Editor’s Note: Please be aware that Ben is deployed in Iraq right now. What that means is that his Internet access is somewhat sporadic. He will show up from time to time to answer comments, however.
ERRARE HUMANUM EST, SED PERSEVERARE DIABOLICUM
– To err is human, but to persist diabolical –
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – 65 AD)
The California (CA) Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has an informational booklet on Acupuncture and Asian Medicine that besides depicting many New Age fantasies about prescientific medicine, also makes the unfounded claim that based on a 1997 consensus panel, the NIH formally “endorses” the use of acupuncture for a set of specific conditions, and that there is “clear evidence” that it is effective for some of them. This booklet is available at:
Wondering about this “clear evidence,” I wrote a letter a few months ago to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and asked for a clarification.
Their candid response explicitly stated that the CA booklet “misstates the purpose of the 1997 consensus panel on acupuncture.” The NCCAM also added that as a “Federal research agency, the NIH does not endorse any product, service or treatment, nor are NIH consensus documents statements of policy.”
I also found out that the NIH Consensus Development Program’s website has now a disclaimer concerning the 1997 consensus statement on acupuncture:
This statement is more than five years old and is provided solely for historical purposes. Due to the cumulative nature of medical research, new knowledge has inevitably accumulated in this subject area in the time since the statement was initially prepared. Thus some of the material is likely to be out of date, and at worst simply wrong.1
I therefore wrote to the CA Acupuncture Board to inform them of their misstatements. Not receiving an answer, I took the matter to Secretary Fred Aguiar, the Director of CA State and Consumer Services Agency, which oversees the DCA and the Acupuncture Board.
Here is where things went from error and misstatement to persistence in ignorance.
The response letter I finally received from the DCA indeed stated that:
The Board and its legal counsel, LaVonne Powell, concur that the consumer’s guide does not contain erroneous statements on the efficacy of acupuncture. The Board states that the 1997 consensus statement released by the NIH, a part of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, clearly states that “there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture is efficacious for adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and probably for the nausea of pregnancy.” In addition to other supporting statements, the report stated that continued access to qualified acupuncture professionals for appropriate conditions should be ensured. The report concluded that there was sufficient evidence of acupuncture’s value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value.
While the Board acknowledges that the 1997 NIH consensus statement does not specifically state that they “formally endorse” the use of acupuncture, supporting statements in the report could be defined as an endorsement. However, prior to reprinting the consumer’s guide, the Board will the NIH for their input concerning this issue. If warranted, appropriate changes will be made to the consumer’s guide prior to printing.
In other words, while the NCCAM (one of the institutes that make up the NIH) maintains that the NIH does not endorse any product, service or treatment, and that it is a misstatement to say that the 1997 NIH consensus panel of scientists has found clear evidence of efficacy, CA bureaucrats and their attorney insist it is otherwise!
Also, it seems safe to presume the Board and DCA have remained willfully blind to the well-conducted research since 1997 that has found very little evidence of efficacy, if any, for the purported indications that are listed in the above-mentioned Consumer’s Guide.
Obviously, while science- and evidence-based medicine has gradually became the basis for international, national, and regional public health policies, here in CA the world of healthcare is going backwards, and pseudo-science combined with sectarian politics seem to play an increasingly important role in public health policies on CAM. Any scientific evidence against the efficacy of a dubious modality, such as traditional acupuncture, is therefore deliberately shed or replaced with the biased views of individuals who are part of a “consumer protection” agency, but do not have any knowledge of biomedical sciences and evidence-based medicine; and who persistently place special interest politics–e.g., CA acupuncture training programs’–before the public’s health, safety and welfare. The CA DCA and its Acupuncture Board thus remain woefully inept in assisting the consumer in distinguishing between scientifically proven therapies and unproven modalities that are based on a combination of voodoo-science and a set of New Age fantasies about Eastern civilizations, and their mythical science and medicine.