MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Guest post by Björn Geir

I have tried to find a form or type of quackery that can be confirmed to have died out and is no longer practised. Once I thought I had found one, but it turns out that phrenology is still “a thing” and is being practised by a few eccentrics.

I am almost convinced by now that any quackery or SCAM, as Professor Ernst has proposed to call it, never dies. Once someone has invented a SCAM, it will live on forever, like the proverbial zombie, neither dead nor properly alive and useful. Even bloodletting, the archetypical reject from the practice of medicine, is still being practised in some corners of this world. Google “Wet cupping” or “Hijama” if you don’t believe me.

The world will have to live with health-related scam and swindle but its popularity can and should be suppressed and held to an acceptable low. If truth and science are promoted and SCAM is vigilantly and constantly opposed, then public trust in it can be held back and even reversed as now has been shown in Norway.

My somewhat abridged translation of an article published on June 30th on the Norwegian state broadcasting services website.

————

Norwegians have become much more sceptical towards natural medicine

Fifteen years ago, most Norwegians had faith in natural medicine. Not anymore.

– This is dramatic. A total reversal of opinion, says John Spilling of Ipsos, a company that performs an annual survey of public opinion in Norway. About 3500 people have been interviewed every year since 1985.

The survey, called Norwegian Monitor, has shown that the alternative industry had its heyday in the 80´s and 90´s, at least according to the Norwegian population’s confidence in natural medicine.

On average, eight out of ten thought this kind of therapy and naturopaths could help when ordinary doctors had given up.

But after the turn of the millennium, something started to happen.

The confidence plummeted.

A screenshot from the article showing the representation of the annual Norwegian Monitor survey results for the statement: Naturopaths and natural medicine can often help when ordinary doctors and medicine fall short.

The results are represented as follows:

Black – Impossible to answer
Grey – No answer
Dark red – Totally disagree
Light red – Partially disagree
Dark blue – Partially agree
Light blue – Totally agree

The graph in the article is interactive so you can find the individual rates by hovering over the bars in the article online.

This year only three out of ten fully or partially agree that natural medicine and naturopaths can help. Mr. Spilling is surprised by the magnitude of change, which also has been steadily declining instead of the usual ups and downs seen in so many other areas.

– I see almost no parallels, he says.

The patients stopped coming

The article interviews Ms. Hilde Moldestad. A homeopath since many decades, now retired and leads the Norwegian Homeopathic Patient Association.

Ms. Moldestad marked the decline already while practising.

– The patients stopped coming, because the trends were such that no one was to believe that there was anything good about homeopathy.

She also noted a strongly declining interest within the patient association.

– There are less and less members. People are not so interested in being team members anymore, they want it free online.

Ms. Moldestad is determined that homeopathy works.

– The irony is that the more research that shows that homeopathy works, the stronger the opposition to using the method.

The [Norwegian] National Research Center for Alternative Medicine writes that there is no solid evidence that homeopathic medicines have an effect. And both the Norwegian Medicines Agency and the Norwegian Pharmacists’ Association believe that in practice the pills only contain water and sugar.

– But we are up in a paradigm shift. The damage that has been inflicted on humanity during the period in which school medicine has been allowed to dominate, can no longer be undermined, says Ms. Moldestad in the patient association.The article then interviews Mr. Gunnar Tjomlid, an active Norwegian sceptic who talks about some local background stories of local interest and speculates that perhaps this change correlates with the introduction and distribution of internet access in Norway.

Less use

It is not only the Norwegian Monitor survey that shows a decline for the alternative industry. Every two years, the National Research Center for Alternative Medicine (Nafkam) conducts a survey on, among other things, how often Norwegians visit alternative therapists.

– In 2012, you had just under 40 percent who had been to an alternative therapist. And in December 2020, it was 22 percent. So, there has been a declining trend, says Mr. Ola Lillenes, information director at Nafkam.

At the same time, self-treatment, especially with self-help techniques, has increased.

– Healing and homeopathy are probably among those who have fallen the most through these years.

Education and emotions

Jarle Botnen runs the Bø Institute of Natural Medicine in Telemark. In addition, he is part of the steering group in the association of alternative treatment organizations. Over 1000 therapists are affiliated with this organisation which is named Saborg.

– There is a noticeable decline, that is exactly correct, says Botnen.

He has several theories as to why Norwegians have become more sceptical of natural medicine.

Norwegians have received more education and have less trust in their own feelings.

People are used to simple solutions, such as over-the-counter painkillers. They do not treat the cause of the ailments, which takes more time.

It is difficult to distinguish charlatans from the serious [alternative practitioners]. The industry has also not managed to cooperate well enough, according to Botnen.

The pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying to get more of the market for alternative medicine.

The attitude in the media has changed from being positive to natural medicine to often the opposite.

Small brown glass bottles with homeopathic pills lie in a drawer in a pharmacy.

Sales of homeopathic medicines have declined at the same time as Norwegians have become more sceptical of natural medicine.

– We often hear remarks such as “we trust the authorities”, “the authorities have approved the preparation or treatment”. This is reflected in the consumption of chemical and synthetic medicine, which has increased somewhat formidably during this period, Botnen believes.

John Spilling in Ipsos says it is true that people have great confidence in the public sector. Confidence in hospitals and elderly care has also increased, while the alternative industry has had the opposite development.

– Most of Norway’s population does not trust this type of product. I can only understand that the situation of this industry is very different than in 2001.

End of article————-

These are indeed positive and convincing results. I suspect a similar trend has been happening in most other populations? It would be very interesting to know if a similar trend has been observed elsewhere.

