Last month, the Chicago Tribune released a review of the National Institute of Health’s allocation of research funds. The results are equally infuriating and disheartening. Among other dubious, implausible propositions, NIH funded research of whether distant prayer can remedy the symptoms of AIDS. I’m sure I don’t need to tell my more astute readers what the result of that study was.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the small branch of NIH responsible for this atrocious waste of money, was created by an amendment pushed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The Tribune reports that in advocating for the department, the Senator related a tragic personal story, for which I would extend my sincere sympathies:
In a 1998 speech, Harkin described watching acupuncture and acupressure ease the pain and violent hiccups of a brother dying of thyroid cancer.
Just like any other bereaved person, Senator Harkin deserves our sympathy and empathy. That does not, however, justify the program. He explains his advocacy:
“These are things I have seen with my own eyes,” said Harkin, who also lost three other siblings to cancer. “When I see things like this I ask, ‘Why? Why aren’t these things being researched?’”
Why, Senator? Because we only have so many resources to devote to medical research. Those resources should be allocated to plausible, evidence-based theories about the world we live in.
This sort of allocation is unconscionable in a world where there are so many good, skeptical scientists who go without funding. The Tribune points out that acupuncture, like so many other alternative remedies, purports to manipulate unseen, untestable forces.
This should make funding its research absolutely repugnant to any decent skeptic, or any person with a sense of appropriate allocation of public funds. Even worse, instead of abandoning research of treatments that perform no better than placebos, the NCCAM is “throwing good money after bad” by continuing to research them.
Legally speaking, the program is probably (and unfortunately) constitutional. As mentioned before, in order for a governmental action to be unconstitutional, it must fail one of the three prongs of the Lemon test.
Here, NCCAM’s purpose is arguably secular: The government wants healthy citizens. (At least that’s what they’d say.) Sounds pretty good.
NCCAM could be argued to be promoting religion with it’s study of prayer’s effectiveness on AIDS patients, but not necessarily. After all, they’re just studying it. Totally different.
The third prong, excessive entanglement, has usually related to whether the government is giving funding to a religious organization. That’s not the case here.
Note that no one has sued over this, and I’m not sure who would have standing to do so. That’s because taxpayers generally cannot assert that their rights are violated by this kind of broad allocation of funding.
That’s not to say we have to be happy about it. What research would you have funded with NCCAM’s $128 million annual budget?