Alternative Medicine – Evidence: Subjective versus Objective

Alternative Medicine comes with many claims of great success.  Some therapies offered are good, some do not do much and others are dangerous. How do we know if a therapy is good and really works?  How do we sort out the evidence?

There are two main types of evidence.

The first is based on the perception of those receiving the therapy.  Such evidence is based on how someone thinks they are doing, or how they feel.  Such evidence is called subjective.  Subjective evidence depends on what the person who has received the therapy tells you.  Commonly, we hear from people about how a therapy made them, or someone they know, feel better.  This kind of evidence is commonly seen with testimonials referred to in the posting Alternative Medicine – Testimonials, Natural History and Secondary Gain.  The second type is evidence where the change affected by a therapy can be measured independent of what the person who received the therapy tells you.  This is called objective evidence.  While subjective evidence often presents a compelling story that may pull at our “heart strings,”  objective evidence is considered stronger, especially if the measurements can be reproduced by others.

Some types of problems mainly provide mainly subjective evidence.  For example, depression is primarily a feeling of sadness.  We can not measure this very well.  To make the assessments of such treatments more objective, and thus more measurable, changes that may accompany depression, like changes in weight and changes in sleep are measured.  Another method, when the evidence is primarily subjective  involves questionnaires.  Some of these questionnaires are able to show reproducible results.  Some of the better questionnaires have a number of questions built into them to test the consistency and reliability of a person’s answers.

Some results of therapies may appear objective because the results are gathered and reported by the therapist or the one who is providing the therapy. If what is being reported is the therapist’s perception of improvement, then this is still subjective evidence.

Some, may say, does it really matter what kind of evidence there is?  If it makes me feel better, is that not good enough to justify the use of the therapy?  Given the sinful natures of people, and our tendency to pursue what feels good, even at the expense of what is right and true, should we not look try to look for evidence that is independent of our feeling and the feelings of others?

So, when evaluating a therapy, you should ask,

–Is any of the evidence objective, meaning that it is measurable by others independent of what the person being treated says?

–Are any measurements of improvement repeatable?  Does the same thing happen each time the therapy is studied?  If there is no evidence that measurements of improvement are reproducible, can we know that the evidence presented is true?

–Do the measurements indicate that the benefits are greater than the problems produced by the therapy?

–If these questions cannot be answered positively, should we promote the therapy?

This blog posting is only raising the issue of subjective, versus objective evidence.  There is a lot more to consider when it comes to evidence, which I hope to post soon..

-this blog posting is part of a series – the next in the series,  Alternative Medicine – Proof of Effectiveness

-the first posting in this series – Alternative Medicine – Important Questions

-For all postings on  Alternative Medicine – Alternative Medicine Postings Page


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