Good and Bad Alternative Medicine

December 2, 2007

My eye wandered off the crossword to one of the religious adds next to it in my local newspaper:

Learn about household uses of the 12 oils most frequently mentioned in the Bible. ABC Senior Center, $10.

Many of my fraud detection alarms went off at that point. I wonder if someone could get people in the credulous desert community where I live to pay $10 for a lecture on legitimate science, but it’s a sure deal to find a group of seniors to pay for it by pointing to questionable biblical authority, with the tacit implication that the medical establishment doesn’t want you to know these secrets.

Which is not to say, of course, that just because a cure is natural or unheard of it is necessarily bunkum. Aspirin was first discovered from chewing tree bark, after all. There’s a part of me that can’t believe that people are so gullible to fall for a ploy like the one above, but, of course, they are. Sagan’s baloney detection kit from The Demon Haunted World, is, sadly, known to few people in the general community.

Which is why Joe and Terry Graedon’s newspaper column The People’s Pharmacy is so refreshing, which is also carried in the local newspaper in my credulous desert community, but which is the polar opposite of the above hucksterism. Maybe they don’t qualify as alternative, since they actually have medical qualifications, but they cover questions on natural remedies and alternative solutions that their readers email, but do so with professionalism, humility, and, when possible, references to the medical literature. In the same issue of the same newspaper I found a reference to an earlier discussion on the linkage between the bergamont oil in Earl Grey tea to muscle cramps, complete with a reference to a 2002 article in The Lancet. Recent articles discuss the use of alcohol, Listerine, tree tea oil, and urine as cures for toenail fungus as well. Intelligent, humble, respectful, and referenced when possible. A great column.

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