insufficient data and there is no credible research on the topic. So what do I do?

I make a choice from an acknowledged position of unresolvable ignorance and I keep running while hoping that things get better for me. It's pretty much how I end up living most of my life actually.
posted by srboisvert at 8:58 AM on May 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'd argue that rapacious capitalism and our culture that refuses to have healthy attitudes towards disease and death are responsible for "alternative medicine" rather than pure ignorance.

More broadly, the culture in which we dispense healthcare is appalling to a great many people, but because it is the exclusive conduit by which most people receive treatment, this appalling culture turns people against modern medicine in toto.

What alternative medicine does well is captured to an extent by that term "integrative," as far as actually engaging the patient as a person and integrating treatment options and discussions into the whole picture of a patient's life.

It's unfortunate that the term has been taken over by woo peddlers, because now those of us who want a change in the culture of dispensing medical treatment and advice need to find some other one.
posted by kewb at 9:05 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm curious how well alternative medicine/woo plays in countries with universal healthcare?
posted by Sangermaine at 9:07 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I had ever been to a chiropractor who wasn't primarily interested in parlor tricks to sell me a bunch of woo bullshit rather than do chiropracting, I'd be less skeptical of them.

And yet the best primary care physicians I've ever had were DOs rather than MDs. They only performed real medicine on me, but were better listeners and more likely to offer treatment that suited my specific situation than any MD, including GYN, I've ever been to. I don't even know how to feel about that.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:10 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm curious how well alternative medicine/woo plays in countries with universal healthcare?

It's quite popular in the UK.
posted by kewb at 9:13 AM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

I strongly suspect that alternative medicine and various new age spirituality disciplines are things that would slowly fade away if there were a guaranteed basic income.

I once dated a girl who was seriously into new age woo, and I was trying to be respectful of her beliefs and all that. And so once I let her drag me to some seminar where a woman explained that all the junk DNA whose purpose is not immediately obvious was actually encoding past life experiences. (And as described, our past lives were apparently in the world of Conan the Barbarian. So sweet!) So fear of fire was your DNA telling you you were burned once, and you died! So stay away! Even if I was willing to go that far, the climax of the whole thing was a "healing session" where she fixed all these past life phobias and stuff - something that based on what she'd been saying all afternoon would involve literally rewriting our genetic code - for everyone in the room by waving her arms around and wailing for a couple minutes. At some point in there, a limit was reached. My date and I weren't together long after that.

But the thing that struck me was that this was basically this woman's business. She rented a conference room at a Holiday Inn and people paid to come hear her talk and get their DNA rewired so they'd be happier. And I had to wonder if she really believed this stuff, or if this was just a way for a woman without a lot of marketable skills to engage with an economy that didn't seem to need her. And in the case of all the people ponying up to attend, how much of what they were trying to overcome was really just raw desperation for some way up out of a life of poverty and all the stress and hardship and trauma and untreated physical and psychological symptoms that comes with it. It's amazing how much new age stuff is about attracting wealth through semi-mystical means.

Basic guaranteed income, folks. You'd be amazed how much bilge floating around the bottom of our world it would mop up.
posted by Naberius at 9:13 AM on May 4, 2015 [28 favorites]

As a lifelong masochist, I decided to read the comments, and the first one makes a really good point:

I find it interesting that most of the criticism surrounding traditional medicine is its profit driven nature. And yet the Reiki and homeopath devotee also derive a profit from their practice.

In the case of traditional medicine, there are huge investment costs. In the case of alternative medicine, its simply a cash grab.

I know so many people who "don't trust big Pharma" because of the profit motive but will hand over hundreds and hundreds of dollars for some completely unproven homeopathic remedy without thinking twice about it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:27 AM on May 4, 2015 [23 favorites]

I just finished medical school(D.O.) last week and this issue is something that comes often. I applied to a few family medicine residency that taught some integrated medicine in the curriculum. The part that struck me was how most of it was pretty basic. For something like chronic pain, they emphasized discussing how the person/patient was sleeping, sexual function, social life, and just general satisfaction with life and then designing treatments and recommendation on that. One integrated medicine/family medicine doc also always asks his new patients "Why do you want to be healthy", which until the point I had only heard rehab docs(physiatrists) ask. To me it was just plain good medicine alternative or not.

