Dangers of pseudo-science and alternative medicines

A lot of people ask “What’s the harm with homeopathy?” After all, it’s only water. Homeopathy had its uses when it first started in the 18th centuary as the “treatment” generally caused less harm than the more traditional treatments at the time. But things are now different. Science has moved on and our knowledge has increased. Proper science-based treatments are very successful…not 100% successful as our knowledge is still growing and there’s still a lot to learn. But we’re getting there. I agree, though, that mistakes have been made in the past but hopefully such mistakes can be minimised.Voodoo Doll

The problem these days with so-called “alternative treatments” (and that’s a bit of a loose term that can be interpreted differently by different folks depending on their point of view or agenda) are mainly two-fold from an initial health perspective:

Firstly, some alternative treatments, such as homeopathy, may not, in themselves, cause direct harm but can stop people from seeking proper medical care. Such alternative treatments also include the “healing touch” of various religious scam artists in the US, UK, Europe and other parts of the world. This can and has led to death.

Secondly, there are other alternative treatments which do cause direct harm.

There is also something else that needs to be discussed. And that is the road to truth. Belief in untruths does not allow the human race to progress. Here are three quotes from Carl Sagan which are particularly relevant here:

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. The bamboozle has captured us. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth – never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.”

Going back to the dangers of pseudo-science and alternative medicines. People can get caught up in the lies, and these can and have led to suffering and death. Charlatans who promote these dangers are everywhere and it’s a worrying trend that they’re increasing. All I can do right now is  point people in the right direction and hopefully they can be positively influenced or help others to see the dangers.

A website www.whatstheharm.net has started recently started which I came across in an article by Skeptico earlier last week. What’s the Harm allows you to search for incidents where pseudo-science and alternative medicines have caused harm. The site also allows you to add you own stories. Hopefully such a resource will help to combat the increasing dangers, risks and ignorance wrought by pseudo-science, alternative medicines and, of course, the charlatans.

Copyright © 2008 Kulvinder Singh Matharu – All Rights Reserved