Head-In-The-Sand Consumer Affairs

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.

– 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 Thus some of the material is likely to be out of date, and at worst simply wrong.1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 contact 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.



Posted in: Acupuncture, Politics and Regulation, Public Health, Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (5) ↓

5 thoughts on “Head-In-The-Sand Consumer Affairs

  1. blu says:

    Alas, you are asking a state agency to take legal action, which is using different criteria.Sort of like the difference between “preponderance of evidence” and “beyond reasonable doubt”. If you knew a movie critic that told you he liked a particular movie and you recommended it to someone else on that basis and then found out that the review the critic wrote panned the movie, have you actually lied?

  2. Dr Benway says:

    Yes blu, it would be a lie.

    When making medical recommendations to the public, the medical authority should know what the current science supports. Anything less is a lie.

  3. Versus says:

    Correcting errors in a state-published consumer guide is not taking “legal action.”
    In answer to your question, no, you haven’t lied at the time of recommending the movie, but you do lie when, having discovered the critic misinformed you or has changed his opinion, you persist in saying the critic liked the movie.

  4. Ben Kavoussi says:

    Greeting from Kuwait on the way to Iraq.

    Concerning the misstatement on acupuncture, the CA law mandates that the DCA’s first priority be the protection of the public. It is therefore not in their mandate to recommend or to endorse any product and modality. Nonetheless, the DCA’s Acupuncture Board has so far been directed by the special interest, and individuals like Dr. Adam Burke, who believe in remote healing, imagery and meditation in healing, etc.

    In a recent “coup de theatre,” however, Governor Schwarzenegger and the Speaker of the House Karen Bass (who is a PA) have replaced most of the DCA’s Acupuncture Board with more sensible individuals. Insha’Allah – as they say here – reason and evidence will gradually replace fantasy and ignorance, and the official publications of DCA will reflect the clinical evidence on acupuncture rather than the Orientalist fantasies of the likes of Adam Burke.

  5. sstumpf says:

    The California Acupuncture Board (CAB) has undergone a recent turnover in membership that includes a new Chair and three new public members. Two positions remain open for acupuncturists. Recent practice among California regulatory boards is to require a majority of public members and minority of professional members. The reasons for this should be obvious given that the general mandate is to protect the public. The CAB has long been an instrument of the profession and the training programs. The results of this folly have been articulated and documented by Ben Kavoussi on this blog. The incredible and preposterous position taken by the former CAB and staff (currently unchanged) regarding the fantastic claims made in the Board-created, approved and published brochure meant to inform the public is characteristic of the hubris and bizarre thinking that governs the acupuncture profession. Hopefully, the new CAB will take things in a different direction.

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