Review of Trick or Treatment

trick_or_treatmentTrick or Treatment by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst is a book that explains how ineffective medical techniques were until medical professionals adopted a scientific approach to testing treatments, and reviews how various alternative medicines have performed under the scrutiny of high-quality modern clinical trials.

This book will be interesting to ancaps for two reasons. The first is that those of us who were not raised libertarian but had to go through the world-shattering process of learning it as adults tend to be vulnerable to people peddling bad medical advice and bogus treatments. This book will help protect you from charlatans and snake-oil salesmen.

The second reason is that it contains interesting historical facts about how government has impeded progress in the medical field, adding to its already-unfathomable death toll.

By the start of the twentieth century, acupuncture was extinct in the West and dormant in the East. It might have fallen out of favor permanently, but it suddenly experienced a revival in 1949 as a direct result of the communist revolution and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Chairman Mao Tse-tung engineered a resurgence in traditional Chinese medicine, which included not just acupuncture, but also Chinese herbal medicine and other therapies. His motivation was partly ideological, insasmuch as he wanted to reinforce a sense of national pride in Chinese medicine. However, he was also driven by necessity. He had promised to deliver affordable health care in both urban and rural regions, which was only achievable via the network of traditional healers, the so-called ‘barefoot doctors’. Mao did not care whether traditional Chinese medicine worked, as long as he could keep the masses contented. In fact, his personal physician, Zhisui Li, wrote a memoir entitled The Private Life of Chairman Mao, in which he quoted Mao as saying, “Even though I believe we should promote Chinese medicine, I personally do not believe in it. I don’t take Chinese medicine.”

As a result of China’s propaganda, acupuncture began to spread to the West. China does not get all of the blame though. It had a good deal of help from another government entity: the World Health Organization. In 1979, the WHO released “Acupuncture: the WHO view” which stated that acupuncture was effective for many conditions. Then in 2003, the WHO released a follow-up report.

The 2003 WHO report concluded that the benefits of acupuncture were either ‘proven’ or ‘had been shown’ in the treatment of ninety-one conditions… The WHO had given acupuncture a ringing endorsement, reinforcing their 1979 report… Regrettably, as we shall see, the 2003 WHO report was shockingly misleading.

The authors then continue:

If we cannot trust the WHO to summarize adequately the vast number of clinical trials concerning acupuncture, then to whom do we turn? Fortunately, several academics around the world have made up for the WHO’s failure by providing their own summaries of the research.

Another dying alternative medicine called homeopathy got a similar boost in the 20th century:

…the Third Reich, whose leaders sought to develop the Neue Deutsche Heilkunde (the New German Medicine), an innovative medical system that would combine the best of both modern and traditional medicine. The first hospital to implement fully the Neue Deutsche Heilkunde was founded in Dresden in 1934 and was named after Rudolf Hess, who was Hitler’s deputy at the time.

Nazis and communists were not the only governments pushing alternative medicine, though. For example, in 1948 Britain “King George played an influential role in enabling homeopathic hospitals to come under the umbrella of the newly formed National Health Service”. Then in America, “it was the influence of men like Senator Royal Copeland that allowed homeopathy to survive despite the general trend away from Hahnemann’s philosophy and towards the use of treatments with a more scientific and reliable foundation.”

Recently, the Prince of Wales has been working hard to push alternative medicine in the UK. The London professor Michael Baum put his disgust nicely, saying of the prince: “The power of my authority comes with a knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer research. Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth.” The book goes on to berate the prince and the way he has been able to get bureaucrats to foist bullshit on the public.

So, while this book primarily evaluates alternative medicine from a practical perspective, there is enough ethics and economics sprinkled in to make it a fun read for any ancap.

A quality review of a controversial topic in science from a non-libertarian perspective. Four Murrays.

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2 thoughts on “Review of Trick or Treatment

  1. labbianlibey

    I find it truly astonishing how a libertarian site as this one claims to be presents itself with hostility towards so-called alternative practice in medicine and healthcare in general. We live today in a state-oriented society, and this state based social structure has one and only one medico-sanitarian system, ONE; and this one system has to, in an ineffably collectivistic manner, inexorably, through state-controlled institutions like healthcare ministries, profoundly control the introduction of other medical approaches. The state DOES NOT ever endorse any variation to the sclerotic mainstream system in the realm of medical health and of reflection and speculation on new theoretical healthcare frameworks. The state is absolutely for the exclusivity and irreplaceability of one medical system, and this system is not usually effectively challenged by so-called alternative methods. Being a libertarian means exploration, and this exploration may also mean that the so-called scientific (more correctly experimental) method is not necessarily embraced with a blind faith. Are all those people that embrace the experimental method as the unique possible one not blind? Are they not imbued with a religious arrogance and hubris to any other method that may be devised and promoted. A libertarian that despises the multiplicity of approaches is a fake libertarian; like all the fake libertarians that loathe and destroy the bitcoin (monetary decentralised) concept. They are fake, and in this era the fake libertarians emerge like armies. They embrace only precious metals whilst scorning cryptocurrencies. They laugh at medical routes that are not mainstream. They see experimentation and inductive reasoning as the only truth: they indeed only present themselves as deductively driven, whilst they are obsessed with experimentation based evidence as it is promoted by the state-financed academic institutions. Additionally, they tend to consider their own evidence based mode as the only one that can be regarded as truthful and credible. In fact, they look at essential oils and herbs scornfully, forgetting that the state has always intensely utilised plant-based substances as chemical straight-jackets to quiet down so-called madmen. I am referring to scopolamine and other tropane alcaloids. They use atropine from Atropa and other genera. They use morphine and codeine from Papaver somniferum. They use boswellic acids from Boswellia. They use active ingredients from Taxus for cancer treatment. They use compounds from Salix for analgesic purposes. They use derivatives from the principal secondary metabolite cocaine from E. coca, cocaine being used everywhere whilst Peruvians cannot export their E. coca leaves. And we can continue with the list. Plus, etatists and fake libertarians spit on these herbs because their pharmafriends have to develop their own chemicals like fentanyl etc. Etatists and fake libertarians have only two categories: the truth of the state on the one hand, and the untruth of all the rest on the other. Unfortunately, Murray Rothbard, who illuminated me on economics and made me into a libertarian, tended to be a little fake when he dealt with ethical perspectives. But this is another story.
    Edzard Ernst is another etatist that hates any medical approach that is not governmentally sponsored. Seeing his name in a libertarian website is a problem.

  2. rothbarddotcom Post author

    Thank you for your comment. You are right that the government distorts the market for medical care with licensing and regulation. Because libertarians know this, they should be in a better position to find real, beneficial alternatives to state-sanctioned medical care. However, skepticism of state-controlled medicine leads some to embrace alternative medicine without critically examining it. This “free pass” given to alternative medicine is dangerous, because there is a big difference between defending an individual’s right to use, say, homeopathic remedies and defending their effectiveness. The first promotes liberty, while the second promotes sickness and death.


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