My favorite professor in school who happens to be a child psychiatrist who specializes in autism and intellectually disabilities described the situation in medicine the best. "There are some doctors who start doing medicine to reduce the suffering in the world and other who do it to cure disease." I think this plays into the alternative medicine scene as well. Practitioners focus on the disease state, but instead of giving prescriptions they gave a bunch of supplements, diet recommendation,yoga, or whatever alternative therapies to "cure" the person.
posted by roguewraith at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Less is more.
posted by Oyéah at 9:32 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

"...heavy metals thought to be accumulated through vaccines..."

Oh, I'm done reading this now.
posted by ghostiger at 9:34 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm curious how well alternative medicine/woo plays in countries with universal healthcare?

Oh, I assure you, it's quite a draw in Canada, too.

Anecdotally, I have a friend whose cousin decided to forego chemotherapy (for a treatable form of cancer with a relatively hopeful long-term prognosis) in favour of homeopathy. She was dead in three months. OHIP would have covered the chemotherapy. It did not cover the homeopathy.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:34 AM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

My brother is a high-functioning autistic adult who was already on a vegan diet when he latched onto the gluten free for autism bandwagon several years ago. It'd be one thing if it were just a neutral choice with no downside despite lack of evidence for any upside. His diet is obviously highly restrictive, and because he doesn't really have the cognitive skills or financial resources (fully disabled and dependent on govt. assistance) he's been unable to walk the tightrope of maintaining adequate nutrition within the constraints of his beliefs. The result, I'm absolutely convinced, is neuromuscular degeneration that may eventually put him in a wheelchair if he or his doctors don't start to take this problem seriously. Unfortunately, he falls into that "high functioning" grey area where he's fully in charge of managing his own health care but doesn't really have the skills to do so effectively. It's been very frustrating trying to convince him that his gradual degeneration is something that needs to be addressed.
posted by drlith at 9:35 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

And yet the best primary care physicians I've ever had were DOs rather than MDs.

Long ago, I had a back injury at work so my insurance company referred me to a DO. In case anyone hasn't heard of this, a DO is a Doctor of Osteopathy, with both a medical degree and chiropractic certification.

I went into his office and there were posters in the waiting room advertising silver nitrate treatments for children to treat chronic ear infections. The doctor appeared to be Eastern European, I guess silver nitrate is traditional quack medicine there, because the people in the waiting room all appeared to be Eastern Europeans too.

The doctor called the nurse to get a blood sample, I guess this is pretty common at chiropractors, who want some reason to blame your problems on vitamin deficiencies or something. But I was pretty certain that my agonizing back pain was not due to vitamin deficiencies, but were almost certainly caused by my straining to load a heavy box into a car while I was twisted in an awkward position. Anyway, the nurse had the most difficult time drawing blood, causing huge bruises that appeared almost instantly. She stabbed me again and again, finally the doctor had to help her.

So then I got the spinal manipulation stuff. Ouch, he really had to press hard, and he was a big burly guy (but them so am I). He kept rolling me over his closed fist. I could hear the pops as he worked my spine. Afterwards, I was in the same amount of agony overall. I went home and I decided to just go to bed and rest. I took my shirt off and my girlfriend suddenly shrieked, "what the hell is that on your back?!?" I looked in the mirror, I had huge black and blue bruises up and down my spine. The DO's treatment caused more harm than my original injury. The next day I went to a real doctor and he prescribed muscle relaxants and rest, which is pretty standard medical treatment for back injuries.

So having an MD on top of your chiropractic cert. is no guarantee that your DO is not a complete and utter quack. I pretty much knew that, the moment I saw the posters advertising silver nitrate treatments. Any MD who is prescribing silver nitrate really should have their medical license revoked.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:39 AM on May 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

"...heavy metals thought to be accumulated through vaccines..."

Oh, I'm done reading this now.

