Guidelines for authors of books and papers on complementary medicine
Writing about complementary medicine, whether intended for book or journal publication, has often suffered from three flaws: inadequate attention to the origin and nature of knowledge claims; careless use of problematic concepts such as 'holistic' or 'natural' and poor application of basic principles of good scholarship. In this paper I present guidelines to promote better writing. With respect to knowledge claims, authors need to be explicit about the origin of the claim; that is, the reasons why they believe it to be true. Many books and papers on complementary medicine are flawed because their authors avoided explaining why they have made particular claims. Claims can be justified by using personal experience or by quoting scientific research. When using personal experience, authors need to: describe the practitioners concerned; use generalities about practitioners with care and be wary when referring to 'classical' or 'traditional' practitioners. When quoting scientific research, authors should: cite references and use these sparingly and specifically; avoid 'secondary sourcing', reliance on abstracts and the referencing of authorities; use 'weasel words' ('may' or 'can') with extreme care; think carefully about causal inferences and take care with laboratory-based research. Many of the concepts found in books and papers on complementary medicine are used rather carelessly. Concepts such as holism or 'natural' medicine, or even the concept of 'complementary' and 'conventional' medicine, are often taken to have simple and obvious meanings. Yet these concepts are extremely slippery and open to differing interpretations, especially if they are used with insufficient care. Authors should apply basic principles of good scholarship by displaying thoroughness and attention to detail; reflecting on the validity of each point made; reflecting on the limitations of their arguments and maintaining a level of disinterestedness. However, authors should avoid trying to sound academic for the sake of it: the use of long words, obscure jargon and dense and lengthy prose does not make a work scholarly.