Alternative, Complementary, CAM?

A note on terminology

Comment on this article?

The way we name the unconventional forms of medicine has changed a lot in the last few decades. At one time people spoke about "fringe medicine", but this was fairly quickly replaced by "alternative medicine". In the 1990s there was a feeling that the boundaries between orthodox and unorthodox medicine should be reduced, so a further shift in terminology began to appear; the new in-word was "complementary". Currently the favourite seems to be a combined term: Complementary-Alternative Medicine (CAM).

Other commonly used words to describe the unorthodox side include "energy medicine", "natural medicine", and "holistic medicine" but the use of these is pretty much confined to advocates of the treatments in question.

In the essays on this site I generally use "alternative". This is because I am mainly writing about the more extreme or "metaphysical" forms of unconventional medicine: those that are generally seen, by their advocates, to be at least potential rivals or alternatives to orthodox medicine. I do of course recognize that there are some who really do think that bridges ought to be built between the two types of medicine, but there are also many who not only don't want to build bridges but who would like to demolish those that already exist.

See also Come Back Science, All Is Forgiven.