Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Politics Quackery

The AP shoots and scores again

I never thought I’d see it, but I have. After an a decent article on the infiltration of quackademic medicine into American medical centers and a very good article on cancer quackery, Marilyn Marchione of the AP has done it again:

AP IMPACT: $2.5B spent, no alternative med cures

It almost seems as though Ms. Marchione is channeling Orac:

BETHESDA, Md. — Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.
Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

Compare this to what I’ve written in the past. I’ve documented the woo funded by NCCAM on multiple occasions. I mean, NCCAM is funding studies of that woo of woos, homeopathy, fer cryin’ out loud! I”m glad that the mainstream media is finally noticing.

Indeed, I love this quote:

“There’s not all the money in the world and you have to choose” what most deserves tax support, said Barrie Cassileth, integrative medicine chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Many of the studies that have been funded I would not have funded because they seem irrational and foolish — studies on distant healing by prayer and energy healing, studies that are based on precepts and ideas that are contrary to what is known in terms of human physiology and disease,” she said.

Dr. Cassileth is one of the foremost boosters of unscientific CAM treatments in the U.S. Indeed, I’ve written about Dr. Cassileth before. If Dr. Cassileth is saying this sort of stuff about NCCAM, you know it’s bad. Real bad. She’s a true believer masquerading as a science-based investigator.

Other gems:

“There’s been a deliberate policy of never saying something doesn’t work. It’s as though you can only speak in one direction,” and say a different version or dose might give different results, said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired physician who runs Quackwatch, a web site on medical scams.

Critics also say the federal center’s research agenda is shaped by an advisory board loaded with alternative medicine practitioners. They account for at least nine of the board’s 18 members, as required by its government charter. Many studies they approve for funding are done by alternative therapy providers; grants have gone to board members, too.

“It’s the fox guarding the chicken coop,” said Dr. Joseph Jacobs, who headed the Office of Alternative Medicine, a smaller federal agency that preceded the center’s creation. “This is not science, it’s ideology on the part of the advocates.”

Which is what I’ve been saying for a while now. I even called upon President Obama to defund NCCAM, not that I think it will ever happen.

The bottom line is that NCCAM is an ideological, not a scientific organization. It exists to validate CAM, not to test whether it works or not. And when it doesn’t produce the results its boosters in the legislature, like Tom Harkin, want to see, there’s serious trouble.

There’s nothing much new in the article, at least not new to you. I’ve told you much the same thing for years now. But seeing an series of three articles that slam alternative medicine and NCCAM the way these articles did. Ms. Marchione is to be congratulated. Indeed, she could probably use some encouragement right about now. CAMsters will not be pleased at her telling it like it is.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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