A Few Proposals for a new name for NCCAM

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is considering a new name. Apparently NCCAM isn’t quite cutting it. They want to change it to the “National Center for Research on Complementary and Integrative Health”. Okay. But why leave it at just that proposal? I’m sure we can come up with better than that. After all, that’s a mouthful, and doesn’t really tell us much about what they do. “Integrative health”? To an outsider, that doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t tell them that this is the place funding studies into homeopathy, reiki, and even prayer in medicine. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some alternative names.


    • Center Of Failing Bayesian Statistics.

      xkcd gets it.

      Bayesian statistics is a form of statistical analysis which takes into consideration not just how probable an event is, but outside factors. For example, in the above picture, a Bayesian analysis would conclude that while the odds are fairly low to roll double sixes, the odds of the sun going nova is far lower, and that thus it was far more likely a fluke of the dice. In medicine, application of this would be to point out that homeopathy is basically impossible, and so the various weak studies that assert that it works are more likely flukes than anything else. CFBS is similarly not very descriptive, but at least it’s not dishonest. Much of what is considered “alternative medicine” is based on explanations which completely fail a basic “Wait, is that even realistic?” check. For example, Reiki. Reiki is literally nothing more than faith health wrapped up in an eastern package. Replace all the new-age mysticism behind it and replace it with Christian mysticism, and what you’ve got is Oral Roberts’s schtick. Basic Bayesian examination of “how is this supposed to work, again?” is enough to completely discount Reiki, and yet NCCAM has spent money looking into it.


    • Center For Detecting Quack Cures. Quick – what’s the main difference between research done at NCCAM and research done for other parts of the NIH? The research done at the other parts of the NIH actually has a snowball’s chance in hell of working.  See, here’s the thing about so-called “Complementary and Alternative” medicine (or should I say complementary and alternative “medicine”?) – if there’s any basic merit to it, it’s not likely to fall under that category. Things under the banner of CAM consistently fail every test thrown at them, because they aren’t realistic or viable. If they were, they wouldn’t be CAM. They’d just be “M”. So if something is pushed by NCCAM, you can be pretty reassured that it’s crap and not waste much more time examining it. Speaking of which:


    • Center For Things That Have Not Been Proven To Work Or Have Been Proven Not To Work. Granted, CFTTHNBPTWOHBPNTW is a bit of a mouthful, but this shoutout to Tim Minchin’s excellent deconstruction of alternative medicine and new-age woo-woo in general could hardly be less fitting. Because at its core, that’s all that CAM is. It “complements” normal medicine in the same way that that morbidly obese kid “complements” the varsity track team – completely worthless, and if you do use it you’re going to end up worse for it. And it’s an “alternative” in the same way that drinking a lot of extra water is an alternative to chemotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer. If it had been proven to work, we’d just call it “medicine”, and it wouldn’t fall under CAM’s jurisdiction. It’s this paradox which explains in no uncertain terms why “CAM” ought to be called… Well, see above.


    • Center for Useless, Non-Viable Treatments. …This one, unlike CFTTHNBPTWOHBPNTW, just rolls right off the tongue.


      • Institution of Failed Doctors. The degree of failure a doctor has to undergo to miss just how flawed most of CAM is is akin to the degree of failure a paleontologist would have to undergo to reject evolution. It’s a complete failure of understanding; either of the evidence available or the methodology used to examine it. Any doctor who buys into homeopathy for even a moment needs to have their medical license temporarily revoked and needs to be sent back to med school for remedial lessons in assessing evidence, Bayesian statistics, and not believing in magic. If I sound like I’m being harsh… Well, I got one more.


    • The Most Obvious Waste of Taxpayer Dollars Ever. Even a program designed to pay people money to sit around a room flapping their lips like morons all day would not be more of a waste of taxpayer dollars. Because at least that doesn’t hurt people. By putting scientists to work on these projects, you’re not just wasting taxpayer dollars, you’re also legitimizing treatments that simply do not work. You’re telling people “Reiki is actually worth looking into and shouldn’t just be laughed out of the room” or “The jury’s still out on homeopathy but we have more tests being run” or “Chelation therapy works” (is it any wonder that the brainiacs at NCCAM completely botched the interpretation of the study?). This is advice that can get people killed. It’s mental. And that’s without even getting into the truly wonderful stuff like a study on the effects of prayer. I’m not even kidding. The video on that page is a truly impressive look into the minds of the people behind this crap, by the way – it truly is a belief in magic; at which point science completely flies out the window. This is how we get things like $660,000 studies to see if distant prayer helps with AIDS (again, if you understood the first thing about science, you wouldn’t be spending money to check on this question unless you have a damn good reason to do so!). It’s embarrassing.

The fact of the matter is that while medicine is difficult and complex, the government has no business wasting money to test to see if a therapy works unless there’s a damn good reason to believe that the therapy might work. We don’t spend time and money chasing faeries or the Loch Ness Monster, and those don’t even violate the laws of physics or require some undetectable, intangible, immeasurable energy field or require some undetectable, omnipotent creator entity like Homeopathy, Reiki, and Prayer, respectively. NCCAM is the most noxious waste of government funding I have ever seen, and I’m pretty heavily in favor of government spending for science, education, and just to get the damn economy moving again. But this isn’t the government spending money on science. This is akin to the government spending money to push creationism in class rooms, and teaching our children that the earth is flat. It’s anti-science. It’s the anti-education. And we really ought to put a stop to it. Or, as Orac put it, “Nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure“.

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