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Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

The “mind-body” connection series on NBC News

Since I’m almost never home in time to see the 6:30 PM news, it’s unlikely I’ll be seeing this series on NBC news about the “mind-body” connection when it airs, although I’ll search for video later when I get a chance. Apparently I missed this last night:

When we were planning this week’s series “the Mind Body Connection,” Alex Wallace the executive producer of Nightly News asked me what was new with the alternative medicine movement, which has been in full swing for more than a decade.

The answer is that a handful of billionaires have brought alternative medicine into many the nation’s major medical centers, long the bastion of opposition. The new approach is called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or integrative medicine. Tonight we profile the program at Duke where meditation, massage, biofeedback, and acupuncture among other alternative approaches are offered along with conventional medicine.

John Mack, the CEO of Morgan Stanley gave the money to set up the Duke facility. His wife Christy, the daughter of a physician, has long been a proponent of integrating alternative and mainstream medicine.

Other donors have set up similar programs at Harvard and the hospitals of the University of California in San Francisco and Irvine. The goal of these programs is to establish a model for medicine of the future focusing on wellness instead of disease.

Yes, that does appear to be the difference, although the whole schtick about a model for medicine “focusing on wellness instead of disease” is a big, fat, steaming load of B.S., because, its denunciations of “conventional” medicine and bold claims for promoting health notwithstanding, “focusing on wellness” is not what most so-called CAM therapies do. There’s also the issue of insurance, which generally doesn’t pay for treatments without at least a modicum of high quality evidence that it works better than a placebo, meaning that CAM services bring in good, old-fashioned, cold hard cash on the barrelhead without all that nasty mucking about with insurance company claims.

Dr. Bazell does characterize the CAM movement correctly:

The challenge they face is that alternative medicine includes not just meditation, massage, biofeedback, and acupuncture but herbs and supplements, extensive enemas, magnets, leeches, chelation, and a list that goes on almost endlessly. Clearly some of these treatments are harmless at worst and sometimes beneficial, while some can be horribly dangerous. As I have written many practitioners of alternative medicine either see no need for their claims to be tested with scientific studies or simply ignore results if they don’t like they way come out. They often see regular medicine as a conspiracy aligned against them.

Exactly. I hope this proper scientific skepticism comes out in the series, but I have real doubts. They’ll probably trot out the obligatory token skeptic or two over the course of the series’ installments, but I predict that the overall tone of the story will be credulous and supportive, as it almost always is for stories of this type–Dr. Bazell’s rightful skepticism and his previous characterization of how “CAM” advocates ignore negative studies notwithstanding.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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