Evidence and Rhetoric in the New Science of Alternative Medicine
University of Chicago Press 2016
What makes for new science? What happens to the evidentiary basis of the medical profession when patients demand treatments beyond the range of their conception of human biology? Are the criteria of the sciences amenable to healing practices that are touted for their focus on singularity, rather than uniformity? Colleen Derkatch‘s Bounding Biomedicine: Evidence and Rhetoric in the New Science of Alternative Medicine (University of Chicago Press, 2016) investigates how boundaries between traditional and novel are erected at the level of medical rhetoric.
Derkatch analyzes both expert and popular literature on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), an umbrella term designed to encompass homeopathy, meditation, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine, among other things. Demand for alternative treatments by patients has produced an uncertain situation in which clinical frameworks are used for practices traditionally seen as being outside the realm of biomedicine. Through concerted engagement with different genres of medical communication, Derkatch’s rhetorical cultural approach allows the reader to see the extent to which the boundaries of what counts as biomedicine or not rest on conceptions of evidence and categorization schemes promoted by allopathic medical professionals. With a keen eye turned to communication strategies and assumptions, Derkatch shows the subtle ways in which the norms of biomedicine are challenged and strengthened by attempts to reduce other treatments to processes that can be evaluated on the basis of standards of evidence and efficacy.
This is the second of a pair of interviews on alternative medicine: for a historical consideration of naturopathy as an alternative to allopathic medicine, look out for my interview with Susan Cayleff on her book, Nature’s Path.