It's true that words matter, and that we who practice real medicine have often let cult medicine practitioners get the linguistic high ground. We've let them get away with calling non-science-based practices "alternative" and "complementary", without really asking, "alternative to what?" or "does it really "complement, or just distract?" We've often ignored language, and when we don't, we are accused of being pedantic, of focusing on "rhetoric" rather than "real" issues. Language is powerful. There is no such thing as "it's just a word".
Language is even more important in the fight against pseudo-science in medicine. Since evidence consistently fails to show benefit of practices such as homeopathy and acupuncture, language is all their adherents have left. What can you do when your favorite cult practice just isn't showing promise? Call your legislator! Maybe he or she will pass a law making your hobby sound better.
And that's just what is happening right now in Washington state. Let's look at some of the language of the bill.
Sec. 1. INTENT. The legislature intends this act to
8 recognize that acupuncturists licensed by the state of Washington are
9 practicing a system of medicine, and that changing the name of their
10 title to "Oriental medicine practitioners" more appropriately captures
11 the nature and scope of their work. It is further the intent that
12 references in federal law to "acupuncturists" apply to persons licensed
13 under this act as "Oriental medicine practitioners."
So much wrong in such a short piece of writing. First, "acupuncturists...are practicing a system of medicine..." is rather deceiving. What "system of medicine"? Is there more than one "medicine"? As far as I know, there is medicine that works, and is taught in medical schools and practiced throughout the world, and that which does not. Harriet Hall has a nice piece on the history of this so-called ancient bit of wisdom. It's not what you think.
"Oriental medicine practitioners" more appropriately captures
11 the nature and scope of their work.
Really? Why? What is "the Orient"? Are they referring to Edward Said's writings? Are they talking about Camboida? Turkey? Azerbaijan? And what kind of medicine is practiced in "the East"? Do they do things much differently than here? (Answer: They practice the same medicine we do here, to their ability to pay for it.)
The Bill is fascinating, and refers to such time-honored idiocy as "laserpuncture" (originated by Lao Tze as we know that the first laser was developed in the ancient Far East), moxibustion, and cupping. Lovely.
It's been (famously) said that that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Dress a pig pretty enough, and someone's going to ask it to dance. When a quasi-medical practice can't gain legitimacy through science, and it turns to the government for a stamp of approval, it really can become legitimized. It can gain funding and acceptance, despite it's lack of efficacy. Government's should be a little more cautious before throwing their weight behind fringe practitioners of quackery.
That is all.