You Can’t Foo’ Stu with Woo!

A Spitzerian (“pointed”) analysis

Last week’s inaugural game elicited several amusing and penetrating analyses, including that of the hands-down Gold Medal Winner, Stu. His was the first entry, introduced in a concise and alliterative imperative, and was both hilarious and timely. It implied most of the points discussed by others. This distinctive combination has moved me to grant Stu a legacy here at the W^5. In the future there may be, undoubtedly no more than once in a very long while, entries that live up to the Soaring Standard of Stu®. If so, they will be Duly Acknowledged.Three readers—Sastra, DVMKurmes, and Skeptico—cited the passage’s perverse celebration of deception, which had also struck me as its seminal contribution to the literature of academic “CAM.” Others, including Will TS, daedalus (as revealed by his self-confessed performance lapse), and pmoran, adduced the unctuous tone and style, which, although hardly new for “CAM” literature, in this lubricous passage mounted a new Pinnacle of Perfidious Palaver®—and is, accordingly, Acknowledged as Such.

Calli Arcale called attention to the authors’ use of the passive voice to evade the truth; yet although the passage was evasive and the passive voice is a popular device for cloaking evasion, in this case the authors achieved phantasm by other means. Consider the most astonishing sentence in the essay: “They never fail to find a problem.” That sentence is in the active voice (its passive form is “A problem never fails to be found”). After a quick perusal I believe that most, if not all, the sentences are in the active voice, but if I’m wrong please forgive me, Calli Arcale; your greater point about duplicity is correct.

I was waiting for someone to observe that amid its turgid language, the passage offers an almost perfect description of quackery. Is it possible that its authors were unaware of that?

Regarding other readers’ discussions of paternalism, maternalism, and religion in medicine, I wasn’t sure whether they were referring to the W^5 itself or to the greater blog, so I’ll respond only by observing that those entities are by no means mutually exclusive. Consider the common depiction of the deity as “father,” or the hoary custom of at least one major religion (that of my own forebears) to refer to its preachers by the same moniker. That religion is also preoccupied with the Mother of the Father’s Son who also just happens to be both the Father Himself and another ethereal Being…it gets very complicated. Which reminds me that the authors of the inaugural passage attribute their assertion in the second quoted sentence to an article that takes “an interpretive or hermeneutic approach” [to] “accounts of religious healing…among Catholic Pentecostals.” Any reader who can tackle the prose in that abstract deserves a heapin’ helpin’ of extra credit.

The New Passage

This week’s passage—which includes its own take on “medical paternalism”—is from the prestigious Institute of Medicine’s 2005 report, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States:

The ethical principles that guide conventional biomedical research should also be applied to CAM research. Legal and ethical issues often arise and sometimes conflict with use of CAM therapies because the decision facing a conventional practitioner or institution may engender a conflict between medical paternalism (the desire to protect patients from foolish or ill-informed, though voluntary decisions) and patient autonomy. The Model Guidelines noted above seek to establish greater balance between physician and patient preferences. In addition, a number of legal rules—including state licensure laws, precedents regarding malpractice liability and professional discipline, state and federal food and drug laws, and statutes on health care fraud—protect patients by enhancing quality assurance, offering enhanced access to therapies, and honoring medical pluralism in creating models of integrative care.

Without rejecting what has been of great value and service in the past, it is important that these ethical and legal norms be brought under critical scrutiny and evolve along with medicine’s expanding knowledge base and the larger aims and meanings of medical practice. The integration of CAM therapies with conventional medicine requires that practitioners and researchers be open to diverse interpretations of health and healing, to finding innovative ways of obtaining evidence, and to expanding the medical knowledge base.

The W^5 Get’s its Own Blog

The W^5 will henceforth appear every other week, alternating with “conventional” material. This will make it easier for me to keep it up and to keep track of which comments are entries and which are not. The time limit for submitting entries (“translations”) will therefore be extended to an entire week. This presents a minor problem with the name of the game…which will now be The Weekly Waluation of the Weasel Words of Woo/2, or W^5/2.

Happy Waluating!

The Misleading Language and Weekly Waluation of the Weasel Words of Woo series:

  1. Lies, Damned Lies, and ‘Integrative Medicine’
  2. Integrative Medicine: “Patient-Centered Care” is the new Medical Paternalism


Posted by Kimball Atwood