Skepticat_UK is

Maria MacLachlan

Accolades & Quackolades

"There are ~20 published reviews of my book, but this one must be THE BEST! THANK YOU."
Edzard Ernst

"Best blog of the day IMHO."
Simon Singh

"This blogpost is simply brilliant."
Mark Burnley

"You are a rude argumentative bully. You are a typical "skeptic" - not sceptical at all."
Andrew, anti-vaxer

"Your piece about House of Commons Science and Technology sub-Committee’s ‘evidence check’ on homeopathy was one of the best I’ve seen. Strength to your elbow."

" individual calling themselves ‘scepticat’ or ‘sceptikat’- a highly volatile dictatorial site run by a wannabe megalomaniac. A truly disturbed person with a anger management issue venting via their little site to their own personal herd of sycophants."
Centella, one of Dr Andrew Jones personal herd of sycophants.

"Excellent report, which I can vouch for completely."
Jack of Kent

"The ludicrous nature of the complaint, and some of the responses by Dr Ranj and the BBC, has already been expertly documented on the Skepticat UK blog".
Dean Burnett

"Choke on your own vomit and die in agony..."
r wesley edwards, aka @CommonCormorant, author

"A very good rebuttal…"
Anna Watson, anti-vaxer Arnica UK

"A staggering amount of pathological disbelief allied with a staggering amount of arrogance."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"I just love this blog, and this post is a fine example of it’s content – ‘Inside the spine wizard’s den’ – Skepticat. Why do some of us feel that we are above challenging argument and peer review? I just wish that I could write as well as some of these bloggers!"
Jonathan Hearsey, osteopath

"Skepticat is a particularly venomousness (sic) skeptic, a humanist who lives by the "golden rule", she refused to let me follow her on twitter because I am "bonkers" which may endear her to many in the chiropractic profession..."
Richard Lanigan, chiropractor

Facebook image helpfully captioned by Sandra A Hermann-Courtney (@brownbagpantry)

"Die Die die die!"
r wesley edwards, aka @CommonCormorant, author

"Loved that article. It really shows what chiropractors are really all about. What I call the "chiro show" Exposing people to totally unnecessary X-rays should be criminal. Thank you!"

"I think skepticat is plain mad at not having children of her own. Hatred projected out to the world. It's sad to see someone with so much self hatred, destroying themself internally without even realising it."
Bebo, chiropractor (Note: In fact I'm the proud mother of two brilliant children, whom I mention frequently. Glad of the excuse to do so again.)

"Hooray for Reason! Just want to thank you for writing this. Even though the arguments presented are tired, and played out, they still must be refuted."

"I understand that you have been traumatised by your experience and that this is your way of coming to terms with the emotional scars."
Stefaan Vossen, chiropractor

"All you really seem interested in is banging your repetitive drum and preaching to the converted."
Rick, osteopath

"All the entries I’ve read are excellent. I’ll be coming back to read more. Love the cat logo as well."

"Research in Homeopathy Conference - Skepticat's hilarious account. She went to it."
David Colquhoun

"Her site is Skepticat UK... she wouldn’t know a punchline if it raped her. Or maybe she’d thank it."
Scott Cappurro, comedian

"I rather love the lunacy of the anti-Homeopathists, such as yourself."
James Pannozzi, acupuncturist & would-be homeopath

"Good blog from a skeptic which examines the "science" of Homeopathy in a very detailed way. Skeptics will love this. Proponents of homeopathy? Not so much."

"I really shouldn’t waste my valuable time with someone who obviously has at the very least a borderline personality disorder."
Erika Alisuag, homeopathist

"I’m finding it difficult to come up with some suitable words to say how good and interesting your stuff is. So, in the absence of suitable hyperbole can I say what a very well written and presented blog you have here. Really well thought out and researched. And passionate about it too! Complimenti!"

"You’re whole life is worthless because you lack reason."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"Great stuff Skepticat."

"When you have learnt some big words and also studied your history books you’ll find that the world was once thought to be flat…by people just like you."
Sarah Hamilton, homeopath

"Thanks for keeping the banner of reason flying high."
John Willis Lloyd

"This is just a general comment. I love this well-written an unfussy little blog (I don’t mean little in a derogatory way, but in the sense it’s not bombastic, self-important and posturing). Excellent material and a worthwhile focus, keep up the good work."

"Her website is a temple to diatribe – I have no sympathy for the homeopaths, etc, with whom she battles, but she clearly gets off on confrontation."
JF Derry

"Skepticat is strictly logical and attacks in unparliamentary words what she deems to be “quackery” – or suggestions that she sounds a little strident."
Andy Reporter

"LOVE the badass attitude! Seriously...KEEP IT UP!"

