Field of Science

Johns Hopkins University offers quack medicine as "herbal consultations"

Well, it's sad to see, but one of the top medical research institutions in the world, Johns Hopkins University, is now offering - and advertising - a quack treatment for its students. This comes as part of its new "Integrative Medical Center", where "Integrative" is a code word for quackery. Oh, I'm sorry, that's not what JHU calls it: they say "integrative medicine refers to the practice of combining Western treatments such as pills and vaccinations with the traditional treatments of the East. It holds that curing a disease means treating the whole patient, not just the patient's illness."
Sorry, JHU, but there's only one kind of medicine: treatments that work. Using words such as "traditional," "integrative," and "alternative" is little more than marketing hype to disguise the fact that none of these treatments actually cure anything.

Having JHU endorse this nonsense is a big coup for proponents of these bogus treatments. But I should point out that many - I would venture to bet most - JHU medical researchers and physicians don't support this apparent endorsement by their institution. I was a professor at JHU myself not long ago, and I have many good friends and colleagues there who don't buy into quackery.

So just for entertainment, let's look at what JHU's own newsletter says about the new "herbal consultations":
"Allegra Hamman, CRNP, clinical herbalist and wellness consultant, will be administering the new services for the SHWC. Over the past three years, she has studied herbal medicine at the Tai Sophia Institute, where she received her master's degree in June. As part of her studies, Hamman spent a year and a half treating patients using herbal remedies."
Great! The Tai Sophia Institute is a hotbed of quack treatments, including homoepathy, Qi Gong, and acupuncture. Their own website says their "values" include:
- Operate from an acknowledgement and declaration of Oneness.
- Use nature and the rhythms of the earth as a guide in teaching our students and one another.
This is New Age gobbledegook, not medicine. Gee, it's a good thing that Hopkins has a nurse who trained at Tai Sophia! I wonder how much they're paying for these valuable services.

By the way, the University of Pennsylvania Medical School started a joint master's degree program with Tai Sophia in 2005, but they came to their senses shortly thereafter and severed the relationship. Before they did, though, they were fiercely criticized by skeptics such as David Colquhoun:
"What on earth was the University of Pennsylvania thinking about when it associated itself with such pathetic twaddle [as Tai Sophia]? Is it that their senior people are so in the grip of the delusional age that they no longer care what's true and what isn't? Or did they just spot a good chance to make money from the gullible public?"
Too bad JHU didn't talk to UPenn before they went down this path. Here's more from nurse Hamman about her new herbal consulting practice: "From the point of view of the medical community, I function as a bridge," she said. "I can speak the language of herbs, and I can speak the language of medicine." The language of herbs? What? Is that supposed to mean something, or is it just more New Age nonsense?

She goes on: "Herbalists would say that there's an enormous written record: thousands of years of information about herbal medicines. Traditional use counts for a lot."

Actually, Ms. Hamman: no, it doesn't. What counts is scientific evidence that we can gather through proper studies. Some plant products do indeed have great benefit - take aspirin, for example - but before we can offer them as medicine, we need to show that they work. (Not to mention we need to understand how to identify the active ingredients and how to provide a controlled dose.)

The JHU Newsletter also published an Editorial on this article in which they expressed mild criticism of the move: "While a clinical herbalist may provide an alternative option that appeals to students who do not wish to undergo conventional treatments, the addition of a general practitioner rather than a specialist should be prioritized. Yet, if the University were to hire specialists, there are others who would better serve the needs of the student body, such as a gynecologist or dentist, whose availability should take precedence over the option of an alternative medicine practitioner."

The Editorial misses the main point entirely, though, when it endorses alternative medicine: "Alternative medicine has been proven to be a safe and effective form of treatment for some conditions, and the attractiveness of this more natural form of medicine has propelled it into the realm of mainstream Western medicine including at Hopkins's own Hospital and medical school." And they also say "we supported the Hospital in taking the progressive step of creating a branch for alternative medicine." Sorry, Newsletter editorial staff, but you're wrong. You've been sold by the marketing hype of quack practitioners. "Alternative" medicine has not been proven to be safe and effective for anything, and I challenge you to provide examples. There's only one kind of medicine - the kind that works - and we don't label it "alternative."

Surprisingly, the JHU Newsletter includes a skeptical comment from a student, junior Rick Carrick: "I think that Health and Wellness has some issues just servicing people with regular medicine," he said. "I think that they should focus on getting people the treatment they need normally before they focus on any sort of essentially fake medicine."

Bravo! At least some of the students are too smart to be fooled by this nonsense. Now if only JHU would listen to its own students - and doctors.

8 comments:

  1. While I don't like the association of medicine with newage quackery either, I suppose one motivation for these programs is by putting what amounts to essentially a placebo under university control, hopefully real physicians will be altered to seriously ill people using magical, mystical herbs and be able to get them real treatment.

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  2. How sad that Hopkins is helping to legitimize this junk. Also, there is a risk in combining real treatment with this herbal nonsense since if the former produces positive results, these may then be attributed to the latter. For ex, "The physicians claim it was the prescriptions, but I know I would feel so good without my daily dose of hyssop tea!"

    Alexandra (Rafa's better half)

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  3. Excuse me, I meant "would not feel so good". This entry seems to have a typo comment theme. I've heard 'noni juice' does wonders for that...

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  4. I did not expected such retrogradive steps from a developed country like USA, that too JHU. Pleeease... Indians like me:) look towards US and UK for scientific knowledge and inspiration. Such bad examples can be used by pseudoscientists and opportunists to plunder public/goverment money in developing countries to set up ministry of alternative medicine,departments, universities,etc.

    The JHU news-letter mentions that "There is clearly a group of students(?) at Hopkins who prefer approaching health from a perspective other than what traditional Western medicine has to offer". Then I suspect that majority of them from eastern world like China, India, etc !! If these students expect alternative medicine in JHU, then it shows a fundamental flaw in their understanding of science and they do not deserve to be in such places like JHU, nor do who are encouraging them.

    Prabhu B. Patil
    Postdoctoral Research Associate
    Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB)
    Hyderabad, India

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  5. You all are very ignorant. Herbs have been used for centuries to heal. Herbs are essentially foods. Hippocrates has said let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food. People DIE from taking pharmaceutical grade drugs wayyyy more often then taking herbs. You calling the use of herbs for medicine quackery is assinine when the people in the East who use these are much healthier then you all.

    Herbs for life! Leave inorganic chemicals in the lab, they dont beling in an organic body.

    Peace

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  6. I debated deleting the comment above from "Rae of Light", but I'm leaving it in for now to illustrate several common logical fallacies. For example, the ad hominem attack - calling us "ignorant" - is one such ploy. I'll leave it as an exercise to spot the others ;-).

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  7. IF there have been legitimate scientific studies done on the herbs, I for one wouldn't be so quick to discount, completely anyways. Many substances in modern drugs are after-all, plant-derived.

    I'm not saying we should all jump on the herbal band-wagon, but aren't we being unscientific ourselves if we discount the possible uses of herbs before thoroughly researching... The Scientist as Rebel (by Freeman Dyson) is a fantastic book that reminds us all that we need to be questioning the accepted norm, regularly. Or do we even dare call ourselves scientists?

    The author said "there's only one kind of medicine: treatments that work." I wonder if there has been any comparison studies done for traditional v alternative v combination etc in a double-blind study to see what the actual data is. Does anyone know?

    We do know traditional medicine works. Do we have evidence that alternative medicine doesn't work? It may not, but shouldn't we be exploring all the possible options, then systematically start to figure out what doesn't work by proper research?

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