May 28, 2006


Forty years of miracle cures. Now it's homeopathy's turn (Ben Goldacre, May 27, 2006, The Guardian)

'I hope you get cancer and then look in the mirror." That is a pretty representative sample from the Bad Science mailbag last week, so I shan't be writing about mobile phone masts again until you all calm down. But it's in the backlash that you can find the truth. This week some fabulous elderly scientists came out loudly against homeopathy on the NHS.

A maelstrom ensued, and critics focused mainly on the failures of modern medicine: the side effects, and the failures, as if these problems could somehow be subtracted from medicine and given to alternative therapies as a benefit. In that backlash, you can see a whole century of medical history.

Before 1935 we were basically useless. Then suddenly, between about 1935 and 1975, science poured out a constant stream of miracle cures. Everything we associate with modern medicine happened: antibiotics which could save you at 21 and let you die at 70; dialysis; transplants; intensive care units; CT scanners; heart surgery; almost every drug you've ever heard of, and more.

As well as the miracle cures, we were finding those hidden killers that the media still desperately pine for in their headlines. Smoking, in the 1950s, to everybody's genuine surprise, turned out to cause 97% of lung cancers.

Then, rather suddenly, for the most part the breakthroughs stopped, and the subtle refinements began.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 28, 2006 10:14 AM

Traditional Chinese medicine is preventative and has saved our family a lot of health problems and money (for instance, did you know that you can reverse prostate inflammation with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine? This is a condition that has Western doctors completely baffled and yet this ignorance does not stop them from pushing violent phamaceuticals only aimed at the symptoms or suggesting devasting procedures that will leave a man impotent.) Yes, smoking is bad for you, but a nice maduro cigar in the garden after the kids are tucked in, prayers of thanks and stargazing are healthy. Also, eating right and exercising. Stay away from dairy (it's pasteurized and therefore undigestible -- number one cause of obesity in US ... weaned mammals do not drink milk. Note panic of dairy industry as more and more adults in US discover this -- huge, unsuccessful lobbying effort to try and prevent soy milk companies from using the word "milk" in their product names...) And not stressing too much. Trust in the Father. Live right; avoid harmful actions of the speech and mind and body and devote yourself to what is right. Do not overindulge in the sensual pleasures. It's hard, but worth it. I'm trying.

Posted by: J at May 28, 2006 10:47 AM

J. What you propose sounds like a wonderful way of life, however if acupuncture was able to cure or prevent prostate disease, I doubt it could be kept a secret. There are many acupuncturists plying their trade here in geezerland and I assure you that if it were effective, there would be far fewer men filling up the waiting rooms at the many urologist offices which dot the landscape.

Hm. Anyone surprised that there haven't been many new medical advances since 1975? Did researchers get stupid about then or was that when the myth of the evil drug companies became gospel and trial lawyers started raking millions with class action suits and we all know the rest.

The public has far more to fear from leftie whackoes pressing to remove drugs from the market than greedy pharmaceuticals trying to foist unsafe drugs on us. My own life was seriously disrupted when for absolutely no reason, doctors were made uneasy about law suits and stopped proscribing HRT and Bextra was actually made illegal. Please no snide comments about how we'd be in the pink if only we hadn't had all those milk shakes and hot flashes are a figment of our imagination and how exercise can reduce the pain in knees heroically trying to function missing their essential cartilage.

Posted by: erp at May 28, 2006 12:12 PM

Alot of people around here like to blur the line between the different kinds of allopathic medicine. You all may be correct that in a preventative sense we are not very much advanced beyond our ancestors. However, that same claim is absurd when made about surgical technique. Organ transplants, cosmetic surgery, joint reconstruction, gunshot wound treatment, artificial limb technology, vascular reconstruction, cardiac stints.... I mean, c'mon. Anger at the medical field is no excuse to make dishonest statements.

NB: I agree with erp that the world of allopathic preventative medicine would be a very different place without the class action suits that have made trial lawyers so very very rich.

Posted by: Pepys at May 28, 2006 3:08 PM

Incremental, not decorative. As an amateur Orrinologist I'd say this is less about hostility to medicine, more about hostility to you. If your hip replacement or bypass makes your individual life better, remember that's not significant because neither are you -- what counts is the herd. And he's right about the herd: sanitation and nutrition are what matter.

Posted by: joe shropshire at May 28, 2006 3:23 PM

We are the herd, not individuals.

Posted by: oj at May 28, 2006 3:38 PM

Pepsy, by allopathic do you mean mainstream medicine as practiced in the U.S.?

I fear the boomers are in for a rude surprise when the bodies they have been so assiduously pampering and exercising start showing signs of aging just like us old codgers.

I thought I was home free too. Hygiene, exercise and nutrition were the how we lived and yet, there it is, we're breaking down anyway. My parents, European immigrants, who ate heavily fat and carb laden dishes followed by sugar and butter confections and never heard of exercising both lived into their 90's basically disease and pain free.

My 50ish cousin, a poster girl for the liberal life style, no coffee, no sugar, very little meat, etc. etc. goes to the gym religiously couldn't get rid of a sore shoulder. Had it looked and was high dungeon because it was diagnosed as arthritis. She about threw a fit at the doctor, who was no doubt highly amused.

Posted by: erp at May 28, 2006 3:45 PM

A contrarian (oj) singing the praises of the herd. I do so love irony.

Posted by: ghostcat at May 28, 2006 6:15 PM

I thought we were a pack, not a herd.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at May 29, 2006 12:33 AM

A gaggle perhaps?

Posted by: Dave W at May 29, 2006 1:43 AM

Why not go back to the founders who had the right idea. We, the People are individuals coming together to ... we all know the rest.

You're in the wrong place if you want herds, packs or gaggles.

Posted by: erp at May 29, 2006 8:47 AM

In government, not in society.

There have been advances, they're just incremental. We're not discovering antibiotics just (very slowly) new antibiotics. Even some advances that just seem ameliorative turn out to have substantial benefits. Chemotherapy, for example, has advanced considerably over the last 20 years, one small step at a time. The new anti-nausea medications have worked so well that almost all patients are able to finish a complete course of treatment. Before, up to a quarter had to drop out early because they couldn't stand the side-effects.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 29, 2006 10:19 AM

All I know is its sooooooo important to wash your hands. Here is a video that describes the procedure!

Posted by: adhocreporter at June 1, 2006 2:27 PM