The problem with the idea of "alternative medicine" is that it conflates, and makes respectable, a number of things which should be kept separate from each other, and which, by and large, should not be
respectable, nor respected. New therapies that show promise and have some theoretical grounding, but which have not yet been sufficiently tested; therapies developed outside the mainstream of the medical community, but which show considerable empirical success; traditional approaches to healing from around the world (and in particular the much favored "Chinese medicine"), which have been refined over many centuries until they show great practical success, despite being based on nonsensical theories; therapies like Chiropractic, discredited in the medical community because of some wacky ideas and overreaching claims, but practically highly effective, and capable, when understood properly, of become part of standard medicine; studies like Nutrition, not strictly
medical in nature, but nonetheless related to human health, and perfectly respectable; and finally all manner of treatments that are simply unsound, from the earnest and insane, such as faith healing or homeopathy, to the vicious and exploitative, the Snake Oils of legend; all are united under a single name, yet they very radically from each other both in their practical reliability and their theoretical grounding.
Originally created 25 May 2000