How popular is quackery? A Harris Poll answers: Very, particularly among Millennials!

One of the central messages that apologists for the use of alternative medicine and, particularly the integration of the unscientific and mystical treatment modalities of alternative medicine with real medicine—a phenomenon known as “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or, more recently, “integrative medicine”—is that it’s popular. Oh. So. Popular. If you believe the promoters of these modalities, CAM modalities are used by almost everyone and loved by nearly as many people. I exaggerate, but only a little. It’s basically an appeal to popularity, one of the ultimate logical fallacies. Whenever I hear such an argument, I like to cite Bertrand Russell’s famous admonition, “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd: indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Unfortunately, if a Harris Poll I just heard about yesterday from a press release for it that showed up in PR Newswire thusly, Health and Healing in America: Majorities See Alternative Therapies as Safe and Effective: Younger generations more readily embrace alternative treatments than their older counterparts, accurately reflects public opinion, then Russell's quip is correct about Americans' attitudes towards alternative medicine. A lot of really dumb ideas about medicine are widely held beliefs. (Here are the actual Harris Poll and the full 125 page report of the results.)

Let’s start with the summary in the press release:

For many, the term "healthcare" likely leads to visions of doctors and prescriptions, but for some it can mean so much more. Alternative treatments – also known as non-conventional or naturopathic therapies, which include things like chiropractic care, massage therapy, and herbal remedies – are used in place of or in addition to conventional therapies. Overall, younger people are more willing to embrace these alternative therapies and to use them more widely. In fact, one in four Millennials (25%) are using alternative therapies more than conventional options, compared to just 5% of Matures.

However, regardless of age, Americans are keeping an open mind when it comes to less conventional options. Two in three Americans view alternative therapies as safe (69%) and effective (63%), and half think they are reliable (50%). Even more strikingly, majorities think some alternative treatments, like chiropractic and massage therapy, should be covered by insurance – more than actually have used them. These findings appear to suggest an expanded consciousness on what health and healing mean to Americans – not just prescription medicine and doctors, but also having greater access to techniques that have been used for centuries to make people better.

"Though alternative treatments often predate modern medicine, consumer interest in these treatments today is bolstered by two important consumer trends: finding affordable care in a high deductible world, and seeking natural approaches to pain and disease management," adds Jennifer Colamonico, Vice President of Nielsen Healthcare. "As these trends are likely to continue for some time, we anticipate more consumers will consider and try alternative treatments as well as other types of self-care to achieve health and wellness goals."

One in four Millennials is using alternative therapies more than conventional options? I couldn’t help but think while reading that that it must be nice to be young. After all, younger people are far less likely to have chronic health conditions that require real medicine to prevent death or severe disability. If diet and exercise fail, good luck treating that hypertension and diabetes with woo instead of metformin and lisinopril! In any case, I wondered whether this answer was just a function of age, given how few Matures (I hate that term, by the way, which refers to people 70 years of age and older) use more alternative medicine than real medicine. I bet there's definitely an element of this, particularly given that the poll also found that higher percentages of people without health insurance use more alternative medicine and young people are more likely not to have health insurance—confounders, anyone?—but there's no older poll with the same methodology to compare to see if this number has changed.

Of course, when examining these polls, it’s very important to pay close attention to what is considered to be “alternative” medicine, particularly when there is a sky high estimate of what percentage of people have used alternative medicine before. So I dove into the full report to find out, and below are the specific therapies I found mentioned (percent reporting use in parentheses). This poll, as has been the case for most polls on alternative medicine use, includes modalities designed to inflate the numbers. In this report, for example, Harris surveyed 2,252 U.S. adults online between December 9 and 14, 2015, and found that 71% of Americans have used some kind of alternative therapy before:

  • Herbs/herbal medicines/vitamins (37%)
  • Chiropractic (34%)
  • Massage therapy/acupressure (29%)
  • Aromatherapy/essential oils (22%)
  • Meditation (20%)
  • Acupuncture (11%)
  • Electrotherapy (9%)
  • Reflexology(5%)
  • Hypnotherapy (4%)
  • Reiki/energy medicine (3%)
  • Cupping (3%)
  • Other (3%)

I found it rather odd that Harris left out two big ones in the world of alternative medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy. That surprised me, given how ubiquitous naturopathy seems to be and how homeopathy is an integral part of it. What didn’t surprise me is how the numbers are inflated with people who have used vitamins and herbal medicines (by that standard, I would probably be forced to say that I’ve used alternative medicine before in my life, at least based on the way the question is phrased), meditation, chiropractic, and massage therapy. The true woo, like reiki, cupping, and reflexology, are all in the low single digit percentages. Electrotherapy, of course, is nothing more than transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which isn’t really “alternative” at all, as I keep trying to remind people. On the other hand, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a poll where the percentage of people who have ever used acupuncture reached double digits, even just barely.

In actuality, this poll isn’t too far out of line with other polls that I’ve examined; the main difference between this on and many others that provide inflated numbers of people using alternative medicine is that this one doesn’t lump religion and spirituality in with alternative medicine. It does, however, suggest increases in the use of alternative medicine How valid the increases are, given the differences in methodology between polls, is not clear. For example, the percentage of people who’ve used chiropractic in this survey is higher than the previously reported percentage in the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Complementary and Alternative Medicine supplement, where chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation was used by 22%. On the other hand, the NHIS reported 1.7% of respondents using energy medicine; this Harris Poll, 3%. Both are still low single digits, and with such low percentages, it’s hard to tell how comparable these numbers are, but both still report very low numbers.

