Alternative medicine is "any practice that is put forward as having the healing effects of medicine, but is not founded on evidence gathered using the scientific method."1 Should questions about this be allowed on Health.SE? How should we deal with answers that are based on alternative medicine?
What is alternative medicine? There are a wealth of widely adopted 'alternative' practices, from Homeopathy (which continues to be offered on the NHS in the UK), to Crystal Healing, to - well - almost anything.
The problem is that alternative medicine is anything that anyone thinks works, for curing any ailment. Either we have to choose which fields we are prepared to deal with (say, only Homeopathy and Ayurvedic?), or we're going to have a huge problem in:
- Providing the breadth of expertise required
- Being taken seriously by those with expertise in evidence-based medicine
- Forming a community that doesn't tear itself apart from arguing about this stuff
I propose that questions asking about alternative medicine are off-topic. As for answers, I'm not actually so concerned, we have a system in place for dealing with wrong answers: downvotes.
In my opinion, questions about alternative medicine and answers involving alternative medicine should be handled in totally different ways.
My theory is that well-formed questions are always good, no matter the belief system of the asker. So, for instance, questions like, "Does homeopathy really work?", "Should I rely on faith healing?", "Do vaccines cause autism?" - should be totally on-topic because they give someone a chance to give a good answer. "Good" in this case would likely be "no", with plenty of evidence to back it up.
If the site gets flooded with permutations of the above questions ("Which homeopathic remedy should I use for X"), I think we could treat them as duplicates.
Answers are totally different. I personally think that Health.SE should have a strict "citations, please" attitude regarding answers, and answers containing advice from alternative medicine should be discouraged, if not downvoted or removed outright. There are enough places on the web to find that nonsense.
I'm not sure how I currently feel about semi-alternative answers such as recommending yoga or Ayurvedic practice, if it carries a disclaimer that it isn't the same as primary care.
As already discussed during the commitment phase of the proposal, alternative medicine questions are on-topic. Answers may address alternative, non-evidenced based medicine ONLY if:
(1) the question explicitly asks for an alternative medicine perspective AND
(2) the answer makes it clear that the answer is written is a perspective from alternative medicine.
Otherwise be default, we should assume all questions are asking for an evidenced based medicine perspective and provide evidenced based answers accordingly.