What is alternative medicine? The answer to this conundrum is dependent not only upon the discipline of the protagonists but also on geographical considerations. Consider the following two examples:
(1) The Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation community regularly applies the technique of biofeedback (which is a non-medical procedure that conducts the measurement of a subject's particular bodily functions, such as blood pressure, heart rate, etc). However, biofeedback is regarded as an alternative method within the medical fraternity as a whole.
(2) Certain herbal remedies are classified as mainstream throughout Europe whereas, in the United States, they are regarded as alternative techniques.
There are many in the mainstream community who voice their criticism concerning CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). One such critic is Dr Barrie Cassileth (who conducts research in complementary and alternative medicine, and has written many works on alternative cancer treatments). She has eloquently summarised the position in the following way:
There are a great many mainstream practitioners who are not at all happy with CAM, nor with recent attempts to integrate CAM into mainstream medicine, or even with a distinct NIH (National Institute of Health) research category for alternative medicine. There continues to be voiced heated opposition to the inclusion of CAM in so much as it is regarded as a “pseudo science" which is based upon “absurd beliefs". Such critics decry the fact that CAM has deviated somewhat from certain basic scientific principles which have been exemplified in the realms of homeopathy and therapeutic touch. In 1997, four Nobel Laureates and other eminent scientists sent a signed letter to the US Senate Subcommittee on Public Health and Safety highly critical of the lack of constructive ideas and scientific rigor in OAM-supported research. "
The NCCAM (National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) have issued guidance which states that remedies that have previously been designated as not having been verified may indeed be incorporated into conventional medicine once they had been shown to be safe and effective.
A number of scientists share this point of view and are of the opinion that as soon as a treatment has been tested rigorously, then it will be of little importance whether or not it was originally classified as alternative. The most important consideration is that the treatment has been found to be not only effective but, crucially, safe as well. In such a case, it will be readily accepted. According to this school of thought, it is quite feasible for a remedy or technique to change categories from, say, a method that has been proved to be effective to one that has been disproved, or vice versa. Such changes would be based on further knowledge of its performance or lack of performance, whichever was appropriate.
Influential proponents of the NCCAM position include:
George Lundberg, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
Phil Fontanarosa, Senior Editor of JAMA
Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at OxfordUniversity
Stephen Barrett, founder and operator of Quackwatch (which is an American non-profit organisation that offers advise to the public on alternative medicine remedies that are either ineffective or have yet to be verified).
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