A particularly annoying aspect of this poll is that it doesn't really define what is "alternative medicine" other than the modalities above and that it isn't "Western" and "conventional" medicine. That is, of course, the false dichotomy that has been driving me crazy for at least a decade. First of all, it's a racist construct. There's nothing inherently "Western" about scientific, conventional medicine any more than there is anything "Eastern" about woo. After all, The One Quackery To Rule Them All (homeopathy) was concocted by a German. It's "Western" medicine. Actually, it's "Western" medicine that's just as much woo as the "Eastern" medicine that is acupuncture is. Given its questions and how it fails to define alternative medicine adequately even for purposes of the poll, I can't help but think there was serious bias in the construction of this poll's questions.

That being said, as sloppy and obvious a bit of pro-alternative medicine propaganda as this Harris Poll is, I still can’t help but be troubled by its results, for a number of reasons. First, I really do think that it probably does reflect a change in attitude towards alternative medicine, particularly among the young. This result is quite plausible and would make sense if true. After all, most Millennials were either children or not yet born when alternative medicine was being transformed by advocates from quackery to CAM in the 1990s and moving from disreputable storefronts to being studied in highly respected academic medical centers who fell prey to the lure of quackademic medicine. Decades of “respectable” centers of quackademia relentlessly promoting the message that some alternative medicine “works” and advocating the “integration” of quackery with science-based medicine as an unabashed good, aided and abetted by the media regurgitating the same message because it comes from what are considered reliable and respectable sources, couldn’t help but have an effect on Millennials, who grew up never knowing anything different.

I often like to refer to a 1983 New England Journal of Medicine editorial that referred to much of “holistic medicine” (remember, this was before the terms “CAM” and “integrative medicine” had been coined) quite rightly as quackery. That’s ancient history, unfortunately. For the entire living memory of the Millennial generation, alternative medicine has not been widely referred to as quackery but rather in terms of weasel words designed to imply that “integrating” alternative medicine with real medicine is the “best of both worlds.” Why shouldn't they accept alternative medicine as effective and reliable? That's what they've been told their whole lives!

The result is this:

Majorities believe chiropractic (67%) and massage therapy (53%) should be covered by insurance. Nearly half say the same of acupuncture (48%), including about six in ten Matures (61%).

For the rest of the alternative therapies presented, less than one third think each should be covered by insurance:

  • Herbs/herbal medicines (30%)
  • Electrotherapy (23%)
  • Hypnotherapy (19%)
  • Reflexology (16%)
  • Meditation (15%)
  • Aromatherapy (13%)
  • Cupping (11%)
  • Reiki (9%)

I’m sure insurance companies would be overjoyed to pay for the glorified faith healing that is reiki substitutes Eastern mysticism for Christian beliefs and posits such obviously ridiculous ideas like healing over a distance. Then there’s reflexology, which posits nonexistent links between locations on the palms and soles and various organs in the body. It’s basically the idea that giving a good foot massage can cure disease.

Finally, this Harris Poll looks at the politics of alternative medicine:

In this political season, it is interesting to note that Independents are more likely to use alternative therapies as often as conventional therapies (23% vs. 13% Republican), and are specifically more likely than their Republican counterparts to use things like meditation (24% vs. 13% Republicans), massage therapy (34% vs. 26% Republicans) and herbal medicines (41% vs. 33% Republicans).

To be honest, when I read this but before I looked at the full report, I couldn’t help but wonder why Democrats weren’t mentioned. I checked and found that, most likely, it’s because there appears to be no difference between Democrats and Republicans in terms of their attitudes towards alternative medicine or between liberals and conservatives. Indeed, Republicans reported slightly more use of alternative medicine than Democrats, while liberals reported slightly more use than conservatives. I'm guessing that neither were statistically significant differences, given that they weren't mentioned in the summary.

One aspect of this poll that caught my attention is only visible if one dives into the actual full report. I’m referring to one of the later questions, in which respondents were asked to state how much they agree or disagree with certain statements. One finding that I have a hard time disagreeing with is the finding that 86% of respondents think that alternative treatments should be FDA-evaluated for safety and efficacy in a similar manner to conventional “Western” treatments. OK, it irritated the crap out of me that the poll used the term “Western treatments, as that particular term is pretty damned racist. After all, there is no “Western medicine” or “Eastern medicine” with respect to science-based medicine. There is medicine that has been shown to be safe and effective by science; there is medicine that has not been shown to be safe and effective, and there is medicine that has been shown not to be safe and effective. Guess which two categories alternative medicine falls into? Hint: It’s not the category of treatments that have been shown to be safe and effective by science.

As I contemplated the results of this survey, I had a hart time not being depressed and disturbed. After all, the poll showed that a large percentage of Americans have a disturbingly credulous attitude towards alternative medicine. Worse, this poll actually echoes the findings of a previous report pointing out Millennials’ proclivities towards alternative medicine. Worse, there was definitely a correlation between education and alternative medicine use, with people with postgraduate training reporting significantly more use of alternative medicine than those with a high school education or less.

