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National Center for Complimentary & Alternative Medicine called “Disappointing” by founder
Posted: 02 March 2009 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Full Article.
...
Sen. Tom Harkin, the proud father of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, told a Senate hearing on Thursday that NCCAM had disappointed him by disproving too many alternative therapies.

“One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short,” Harkin said.

The senator went on to lament that, since its inception in 1998, the focus of NCCAM has been “disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things.”

Skeptics have complained all along that Harkin and his allies founded this office to promote alternative therapies at public expense, not to test them scientifically. Harkin’s statement at the hearing explicitly confirms that hypothesis.
...

Well, at least many alternative claims were proven false. But we could have told them that they were useless BEFORE spending millions of dollars, right?

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Posted: 02 March 2009 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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That kind of stupidity is infuriating. It sounds like Harkin was expecting the NCCAM to rubber stamp provably useless treatments. What could possibly be the benefit of such a mendacious enterprise? Of what public good is the marketing and sale of quack treatments? None that I can see.

This is another example of why the NCCAM should never have been created in the first place. They have no useful field of study. The whole enterprise is a gigantic waste of taxpayer money.

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Posted: 02 March 2009 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It seems he blatantly lied about his intentions when he set the program up, and has now admitted as much by expressing his disappointment.

Kudos to the researchers they hired, who did not blindly approve the alternative theories the way they were expected to, and instead gave honest findings. I’m sure they were under a lot of political pressure to approve the alternative treatments as valid.

Perhaps the government could take this wasted money, and put it towards the “volcano monitoring” the GOP was mocking last week? That way the money could go towards something that actually saves lives.

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Posted: 02 March 2009 03:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I think it is a good use of money, because there can be no question of alternative medicines efficacy or lack there of. Now all they need to do is require that the findings be published on the supplements.

[ Edited: 02 March 2009 03:20 PM by Some Guy ]
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Posted: 02 March 2009 07:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I think it’s great.  It’s hard to claim bias when the organization you promoted to justify your beliefs shows that you were wrong.  grin

Occam

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Posted: 03 March 2009 11:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Hundreds of millions of dollars spent to demonstrate the lack of efficacy of implausible nonsense, and no minds changed on either side. What a great use of our money. HERE’s a link to one of several blog posts from Science-Based Medicine on why NCCAM should be defunded. Sadly, despite Obama’s more pro-science approach, I don’t see it happening.

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Posted: 03 March 2009 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It just proves what we already know, that CAM is nothing more than a religion. People who believe this stuff want to believe it so badly that even in the face of evidence from their own scientists they refuse to let go of their beliefs. With the mounting evidence, this whole field of study (I use that word loosely) should be classified as a religion so the government and insurance companies can finally get out of the business of paying for them. (Like that’s ever going to happen tongue wink )

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Posted: 03 March 2009 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I don’t understand why everyone is so upset. The government has been funding bench science ideas that turn out to be “uninteresting” or not significant for human disease for decades, but there is no other way around it, you cannot tell in advance which of your ideas will pan out, no matter how “logical” it is. I think its great that there exists a government institution devoted to “alternative” medicine. At least that way we have a wee bit more guarantees that the results of the “studies” and “trials” will be publicly available for all to scrutinize.
In my short life I have met many a scientist in their late 70’s 80’s who had droves of ideas that they strongly believed in, but after years of results that never supported their idea, have given up on. While some others, who keep working on ideas despite decades of negative results. This is not unlike what is happening in the realm of alternative medicine.

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Posted: 03 March 2009 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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refuter - 03 March 2009 01:37 PM

I don’t understand why everyone is so upset. The government has been funding bench science ideas that turn out to be “uninteresting” or not significant for human disease for decades, but there is no other way around it, you cannot tell in advance which of your ideas will pan out, no matter how “logical” it is. I think its great that there exists a government institution devoted to “alternative” medicine. At least that way we have a wee bit more guarantees that the results of the “studies” and “trials” will be publicly available for all to scrutinize.
In my short life I have met many a scientist in their late 70’s 80’s who had droves of ideas that they strongly believed in, but after years of results that never supported their idea, have given up on. While some others, who keep working on ideas despite decades of negative results. This is not unlike what is happening in the realm of alternative medicine.

I agree with the thrust of your statement, which is that part of what is involved in doing good science is having negative outcomes—finding out what doesn’t work.

The way purported medicines are conventionally chosen for testing is that there is some compelling theoretical hypothesis made, or some small positive result on an assay. It is the theoretical hypothesis and in vitro success that points the route for a rational expenditure of public or private funding.

