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13 Basic Ways Alternative Medicine Takes Advantage Of Patients

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Shameless Snake-Oil Health Gurus List is composed of Joe Mercola, The Food Babe, Natural News, Suzanne Somers, Jenny McCarthy and Gwyneth Paltrow, with a sprinkling in of Dr. Oz. Sadly these are just the tip of the iceberg. Alternative medicine and quack science has become ubiquitous and its practitioners are found in big cities and small towns. What their clients don’t realize and most people don’t know are the clever, underhanded manipulations employed. Below are just 13 areas where people seeking help for various health conditions are taken advantage of. 

Scientific Illiteracy

The majority of people are not very knowledgeable or educated when it comes to basic science and the complex workings of the human body. Alternative medicine takes advantage of this and makes numerous claims that are unsubstantiated and easily proven to be false. The uninformed consumer will listen to a long list of bogus claims and never realize he/she is being lied to.

Lack of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is rarely taught in schools and most people barely have an idea as to what it is. Alternative medicine joyfully and deviously loves this. For example, when alternative medicine gurus are publicly shown facts and evidence as to why their beliefs are bogus, they don’t bother to refute the points – because they can’t. Instead they use ad hominem attacks on the skeptic, making up nonsense of his being a secret agent of Big Pharma. The sad part is the guru’s followers don’t realize this because they have no concept of critical thinking and are eagerly looking for a hero to solve their health issues.

New Age Mysticism

Most alternative medicine gurus believe in creating your own reality and have no sense of objective truth. They advocate thinking with your emotions and intuition rather than with your mind. This leaves their followers wide open for all kinds of unsubstantiated claims. Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra are the two kingpins of this, but there are many others. Pseudoscientific health products and philosophies are easily marketed because the soil is fertile for any magical, New Age claim that can be cleverly packaged.

Blame Game

Some of these gurus are smart enough to get off scot-free when their remedy fails. They place so much emphasis on the patient’s belief and positive outlook as essential for the healing, that when the remedy fails, it is most certainly the patient’s fault, not the gurus’.

Follow the Money

Most of alternative medicine forms associations and are able to cobble together significant amounts of money for slick, expensive ads on Facebook, Twitter, Google Ads as well as traditional marketing like radio, TV, newspapers and magazines. Also, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Suzanne Somers have a platform that reaches many with their pseudo-scientific claims and products. The numerous skeptics in the various media that expose the charlatans don’t often have the money reach all the duped people. It’s an uphill battle because even in alternative medicine, money rules.

Man on the Moon Fallacy

“We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t cure cancer?”  Alternative medicine gurus absolutely love promoting global, treacherous Big Pharma conspiracies because it feeds right in to their claims. The Perfect Solutions fallacy is happily used – there HAS to be a cure for cancer, therefore evil governments and corporations are covering it up for monetary gain. Mistrust of traditional authority – sometimes earned, sometimes not – results in a Wild Wild West of conspiracy and deceit. Anything goes, everybody lies, except for alternative medicine gurus, who heroically stand for freedom of choice, even when the choice has no intelligent, rational, or scientific backing.

Preying on the Desperate

Alternative medicine gurus, especially those who attempt to treat serious diseases like cancer, know they have a willing, eager and desperate audience. Basic common sense evidence is not needed. The patients are hanging on their every word as if it were coming from God Himself. When at deaths door, the anxious and despairing will accept almost any hope, and there are predators lurking around with saliva dripping from their mouths, ready to finish off whatever is left of the perishing.

Nostalgic For The Country Doctor

The bygone era of country and city doctors visiting patients in their homes and displaying compassionate, bed-side manners has made many nostalgic. They rightfully yearn for a more personal approach from modern medicine. Alternative medicine provides this, often providing a one hour appointment instead of the 7 minute consultation from the busy doctor with a packed waiting room.

Unproven treatments such as naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, essential oils, chiropractic medicine, and many others, benefit greatly from this more personal approach. Most of the positive results are from the well-documented and powerful placebo effects. Patients believe the treatment will work, and sometimes it does. The empathetic personality and charisma of the practitioners also influences patients to report results more positive than they actually are, not wanting to disappoint. Thankfully, changes are slowly coming in modern medicine:

Hospitals push physicians to improve their bedside manners …. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/hospitals-push-physicians-improve-bedside-manners

Reliance on Anecdotes and Testimonials

All alternative medicine advocates rely on anecdotes and testimonials to offer their version of “evidence” for their treatment. This is because this is all the “evidence” they have. Personal experiences and subjective biases should only be a starting point to find and treat the health condition, not the end proof. A well-worded summary is from Rational Wiki:  

“It is impossible to say that an individual anecdote is representative and it is also impossible to actually detect the real cause of the anecdote. For instance, with life-saving medical treatments (say, pills that reduce heart-disease and subsequently lower the death rate), there are some deaths that occur whether or not the medication was taken. Therefore, if someone who is on the medication dies, you cannot tell if they would have died anyway without it — you can't prove that the medical intervention worked, or not, from the one case study.

“It is very rare for an intervention to be, by itself, a sufficient cause of something. Rather, they tend to change the probability of a given event occurring. This means, obviously, that one can cherry pick examples that show something does or does not work, regardless of what effect it actually has.”