As sloppy and disturbing as it is, this poll represents a snapshot, a single point in time. It doesn’t really tell us whether use of alternative medicine is increasing or decreasing. However, what is disturbing about its results is the high level of “openness” to alternative medicine respondents expressed, particularly Millennials. If this poll is an accurate representation of the American public’s beliefs with respect to alternative medicine, those of us who have dedicated our blogging to promoting and teaching critical thinking have a more difficult task ahead of us than we thought, because we're getting older and the most avid believers in woo are the youngest generation who will replace us.

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Western medicine is a horrible term as it should include homeopathy and any other quackery invented in the western hemisphere. It is not the same thing at all as "conventional" medicine which is still a bad term. It should just be called medicine.

The other nice thing about this survey is that they did not include diet and nutrition as part of the alternative medicine which naturopaths try to do.

I also wonder if that is the real reason Democrats useage is not listed. My skepticism makes me think maybe the results would not have been flattering to the Democrats, so it was not mentioned.

Orac writes,

...those of us who have dedicated our blogging to promoting and teaching critical thinking have a more difficult task ahead of us than we thought.

MJD says,

The Mayo Clinic staff have a website that states:

Doctors are embracing CAM therapies, too, often combining them with mainstream medical therapies.

Why is there so little evidence about CAM?

The Mayo Clinic staff says:

One reason for the lack of research in alternative treatments is that large, carefully controlled medical studies are costly. Trials for conventional therapies are often funded by big companies that develop and sell drugs. Fewer resources are available to support trials of CAM therapies.…


You definitely have a difficult task ahead.

By Michael J. Dochniak (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Fortunately, this is a self-solving problem. As the woo-loving millennials grow older, their favorite quackery will ensure their demise from easily treatable conditions. This wave of preventable deaths will lead to a resurgence in critical thinking and hopefully cause the pendulum to swing back to reality from fantasy for the survivors and their children.

Willful stupidity has no cure.

By Anonymous Pseudonym (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Quackery is popular, as is astrology. Astrology has always been more popular than astronomy. Science is not supposed to be popular. What is wrong is to measure science by popularity, media coverage, citation numbers and impact factor. I have no problem with quackery being more popular than science-based medicine, but I don't want numerology being part of science.

By Daniel Corcos (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Actually, I'm mildly surprised that the method I probably hear/ read about most frequently in my travels is
diet and nutrition OR
'Let your food be your medicine'

Of course, I don't mean reality-based measures- which -btw- are vilified by woo-meisters- but the myriad forms of cures and treatments through particular diets, foods and phytochemical supplements.

-There are the extreme overarching plans like veganism or macrobiotics as well as fine tuning like organics, GMO free and 'clean' food**

-Then there are dietary restrictions like gluten free and casein free diets and paleo diets as well as ideas like juicing and nutrient dense liquid fasts. Recently, the microbiome and pre-/ pro-biotics to fix it are popular

- in addition, some woo-meisters sing the praises of particular phyto-nutrients that appear ( to their eyes at least) to be the miracle drugs of the future. Extracts of these kill cancer cells in vitro and thus, they're hailed as curative / preventive measures. They say "Eat a rainbow" which may be based on meaningful research but they inflate the effects and speculate unrealistically as they advocate high intake of Superfoods- greens, reds, blues, purples- selling containers of dried fruit or vegetable powders at high cost: after all, it's easier than eating a pint or two of berries a day.
Cruciferous foods, soy, mushrooms and garlic are amongst their most admired medicaments.
Another trend is ancient grains. Natural dairy products and meats are also coveted.

This is BIg Business and affects other enterprises like food markets and restaurants.

** as if we usually eat what has been tossed into dirt

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

@ Daniel Corcos

Astrology has always been more popular than astronomy.

Yes, but people don't ask rocket engineers to use astrology rather than astronomy.
It's not the comparative popularity which is an issue; it's the competitive popularity, the selection of one contestant over the others. It's the rejection of the one field somewhat grounded in reality in favor of another field which is mostly based on faerie dust.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

"finding affordable care in a high deductible world, and seeking natural approaches to pain and disease management,” adds Jennifer Colamonico"

I would like her to explain ( or someone else ) the popularity for countries where there is no deductible for SBM, like Canada, England, France ...... and where altie is prevalent. And the use of the word "natural" indicates she has no idea what it means.

By Ross Miles (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

@ Helianthus
I see: competitive popularity= science; comparative popularity = quackery. Interesting.
Rather, I would say that astrology based rockets do not work, and this has nothing to do with popularity.

By Daniel Corcos (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

@ Daniel

Oh for FSM sake

By competitive, I mean there is room for only one. People ascribe to one candidate properties the other one doesn't have, and choose which one to adopt.
By comparative, I mean cats are more popular than cacti, but that doesn't stop people from having both.

I would say that astrology based rockets do not work

How do you know? No-one tried. Or they have been silenced by Big Rocket.

Let's try again:

My point was that astrology and astronomy address two separate fields of human interests, so there should be minimal effect of the popularity of one on the other.

