Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Is Complementary Medicine a Valid Alternative?

By Marcello Costa

How can we compare the evidence base behind conventional and complementary medicine?

Marcello Costa is Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor and Professor of Neurophysiology at Flinders University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The health industry increasingly emphasises “personalised care” and the need for individuals to take control of their own health. Health administrators face the same choices as to how they allocate resources for health care, so can we distinguish between good health sciences and wacky ones?

It is often claimed that the dividing line between scientific and unscientific knowledge is blurred and the distinction unclear. While the “nature of reality” remains a serious philosophical issue for scientific thinkers, what constitutes “reality” in health care is much more down to earth. It helps to distinguish between alternative and complementary procedures, which are often bundled together.

You can argue that there really are no “alternative” medicines. People wanting proper medical prevention and treatment go to a legally qualified medical practitioner.

Some practitioners of “complementary and alternative medicines” (CAM) maintain that they are a genuine alternative to mainstream medicine. Other CAM practitioners seem happy to be seen as providing a “complement” to scientific treatments, even though the procedures they offer, unlike mainstream medicine, are not evidence-based. Interestingly, the term “alternative” is being dropped by many Australian practitioners of CAM.

The reality is that modern medicine is already complemented by a number of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.