I am sure that I am not the only one who has occasionally wondered what political orientation is associated with a high level of SCAM-use. Surprisingly, there is very little research on this question. This study is one of the rare ones (if not the only one) that has looked into the issue. It investigated whether individual political orientation (PO) predicts the use of conventional (CM) and SCAM across Europe.

Cross-sectional samples representative of persons aged 15 and over from 19 European countries were used (ESS 2015; round 7; N = 35,572). PO assessments were based on participants’ vote choice in the most recent national election, using expert ratings of party positioning along five political-ideological dimensions: left-right general; left-right economic; Green/alternative/libertarian vs. Traditional/authoritarian/nationalist; anti-elite; and anti-corruption. Use of CM was defined as having consulted a general practitioner or specialist, and use of SCAM as having used acupuncture, acupressure, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, herbal treatment, hypnotherapy, or spiritual healing.

The results suggested that individual political orientation predicted not only the use of SCAM treatments but also the use of CM. While the traditional left-right axis did not predict either category of service use, the political orientation that was relevant was one focused on corruption. People who voted for political parties with salient anti-corruption agendas were less likely to seek CM and more likely to use SAM. In addition, voters of parties that prefer expanded personal freedoms—such as access to abortion, same-sex marriage, greater democratic participation—were more likely to use SCAM than other Europeans. People in poor health tended to use CM regardless of their political leanings: a relationship between anti-corruption and CM usage was observed onlu among people who were in good health. By contrast, health status did not affect the links between political orientation and SCAM.

The authors concluded that their study shows that the political dimensions relevant for health behaviors do not align primarily along the traditional left-right axis in Europe. The results suggest that the lay public may not necessarily see conventional healthcare as a politically neutral enterprise, and that SCAM providers may be serving needs that are unmet by conventional medicine. The results further suggest that perceptions of corruption among the lay public are more relevant for healthcare usage than has been acknowledged. An important question for future research is how the association between concerns about corruption and reluctance to seek conventional biomedical care is best explained.

I must admit I am surprised by some of these findings. Before we seek an explanation, I feel, we ought to have an independent replication of the results.

Perhaps, the associations are much more complex. I have the impression, for instance, that they depend not only on the country but also on the specific SCAM in question. If I had to guess, I’d say, for example, that:

  • German naturopathy is associated with conservative politics;
  • British homeopathy is associated with liberal politics;
  • French homeopathy is associated with conservative politics;
  • US chiropractic is associated with right wing politics;
  • Austrian acupuncture is associated with left wing politics;

But these are truly wild guesses!

If anyone has some factual information, I’d like to see it, please.


23 Responses to Political orientation predicts use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) in Europe

  • Not to forget the Nazis favoured homeopathy.
    Ernst, Edzard. “Standing up for the truth about homeopathy and Nazi medicine”. The Irish Times. Retrieved October 26, 2020.

  • Thanks for the article. Just a tiny typo, you wrote “Fresh” instead of “French”.

    • ‘Thanks for the article. Just a tiny typo, you wrote “Fresh” instead of “French”’

      There’s another tiny typo. You misquote the authors’ conclusion as using the ever so clever but contemptuous acronym ’SCAM’, whereas they actually used ‘complementary/alternative treatment providers’.

      • I am glad you find it clever!

        • ‘I am glad you find it clever!’

          You’re leaving it in though? Don’t you think that’s misleading?

          • Oh FFS, Tom Kennedy,

            Read section 1.2 “Definition of SCAM and Related Terms” on pages 5-8 of “So-called Alternative Medicine for Cancer” by Professor Ernst, Springer, 2021.

            Which aligns with:

            “There cannot be two kinds of medicine – conventional and alternative.”
            — Marcia Angell, MD.

            It is time for the scientific community to stop giving alternative medicine a free ride. There cannot be two kinds of medicine — conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work. Once a treatment has been tested rigorously, it no longer matters whether it was considered alternative at the outset. If it is found to be reasonably safe and effective, it will be accepted.

            Angell M, Kassirer JP.
            “Alternative medicine—the risks of untested and unregulated remedies”.
            New England Journal of Medicine. 1998‑09‑17;339(12):839–41.
            PMID 9738094.

  • In Brazil, during the liberal governments (Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff), pseudoscience (alternative, complementary and integrative medicine) had significant support; while in the conservative government (Jair Bolsonaro), anti-science (denial of the pandemic and rejection of vaccines) experienced an unprecedented boom.

  • The alternative healing methods have a large support base among the Greens, as can be seen very clearly, for example, in the Minister of Health of Baden-Württemberg, Manne Lucha. On the other hand, the highest density of alternative practitioners can be found in conservative Bavaria.

