Ten years and $2.5 billion shows “alternative” medicines don’t cure jack shit.

In news that will likely fail to dissuade folks who buy into the whole alternative medicine nonsense, the report from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says that just about every alternative treatment they tried failed to produce results:

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.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

All it took was ten years and $2.5 billion in taxpayer money despite the fact that many other independent studies have already shown this to be the case. So will the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which I still have a hard time believing is a government run organization, shut down and admit that there’s nothing to this nonsense? Of course not. They plan to spend even more money studying even more ridiculous claims:

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

What the fuck? Why are we wasting money on crap that has no basis in science?

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

Oh, that’s why.

Look, I’m all for testing of “alternative” medicines and therapies that could plausibly have some scientific basis. Echinacea for colds is a good example. Asprin comes from willow bark so it was entirely possible there might have been something in echinacea that could affect colds. We tested it. It doesn’t do squat. Put it aside and move on. But brain waves being emitted by a “master” to cure cocaine addiction? Fuck me, but that’s stupid.

“There’s not all the money in the world and you have to choose” what most deserves tax support, said Barrie Cassileth, integrative medicine chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Many of the studies that have been funded I would not have funded because they seem irrational and foolish — studies on distant healing by prayer and energy healing, studies that are based on precepts and ideas that are contrary to what is known in terms of human physiology and disease,” she said.

Exactly! Let’s apply a little of the scientific knowledge we already have on how the universe works and prioritize based on how plausible a particular treatment might be. The further away from established theories a proposed treatment is the lower on the priority list it should be when it comes time to test.

So why are we wasting time and money on the implausible shit? Because the board that runs this agency is well populated with people who buy into the alternative medicine bullshit. Not only are they in control, but even when a study shows something doesn’t work they refused to state that fact plainly preferring to hide behind the “more research is needed” cop out:

However, critics say that unlike private companies that face bottom-line pressure to abandon a drug that flops, the federal center is reluctant to admit a supplement may lack merit — despite a strategic plan pledging not to equivocate in the face of negative findings.

Echinacea is an example. After a large study by a top virologist found it didn’t help colds, its fans said the wrong one of the plant’s nine species had been tested. Federal officials agreed that more research was needed, even though they had approved the type used in the study.

“There’s been a deliberate policy of never saying something doesn’t work. It’s as though you can only speak in one direction,” and say a different version or dose might give different results, said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired physician who runs Quackwatch, a web site on medical scams.

Critics also say the federal center’s research agenda is shaped by an advisory board loaded with alternative medicine practitioners. They account for at least nine of the board’s 18 members, as required by its government charter. Many studies they approve for funding are done by alternative therapy providers; grants have gone to board members, too.

“It’s the fox guarding the chicken coop,” said Dr. Joseph Jacobs, who headed the Office of Alternative Medicine, a smaller federal agency that preceded the center’s creation. “This is not science, it’s ideology on the part of the advocates.”

Basically it’s the practitioners of woo-woo nonsense making more than a few bucks on the taxpayer’s dime while they busy themselves with shifting the goalposts so as to never have to say it doesn’t work. The rest of the article goes on to list off defenses by the foxes guarding the chickens, but it’s all bullshit. Not only have there been many independent studies that show this stuff doesn’t work, but even with 10 years these guys have yet to come up with anything that is clearly beneficial. There are several studies that show taking herbal supplements can interfere with legitimate drugs such as those used by cancer patients. Additionally the actual contents of a particular supplement can vary wildly between different manufacturers and can contain all sorts of potentially harmful contaminates.

This agency needs to be revamped. Get rid of the True Believers™ and staff it with qualified people capable of running proper studies and then prioritize based on the plausibility of a particular treatment. Do the study, release the results, and move on to the next one. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down and then start putting the pushers of the shit that doesn’t work out of business. If a particular treatment shows some applicability in some area (e.g. ginger to treat nausea, which has been pretty well established) then that’s great! Use it for that purpose and stop selling it as a cure-all.

8 thoughts on “Ten years and $2.5 billion shows “alternative” medicines don’t cure jack shit.

  1. Q: Do you know what they call ‘Alternative’ Medicine that has been proven to work?

    A:Medicine.

    The word ‘Alternative’ in this context just means ‘Not Really’.

    Cheers,

    Naked Ape

  2. I know someone who was given some sort of Homeopathic medicine recently by their doctor. I tried to explain that it does not work, outside of possible placebo effect, and tried to show some evidence. But they took it anyway.
    This reference to “masters” reminds me of this book I read recently about Hinduism which in part discussed gurus and psychic powers, and it was all sort of permeated by this condescending attitude towards “western” science.
    People just want to believe, it does not matter what anyone tells them. Sort of like falling in love with the wrong person.

  3. Sort of like falling in love with the wrong person.

    Now who has ever done that?

    Get rid of the True Believers™ and staff it with qualified people capable of running proper studies

    Lots of luck with that.

  4. “Herbal remedies” don’t do anything unless they’re chock full of the same sort of toxic chemicals you’re talking about being in pills. Plus, with an herb you don’t know if it’s got enough of the stuff to make you better or too much that might make you sick. You run the risk of misidentification or worrying about chemicals leeching in through the roots or being sprayed there to remove pests.

    In other words, if you think you’re being safer by taking an unknown medication that isn’t carefully controlled you’re fooling yourself.

  5. In other words, if you think you’re being safer by taking an unknown medication that isn’t carefully controlled you’re fooling yourself.

    Picky, picky, picky!  cheese

    And, besides, what is the placebo effect, if not fooling yourself?

  6. If you’re really intent on relying on the placebo effect to make you better, then you’re safer taking corn starch pills and praying to the flying spaghetti monster for his good graces. Or hoping that Santa Claus will ride through the emergency room on a flying panda and hand out kids-get-better candy to all the children who didn’t masturbate this year. I’ve had friends who nearly killed their liver with idiot crap like self-medication.

    It’s not just not harmless, it can be actively dangerous even for people who have done their research and think they know what they’re doing. Your twenty dollar purchase on herbal medicines you bought at Barnes and Nobles does not trump several years of medical school. Doctors aren’t perfect, but I don’t see how LESS expertise makes you more expert.

  7. I don’t know if this counts. But about two years ago I took a load of Nuclear waste to Utah. The day before I got there, I could feel I was getting sick with cold and flu. Stuffy nose, chest felt very congested. But I parked at the site and went for a walk that evening, then went to bed.

    Next morning. NO sign of anything wrong. Complete wellness overnight. Very strange !

  8. “alternative” medicines don’t cure jack shit.

    I”m curious: with what disease was Jack diagnosed?  LOL

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