ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: Relman Takes On Weil
"[T]two icons of American medicine toss off their white coats and go public with their feud," in this week's issue of the New Republic as Dr. Arnold Relman, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine "shreds the career of his onetime medical student from Harvard, alternative medical guru Dr. Andrew Weil." The Los Angeles Times reports that "[i]n unsparing terms, Relman describes the gaping faults of the alternative medicine movement and blasts Weil for his role as its leader." (Roan, 12/14). Under the headline, "Should You Trust This Man With Your Life?" Relman charges that alternative medicine practitioners "either do not seem to care about science or explicitly reject its premises," and that "[i]n advancing their claims, they do not appear to recognize the need for objective evidence." He goes on to perform an exhaustive review of Weil's books, from 1972's "The Natural Mind," to more recent work, noting Weil's "casual dismissal of common sense and medical fact" and "his penchant for sweeping generalizations that cannot stand analysis." Relman contends that "skepticism is surely in order" regarding most of Weil's claims because "much of what Weil is saying about mind and body, and the ability of consciousness to operate in the physical world, requires a rejection of the fundamental physical laws upon which our current views of nature and the human body are based." He concludes that while alternative medicine deserves some attention, "all proposed treatments must be tested objectively," and that "the medical establishment in this country must not lose its scientific compass or weaken its commitment to rational thought and the rule of evidence" (Relman, New Republic, 12/14 issue). In a response on his Web site, Weil counters: "I have spent much of my professional life observing phenomena outside the world of conventional medicine that most physicians know little about: the effects of medicinal plants, the therapeutic systems of other cultures, healing responses in patients. Based on these observations I have presented a number of hypotheses that challenge the dominant medical paradigm. Until very recently the research community has not responded to those challenges. That is, the people with funding, facilities and the inclination to conduct experimental research have not shown interest in studying botanical medicine, alternative medicine or healing. At last, in response to the huge market demand for better, safer, more natural treatments, this is starting to change. The University of Arizona has just received a $5 million NIH center award to study alternative approaches to pediatric disorders. I am co-prinicipal investigator on that grant along with Dr. Fayez Ghishan, the chairman of our pediatrics department. This collaboration is a model of the integrative medicine I espouse and teach. ... It is important to note that paradigm shifts, in medicine as in other fields, are not quiet affairs. They occasion much screaming and kicking. Dr. Relman would like to believe that the popularity of alternative medicine is a fad. In my view it is a fad the way the Renaissance was a fad, and I welcome the coming of the new era" (Weil, 12/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.