Quantitative Methods in Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Methodological Manifesto

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES.

This article summarizes the deliberations of the Quantitative Methods Working Group convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in support of the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine.

METHODS.

The working group was charged with identifying methods of study design and data analysis that can be applied to empirical research on complementary and alternative medicine. This charge was broad and inclusive and addressed the evaluation of alternative therapies, the investigation of the basic science of complementary medical systems, studies of health promotion and disease prevention, and health services research.

RESULTS.

The working group produced a "methodological manifesto," a summary list of seven recommended methodological guidelines for research on alternative medicine. These recommendations emphasize the robustness of existing research methods and analytic procedures despite the substantive unconventionality of alternative medicine.

CONCLUSIONS.

Contrary to the assertions of many researchers and alternative practitioners, established methodologies (eg, experimental trials, observational epidemiology, social survey research) and data-analytic procedures (eg, analysis of variance, logistic regression, multivariate modeling techniques) are quite satisfactory for addressing the majority of study questions related to alternative medicine, from clinical research on therapeutic efficacy to basic science research on mechanisms of pathogenesis and recovery.

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