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Alternative Medicine, and the Internet

When I think back to my own ‘discovery’ of the skeptical movement, it grew out of my experience watching the James Randi Secrets of the Psychics NOVA special. After being enthralled with the special (and with several Randi books already in my library) I sought Mr. Randi out on the Internet. In chat rooms, blogs, forums and skeptical conferences such as TAM this is a tale I’ve heard repeated many times; folks heard about the JREF of CSICOP (now CSI) and then used the World Wide Web to learn more about these organizations.

Recently I began to wonder about my own personal pet peeve (unscientific medicine) and how it has benefited from the Web’s huge explosion and influence. Certainly there are plenty of great sites out there that help to show much of so-called Alternative Medicine for what it really is – blogs like this, Dr. Stephen Barrett’s Quackwatch.org site, the National Council Against Health Fraud, and many other important sites; still the number of sites extolling the virtues of science and critical thinking pale in comparison to those that forward notions embracing magical thinking and quack-related products and health claims. A quick examination of the web’s most popular search tool (Google) shows us the cold hard facts about who’s winning the war of medical woo:

Note: On deciding whether a site is credulous toward a subject or not the criteria was simple. If the site extolled the virtues of the treatment modality without any critical or scientific background, I labeled it credulous. Sites that were supportive of the treatment but also contained critical evaluation or responses to the treatment I labeled as skeptical. Sadly, I had little difficultly making my decisions as it is obvious what a website’s motivations are.

Homeopathy
A search of the word ‘Homeopathy leaves us with over 11 million hits. Of the first 100 listings the findings are as follows:

Credulous and supportive of Homeopathy – 88
Skeptical of Homeopathy – 12

The first skeptical hit (I should note this is from Google.ca) is the 27th hit. That means that the first two and a half pages of hits on Homeopathy are all positive and extol the virtues of Homeopathic care. When I searched the word on the US version ‘Google.com’ I had a similar result with the one exception being the skeptical Wikipedia entry which appeared on the first page. Still, for most people the first three full pages of Google hits on the word Homeopathy do nothing but ramble on about the miracle cures and wonderful safety of the homeopathic way. In the case of Homeopathy I think we have to say that using search engines as a measuring stick, critical thinking has failed.

Chiropractic
Again, I limited my search to one simple word, that being ‘Chiropractic’ in Google with a return of over 21,000,000 hits. Of the first 100 listing the findings on Chiropractic are as follows:

Credulous and supportive of Chiropractic – 99
Skeptical of Chiropractic – 1

The very first listing on Chiropractic is the Wikipedia page, which initially piqued my interest, but right at the top of the article is the Wikipedia warning “the neutrality of this article is disputed.” After reading it over, yep, it’s entirely credulous of Chiropractic and is chock-full of anecdotes about how much better Chiropractic is for back injuries than standard medicine. Unfortunately this first entry goes into the credulous pile. The first skeptical listing on Chiropractic came on the 10th page and was the 92nd listing available. That means that a person searching the word chiropractic on Google.ca would have to wade through 91 websites before finding one site with any critical thought about the subject. Frankly, this saddens me. What’s even more frightening is that two fantastic sites, Chirobase and Quackwatch.org (Chirobase is a sister site of Quackwatch) didn’t make the listing at all.

Magnet Therapy
For magnets I used the two-word combination ‘Magnet Therapy’ in my Google search and it returned just under 700,000 hits. Of the first 100 listing the findings on magnet therapy are as follows:

Credulous and supportive of Magnet Therapy – 91
Skeptical of Magnet Therapy – 9

Finally a bit of good news. On the first page of hits the first four listings are skeptical of this therapy and include Wikipedia, Quackwatch.org, and even Canada’s CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) all of which are critical of magnet therapy’s efficacy. Unfortunately after the first page of listings on magnet therapy where there are five skeptical websites and/or articles on the subject, the remaining 90 listings contained only four skeptical links. Since most people probably look only at the first page or two of listings when searching out a topic, the fact that the first four listings involve critical examination is probably a small victory for critical thinking.

