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Environment

Has the Journal Nature Sullied its Brand?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorDecember 23, 2011 2:09 AM

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The prestigious journal Nature has published a special supplement on traditional Asian medicine (free access). Financial sponsorship for it came from the Kitasato University Oriental Medicine Research Center and the Saishunkan Pharmaceutical Co, which is described as

a herbal medicine manufacturer which aims to help people make the most of their natural powers of healing and self-recovery.

That's one big red flag. Of course, Nature duly acknowledges the sponsorship, and appearances notwithstanding, gives this reassurance:

 As always, Nature takes full responsibility for all editorial content.

Nature also explains how it to came to treat traditional Asian medicine as science-worthy:

When the topic of traditional Asian medicine was first mooted, we were sceptical. To a magazine based in Europe and steeped in the history of science, there is much about traditional Asian medical practice that seems mystical and pseudoscientific. Other than well known success stories "” artemisinin for malaria, and arsenic trioxide for leukaemia "” there seemed to be a lack of scientifically proven remedies. Yet a bit of probing revealed what a complex story this is. Not only are big efforts underway to modernize traditional medicine in China and Japan, but Western medicine is adopting some aspects of the Eastern point of view too. In particular, modern medical practitioners are coming around to the idea that certain illnesses cannot be reduced to one isolatable, treatable cause. Rather, a fall from good health often involves many small, subtle effects that create a system-wide imbalance.

Orac, unsurprisingly, is aghast, and says the special issue is "chock full" of "atrocities against skepticism and science." I'm still making my way through the articles, so I'm going to reserve judgement, for now. Orac, though, has done his own deep dive and concludes that,

to their eternal shame, by publishing this issue, the editors of Nature have become willing shills for the TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] industry. Nature has sold out, and its editors and publisher should be called out for it.

It'll be interesting to see how other scientists (and science journalists) react.

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