Medicine and quackery, on the other hand, are in competition for the same issue - human health.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

"Medicine and quackery, on the other hand, are in competition for the same issue – human health."
which does not prevent quackery to be very popular, and Boiron to be richer than you and me.

By Daniel Corcos (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Homeopathy is considered herbal medicine by many millennials. Most "active" ingredients listed in homeopathic remedies are herbs of some kind. The fact that homeopathy was not listed separately implies that the people conducting the survey also considered homeopathy herbal medicine.

By Mike Callahan (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Mike beat me to it - I'm guessing homeopathy isn't mentioned because it's lumped in with "herbs/herbal medicines/vitamins." Like most polls of this type, the results are essentially meaningless because it ignores the real distinction between "conventional" and "alternative" medicine (i.e., treatments that have been shown to work versus those that haven't) and instead focuses on superficialities: conventional medicine = lab coats and pharmaceuticals; alternative medicine = pretty much anything related to well-being that doesn't require a prescription, especially if it seems vaguely foreign or New Age-y. Most of their more popular categories are so broad that they could include both conventional and alternative treatments, plus some non-therapeutic self-care behaviors for good measure. There's a big difference between someone who takes a doctor-recommended vitamin supplement for a diagnosed deficiency vs someone who thinks mega-doses of vitamin C will cure their cancer; ditto getting a stress-relieving massage vs using acupressure to treat your allergies, ditto relaxing in a lavender-scented bath vs snorting tee tree oil to treat sinusitis.

re mine above:

that should be
I surprised that they left out food as medicine, dietary woo

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

WAS surprised

Sorry, no sleep last night

Correction with errors.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

I wonder what would have happened if they'd left US millenials out of the poll. I can't help thinking that health insurance has a lot to do with it. As I may have mentioned, because of insurance concerns, I have refused emergency treatment after being hit by a car, left a sprained ankle untreated except for cold compresses, and chosen to treat a self-inflicted knife wound (cooking accident) by myself rather than getting stitches. (Though on that one, I got medical advice from a passing nurse.)

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

I would say that astrology based rockets do not work

Why wouldn't they, Daniel Corcos #9? Astrology deals in assigning meaning to the relative positions of heavenly bodies at given points of time. There is nothing about astrology that counters orbital dynamics -- Carried to a sufficient temporal and spacial precision, there most certainly could be Astrology-navigated rocketry.

Perhaps Elan Musk will deliver a new age rocket named Aquarius with acceptable mission parameters to include "when the moon is in the Seventh House
and Jupiter aligns with Mars..."

@Ross Miles #8:

I would like her to explain ( or someone else ) the popularity for countries where there is no deductible for SBM, like Canada, England, France

I found this BBC-commissioned survey for the UK from 1999. There's also one published in 2010 based on 2005 data which suggests that growth hasn't been that great since then. The overall numbers aren't as high as for the US.

By Rich Woods (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink


Do I detect an appeal for universal health care?

Insurance / out of pocket concerns is part of the puzzle, but think it is far more complex.

By Ross Miles (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

@ Ross Miles #8 - Not to mention many CAM modalities are quite expensive - so much so that in some locales weekly acupuncture or Reiki sessions seem to be a sort of status symbol.

Through a related search, I found a 2015 article by Elizabeth Crawford called "Five strategies for marketing to millennials"
which might be of interest. ( altho' it's about food)

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Insurance / out of pocket concerns is part of the puzzle

Here in the US, this is a major concern, to a far greater extent than most people who have never lived here realize.

I had occasion to visit the emergency room of the nearest hospital a few months ago. The bill was more than US$700: $100 to walk in the door, and $600 to be treated for the condition that prompted my visit. This does not include the cost of x-rays, which (as is common in the US) was billed separately. I have no reason to think these charges are excessive for this part of the US.

Couple that with a survey indicating that 47% of Americans do not have enough cash on hand to cover a $400 emergency expense, such as an emergency room visit or a car breakdown.

So far, most forms of woo are not covered by insurance. There are sound actuarial reasons for that, such as that these treatments have never been shown to be both safe and effective. But insurance is subject to state regulations which can sometimes override actuarial concerns. Sometimes this is a good thing (e.g., requiring insurers to offer coverage for pre-existing conditions), but in principle states can require insurers to cover woo. For instance, it is a lot harder to justify the actuarially sound position of not covering treatments by naturopaths in a state where naturopaths are licensed.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Gilbert@17: Astrology is based on a belief that the positions of the planets influence individual people's lives. It's entirely magical thinking. There is no plausible mechanism (other than inspiring somebody to study astronomy, planetology, or science in general) that would allow for a different influence of any planet on two different people on Earth. As Carl Sagan pointed out, the gravitational force between you and the obstetrician attending your birth was greater than the gravitational force between you and Jupiter, because the obstetrician was so much closer to you.

I'd rather leave rocket construction to people who use astronomy and physics in the design, thank you.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

@ Eric
That's why good astrologists must know the position of the obstetrician.

By Daniel Corcos (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

""Herbs/herbal medicines/vitamins (37%)

Of course, 'herbs' would include use of cannabis?

With Leni’s Law, citizens in Alabama will have access to cannabidiol that may help with treatment. Through a study at UAB, we have seen the benefit of cannabidiol to help with chronic seizures. I hope we will be able to collect information that will determine the efficacy of this substance in other chronic debilitating diseases.