Summary
I could go on ad nauseum examining Google search engine hits on skeptical subjects, but in looking at three popular alternative practices it’s clear that the sheer number of practitioners and marketers out there simply crushingly outnumber those of us that care about critical thinking and worry about the possible negative effects of these belief systems. I think the best thing we can do is to attack at the point of the media and do our best to educate those with a loud voice (by this I mean those who are heard by millions) about the facts relating to alternative medical practices and the power and fallaciousness of the anecdote. My examination isn’t scientific and the fact that I am in Canada and may have different results that people in other countries should be taken into account, but still it’s a scathing reminder of where we stand in the battle against quackery.

Posted in: Health Fraud, Science and the Media

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28 thoughts on “Alternative Medicine, and the Internet

  1. durvit says:

    Medgadget ran a similar exercise for vaccination material on Google: Google, where anti-immunization pseudoscience reigns in Jan 2007. There was an update in July which showed the situation had worsened if anything.

    Possibly the sceptical blogs or sites need to be very serious about linking to eachother to raise page rankings etc. and increase Google ratings?

  2. kathleen says:

    I tried homeopathy on google.co.uk and got the Wikipedia entry, UK skeptics, Bad Science, the BBC Horizon debunking programme and a headline from the Daily Mail saying that homeopathy is worse than witchcraft – all on the first page.

  3. Michelle B says:

    Perhaps someone reading this post who is knowledgeable about the limitations of Chiropractic and who is a Wikipedia editor (if not, it is easy to become one) can work on editing the article.

  4. Joe says:

    Michelle B, Trying to fix the Wiki is an enormous waste of time. One may not be able to wrest control from the quacks. Even if you do, you may find that next week or next (whatever) someone comes along and cuts/revises the text you labored to produce.

    Back to the issue at hand. I Googled ‘chiropractic’ at Google.com and chirobase was the fifth entry. However, hits 3 & 4 lead to credulous sites maintained by our National Library of Medicine, and our National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine! One would hope that our government sites would be better.

    Another, credulous, government site is operated by the NIH with the promise of “reliable” health information.
    http://www.healthfinder.gov/
    Through that site, you can find a chiro or natuopath in your area. When the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) complained, the NIH investigated- and removed the link to NCAHF!

  5. Harriet Hall says:

    The news isn’t all bad. Dr. Barrett and I wrote an article for Quackwatch critiquing the claims of Dr. Nicholas Perricone. http://www.quackwatch.com/11Ind/perricone.html. Ever since, that article pops up when you google “perricone” – this morning it was number nine and appeared on the bottom of the first page.

  6. Joe says:

    Dr. Hall the current location is:

    http://www.quackwatch.org/11Ind/perricone.html

    I guess the .com (as opposed to .org) URL has expired.

  7. The message that we must get out is that unless you know where to look most sites that come up in a browser are promotional sites, ads and that the claims made for the goods and services being sold have to be independently verifired.

    I can’t tell you the number of times that someone has written to me to say, “I did research on colloidal silver and your site was the only negative one I found.” I respond, “You didn’t do research. You read promotional material from salesmen.” Then I provide them with links to the scientific literature.

    My site has been up for about 10 years, but there is no way I can compete with the salesmen some of whom have companies that have taken in millions of $$$s in a short time. That is what the public has to learn.

    I’ve been asked to edit Wiki but refused because the whole idea of going to such a site for accurate information is against all that I believe in. I did, however, complain to them about an external link that violated my copyright and they removed it promtly.

    However, although the sales sites do convince lots of people, there really is no way to know how many really are conned by them. Neither is there any way to know how many people those of us trying to educate the public really get through to because many will read our material, believe it and never contact us.

