Magazine article Insight on the News

A Shift in Thinking about Medicine

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Shift in Thinking about Medicine

Article excerpt

Thomas Kuhn, the renowned physicist and philosopher radically altered the way we think about scientific evolution. Kuhn argued that scientific thought advanced through "intellectually violent revolutions," which he termed "paradigm shifts." These shifts took place when the existing assumptions underlying scientific thought were found wanting, and a new, more valid series of assumptions was advanced to replace them. This change does not, however, take place without considerable turmoil. Advocates of the new paradigm inevitably face a backlash from the establishment threatened by their theories.

History is replete with examples of these phenomena. Galileo was brought before a court of inquisition. Ignaz Semmelweis suffered vicious persecution for asserting that unclean hands led to infections. Joseph Lister was dismissed as a quack for years before his theories on antiseptic practice were accepted. Today, the practice of medicine is facing just such a paradigm shift. Unsurprisingly, the medical establishment is marshaling all the resources at its disposal to fight it. The current controversy revolves around alternative medical treatment of the diseases associated with aging.

Last year Americans spent more than $30 billion for alternative health care -- an amount exceeding the total out-of-pocket expenses for traditional medicine. More than $16 billion was spent on dietary supplements alone.

These figures are not lost on established medicine and its allies in government and the pharmaceutical industry. Their long-standing monopoly over health care is at risk. It is not surprising that they have mounted a carefully orchestrated effort to undermine the growing popularity of alternative and complementary medicine and the dietary supplements essential to its practice.

Early this year a series of articles began to appear in mass-circulation magazines warning about the dangers and deficiencies of alternative medicine. TV newsmagazines, too, jumped on the antialternative-medicine bandwagon. Virtually without exception, the pieces presented a negative view of alternative and complementary medicine and advocated greater government regulation without giving advocates of the new therapies a voice. They also often made a point of focusing on bizarre or discredited therapies while ignoring the fact that many alternatives are gaining growing acceptance among traditional practitioners.

For example, one TV newsmagazine ran a piece on the dangers of herbal remedies, detailing the case of a woman who experienced uncontrolled bleeding that it blamed on the popular herbal supplement ginkgo biloba. …

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