What is an "altie"?

A while back on misc.health.alternative, a term was coined to describe people who are so militantly pro-alternative medicine and so distrustful of conventional medicine that they will never admit when conventional medicine is effective and refuse ever to concede that any alternative medical practitioner might, just might, possibly be a quack. (Certain regulars on misc.health.alternative inspired this term. One day perhaps I will discuss a couple of specific examples with actual posts by them to Usenet, so that you can see even more clearly what I mean.) I forgot which m.h.a. skeptical regular coined the term, but the term was "altie." About a year ago, we even came up with a Jeff Foxworthy-like list of traits of alties ("You might be an altie if..."). Several regulars in m.h.a. contributed, after a regular named Rich Shewmaker got the ball rolling.

DISCLAIMER: Before the hate mail and nasty comments start rolling in, please remember that the following traits (and the term "altie") are NOT meant to describe all (or even most) users of alternative medicine or people who think certain alternative medicine modalities are useful treatments. They describe a strident, anti-intellectual, and anti-science subset of alt-med users, who tend to make impossibly grandiose claims for their favorite remedy and usually also express a strong distrust (or even hatred) of conventional medicine. The problem is, rational users of alt-med, who have a more realistic concept of where it might and might not be useful, tend to be reluctant to criticize alties, at least on Usenet and web discussion groups. Unfortunately, alties are not hard to find. So, without further ado, here we go:

  • If you believe that doctors, scientists, and the pharmaceutical companies conspire to suppress your favorite "alternative medicine" modality, you just might be an altie.
  • If you like to claim that science is a religion, you might be an altie.
  • If you accept vague and/or poorly documented anecdotes and testimonials as sufficient evidence that an "alternative" therapy "works," you just might be an altie.
  • If you make claims for a product or therapy like, "strengthens the immune system," "restores balance," "detoxifies the liver," "cleanses the colon," or "cleanses the blood," you may be an altie.
  • If you are impressed by such claims when made by others, you just might be an altie.
  • If you do most of your "scientific" research on websites that exist to sell "alternative health" products, you might be an altie.
  • If you carefully avoid any criticism of any "alternative medicine" practitioner, product, or theory, regardless of how mind-numbingly obviously unscientific, illogical, internally inconsistent, or fraudulent it may be, you might be an altie.
  • If you accept or agree with every vilification of medicine and science as The Truth, regardless of the source or of how obviously irrational, without basis, or unjustified the vilification is, you might just be an altie.
  • If you believe that Hulda Clark is being unjustly "persecuted" by "conventional medicine" and/or "the government" because she is a "threat," you are very likely an altie.
  • If you absolutely, positively cannot ever admit that a conventional therapy, any conventional medical therapy, can cure a disease, any disease, you may well be an altie.
  • If you believe that vaccines "don't work" or that they cause autism or other chronic diseases, you just might be an altie.
  • If you believe anything you read at Whale.to or Cure Zone, you just might be an altie.
  • If you regularly post to the message boards on Cure Zone, you're very likely to be an altie. Explanation: Cure Zone's message boards are highly moderated. (Translation: censored.) Skeptical posts, no matter how polite, unabusive, or well-reasoned, are often summarily deleted by the moderators. If a skeptic persists in questioning the alt-med dogma there, he/she will usually eventually be banned by the moderators.
  • If you think misc.health.alternative should be a sunny little support group where true believers in alternative healthcare share testimonials and gleefully trash science and medicine without comment from skeptics (in other words, if you want it to be like Cure Zone), you may be an altie.
  • If you think it's OK for misc.health.alternative (or any other such newsgroup) to be awash in advertising for snake oil quackery and other spam, you may be an altie.
  • If you believe that alternative medicine practitioners are far more caring for their patients and far more moral (and therefore, by implication, less corruptible by money) than conventional doctors, you just might be an altie.
  • If you believe that companies selling alternative medicines have every right to charge high prices for their products (example: GlowLife charging hundreds of dollars for a 150 g tin of Ginseng powder, as I described earlier), but that pharmaceutical companies (which spend hundreds of millions of dollars and several years to get each new drug developed, tested, and approved) don't, you are very likely an altie.
  • If you dismiss every well-designed randomized clinical study that failed to show a benefit for an alternative medicine or therapy over placebo control as either not proving that the therapy is ineffective or as having been manipulated by nefarious forces (conventional medicine, the pharmaceutical companies, the government, etc.) to produce a negative result, you may well be an altie.
Feel free to send me suggestions for more "You just might be an altie" items!

By the way, I've got dibs on this one: If you are deeply offended by the above list, you just might be an altie!

Thanks to all the misc.health.alternative regulars who contributed.

ADDENDUM: The "You just might be an altie if..." list has been updated for 2006.


  1. Arrrrghhhh, the Whale.to site! I have had many a usenet argument with the owner of that site in the past.

    Anthony of Black Triangle.

  2. As far as St. Nate's comment goes, his last example is the truest of all. I've had that excuse thrown at me quite a few times when I ask why no alternative medicine practitioner had ever done a study on his remedy. Another favorite excuse is that there's no money (even though NCCAM is funding lots of studies into alternative medicine with preliminary data that would get a conventional medical science grant laughed out of a study section) and the studies I propose for them would not be particularly expensive, as far as such studies go.

  3. How bout...

    IF you believe that there really are herbal cures for diabetes and cancer, but the government forbids their sale because pharmaceutical companies need to make money from their "expensive drugs that don't work"

  4. How about;

    If you believe it's perfectly logical that some alt-med clinic tucked away in a remote corner of some South American country has been able to achieve amazing cure rates for many usually highly fatal cancers for years all without publishing any data and without attracting the attention of any western medical or science institutions or media what-so-ever then you must be an "altie".

  5. I think reserving use of the term "altie" to the preserve of medicine is yet more proof of the medical conspiracy against "us". Kidding!

    Actually, I'm suggesting that use of the term "altie" be expanded to include wackos affecting other disciplines as well. I have my own plague of sewing 'experts' that I'm calling "salties". Salties are great lovers of urban myth, conspiracy theories and the like. If you baste, pin and pray, you may be a "saltie" too.
    Kathleen (a corrigible insolent aspie)

  6. My partner had kidney failure, and didn't know it. He was diagnosed with candida by a highly respected herbalist in the UK. People who tell him that the candida caused the kidney failure are all alties!

    People who say "eat everything raw and you will cure yourself" are alties.

    People who say "it is mind over matter. Just pull yourself together and get out of that wheelchair" are aresholes - and alties.

    People who send you "love, light and reiki blessings" are alties.

    People who say "the body's diseases are symptoms of your psyches anguish" are idiots - and alties...

    I could go on, and on, and on...

  7. Is it my imagination, or do a lot of these "altie" arguments sound just like Creationist/I.D. arguments against evolution?

    Anyway, I'm a middle-of-the-road type. I use some herbs, etc, where I have found that they work for me, but I get myself to a doctor for anything truly serious.

    And...you might be an altie if you claim that herbs never have any negative side effects. GAH! My personal experience dictates otherwise.

  8. i've taken to referring to the fundies 'biological' ideology as Stupid Design ... after all, who in their right mind would design so many dysfunctional things and claim to be satisfied with their work?


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