Thursday, August 27, 2015

Deconstructing "Holistic Living"

The Gluten-Free Aisle is here to save all from "wheat belly" / Photo: Memphis CVB, CC BY-ND 2.0

A lot of my friends love and swear by naturopathy, so posting this may be like kicking a bees' nest.  My mind is not set regarding the efficacy of alternative treatments (I'm not a firmly anti-CAM person at this point.)  But I've finally been pushed over the brink.

Take a lifelong healthy skepticism when it comes to claims that sound weirdly mystical, too good to be true, and/or like New Agey fetishization of "the ancient," "the natural," and "the exotic."  Add many years in Seattle and Portland - a couple of the nation's hotbeds of CAM ("complementary and alternative medicine.")  Sprinkle liberally with ever-increasing "activism" by folks who are succeeding in shaping public perception - and policy - through pseudoscientific fear-mongering (see, e.g., the 80s alar scare, the anti-vaxxers, and the Portland anti-fluoridation effort) and demonstrably false, allegedly "evidence-based" claims.  These activists' continuing efforts to shape public policy - my lifelong obsession - is probably what finally tipped me into caring enough to look at these things closely.

So I've hit my limit.  I'm going to try to do my part to dig into the weeds when it comes to CAM, "natural childbirth," organics and other trendy food obsessions, GMOs, various "toxin crises" du jour, and the like.  

Most folks posting on these matters fall into one of three camps:

1. Hardcore proponents of "holistic" living,

2. Well-intentioned folks who pass along notions that sound plausible because they're justified with a lot of scientific-sounding arguments, and

3. The quackery debunkers, some of whom are a bit reflexive in their debunkery.  The best of them actually have respectable educational and professional backgrounds in science or medicine, are able to articulate mainstream scientific scholarship on these topics, and are willing to acknowledge when the holistic folks have a legitimate claim.

I tend to be skeptical when it comes to CAM and various health fads, but I'm skeptical about everything, including my own skepticism.  So I don't fall into any of the three above camps - not yet, anyway.  I'm well-versed in statistical methods and analyzing and interpreting quantitative research, but I'm not a scientist (I don't delude myself into thinking that economics is a hard science), nor do I have any medical background.  So I'll rely heavily on the work of folks who do have legitimate, respectable medical and scientific expertise.  I'm not likely to break any new ground myself in this arena, but hopefully I can use this space to help amplify the voices of folks who know a lot more than I do.

If you have any great articles to share on these topics, please do so in the Comments section!

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