    Because of my site, I’ve been contacted by victims, federal and state prosecutors, scientists, product liability lawyers, quacks, their potential customes and lots of print and TV journalists. I’ve been asked to write for scientific journals and had my site used as a citation in scientific journal articles.

    There is one Internet site that had the auacity to cut and paste a case report on me that appeared in the NEJM including my photos. I went ballistic and told the journal to get my photos off the site since I never would have given them permission to use them if I’d known that they would let a silver salesman use them to tell customers that his product could never make them look like me when that was obviously false. They had him remove my photos, but they let the article remain in violation of their copyright. After that article, the fellow who lifted it included lots of erroneous statements intended to convince readers that the NEJM, the author of the case report and I were all wrong. He then listed many of the media interviews I’ve done which leaves me to believe that he must subscribe to a clipping service that tracks my English language interviews. (He missed the Spanish & German.) How much does that cost? I have no idea but suspect that not many reading this could afford to hire one to track a quack.

    Don’t you see it isn’t a level playing field? Our opponents are in business. Some are making millions. That is what the public has to know and what it can understand.

  8. Infophile says:

    I’ve been trying to work on Wikipedia a bit, so I figured I’d share some of my findings with regards to Alt Med articles. First of all, it’s a battle, and it’s always a battle. And unfortunately, in most cases the voices of rationality are losing. They simply get drowned out, worn down, or scared off by proponents of whatever the article subject is.

    Chiropractic is, quite simply, a lost cause. There are too many chiropractors and favorable editors around for any even slightly-negative information to get into the article. I’ve barely touched it while focusing more on areas that stand a chance in hell.

    Homeopathy is where the current biggest battle is. The current article is decent only because so much attention has been focused on it by rational editors. However, I doubt this will last long. The Wikipedia community knows there’s a problem there, and they have their eyes on it. However, they don’t know how to distinguish good science from bad, so they judge on much the wrong criteria. For instance, when one editor was repeatedly complaining that the Pseudoscience category shouldn’t be put on the Homeopathy article because it’s derogative, I responded sarcastically by saying that we should then also take off Alternative Medicine, because it’s derogative to Medicine to pretend Homeopathy has anything to do with it. I was trying to use sarcasm to make a point about how pointless and subjective that argument was, but it just got me banned from the talk page for a day (not without some controversy).

    What I really hate over there is how the consensus among many casual editors seems to be that science is a point of view (“SPOV”), and as such, we have to appropriately balance it with other points of view to make articles Neutral Point of View (“NPOV”). They completely miss the point that science is a method, not a conclusion, and on top of that, it’s simply one of the best methods we have for gathering data. But it gets treated like a viewpoint over there, so it has to be balanced against pseudoscientific views. Now, there are clauses about not fringe giving views undue weight, but this doesn’t help much when there’s a ton of horrible research being done on a subject (as with Homeopathy and Chiropractic). It looks to the casual observer like there’s a lot of weight to the credulous views, because they can’t determine the quality of the research. Even second-order research, such as meta-analyses, is flooded with poor-quality reviews which again, make it look like the credulous viewpoint is more credible than it actually is.

    I could go on, but that, in a nutshell, is the problem with credulous views getting promoted on Wikipedia. If anyone has any recommendations as to what could be done to improve the state of affairs, I’d be glad to hear them.

  9. dignan says:

    It amazes me when people cherry pick their information, and end up choosing the lowest common denominator. I agree that reading promotional website/internet material on a subject will more likely than not, give you a slanted view on a subject.

    What do you think medicine and pharmaceutical companies do everyday? You think they are telling the full truth about their products, and not hiding the huge safety concerns regarding their own drugs?

    Dr. Stephen Barrett was a psychiatrist who has not had a valid license to practice any form of medicine for many years. He has been found guilty in a court of law, and forced to pay restitution to people he has attacked.

    Dr. Barrett has been a disgrace to his own profession for years, and been beating a drum in a vast losing battle, as the cream does rise to the top. His site is full of nothing but fear mongering, misinformation, and half truths.

