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Trials of complementary therapies ‘testing magic’

Clinical trials of complementary and alternative treatments such as homeopathy and reiki are essentially testing ‘whether magic works’ and should no longer be accepted by the medical profession, two US experts and advocates of science-based medicine have claimed.

The academics – who edit the Science-Based Medicine blog – have penned an editorial in the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Molecular Medicine, in which they argue randomised clinical trials of such treatments are unethical.

Dr David Gorski from Wayne State University School of Medicine and his colleague Dr Steven Novella of Yale University say they advocate science-based rather than evidence-based medicine, whereby only biologically plausible treatments should be tested in clinical trials, and even then only when there is sufficient preclinical evidence to justify the resources needed and the use of human subjects.

Dr Gorski said: ‘Studying highly implausible treatments is a losing proposition. Such studies are unlikely to demonstrate benefits, and proponents are unlikely to stop using the treatment when the study is negative. Such research only serves to lend legitimacy to otherwise dubious practices.’

He added: ‘Somehow this idea has sprung up that to be a “holistic” doctor you have to embrace pseudoscience like homeopathy, reiki, traditional Chinese medicine, and the like, but that’s a false dichotomy.

‘If the medical system is currently too impersonal and patients are rushed through office visits… then the answer is to find a way to fix those problems, not to embrace quackery.’