THE LACK OF relevant high-quality scientific research has often been
given as a reason1,2 to explain
why a large number of health care practices are termed alternative. However, the fact that it required congressional intervention3,4 for the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) to earmark 0.02% ($2 million) of its $10.7 billion 1992 budget to evaluate
practices used by more than 35% of the US population suggests that issues
beyond the scientific were involved. Nonscientific factors have played a major
role in limiting scientific exploration of these areas, have discouraged potential
investigators, and have dictated greater profitability elsewhere. This article
examines current definitions of alternative medicine and proposes a new one,
outlining those factors, sociological (academic), political, regulatory, and
economic, that must be considered when exploring this field.
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