In 2011, the following leading researchers of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – no I was not invited – had a meeting in Italy, did a brainstorm and decided what we would need to know about SCAM by 2020 (today, in other words):

They proposed 6 core areas of research that should be investigated to achieve a robust knowledge base and to allow stakeholders to make informed decisions:

  1. Research into the prevalence of SCAM in Europe: Reviews show that we do not know enough about the circumstances in which SCAM is used by Europeans. To enable a common European strategic approach, a clear picture of current use is of the utmost importance.
  2. Research into differences regarding citizens’ attitudes and needs towards SCAM: Citizens are the driver for CAM utilization. Their needs and views on SCAM are a key priority, and their interests must be investigated and addressed in future SCAM research.
  3. Research into safety of SCAM: Safety is a key issue for European citizens. SCAM is considered safe, but reliable data is scarce although urgently needed in order to assess the risk and cost-benefit ratio of SCAM.
  4. Research into the comparative effectiveness of SCAM: Everybody needs to know in what situation SCAM is a reasonable choice. Therefore, we recommend a clear emphasis on concurrent evaluation of the overall effectiveness of SCAM as an additional or alternative treatment strategy in real-world settings.
  5. Research into effects of context and meaning: The impact of effects of context and meaning on the outcome of SCAM treatments must be investigated; it is likely that they are significant.
  6. Research into different models of SCAM health care integration: There are different models of SCAM being integrated into conventional medicine throughout Europe, each with their respective strengths and limitations. These models should be described and concurrently evaluated; innovative models of SCAM provision in health care systems should be one focus for SCAM research.

‘Look, half the work is done! All you need to do is fill in the top part so we can legally say the bottom part.’

The researchers then added:

We also propose a methodological framework for SCAM research. We consider that a framework of mixed methodological approaches is likely to yield the most useful information. In this model, all available research strategies including comparative effectiveness research utilising quantitative and qualitative methods should be considered to enable us to secure the greatest density of knowledge possible. Stakeholders, such as citizens, patients and providers, should be involved in every stage of developing the specific and relevant research questions, study design and the assurance of real-world relevance for the research.

Furthermore, structural and sufficient financial support for research into SCAM is needed to strengthen SCAM research capacity if we wish to understand why it remains so popular within the EU. In order to consider employing SCAM as part of the solution to the health care, health creation and self-care challenges we face by 2020, it is vital to obtain a robust picture of SCAM use and reliable information about its cost, safety and effectiveness in real-world settings. We need to consider the availability, accessibility and affordability of SCAM. We need to engage in research excellence and utilise comparative effectiveness approaches and mixed methods to obtain this data.

Our recommendations are both strategic and methodological. They are presented for the consideration of researchers and funders while being designed to answer the important and implicit questions posed by EU citizens currently using SCAM in apparently increasing numbers. We propose that the EU actively supports an EU-wide strategic approach that facilitates the development of SCAM research. This could be achieved in the first instance through funding a European SCAM coordinating research office dedicated to foster systematic communication between EU governments, public, charitable and industry funders as well as researchers, citizens and other stakeholders. The aim of this office would be to coordinate research strategy developments and research funding opportunities, as well as to document and disseminate international research activities in this field.

With the aim to develop sustainability as second step, a European Centre for SCAM should be established that takes over the monitoring and further development of a coordinated research strategy for SCAM, as well as it should have funds that can be awarded to foster high quality and robust independent research with a focus on citizens health needs and pan-European collaboration.

We wish to establish a solid funding for SCAM research to adequately inform health care and health creation decision-making throughout the EU. This centre would ensure that our vision of a common, strategic and scientifically rigorous approach to SCAM research becomes our legacy and Europe’s reality. We are confident that our recommendations will serve these essential goals for EU citizens.

As I know all of the members of the panel personally, I am not surprised by the content of this document. That does not mean, however, that I do not find it remarkable. In my view, it is remarkable because of the nature of the 6 items that we allegedly need to know by 2020, and because of the fact that, even though none of them seem particularly demanding, today we have clarity or sound information on none of them. I also thought that both the research topics and the research methods were on the woolly side and, to a large degree, avoided what would be standard in conventional medicine. The ‘vision’ of the 13 researchers thus turns out to be the view of 13 partially sighted people on an array of platitudes.

Being just a bit sarcastic, the document could be seen as a plea for letting SCAM researchers:

  • continue to play on their far from level playing field,
  • use their preferred and largely inadequate methodologies,
  • pretend they do cutting edge science,
  • continue to avoid the real issues,
  • enjoy a life free of demanding challenges,
  • have pots of EU money for doing largely useless work.

In a word, I am confident that their recommendations would not have served any essential goals for EU citizens.

