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For thousands of years, alternative-medicine practitioners operated on the fringe of society. The Western health establishment has scoffed at techniques involving herbs, plants, insects and animal parts as junk science.

Traditionalists should always maintain a healthy skepticism of the untried, but progress requires an open mind. Recently, the fuddy-duddies at the venerable Journal of the American Medical Association took a huge step in helping doctors separate the scientifically tested wheat from the anecdotal chaff.

In an unprecedented special issue, JAMA published the results of a half-dozen, rigorous studies on popular alternative therapies. The medical association will disseminate a total of 80 reports on alternative medicine in prestigious journals. The six highlighted studies used the gold standard of research design -- randomized clinical trials -- to test the effectiveness of such treatments as acupuncture, chiropractic and yoga. . . .

This is a welcome development in a time when cures and potions are validated by anecdote or celebrity endorsement. . . . It's easy for consumers to mistake fervent belief for proof. It's also easy for mainstream medical professionals to arrogantly dismiss the entire phenomenon. . . .