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$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT “MSNBC.COM”

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.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

Many scientists say that unconventional treatments hold promise and deserve serious study, but that the federal center needs to be more skeptical and selective.

“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.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT “MSNBC.COM”

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Senator Tom Harkin: NCCAM has “fallen short” because it hasn’t validated enough woo

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on March 2, 2009

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) owes me a new irony meter.

I’ll explain in a minute, but first you have to know why I even give a rodent’s posterior about Harkin. As you may recall, no single legislator in the U.S. has done more to damage the cause of science- and evidence-based medicine than Tom Harkin. It was through his efforts that the National Institutes of Health, despite the fact that its scientists were not agitating for it, had the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) rammed down its throat, first as the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) and then, when NIH Director Harold Varmus tried to place OAM under more scientific NIH control in 1998, by elevating OAM to a full and independent Center within the NIH.

I’ve complained many times about how NCCAM funds studies of pseudoscience and quackery and even more about how it promotes unscientific medical practices. I’ve said time and time again that there is nothing that is funded by NCCAM that wouldn’t better be dealt with by other Centers or Institutes within the NIH. I’ve also pointed out Harkin and other CAM-friendly legislators created and promoted NCCAM not for the purpose of rigorous scientific evaluation of CAM practices, but rather to promote CAM and ultimately “integrate” it with scientific medicine. At this they have been enormously successful.

At “proving” that CAM works, not so much, so much so that Senator Tom Harkin is very, very unhappy with NCCAM and said so recently, as pointed out by Majikthise. On Thursday, Harkin told a Senate panel that he was disappointed that NCCAM had disproven too many alternative therapies. The video can be viewed here. In addition, Harkin’s statements have also been posted to his Senate blog:

I am pleased to co-chair this morning’s hearing with Senator Mikulski. And I am eager to hear our distinguished witnesses’ ideas on using integrative care to keep people healthy, improve healthcare outcomes, and reduce healthcare costs.It is fashionable, these days, to quote Abraham Lincoln. So I would like to quote from his 1862 address to Congress – words that should inspire us as we craft health care reform legislation. Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty . . . . As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Clearly, the time has come to “think anew” and to “disenthrall ourselves” from the dogmas and biases that have made our current health care system – based overwhelmingly on conventional medicine – in so many ways wasteful and dysfunctional.

I note that on the video, Harkin does not say “conventional medicine.” Rather, he says “conventional allopathic medicine.” And, as any regular reader of this blog knows, anyone who uses the term “allopathic” in such a contemptuous manner to describe conventional scientific medicine has clearly drunk the Kool Aid. But, consistent with how I’ve warned that CAM advocates would do their best to hijack any effort on the part of the Obama administration to reform the health care system by trying to link all manner of unscientific woo to “prevention,” Harkin goes on to do just that:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RESPECTFUL INSOLENCE”