Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Bitter Pill

“Integrative Medicine” Has No Place in Universities

By Loretta Marron

With their financial resources under threat, Australia’s universities need to resist the temptation of offering lucrative courses that rebadge complementary therapies as “integrative medicine”.

Universities accept that they face long-term sustainability problems, with vice-chancellors arguing that they need an increase in public investment if they are to maintain their relative positions in the World University Rankings. Without this increase in funding, universities will be forced to make “difficult decisions” on campuses, staffing levels and the courses they offer.

“Alternative” Is Not a Compliment

By Sue Ieraci

There is no such thing as “CAM”, only medicine, complementary therapy and scam.

The industry supplying “remedies” outside of conventional medicine is often referred to by the abbreviation “CAM” – complementary and alternative medicine. Within that title, however, resides a multitude of diverse therapies – some safe and potentially beneficial, others frankly deceptive and dangerous. It’s time to carve up the term “CAM”.

Medicine is therapy that works, complementary therapy can help well-being, and alternative medicine has not been shown to work. There is no “CAM” – only medicine, complementary therapy and scam.

Stepping out of the Dental Dark Ages

By Michael Foley

Water fluoridation has been one of the country’s most effective public health measures, but parts of Australia don’t have that benefit and may even strongly resist it. Why?

Beaconsfield, Tasmania, is best known as the site of the 2006 mine collapse, but it was also Australia’s first fluoridated town in 1953. The decay-fighting dental health benefits of water fluoridation were quickly realised, and most states and territories jumped on board in the 1960s and 70s. The exception was Queensland, where successive state governments regarded fluoridation as a local government water treatment issue to be ignored rather than a public health issue to be encouraged.

What’s the Evidence, Ms Kardashian?

By Lauren Giorgio

It is disturbingly common to find celebrities paid to spruik alternative treatments, medicines and practices that science has already shown are ineffective – or worse.

Critics of complementary and alternative medicine demand an evidence base to separate effective medicines from those that offer no more than a placebo. The gold standard for evidence is often cited as peer-reviewed publication, but the story is complicated by the powerful influences of media hype and celebrity endorsement.

Why Do We Pay Parents Who Won’t Vaccinate their Kids?

By Peter Speck

The federal government wrestles with the cost of health care for Australians, so isn’t it time they stopped paying parents not to vaccinate their children?

Vaccination is critically important to maintaining the health of our children and society. Smallpox, the biggest killer of all time, was vanquished by vaccination, and the scourge of polio is almost gone, again through successful vaccination campaigns.

Evidence for Acupuncture: What Do Scientific Studies Show?

By Harriet Hall

Advocates of acupuncture claim that it has been proven effective by scientific studies. Critics claim that it is only a placebo. They can’t both be right.

It is often stated that acupuncture has been scientifically validated, but the truth is more complicated. Research on acupuncture is inherently problematic. The practice of acupuncture is not standardised, and some studies of “acupuncture” are actually of electro-acupuncture, ear acupuncture or other variants.

It’s impossible to do double-blind studies. The best studies use a retractable needle in a sheath so the patient can’t tell whether the skin has been penetrated or only touched by the needle.

Everything You’ve Heard about Acupuncture Is Wrong

By Harriet Hall

Acupuncture is often cited as an effective alternative method of treating a range of ailments, but few people are aware of the origins, philosophies and contradictions involved.

Acupuncture is widely believed to be effective but is not widely used. In America, only 6.5% of people have tried it, and a quarter of those stopped after a single treatment. One-quarter of the Japanese have tried it at least once, but more than one-third of those said they wouldn’t use it again.

Most popular beliefs about acupuncture are wrong. Here are some common ones.

Acupuncture Makes Sense

Is Evidence-based Medicine in Palliative Care Doing More Harm than Good?

By Friends of Science in Medicine

Stringent regulations govern what is administered to us in the prime of our lives, but different values seem to apply when it comes to the terminally ill and the dying.

Vitamins: Perception versus Reality

By Louis Roller

Which vitamins are backed by scientific evidence and which don’t live up to the hype?

If you get your health advice from the internet, you could be forgiven for thinking that multivitamins, and lots of them, will cure a multitude of problems and contribute hugely to your health, happiness and “wellness”. That is far from the truth. You might even be doing yourself considerable harm.

A Pharmacist’s View of the “Natural” Route to Health

By Ian Carr

A growing tendency to sell and even promote alternative remedies and “natural” supplements is putting the reputation of pharmacists at risk, and adding to the burgeoning health costs of the nation.

“No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”
– Lily Tomlin

When I started my career in 1980 working for a major pharmacy chain, vitamin profits were seen to be a major contributor to front-of-shop viability. Before the formalisation of the concept of “evidence-based medicine” there did not seem to be much harm in persuading our clients to buy and ingest large (often unnatural) quantities of “natural” substances. The result was presumably a placebo feeling of “wellness” and the production of expensive, vitamin-enriched urine.