"You were a playful little diversion for a. moment, but I do have better things to do with my time than waste more than half an hour of it stooping down to play your ego supporting self delusional mind games……"
Susan Elizabeth, homeopathist

"An excellent read, thanks for taking thr time to compose it."
Alan C

"You need to do a course in anger management."
katenut, nutritionist

"FWIW I think you manage your anger rather well...mostly by focusing it into a thin, narrow beam of incisive rage which you then use to inscribe words on screen. ;)"

"Excellent description of the events."
Simon Perry

"You seem to be of probably well-meaning, but bigoted and fundamentalist disposition, just parroting slogans from others without any really knowledge or insight yourself."
Neil Menzies

"Superb, as usual"

"You seem only interested in ranting against an enemy which you are apparently still struggling to come to terms with “fifteen years” later."
Rick, osteopah

"Bravo, great post!"

"One day if you are not very careful you will be left behind in the dark ages. I’m sure this will not be printed..but hope it is read by you poor little scaredy cats."
Sarah Hamilton, homeopath

"Brilliant piece!"

"While you babble on like a total airhead about Myhill, you ignore the real doctors who are a danger in the UK".
struck-off doctor, Rita Pal, 'NHS whistle-blower'

"I sincerely hope I never get to your stage of wilful ignorance. You know absolutely diddly squat about the subject but you think your opinion is the only opinion."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"Keep up the spin, you manky old chicken's foot."
JB, chiropractor

"I am forced to conclude you are blogging on behalf of a specific entity that does wish to remain anonymous."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"The person writing all this negative press on homeopathy must be getting a big fat check from one of the pharmaceutical companies who would dearly love to push homeopathy off the map."
Erika Alisuag

"Such reporting lands you clearly in the realm of fundamentalist extremism–much noise, no substance, and money from those who have something to sell. It is so unfortunate that your listening skills are in need of repair."
Tanya Marquette, homeopath

"She seems to revel in presenting the many insults that she has attracted as a column of “Quackolades” on her site, as if war wounds on display,"
JF Derry, self-publicist

"Oh shut up SK. You write hot air and spew rubbish as usual."
Rita Pal again.

Why do people use alternative therapies?

It’s common to use the abbreviation ‘CAM’ to refer to complementary and alternative therapies and I shall do the same as an occasional alternative to my preferred descriptions, which include ‘quackery’ and ‘bollocks’, even though I don’t really like an umbrella term that lumps potentially useful complementary therapies in with other so-called therapies that are quackery/bollocks.

Elsewhere on the web I see people now using the acronym CAM to mean its very opposite: ‘conventional and allopathic medicine’. That won’t happen here because this blog is a quack-free zone.

So why do people use CAM?

1. The evils of orthodox medicine

Anyone who has tried to engage a CAM user or practitioner in a constructive discussion about, say, how these therapies don’t work, will be familiar with their tendency to divert attention onto the problems of orthodox medicine. Time and again we hear about iatrogenic deaths and injuries and about incompetent or corrupt doctors who only want to line their own pockets. We hear endless twaddle about ‘allopathic medicine suppressing symptoms’ and failing to treat the ‘whole person’. More than anything else, we hear about the evils of Big Pharma. Unfortunately for the CAM faithful, such stories do not prove to us that CAM therapies work.  And as I am not a doctor or funded in any way by Big Pharma, I’m not very interested in these charges beyond what they tell us about why people turn to alternative therapies in the first place. As an argument, it sucks.

Disillusionment with evidence-based medicine and its practitioners can happen for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s because there really isn’t anything that can help with their complaint. Nobody will claim that modern (i.e. evidence-based) medicine has the answer to every ailment. At worst, it’s because people have — or perceive they have — been seriously hurt or damaged, either physically or financially or both, by some aspect of conventional healthcare. Many others, like me, simply grew up with generally negative impressions of their country’s health service. Whatever the reason for our disillusionment, for many it provides the impetus to look elsewhere for treatment.

2. It’s ‘natural’, it’s ‘ancient wisdom’, it’s ‘Eastern’ etc.

All kinds of meaningless (and mostly untrue) descriptions are used by CAM pushers about their remedies, of which the most pervasive is probably ‘natural’, so I’ll focus on that.

When someone describes a remedy as ‘natural’, it usually means one of three things:

  • The speaker is stupid.
  • The speaker is an ignoramus.
  • The speaker is marketing a useless remedy.

These three qualities are not mutually contradictory and a combination of any two or all three can be, and often are, found in one person.

Stupid people just accept whatever they are told without question. If a given remedy is marketed as ‘natural’, that’s good enough for them. And natural=good or, at least, it can’t equal bad because it’s natural. It’s obvious isn’t it?

