Friday, May 11, 2007

Doggerel #82: "Allopathy"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One of the favorite altie words out there is "allopathy," used, quite inaccurately, to describe modern (evidence-based) medicine. The term started with Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homeopathy, to describe the then-popular notion of humors which was in opposition to homeopathy. Allopathy has been long since debunked, but lost popularity faster than homeopathy. Allopathy's methods included things like bleeding to remove "excess" blood, forced vomiting, and some rather nasty drugs. Compared to the gentle inaction of homeopathy, it's easy to see why allopathy is more or less dead today.

Where the terminology comes in: Homeopathy (same + suffering) has the central tenet of "like cures like" whereas allopathy (opposite + suffering) did the opposite. Modern homeopaths try to attach the allopathic label to modern medicine, often trying to conjure up the nastiness of mainstream quackery of old and to exaggerate instances of malpractice and so forth.

Unfortunately for homeopaths, and other alties trying to take advantage of the label, it's not important: What matters is whether or not a treatment works, and quackery like theirs doesn't. If it did work, they'd be able to pass a double-blind clinical trial, and not have to cherry-pick uncontrolled testimonials. At that point, we'd know it's not quackery, and it'd inevitably find itself in mainstream medicine.


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Tom Foss said...

This was really informative. See, I thought the "all" in "allopathy" was either supposed to denigrate real medicine for treating "all" of the body, rather than specific ailments and illnesses like homeopathy or naturopathy.

Either that, or I thought that it was supposed to be like the "allo-" in "allosaurus" (and I see that it is), which I took to mean "carnivorous." Apparently, as you point out, it means "different."

Dikkii said...

I always thought that "allopathy" was like the word "neoliberalism" - a meaningless term used by the anti-globalisation dudes to describe anyone who espouses economic policy that disagrees with theirs.

Hang on. Anti-globalisationists don't have any coherent economic policies at all. The words are more similar that I thought. Homeopaths don't have any coherent scientific evidence either.

JakeS said...

Actually, "neoliberalism" does have a meaningful definition. It covers more or less the "Chicago School" of economic... well, I hesitate to call it "thought." It roughly coincides with what used to be known as "Manchester Liberalism."

It is "neo" because it is a revival, often in an only slightly different guise, of the discredited policies pushed by Hayek and Hoover, in the same sense that "neofascist" is a revival of the discredited policies pushed by Il Duce and Pétain. Additionally, appending the "neo" helps to distinguish it from the Classical Liberalism of Mills, Smith and Keynes.

As for a coherent alternative to the Washington "Consensus," I point you to J. Stiglitz' Making Globalisation Work, Keynes' General Theory and J.K. Galbraith's The New Industrial State. They range from classical liberalism to social democracy.

If you're feeling more adventurous, you should familiarise yourself with some Syndicalist literature - supposedly Noam Chomsky, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Rosa Luxembourg are a good place to start, although I have no first-hand experience of the latter two.

Of course, these days even Martin Wolf is sounding downright reasonable. Funny how the Anglo Disease cheerleaders are suddenly saying the same thing that "shill, unserious left-wing populists" have been saying for decades. I guess the total meltdown of your favoured economic model does focus the mind wonderfully.

- Jake