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NBC Science Correspondent Takes Editorial Clamor against NCCAM to the Popular Media PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

NBC Science Correspondent Takes Editorial Clamor against NIH NCCAM to the Popular Media

Summary: On October 25, the chief science and health correspondent for NBC News, Robert Bazell, lambasted dietary supplements, questioned (most) of alternative medicine, blasted Andrew Weil, then questioned the value of the NIH NCCAM. Bazell called the Center's work "a futile effort." Similar highly-placed, polarizing editorials have appeared recently in Science and the FASEB Journal. A write on a George Mason University media site comes to NCCAM's defense, though from a perspective that is not CAM friendly.

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Integrator posting in a Your Comments article.

Image Robert Bazell,
chief health and science correspondent for NBC News, doesn't think there is much value in any further research on dietary supplements. He comes close to calling for an end to funding of the agency which has been charged to research these products, the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). His October 25, 2006 editorial on MSNBC it titled:

Ignoring the failures of alternative medicine

The US spends millions testing dietary supplements.
It's a futile effort.

The immediate provocation for Bazell's ire was a negative study of DHEA. He references other NCCAM-funded "placebo-controlled studies that proved useless." He ticks off St. John's Wort/depression, saw palmetto/enlarged prostates, shark cartilage/cancer, echinacea/common cold, and glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate/arthritis. Bazell quickly proceeds to a short history of the NIH NCCAM, notes its $122-million budget, and quickly concludes:
"Except for acupuncture, already proven effective in China, almost all the research has come to the same conclusion: the stuff doesn’t work."
He portrays the supplement industry "and its allies" as both ignoring results and not interested in outcomes. Andrew Weil, MD (Bazell spells it "Weill") is given special mention for his to cozy relationship with product manufacturers who Weil appears to be objectively reviewing: "Such crass commercialism would put most big drug companies to shame."

Robert Bazell, NBC science and health correspondent
Bazell argues that if the outcomes aren't going to change either production or consumption behavior, why bother with the research: "
In the end, no matter what the hype, either something is effective or it isn’t. If no one really cares, maybe we should stop spending millions to find the answer."

George Mason Web Piece Defends NCCAM ... for Scorching Medical Alternatives

Shortly after its publication, a George Mason University professor, Rebecca Goldin, PhD, writing on the university's media review site, "STATS: Checking out the Facts and Figures Behind the News," defends NCCAM's work.

Goldin's counter to Bazell won't give a warm a fuzzy feeling to CAM advocates. She calls NCCAM "the lone beacon of sense and science in this conversation." She scolds Bazell for mistaking a sentiment against alternative medicine for a sentiment against research of alternative medicine: "True scientists don't begin with Bazell's forgone conclusion that there methods don't work." Then:
"In order not to fall into the same trap as those who defend alternative medicine without evidence, scientists need to be armed to attack the efficacy of alternative medicines."
Finally: "While the nature of clinical trials is that you cannot prove that there is no benefit, a lack of demonstration of benefit goes a long way toward saving our pocketbooks from an industry that profits from ignorance."

Comment: Goldin, whatever her biases, is on target. We need NCCAM to take the lead in doing this important work.

We particularly need a wizened NCCAM which is working, as I am told it is now, with skilled CAM-IM practitioners to guarantee that the study of products is for appropriate conditions, with Imagethe proper dose, using a quality product, and for proper duration. According to Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, most of the Bazell-referenced studies fall down on at least one of these counts. To the extent that this is so, there are good arguments for advocates and users to not take the NCCAM results seriously. Bazell and others do not balance their rants with reference to these debates.

This lack of balance in a columnist who is ranting about a lack of balance is particularly disturbing. Look at the way Bazell references two key CAM disciplines and modalities.

  • Acupuncture  Bazell dismisses the value of NCCAM-funded acupuncture research ("already proven effective in China") by choosing to forget what he most certainly knows, which is that research from any other country is disregarded by the US research establishment. Particularly from the Chinese.
  • Massage  Bazell suggests that massage "could make anyone feel better." He doesn't mention that NCCAM supported research which shows massage to be effective for one of our most costly condition, back pain.

Shame on him. Bazell's imbalance, like that of the prior editorial writers in Science and the FASEB Journal (see related Integrator article "Is NIH NCCAM Sailing into a Perfect Storm?") reeks of a campaign to discredit both "alternative medicine" and the NCCAM.

Send your comments to
for future Integrator posting in a Your Comments article.

Related Integrator articles:

"Is NIH NCCAM Sailing into a Perfect Storm?"(10/13/06)
NCCAM Blasted, Defended, in Science Magazine (7/24/06)

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