Subjects: R and D
The notion that the world’s leading medical research organization funds studies of acupuncture, herbal medicine and homeopathy has irritated scientists since 1992, when Senator Tm Harkin wrangled $2m out of Congress to establish the Office of Alternative Medicine at the NIH.
The Office subsequently morphed into the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and its budget ballooned to $122 million which has magnified the contempt.
“With President Obama’s stated goal of moving science to the forefront, now is the time for scientists to start speaking up,” Steven Salzberg told the Washington Post.
The geneticist at University of Maryland added that “one of our concerns is that NIH is funding pseudoscience.”
To be sure, most studies of alternative medicine have returned negative results. In 2003 for example, a randomized controlled trial of Echinacea revealed it to be ineffective in treating upper respiratory infections.
Then there was last year’s study showing that reiki failed to ameliorate fibromyalgia symptoms and another study that revealed real and sham acupuncture were equally effective in treating cancer-related pain.
Harkin himself recently admitted he was disappointed that so many NCCAM studies were negative.
That prompted NCCAM director Josephine Briggs to clarify for the Post that “we are not advocates for these modalities. We are trying to bring rigor to their study and make sure the science is objective.”
And Carlo Calabrese, a scientist at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland argues that individual responses can be dramatic even though many experience no improvement.
“What can be done to generate a better placebo?” he queried. “Here we have a totally harmless intervention that seems to get a better result in some people than others. Why wouldn’t you want to study that?”