The need to act a little more ‘scientific’: biomedical researchers investigating complementary and alternative medicine


Address for correspondence: Ginger Polich, 1624 Milvia St. Apt #1, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA


The advent of scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has contributed to the current state of flux regarding the distinction between biomedicine and CAM. CAM research scientists play a unique role in reconfiguring this boundary by virtue of their training in biomedical sciences on the one hand and knowledge of CAM on the other. This study uses qualitative interviews to explore how CAM researchers perceive and negotiate challenges inherent in their work. Our analysis considers eight NIH-funded CAM researchers’: (1) personal engagement with CAM, (2) social reactions towards perceived suspiciousness of research colleagues and (3) strategic methodological efforts to counteract perceived biases encountered during the peer review process. In response to peer suspicion, interviews showed CAM researchers adjusting their self-presentation style, highlighting their proximity to science, and carefully ‘self-censoring’ or reframing their unconventional beliefs. Because of what was experienced as peer reviewer bias, interviews showed CAM researchers making conciliatory efforts to adopt heightened methodological stringency. As CAM researchers navigate a broadening of biomedicine's boundaries, while still needing to maintain the identity and research methods of a biomedical scientist, this article explores the constant pressure on CAM researchers to appear and act a little more ‘scientific’.