Thursday, June 18, 2009

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

USA Today had an article on the progress of the NCCAM over the last ten years. The federal agency funds research into the effectiveness of complementary and alternative medicines. The conclusion: $2.5 billion of research shows us that almost none of that stuff works better than placebo.

The tone of the article suggests that NCCAM is bad for spending so much of our money studying stuff that doesn't work. Really, it is only partly bad, and that is due to the agency's implementation. It is important to know what works and what does not work. If no one else is going to do the research (because there is no incentive, because CAM is underregulated), then it is good that NCCAM is picking up the slack.

Where NCCAM falls short is in telling us all that these things do not work. With a board loaded with CAM supporters, the conflicts of interests are apparently too strong to allow the agency to work the way it was intended. It is not spreading the message that bogus "supplements" and "remedies" are bunk, and there is no regulatory authority to ban these misleading products and treatments that take advantage of the ignorant.

It also falls short in that it continues to research absolutely ridiculous things, such as distance healing and energy fields. It wasn't good when the military looked into psychic detection of enemy submarines, and it's not good to waste money on this complete malarky now. Until someone gets James Randi's prize, the feds should stop wasting tax money in these directions. There are a lot of things we already know don't work.

Double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study is the standard when possible. Never trust someone who is trying to sell you something. Our country would be better off if our government protected people who just don't know better from snake-oil salesmen.

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