Science vs. "Woo"
In the alternative medicine world, there’s an ongoing debate over evidence-based practice. Do we limit ourselves only to those techniques which have been heavily substantiated by research? Double-blind, placebo-controlled, etc? Or do we open ourselves up to the possibilities of techniques not yet supported by the literature? There is a movement of individuals crusading against anything not specifically supported by air-tight research, while others could care less. Let me talk about where I stand on the matter.
When I started in the bodywork industry, I was firmly in the evidence-based set. I was pretty dismissive of things not supported by the literature and looked down my nose at techniques that seemed a even a little bit woo.
“Woo”, or “woo-woo”, it should be said, is the unofficially official term in my industry for some of the more esoteric and out-there techniques. However, actually BEING in this industry has opened my eyes to a great deal. I’ve always been a “I’ll believe it when I see it” sort of guy. Well, I’ve seen and DONE so many amazing things in my more than 15 years as a bodyworker that I once would have totally dismissed, that I simply can’t ignore the woo anymore.
I’ve watched the evidence-based set tie themselves in knots explaining away results, findings, outcomes, and client experiences. They seem to forget that science starts with observations. Then comes a hypothesis to explain those observations, and eventually experiments to challenge the hypothesis. Some techniques in the alternative medicine world admittedly don’t make it past the hypothesis stage in any official capacity. Observations are made, results noticed. They develop a hypothesis for what they’re observing and use that to develop the work and get better outcomes, but don’t really challenge their hypotheses in any sort of official way.
Sometimes these hypotheses are dubious and don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny, let alone actual research. I see this a lot. What I’ve learned, however, is to not dismiss the OBSERVATIONS just because you’re inclined to dismiss the proposed EXPLANATION for them. The results are often real. The outcomes are often real. Not everything can just be dismissed as placebo and confirmation bias.
All too often, extremely effective and powerful treatments are labeled pseudoscience just because their proposed mechanisms of action come under fire. Even worse, some small part of system is questioned, so the entire system gets labeled as bogus. The baby gets thrown out with the bath-water, so to speak.
I have nothing against research and data. I love research. I love having hard data to support what I do. But I don’t need it. While several of my methods are heavily supported by the literature, I realize that for some of the proprietary techniques I do, there’s not much financial interest in university or independent research to prove or disprove their effectiveness. So that often leaves research to be funded by those WITH a financial interest in the outcomes.
No matter how valid the results may be, many would consider that data to be suspect. That leaves many techniques sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Nearly all are at least science-BASED, meaning they are based on current, accepted scientific premises, but then some may also include components that haven’t yet been scrutinized. Others simply don’t lend to traditionally-constructed experiments. Too many variables to control for. Unfortunately, many consider this lack of proof tantamount to disproof, which it is not.
For me, outcomes are king. If I see it working, I’m going to use it. If my clients are loving the results, I’m going to use it. If I’m creating objective, measurable positive outcomes, I DON’T CARE if I can’t find a journal article to back me up. I’ve seen before and after MRI’s supporting my methods. I’ve had clients told surgery was their only option and fully recover after a single session. I’ve seen clients roll in in a wheelchair and walk out unassisted. If that’s “woo”, then I’m good with it.