Apparently a growing number of medical schools are teaching acupuncture, herbology and other CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) to their students, often with the help of Uncle Sam. That's right, your tax dollars are being spent to teach your future doctors all about pseudoscience.
The government has spent more than $22 million to help medical and nursing schools start teaching about alternative medicine — lesson plans that some critics say are biased toward unproven remedies.
Additional tax money has been spent to recruit and train young doctors to do research in this field, launching some into careers as alternative medicine providers.
Doctors need to know about popular remedies so they can discuss them nonjudgmentally and give competent advice, the government says, and many universities and medical groups agree.
"Patients are using these things" whether doctors think they should or should not, and safety is a big concern, said Dr. Victor Sierpina, an acupuncturist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who heads a group of academics who favor such training.
But to critics, it's like teaching Harry Potter medicine. Students are being asked to close their eyes to science principles that guide the rest of their training in order to keep an open mind about pseudoscience, they say.
"I'm concerned about the teaching of illogical thinking to medical students" and lending credence to biologically implausible theories like distance healing and energy fields, said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired physician who runs Quackwatch, a Web site on medical scams.
Personally, if I were using some herbal remedy or other treatment that had no scientific evidence behind it, I would want my doctor to let me know it's not tested and not proven effective. I want science-based medicine. I want my doctor to be informed about pseudoscience but he shouldn't be using my tax dollars to study it in school as if it were real medicine. That's a waste of money and incredibly misleading to students who might then add acupuncture or other nonsense into their future practice.
I just listened to James Randi on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe talking about the same thing, only in a more insidious way. If you listen to the episode, James Randi's interview starts at 34:21 on episode 222 from October 21, 2009. Mr. Randi had colon cancer and has found during his treatment that the NIH tacitly promotes acupuncture. This is partly paid by taxpayers. The NIH has 520 acupuncture studies listed on its website. James has a man looking at those studies. He has looked at about 220 or so and EIGHT (8) of them are positive.
So if you went there, you might think all 550 studies listed were positive, but almost all are negative. The 8 that are positive were not double blind studies, so they are invalid.
I tried to find the same list that Randi talked about but didn't have much luck. What I did find was the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) which is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH). This site is very pro-CAM. Unfortunately while it legitimizes CAM and mainstreams it, I am not sure how the actual research has been done. The spotlights of the studies are vague and lack detail of actual study methods and results.
Are they trying to justify their $22 million dollar investment? Have many of the people in charge of NCCAM been given their jobs because they already believe in CAM? I'm pretty sure a lot of them are CAM proponents and were before they started the research project with the government. Needless to say, I don't have all the answers. If you have any hard evidence about NCCAM or the studies in question, please comment or email me.
Also, if CAM is mainstreamed, doesn't it just then become Medicine? No, not if there's still no science behind it. But if you take an herb and find out that there is something in it that has medicinal value, research and study it for efficacy and safety and all that good stuff, then you can standardize it and make it safe and consistent to take. Plain old herbal supplements from the health food store don't offer any of that.
Give me science based medicine any day over pseudoscience, thank you very much.