The full content of Annals is available to subscribers

Subscribe/Learn More  >
Academia and the Profession |

Alternative Medicine: A “Mirror Image” for Scientific Reasoning in Conventional Medicine

Jan P. Vandenbroucke, MD, PhD; and Anton J.M. de Craen, PhD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands.

Acknowledgments: The authors thank Professor M. Kirsch-Volders from the Department of Biology, Free University of Brussels, for a useful discussion about the distinction between “religious belief” and “scientific theory,” and Dr. W. Wieling from the Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, Professor R.G.W. Westendorp from the Leiden University Medical Center, and Professor G. de Vries from the Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam, for discussing examples.

Requests for Single Reprints: Jan P. Vandenbroucke, MD, PhD, Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Leiden University Medical Center, Building 1, PO Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands; e-mail, vdbroucke@mail.medfac.leidenuniv.nl.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Vandenbroucke and de Craen: Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Leiden University Medical Center, Building 1, PO Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands.

Ann Intern Med. 2001;135(7):507-513. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-135-7-200110020-00010
Text Size: A A A

A reflection on the scientific behavior of adherents of conventional medicine toward one form of alternative medicine—homeopathy—teaches us that physicians do reject seemingly solid evidence because it is not compatible with theory. Further reflection, however, shows that physicians do the same within conventional medical science: Sometimes they discard a theory because of new facts, but at other times they cling to a theory despite the facts. This essay highlights the seeming contradiction and discusses whether it still permits the building of rational medical science. We propose that rational science is compatible with physicians' behavior, provided that physicians acknowledge the subjective element in the evaluation of science, as exemplified in the crossword analogy by the philosopher Haack. This type of thinking fits very well with the Bayesian approach to decision making that has been advocated for decades in clinical medicine. It does not lead to complete and uncontrollable subjectivity because discernment between rivaling explanations is still possible through argument and counterargument.





Citing articles are presented as examples only. In non-demo SCM6 implementation, integration with CrossRef’s "Cited By" API will populate this tab (http://www.crossref.org/citedby.html).


Submit a Comment/Letter
Submit a Comment/Letter

Summary for Patients

Clinical Slide Sets

Terms of Use

The In the Clinic® slide sets are owned and copyrighted by the American College of Physicians (ACP). All text, graphics, trademarks, and other intellectual property incorporated into the slide sets remain the sole and exclusive property of the ACP. The slide sets may be used only by the person who downloads or purchases them and only for the purpose of presenting them during not-for-profit educational activities. Users may incorporate the entire slide set or selected individual slides into their own teaching presentations but may not alter the content of the slides in any way or remove the ACP copyright notice. Users may make print copies for use as hand-outs for the audience the user is personally addressing but may not otherwise reproduce or distribute the slides by any means or media, including but not limited to sending them as e-mail attachments, posting them on Internet or Intranet sites, publishing them in meeting proceedings, or making them available for sale or distribution in any unauthorized form, without the express written permission of the ACP. Unauthorized use of the In the Clinic slide sets will constitute copyright infringement.


Buy Now for $32.00

to gain full access to the content and tools.

Want to Subscribe?

Learn more about subscription options

Related Articles
Topic Collections
PubMed Articles
Forgot your password?
Enter your username and email address. We'll send you a reminder to the email address on record.