-- Govener Robert Bently, Alabama…

Seizures, huu? I note the particularly hepatotoxic valproic acid (Depakote™) is an anti-seizure prescribed off-label as a 'mood stabilizer'.

Bentley is an asshole:

A number of district attorneys across North Alabama are issuing public notices that Kratom is now illegal statewide. This includes the sale and possession of Kratom or any product containing Kratom. If you’re caught with it, you face felony charges.…

^^That sux. I've been meaning to try that.

Its leaves are used for a variety of potential medicinal effects, but mainly to manage pain and/or anxiety and alcohol dependence. Though not an opiate itself, kratom is thought to behave similarly to an μ-opioid receptor agonist like morphine, and thus is purported for managing chronic pain, as well as a recreational drug. Kratom use is not detected by typical drug screening tests, but its metabolites can be detected by more specialized testing. The pharmacological effects of kratom on humans, including its efficacy and safety, are not well-studied...

...The ONCB concluded that decades of non-problematic use, and an absence of health and social harm, make prohibiting the leaf unnecessary and counterproductive. According to the ONCB's report, kratom was in fact banned for economic reasons, not for health or social concerns.

In Thailand, kratom was first scheduled for control in 1943 under the Kratom Act. At the time, the government was levying taxes from users and shops involved in the opium trade. Because of the increasing opium costs, many users were switching to kratom to manage their withdrawal symptoms. However, the launch of the Greater East Asia War in 1942 and declining revenues from the opium trade pushed the Thai government into action to curb and suppress competition in the opium market by making kratom illegal.…

This is not 'woo'. It is another example of efficatious natural herbs butting up against more toxic offerings of Big Pharma. What's next? Passion flower**?

**It is already effectively wiped out through the ever increasing use of 2-4-d and glyphosate mixtures which drift (volatile) for thousands of feet. It's impossible to grow in a lawn on a small scale because there is one species of butterfly that the larvae only feed on passiflora incarnata -- They remember where they're born so if one's got the only plants within a square mile...; Insecticide is not an option because the aereal parts of the plant are to be made into a tincture for treatment of insomnia and anxiety. Besides, the butterflies are pretty.

Has anyone done an authoritative survey to determine if millennials are more or less prone than other generations to believing wackoid conspiracy theories?

Meantime, our fearless Reptilian host has been outed yet again by a certain loon as a Psychological Terrorist who preys on women. More proof, that (as another article reveals), Demons Walk Among Us.

And some of them have really cool tattoos.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Sarah A: Not to mention many CAM modalities are quite expensive – so much so that in some locales weekly acupuncture or Reiki sessions seem to be a sort of status symbol.

That's another part of it, true, and might factor into alternative medicine's popularity in other countries. Many European teens and young adults adopt US trends. Also there's the fact that European health care ain't what it used to be, especially since politicians are eager to dismantle it. It's kind of funny that people are taking pot-shots at the health services at the same time that immigrants and refugees are flooding into European countries.

Ross Miles: Universal health care is a good idea, but it simply is never gonna happen in the US, unless we suddenly lose a whole lot of states, or the non-white population takes a dive. Simply put the US is too large and too racist (up until the last few years it was getting better, but I suspect the Klan and other conglomerations of the dim will outlive me) for universal health care to ever take hold here, despite the ACA or Bernie Sanders. The places where universal health care has worked best (Japan, Scandanavia) have by and large been small, homogeneous countries. It's easier to love the poor when they look the same as the rich. Canada's health care system is a weird anomaly.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

When I worked with a team of about a dozen millenials, I didn't find them to be into consipiracy theories. What I did see was a deference to those who they looked up to and who spoke with conviction (especially Hollywood entertainers and the press) or those in direct authority over them.

Why? I don't know. Maybe it made their lives easier to be directed by others than to invest in the thinking things through. I will say that it really helped them in the business world to blindly follow managers.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink


"Canada’s health care system is a weird anomaly."

How so?

By Ross Miles (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

I found it interesting that the survey showed a decreasing percentage of those who use altmed stuff as education increased.

There have been studies that show somewhat higher than average education associated with ideas like being anti-vaccine.

By Jonathan Graham (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Meantime, our fearless Reptilian host has been outed yet again by a certain loon as a Psychological Terrorist who preys on women.

Mikey is also hilariously off target in invoking Welch. Like, RLY.

Unfortunately not enough time to be thorough. I had a brief look at the last study from 2010 provided by Rich Woods @18. The Orac Harris poll and a Canadian one, “Use of complementary and alternative medicine by those with a chronic disease and the general population” ( BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010; 10: 58. Published online 2010 Oct 18. doi:  10.1186/1472-6882-10-58 )

Then I took use of acupuncture as an example, or a back of the napkin indicator. The Harris poll stated 11%, the British 11.2% and Canada 18.3%. Also in Canada, the higher the income and education, the greater the use. The British study shows an almost equal amount in the lowest quartile and highest for income. ( 29.5 vs 29.2 )

Another Canadian study ( Sirois FM. Motivations for consulting complementary and alternative medicine practitioners: a comparison of consumers from 1997-8 and 2005. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2008;8:16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-8-16. ) examining why patients chose to use CAM services found that while the most commonly reported reasons that patients used CAM services were that these services allowed them to take a more active role in their health and they identified with the holistic approach. Additionally, 40.1% of respondents reporting using CAM services because they had problems communicating with their medical doctor, and approximately two-thirds of respondents reported that conventional medicine was not effective for their particular health issue, that they were desperate, and were at a point where they were willing to try anything.

