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.
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.