11 Responses to Steep decline in public confidence for alternative medicine in Norway

  • Mrs Moldestad makes some claims for which there appears to be no evidence:

    The irony is that the more research that shows that homeopathy works, the stronger the opposition to using the method.

    To the best of my knowledge, there is no research at all showing clear therapeutic effects of homeopathy for any condition whatsoever – at least no high-quality research. And even if we include poor quality research, the amount of research disproving homeopathy’s viability appears to outpace any new research supporting it.

    The damage that has been inflicted on humanity during the period in which school medicine has been allowed to dominate, can no longer be undermined(*) …

    What damage inflicted on humanity would that be? The ‘damage’ of child mortality in Norway only being 0.22% and still declining? The ‘damage’ of an average life expectancy of 83 years and still increasing? The ‘damage’ of good health and well-being up to a higher age than ever before?
    The actual health statistics in fact show that the decline of homeopathy coincides with steady improvements in public health, although there is of course no causal relationship. Homeopathy has taught us only one valuable lesson: that no treatment is often the best treatment.

    Now I don’t think that Mrs Moldestad is consciously lying, but if her words show us one thing, it is that homeopaths are indeed seriously deluded people, who had better stay away from real patients as far as possible.

    *: The word ‘undermine’ appears to make no sense here. Maybe ‘kan ikke lenger undergraves’ is better translated as ‘can’t be swept under the carpet any more’?

    • Good catch Richard. I have worked for long periods in Norway and am quite used to reading and even speaking Norwegian. This article is written in a less familiar dialect. I used Google-translate on some parts of the text to expediate the writing as I find correcting the Google-errors is faster than writing up the whole text. I stupidly missed this one 🙄

      Yes Ms.Moldestad is indeed an archetypical homeopath with all the standard delusional ideas.

  • Interesting forecast.

    “The global complementary and alternative medicine market was valued at USD 82.78 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 21.9% during the forecast period.”

    Regarding Norway

    “ Since 2000, the number of hospitals in Norway that offer complementary and alternative medicine, especially acupuncture, has increased significantly.

    Acupuncture treatments were available in more than 40% of Norwegian hospitals as early as 2008. Furthermore, in both outpatient and in-patient hospital settings in Norway, acupuncture remains the most commonly used and demanded complementary and alternative drug therapy.”

    https://www.polarismarketresearch.com/industry-analysis/complementary-alternative-medicine-market

    • @DC

      I wonder if you think the marketing-research guesswork you are refering to has any relevance to the survey results about popular trust in natural medicine presented in the Norwegian article?
      As a matter of fact the item about acupuncture in Norway back in 2008 may be close to the truth but tells only a small and misleading part of the story. Acupuncture became a very popular complementary practice among midwives reaching a peak somewhere in the beginning of the century and is still being used by midwives albeit less and less. I am actually surprised the number of hospitals where they offered acupuncture during labour and delivery was only 40%. I’d have thought it was being practised in a good majority of maternity clinics back then. Acupuncture is steadily becoming less popular in this part of the world and I suspect public information and awareness has much to do with it. I actually spoke to the head midwife of a private clinic recently, who told me to my surprise they had abandoned acupuncture altogether, a service they previously advertised proudly.
      I think the time is ripe to suggest that this unnecessary and injurious disturbance of maternity and labour be abandoned altogether.

      • “ I wonder if you think the marketing-research guesswork you are refering to has any relevance to the survey results about popular trust in natural medicine presented in the Norwegian article?”

        Your original question: “It would be very interesting to know if a similar trend has been observed elsewhere.”

        If you look at the graph in the article, published in 2021, it goes back to 2016 showing an incline in usage based upon regions. Thus I think it addresses your question. Norway may be an anomaly. Time will tell.

        • Not similar.
          The incline you point out is in wide area market size measured in revenue over five years, mostly in areas with less developed public enlightenment. The trend observed in Norway (and the subject of this discussion) is measured trust/confidence in so called natural medicine over two decades. Very different causative factors probably at play.
          I also beg to doubt the validity of this projected growth forecast for the next several years, which seems more like guesswork than science. Of course we can expect a revenue growth in areas like China where government incentive is driving the industry. But I doubt the growth potential in the nordic countries and similar cultures withstrong opposition to SCAM is good, seeing that public trust in quackery has already been greatly decreased.
          The inference from these survey results is that sceptical resistance seems to work and we should continue and expand our efforts against the marketing and practice of SCAM.

          • I would expect expenditures to reflect confidence/trust. Granted other factors are at play.

            Most studies I’ve seen on the topic stop around 2008.

            Seems this is Ernst Wheelhouse.

          • As so often we will have to agree to disagree. You efforts to counter whatever on this blog are mostly less than convincing 🙄

          • I wasn’t countering anything. Geesh. Assume much?

            BTW you never responded to my response for your request for the research on the cervical spinal manipulation benefits.

    • Here is a rather amusing story about acupuncture I was told recently by a friend.
      He was accompanying his wife in labour when the midwife offered her acupuncture, which she promised would help a lot. As a good husband he let his wife decide, which she did. After the baby was born, the midwife asked his wife if the acupuncture didn’t have a good effect, to which the mother replied negatively adding that she had not felt any effect other than the discomfort from the needles. Shortly after, my friend overheard the midwife report to her colleague that the woman who just gave birth had received acupuncture with good effect.
      In my mind, this little story demonstrates brilliantly how acupuncture and other useless theatricals “work”, like magic.

      • From my limited experience of only ever observing one birth, my immediate thought on acupuncture during labour was simply “wouldn’t all those needles just get in the way, no matter where they were put?”

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