CAM, and use of the term "alternative medicine", have been criticised. A US government agency, the National Science Foundation, reporting on Public Attitudes and Public Understanding in Science and Engineering Indicators 2002 defined the term "alternative medicine", as used in their report, as treatments that had not been proven effective using scientific methods.
Criticisms have come from individuals such as Wallace Sampson in an article in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, June 1995 (first published online Dec 2006). Sampson argued that proponents of alternative medicine often used terminology which was loose or ambiguous to create the appearance that a choice between "alternative" effective treatments existed when it did not, or that there was effectiveness or scientific validity when it did not exist, or to suggest that a dichotomy existed when it did not, or to suggest that consistency with science existed when it might not; that the term "alternative" was to suggest that a patient had a choice between effective treatments when there was not; that use of the word "conventional" or "mainstream" was to suggest that the difference between alternative medicine and science based medicine was the prevalence of use, rather than lack of a scientific basis of alternative medicine as compared to "conventional" or "mainstream" science based medicine; that use of the term "complementary" was to suggest that purported supernatural energies of alternative medicine could add to or complement science based medicine; that use of the term "integrative" was to suggest that supernatural beliefs can be consistently integrated with science and the result has scientific validity. Sampson, Stanford University medical professor, former chairperson of the National Council Against Health Fraud, advisor to the California Attorney General and numerous district attorneys on medical fraud, and editor of Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, has also written that CAM is the "propagation of the absurd", and argued that alternative and complementary have been substituted for quackery, dubious and implausible.
Other criticism has been that "Integrative medicine" ("integrated medicine") is used either to refer to a belief that medicine based on science can be "integrated" with practices that are not, or that a combination of alternative medical treatments with conventional science based treatments that have some scientific proof of efficacy, in which case it is identical with CAM; that there is only medicine that has been adequately tested and that which has not; that "There really is no such thing as alternative medicine--only medicine that has been proven to work and medicine that has not." - Arnold Relman, editor in chief emeritus of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Another critic, with reference to government funding studies of integrating alternative medicine techniques into the mainstream, Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale School of Medicine, wrote that it "is used to lend an appearance of legitimacy to treatments that are not legitimate." Another, Marcia Angell, argued that it was "a new name for snake oil." Angell considered that critics felt that healthcare practices should be classified based solely on scientific evidence, and if a treatment had been rigorously tested and found safe and effective, science based medicine will adopt it regardless of whether it was considered "alternative" to begin with. It was thus possible for a method to change categories (proven vs. unproven), based on increased knowledge of its effectiveness or lack thereof. Prominent supporters of this position include George D. Lundberg, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist has defined alternative medicine as a "set of practices that cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or consistently fail tests." He has also stated that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work." He has argued that, if a technique is demonstrated effective in properly performed trials, it ceases to be alternative and simply becomes medicine.
In an article first published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, November/December 1999, Evaluating complementary and alternative therapies for cancer patients, Barrie R. Cassileth mentioned that a 1997 letter to the US Senate Subcommittee on Public Health and Safety, which had deplored the lack of critical thinking and scientific rigor in OAM-supported research, had been signed by four Nobel Laureates and other prominent scientists. (This was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).) In March 2009 a Washington Post staff writer reported that the impending national discussion about broadening access to health care, improving medical practice and saving money was giving a group of scientists an opening to propose shutting down the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, quoting one of them, Steven Salzberg, a genome researcher and computational biologist at the University of Maryland, saying "One of our concerns is that NIH is funding pseudoscience." They argued that the vast majority of studies were based on fundamental misunderstandings of physiology and disease, and have shown little or no effect. Stephen Barrett, founder and operator of Quackwatch, has argued that practices labeled "alternative" should be reclassified as either genuine, experimental, or questionable. Here he defines genuine as being methods that have sound evidence for safety and effectiveness, experimental as being unproven but with a plausible rationale for effectiveness, and questionable as groundless without a scientifically plausible rationale. Sampson has also pointed out that CAM tolerated contradiction without thorough reason and experiment. Barrett has pointed out that there is a policy at the NIH of never saying something doesn't work only that a different version or dose might give different results. Barrett also expressed concern that, just because some "alternatives" have merit, there is the impression that the rest deserve equal consideration and respect even though most are worthless, since they are all classified under the one heading of alternative medicine.
A group of prominent scientists argued before the federal government, USA, that plausibility of interventions such as diet, relaxation, yoga and botanical remedies, should not be used to support research on implausible interventions based on superstition and belief in the supernatural, and that the plausible methods can be studied just as well in other parts of NIH, where they should be made to compete on an equal footing with other research projects. The NCCAM budget has been criticized because, despite the duration and intensity of studies to measure the efficacy of alternative medicine, there had been no effective CAM treatments supported by scientific evidence as of 2002, according to the QuackWatch website. Despite this, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine budget has been on a sharp sustained rise to support complementary medicine. There have been negative results in almost all studies conducted over ten years at a cost of $2.5 billion by the NCCAM.
A research methods expert and author of "Snake Oil Science", R. Barker Bausell, has stated that "it's become politically correct to investigate nonsense." There are concerns that just having NIH support is being used to give unfounded "legitimacy to treatments that are not legitimate."
Use of placebos in order to achieve a placebo effect in integrative medicine has been criticized as “diverting research time, money, and other resources from more fruitful lines of investigation in order to pursue a theory that has no basis in biology”.
As it relates to ethics, in November 2011 Edzard Ernst stated that the "level of misinformation about alternative medicine has now reached the point where it has become dangerous and unethical. So far, alternative medicine has remained an ethics-free zone. It is time to change this." Ernst requested that Prince Charles recall two guides to alternative medicine published by the Foundation for Integrated Health, on the grounds that "hey both contain numerous misleading and inaccurate claims concerning the supposed benefits of alternative medicine" and that "he nation cannot be served by promoting ineffective and sometimes dangerous alternative treatments." In general, he believes that CAM can and should be subjected to scientific testing.
According to two writers, Wallace Sampson and K. Butler, marketing is part of the medical training required in chiropractic education, and propaganda methods in alternative medicine have been traced back to those used by Hitler and Goebels in their promotion of pseudoscience in medicine.
Another critic has argued that academic proponents of integrative medicine sometimes recommend misleading patients by using known placebo treatments in order to achieve a placebo effect. However, a 2010 survey of family physicians found that 56% of respondents said they had used a placebo in clinical practice as well. Eighty-five percent of respondents believed placebos can have both psychological and physical benefits.
Integrative medicine has been criticized in that its practitioners, trained in science based medicine, deliberately mislead patients by pretending placebos are not. "Quackademic medicine" is a pejorative term used for “integrative medicine”, which is considered to be an infiltration of quackery into academic science-based medicine.
An analysis of trends in the criticism of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in five prestigious American medical journals during the period of reorganization within medicine (1965–1999) was reported as showing that the medical profession had responded to the growth of CAM in three phases, and that in each phase there had been changes in the medical marketplace which influenced the type of response in the journals. Changes included relaxed medical licensing, the development of managed care, rising consumerism, and the establishment of the USA Office of Alternative Medicine (now National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine). In the "condemnation" phase, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, authors had ridiculed, exaggerated the risks, and petitioned the state to contain CAM; in the "reassessment" phase (mid-1970s through early 1990s), when increased consumer utilization of CAM was prompting concern, authors had pondered whether patient dissatisfaction and shortcomings in conventional care contributed to the trend; in the "integration" phase of the 1990s physicians began learning to work around or administer CAM, and the subjugation of CAM to scientific scrutiny had become the primary means of control.
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