Respectful Insolence

About a week ago, I posted about a truly execrably credulous article on alternative medicine published at, which basically took a panel of true believers and asked them which five alternative medicine modalities had the best evidence to show that they “work.”

Now, Steve Novella weighs in. His key point, with which I agree, is that “alternative” medicine advocates (or “complementary and alternative medicine,” or CAM) have been wildly successful in framing their favored woo as being on an equal footing with “conventional” medicine, all the while carving out a double standard that allows non-evidence-based modalities to be excepted from the normal standards of medical evidence. Moreover, he points out how CAM advocates either appropriate certain conventional therapies (physical therapy, vitamins) and label them as “alternative,” while packaging the somewhat plausible alternative medicine modalities (herbal medicines, for example) with the “grossly absurd” (like homeopathy, Reiki, or “detoxification,” for example) and then try to sell the whole package as though it works.

Say what you will, Steve’s point that we “conventional” physicians have not done as good a job at “framing” as CAM advocates is hard to argue with.

Well worth a read.


  1. #1 wolfwalker
    October 14, 2007

    Somewhat offtopic, but important IMHO: a few days ago I started seeing promos for a new reality-TV show … one that seems to just scream for a dose of Respectful Insolence from the grandmaster thereof. Apparently well-known fraud Uri Geller and some twerp named Criss Angel are judging an American Idol-style contest to find “the next great mentalist.” The show is called “Phenomenon.” More information here.

  2. #2 Larry Moran
    October 15, 2007

    It’s going to be hard to frame good medicine in the face of all those folk remedies that just seem to work. I suggest we start using the phrase “evidence-based medicine” more often. As in, the survival rate for cancer patients being treated by “evidence-based medicine” is improving significantly. On the other hand, there is no data to support the idea that alternative medicine (i.e., medicine that is not supported by evidence) is effective.

  3. #3 Orac
    October 15, 2007

    Actually, you have a good point. I’ve said myself many times that I reject the entire concept of “alternative medicine.” I try now whenever possible to refer to “evidence-based medicine” or “scientific medicine” versus “non-evidence-based medicine.”