COMMENTARY

No One Perspective on Health and Healing Has an Exclusive Claim on Truth

David A. Dawson, PhD, LAc

March 24, 2004

I would like to present my thoughts on reading the recently published "Naturopathy: A Critical Appraisal," by Kimball C. Atwood IV, MD.[1] I have been a subscriber to Medscape's excellent resources for more than 5 years, as a support for my own acupuncture practice. The materials you make available have been useful to me in a number of ways, from my own personal medical research to dialogues with patients and with members of the medical profession. I subscribe to a good handful of your email update services, and I am appreciative of the broad range of supportive materials you provide.

I am a resident of Seattle, Washington, the home of one of the 4 US colleges of naturopathic medicine referred to by Dr. Atwood, and have had a fair amount of contact with members of that profession. I was in solid agreement with Dr. Atwood's conclusions well before reading his article (though my conclusions do not draw upon the same research as Dr. Atwood's).

Nevertheless, despite my interest in this subject, I was unable to read this article to the end. The matter of my concern was not the content, but the tone. Dr. Atwood's article is defensive and shrill. Reading between the lines gives one the impression of someone profoundly angry about something that is not directly addressed.

Frankly, I have come to expect better from your organization. While I do not expect a completely unbiased treatment of a medical "tradition" such as this, I do think it appropriate to expect scholarly restraint and a measure of cool-headedness.

This may seem an odd comment coming from one who might on other occasions be subject to a similar critique from your publication, yet I welcome scholarly dialogue and debate. I have had ample occasion in my own training (3 Masters' degrees and a PhD, and a published author) to engage in this kind of critique and debate. When I see an article written in such a tone as this, I find it easy to conclude that the writer is less than confident about his point of view. It decreases my respect for the position the writer is putting forward.

Dr. Atwood quotes Beyerstein and colleagues[2] as follows: "none of our informants was able to convince us that the field had taken these earlier critiques to heart; in fact, precious few seemed to recognize that a problem still exists." If all critiques from MDs of naturopathic medicine are presented in this tone, naturopathic physicians could be forgiven for concluding they have you on the run!

One further point -- while I understand the legal necessity for doing so, I find it interesting that Dr. Atwood's credits on page 1 of his article include the disclosure statement that "Dr. Atwood has no financial interests to disclose," while at the same time your email notification for Medscape Pediatrics includes as the summary for one of your articles the following statement:

"Thus, GERD has considerable clinical and economic implications for the practicing physician."

A very commonly expressed position among naturopaths as to why the contemporary "Western" medical community tends to be negatively disposed toward naturopathic medicine is that "they're losing business to us -- they're running scared because we are gaining ground against their type of medicine." I personally doubt that any alternative medical practice has the modern allopathic medicine running scared -- nor is likely to at any point in the foreseeable future. And yet, the disparity between the disclosure statement and the summary statement for the article on GERD begs the question. It is clear there is a financial interest involved in protecting one's livelihood from competing forms of practice (even if it were determined that that competition is negligible, or professionally without value). The barely concealed venom of this article makes one want to read between the lines to find the source of the writer's hostility.

We live in a time where there are all manner of wild and crazy approaches to health and medicine. The medical community does itself no favors by presenting its response to perspectives it finds unsuitable in sharp or defensive tones. While I do not support "naturopathic medicine," it is clear that no one perspective on health and healing has an exclusive claim on the truth. There is much to learn from even the strangest of medical approaches -- even if it is only to assess why such an approach would attract customers. There is no ground lost by conveying the same information in a courteous and informative manner.

Your own medical literature is full of people who disagree with the perspectives of other practitioners -- these are couched in professional and respectful terms. I would like to see your editorial board promoting such a tone in the full range of the articles you publish.

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