Naturopathy is a strange beast in the “alternative medicine” world. From what I’ve been able to tell, it’s a wastebasket specialty with no overarching philosophical underpinnings, as traditional Chinese medicine underpins acupuncture or sympathetic magic underpins homeopathy. Basically, if it’s woo, naturopaths will use it. Acupuncture, TCM, homeopathy, herbalism, nutritional woo, detox, it doesn’t matter. To naturopaths, it’s all good, as long as it isn’t “conventional medicine.” Wait. Not quite. After all naturopaths have been fighting for (and in some cases getting) prescribing authority in at least two Canadian provinces (Ontario and British Columbia), and they’re trying to get that same authority in several states. I can’t quite figure out why they want that authority, given that they claim to have such a superior form of medicine. Maybe it’s because, deep down, they know that science-based medicine is more efficacious. Who knows?
In any case, if there’s one thing that distinguishes naturopathy from science-based medicine, it’s the love-hate relationship that naturopaths have with science. I pointed this out in my post about naturopathic oncology. Simultaneously, it would appear, naturopaths both desperately crave the validation of science, to be taken seriously by science-based physicians, while at the same time they resent science because it doesn’t support their woo.
I recently became aware of a perfect post that illustrates this latter attitude. It’s the bio of a “naturopathic oncologist” named Daniel Rubin. In his bio page, there is an interview with Rubin that contains a very revealing exchange:
AANMC: What is the biggest challenge in your work?
DR: The disease, to put it bluntly. We remain somewhat limited by the scope of our practice, and we must continue to work toward national acceptance of our practice as a valid system of medicine. I also think that one of the greatest challenges we face is the widespread public belief in the scientific method. Medicine cannot create success exclusively through clinical trials. We’re too reliant on the scientific method, and it stands in our way of forging ahead.
That’s right. You heard Rubin right. We physicians rely on the scientific method too much. And Rubin says that as though that were a bad thing! Damn those doctors and their science and the public for believing too strongly in science! Would that it were true! If anything, “conventional” physicians don’t rely on the scientific method nearly enough for my liking, and they are all too prone to reject science when it doesn’t agree with their preconceived notions. That’s one thing my more recent efforts have been geared towards trying to change. Be that as it may, Rubin also misunderstands the scientific method. The scientific method is not just about clinical trials. It is about the whole process from basic science to preclinical models in animals to clinical trials. It’s about the whole enchilada when it comes to the evidence.
Compare this to a statement by another “naturopathic oncologist” named Tim Birdsall three months ago on the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians:
And so I began to ponder the question, “What’s wrong with research?” A part of me becomes enraged at the reductionistic, allopathic, biomedical model, which breaks things down into components so small that all synergism, all interdependence is stripped away, and then declares those components to be ineffective. Another part argues that the wrong component was selected, or was a synthetic form (although in the lung cancer study, they used selenium yeast). But ultimately, I find myself becoming offended because I believe that these therapies work… Whoa! Believe?
That’s right. Believe. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about naturopathy over rthe years, it’s that it’s all about belief, because there’s no real science behind huge swaths of what they do. Naturopaths tend to be very suspicious of science. Their preferred treatments don’t stand up to rigorous scientific testing, but they know that, to be viewed as a profession rather than a bunch of quacks they have to have at least a patina of scientific respectability. That conflict leads to the aforementioned love-hate relationship they have with science.
Come to think of it, if there’s a defining characteristic of a pseudoscientist, it’s a love-hate relationship with science, and for all the same reasons as naturopaths. I wonder if it’s a generalizable principle.