I'm quoted in the beginning of the article, which also makes reference to my proposal to de-fund NCCAM, posted on Change.gov in January. Brown also reports that NCCAM is getting a boost of $31 million in its budget this year, thanks to the recently-passed stimulus bill in Congress. That's on top of an overall NIH portfolio of $300 million dedicated to "alternative medicine", which includes $122M for NCCAM and $122M for OCCAM.
NCCAM was created initially by Senator Tom Harkin, who continues to push it. In a hearing just a couple of weeks ago, he stated
"One of the purposes when we drafted that legislation in 1992 . . . was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say it's fallen short. I think quite frankly that in this center, and previously in the office before it, most of its focus has been on disproving things, rather than seeking out and proving things."Brown quoted this in his article and also paraphrased my response that this shows how badly Harkin understands science. Science doesn't set out to "investigate and validate" - it just investigates, and sometimes the results are negative. That's precisely what has happened with every well-done study of many of the pseudoscientific claims that NCCAM supports, including energy healing (see my previous blog post), acupuncture, homeopathy, magnet therapy, Ayurveda, qi, and others.
In an effort to achieve balance, Brown also interviewed a leading naturopath, Carlo Calabrese, who was formerly on NCCAM's advisory board. Calabrese seems to concede - oddly - that his practices might be no better than placebo treatment, but he argues "What can be done to generate a better placebo? Why isn't that an interesting and valid area of investigation?" How telling: he thinks that even if the methods are just placebos, they still deserve funding. He doesn't seem to see the problems inherent in lying to patients - which is exactly what you're doing if you give them a treatment that you know is a fake.
Kudos to David Brown, and to the Washington Post, for shining some light on the use of NIH funds to support pseudoscience.