Why I refuse to be a spectator

By Siouxsie Wiles 19/01/2012 10


Last weeks series in the NZ Herald on ‘alternative relaxation and remedies’ got quite of few of us peeved here at Sciblogs. I can’t speak for everyone but I’ll tell you why I objected. Because I strongly feel that articles like that do readers a potentially life-threatening disservice.

Let me explain. Over five days we were introduced to a variety of

‘relaxation therapies and health treatments, once practised only on distant shores’

which are now being offered in New Zealand. Starting with hirudotherapy, or leech therapy, the series also explored Japanese ganbanyoku, Indian ayurveda, Korean jimjjilbang and Thai massage.

While the articles mostly pushed the relaxation aspect of the therapies (with the exception of leech therapy which not many could claim to find relaxing…), this is essentially a smokescreen. Because many practitioners of ‘alternative remedies’ believe they can treat almost any disease, despite there being no evidence to support these claims. They will certainly present plenty of testimonials on their websites. And people may genuinely feel better after visiting such a practitioner. But if it was something like cancer they were being ‘treated’ for, this won’t last and may cause life-threatening delays to starting genuine medical treatment.

So this is why I get my knickers in a twist. To misquote Edmund Burke and Christopher Hitchens: Bad things happen when good people do nothing. I don’t want to be a spectator.


10 Responses to “Why I refuse to be a spectator”

  • I’ve had similar feelings. In the different setting on several forums I’ve encountered people seeking medical advice on-line and getting truly awful responses from people supporting and/or touting some of the ‘natural’ or ‘alternative’ remedies. Ditto in the ‘anti-vaccine’ forums.

    Lest people think these objections are ‘academic’ a telling, if horrific, example from early last year is the case of an ‘iridiologist’ who didn’t refer on a cancerous growth that ended up invading the patient’s skull.

    Many people say something to the effect ‘what’s the harm’ about some of these treatments – as Sixousie was referring to one harm is delaying sound treatment for something more serious.

  • And I’m glad you aren’t a spectator.
    There is this idea floating around (that I have encountered more than once) that if someone believes something works – then it does; until proven (definitively) that it doesn’t.

    The more people advocating a more evidence/science based approach the better.

  • There are two quotes which remind me why I keep challenging pseudoscience.

    “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” Edmund Burke

    ““we have to create the future or others will do it for us”
    Susan Ivanova, Babylon 5

    I was talkiing to a journalist the other day who asked why I was challenging these detox websites through the ASA when there are so many of them. My reply was something along the lines of
    “if scientists sit back and don’t say anything then we are giving sellers of pseudoscience free and unchallenged access to the minds of the public.”

  • Well said all of you.
    In today’s DomPost there is an article about Paul Callaghan’s trial of high dose Vitamin C to see if it made any difference to the progression of his cancer – he has concluded that it has not worked, and is keen to publicise this lest his trial be taken as some kind of endorsement.

    I think I mentioned this somewhere earlier on SciBlogs, but when my poor old Dad was dying of cancer he was having acupuncture for pain relief from shingles, and had this miracle therapy of baking soda urged on him by the acupuncturist. At least baking soda is cheap. What is really awful is people flogging expensive ‘cures’ to desperate people. Peter Bowditch at ratbags.com (pursues such quacks with great gusto, and good for him.

  • I currently have 7 complaints lodged with the Advertising Stds Authority over websites which are flogging off detox therapies. The pseudoscientific babble on some of these sites is just appalling

  • Hey Siouxsie

    Great photo in The Listener. Haven’t read it yet but it looks most interesting – I’ll take it to bed!

    Good on Paul Callaghan for coming out and being so forthright. Am just going to check and see if anyone has covered this yet. Might need to send it to Orac!

  • […] Why I refuse to be a spectator | Infectious Thoughts which are now being offered in New Zealand. Starting with hirudotherapy , or leech therapy, the series also explored Japanese ganbanyoku , Indian ayurveda , Korean jimjjilbang and Thai massage . While the articles mostly pushed the relaxation aspect of the therapies (with the exception of leech therapy which not many could claim to find relaxing…), this is essentially a smokescreen. Because many practitioners of ‘alternative remedies’ believe they can treat almost any disease, despite there being no evidence to support these claims. They will certainly present plenty of testimonials on their websites. […]