Alternative Medicine Claims

Time has on twitter introduced a chat on alternative medicine. You can find that on #altmedchat

Here is my take on Alternative medicine and responses thus far:



The link to why there is a scientific explanation to air flight can be found here.

Richard King is a Spiritual Healer. And he has criticised Simon Singh co author of Trick or Treatment (ToT) for making similar statements like myself (the typos are his not the books; should be ‘it’):

[ToT:]At best is [sic] may offer comfort; at worst is [sic] can result in charlatans taking money from patients with serious conditions who require urgent conventional medicine.

[King:] The medical system in the United States is expensive, as is private medicine (as opposed to the national Health Service) in the U.K. and elsewhere. Are all those practitioners “whiter than white”? There is also the fact that mainstream medicine also kills a large number of people. The third largest cause of death in the United States in 2006 was the medical profession.

In practice, healing provides more than comfort. From their “scientific” point of view, the authors give an opinion but offer no evidence to support it. in addition is is an opinion on a subject that they have comprehensively demonstrated they know nothing much about, though they appear to believe that that do.


The book does, previous to the page on spiritual healing, discuss the placebo effect. The issue is no biological reversal happening of an existing condition by spiritual healing, in whatever guise it takes. What King is doing is exactly what he is accusing Singh and Ernest of doing – not giving details of clinical trials or evidence accept it is beyond scientific comprehension (how convenient).

I do not doubt that for some consulting a spiritual healer may help them cope better with an existing condition. I would hope though that proper psychotherapy for appropriate medical conditions might be available – which may not be under the NHS or in the US to the extent it is needed. My fear is such gaps in the market can be plugged by charlatans as I mentioned in my tweet taking money without any lasting benefit or the appropriate medical training to be involved. Worse possibly delaying much needed and necessary treatment.

The statistic King uses for 2006 saying doctors killing patients is third biggest killer in the USA. He provides no citation (annoyingly). However doing some quick digging I found this stat for 2006 here:


Source CDC

Making sense of the stats I found this rather helpful post when there was a discussion about doctors killing more people than guns in 2006. The figures should not be far off what they were actually in 2006:

Medical Errors – A Leading Cause of Death

The JOURNAL of the AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (JAMA) Vol 284, No 4, July 26th 2000 article written by Dr Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH, of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, shows that medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the United States.

The report apparently shows there are 2,000 deaths/year from unnecessary surgery; 7000 deaths/year from medication errors in hospitals; 20,000 deaths/year from other errors in hospitals; 80,000 deaths/year from infections in hospitals; 106,000 deaths/year from non-error, adverse effects of medications – these total up to 225,000 deaths per year in the US from iatrogenic causes which ranks these deaths as the # 3 killer. Iatrogenic is a term used when a patient dies as a direct result of treatments by a physician, whether it is from misdiagnosis of the ailment or from adverse drug reactions used to treat the illness. (drug reactions are the most common cause).

You gotta’ decide for yourself what you want to believe [regarding guns], but keep in mind that the general public reads this and believes that physicians are killing people every day.


Rather than it being the medical profession being incompetent a big factor when we look at the figures is adverse reactions to correctly prescribed drugs – almost half. To suggest ‘Are all those practitioners “whiter than white” ‘ and then say medical profession third biggest killer without this breakdown is disingenuous to say the least.

Plus there are attempts to bring these numbers down, not least the 5 million lives campaign:

“The names of the patients whose lives we save can never be known. Our contribution will be what did not happen to them. And, though they are unknown, we will know that mothers and fathers are at graduations and weddings they would have missed, and that grandchildren will know grandparents they might never have known, and holidays will be taken, and work completed, and books read, and symphonies heard, and gardens tended that, without our work, would never have been.”

Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP
Former President and CEO
Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Source for quote and 5 million Lives Campaign

As to whether spiritual healers are doing something beyond the realm of scientific understanding or observation my final answer would be to remember what Hitchens said:

those making extraordinary claims without evidence can be dismissed without evidence

Follow up blog: I told the witch doctor … No

Related blog:

Simon Singh sued by The British Chiropractic Association

James Randi overdoses on sleeping pills and lives!

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog


1 Comment

Filed under Science

One response to “Alternative Medicine Claims

  1. Pingback: Claims and explanation – Simon Singh and the spiritual healer « Homo economicus' Weblog

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