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.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.