The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Try to restrain your angst

This is going to anger some readers -- it's not possible that among our acquaintances there are no fans of alternate medicine. But as you probably recall, I am not a fan, especially of the wilder ones like homeopathy and Traditional Medicine. It's not that I admire the American Medical Association, I just doubt (see post below) anything that claims it will make me feel better by sticking needles in my body or dosing me with the internal secretions of other, already endangered mammals. I have, perhaps, an unusually low threshold of tolerance for preposterousness. Maybe it's a character flaw, who knows? But I did want to pass along to y'all an interesting AP story, about a US Government agency you probably didn't know existed: The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The AP story is linked below; the summary: NCCAM has spent two and a half billion dollars of your money funding studies into alternate medicine. The score so far:

  • Taking ginger may ease nausea after chemotherapy
  • Yoga and massage may make you feel a bit better than you did

Things that were funded and, amazingly, didn't work out:

  • Ginkgo biloba for memory
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis
  • Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes
  • Saw palmetto for prostate problems
  • Shark cartilage for cancer (I wrote about this last piece of rubbish way back in the 90's)
  • And -- for two million dollars -- whether acupressure on your face can help with weight loss (it doesn't)

I could go on a bit more about it all myself, but instead, I'll quote from a paper presented in 2001 to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H.. You can see all of it here, but the following paragraphs say a lot about why this sort of nonsense gets national attention and money:

Much has been written about the "medical establishment" and its institutions and systems of delivering medical care. I think it is fair to note the existence of the "'alternative' medical establishment" which includes promoters, practitioners, organizations, foundations, retail businesses, wholesale businesses, politicians, the NCCAM, the WHCCAMP, and other institutions. The "alternative" medical establishment has even extended its reach into medical schools, other professional schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, and insurance plans. In so doing, alternativists have increased their power and, in effect, invalidated the NCCAM definition of complementary and alternative medicine.

"Alternative" medicine is alternative in the sense of espousing or reflecting different values. The science-based medical establishment insists that health products and services be proved safe and effective—with proponents bearing the burden of proof—before promoting them. Alternativists often value hunches, clinical impressions, subjectivity, anecdotes, reports of best cases, legends, and so-called "other ways of knowing," as sufficient "proof" to justify their promotional efforts. They tend not to value efforts to identify sources of clinical illusions and to reduce the problems of systematic and nonsystematic errors leading to faulty conclusions.

Alternativists also value different credentials and standards of practice than most consumers expect. Many "alternative" credentials and standards of practice do not require professional accountability.

Anyway, read the AP article here, if you like. It talks about the idiocy that resulted in this agency's existence in the first place (legislators who thought some imbecilic practice helped them and demanded funding to study it, among other reasons), and the fox-in-the-hen-house policy of using alternative practitioners to lead studies into their own dogma. Makes for good reading, unless of course you believe passionately in Black Cohosh, whatever the hell that is. But for even better reading, have a look at one of my favorite sites, QuackWatch, and see what the good doctor Stephen Barrett has to say about things like TCM and chiropractic. And try to stay healthy.

Don't shoot that carnivore

In our on-going quest to question things ("I doubt the really big doubts." Socrates, according to Larry Gonick), we were interested to see a study that questions the typical game-management strategy of restricting hunting to males of the species in question. Turns out that in critters that are infanticidal, removing males results in greater offspring losses to other males. Lions and cougars are examples.

Of course, it begs the question of whether trophy hunting should be allowed at all, but I'm not going to touch that thorn (or pet that tiger, as an exec of my acquaintance would say) in the current political environment. Anyway, read the study if you're interested.