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Thursday, September 10, 2015

How Taxpayers Fund Alternative Medicine Quackery

One senator forced the NIH to promote pseudoscience

Behind the dubious medical claims of Dr. Mehmet Oz and Deepak Chopra is a decades-long strategy to promote alternative medicine to the American public.
Twenty-three years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to investigate a wide variety of unconventional medical practices from around the world.
Five-and-a-half billion dollars later, the NIH has found no cures for disease. But it has succeeded in bringing every kind of quackery — from faith healing to homeopathy — out of the shadows and into the heart of the American medical establishment.
– Todd Krainin

Reason TV has produced a fantastic expose on how the federal government (and one ambitious senator) got taxpayers to fund pseudoscience.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine (and its euphemistically titled successor, the “National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health”) was created by Senator Tom Harkin in 1991 to study and evaluate “natural cures” and remedies.

To date, the office hasn’t found a single scientifically valid cure — but that hasn’t stopped it from promoting alternative medicine in schools and hospitals around the country. Federal funding has created alternative medicine centers to teach mystical practices like reiki at dozens of respected medical institutions, including the Mayo Clinic, Harvard, and Columbia.

Since the 1990s, the center’s budget has ballooned, from $2 million in its first year to a peak of over $520 million in 2010.

Backed by tax dollars and the prestige of the NIH — together with charismatic celebrities, gullible journalists, and ambitious politicians — alternative medicine took off in pop culture. Today, it’s a $34 billion a year industry, despite the well-documented dangers of many therapies and cure-alls, and despite the fact that none of them have stood up to scientific scrutiny. 

Senator Harkin retired in 2015, but not before embedding alternative medicine in the heart of Obamacare, inserting a section requiring that alternative providers be reimbursed equally with medical doctors — in the name of “non-discrimination.” 

Run time is about 15 minutes, and they’re all worth it.

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