What the measles debacle teaches us about the rest of alternative health


The anti-vax movement is the paradigmatic “alternative” health movement. It is one of the oldest, and largest; it seduced millions of parents, co-opted the mainstream media for a time, made fortunes for celebrity quacks, and … it was always utterly, totally, spectacularly wrong.

The lessons from this debacle go far beyond anti-vaccination advocacy and strike at the heart of the multi-million dollar industry of alternative health.

All of alternative health, from homeopathy to chiropractic, from reiki to cranio-sacral therapy, from homebirth to lotus birth, from GMO hysteria to essential oils, and all the myriad of other alternative “therapies” are all as intellectually bankrupt as anti-vaccine advocacy, and all for the same reasons.

Like anti-vax, they have nothing to do with science. They’re not based on science; they ignore existing scientific evidence, and they make up their own “evidence” that they disseminate through websites, books and message boards.

Like anti-vax, they are promoted by industry shills (the industry of alternative medicine) who profit by fooling average people into parting with their hard earned money.

Like anti-vax they appeal not to the intellect, but the ego, constantly praising and affirming the superiority of believers who are so much better than the “sheeple” who consult experts and follow their advice.

Like anti-vax, they appeal to the desire to defy authority. Oncologist says you need chemotherapy? Well, you’ll show him and use herbs and supplements instead! Obstetrician says that a C-section will decrease the risk that your baby will die during labor? Well, you’ll show her and have your breech baby at home attended by a pretend “midwife” and if that baby dies, it wasn’t meant to live. Pediatrician says that there is little you can do for your baby’s colic? Well, you’ll show him and get your baby “adjusted” by a cranio-sacral therapist to treat the infant’s traumatic birth “memories.”

Like anti-vax, alternative health is about denial. Sure, other people can get cancer, but not you. Other people could lose a baby during childbirth, but not you. Other people might die, but not you.

Like anti-vax, anyone can be an expert. No need to feel inferior to or intimidated by a doctor. You can boast that you are an expert in your own health.

Like anti-vax, alternative health privileges intuition over rationality. Okay, you may not have much of that “book learning” and you may not be able to construct a logical argument even if your life depended on it (and it might), but your intuition is just as good as anyone else’s, regardless of how much more education they have than you.

Ultimately, all of alternative health, like anti-vax advocacy, is a form of ego massage. It does nothing to improve your health, but does a lot to improve your sense of self-worth.

Unfortunately, though, all of alternative health will ultimately come up against reality:

Just as measles exists whether you acknowledge it or not, alternative health is quackery whether you recognize it or not.

Will alternative health believers learn anything from the measles epidemic that has shown them to be utterly, spectacularly wrong?

I doubt it. That would take insight, something that is in nearly as short supply among alternative health believers, as scientific education and understanding.