Well, the heavy metal (mercury) contamination issue is a reasonable question on the face of it. Older vaccines did use thiomersol, a mercury-containing preservative. That's at least where the But... Heavy Metal! meme originated. A little more reading would tell people that the likelihood of retaining any mercury via this route is slim to none, and that's the problem. People hear stuff they're not equipped to assess, and then they just run with it. The Internet promises Answers!™, but encourages people to just slide into their own filter bubble, where they marinate in a delicious brine of fake medical nonsense.

I wonder if there's any solution to this set of problems? It seems there is already too much confusion, and too many vested interests to allow a productive public discussion. We may have to just sit back and watch as the woo spreads...
posted by sneebler at 9:45 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is sad. There's a friend of mine right now who's going through this stuff. He pursued one alternative medical treatment after another, and in the process somehow totally screwed up his body's ability to regulate its own hormonal balance (at least, from what I've heard secondhand; he's cut himself off from pretty much everybody at this point). Now nobody seems to know where he is or if he's even still alive. All along, I'm told, he refused to just go see a regular doctor about any of his problems, seeking solutions in alternative medicine instead. Hopefully by now he's starting to take better care of himself.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:02 AM on May 4, 2015

Sad to see acupuncture lumped in with homeopathy. Maybe there are acupuncturists who sell themselves as equivalent to traditional medicine, but mine positions herself more as a supplement to it, like massage therapy or chiropractic. I see her for chronic muscle tension in my shoulders. After a while it gets bad enough to cause daily headaches. I used to get a massage when things got bad, but acupuncture actually helps me more. She does prescribe Chinese herbs on occasion, which I felt strange about taking but did seem to make me less tense--and she didn't prescribe them indefinitely, just one bottle to kickstart recovery. When I sprained my ankle she was glad to hear I'd already seen a doctor about it, but was happy to put some needles in me as well to help reduce the swelling. And on top of all that, she's a good listener. I just wish my insurance covered acupuncture, some plans do.
posted by impishoptimist at 10:35 AM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

a DO is a Doctor of Osteopathy, with both a medical degree and chiropractic certification

Just FYI, this isn't true. A DO is a separate but equal certification to an MD. Your guy may have been a quack, and he may have even been a DO with chiropractic certification, but the vast majority of DOs are regular doctors who do regular doctor things, but are trained in more of a "whole patient" perspective.
posted by anastasiav at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2015 [11 favorites]

Most books with "M.D." after the author's name on the cover have highly questionable content inside.

I'm not sure why this is.

Serious books written by people with a set of professional or scholalry qualifications for people with the same or similar qualifications don't mention the author's degree (if that's the way the qualification would appear). A Theory of Justice wasn't written by "John Rawls, Ph.D."; it was written by "John Rawls". (Even A Brief History of Time doesn't say it's by "Stephen Hawking, Ph.D.".) If the author's name has "Ph.D." or "M.D." after, it's an appeal to authority, pure an simple, and you are free to suspect that the contents aren't supported by the relevant professional or scholarly community.
posted by kenko at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2015 [17 favorites]

kenko, he was referring to the stream of alternative medicine books written by people who ought to know better because they are certified medical doctors. It's a good point, because the dramatic contrast between the role of the physician and the wholesale promotion of woo calls into question our belief in Medicine as science, the credibility of medical schools, and the high status of doctors. It's weird enough that one wonders if money and greed (which explain most of alternative medicine) is an adequate explanation.
posted by sneebler at 11:46 AM on May 4, 2015

Sad to see acupuncture lumped in with homeopathy.

Only marginally sad.

(Sorry, on edit, I can't link to search results. So enter "acupuncture" in the Cochrane Library search box.)
posted by spitbull at 12:05 PM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Man, is there acupuncture for hyperbolae? I think mine's impacted or something.
posted by sneebler at 12:37 PM on May 4, 2015

As someone who has witnessed multiple cases of doctors failing to treat my problems I've taken on this philosophy:

Only fantastic doctors will admit they don't know what is going on with your body. Most doctors work from a script of problems and solutions. If they run into a problem they are not trained to solve, they will use the miraculous powers of cognitive dissonance to see your problem in the light of a problem they are trained to solve. They will then take you down the rabbit hole of treating the problem according to their script. This will result in one of the following:

1)Your problem just required time to heal, so it goes away. The doctor gets cred for 'solving' your problem so it's a win-win from a certain perspective.