    The belief in SCAM seems to go hand in hand with a certain left-green-progressive political attitude. On the other hand, one’s own financial circumstances also seem to play a role. Alternative healing methods in Germany have to be paid for privately for the most part, as they are not covered by health insurance. A conservative hotel owner in Königssee will be able to afford an expensive biofeedback analysis, a student with a part-time job in Kreuzberg less so.

  • @edzard ‘no.’

    And there I was thinking you guys were all about scientific and journalistic integrity. But apparently it’s fine to misquote published papers as long as it fits your agenda.

    • thank you for your kind concern about scientific and journalistic integrity: why don’t you just read the ‘RULES’ section of this blog?

      • @Edzard: ‘thank you for your kind concern about scientific and journalistic integrity: why don’t you just read the ‘RULES’ section of this blog?’

        In the rules, you mention using quotes around ‘SCAM’. But here you pass it off as if it is part of the conclusion. I think square brackets would be the best way to be up-front and show that this is your amendment.

    • How ironic. You are an acupuncturist and yet you dare to talk about “scientific integrity”.

      Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine and a component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in which thin needles are inserted into the body. Acupuncture is a pseudoscience; the theories and practices of TCM are not based on scientific knowledge, and it has been characterized as quackery.

      • @RPGNo1: How ironic. You are an acupuncturist and yet you dare to talk about “scientific integrity”.

        This is a tu quoque fallacy and doesn’t address my argument.

    • Is there a reason that you don’t know the difference between quoting and paraphrasing. Or do you know the difference, and you just felt like needling Edzard and the readers, yet again.

      Either way, your comments [I use the term loosely] are indistinguishable from those of a dullard.[𝟏]

      An acupuncturist accuses people of lacking scientific and journalistic integrity. Sounds like the title of a farce:

      “a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations”
      — Oxford Languages

      Your writings here over the years have certainly set the stage, Mr Kennedy.

      Reference 𝟏
      “If you have to explain to someone how to sit in a chair, you’re probably talking to a dullard.”

      If you have to explain to a practitioner of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) the difference between quoting and paraphrasing, you’re probably talking to a dullard.

      • @Pete

        You will deny it I expect, but this is ad hominem. Yes, I know the difference between quoting and paraphrasing – I think most people would agree the way the conclusion is presented makes it look like a direct quote.

        • Dear Tom “Hubris” Kennedy,

          Thank you for answering my question, which was:

          Is there a reason that you don’t know the difference between quoting and paraphrasing. Or do you know the difference, and you just felt like needling Edzard and the readers, yet again.

          You answered: “Yes, I know the difference between quoting and paraphrasing”.

          So, you do know the difference, and you just felt like needling Edzard and the readers, yet again.

          Let’s see if we can, at last, get you to understand the meaning of the term ad hominem, which is short for argumentum ad hominem.

          1. Tom “Hubris” Kennedy is wrong because he is a dullard.

          2. Tom “Hubris” Kennedy is wrong and he is a dullard.

          3. Tom “Hubris” Kennedy is a dullard because he is wrong.

          The last time I addressed your FALSE accusation of ad hominem was on Wednesday 24 January 2024 at 18:09.

          Got it yet?

          • @Pete, whether or not my use of ad hominem is strictly correct, you seem to insist on using personal insults to make your point. That’s up to you I suppose.

            Let me make my original point in a different way, in the hope of a sensible response. When I read this post, and saw the ‘paraphrased’ section in question, due to the fact that it was written in a block of italics and the term ‘SCAM’ was included (not in quotes or square brackets), I made the assumption this was a direct quote from the source material. This surprised me, because I didn’t realise the acronym had taken off into general use. I checked the source, interested in what the overall tone of a paper written by people who would choose to use this provocative term might be like.

            But it turned out they didn’t use it at all. So maybe only dullards like me are misled by this, but I thought it worth noting. It seems to me that avoiding any chance of confusion by using square brackets would be the easy and obvious thing to do, but there we are. I’m surprised a small thing like this has caused such a backlash.

          • Before you go, we’d like some feedback from you.

            1. How would you describe your recent experience of trolling Professor Ernst, RPGNo1, and Pete Attkins?

            A. Better than your previous episodes of trolling.

            B. About the same.

            C. Worse than your previous episodes of trolling.

            D. Question too difficult to answer.

            2. How could we improve your experience of future episodes of your trolling?

            E. Kowtowing to your every criticism, including the most trivial items of your nitpicking; thanking you profusely for giving us your time; and expressing deep gratitude for impartations of your extensive knowledge and experience.

            F. Treating you with the utmost respect, despite the fact that your trolling resembles that of a condescending git.

            G. Keep everything just the same, because this is how you get your jollies.

  • @Pete if you really consider this trolling you are a very sensitive individual. Would you rather nobody offered any challenge to anything written here? I think my point is a reasonable one, and I doubt you would see it as trivial if, for example, I wrote a blog post using your words but inserted a loaded term making it appear as though you supported the use of acupuncture.

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