Science Saturday: Alternative Medicine Edition at Bloggingheads.

This week at, PalMD and I have a chat about science, ethics, and alternative medicine. Plus, we have a little disagreement about what constitutes paternalism.

Go watch!

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I could have listened for another hour. Perhaps the two of you will do this again soon.

If you aren't regularly reading the Science Based Medicine blog, I highly recommend it. There is a different blogger each day, and I haven't seen any topic get stale or repetitive, perhaps due to the different areas of experience of the contributers. I'd like to see that blog as reading material in doctors' waiting rooms.

I was thrilled with the idea of NCCAM dating back to when it was first proposed, but the actual results of their testing and now some of their methods and proposals have moved me in the opposite direction. If we need to do science regarding CAM treatments people commonly use, it has to be real science with reliable results.

Some of the NCCAM studies seem valuable --e.g., does cranberry juice lower antibiotic levels. Don't these useful studies justify NCCAM's existence?

There's a hidden implication in the above argument: that these useful studies would not be done by the NIH due to unfair bias against anything not directly related to drug development.

The hard-working, ethical researchers at the NIH reply, "Oh so I'm aware of promising, low-cost treatments we ought to study but I'm not gonna let that happen. So you have to go around me to NCCAM to get the funds. Do you realize what you're saying? You've just accused me of being on the take. Well, you'd better have evidence to back that up, asshole."

Science is not sectarian. Researchers don't do research in order to promote a particular school of thought or advocacy group. NCCAM, strangely, is sectarian.

Here's the evidence: You can study herbs at NCCAM but not the stuff in the herbs.

Because if you look at the components of the herb, you might figure out the active ingredient. Knowing the active ingredient, you might then figure out how it works in the body. And you might then develop a drug. And that wouldn't help the chiropractors and naturopaths.

We ought to study particular CAM therapy X because so many Americans are using X.

We have to ask, why are so many people using X? Is it because the line between science and quackery has been blurred?

Taking nonsense seriously brands the nonsense as something serious.

Example: Thimerosal was removed from vaccines not because the CDC had evidence that thimerosal was harmful, but because parents were worried and the CDC hoped to remove their worry.

Unfortunately this intervention by the CDC seemed to prove to many that it was in fact lying when it said thimerosal was not harmful. The intervention caused many to be less trusting rather than more trusting toward the CDC. More than one parent has said to me, "They wouldn't have removed it if it wasn't harmful."