2)Your problem gets neither worse nor better as the doctor exhausts the dictates of the problem-solving-script. Eventually you wander away (in my case the doctor eventually recommended invasive treatment and I RAN away).

3)Your problem gets worse which may cause the doctor to follow the script EVEN HARDER to solve your problem, or they punt, perhaps maintaining their ego by blaming you for not working hard enough to get better.

Doctors are humans who suffer from the same psychological problems we all do, and medical coding in the US is such that if you have a holistic-scale problem they have every financial incentive not to get to the bottom of it.

I'm at the point in my life where I'm not interested in going to the doctor if I don't already have a diagnosis and treatment in mind. If they can overwhelm me with proof that I have what they say I have, or if I talk to a specialist that knows more than I ever will about a problem then yes, I will take what they say on well earned faith. I've gotten the run around too many times about too many things to think otherwise.

The point I am slowly meandering towards is this: I can't tell you that acupuncture and reiki doesn't cure your ADHD (for example). I absolutely can tell you to shut the fuck up about recommending it to others if they are happily pursuing mainstream treatment. Everyone can be an experimentalist to a reasonable degree when it comes to their own bodies.
posted by Dmenet at 1:18 PM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

kenko, he was referring to the stream of alternative medicine books written by people who ought to know better because they are certified medical doctors.

I assume that the explanation there is just that unscrupulous medical doctors are cashing in, because public health concerns make it way easier for them to do that than any analogous concern makes it easy for, say, specialists in Milton to do so.
posted by kenko at 1:35 PM on May 4, 2015

The source of the contempt displayed towards Chiropractic by the real medical establishment is not sourced in the discrepancy in education levels. Rather, it's based on the reality that Chiropractic is an entirely fabricated, fictional field of study with no empirical basis for its theoretical underpinnings, such as they are (spinal alignment mumble mumble THERE YOU"RE FIXED). You may as well go to a Scientologist or an expert in the X-Men comic book for treatment.

Real medicine, as it's run today, certainly has many flaws. But at least when you go to a real Doctor and he or she gives you a course of treatment for your complaint, you can look for and find information on the actual studies and experiments and historical background for why that drug or that operation is recommended. Individual providers' quality, manner, empathy may vary wildly, but unless they are departing from the well-established and ostensibly enforced boundaries of their profession, you will not often be asked to do something for which there is no verifiable justification.

Today's XKCD provides further illustration of the fundamental legitimacy of modern medicine. Chiropractic cannot ever claim to have cured and eliminated the fucking backache, or any other damned thing, forever.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 2:35 PM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

Medical doctors, practitioners of chiropractic, and all other people who are trained in various healing modalities are basically just that: people. Fallible. Often (but not always) untrustworthy. Wrongheaded in some ways and not in others. Some are quacks, some are tyrants, some are thoughtful, perceptive people who see what's wrong and know how to fix it. Right now, medical science is full of people who follow the prevailing winds when it comes to diagnosing drugs and procedures, and who are often right and all too frequently wrong. Practitioners of other disciplines are even more frequently wrong (though some are less likely to do actual damage and more likely to allow damage to progress untreated), and have much less justification for the hogwash they spout.

We feed into the fallibility of all the health professions by treating them as a matter of faith. There should be no faith involved. You need a major B.S. detector if you want to survive the medical profession. And you need to be willing to get a second opinion, and even a third.
posted by Peach at 4:28 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The source of the contempt displayed towards Chiropractic by the real medical establishment is not sourced in the discrepancy in education levels. Rather, it's based on the reality that Chiropractic is an entirely fabricated, fictional field of study with no empirical basis for its theoretical underpinnings,

If you believe hard enough, maybe you'll be right.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:37 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Honestly a lot of the problem with the people I know really into alt therapies is doctors have been nasty or rude or brusque to them while the alt-practitioners are actually nice to them and make them feel like they're in control and have some say in things.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:20 PM on May 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

I mean, I gotta say it but that sounds exactly like what's going on with impishoptimist upthread.
posted by sciatrix at 7:06 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Only fantastic doctors will admit they don't know what is going on with your body.