I once witnessed an exchange between two stupid people. One was recommending a laxative she’d bought in a health food shop, not just because it worked (for her) but because it was ‘natural’ and therefore ‘better than something chemical’, was how she put it. She took the ‘natural’ laxative from her handbag to show her companion. It was a bottle of pills. I wondered what she thought was natural about those pills. Did she think they’d been plucked from a bush?

Of course she didn’t. In this instance, the remedy was herbal, so you can follow the thinking: I don’t know what chemicals are but they sound scary. You can grow herbs in the garden so they’re natural. And natural means good.

I’d hazard a guess that this woman doesn’t have a clue how pharmaceutical drugs are made and it hasn’t occurred to her to even want to find out.

Many chemical substances that were originally derived from plants proved to be effective medicines. That’s why I wouldn’t dismiss herbal remedies in the same breath as homeopathy or ear candling. The difference between these plant-based medicines and the stuff sold in health food shops or in Chinese herb shops, is that the former has undergone rigorous testing and standardisation. And, of course, many can only be prescribed by qualified medical practitioners.

But the N-word isn’t just used for herbal remedies. It’s used for all kinds of nonsense, including homeopathy and ear-candling. The promoters of quackery know a good buzz word when they hear one and will unashamedly use it ad nauseam about their products and this description will be accepted without question by stupid people.

People who are quite intelligent and well-educated but who are somewhat ignorant about science accept it too, for much the same reason as stupid people.

3. People don’t know how it doesn’t work

But more surprising than the fact that some intelligent and well-educated people accept the description ‘natural’ for CAM is the fact that they believe it works at all or, rather, that they believe it can work other than as a placebo. The possible reason – apart from that they tried it and it ‘worked’ for them – is that they either don’t seek an explanation of how a remedy is supposed to work or, if they do, they accept whatever they are told without subjecting it to any serious scrutiny. As far as CAM is concerned, it’s often impossible to distinguish between people who are usually clever but who are ignorant about basic science and therefore gullible, and people who are just stupid.

So to take aloe, for example, when a promoter of herbal medicine says:

In fact, Aloe is an amazing plant with a wide ability to aid in the healing process, to protect, moisturize, and even extend life. It was used in ancient times for medicinal purposes, and its relevancy has not diminished today. Aloe’s usefulness continues to grow as scientists study its properties and possible applications.

Aloe Vera is a cellular regenerator and has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects. These properties alone contribute to Aloe’s place as one of nature’s healthiest products.

…they take it pretty much at face value. They don’t necessarily think about or question the term ‘cell regenerator’ and what it could actually mean. It wouldn’t even occur to them to pop over to PubMed and look for a systematic review of studies of aloe.

Similarly, homeopushers talk authoritatively about the Law of Similars as if it were a universally applicable scientific law, which it isn’t, and many homeopathy users don’t know that the remedies they swear by are so diluted that they contain none of the original ingredient. More on homeoquackery here.

4. Argumentum ad populum

Another favourite argument of CAM supporters in general and homeopaths in particular, is that millions of people all over the world use it (and some of them are celebrities). I don’t know what the evidence for the millions claim is but I’m prepared to believe that millions — like me — do at least try a homeopathic or other CAM remedy, find them to be absolutely useless and give up on them sooner or later. I also know that in some places CAM treatment is cheaper to the individual consumer than evidence-based treatment, though in other places — including Britain — the reverse is true. I even know that in some places round the world, there is simply no good alternative to alternative remedies: evidence-based medicine is not available to the masses. The argument that CAM works because millions use it is fallacious and disingenuous.

To sum up, people use alternative therapies because they have no choice or because they are disillusioned with orthodox medicine. They use them because they believe they are natural and therefore that, at worst, they can’t do any harm and may do some good. They use them because lots of other people use them. And they use them because they believe they can and do work.

There may well be other reasons why people use alternative remedies but that ‘there is scientific evidence for them’ is not one of them. More on that in my next post.

Related Posts

3 Responses to Why do people use alternative therapies?

  • OK. Firstly, there is evidence based science that supports many “natural” therapies. Before I elaborate, I would like for you to dissect the use of Taxol and refute its actions as a chemotheraputic drug. Don’t forget to look where it came from.

    In addition, prior to speaking about the lack of evidence based research, why don’t you do a literature search on search on such sites as PubMed. You’ll find clinical trials, and better yet, mechanistic studies showing how natural procducts affect the immune, nervous/autonomic, cardiovascular systems, etc.

    Not too smart of you, sorry to say.

  • Hello L.Price

    May I respectfully suggest that, instead of telling me what you’d like me to do, you tell me exactly what it is I’ve said that you disagree with and why. And if you think there are papers on PubMed that I should read, please say why you think I should read them and give me the references so that I can do so.


  • Sometimes you get to the clinic, and they don’t have the cure for the ailment that you are suffering from; sometimes the only way to find cure is to go to the old man next door who

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