Digging up real medicine

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As an archaeology student, I am rarely asked for professional advice. It seems the field lacks applicable information to provide the public with.

Occasionally, though, my particular services are requested to verify the practices of culture X, one which practiced this or that remedy now being sold on the shelf of a local store. Such claims are often made as: "culture X used this remedy for thousands of years."

I seldom have an immediate and direct reply. Generally no one knows the answer. Nevertheless, I leave them with the comforting notion of the issue's insignificance-- achieved with some historical perspective-- and acceptance that the time period of a product's existence has no influence on its effectiveness or contemporary value (a question I am in no position to speak on in any case).

The issue is that many people with inferior specific medical knowledge and general scientific knowledge are claiming that they can cure your cold or your cancer. Others, defending these people-- many of them honestly believing in the good of the remedy-- promote these practices in spite of any evidence that they work.

Scientific medicines are tested repeatedly and only considered medicine once the method is proven to work substantially better than a placebo or random chance.

Alternative medicine (traditional, spiritual, et cetera), includes all methods that fail the controlled double-blind tests that scientific medicine is subjected to or simply don't produce consistent, repeatable results. Lack of concrete evidence denies scientific status and nothing more.

Because of this reasonable and understandable method of inquiry, medicine has distinguished the functional from the false methods over time. Demanding only that it can be shown to work, there are not multiple forms of medicine. If a method from the Far East is shown to do repeatedly what it claims to do, then it is not alternative-- it is medicine.

Inhabitants in areas of the world that have seen little Western exploration-- often in biodiverse places like the Amazon-- are a rich trove of information regarding the native flora. Effective healing methods are not alternative, nor the insulting traditional. Rather, each method is or is not medicine.

The rapidly disappearing biodiversity on Earth should alarm everyone. The deep-time of evolution, we now know, has in many instances done a phenomenal job of creating cures for a wide variety of illnesses-- society should emphasize the investigation of these little-understood places.

There is money in hope. As the hope becomes increasingly desperate, it takes less effort to find people willing to claim that their method works. Psychics, astrologers, chakra-balancers, homeopathic practitioners and pastors will all advocate their method promising to make you better.

They have one thing in common-- falsehood. Theirs is the business of crooks, profiting by soliciting gullible unfortunates to spread willful mendacity. The cure is before us: the employment of skepticism through a return to science.