Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How to Save Money at NIH

and at the

University of Minnesota?

Hint: Stop wasting money on "Alternative Medicine"

At an institution with an administrator who espouses homeopathy, the Morrill Hall Gang and the Academic Health Center should find this piece on the Forbes web-site informative:

Save Taxpayer $$$:Eliminate Alternative Medicine Research

This past week, President Obama called on all federal agencies to voluntarily propose budget cuts of 5%. Well, Mr. President, you might be surprised to learn that there's a way for you to cut the National Institutes of Health budget without hurting biomedical research. In fact, it will help.

Here's my proposal: save over $240 million per year in the NIH budget by cutting all funding for the two centers that fund alternative medicine research--the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Both of them exist primarily to promote pseudoscience. For the current year, NCCAM’s budget is $128.8 million, an amount that has rapidly grown from $2 million in 1992, despite the fact that not a single “alternative” therapy supported by NCCAM has proven beneficial to health. OCCAM’s budget was $121 million in 2008 (the latest I could find) and presumably higher in 2010. That’s over $240M, not counting money these programs got from the stimulus package (and yes, they did get some stimulus funding).

These two organizations use our tax dollars – and take money away from real biomedical research – to support some of the most laughable pseudoscience that you can find. To take just one example, NCCAM has spent $3.1 million supporting studies of Reiki, an “energy healing” method. Energy healing is based on the unsupported claim that the human body is surrounded by an energy field, and that Reiki practitioners can manipulate this field to improve someone's health. Not surprisingly, the $3.1 million has so far failed to produce any evidence that Reiki works. But because there was never any evidence in the first place, we should never have spent precious research dollars looking into it.

In addition to funding pseudoscience, NCCAM also “educates” the public about alternative medicine. I put “educate” in quotes because much of what NCCAM has on its website is misinformation, which serves to mis-educate rather than to inform. For one example (and there are many), under homeopathy the website states that

“homeopathy is used for wellness and prevention and to treat many diseases and conditions.”

Note how carefully this is worded: homeopathy is "used for prevention", from which one might easily infer that homeopathy is effective. It is not.

NCCAM’s homeopathy page goes on to state that

“most analyses have concluded that there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition; although, some studies have reported positive findings.”

Again, note the careful wording of that last phrase: strictly speaking, it is true, but let me state it a bit more accurately: “some poorly designed, poorly controlled studies with small patient groups, published in low-quality journals, have reported positive findings.”

Homeopathy is based on principles that scientists know to be false: for example, homeopaths believe that an active ingredient is stronger if there is less of it in a solution. In fact, the opposite is true. They also believe that solutions can be diluted infinitely and still retain their effectiveness. Even NCCAM admits that “its [homeopathy's] key concepts are not consistent with the current understanding of science, particularly chemistry and physics.” So why does NCCAM insist on maintaining misleading information on its website?

And why does the University of Minnesota?


Anonymous said...

Great post. Minor pedantry though... it's "principle". As in: "Homeopathy is based on principles that scientists know to be false:"

Anonymous said...

The real problem here is not the President or the universities, but Congress. Harkin, Hatch, and Burton, among others, have pushed the CAM agenda.