This is like a stone skipping over the water, but does indicate the complexity.

By Ross Miles (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Also there’s the fact that European health care ain’t what it used to be, especially since politicians are eager to dismantle

The Conservative Party's project of dismantling the NHS in the UK is something of a special case.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

As a millenial (ugh) I would be in that 71%. Because I take the calcium supplement that my (real) doctor recommends, because I sometimes eat a ginger candy if my tummy feels weird, because I once tried hypnotherapy as a form of mental health treatment (as a minor). I've gotten a massage at a spa. I've considered massage for post-race muscle soreness. I've put lavender-scented salts in a bath to relax.

I mean, when you define "alt med" that broadly I think almost everyone would count.

(Then again there were the people on my Facebook this week who recommended homeopathic teething tablets and acupuncture to induce labor. Gah!)

By JustaTech (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink


Are you in the UK? I don't doubt that the ability for the common people to handle more taxes is strained right now and that is why politicians have chosen to slash and burn within the NHS. But where do you see the money to run it coming from?

Not a trick question - I just seriously doubt that taxes trickle down in the government anymore than wealth does in commerce.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Ross: Big country, big population and multiracial- the same things that would doom all efforts in the US. Basically, your health care is the bumblebee of government system according to my metrics.

HDB: How so?

Also, as a general question, did the survey distinguish between people who were taking vitamins or supplements for medical reasons and people who were taking them just because? There are some supplements that do get prescribed- I keep being told to take iron.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Oh, don't get me started. I've got quite a few millennial/young Gen X friends who totally buy into this crap, slavishly following the faddy diets ("I'm gluten-intolerant ... oh, yes, a pizza is an excellent idea" "I don't do dairy ... oh yes, milk in my tea, please"), who earnestly recommend acupuncture and homeopathy for my migraines (thanks, I'll stick with the sumatriptan), who don't trust "western" medicine with their special-snowflake ailments ("oh, western doctors don't have tests sensitive enough to diagnose my condition") and who seem to be allergic to everything under the sun ("I only use organic soap; ordinary soap makes my allergies flare up") etc etc. And they're often antivax, too, or rather "oh, I'm pro-vax, I just want vaccinations to be safe").

*and breathe*

A lot of people will be forced by economic circumstances to try non-conventional medicine and nutritional remedies. Their lack of accurate information is what often keeps them from succeeding.

At this point we are fairly well prepared to do stuff at home where it is simply quicker, cheaper and healthier despite HMO coverage with 0 deductible (the coverage isn't that great).

To complement Dangerous Bacon's report on the 'Demons' amongst us, I present a video of ( via the Bolen Report blog) Del Bigtree in pursuit of Dr Pan whom he chased down the stairways and halls of a ( most likely) Sacramento state office building

I didn't see Del in possession of a stake ( pointed stick) though.. Maybe Andy had it.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

HDB:France seems poised to shift over to privatization. Germany might follow.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

“How popular is quackery? A Harris Poll answers: Very, particularly among Millennials!”

Maybe much of this is due to Millennials being probably the least-educated, poorest critical thinking generation in the last century or so.

“Least-educated” has nothing to do with the number of years in school.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

SN: Mind your own glass house bub. It's not like you're all that smart. Then again, you do outsource your thinking, so maybe you just chose the wrong priest.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Ross Miles:In the USA it will be a slow, gradual process, unfortunately.
More like never.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Maybe it is a plea for socialised health care.

We have no shortage of woo here in Australia, but at least you can see a GP for free whereas a quack will cost you over $100, you can get part of that back if you have private health insurance.

A friend's daughter was constipated and, frustrated with it not getting better with OTC stuff, she said to me, maybe I should take her to a naturopath? I snorted and said - how about I just give you some common sense advice with some hippy shit thrown in and you give me the $200?
She did not go to a naturopath.

By Can't remember… (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

"Those of us who have dedicated our blogging to promoting and teaching critical thinking have a more difficult task ahead of us than we thought, because we’re getting older and the most avid believers in woo are the youngest generation who will replace us."

Don't worry, I'm young AND I don't believe in woo. I'll help :)

Maybe this is a purely European thing, but I can tell you that growing up I always heard variations on the idea that "natural medicine" is less dangerous go essentially unchallenged, with people who go against it getting accused of arrogance and intolerance. I've seen science authors who dared speak out against e.g. state funding for homeopathy, or CAM courses being required for certain pharmaceutical science degrees, get raked over the coals on talk shows, invited over only to be ignored and talked over while self-righteous CAM practitioners went on at length about how evil medicine is and how people should avoid vaccination.

By remalhaut (not verified) on 11 May 2016 #permalink

Maybe much of this is due to Millennials being probably the least-educated, poorest critical thinking generation in the last century or so.

We already know the answer, but: Do you have any evidence, aside from your bigoted and always ignorant opinion, to support this?

