For quite some time now, I have had the impression that the top journals of general medicine show less and less interest in so-called alternative medicine. So, I decided to do some Medline searches to check. Specifically, I searched for 4 different SCAMs:
- herbal medicine
I wanted to see how often 7 leading medical journals from the US, UK, Australia, Germany, and Austria carried articles indexed under these headings:
- JAMA – US
- NEJM – US
- BMJ – UK
- Lancet – UK
- Aust J Med – Australia
- Dtsch Med Wochenschrift – Germany
- Wien Med Wochenschrift – Austria
This is what I found (the 1st number is the total number of articles ever listed; the 2nd number is the maximum number in any year; the 3rd number in brackets is the year when that maximum occurred)
Homeopathy: 17, 3 (1998)
Acupuncture: 176, 21 (2017)
Chiropractic: 49, 4 (1998)
Herbal medicine: 43, 5 (2001)
Homeopathy: 6, 3 (1986)
Acupuncture: 49, 8 (1974)
Chiropractic: 43, 13 (1980)
Herbal medicine: 29, 12 (1999)
Homeopathy: 122, (10, 1995)
Acupuncture: 405, 31 (2021)
Chiropractic: 99, 11 (2021)
Herbal medicine: 158, 13 (2018)
Homeopathy: 75, 11 (2005)
Acupuncture: 93, 12 (1973)
Chiropractic: 20, 5 (1993)
Herbal medicine: 46, 6 (1993)
Aust J Med
Homeopathy: 9, 2 (2010)
Acupuncture: 78, 13 (1974)
Chiropractic: 34, 4 (1985)
Herbal medicine: 20, 2 (2017)
Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift
Homeopathy: 27, 4 (1999)
Acupuncture: 34, 6 (1978)
Chiropractic: 14, 3 (1972)
Herbal medicine: 6, 1 (2020)
Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift
Homeopathy: 11, 4 (2005)
Acupuncture: 32, 8 (1998)
Chiropractic: 8, 2 (1956)
Herbal medicine: 16, 3 (2002)
These figures need, of course, to be taken with a rather large pinch of salt. There are many pitfalls in interpreting them, e.g. misclassifications by Medline. Yet they are, I think, revealing in that they suggest several interesting trends.
- All in all, my suspicion that the top journals of various countries are less and less keen on SCAM seems to be confirmed. The years where the maximum of papers on specific SCAMs was published are often long in the past.
- The UK journals seem to be by far more open to SCAM that the publications from other countries. This is mostly due to the BMJ – in fact, it turns out to be the online journal ‘BMJ-open’. And this again is to a great part caused by the BMJ-open carrying a sizable amount of acupuncture papers in recent months.
- The two US journals seem particularly cautious about SCAM papers. When looking at the type of articles in the US journals (and especially the NEJM), one realizes that most of them are ‘letters to the editor’ which seems to confirm the dislike of these journals for publishing original research into SCAM. Another interpretation of this phenomenon, of course, would be that only very few SCAM studies are of a high enough quality to make it into these two top journals.
- I was amazed to see how little SCAM was published in the two German-language journals. Vis a vis the high popularity of SCAM in these countries, I find this not easy to understand. Perhaps, one also needs to consider that these two journals publish considerably less original research than the other publications
- If we look at the differences between the 4 types of SCAM included in my assessment, we find that acupuncture is by far the most frequently published modality. The other 3 are on roughly the same level, with chiropractic being the least frequent – which I thought was surprising.
- Overall, the findings do not generate the impression that – despite the many billions spent on SCAM research during the last decades – SCAM has made important inroads into science or medicine.
I have often commented on the dismal state of the many SCAM journals; these days, they seem to publish almost exclusively poor-quality papers with misleading conclusions. It can therefore be expected that these journals will be more and more discarded by everyone (except the few SCAM advocates who publish their rubbish in them) as some sort of cult publications. In turn, this means that only SCAM studies published in mainstream journals will have the potential of generating any impact at all.
For this reason, my little survey might be relevant. It is far from conclusive, of course, yet it might provide a rough picture of what is happening in the area of SCAM research.