Mar 04 2009

Tom Harkin Tips His Hand

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My primary blog post today (as every Wednesday) is over at Science-Based Medicine. But I wanted to reinforce a very important point we have been discussing over there regarding Senator Tom Harkin.

Harkin, along with Orrin Hatch, was the force behind DSHEA – the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 that removed herbs and supplements, essentially, out from under FDA regulation. This resulted in the explosion of the supplement industry, happily jumping through this giant loop hole manufactured for them.

DSHEA is bad law and has significantly weakened health protection for Americans. Harkin is clearly a true-believer when it comes to supplements and cultish medical practices. However, the top contributor to his campaign in 2007-2008 was from employees of Herbalife, a multi-level marketing company selling supplements and herbs with dubious health claims. Hatch’s home state is Utah, which is considered to be the epicenter of the supplement industry.

Recently Harkin hosted a senate hearing and invited some of the luminaries of the CAM movement to speak. The clear purpose of this hearing was to push a specific agenda – to hijack Obama’s healthcare reform initiative to further infiltrate pseudoscience and sectarian medical beliefs into the healthcare system. David Gorksi and Peter Lipson both discuss this issue at SBM.

But here is the money-quote from Harkin.

One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short. It think quite frankly that in this center and in the office previously before it, most of its focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving.

How transparent. He clearly states that in his opinion the purpose of the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), like DSHEA forced down the throats of congress and the scientific community, was not to scientifically investigate whether CAM modalities work, but rather to validate CAM.  He is disappointed that the science has not worked out the way he intended.

His attitude, which he is not even savvy enough to realize is blatantly unscientific, is typical in the CAM world. The purpose of science is to validate and promote what they already know works – it is not to discover whether or not a modality works.

He further demonstrates his ignorance of science by complaining that the studies were designed to disprove, rather than prove, CAM modalities. That, of course, is the purpose of experiments in science – to prove a hypothesis wrong. Only when an idea survives multiple attempts at proving it wrong do we tentatively conclude that is may be correct. He is upset that the few good clinical trials that were done through NCCAM had the potential to falisfy his beliefs, because in the end they did.

His solution – promote CAM modalities anyway. Who cares what nasty science says. And, change the rules of science so that they can only validate his ideology, not refute it.

That is the new-world order that Harkin and his CAM heroes want to bring – medical science subjugated to ideology.  We had eight years of science taking a back seat to ideology under Bush. I think it is premature to conclude that those days are over – there is just a new set of ideologies in town, not necessarily a new respect for science. To be fair I think overall the situation will improve under Obama (even if just from regression to the mean following Bush), but there are still pockets where ideology trumps science, and CAM is one such pocket.

Harkin’s transparent agenda needs to be exposed. He gave us a peak at the man behind the curtain, we should not let him try to quietly close the curtain again.

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