    As a chiropractor, I take great pride in serving the public, and putting their health and safety first. I do a great job explaining what we do, and don’t do…and once people hear the truth, there remains little to nothing to argue about. Unfortunately, people often like to be preached to by their own choir, instead of asking a person directly.

  10. PalMD says:

    Some of us started a whole new wiki just to be able to get out the truth. Facts are facts, and the fact is that woo is not truth, so presenting “both sides” equally is meaningless.

  11. Harriet Hall says:

    I just revisited the previously disputed Wikipedia article on Quackwatch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quackwatch.
    It now offers a fair discussion of Quackwatch, including a listing of the many awards it has won and the many organizations that have recommended it as a reliable source of unbiased health information. As it states, Quackwatch is regularly criticized by those it investigates. It rarely meets any criticism from science-based medical minds.

    For the record, Barrett retired from practicing medicine many years ago to devote his life to exposing quackery and investigating questionable health claims. He had no reason to maintain his medical license after his retirement, so he let it lapse. The court case referred to had nothing to do with any “guilt” on the part of Dr. Barrett; it was a lawsuit filed by Barrett against those who had spread false second-hand defamatory statements about him on the Internet.

    Quackwatch’s conclusions are backed up by references, and in years of working with the website I have never found anything that could be considered “fear-mongering, misinformation, or half truths. ” Barrett is a credit to his profession.

    I have always been impressed by Quackwatch’s integrity, but I was doubly impressed after I sent Barrett the original article I wrote about one of Perricone’s books. He set it aside until he could read ALL of Perricone’s books for himself, and then he added to it to make a more complete article and to share the responsibility in case anyone objected to what I had written. He asked hard questions. He checked every detail and made sure all our claims were backed by good references.

    If Dignan wants to discuss the reliability of a website, he would find a more respectful audience here if he provided examples of what he thinks is unreliable information rather than offering gratuitous ad hominem attacks.

  12. Tailspin says:

    Coupla thoughts:

    1) Not to be unkind, but half the people in the world are dumber than the other half,

    2) Well over half the people in the world equate popularity with voracity,

    3) Even smart people who aren’t fooled by numbers are not inclined to be skeptical, especially when reality goes against “what they know.”

    So now we see websites that proclaim “This is not fake,” “This is not a scam,” “You can trust us we hate frauds,” to promote their fakes, scams, and frauds.

    We just finished a study for a book on telecommuting, and found as many as 97% of job lists on the top web job-boards are scams, and many of those are couched in BEWARE OF SCAMS terms.

    Seems like there’s a meta issue that encompasses both ignorance and dishonesty that’s at work here that has to be addressed before truth and reality are the norm in healthcare and other areas of life.

  13. HCN says:

    dignan said “What do you think medicine and pharmaceutical companies do everyday? You think they are telling the full truth about their products, and not hiding the huge safety concerns regarding their own drugs? ”

    That is so funny, considering most of the CAM sites are actually sales sites for things like chelation, colloidal silver, supplements and even laetrile (which will more likely give you cyanide poisoning).

    Whereas the sites I mostly use for medical information do not (except for some fundraising):
    http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/
    http://www.4hcm.org/WCMS/index.php
    http://medlineplus.gov/ (where I found out that 10% of people taking narcotics have adverse reactions like I do, basically getting sick to my stomach)
    http://www.immunize.org/
    http://www.aap.org/

    Oh, and http://www.pubmed.gov (which requires a bit of training to understand, like learning to avoid journals like Medical Hypothesis).

  14. Meadon says:

    Bart, interesting post. But I note you missed an opportunity to affect those search results: this blog has quite a few incoming links, so it’s power to affect Google’s pagerank is not trivial. You should have linked to the good skeptical sites from this entry and thereby helped increased their rank…

  15. David Gorski says:

    For the record, Barrett retired from practicing medicine many years ago to devote his life to exposing quackery and investigating questionable health claims. He had no reason to maintain his medical license after his retirement, so he let it lapse. The court case referred to had nothing to do with any “guilt” on the part of Dr. Barrett; it was a lawsuit filed by Barrett against those who had spread false second-hand defamatory statements about him on the Internet.

