I always hear this argument that, well, maybe those herbs and enemas don’t help that much, but they don’t hurt, and they make people feel better, so get off alternative medicine’s back. Right. Because distractions from real medicine don’t affect the legitimate work being done.
You might want to read this criticism of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Paul Offit’s editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA. 2012;307(17):1803-1804.) goes through the history of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine(NCCAM) and nicely points out that studies funded by NCCAM have failed to prove that complementary or alternative therapies have any more benefit than placebos.
Offit points out how NCCAM spent $374,000 proving lemon and lavender scents do not promote wound healing, $750,000 to prove that prayer does not cure AIDS, or improve recovery from breast reconstruction; $390,000 to find that ancient Indian remedies do not control type 2 diabetes, $700,000 to find that magnets to not treat arthritis or even carpal tunnel syndrome; and $406,000 to show that coffee enemas do not cure pancreatic cancer.
Half a million here, half a million there begins to add up to some real money. Now maybe your big R1 universities sniff at that level of funding…but I’m at a small university where we’re accustomed to scraping by on little bitsy budgets that would barely constitute a single line item at a bigger place, and I see $400,000 uselessly sluiced into the colons of cancer patients, accomplishing nothing but increasing the discomfort of dying people, and I think…wow, that much money represents a huge difference in education.
And don’t get me started on the prayer study. I’d get down on my knees and fucking pray to any deity you want to name if it would bring in that much cash to my university. Of course, we’d use it for something a lot more useful than pretending magic incantations might heal viral diseases.
Also, it’s not just NCCAM: homeopathy sucks up a lot of money and wastes a lot of effort in Europe.