Sen. Harkin: National Center for Alternative Medicine disproves too much alternative medicine
Careful what you wish for...
Sen. Tom Harkin, the proud father of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, told a Senate hearing on Thursday that NCCAM had disappointed him by disproving too many alternative therapies.
"One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short," Harkin said.
The senator went on to lament that, since its inception in 1998, the focus of NCCAM has been "disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things."
Skeptics have complained all along that Harkin and his allies founded this office to promote alternative therapies at public expense, not to test them scientifically. Harkin's statement at the hearing explicitly confirms that hypothesis.
Harkin used his clout on the Appropriations Committee in 1992 to create the National Office of Alternative Medicine. In 1998 he co-sponsored legislation with Republican Bill Frist to upgrade the national office to a national center.
Over a decade later, Harkin's disappointed that the NCCAM's research is failing to confirm his biases.
Harkin doesn't seem to realize that by publicly pressuring an ostensibly independent research center to produce positive results, he's undermining the credibility of the center he worked so hard to create. If even if NCCAM does come up with positive results, Harkin's giving the scientific community an excuse to discount that research as tainted.
That's a shame, because if we're going to spend public money testing alternative medicines, researchers should be allowed to follow the evidence. Besides, ruling out therapies that don't work can be just as valuable as vindicating therapies that do.
A lot of modern medicine has roots in folk traditions. No doubt there are more therapies currently labeled as "alternative" that will eventually earn their rightful places in scientific medicine and the allied health professions when they are proven effective.
Video of Thursday's hearing on "integrative medicine" is available on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee website, here. Harkin starts talking about NCCAM's annoying habit of disproving cherished tenets of alternative medicine about 17 minutes into the hearing.