David Brooks seems to think highly of Alcoholics Anonymous or least thinks highly of Wired’s article about it:

In the business of changing lives, the straight path is rarely the best one. A.A. illustrates that even in an age of scientific advance, it is still ancient insights into human nature that work best.

Only that’s not what the article, or even a shred of scientific evidence suggests.

While there is a good deal of conflicting data tossed about in regards to the success rate of A.A, the most widely cited, criticized, and defended are statistics from a paper published for A.A.’s internal use in 1990, Comments on A.A’s Triennial Surverys, which puts the programs success rate at around 5%.

The same rate as that of spontaneous remission.

The original Wired article glosses over the paper (and countless others), choosing instead to mention a single Stanford paper which shows a slight advantage to the A.A. program. In fact, the 5% statistic is mentioned in passing as a joke:

The group’s “cure rate” has been estimated at anywhere from 75 percent to 5 percent, extremes that seem far-fetched.

With no explanation as to why it’s so far fetched.

It can be said that no study exists which fairly invalidates A.A. as a treatment for alcoholism. But it’s just as easy to turn that around and point out that no study, single, meta or otherwise, fairly validates it either.

Meanwhile, we have scientific evidence that Varenicline Tartrate, marketed as Chantix™ by Pfizer, improves the chances of someone quitting smoking for one year from 8% to 22%.

In the age of scientific advance, science beats hokey wisdom every time.

Thanks, Jeffrey.