    If you want to get an idea of just how vicious the attacks by CAM advocates on Barrett get, back when Quackwatch was still based in Pennsylvania (it’s in North Carolina now) one of the favorites was to call Barrett a “de-licensed” psychiatrist who never passed his psychiatry boards when in fact Barrett let his license lapse when he retired, as many physicians do (it’s expensive to go to all the continuing medical education activities required and paying the fee involved to keep one’s license active, not to mention that some states require that physicians maintain malpractice insurance as a condition of licensure). Dr. Barrett also completed his training decades ago, during a time when it was not necessary to obtain board certification to practice, and lots of physicians practiced happily and well without passing their specialty boards.

    That is probably one of the milder attacks. The rest follow the usual CAM script: that Dr. Barrett is a shill for big pharma, that he’s corrupt, that he was a crappy psychiatrist back when he was practicing, etc., etc., etc. I can’t help but note that “Dignan” mindlessly parrots these fallacious ad hominem attacks that are designed primarily to poison the well, primarily because he has nothing evidence- or science-based to say in support of chiropractic. He also grossly misrepresents what happened in court, where Dr. Barrett sued one particularly nasty Usenet denizen named Ilena Rosenthal, who had been reposting grossly defamatory statements about Dr. Barrett written by Tim Bolen, otherwise known as Hulda Clark’s attack dog. She got off the hook because the California Supreme Court interpreted the Communications Decency Act as not allowing someone who reposts or redistributes defamatory material to be held liable, only the person who wrote it. Even the court admitted that blanket immunity for the redistribution of defamatory statements on the Internet has “disturbing implications.”

    In short, Dr. Barrett has been the victim of a sustained and coordinated smear campaign by those who do not like his message, and “dignan” simply parrots the same misinformation and intentionally planted lies from that campaign.

  16. skidoo says:

    Curiously, on the first page of hits on the US version of Google, I got the Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake article from Quackwatch, as well as the Wikipedia entry.

    But recently, just for grins, I did a search on WebMD (regarded by many proles as a credible medical resource) and was dismayed to find their Homeopathy: Topic Overview article, which is disturbingly neutral on the subject, and states, among other things:

    Recently, studies have attempted to determine whether effects from homeopathic treatments are placebo or whether some other action occurs. Although these studies could not identify how homeopathic solutions work, there was evidence that homeopathic dilutions differ from placebos.

    Of course, they only cite one study: Taylor MA, et al. (2000). Randomised controlled trial of homeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial series. BMJ, 321(7263): 471–476.

    Regarding chiropractic, well, this is probably not the place to start another CapeRoadie debate. All I’ll do is pose the question: Why not take a detour around the minefield of bullshit and just go see an actual licensed science-based medical practitioner, such as a physical therapist?

  17. dignan says:

    I realize it is doubtful I will change anyone’s mind here, as most have been made up already.

    The science that chiropractic is based and developed around is neurology, anatomy, and physiology. I cannot stand up for every chiropractor that may be misusing their license to do some of the things that don’t make sense to me(Applied Kinesiology, Network, NET, BEST.) as I don’t see them as chiropractic techniques.

    Chiropractors are doctors of the nervous system, and are one of the few teachers of health left. I understand most are seeing medicine as the be all and end all, but living in a country that spends THE most on medical care, most on drugs, and is not first in any category worldwide on health, it makes me wonder what you guys are thinking when listening to all the science and missing the much bigger picture.

    I have quite a few references I can point you toward, but I am not sure what the point would be, since everyone seems so swayed the other way already.

