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Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology
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Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology

Ancient and Oriental medicine

| Posted on in science, skepticism, technology
Hippocrates: a conventionalized image in a Rom...
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While it seems like an oxymoron, the concept of ancient medicine has always been a moneymaker for con artists and bamboozlers. I have no idea why, but for some reason, many of the more gullible among us can be convinced that older remedies are somehow more valid than modern medicine. A very similar con is labeling alternative treatments as Oriental, implying that they know something in Asia that we don’t in the rest of the world. While I’m sure there is cutting-edge medical research happening in Asia, I’m guessing the little house on the corner with the Oriental medicine sign doesn’t subscribe to many peer-reviewed scientific journals.

There are a couple of points that can be made to quickly dissuade you from running to your local alternative treatment shop for a walletectomy.

Ancient medicine was brutal. Bloodletting. Blistering. Amputation. Plastering. Purging. There are a ton of examples of past practices that we know now to be more harmful than helpful. Not all ancient treatments are harmful. There are also a ton of practices discovered long ago that do much more good than bad. These beneficial treatments are used regularly by practitioners of modern medicine.

Treatments that show promise are absorbed into modern medicine. While I’m sure they know many things in Asia and in the past that we may not, the nature of modern medicine is one of sharing. Findings are published and reviewed by others. Any treatment that shows promise  is studied in depth so that we know how and why it works and to what degree it works. If the practices of ancient or foreign alt-med purveyors were in any way sound or their positive results were repeatable, those practices would become valid, go-to solutions for modern doctors. The very fact that these treatments aren’t used by modern medical professionals means that these alt-med remedies either don’t work or are actually harmful. Secrets are hard to keep, and you’re crazy if you think your local alt-med shop has a treatment that hasn’t been tried or reviewed and dismissed by modern medicine.

Science is a great thing. It rewards good ideas and makes them better. It punishes bad ideas by naturally discrediting them. When applied to medicine, science helps doctors use the good ideas to make us better and healthier. It doesn’t care how old those good ideas are – if they work and they’re appropriate, they’re accepted. If ideas don’t work or aren’t appropriate, they’re relegated to the realm of alternative medicine.

  • Derek Ricke

    i dunno though, cause while I certainly believe in the power of the scientific method…. I’m far from convinced that our current level of research in the human body has even tipped the iceberg. Far too much of what we do “know” is based on correlative studies without any adequate explanation for why a suggested connection may or may not exist.

    The scientific method employed by Chinese doctors really was about the same as ours… sure they didn’t have quite the level of technology we do today… nor quite as many people working on it. But then they did have about a thousand years for every hundred we’ve had. That’s a lot of time to draw on. How much of that is currently understood today I’m not sure…. most of their key texts are written in ancient forms of Chinese which are difficult at best for even the Chinese to comprehend. Western medicine simply hasn’t had time nor the funding to fully analyze and evaluate all of the concepts of the Chinese medicine.

    One area where the Traditional Chinese Medicine really has an advantage is in the area of simply maintaining good health. Our “modern” medicine is generally very good at alleviating symptoms and keeping you alive…. but when you look at the ability to find, address, and correct issues affecting simple homeostasis of the body, Chinese medicine is arguably more advanced.

    Don’t forget that while our modern medicine certainly incorporates ideas and techniques from Chinese medicine, Chinese medicine is doing the same thing with western ideas. Of course that’s talking about Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioners in actual Chinese hospitals.

    That said, regardless of where they got their medical degree, and in what flavor, the quality of the provider makes all the difference. Within the United States, unless your in a rather large ethnic Asian community, odds are you are not going to find a practitioner that knows his knees from his elbows without undergoing a simultaneous double-walletectomy. What’s more, many of the ingredients still commonly used in Asia aren’t available in the US, either because they’re prohibitively expensive, or because their simply not legal.

    And of course the first step in learning Chinese medicine is learning Chinese, because most of it hasn’t been translated, and is, in the words of many “untranslateable.” So you should probably find some way to test their reading ability. I would reccommend giving them a note that asks a question about chinese medicine in chinese, and then is conveniently mistranslated into an english question that simply asks something like “Are you a real Chinese doctor?”