“Least-educated” has nothing to do with the number of years in school.

Since you are the least-educated person posting on science blogs, yet you have an "elite Ivy League education", this statement does apply to you.

Why Millennials play footsie with quackery.

1) They're still young enough that they heal up pretty quickly on their own, from most of the bumps, bruises, and infections of their peer-group. "I got better faster, so this QuackyQuap must have worked!"

2) Having graduated from college with a mortgage's worth of nondischargeable debt, into a job market that's like a cutting-room-floor clip from Soylent Green, they just =know= in their guts that they can't afford to get sick and can't afford to get well. So they "go underground" and become susceptible to BS conspiracy theory about "Western [sic!] medicine" and think they're out-smarting someone. It's one part desperation, one part denial, and one part defensiveness.


Hellanthus @ 10:

"I would say that astrology based rockets do not work

How do you know? No-one tried. Or they have been silenced by Big Rocket."

That is just brilliant and an instant viral meme, that I will spread far & wide, early & often.


Politicalgunieapig @ 16: Yes, that. "Hospitalbillaphobia" nearly cost me my life once.


Ross @ 19: Yes, you detect a desire for social democracy and a culture that is sane, humane, and sustainable. We believe that an economy is a tool for meeting human needs. And that humans are not food for feeding an economy.

The idea of all these companies fighting tooth and nail against "single payer" means they're really fighting over the job of being "the payer," in other words the guy who writes the check.

You'd think that "payers" are close to God or something, how popular is that job description.

But the explanation is a lot more prosaic: If you're the "payer," you get to skim some creamy-cream off the top for yourself. It's pure parasitism, to the point where the public are suffering from flea anemia.

Fifty years ago:

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be a surgeon, so I can save peoples' lives and make them better."


"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be a =payer= so I can write lots of checks and skim a percentage."

(Pardon me while I throw up.)

The cure for quackery is single-payer. If someone wants magical hand-waving or guru-water, they can pay out of pocket. Or let the private insurers cover that stuff. They can be the "payers" they've always wanted to be, and reap a fat profit on people choosing miracle-baloney and dropping dead early as a result. Think of the savings on end-of-life care!

By Gray Squirrel (not verified) on 12 May 2016 #permalink

Dean: I'm pretty sure that the closest SN ever got to an Ivy League school was a day trip to Boston once. He doesn't sound rich enough or smart enough to have ever passed the admissions test, and he's definitely not one of the Bush sons. (Then again George W. Bush went to Yale and learned nothing. His parents should have spent that money on someone who would benefit.)

Gray Squirrel: We believe that an economy is a tool for meeting human needs. And that humans are not food for feeding an economy.

What's this 'we' you speak of? Most Americans are just fine with being economy food- even the Trumpsters. Also, did you get hacked?

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 12 May 2016 #permalink

In 2013, doctors wrote nearly 207 million prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, up from around 76 million in 1991, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Much of this was due to the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying and PR campaign, led by Purdue Pharmaceutical, to boost the use of narcotics. (Purdue would ultimately plead guilty to misleading the public about the addiction risk posed by the painkiller OxyContin, and pay a $634.5 million fine.)

But like many people who get addicted, Ash wasn't aware of her problem. She had a legitimate need for the pills, and didn't realize what they were doing to her until it was too late...

Ash entered treatment in 2011. She successfully detoxed, and for a number of years continued in recovery with the help of buprenorphine**, a medication used to treat opioid addiction...That's when Ash discovered kratom, first as a way to help deal with the symptoms of withdrawal, and then as a replacement for other medications.

"Life couldn't have been much worse at that point. I was not leaving the house at all. I was only leaving the house to see doctors," she said. "In a matter of two weeks, I had the energy, I had the pain relief and I had the depression and anxiety relief I needed to become a productive member of society again. It was such a stark difference and such an immediate change in my life."

...Jag Davies, director of communications strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance, says he's skeptical of the desire to ban kratom. He sees it as a function of the "treatment industrial complex," which he says is profiting from treatment-instead-of-incarceration policies that funnel clients from the criminal justice system into programs that aren't based on science, such as abstinence-only and 12-step.

... "Determining success by boiling it down to this single measure of abstinence to this arbitrary group of certain drugs isn't realistic or effective."

...Ash says that although she hopes the FDA will stop cracking down on kratom, she doesn't see a path toward more mainstream medical acceptance. Clinical testing and FDA trials require huge financial investments, and considering the product in question is a plant that's likely been around for millions of years, pharmaceutical companies wouldn't see any way to make money from it. In fact, broader use of the plant as an alternative treatment would presumably take away from their bottom line.…

As with most windmills that ^^ bad policy will also chop up birds.

** Buprenorphine is definately now a 'drug of abuse' with friends advising each other to "pee dirty" as the only condition necessary to obtain a prescription.

@ PGP:

Ha ha, day trip to Boston.

It's even worse than that:
George W. went to both Yale and Harvard - the latter for a graduate degree, an MBA, iIRC One of his economics profs there has discussed his 'abilities' extensively.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 12 May 2016 #permalink

I am very .very dubious about these kind of survey. The wording is, I think, rather misleading.

