Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The difference between 'Traditional medicine' and 'medicine'

This, from the Courier Mail, is a brilliant example of medical science at work.

Aboriginal man uses traditional medicine as an analgesic. Scientist observes, gets intrigued and, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that tree bark has already given us one analgesic (that would be "Aspirin"), researches and finds chemicals with pain-relieving properties.

The downside to this is that it is still possible to patent a naturally-occurring chemical, but I will let my strong beliefs in open-access knowledge slide for the time being.

The difference between 'traditional medicine' and 'medicine' is that the former may have built up through superstition, or it may have built up through experience and observation, while the latter has built up entirely through observation, informed by experience: Rigorous, repeated, exhaustive, tedious and mind-numbing observation. Traditional medicine may work, to degrees. Medicine, with due regard for probabilities and individual differences, works.

And then a really crucial part of the article embedded, with depressing predictability, at the end: herbal products may be available within five years, but drugs could take 15 years because of the standards of testing required for approval under Australian regulations.

Herbal products, in other words, don't have to be tested safe the way that carefully tuned drugs need to be.

Remember that.

Link to Courier Mail article 'Aborigine, scientist find pain relief in marjarla tree'

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