I must have gone to a fantastic Doctor. I had a persistent problem with my shoulder [over 2-3 years]. Pain was bad enough that I had to use painkillers to sleep. MRI/Ultrasound didn't show anything of note. Doctor was able to isolate the area of the problem by a carefully targeted painkiller injection. This indicated a soft-tissue injury rather than a joint problem.

To my question regarding exactly what was wrong, he said he didn't know, and recommended acupuncture. I got acupuncture, though I'm the worlds biggest skeptic, as I had nothing to lose.

To my surprise acupuncture gave rapid relief, which faded after ~2 weeks. Then one session I got a sharp [not painful] jolt as one of the needles was being twirled, and after that session the problem was solved.

I think the lesson here is that for a certain class of problems [like my soft tissue injury], a therapy like this can provide pain relief, and possibly even a cure [of the symptoms anyway].

However far too many people seem to take on a belief in alternative therapies as a cure-all for wildly unrelated problems, wherein lies a mountain of woo.

From this you get uninformed twits saying stuff like "in his opinion by making the patient believe it is being treated". If that was true, the conventional treatments I received should have worked, and the acupuncture I initially believed was a waste of time would have done squat.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:22 PM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

MDs are trained in the practice of medicine. They aren't researchers, they aren't academics, they're practitioners. The credibility and influence given to this class of workers is mind-boggling and dangerous.

That's why I'm so surprised and disappointed to see that Jim Laidler holds both a PhD in biology and an MD.
posted by tickingclock at 8:27 PM on May 4, 2015

HiroProtaagonist, not necessarily. The conventional treatments were at time X and the needles were administered at time Y. Your body could have been on the mend or the placebo effect or whatever. I know that you know that your anecdotal experience really doesn't tell us much about the efficacy of acupuncture. There are over 3000 trials in which acupuncture researchers have been unable to demonstrate clinically significant positive results. I am glad your pain subsided though.

And the same can be true of some conventional treatments as well. I know in my 40+ years I've been "faith-healed" or placebo-healed by some MDs. And maybe that is what we should call some of this. Harriet Hall had a nice post on faith healing a while back on that explained the various explanations for faith healings for cancer, and a couple that could be common in a lot of our placebos or faith healings (other than outright chicanery):
+ The patient never had cancer. (Misdiagnosis)
+ A cancer was cured or put into remission by proven therapy, but questionable therapy was also used and erroneously credited for the beneficial result.
+ The cancer is progressing but is erroneously represented as slowed or cured.
+ The patient had a spontaneous remission (very rare) or slow-growing cancer that is publicized as a cure.
posted by Cassford at 12:13 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Avenger: "our culture that refuses to have healthy attitudes towards disease and death"

That's an irrelevant value judgment. If you want to accept disease and death as inevitable and just go with it, go ahead. I'll rage, rage against the dying of the light myself, and no one will convince me there's anything wrong with that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:57 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Tell Me No Lies: If you believe hard enough, maybe you'll be right.

It's not my field, but in the first four pages of google scholar results on “chiropractic”, literally every scientific publication falls into one of three categories:
  1. Something along the lines of “Cerebellar and spinal injuries after chiropractic manipulation”,
  2. Something along the lines of “Chiropractic for low back pain: We don't know whether it does more good than harm”
  3. Or something positive about chiropractic, published in a single ‘journal’: Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
Chiropractic is a closed self-sustaining universe, with its own separate schools, degrees, accreditors, licenses, and ‘peer-review’. Its foundational theory in subluxations and vitalism is prescientific and unsubstantiated. There's zero reason to believe that successful chiropractic interventions are any different from successful humorist ones—existing despite their system, not due to it.
posted by traveler_ at 1:55 AM on May 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

Here to nth that chiropractic is 200 percent pure D bullshit. Its central founding principle (Palmer's subluxation theory) is just as much 19th century pre-germ theory fantasy horseshit as homeopathy. It has ZERO scientific credibility. The story of how it was exempted from government oversight is (as with homeopathy and "nutritional" supplements, also total bullshit) a story of pure corruption and money talking. Ironically there is a touch more evidence that acupuncture helps with musculoskeletalbpain (and that evidence is low quality, see my Cochrane reports link above) than chiropractic.

