Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Bitter Pill

Follow the Money

By Loretta Marron

The Chinese government is behind efforts to promote Traditional Chinese Medicine despite its lack of evidence.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s recent announcement that a host of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices, lacking any evidence base for their effectiveness, will no longer receive taxpayer-funded rebates for treatment. That is good news, but at the same time Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), similarly lacking an evidence base, is being promoted and adopted widely with strong government support. You have to ask why.

TGA Endorses Pseudoscience for Complementary Meds

By Ken Harvey

We are about to be exposed to hundreds of approved “remedies” that are ineffective at best and potentially dangerous.

Higher-risk medicines (all prescription medicines) are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as registered medicines (labelled AUST R). They are thoroughly evaluated for quality, safety and efficacy prior to market release (except for some “grandfathered” products), and receive stringent post-marketing surveillance.

Functional Medicine: New Name, Old Ideas

By Jesse W. Luke

An extensive review of integrative medicine by the Australian Ministry of Health found that many of its practices aren’t supported by evidence. Now it’s going by a new name.

Integrative medicine is the practice of combining so-called “alternative” and/or “complementary” health practices with mainstream medicine. Now “functional medicine”, a pervasive subset of integrative medicine, has begun spreading from the USA to Australia. Like its parent, functional medicine claims to be a holistic, “patient-centred” approach that, according to its proponents, orthodox medicine does not offer.

Prevention or Pretension?

By Benson Riddle

When the great Dutch scholar Erasmus famously wrote that “prevention is better than cure” around 500 years ago, he didn’t exactly have orthomolecular medicine and high colonics in mind.

Protecting Your Health in a Post-Truth World

By Rob Morrison

As scientific literacy declines and “post-truth” and “alternative facts” take centre stage, how can you ensure that you get proper health treatments that will actually do some good?

“Post-truth” is a term coined in 2010 to describe a political culture in which appeals to emotion defeat factual evidence in debate. It has now gone mainstream, selected in 2016 by The Oxford English Dictionary as the word of the year. One year later, “alternative fact” entered the lexicon as US President Donald Trump’s advisers fabricated stories about his inauguration that were easily falsified by well-documented and even photographic evidence.

US Mandates “No Evidence” Labels for Homeopathic Products

By Justin Coleman

Before advocates of science get too excited, though, a number of caveats may limit its effect.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued an enforcement policy statement requiring the marketers of homeopathic products to “effectively communicate the lack of scientific evidence” on product labels (http://tinyurl.com/h8yzsla). This is the first time in the USA that homeopathic products will legally require a label stating that they don’t work.

Why Acupuncture Misses the Point

By Marcello Costa

History reveals the sociopolitical factors behind the rise and fall of acupuncture.

Acupuncture, an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), has become popular as a stand-alone intervention in a number of countries. However, after extensive investigation it is becoming clear that there’s no evidence-based support for its use.

As part of TCM, acupuncture is a pre-scientific modality. As such, it’s unlikely to be accepted by modern medical scientists.

Anti-Vaccination and CAM Reflect a Common Worldview

By Matt Browne

A study has explored the psychosocial factors driving anti-vaccination attitudes.

Critics of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) wonder why its champions are so dismissive of evidence-based research, but evidence-based research itself suggests that part of the answer lies in personality rather than logic, and requires a need for rethinking how health professionals must address the issue.

Australian Chiropractors Manipulate the Evidence

By Ken Harvey

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency is dealing with more than 600 complaints about chiropractors. The majority of these cases involve caring practitioners who genuinely believe that their interventions are effective. The problem is their interpretation of evidence.

The Chiropractic Board of Australia, which supposedly regulates the professional conduct of chiropractors, has stated that high-level evidence is required to justify their advertising claims. The Board’s Code of Conduct includes the need to provide treatment or care options based on the best available information and to practise in an evidence-based context.

The Ultimate Placebo

By Ian Harris

The placebo effect is usually invoked with pharmaceutical treatments, but why not surgery?

The introduction of new drugs is rigorously controlled, with effectiveness established through scientific comparison with a suitable control – ideally a placebo. For surgery, introducing new procedures relies on a biologically plausible mechanism and evidence from lab studies and case series, with little regard to possible placebo effects and no requirement for testing against treatment alternatives, let alone against a placebo.