22009 A Critique of Alternative Medicine

Credits: 3 graduate credits in Biological Thought

Prerequisite: Admission to the graduate program in Biological Thought

The course is based on a reader edited by Simona Ginsburg and on books which change from semester to semester.

What is alternative (or complementary) medicine? The course examines representative types of alternative medicine, their presuppositions, their prevalence, their scientific status and their legal status in Israel and elsewhere. The relation between conventional (or scientific) medicine and alternative medicine is explored, and the scientific difference between them is outlined. The claims made by both are considered at length, including those raised by one against the other. The benefits and shortcomings of conventional medicine are examined and compared to those brought about or claimed to be brought about by alternative medicine. The concepts of anecdotal case studies, controlled randomized trials and the placebo effect are discussed in detail. Western and oriental world views that have molded medical practices are presented, and the roles of scientific theories, commitment to the truth, traditions, faith, emotions and myths in directing medical practitioners are explored in this context. The concepts of rationality, mysticism and relativism are also touched upon in this course. Finally, the relations among mind, body and health are outlined, with special reference to the emergence of psycho-neuro-immunology as a new paradigm in biology.