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From Quackery to “Complementary” Medicine: The American Medical Profession Confronts Alternative Therapies

Terri A. Winnick
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2005.52.1.38 38-61 First published online: 1 February 2005

Abstract

This research examines trends in coverage of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in five prestigious medical journals during a period of intense reorganization within medicine (1965–1999). Content analysis of a sample of documents (N = 102) shows the medical profession responded to the growth of CAM in three distinct phases. During each phase, changes in the medical marketplace–such as relaxed medical licensing, the development of managed care, rising consumerism, and the establishment of the Office of Alternative Medicine–influenced the type of response in the journals. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, during the condemnation phase, authors ridiculed, exaggerated the risks, and petitioned the state to contain CAM. In the reassessment phase (mid-1970s through early 1990s), increased consumer utilization of CAM prompted concern, and authors pondered whether patient dissatisfaction and shortcomings in conventional care contributed to this trend. Throughout the 1990s, in the integration phase, struggles to outlaw CAM were abandoned, physicians began learning to work around or administer CAM, and the subjugation of CAM to scientific scrutiny became the primary means of control. This analysis demonstrates the evolutionary process of professionalization, a process in which dominance is sustained through adaptation to structural change.

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