Alternative health research wastes $2.5b proving nothing works

Wonder if they tested snake oil? 

Called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), this joke of an organization was created — and packed full of woo-loving cronies — by Senator Tom Harkin.

As an example of the sheer idiocy that is funded by this organization, $1 million was spent determining if strategically placed¬†magnets¬†relieved chronic pain. Another $2 million bankrolled an “acupressure” study to determine if pushing on people’s heads caused them to lose weight. And despite the fact that we all love Master Yoda, $350,000 was wasted to study the “chi” life force. Hard to justify, the study is.

The NCCAM was established in 1998. (Its predecessor, the Office of Alternative Medicine, was established in 1991.) Surely, we would think, after two decades of rigorous science-based research, the agency would have at least one major, revolutionary discovery to boast about. Alas, it does not. According to the Associated Press:

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.

The cost to taxpayers for finding out that quackery is indeed quackery? As of 2009, a mere $2.5 billion. 

Senator Harkin is not pleased by the results of his pet project, but not because his quack agency has become the poster child for government waste. Instead, as Michael Specter reports inDenialism, Harkin is upset because the center he helped establish ended up disproving alternative medicine, not validating it as he had hoped. This reveals such a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific method (the goal of which is to test — not prove — your favorite hypotheses) that one medical doctor referred to Harkin as a¬†public health menace.

  • backster

    Glucosamine & Chondroiton certainly fixed the joint problems of both myself and my dogs.Sal Palmetto has kept my prostate healthy for years. Can’t comment on the others.

    • http://www.facebook.com/arranh Arran Hunt

      Do you have medical evidence of that, or did you just feel better (and did your dogs tell you that they felt better) after taking it?

      • Orange

        Hard to argue against personal experience. The person needs to understand that 1) the placebo effect is a real effect but unrelated to the supposed cause, 2) that a certain percentage of people get better from various things naturally anyway, 3) the only way to really test against these is double blind tests against placebos and not subjective feelings.

  • Richard McGrath

    This sort of research should not be funded by the taxpayer.

  • backster

    The only medical evidence I have is that since taking glucosamine my joints are sounder than they have been for a decade. My old dogs affected by arthritis became more mobile and painfree. Likewise with the prostate my symptons improved greatly though I still have regular checks. I don’t try to convince others, what works for me satisfies me. If I am deluded then I am happily so.

  • StupidDisqus

    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. and of course leftism for the economy

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