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Assault on alternative medicine: worthwhile or witch-hunt?

The fight over the teaching of complementary medicines by Australian universities has drawn international coverage, including this piece by the New York Times. In his latest column in this week’s BMJ, Australian journalist Ray Moynihan talks with some of the key protagonists.

Ray Moynihan writes:

The campaign by the Friends of Science in Medicine to shut down alternative medicine courses on campus is raising some fascinating questions about the interplay of science, education and healthcare – and sparking much lively debate.

Leading Australian complementary medicine researcher, naturopath and medical doctor, Professor Stephen Myers told me he sees the campaign as a “witch-hunt.”

Professor David Colquhoun – who has helped run a successful campaign to close down complementary medicine courses at British Universities – told me he was glad researchers saw it as a witch-hunt. “Good, that’s the intention.” Colquhoun – who’s helping to advise the new Australian group – argues the field is all nonsense, it’s advocates are quacks, and ancient wisdom is “mostly wrong.”

Australian campaign co-founder Professor John Dwyer says it’s not a witch-hunt, but an attempt to remove “pseudo-science” from university courses.

Interestingly, the AMA president Steve Hambleton has withdrawn his initial support for the campaign, telling me he thought the campaign’s pitch had become “much fuzzier and less clear”, and that rather than using a “sledgehammer” by calling for mass closures across campuses, a case-by-case approach might be better.

You can see the full text of the BMJ piece here: http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/bmj.e1075?ijkey=zwFDDTnYJvF0ooA&keytype=ref

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments 3

  1. Owen Gary says:

    Read the book “Take Control of your Health”

    by:- Elaine Hollingsworth

    That ought to answer all of your questions!!

  2. Anne Cooper says:

    John Dwyer and the FoS are on shaky ground and may end up shooting themselves in the foot. Sure there is little evidence to support some health approaches, because the research is simply not done. Chiropractors osteopaths and acupuncturists etc do not have the access to NHMRC funding and don’t get the financial support, subsidized dinners or dinky anatomical models that medical practitioners enjoy. Their patients dont get a gov’t subsidy up to 100% to attend their clinics. Still their clinics are very, very busy.
    These approaches are not disproven, they are unproven – to the extent that FoS would like. The self reporting of the millions of Australians who claim to benefit from their ministrations of course does not count. Their own research is of course derided. When funded research is done such as on the efficacy of spinal manipulation for low back pain, for example, inexpert physiotherapy students were recruited to perform a very ineffective technique that was deemed to be a sufficient imitation of what experts in the field – the chiropractors and osteopaths – do all day, every day, with an extraordinary safety record. Of course the lumbar manipulation was poorly executed and had poor results. The facts speak for themselves.
    But if FoS wants only EBM in universities then much of medicine will have to go. Orthopaedics, surgery, psychology general practice, physiotherapy, psychology and of course that great non science, psychiatry. Much of medicine is unproven and indeed the discoveries, the learning, the research, is done on the operating table or on unsuspecting patients, as practitioners explore their clinical options. But why stop at medicine? Surely religious studies, philosophy, history, literature, music and economics – all rubbery and unscientific, have to go.
    In reality the world is far more complex than what can be recreated artificially in a trial or a laboratory. Here’s a test; the FoS would all claim to love their children/pet/mum/footy team. These are the things in our lives that are most important to us. But I ask -how do they know? wheres the proof? Because I see none.
    In reality we all treat our patients using some knowledge, some skill, some gut instinct and some luck. The FoS does not mention the elephant in the room (iatrogenic deaths and injury) but we all know how widespread it is. Nevertheless modern medicine is marvellous. Rogue practitioners are in all fields of medicine.
    So instead of the FoS attempting to take a high moral ground, and at the same time appropriating the term ‘medicine’ ( not to mention the title ‘Dr’), perhaps it could level the playing field and instead lobby for funded, high quality research that will enlighten us all as to why these unsubsidised therapies are able to attract and treat so many hundreds of thousands of Australians every day. Now that would be useful. Failing that, their campaign looks to be little more than a turf war.

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