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The unscience of medicine:

MagazineMay 1990 (Vol. 1 Issue 2)The unscience of medicine:

Medicine prides itself on being a science

Medicine prides itself on being a science. It constantly evaluates drugs and therapies by way of expensive trials, and is governed by strict - and expensive - regulatory guidelines. As a result, it has the hearts and minds of governments and the media, and its advocates and lobbyists are able to encourage laws that destroy alternative medicine.
There are plenty of problems with this picture, as regular readers of Enews will already have surmised. In the first place medicine can never be a science because it is a logical impossibility to deduce universal truths from empirical evidence. For instance X may die from lung cancer because he smoked, but you cannot say that Y will also definitely die the same way because he smokes.

Then we have the problem with 'scientific' trials. If a trial finds that in a study group of 1,000 patients 70% respond well to treatment and 30% don't, you would surmise that the therapy works for 70% of people 100% of the time. But the same data could also be interpreted as stating that the treatment works in 100% of patients 70% of the time. It all depends on who's paying for the research, and as it's invariably a drug company, there are no prizes for guessing which conclusion is reached.
Even the 'fairer' interpretation is questionable because no drug works the same way all the time. Individuals respond differently to drugs at different times, something that complementary and alternative practitioners have been endeavouring to stress for years. Their form of medicine cannot be analysed by the standard, double-blind placebo study simply because of the differences in individuals involved, and their changing characteristics over time.
Medicine is beginning to wake up to these problems, a process that will be helped by a thoughtful essay by Stephen Senn at the University of Glasgow, published in a recent British Medical Journal.

But we are still many years away from a realization within governments and the media that medicine is not a science at all. It's surprisingly similar to alternative medicine, in fact. And then what will we do?


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