Classification and methodological problems of alternative medicine

Author: Savva SL
Founder and Executive Director, Monterey Institute for the Study of Alternative Healing Arts(MISAHA), Monterey, Calif., USA
Conference/Journal: 3rd World Conf Acad Exch Med Qigong
Date published: 1996
Other: Pages: 173 , Special Notes: Some tables are only in Chinese abstracts. , Word Count: 508

What place does external qigong occupy among other modalities of alternative medicine? The classification of the entire field of alternative medicine based on logical criteria is an important task that is yet to be solved.
The proposed classification of alternative medicine is based on two criteria:

(1) the presumed main curative agent and (2) the associated methodology of the outcome evaluation.
In development of the previously proposed classification four basic fields are proposed in this classification where the healing is presumed to be a result of:

1. the application of a material agent or a standardized therapeutic procedure(untested medicines, homeopathy, ozone, herbs, sound, aromas, chiropractic, chelation, etc);

2. the work of the patient's mind through suggestion (psychotherapies, psychoneuroimmunology, hypnosis, placebo effect, self hypnosis, group therapies, etc.);

3. the intent of the healer--an individual possessing a special gift and a technique of influencing the physiology of patient(prana healing, qi-healing, polarity therapy, acupuncture, energy healing, laying-on-of hands, etc.);

4. the belief of a practitioner in the healing power of an agent, theory, procedure of god (belief of a physician in a particular medicine or a procedure, Speransky's Effect, Solvin's Effect, healing by prayer, etc.).
Although effects described in fields 2-4 may be simultaneously present in the field 1 as well as in the conventional medical practices, the methodology of clinical studies as well as the outcome evaluation and extrapolation of results are different and specific in each of these fields. The double-blind, placebo controlled randomized clinical trials applicable only in the first field where all the other possible causative agents must be excluded. The major variables in field 2 to be taken into consideration are the suggestibility of a patient and the culturally endorsed credibility of a curative agent, practitioner or ritual.

Medical external qigong belongs to the third field of the proposed classification. Clinical results of individual healers cannot be extrapolated on the modality of a healing technique because the outcome depends on a special talent of an individual rather than a technique used. Therefore, each qigong practitioner must be certified individually upon his/her clinical efficacy and this represents a substantial departure from the Western tradition of teaching and certifying specialists. It is impossible to separate the effect of suggestion and psi healing by measuring the clinical outcome alone and such separation is irrelevant for practical purposes. The identification of the psi effect can be achieved by comparing results in adults with those of small children and animals. There are substantial unsolved terminological problems related to this field. Particularly, it can be shown that the interpretation of qi as energy is incompatible with the contemporary scientific definition of energy. Also, neither qi nor Prana (in the Indian tradition) can be defined as information in terms of the current information theory.
The methodology of studies in the fourth field seems to be extremely complex and has yet to be developed. However, the research methodology in all three first fields (classes) as well as in conventional medicine must take into consideration of this phenomenon by blinding the experimenter or duplicating double-blind controlled trials with skeptical experimenters.