Thursday, March 11, 2010

on holism

image via virtualreality on Flickr

"If holistic-health advocates were content with encouraging sensible preventive medicine or with criticizing the economic organization of American medicine, we might be enthusiastic, but they are not. If the movement were without influence on American life, we would be indifferent, but it is not. Holistic medicine is a pablum of common sense and nonsense offered by cranks and quacks and failed pedants who share an attachment to magic and an animosity toward reason.

Too many people seem willing to swallow the rhetoric—even too many medical doctors—and the results will not be benign. At times, physicians may find themselves in sympathy with the holistic movement, because some fragment of the rhetoric rings true, because of certain practices and attitudes they encounter in their daily work with colleagues and patients, or because of dissatisfaction with the economic and social organization of medicine. One hopes they will speak bluntly, but it does no good to join forces with cranks and quacks, magicians and madmen."

-C. Glymour and D. Stalker from "Engineers, cranks, physicians, magicians"; N Engl J Med. 1983 Apr 21;308(16):960-4

Updated - 10:50pm: While I like letting quotes like this one stand on their own merit, I'll provide a bit of insight as to what got this on my mind. The word "holistic" is often used to describe philosophies or treatments that are being marketed as being somehow outside of, or different than, medicine - the implication is that they somehow address the "whole patient" while medical practice does not... which is patently untrue. Terms like holistic and "natural" don't mean anything beyond marketing, and the above quote from a seminal journal article from almost 30 years ago still holds true about that today.

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