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Independents' Day

Trials of complementary therapies ‘testing magic’

Clinical trials of complementary and alternative treatments such as homeopathy and reiki are essentially testing ‘whether magic works’ and should no longer be accepted by the medical profession, two US experts and advocates of science-based medicine have claimed.

The academics – who edit the Science-Based Medicine blog – have penned an editorial in the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Molecular Medicine, in which they argue randomised clinical trials of such treatments are unethical.

Dr David Gorski from Wayne State University School of Medicine and his colleague Dr Steven Novella of Yale University say they advocate science-based rather than evidence-based medicine, whereby only biologically plausible treatments should be tested in clinical trials, and even then only when there is sufficient preclinical evidence to justify the resources needed and the use of human subjects.

Dr Gorski said: ‘Studying highly implausible treatments is a losing proposition. Such studies are unlikely to demonstrate benefits, and proponents are unlikely to stop using the treatment when the study is negative. Such research only serves to lend legitimacy to otherwise dubious practices.’

He added: ‘Somehow this idea has sprung up that to be a “holistic” doctor you have to embrace pseudoscience like homeopathy, reiki, traditional Chinese medicine, and the like, but that’s a false dichotomy.

‘If the medical system is currently too impersonal and patients are rushed through office visits… then the answer is to find a way to fix those problems, not to embrace quackery.’

Readers' comments (13)

  • Ivan Benett

    But magic does work for those who believe, miracles (the extremely unlikely) do happen, and placebos help in 30% of cases to relieve symptoms. Lets not remove these from our therapeutic armourmentarium altogether. For some that is their only hope. I don't say as an alternative to evidence based medicine, but when there is no alternative. After all hope may be all there is.

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  • @ Ivan Bennett:

    No, let's remove them and just use things that work most of the time and are cost effective eh? Leave the fairy stuff to the private therapists? It takes time and money to indulge this kind of nonsense and the NHS is short of both of those commodities.

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  • To be fair homeopathy does have its place - personally I find it very beneficial when prepared at temperature in solution with a little milk, and a tea bag added for 2 to 3 minutes.

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  • Leeches and blood letting may offer hope too but have been largely abandoned.

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  • Bob Hodges

    It doesn't help to challenge the fallacy that there is a 'medical' solution to every vague ill a person's mind can conjure up.

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  • Miracles do not happen. There is always a rational reason if people are prepared to look for it. We're humans we look for patterns and quacks have been amusing patients whilst they get better on their own for years.
    Bashing diluted solutions with leather and horse hair mallets work no better than tap water and bark remedy for me is taking the dog for a walk- I always feel better. Acupuncture can relieve pain but not pneumonia. Giving hope is one thing; giving false hope is evil. Believing in miracles is just lazy thinking. Just be honest with patients I find that works well - even in 10 minutes.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Same argument goes along with using Astrology to predict whether a patient will respond to antibiotics ???

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  • @Ivan Bennett

    I think what is really needed is a reevaluation of the role placebo should play in treatment, whether mainstream or complementary.

    Is there really no place in modern medicine where we can admit to using the power of the placebo?

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  • Why get so worked up? Who wants to do these trials? Patients are unlikely to be interested. Let 'scientific medicine' tidy up its own safety and efficacy standards and leave patients to chose the most attractive therapies on offer - healing is a much more complicated business than a typical clinical trial can
    Investigate - it is naive to propose a monopoly in treating the human condition.

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  • Newsflash, but homeopathy does work.

    Although its likely something more to do with the 1.5 hour assessment which encompasses a complete psychosocial reivew, rather than "water memory" or "clathrate theory".

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