Alternative Medicine and Statistical Validation

“The resistance to statistical evidence is even more pronounced with regard to ‘alternative medicine,’ a vast field that encompasses everything from herbal supplements to energy therapy to yoga…Many adherents and advocates of alternative medicine reject not only Western treatments but the Westernized notion of statistical testing. They sometimes claim that their practices are too ‘individual’ or ‘holistic’ to study scientifically and instead rely on anecdotes and case studies without adequate controls or control groups for comparison. I’m agnostic about whether alternative medicine is effective. But it verges on idiocy to claim that the effectiveness cannot be tested. If it really is important, as alternative medicine advocates claim, to take into account a larger set of information about the patient…then providers who do so should produce better results…When it comes to the back-end inquiry of finding out which treatments are effective, there is no East and West. I throw my lot with two past editors-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, Marcia Angell and Jerome Kassirer: ‘It is time for the scientific community to stop giving alternative medicine a free ride. There cannot be two kinds of medicine–conventional and alternative. There is only one medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work.” (p. 229)

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