Alt Med: Big Pharma in microcosm?

By Keir Liddle
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There is an odd example of cognitive dissonance at the heart of many alternative medicine supporters when it comes to “Big Pharma”.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most regulated industries on the planet and with good reason.

You only have to look at the likes of Dr Stanislaw Burzynski and his antineoplasteons to understand why. Supporters of Burzynski demand a that critics and skeptics accept a far lower standard of evidence for ANPs efficacy.

They want skeptics and critics to ignore the paucity, indeed the complete lack, of evidence that supports anything near the notion that ANPs can treat cancer. They want us to accept anecdotes and little more than Burzynskis word that they work. They believe that on a handful of cherry picked cases Burzynskis ANPs should be FDA approved.

Some even see any opposition to this as evidence that skeptics are in the pocket of big pharma: the well worn rhetoric of the pharma shill gambit.

Alternatively if they don’t want to insinuate all opposition is part of a sinister and ridiculous conspiracy they believe we are all just “fans” of Big Pharma. One recently even insinuated that being on antidepressants was one reason skeptics and critics of Dr B criticise his failure to show ANP work.

The aim of that I’m not sure? I’m unclear as to why my analysis of the evidence on Burynski is affected by my medication. Perhaps they mean to insinuate that no same person would criticise him? I sincerely hope not.

But what these supporters seem to fail to realise is that Burzynski is a microcosm of what an unregulated pharmacuetical industry would be like.

Imagine if those leviathans of the corporate world were allowed the same standard of “proof” or efficacy that supporters of alternative medicine demand of Burzynski.

What would the world be like?

No longer would science determine which drugs worked and didn’t. No longer would drug companies be required to ethically research drugs and no longer would we have any clue whether any of the drugs they produced worked.

Instead we would face a world where marketing ruled the roost far more than it does even now. There would be no papers produced showing the science behind the drugs. Simply there would be an endless parade of smiling patients all telling us how they think they are getting better.

There would be no need to know whether they were actually getting better or indeed if anyone was actually ever getting better.

It would be a wet dream for the pharmaceutical industries. They could say anything and do anything that benefitted their bottom line.

And it would be a nightmare for patients, scientists and doctors.

That Big pharma engage in dubious practices does not make alt med work.

It may well be accurate to accuse Big Pharma of conspiring to create “me too” illnesses that only their drugs can treat. Or of pressuring doctors with flashy sales pitches claiming branded drugs are better than generic to boost their profits. It would also be accurate to suggest Big Pharma can hide unflattering trial results or try to “game” their research to make some drugs look better than they are.

It doesn’t matter a jot when determining the efficacy of alternative medicine.

The response to Big Pharmas more dubious aspects is not to demand an un-level playing field where alternative medicine gains a leg up against the big guns by not needing to produce evidence.

No, rather the response should be to demand more regulation and more transparency. The response should be to fix Big Pharma not allow alternative medicine free reign to claim whatever it wants.

I spoke earlier of cognitive dissonance and Burzynski supporters and the dissonance truly is stark. They want to criticise Big Pharma, and even if they over egg these criticisms sometimes they have a tiny kernel of truth, but they don’t realise the solution is more regulation, more transparency and more science.

They want a world where anyone can say whatever they want and not be criticised while at the same time wanting to punish Pharma for real and imagined transgressions.

If they stopped and thought about it for a minute they might come to realise this is an untenable position.

If they stopped and though about it they might realise that their demands for lowered standards for Burzynski are completely at odds with their beliefs about pharma.

They might come to realise that the way they want the system to be run (so we take Burzynski at his word and don’t ask for evidence to back that up) would be a distopia for patients everywhere if we allowed pharma to do the same.

Burzynski, indeed all alternative medicine, is simply Pharma in microcosm. But pharma unburdened by the need to prove anything actually does anything.

Alternative medicine is Big Pharma reflected in a black mirror. Showing us what an unregulated pharmaceutical industry could be like.

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This entry was posted in Featured, headline, opinion, Scepticism, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Alt Med: Big Pharma in microcosm?

  1. Marg says:

    Ever heard of Ben Goldacre and selective reporting?

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