    I don’t want to mix points regarding the validity of chiropractic, it’s science based approach to health, and the terrible and misleading medical/big pharma system, but the bigger is effecting the smaller. They have a lot to protect, and do a very good job at it.

    We must be coming from completely different points of view on health, and I guess that’s okay for me, just not for you guys.

    If any of you are in Seattle and want to go out to lunch and discuss any of this in person, it would be a pleasure.

  18. Joe says:

    dignan wrote “I realize it is doubtful I will change anyone’s mind here, as most have been made up already.”

    I think this is an appropriate occasion for me to claim “tuo Quoque.”

    dignan wrote “I have quite a few references I can point you toward …”

    You will probably find that many contributers and commentators know the literature better than you. (I hate “commentators” but my dictionary compels me.)

    Your cult is not based on science, it is based on the ignorant ruminations of the Palmers (pere et fils). Palm-readers make people happy, too. Ray Hyman has written, extensively, about this. One tells people what they want to hear (and you add a nice massage) and your customers go away happy. I would rather go to a masseuse, who does not have your delusions of grandeur (and costs less for the same result).

  19. Joe says:

    Sorry, I missed this drivel:
    dignan wrote “We must be coming from completely different points of view on health …”

    Health is not a “point of view.” That is the refuge of idiots.

    Medicine is based on facts. Asthma is not a “point of view” and, unlike chiropracty, medicine can alleviate it. Diabetes is not “a point of view” and, unlike chiropracty, medicine can alleviate it. I could go on … Despite the lack of evidence, many chiros claim to be able to “help” with these serious conditions.

    Even if you doubt this, your cult supports it.

  20. fls says:

    Dignan,

    That you chose to repeat that tired, old lie that medicine is uninterested in health does not inspire confidence in your sincerity. Nor does your assertion that chiropractic is science-based when what we know of neurology, anatomy and physiology does not support the ideas underlying chiropractic.

    Linda

  21. dignan says:

    All I can say is when one of you faces a serious motor or sensory condition, and are seeking out your last resorts, please give chiropractic(not chiropracty) a try.

    The amount of skeptics I have met in my own practice over the past 10 years have been many. The fact that the vast majority had their problems completely resolved, ranging from many different types of motor and sensory issues, when they DID NOT want chiropractic to help proves alot to me.

    Medicine will continue to disappoint and put the public at risk with risky, expensive, unneeded procedures that could have been taken care of with a simple adjustment.

    I am not claiming a cure all, but to simply sweep over a profession, and claim another(medicine) has all the answers is foolish.

    Everyone finds their answers in different ways, and enjoy sticking to your guns. I will be there to help any of you in with your nervous system problems as they relate to chiropractic, in a safe and effective way.

    Please keep in mind I have had various surgeries from trauma, and have MD’s in my family, so I am not against medicine. I do know first hand that they choose not to understand our approach to health since it is often times in complete contradiction to theirs.

    What amazes me is many of the MD’s that I personally know, including the ones in my family, follow the exact same lifestyle I do(no drugs, exercise, sleep etc.) than what the prescribe to their patients for health.

    I know people will chop these subtle points to bits, but I will gladly compare the health and quality of life that I have with any of you, and I have no doubt who will be found healthier.

  22. fls says:

    Ah, the usual canards.

    Since much of the placebo effect is simply regression to the mean, improvement happens regardless of what anyone believes.

    Someone does not go through the trouble of attending chiropractic sessions unless they have some expectation that it may not be a hopeless exercise.

    While you make claims of efficacy/effectiveness, they are not backed by evidence. Specifically, the effects of your treatments that are specific to chiropractic cannot be differentiated from the effects of no treatment plus the alteration of expectation, except in a few specific instances which are easily included in the practice of physiotherapy.

    Pretending that chiropractic has made any contributions to the area of health, when it has been medical research that has investigated the effects of lifestyle, diet and activity on health and disease, is dishonest – as is pretending that these issues are not part of medical practice.