19 Responses to Research in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM): ‘What We Need to Know by 2020’

  • A fine illustration of the most reliable distinguishing characteristic of classical pseudoscience: it never progresses.

  • Regarding the fine illustration, it is based on reality. The concept described has already been proven to work and I suspect the artist drew from real life:

  • Just a minute. So these people were saying they needed data to show, amongst other things, the safety and effectiveness of SCAM. In other words there wasn’t any such data. So why have SCAM proponents been offering SCAM?

  • If the purpose were to convince people outside of the CAM field, I dont see any point to further CAM research. It does benefit CAM practitioners of course.

    None of the hundreds of positive studies in the past have convinced anyone in the SS (so-called skeptic) or CON-MED (conventional medicine) fields. It is always possible to find a problem with any study that one disagrees with.

    In the CON-MED field they come out with studies all the time that have methodological problems or cant be replicated. Doesnt seem to be a problem for them.

    Lets just agree to disagree and go our separate ways. The SS can start focusing on problems in their own “house”.

  • I guess UCI and other medical centers are wasting their HUGE million dollar grants on something that does not work. All you have to do is look at the healthiest countries and see very little prescription use outside of the real emergency. One third of the population rarely every goes to a doctor and definitely never takes medication. They resolve their health problems without drugs. I would feel like an idiot writing article that are so one-sided without knowing the facts. Talking about a subject you don’t know places you in a place of distrust.

    • I am afraid it’s not quite as easy as you seem to think.

      • @EE

        Nio, it’s not that easy when the aim is to scare the public into buying anti-sCAM books. That requires some work.

        On the contrary professor,
        it is easy to replicate good health.

        1-look at, and replicate the lifestyle choices – exercise & stress
        2-compare choices in food diet
        3-evaluate toxic and unhealthful exposures -environment
        4-compare medical response

        DNA is only 10% of the equation

        It is really that simple…Edzard

    • BS – Lots of assertions here; do you have any evidence for them?

      • Perhaps SBM need look no further than their own backyards. Stop trying to find the bogeyman in CAM

        Lots of disease and death from the pharma industry. It seems almost every month we are informed of more legal drugs that injure and kill humans seeking medical cures… of which SBM has only a few.
        When will it end ?

        • Bump

          Where is the outrage ? …. crickets

          f this report of a consumed remedy that was causing cancer was from anything except the Pharma industry…. all you friends of SBM would be kicking and screaming about the injustice to unsuspecting patients dying.

          You people are pathetic
          EE Dr. JMK Frank Odds Frank Collins Lenny Bjorn RR and more…. all of you !

          • thanks!
            from you, this must be a compliment [because the opposite of what you say is usually true]

          • Oh dear, RG.

            “If this report of a consumed remedy that was causing cancer..”

            Please point out where it says that these metformin batches are causing cancer.

            It doesn’t. It says that there is a possibility of these batches being contaminated with a potential carcinogen.

            You don’t appear to have read the piece, RG

            It then goes on to say:

            “The FDA advised that patients should continue to take metformin until a replacement can be prescribed, acknowledging the risks of discontinuing the medication for patients.”

            So taking the medicine is still safer than not taking it.

            All this story does is demonstrate how the safety systems in medicine are working.

            Run along, RG. As ever.

          • @EE

            You give a meaningless reply, because you have no defense of these deadly pharma meds. Meds that are supposed to be safe, but instead inflict pain, suffering and further illness.
            You point the fingers at CAM, but you have double standards that don’t apply to your SCIENCE.

            PUKE !

            Over-promise and under-deliver

          • Oh

            ….and I like to drag the specific Pharma names through the mud, ya know… those that had a hand in selling diabetes meds to patients while slowing killing them at the same time.

            Drum roll …..
            Glucophage & Glucophage XR — Bristol Myers Squibb

            Fortamet — Mylan Labs

            Glumetza – Salix Pharma & Lupin Pharma

            Lenny, you think they would be recalling the drug if they didn’t need to ? Also, advising a diabetic not to take their meds would be quite irresponsible … no ?

  • @RG

    ” advising a diabetic not to take their meds would be quite irresponsible … no ?”

    You’re the one person telling us that antidiabetic medicines are terrible and contain carcinogens.

    Which way do you want it?

    Your self-contradiction is becoming problematic.

    • @Lenny

      Gee Lenny, I guess I need to spell it our for you.

      Look… the FDA has given their stamp of approval to these meds previously.
      Certainly other medications are available to patients. Meds that have not (yet) been determined to be potentially cancer causing.
      Since a diabetic without medication can easily die, then an MD needs to prescribe a new medication to the patient before the patient stops taking the tainted medication for diabetes.

      Are we on the same page now ? …. Lenny

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