To Discover
About Dr. Weil

July 18, 1999

Letters to the Editor
114 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011-5690

To the Editor:

The cover of your August issue asks the question, "How good is the medicine of America's favorite doctor?" I quickly opened to the article on Dr. Weil to find out what you thought the answer was. Alas, the answer is nowhere to be found.

Also missing from the article is any semblance of scientific review. In fact, in the 15 or so years I've subscribed to Discover, I cannot recall any article so devoid of scientific content. I felt like I was reading a "human interest" story from any random newspaper, where they cover science as a "he-said, she-said" issue. I expect better from Discover, and in the past I have usually gotten it. I hope this is not the beginning of a new trend for your magazine.

There were so many problems in this article that I can only address a few major ones in this letter.

To start, the author, Brad Lemley, knew of Dr. Relman's article about Weil in The New Republic, and even mentioned it. But I have to wonder if he actually read it. Rather than picking up on the major scientific problems that Relman brought up, Lemley ignores most of them.

That article exposed many of the strange beliefs of Weil and showed that one would not necessarily be wise to rely on him for medical advice. For example, in one on his books, Weil wrote, "I would look elsewhere than conventional medicine if I contracted a severe viral disease like hepatitis or polio, or a metabolic disease like diabetes. I would not seek allopathic [conventional] treatment for cancer, except for a few varieties, or for such chronic ailments as arthritis, asthma, hypertension,." I have not seen Weil repudiate this statement, and it certainly would have been worth mentioning in an article that purported to discuss how good Weil's medical advice is.

Weil "responded" to Relman's article in a short note on his web site mostly devoted to arguing semantics about the term "anecdotal." He repeats that argument in this article, and Lemley seems to have followed him along without asking for anything further. Whether you call it anecdotal evidence or "uncontrolled clinical observations," the fact of the matter is that he is not referring to proper scientific studies (although with the latter description, Weil seems to want to make it sound more scientific).

This only scratches the surface. On his web site, he has written about his support for "Therapeutic Touch" and other similar forms of unproven nonsense. Yet Lemley says Weil has "claimed the middle ground" and somehow tries to separate him from the "much of alternative medicine" that he terms "a nut farm."

Weil claims, "The peer-reviewed research is coming." Great! Then the proper scientific thing to do is to wait and see what it says, not decide ahead of time that this herb or that method of mind-body energy control works for a given health problem. Lemley then makes an egregious error by using the National Institutes of Health (Office of Alternative Medicine) review of acupuncture as an "example" of such evidence. In fact, if he had done even the most basic research, he would have found that the report was put together by a planning committee and consensus panel that were both heavily weighted with proponents of alternative medicine rather than unbiased, objective observers. The report came from a three-day meeting of presentations, with no balance given in the form of inviting researchers with opposing viewpoints. Finally, the audience often cheered when the presenters attacked the scientific method - the method on which medicine is based, and the method acupuncture proponents should be striving to use to prove their claims. Does Discover really want to claim that scientific evidence comes out of three-day meetings of biased proponents? Again, I hope not.

As Dr. Relman has noted elswhere, there really is no such thing as alternative medicine - there is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't. Too often, Dr. Weil has been on the side of medicine that just doesn't work. In every past case I can think of, Discover has been on the side of science - on the side of what works.

I expect more of a thorough study from Discover. I sincerely hope you return to your usual exemplary job.

David Bloomberg, Chairman
Rational Examination
Association of Lincoln Land


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