    I will put my health up against yours any day.

    Linda

  23. Dignan writes. “What do you think medicine and pharmaceutical companies do everyday? You think they are telling the full truth about their products, and not hiding the huge safety concerns regarding their own drugs?”

    I don’t remember seeing salesmen masquerading as cured patients pushing any OTC or prescription drug on the Internet and suspect that if they tried the general public would catch on and scream bloody murder immediately.

    Drug companies are highly regulated and monitored not just by government agencies but by public interest groups and the media. That is true of those who practice science based medicine too. But not so of supplements, remedies or “alt” practitioners.

    When somone is injured by a supplement, the first questions a product liability lawyer asks is, Does the company have insurance? Does it have assets we can locate? Did an MD (with malpractice insurance obviously) recommend or sell the supplement? In other words is it worth filing a lawsuit. Can we collect damages?

    On the other hand when someone is injured by an approved drug or an MD, the lawyers salivate. It is not a level playing field. All products sold to treat and prevent disease and all people who claim that they treat and prevent disease should be held to the same standards.

  24. Harriet Hall says:

    I will undertake to write a blog entry on the science of chiropractic some time in the near future. Before I start writing, I will contact dignan and encourage him to show me his best evidence for his claims that:

    Chiropractic is a science.
    Chiropractic is based on neurology, anatomy and physiology.
    Chiropractors are doctors of the nervous system.
    Chiropractic improves health and quality of life.

  25. PalMD says:

    A few things for chewing on, for those who really think chiropractic has something to do with science. It is well-referenced.

    http://www.rationalwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=Chiropractic

  26. David Gorski says:

    Homeopathy is where the current biggest battle is. The current article is decent only because so much attention has been focused on it by rational editors. However, I doubt this will last long. The Wikipedia community knows there’s a problem there, and they have their eyes on it. However, they don’t know how to distinguish good science from bad, so they judge on much the wrong criteria. For instance, when one editor was repeatedly complaining that the Pseudoscience category shouldn’t be put on the Homeopathy article because it’s derogative, I responded sarcastically by saying that we should then also take off Alternative Medicine, because it’s derogative to Medicine to pretend Homeopathy has anything to do with it

    This is, of course, the very problem with the Wikipedia concept. It’s all so idealistic and oh-so-democratic to assume that allowing anyone to edit articles would, over time, in some sort of Darwinian fashion result in more accuracy, but for scientific topics the concept is, quite frankly, a highly dubious proposition, and activists are constantly trying to come up with ways to sabotage it. Considerable “adult supervision” by people with expertise in the field is needed for the Wiki concept not to be rife with opportunities for pseudoscientific mischief in its medical articles.

    In Wikipedia articles on alternative medicine, it’s been a constant battle to keep the credulous and unscientific claims from being included as facts, as Infophile points out. Unfortunately, it is, for the most part, a losing battle. The activists for so-called “CAM” therapies are far more motivated and interested in giving the patina of respectability to unscientific modalities like homeopathy than most physicians are in countering the misinformation. They know this is important; “we” don’t, other than a few. Consequently CAM advocates will spend whatever time it takes to edit CAM articles more favorably, and they will be drowned out.

    Personally, I thought about going around editing Wikipedia articles, but decided it was too much of a long run for a short slide. Maybe we as bloggers on this blog should rethink that position.

  27. joel_grant says:

    I wasn’t sure where this would fit, but this involves the internet and the placebo effect, touching on ‘alternative medicine’, so I thought this post might work.

    There is an article on salon.com:

    http://www.salon.com/env/mind_reader/2008/08/01/placebo_effect/index.html

    About the placebo effect. It seems like a pretty reasonable popular/scientific approach to the subject.

    A few of the comments section are from CAM advocates who complain bitterly about how arrogant and close-minded the author is. After all, [insert CAM approach] worked for me!

    A good way to check out how this subject is treated on a popular, non-scientific web site.

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