July 8 through 11, 2010, I attended The Amazing Meeting 8 (TAM8) in Las Vegas, NV. The conference was a “celebration of skepticism and critical thinking” and examined topics such as complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM). Speakers included Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Adam Savage, and Simon Singh. If anyone is interested in topics pertaining to critical thinking, I encourage you to attend this meeting. Everyone is friendly and you can hang out with some very impressive and intelligent people.
David Gorski, MD, PhD spoke on the topic of CAM and while I strongly disagree with Dr Gorski on the predictive value of animals in research, I agree with his position on CAM and would like to briefly address some points that he made.
CAM has been embraced by academia; the same institutions that embrace animals as predictive models.
The Cleveland Clinic via their Wellness Center and Integrative Medicine now endorses reiki, among other CAM modalities.
Integrative Medicine combines conventional Western medicine with alternative or complementary treatments such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy, biofeedback, yoga, and stress reduction techniques. Patients typically get little assistance with the dietary and the other lifestyle changes that are needed to provide relief from and, in some cases, to actually reverse the effects of chronic diseases. Integrative medicine addresses these needs.
The Cleveland Clinic is not alone in this position.
The Bravewell Consortium is comprised of numerous medical schools including UCLA, Duke, the Universities of Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Wake Forest and many more. The consortium advocates for Integrative Medicine, which is a potpourri of CAM. Various members endorse homeopathy, acupuncture and so forth. For that matter, so does the federal government. NIH has as a division, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). NCCAM endorses acupuncture, herbs, massage and so forth. NCCAM studies CAM and has not concluded that there have been enough studies to prove the modality is junk. This position is important to my thesis.
CAM has, in fact, been studied extensively and it is junk. Demonstrably and conclusively junk. It is junk on stilts. (For more on this see numerous essays at Science-Based Medicine, including many by Dr Gorski.)
Now for my point.
The position that animals cannot predict human response to drugs and disease has been strongly criticized by the same institutions that now defend the practice of techniques that have been proven ineffective. Why are they doing this? The same reason they like animal-based research. Money. Today, society in general has been sold a bill of goods about CAM. Many people make money from CAM and have used some of the money to advertise unfounded, indeed demonstrably false, claims. Hence society is now flocking to practitioners of CAM for treatments for their cancer, high blood pressure, headaches or other illnesses and in place of being vaccinated. Never mind the fact that it doesn’t work! People would rather have massage therapy than chemotherapy (who wouldn’t). And besides, physicians stick you with needles and tell you things you don’t want to hear. Universities are just cashing in on the latest craze.
This is no different from telling society that what happens in an animal will happen in a human. Society condones animal-based research on this basis despite the fact that it is demonstrably false and has been proven false many times. (See Animal Models in Light of Evolutionfor more.) More evidence is not needed anymore than more studies are needed to prove that homeopathy is nonsense. Universities make billions of dollars on animal-based research every year hence are reluctant to give up this cash cow, despite the fact that animal models absolutely cannot predict human response to drugs and disease. People, who say in effect, that universities are far too pure to do such a dastardly thing, have criticized me for this position. Well, apparently universities are not above endorsing and selling nonsense as long as the price is right.
Also speaking at TAM8 was Dr Steven Novella, a Yale neurologist. He said, and I am paraphrasing (I think): A sociopath is someone that allows people to die because he makes money from selling them products that he knows do not work. People die from relying on CAM instead of science-based, modern medicine and people also die because of misleading results from animal-based research and from the fact that animal-based research soaks up funding that should be going to human-based research. Unless society wakes up to the fact that people, regardless of their position or level of education, who make money from a product, be that product drilling for oil or performing research, will lie to protect that financial interest, I do not see any of the above changing.
Think critically! It could save your life.
(As I have said before, there are many websites and books pertaining to critical thinking. I suggest you check out the following:
We also have a short section on critical thinking in our book FAQs About the Use of Animals in Science: A handbook for the scientifically perplexed.)