The way so-called “alternative” medicine tests are chosen is ... some guy pulls a hypothesis out of thin air (e.g., diluting a poison to the point of nonexistence will cause “water memory” to gain healing properties), a hypothesis which has absolutely no theoretical validation or proposed method of action, and the federal government gives it funding under a special “alternative medicine” clause.

This clause is fundamentally identical to a suggestion that the government throw money into an incinerator, in the hopes that it results in some societal good.

To put it another way, there should be no sub-clause that the government use to fund the investigation of quack treatments, unless it is done explicitly as a matter of public education as to which methods are useless, and in that case, the purported treatments should be chosen for investigation by how prevalent they are in the society, and negative results should be widely publicized.

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Posted: 03 March 2009 02:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Doug has hit on the key issue. Cam advocates claim that anything goes unless there is a large body of clinical trails to prove it doesn’t work (and then they continue to believe in it anyway). But since resources are not infinite, some mechanism of choosing what to investigate is needed. Biological plausibility is a good start if one wants a statistically greater liklihood of success. Some sensible ideas don’t pan out, and some loony ideas do, but on balance the sensible are a better bet. And let’s not forget, many of the ideas we’re spending money on at NCCAM, like homeopathy, have been disporven convincingly over and over again. Arguing that there aren’t enough clinical trials of homeopathy or acupuncture is like arguing evolution is “just a theory.” It requires an impossible standard of disproof and accepts nothing reasonable as sufficient. Bottom line is if we want the most benefit from the dollars we spend on research, ideologically-driven CAM research is not the way to go.

If you haven’t had a look at the blog essays I linked to above, I’d recommend reading them. They make the case against NCCAM quite cogently.

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Posted: 03 March 2009 02:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I am sorry to disappoint you, but the world of basic science is just as much driven by ideology as is the wolrd of Cam.

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Dmitriy
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Posted: 03 March 2009 02:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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refuter - 03 March 2009 02:42 PM

I am sorry to disappoint you, but the world of basic science is just as much driven by ideology as is the wolrd of Cam.

Even if it were true, it would be irrelevant. Or to coin a phrase, two wrongs don’t make a right.

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Posted: 03 March 2009 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I agree with Brennen and Doug.

But, I should clarify my prior post.  I wasn’t defending the NCCAM or the money they spent.  I meant, that since it was already spent I was happy that the results refuted the reasons it was instituted.

Occam

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Posted: 03 March 2009 03:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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refuter - 03 March 2009 02:42 PM

I am sorry to disappoint you, but the world of basic science is just as much driven by ideology as is the wolrd of Cam.

I strongly disagree. Science at its basic core is devoted to the pursuit of truth through reason. CAM is purely a collection of treatments which are the result of superstition and anecdotal reports. CAM ignores hundreds of years of scientific theory and evidence. No one has ever detected, measured, or explained what “Chi” is yet there is an entire field of Accupunture devoted to manipulating this “energy”. Where is the logic in that?

I’m not saying that scientists can’t sometimes get so enamored of an idea that they refuse to give it up in the face of overwhelming evidence. The history of science is full of foolish theories and dead ends. Scientists are human, but unlike CAM, science itself has built in mechanisms to prevent ideology and dogma from taking hold for more than a brief period. The evidence always wins in the end. Even if the majority of the scientific establishment is headed down the wrong path there will always be someone who has a opposing point of view and in the end if the evidence is there, the dogma will crumble in the face of reason and logic.

None of this is true for CAM. CAM truly is a religion. Those who believe don’t care about the evidence. If there really is something useful among CAM treatments it should be subject to the same criteria as all other treatments. As Brennan said though, we shouldn’t be wasting money on things that have already been disproven just to make the “believers” happy.

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Posted: 03 March 2009 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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That’s the idea of science. Reality is quite different. Open any journal and see how much bad science is being published these days - majority result of being enamoured with an idea or scientists having an agenda. Its only human.

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Posted: 03 March 2009 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I function in an applied science field (medicine). While I agree that the general principles of bias and politics and greed and cognitive dissoanance and so on apply to scientists as much as to everyone else, I dispute the implication that there is no meaningful difference between scientific medicine and alternative medicine. CAM, like most religions, lauds faith as a virtue and encourages belief without evidence. Sure, anything that can be identified as positive evidence is exploited for its PR value, of course, but negative evidence is dismissed as irrelevant. Scientific medicine makes real use of the principle that objective evidence is obtainable and more important than personal belief. Acupun cture hasn;t changed meaningfully in thousands of years, but scientific medicine has revolutionized human life in a couple of centuries. There is a real difference and the bleak tu quoque picture you paint, refuter, just doesn’t fit reality.

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