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Pseudomedicine is medicine which claims to be effective for diagnosing or treating specific medical conditions, but which has been disproven or which is unproven and the mainstream scientific opinion is that it will not be proven to be effective. It is distinct from experimental medicine, which is medicine that has not yet been proven but which is undergoing the process of either being proven and becoming accepted, or being disproven and being discarded.


Pseudomedicine refers to "treatments that claim to be working concepts of medicine that have no objectively verifiable benefit or are incompatible with the current state of knowledge in the field of science-based medicine."[1] Historically, the term was used in the early 20th century by the American Medical Association when, as part of the effort to gain establishment status, it combated what it called quackery and pseudomedicine, thus differentiating itself as a professional organization of experts distinct from charlatan practitioners.[2]


The National Council Against Health Fraud has said that the existence of pseudomedicine results from the effect of market forces: on the one hand a desire for quick fixes rooted in alienation from mainstream medicine, and on the other hand businessmen only too willing to meet that demand.[3]

List of fields characterized as pseudomedicine[edit]

  • Acupuncture – is a form of alternative medicine in which thin needles are inserted into the body. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine.[4]
  • Chiropractic – a system of medicine based on beliefs of Daniel David Palmer (1845–1913), who proposed that the spine and musculature underpin all aspects of human health.[4]
  • Homeopathy - a system of medicine started by Samuel Hahnemann based on two major principles (like cures like, diluting a drug increases its potency) that contradicts fundamental principles of pathology, physics and chemistry.[5]
  • Naturopathy – a system of medicine based on vitalism and so-called "natural" treatments that incorporates modalities found in many branches of alternative medicine.[6][7]
  • Osteopathy or osteopathic manipulative therapy – a repertoire of technique based on tenets laid down by Andrew Taylor Still (1828–1917), who proposed that an interlinked tissue layer in the human body could be manipulated to treat systemic human disease.[4]
  • Pagtatawas – a ritual in pseudomedicine in Filipino psychology (but considered superstition in Western psychology) where an affliction or psychological disorder is diagnosed by interpreting the form produced in water by heated alum or molten wax droppings from a lighted candle.[citation needed]
  • Phrenology – a set of practices primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules.[4][8]
  • Reiki – a pseudoscience based on the manipulation of qi ("chi"), which practitioners say is a universal life force, although there is no empirical evidence that such a life force exists.
  • Rife machine treatment – treatment using an electronic device purported to cure cancer by transmitting radio waves.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ cited in Gilson S, dePoy E (1 September 2015). O'Reilly M, Nina Lester J, eds. Child Mental Health: A Discourse Community. The Palgrave Handbook of Child Mental Health. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 190. ISBN 978-1-137-42832-5. 
  2. ^ Boyle EW (2007). "Chapter 4:AMA Investigations and Propaganda for Reform". The Boundaries of Medicine: Redefining Therapeutic Orthodoxy in an Age of Reform. ProQuest. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-549-27005-8. 
  3. ^ "NEJM focuses on pseudomedicine". NCAHF Newsletter (March/April). 1992. 
  4. ^ a b c d Swanson ES (2015). "Pseudoscience". Science and Society: Understanding Scientific Methodology, Energy, Climate, and Sustainability. Springer. p. 65. ISBN 978-3-319-21987-5. 
  5. ^ "Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy". Retrieved 16 April 2017. 
  6. ^ Swanson, Eric (2016). Science and Society - Understanding Scientific Methodology. New York: Springer. p. 68. ISBN 978-3-319-21986-8. Retrieved 9 November 2016. 
  7. ^ Atwood IV, Kimball. C. (March 26, 2004). "Naturopathy, pseudoscience, and medicine: Myths and fallacies vs truth". Medscape General Medicine. 6 (1): 33. PMC 1140750Freely accessible. PMID 15208545. 
  8. ^ Fodor, Jerry A. (1983). Modularity of Mind: An Essay on Faculty Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-56025-9 p.14, 23, 131
  9. ^ "Rife machines and cancer". Cancer Research UK. Retrieved 18 December 2015. 
  10. ^ "Rife devices." NCAHF Newsletter Mar.-Apr. 1992: 3. Academic OneFile. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.