Friday, March 29, 2002

Created by Bill Clinton two years ago, the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy has delivered a massive final report (WN 8 Mar 02), but there's a catch. What the Commissioners want is respect: they want to be licensed by the state and reimbursed by health-insurance plans; they want to see CAM courses at prestigious medical schools and programs to educate the public. In short, they want CAM to be treated just like real medicine. Good plan! Under its new director, Stephen Straus, the NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has already begun doing just what the Commissioners call for: applying the same standards to CAM that are routinely required of medical research. In 1998, the New England Journal of Medicine pointed out the catch-22: "There cannot be two kinds of medicine, conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work." In other words, if some CAM treatment survived rigorous testing, it would no longer be CAM, it would simply be medicine. So, is CAM making the transition? Uh, no. The most popular CAM therapies survived for centuries simply because they were never subjected to randomized, double-blind trials. It is certainly possible that important medical advances will emerge from the gaggle of CAM therapies, but so far, under rigorous testing, not one has been demonstrated to be efficacious, while several herbal supplements appear to be dangerous. "'That's some catch, that Catch-22,' Yossarian observed. 'It's the best there is,' Doc Daneeka agreed."

Scientists going through the March 17 Sunday New York Times were startled to find a paper titled "The Collapse of the Big Bang and the Gaseous Sun," by Pierre-Marie Robitaille, published as a full page ad. A professor in Radiology at Ohio State, Robitaille had built the first 8 Tesla MRI. But this paper/ad was outside his field, cost a bundle (about $125 thousand) and didn't have a clear target audience the public couldn't read it, but neither was it in the mathematical language of physics. On the other hand, Robitalle didn't have to put up with peer review and he had full control over timing. The timing raised eyebrows. Ohio is in the midst of a heated debate over a move to put Intelligent Design on an equal footing with Darwinism in the classroom (WN 15 Feb 02). ID is the fallback position of the creationists, who hate the Big Bang as much as they hate Darwin. Their strategy has been to portray the Big Bang as a divisive issue, with a powerful science establishment seeking to suppress dissenting viewpoints. Robitaille, who did not return our calls, seems to cast himself in the role of a lonely defender of truth who must spend a year's salary to get his side of the story out.

Bob Park can be reached via email at
Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University, but they should be.