But there is every reason to believe both are at best placebo based therapies that have no scientific basis for their specific techniques. Yeah massaging a bad back or parasympathetic nervous stimulation may help with pain, which is generally subjective and hard to measure anyway. But it turns out it doesn't matter that much where you lay on hands or stick needles.

Smart and educated people who fall for this quackery are letting down society as a whole.
posted by spitbull at 3:37 AM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

And contra some things above, osteopathic medicine is also based on 19th c pseudoscientific bullshit, DOs do not receive "the same training" as MDs, and they tend not to be as academically excellent at admission. This is far more true for chiropractic and naturopathic "doctors," however. Those are drawn from the bottom of the barrel, people who could never get into medical or even nursing school or PA school. The science requirements are minimal to none. You of course don't want to recruit scientifically bright and literate students to a quack degree program, since they'd see through it.

A chiropractic practice is the low end used car lot of medicine.
posted by spitbull at 3:44 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

The question of whether or not less-smart people get weeded out of "real" medical practice is an interesting one. Here's an article talking about Daniel Kahneman's and others' work on cognitive biases, for example, that suggests that smart people are just as subject to biases and mistakes as everyone else. There are tons of chiropractors around, and I bet quite a few of them are people who (wisely, maybe) chose a safer middle-class career option with less onerous educational and work requirements. I agree that chiropractic is based on nonsense, but I'm just another person who passed a bunch of exams.
posted by sneebler at 6:20 AM on May 5, 2015

I have been to both a chiropractor and osteopaths for various maladies including a burst disc in the lower back. In my experience osteopaths are better for long term health. They both worked in the short term, but the chiropractor would schedule the next appointment for the following week, where as the osteopath was more likely to give you some exercises to try for a month before scheduling the next appointment.

However, this does rely on the osteopath themselves, just as any other medical interaction relies on the practitioner. A crappy doctor prescribing inappropriate drugs is as much use as Reiki for curing your ailments, in fact possibly less use as the drugs will probably have side effects.

A lot of health related things are quite subtle and most people don't know (or admit) they have a problem until it has gone from being niggling to being acute, but they expect a quick solution to the problem. It is harder to come back from an acute problem, but becoming hyper sensitive to niggling issues becomes indistinguishable from hypochondria.

Chiropractic is more dramatic, with all the clicks and pops, but in my experience Pilates is a better way to maintain spinal health. Pilates involves a lot more hard work and is best performed on the reformer or the cadillac, guided by a practitioner, which is expensive. Once you have a handle on how to address your specific issues then you can move on to the using the ball and working on your own. Large classes are never going to be able to work for all the students, just as large yoga classes are limited in the effectiveness and you will only acquire a surface level of understanding of a martial art in a large class.

What is missing from most people's lives is the physical, mental and temporal space to allow the body to be healthy. It takes great discipline to fit it in unless you are paying someone else to help you do it, which is a more easily comprehended transaction. It can also be expensive and unfortunately also injurious if you are dealing with a charlatan. Muddying the water are all the people who double down on a fraud rather than admitting that they have been duped, unlike the Laidlers.

Chinese traditional medicine has been around for two thousand years, so some of it may be effective just by trial and error. Personally I don't have much time for it, but many people report success with acupuncture.

My osteopath says he gets 60% of his work from desk work. That is, people who work sitting at desks. Modern life is generally bad for our health. Sitting in a chair is not something the human body evolved to do. He also gets plenty of work from people working in law who cart huge piles of legal files around, so not sitting down can also be problematic!

There are pretty well established links between, physical mental and digestive health. Despite the amount of research into health over the years I would say we know enough to know we don't know much. There always seems to be something new happening, but I will be very surprised if hands off qi channeling ever gets verified as having any beneficial results.

tl;dr Osteopathy > Chiropractic
posted by asok at 8:06 AM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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