Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Natural Fallacy and the language of Alt Med

I have a general rule of thumb. If something is called alternative medicine it doesn't work, because if it worked we would just call it medicine. Its a good rule of thumb, but it isn't always true because some alternative medicines actually do have active ingredients. This exact issue was addressed in a recent Forbes article: There's Nothing Special About Alternative Medicine. The article pointed out that when an alternative medicine cures you or makes you better it is doing so because the chemicals in that alternative drug are having a chemical reaction with molecules in your body just like what happens with real medicine. The only difference is that the alternative medicine hasn't been tested and shown to work, otherwise it would be medicine. As the author stated
But it’s important to know that if [alternative meds] are having an effect, when it comes to your body, they’re no different from industrial pharmaceuticals. The meds interact with some molecules and change the way something works, regardless of what you call them. It’s just that with the alt-meds, we often don’t know anything else. By their ‘natural’, usually untested nature, they leave us uninformed.
This is a good summation of the fact that for an alternative medicine to work it must have some sort of chemical effect on the body. However, one commentor took issue with this and dove head first into the natural fallacy my topic for today.