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Published in: Vol. 5, No. 3
Category: Commentaries

About the Author

Alison Klairmont and Peter Barglow

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Convergence and Divergence of Scientific and “Alternative” Medicine: Historical Moments

“THE SCIENTIFIC GAMES HAVE BEGUN,” declared a New York Times article in response to the news that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was allocating additional funds to U.S. academic researchers to assess the efficacy of as yet unproven “alternative” medical treatments.1 We would like to suggest that such “games,” whether “scientific” or not, involving competition between “standard medicine” and “alternative” medicine or treatment interventions, have deep historical roots.2 Even before the last century, when modern science gained political and cultural ascendance, various medical groups have sought legitimacy, power, and popular support on a variety of fronts and have co-opted governmental authorities to legitimize their causes.3 In the context of the present situation we will analyze 3 historical moments chosen because each reveals the relationship between culture, politics, and medical power. For the purposes of clarity and understanding, it is important to define the terms “scientific medicine,” “standard medicine,” “ ‘alternative’ medicine,” and “complementary medicine,” and to distinguish them from one another.

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