Who Are the Politicians Here?

Posted March 6, 2009

Last week the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (one committee deals with all four of these broad topics??) held a hearing they titled “Integrative Care: A Pathway to a Healthier Nation“. A few bloggers have already discussed this, starting with David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine, who noted that Senator Tom Harkin is not qualified to talk about anything remotely related to science.

Harkin was primarily responsible for the establishment of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and it is not surprising that he would sponsor it given that Herbalife is, hands-down, the largest contributor to his campaign. In fact, 2003 – 2008 they contributed more than twice their nearest competitor, Texas Pacific Group. TPG is an investment firm with major contributions from pension funds. Also among the top 5 contributors are Goldman Sachs and a lobbying firm called Cassidy & Associates.

Anybody smell a conflict of interest or two?

Well, Harkin did not get it 15 years ago, and he’s not getting it now. His opening statement is irrefutable testimony to the fact that he is totally and completely unqualified to have a voice in issues of science.

Clearly, the time has come to “think anew” and to “disenthrall ourselves” from the dogmas and biases that have made our current health care system – based overwhelmingly on conventional medicine – in so many ways wasteful and dysfunctional.

It is time to end the discrimination against alternative health care practices.

It is time for America’s health care system to emphasize coordination and continuity of care, patient-centeredness, and prevention.

And it is time to adopt an integrative approach that takes advantage of the very best scientifically based medicines and therapies, whether conventional or alternative.


There is no “discrimination against alternative health care practices.” According to the NCCAM, more than 38% of adults use it.

The last statement is pure idiocy. THERE ARE NO SCIENTIFICALLY-BASED MEDICINES OR THERAPIES THAT ARE ALTERNATIVE. By definition, alternative medicine is unproven. If evidence suggests that medicines or therapies WORK, they are adopted by medical practitioners. That makes them CONVENTIONAL. His next statement is equally moronic:

This is about giving people the pragmatic alternatives they want, while ending discrimination against practitioners of scientifically based alternative health care.

“Scientifically based alternative health care” does not exist.

Quite curiously, the entire opening statement appears on the senator’s website EXCEPT a short anecdote and his disappointment in the NCCAM:

One of the purposes of the center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly I must say publicly, it’s fallen short. The focus, I think, quite frankly in this center and previously in the office before it has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things.

If one is interested in science and deciding government policy and funding for science, why would one not learn the FUNDAMENTALS of what science is? Does he never consult with scientists?

A basic tenet of science is that nothing is learned through confirmational approaches. We can only learn from tests of hypotheses that have the power to falsify. That is why scientific research is designed to attempt to falsify hypotheses.

The witness list for the hearing looks like it could be the board of directors for Herbalife:

Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, Director, Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program, New York-Presbyterian Hospital (He’s been on Oprah!)
Dr. Mark Hyman, Founder and Medical Director, The UltraWellness Center
Dr. Dean Ornish, Founder and President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute
Dr. Andy Weil, Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona

None of the panel members had anything of substance to say. They threw out some anecdotes and rhetoric, using suggestive terms, but produced absolutely no evidence or logical argument to support the effectiveness of CAM that would suggest that it should be given credence. This left me wondering — who in the room was NOT a politician?

Kimball Atwood at Science-Based Medicine notes a striking difference in the number of preventative measures supported by science that were advanced by modern medicine and the number advanced by “Integrative Medicine”. The list for the first is very long; the list for the second is empty.

These people want to include CAM in the new, governed health care system. What’s to keep them from withholding real medicine when they have this cheaper alternative to offer?

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