History of Research

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Until the mid-nineteenth century, personal and peer experience were the primary sources of 'evidence-based' medicine. Over time, 'scientific' research became ingrained in a reductionism and dualism model and hence, the randomized controlled trial became the standard. Yet, difficulties were encountered as practitioners and scientists attempted to explain psychosocial factors in disease causation, how body functions were integrated and the physiological impact of intangible qualities such as thoughts and emotions on health. Debates about vitalism versus mechanism, holism versus reductionism and quantitative versus qualitative approaches occurred between different systems of medicine and have hindered researchers and medical professionals from observing the overall essence of life and maintaining the sense of curiosity and wonder that it holds.

There are advantages to scientfic research and many inherent challenges. Reductionist driven research has provided a great deal of medical knowledge, but has also contributed to a greater separation between physicians and their patients and separation both between the mind and the body, and between humans and their environment.

With increasing knowledge of bodily functions and with new technologies, the practice of research has had to change to meet the needs of the current way of thinking. In the 21st century, we often delude ourselves into thinking that we already have a complete understanding of health and disease, but that is not true. There are still many mysteries about life, health and disease that are not understood. Uncovering these mysteries will require different research methods.

Many of the research methods used in the past seem antiquated and unscientific, yet they served to further the understanding of that particular time period. The question is whether one of the concerns with the current state of the health care system is that the current 'gold standard' used in research - the randomized controlled trial - is now antiquated and is impeding the growth and development of our understanding of health and disease.


Lloyd Iva (2009) The History of Naturopathic Medicine, a Canadian perspective McArthur & Company, Toronto