Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a Scam

Posted by w_thames_the_d on February 18, 2014

China and things like ‘trust’, ‘honesty’ and ‘medicine’ are definitely mutually exclusive. The Chinese do not believe in themselves, their meds, and most everything from here, so why should we?

The short answer is that we should not. Here is why…


Their introduction sets the tone:

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a history of thousands of years. It is formed by summarizing the precious experience of understanding life, maintaining health, and fighting diseases accumulated in daily life, production and medical practice. It not only has systematic theories, but also has abundant preventative and therapeutic methods for disease.

It may be trivially true that TCM has a long history, but it is hard to ignore that the placement of this statement at the beginning of a scientific article implies an argument from antiquity – that TCM should be taken seriously because of this long history. I would argue that this is actually a reason to be suspicious of TCM, for it derives from a pre-scientific largely superstition-based culture, similar in this way to the pre-scientific Western culture that produced the humoral (Galenic) theory of biology.

The next line is an admission that TCM is largely based on anecdotal information, described as the “precious experience” of life. This is a point that is often overlooked or not understood by proponents but central to the scientific/skeptical position – what is the value and predictive power of “precious experience” in developing a system of medicine?

I maintain that there are many good reasons to conclude that any system which derives from everyday experience is likely to be seriously flawed and almost entirely cut off from reality. Obvious short term effects, the lowest hanging fruit of observation, are likely to be reliable. Uncontrolled observation is a reasonable way to discover which plants, for example, are deadly poisons. This is likely to produce some false positives but few false negatives, which is fine for survival.



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