Perspectives: Why are pseudoscientific treatments so popular?
#1
These days, as the field of medicine grows exponentially, so does the number of people believing in new-age/alternative cure quackery. I don't have any statistics for this and I base this claim entirely on anecdotal evidence drawn from the sample space made up of friends and acquaintances, and news articles and blogs. I can think of a few reasons for this surge,

0. The margins of profit in dispensing 'alternative cures' can be extremely high compared to modern medicine. An illustrative example is that no research expenditure is involved in developing a 'detox diet', unlike say the billions of dollars and thousands of manhours spent by Pfizer to develop Lipitor. The industry of 'alternative medicine' only needs to invest in marketing, which it does very effectively.

1. Many followers of 'alternative medicine' are introduced to quackery at times when they suffer from such ailments as those that are quite bothersome, but are not fatal, and do not lead to complications. These include, common cold, allergies, shingles, milder forms of piles, fistula, chronic lower back pain, chronic fatigue, migraines, etc. Often, the symptoms from these ailments can be managed using over-the-counter medication. Most cases of such afflictions go away on their own, without medical intervention. It is not that people with these ailments should not see their physician. The irony is that it is usually through their doctor of 'modern medicine' that they first learn about the relative mildness of their ailment. However, in their suffering, people resort to 'alternative cures' such as acupuncture, and when the disease or its symptoms do disappear, they attribute it to the 'alternative cure'. This is due to confirmation bias. They then commit a second fallacy by generalizing based on their anecdote, that the 'alternative cure' should also be able to heal all other diseases. As these biases creep into their reasoning, people only spiral deeper and deeper into a world of delusions that is built upon logical fallacies. This is the point where faith in 'alternative medicine' can become dangerous. Folks start trusting their homeopaths, ayurpaths, unanipaths, naturopaths, and assorted quacks to diagnose and treat serious ailments such as bacterial infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. and in extreme cases, cancer. They start proselytizing. Relatives and friends are encouraged to 'just try it out for themselves', 'to have faith', and to 'avoid the poison of modern medicine'.

2. People are exposed more today than ever before to medical information via news media and social networks. There is an inherent bias towards sensationalist 'negative' news in today's media. If there is news about medical malpractice or big-pharma-mistakes, it is more likely to be highlighted in the media. A news item such as, 'Cancer survival rates in children for some forms of cancer has jumped 65% in the last 40 years' is hardly as sensational as a dramatic claim that vaccines cause autism. Thus, blogs and news media are full of stories of suffering that is attributable to 'the practice of modern medicine'. Purveyors of 'alternative cures', and others with vested interests have a very sensitive nose for such news. They spin these personal stories into extraordinary tales of how 'chemicals' of 'modern medicine' are the root cause of all suffering. Poor science journalism, which is so common in mass media is another factor leading to distrust in medicine. Scientific research in medicine is routinely misrepresented in popular media. This leads to headlines that alert people to non-existent flaws in medical research.

3. Compared to hard data and scientific research, anecdotes are more powerful in convincing people. The proselytizers of the earlier paragraph are excellent publicists for 'alternative medicine'. All of their interactions with friends and family involve enthusiastic stories of how scientific medicine is bullshit, and 'alternative treatments' work without 'the harmful side effects characteristic of modern medicine'.

4. Big pharma is sometimes guilty of bad science. This hardly helps scientists and pharmas fight the narrative that modern medicine is a conspiracy.

What are your perspectives on why people are so credulous when it comes to quackery?
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#2
(18-Jan-2012, 11:23 PM)karatalaamalaka Wrote: These days, as the field of medicine grows exponentially, so does the number of people believing in new-age/alternative cure quackery. I don't have any statistics for this and I base this claim entirely on anecdotal evidence drawn from the sample space made up of friends and acquaintances, and news articles and blogs. I can think of a few reasons for this surge,

The basic idea is faulty. There have always been people ready to swallow fish whole, or eat ash or follow a certain type of "cure" for ailments. Health and life events are perhaps the 2 most unpredictable happenings in our lives. We have no control over the outcome. One might live healthy and still die young of badly inherited genes, or one can live long inspite of bad lifestyles. Just as religion offers an illusion of control to some , Alt medicine also does the same.


(18-Jan-2012, 11:23 PM)karatalaamalaka Wrote: 1. Many followers of 'alternative medicine' are introduced to quackery at times when they suffer from such ailments as those that are quite bothersome, but are not fatal, and do not lead to complications. These include, common cold, allergies, shingles, milder forms of piles, fistula, chronic lower back pain, chronic fatigue, migraines, etc. Often, the symptoms from these ailments can be managed using over-the-counter medication. Most cases of such afflictions go away on their own, without medical intervention. It is not that people with these ailments should not see their physician. The irony is that it is usually through their doctor of 'modern medicine' that they first learn about the relative mildness of their ailment. However, in their suffering, people resort to 'alternative cures' such as acupuncture, and when the disease or its symptoms do disappear, they attribute it to the 'alternative cure'. This is due to confirmation bias. They then commit a second fallacy by generalizing based on their anecdote, that the 'alternative cure' should also be able to heal all other diseases. As these biases creep into their reasoning, people only spiral deeper and deeper into a world of delusions that is built upon logical fallacies. This is the point where faith in 'alternative medicine' can become dangerous. Folks start trusting their homeopaths, ayurpaths, unanipaths, naturopaths, and assorted quacks to diagnose and treat serious ailments such as bacterial infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. and in extreme cases, cancer. They start proselytizing. Relatives and friends are encouraged to 'just try it out for themselves', 'to have faith', and to 'avoid the poison of modern medicine'.

This I agree. More over modern medicine is largely badmouthed by alt med practitioners, who let you believe that it comes with scary stories and a lot of baggage in the form of side effects.
I also know people in the other side of the spectrum who abuse modern medicine, by indiscriminately prescribing antibiotics for every cold and fever. People who take and prescribe painkillers of high dose at the drop of a hat. I had a cousin who took painkillers because he 'might' get a headache. The use of medicine instead of physiotherapy or improved lifestyle changes are very common. This adds to the bad rep modern medicine carries.

But for people looking for magical solutions that will help them get a better control of their lives alt meds and religion is here to stay.




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