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Naturally Better

Entry 1593, on 2013-11-19 at 15:54:25 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

If something is natural then it has to be good, right? Well maybe... or maybe not. When I hear an attempt at justifying this argument it usually takes the form of a circular argument or a classic case of "begging the question". So to the person makes the argument that natural is just naturally good and there's no need to justify it.

Maybe the most common area where this fallacy is employed is in natural (sometimes known as "alternative") medicine. Many people believe that natural remedies are better than those produced by conventional medicine and that because they are natural they are safer and better.

There are some well known example. Most people know that the analgesic aspirin was originally sourced from willow bark and that chewing willow bark was a natural remedy for many traditional people. So if willow bark is natural and the modern synthetic drug aspirin is artificial (it is now synthesised through a chemical process) surely the bark is the better choice? Well, no.

There are many reasons that modern "artificial" drugs are better than traditional "natural" remedies. First, they generally contain just the active ingredient and not anything else which might have unexpected side effects. Second, they don't contain contaminants which might be harmful. Third, the mechanism of action is usually understood so potential problems are more likely to be controlled. Fourth, they are made in standard strengths and doses, so accidental overdoses are unlikely. Fifth, they come with instructions including recommended and maximum doses. Sixth, drug manufacturers and retailers tend to be much more tightly regulated. And finally, they are more convenient in pill form than the original form (such as a chunk of willow bark).

And these problems aren't just theoretical. There are many cases of natural remedies having massively different strengths, being contaminated with dangerous material, not being regulated properly, being sold by people with no knowledge of the side effects, and having many other problems.

Another point I often hear made is that medicines are made by big corporations who are only really interested in profit. Yes, this is true. But often the natural remedies are made by the same big corporations. Why wouldn't they? That they can sell a product which is often made from cheap ingredients with few regulations and controls at even greater profits. The fact that most of them do nothing is irrelevant.

So natural things aren't just obviously better at all. Generally (and I will admit there are rare exceptions) synthetic drugs really are just "naturally better".

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