At a glance, for example. I would likely answer "yes" on having use three of these modalities:

Herbs/herbal medicines/vitamins
I have migraines. As many with migraines, I have nausea. I have found that drinking ginger root infuse helps tremendously. So yes, I can be said to use "herbs" once a month, though I had never gone to a quack doctor to my knowledge.

Massage therapy/acupressure
Massages are a pleasure of mine when I can afford one. Not for any other reason than to relax, but on reading the list I would likely put "yes" on whenever I do this.

Aromatherapy/essential oils
When I come back from work I usually light a scented vanilla candle. It relaxes me and I like the smell. Do I think it heals something? Nah, it just smells nice. But again, I do use this.

Most people don't know what quacks mean with these things. Granted, for some like reiki, it is clear, but others are more vague. By choice, I would say.

I can recall my frustration while arguing about homeopathy with my SO (early on in our courtship) when she criticized the healthcare system and lack of affordable insurance as if that justified alternative BS. We're both 'millenials' btw, and here's my anecdotal contribution: you can sell a millenial anything, as long as it's an alternative to SOMETHING.


I agree with you, but when he first festered up on Evolution Blog, arguing about the "overwhelming historical and factual evidence" supporting the history and prophecies of the bible, he stated, when his background was questioned, that he had such an educational background.

As you, I don't believe it, but he said it.

DW: George W. went to both Yale and Harvard – the latter for a graduate degree, an MBA, iIRC One of his economics profs there has discussed his ‘abilities’ extensively.

Dubya's parents didn't learn their lesson from the first four years? Ouch, why didn't they just put the appropriate amount of money in the garbage bin? And link to the poor econ professor's article please? I'm sure it's glorious..
Dean: I wondered where the Ivy League thing came from. Given poor SN's inability to come to terms with the 20th century (and yes I know, it's the 21st century now), and general inability, one of those mail-order Christian colleges seemed more likely. Besides, I thought conservatives hate the Ivy League.

T. My sympathy for your struggle with migraines. My little sister had them bad as a kid, and she used to drink feverfew for it. At least ginger's tasty.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 12 May 2016 #permalink

@ PGP:

I don't remember the prof's name- it was Japanese though. I saw him on television. He spoke publicly about George's lack of concern for people who were impoverished during the depression and that he wasn't exactly brilliant. I think the gentleman taught historical perspectives on economics. Let me see if I can find him.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 12 May 2016 #permalink

Got it.
He's Yoshi Tsurumi, now at Baruch College. See Salon of Sept 2004 : The Dunce, Mary Jacoby

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 12 May 2016 #permalink

DW: Thanks.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 12 May 2016 #permalink

** Buprenorphine is definately now a ‘drug of abuse’ with friends advising each other to “pee dirty” as the only condition necessary to obtain a prescription.

It gets abused in part because it helps stave off withdrawal in addicts who can't otherwise afford actual treatment. The high from Bupe for opioid addicts is not that tremendous, though it does have the benefit of being somewhat more difficult upon which to overdose.

PGP @ 52:

No, I didn't get hacked, what gave you that impression? I'm down with a nasty cold right now, so I'm feeling loosey-goosey enough to let my social democrat flag fly.


Speaking of nasty colds, I've been treating this one with one of my favorite "natural remedies" (read: feel-good placebos), plenty of chicken soup. With rice, with noodles, with carrots, etc. It doesn't kill the virus but it does make my throat feel better for a little while.

This is a highly-contagious (a cough in a grocery line), long-lasting infection (2 weeks), it is not the flu (I got the shot months ago), and it occasionally produces bronchitis (two cases in my larger social circle). If anyone here knows anything about it, I'm all ears.

Oh, and a friend of mine has been suggesting various herbs. Diplomacy entails being recognizing his desire to be helpful while indicating my skepticism.

By Gray Squirrel (not verified) on 13 May 2016 #permalink

Is it coincidence, Delphine #62, that a substance used for pain and opiate withdrawal is being banned concurrently with Congress' tough talk on pain pills? Is it coincidence that Thialand outlawed kratom to protect opium revenues?

In Thailand, kratom was first scheduled for control in 1943 under the Kratom Act. At the time, the government was levying taxes from users and shops involved in the opium trade. Because of the increasing opium costs, many users were switching to kratom to manage their withdrawal symptoms. However, the launch of the Greater East Asia War in 1942 and declining revenues from the opium trade pushed the Thai government into action to curb and suppress competition in the opium market by making kratom illegal.…

Only this time the revenue stream to be protected will be a flood of Suboxone/Buprenorphine as windfall prescription pharmaceutical solutions to a pharmaceutical manufactued crises -- There are going to be waves of jonesing poppers of percocet, hydrocodone, ..., oxycontin who will be denied any 'alternative' to more odious prescription-wall 'therapy'.


~create a problem, demonstrate the problem, offer the solution which was not previously acceptable.

How convienient.

Gray Squirrel: You're normally a lot calmer and a lot less prone to typos. That's why I wondered. That cold's been getting a lot of mileage lately- I know of at least seven people that got laid low by it. (Six of whom I know in real life, the other is an artist I follow on the net.) I'm sorry to hear it got you too.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 13 May 2016 #permalink

Crashing waves, even.

My favorite spitoon for an edit function.