Doctors and their patients often hold different ideas about disease and how to treat it. When it comes to alternative medicine, the line seems clear. The public prefers alternative treatments--acupuncture, herbal remedies, imagery, therapeutic touch--to the drugs, psychotherapies, and surgery offered by the medical establishment. According to a 1993 report in the New England Journal of Medicine (D.M. Eisenberg et al., 328:246-52) Americans make more visits to alternative healers and spend more money on alternative treatments than they do on conventional medicine. But physicians are skeptical about the value of such therapies and not infrequently hostile to them. The skepticism is well founded.

Few alternative therapies have been subjected to scientific scrutiny, and many of them--touch therapy and homeopathy come to mind--are based on theories that are, at best, unconvincing. Nonetheless, practitioners of alternative medicine and their clients are convinced that these treatments work. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.),...

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