Confirmation and Selection Bias

Advocates of alternative medicine shrewdly utilize confirmation and selection bias to “prove” their claims. Only positive and supportive accounts are glowingly used in their promotions and the negative ones are trashed. Once again from Rational Wiki is an excellent example of this practice:

“Let's assume 1 million people (1,000,000) decide to take some ineffective remedy to cure their cancer. Let's further assume (for the sake of argument) that only 0.1% of this million will experience spontaneous remission (the actual remission rate, for breast cancer and basal cell carcinoma at least, is closer to 20%), and that 0.3% were misdiagnosed and so do not actually have cancer. This makes for a total of 0.4%, or 4000 people. Now, 4000 people translates into a lot of testimonials, resulting in ‘Alternative medicine cured my cancer’ claims in blogs, Internet comments, newspaper articles and real-life word-of-mouth, so this makes an extremely positive impression for the therapy. But the other 99.6% died and so are not around to leave any testimonials, positive or otherwise. Thus, even in a hypothetical scenario that assumes statistically very low false positive rates, the quantity of false positives is nevertheless numerically quite large. In reality, the number of past and present cancer patients relying on alternative medicine is much larger than one million, and the false positive rate is significantly higher than 0.4%, making the possibility of a given supposedly successful ‘cancer cure’ anecdote being a coincidence even more likely.”

The Fallibility of Human Memory

Alternative medicine “doctors” are quick and eager to take advantage of the prevalent fallibility in people’s memories, especially when it comes to personal health. In many cases the patient has a desire to please his friendly doctor as well as not want to admit a mistake in seeking alternate treatments. Both the patient’s selective memory and normal bad memory is cleverly exploited by the practitioner. All his advice and treatments are coming up roses, without a thorn or weed in sight!

Steven Novella, MD, an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine, writes about the unreliability of memory in diagnosing patients: 

“Medical students quickly learn that one of the biggest challenges in taking a medical history is that people are poor historians, which a polite way of saying that human memory is terrible. Anecdotes largely depend upon an individual’s memory of their illness and treatment. This introduces many new variables. There is, for example, a tendency for people to conflate different events in their memory into a single event, or to combine details from various events. There is also a tendency for details to evolve over time to make a story more clean and profound. So people may, in their memory, exaggerate the severity of their symptoms prior to treatment, exaggerate the response to the treatment, clean up the timeline of events so that improvement began very soon after a treatment (rather than before or long after), forget other treatments that were taken, distort what they were told by their various health care providers, etc. I have had countless opportunities to compare a patient’s memory of their illness and treatment to the documented medical records, and the correlation ranges from poor to completely wrong.”

Correlation Between Vaccination and Diagnosis

Many alternative medicine practitioners are at war with vaccines and have an easy time duping people who don’t understand that correlation does not mean causation. Because most children are on a vaccine schedule of 2, 3 or 4 timer per year, and many genetic diseases appear in those early years, it’s not too much of a stretch for some people to think the vaccine caused this horrible condition to their child. Considering the millions of children being vaccinated periodically and the large number of children developing genetic diseases, how could there possibly not be a time frame when large numbers of kids get vaccinated close to the time they were diagnosed? It’s simple arithmetic. Anxious parents see the vaccine as the cause when it is merely a correlation. Alternative medicine seizes on this unsubstantiated and irrational hysteria to discredit conventional medicine and paint themselves as the family’s saviors.

Just one example has to do with neurological disorders:

“In modern society, a potentially serious adverse event attributed to a vaccination is likely to be snapped up by the media, particularly newspapers and television, as it appeals to the emotions of the public. The widespread news of the alleged adverse events of vaccination has helped to create the urban myth that vaccines cause serious neurological disorders and has boosted anti-vaccination associations. This speculation is linked to the fact that the true causes of many neurological diseases are largely unknown. The relationship between vaccinations and the onset of serious neuropsychiatric diseases is certainly one of coincidence rather than causality. This claim results from controlled studies that have excluded the association between vaccines and severe neurological diseases, therefore it can be said, with little risk of error, that the association between modern vaccinations and serious neurological disorders is a true urban myth.” 

Placebo, Ego and Defensiveness

Alternative medicine practitioners enjoy playing mind games with their unsuspecting patients. They understand fully the power of the placebo effect but that is just the starting point. Everyone has an ego. No one likes to admit they made a mistake. These practitioners know once the patient is in the door, it is the patient who will be doing all the work. 

Academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine Steven Novella, MD has seen this time and again:

“When people try an unconventional treatment, perhaps out of desperation or just the hope for relief, they may feel vulnerable to criticism or a bit defensive for trying something unorthodox and even a bit bizarre. There is therefore a huge incentive to justify their decision by concluding that the treatment worked – to show all the skeptics that they were right all along.

“Then, mixed in with all of this, is a genuine improvement in mood, and therefore symptoms, from the positive attention of the practitioner (if there is one – i.e. you’re not taking an over-the-counter remedy), or just from the hope that relief is on the way and the feeling that you are doing something about your health and your symptoms. This is a genuine, but non-specific, psychological effect of receiving treatment and taking steps to have some control over your situation.”

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Photo: https://jewel92.com/wp-content/uploads/Rubber_Duck_8374802487.jpg

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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