Warning Signs of Quackery and Fraud – Part 4

Here’s Part 4 from an excerpt from my and Donal O’Mathuna’s book, Alternative Medicine: The options, claims, evidence, how to choose wisely. You find the book here.

16. Is a therapy encouraged simply because it’s been used for centuries by people in some remote place? This might simply mean that those people had nothing else to use. If the best texts on the subject are decades or centuries old, you’ll probably find that many of the old ideas were discredited long ago. Medicine evolves—just think about all we have discovered about nutrition in the last few decades. Continued use adds to our knowledge, uncovers side effects, fine-tunes dosage, and brings change.

17. Do proponents use statements that are basically true but unrelated to the therapy? Promoters of energy-based therapies like Therapeutic Touch and Reiki often mention the value of massage and touch. Both massage and touch are valuable and helpful, but irrelevant here because energy-based therapies are said to work through some nonphysical energy that does not require touch.

18. Do proponents blame failed tests of effectiveness on skepticism or outright nonbelief of observers? For example, a physician who uses applied kinesiology stated in a training video that his therapy doesn’t work well when skeptical relatives of patients are present. He recommended that practitioners allow only “believers” in applied kinesiology to be present during their sessions. We acknowledge the role of psychological factors in healing, but an effective therapy should work whether the person believes in it or not.

19. Do proponents claim it is too difficult for most to understand how a therapy works, or that only the “enlightened” can understand? This is often disguised in terms of how someone is being too rational or logical to understand how the therapy works. Some claim that a person’s scientific or medical training prevents them from understanding. Do proponents claim we have to accept lots of things without fully understanding them? They are right. You don’t have to understand all the details of how something works. But what we need is a clear explanation of the evidence regarding whether it works or not.

20. Does the proponent disguise the truth with vague and misleading statements? A statement such as, “This therapy has been thoroughly tested by seven leading medical research facilities” may fail to add that the tests showed the product is worthless. The “research facilities” should be legitimate, independent organizations whose findings are made available for independent review.

You can find more information in my book, Alternative Medicine: The options, claims, evidence, how to choose wisely.

Here’s the entire series:

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