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Monday, February 16, 2009

Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

The National Institution of Health (NIH) is an excellent use of taxpayer dollars, and it is heartening to know that Arlen Specter bargained single handedly for a healthy increase in their budget in the Stimulous bill. However the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, better known by its abbrevation NCCAM is a huge boondoggle. Orac explains.

What this letter encapsulates to me is the attitude of CAM advocates towards NCCAM. They don't want truly rigorous scientific studies to determine if these therapies work. They want studies that assume that these therapies work and then simply look at utilization and cost-effectiveness. They want funding of fellowships in CAM (taught, of course, by true believers). In brief, they want CAM promotion.

This is why we can only hope that the NIH really is trying to bury NCCAM. There's nothing that NCCAM does, other than its advocacy for CAM therapies in academic medicine, that couldn't be done as well or much better by other Institutes and Centers of the NIH appropriate to each question. This is particularly true for the study of herbal remedies and dietary interventions, neither of which are "alternative" except when claims are made that diet or herbs can, for example, cure cancer. Unfortunately, as protected as it is by powerful legislators, the best we can hope for is a career scientist like Dr. Briggs trying to slow NCCAM's descent into pseudoscience. It can't last forever, though. Sooner or later a true believer will be appointed Director at NCCAM. It's virtually inevitable. The only thing keeping that from happening, I'd guess, is that the most prominent CAM practitioners (like Andrew Weil, for instance) make far too much money to be easily willing to take a huge pay cut to work for NCCAM. When that day comes, any pretense of rigorous science taking into account scientific plausibility will fly out the window.

I put this in the same category as funding boondoggles like Minnesota Teen Challenge.