Newsweek's Misleading Report
on "Alternative Medicine"

William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H.

In its December 2, 2002 issue, Newsweek published an ill-conceived special report on "The Science of Alternative Medicine." In his "Editor's Desk" column, Mark Whitaker wrote: "We're proud to be working with Harvard Health Publications and its editor in chief, Dr. Anthony Komaroff, to bring you the best wisdom that our team of veteran health journalists and Harvard's experts have to offer." Unfortunately, the best wisdom they offer is packaged with propaganda promoting false notions about so-called complementary and alternative medicine (sCAM). Here are some of the problems with Newsweek's reporting.

The word "alternative" may suggest "adequacy for some purpose" and/or "compulsion to choose." [7] But irrational and dubious methods are not adequate for their intended purpose, and consumers should not feel compelled to choose them. Instead of attempting a special report on "The Science of Alternative Medicine," Newsweek should have served its readers well by providing an exposé of "Pseudoscience Promoted as Alternative Medicine." As Drs. Marcia Angell and Jerome Kassirer noted in a 1998 editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine: "There cannot be two kinds of medicine—conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work." [8]

References

  1. Gorski T. The Eisenberg data: Flawed and deceptive. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 3(2):62-69 1999.
  2. Green S, Sampson W. EDTA chelation therapy for atherosclerosis and degenerative diseases: Implausibility and paradoxical oxidant effects. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 6:17-22; 2002.
  3. Normile D. The new face of traditional Chinese medicine. Science 299:188-190; 2003.
  4. De Smet PAGM. Herbal remedies. New England Journal of Medicine 347:2046-2054, 2002.
  5. Barrett B. Medicinal properties of echinacea: A critical review. Phytomedicine 10:66-86, 2003.
  6. Gilroy CM. Echinacea and truth in labeling. Archives of Internal Medicine 163:699-704, 2003.
  7. Garner BA. A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  8. Angell M, Kassirer J. Alternative Medicine—The risks of untested and unregulated remedies. New England Journal of Medicine 339:839-841, 1998.

Dr. London, a former president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, is associate professor and chair of the Department of General Studies in the College of Science and Health of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, California. This article was modified from a 2-part series in the Council's newsletter.

This page was revised on October 17, 2006.