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Naturopathic Medicine Week 2013, or: Quackery Week 2013

[Ed. Note: This is an extra “bonus” post from Dr. Gorski’s not-so-super-secret other blog. He thought the topic would be of interest to SBM readers as well. Fear not. There will be a post on Monday, as usual.]

The vast majority of ideas and treatments that make up the “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) specialty known as naturopathy are quackery. There, I said it. No doubt I will be castigated for being too “blunt,” “dismissive,” or “insulting,” but I don’t care. It is my opinion based on science, and I’m sticking to it.

The problem with naturopathy, of course, is that it is so diffuse and encompasses so many different forms of quackery that it’s hard to categorize. Basically, it’s anything that can be portrayed as “natural,” be it traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy (which is an integral component of naturopathy, something that should tell you all you need to know about naturopathy), herbalism, energy healing, Ayurvedic medicine, the four humors, or whatever. Add to that a number of bogus diagnostic modalities, such as applied kinesiology, live blood cell analysis, iridology, tests for imaginary “food allergies” and “nutrient deficiencies” that conventional medicine doesn’t recognize, plus an overwhelming emphasis on purging the body of “toxins,” unnamed and named but all unvalidated by science, and it rapidly becomes apparent that naturopathy is a veritable cornucopia of pseudoscience and quackery. Seemingly, there is no quackery that naturopathy does not credulously embrace, which is why the success of recent efforts of naturopaths to achieve licensure in several states and even obtain limited privileges to prescribe real pharmaceutical drugs is so alarming, as are their efforts to become recognized as primary care providers under the Affordable Care Act. Basically, naturopathy is a hodge-podge of quackery mixed with science-based modalities magically “rebranded” as “alternative” and “natural.” In that, naturopathy is the ultimate in “integrative medicine,” in which quackery is “integrated” with science-based medicine. As I’ve pointed out many times before, integrating quackery and pseudoscience with real medicine does not elevate the quackery and pseudoscience, but it does contaminate the real medicine with quackery to no good benefit. Unfortunately, it’s insinuating itself into the law.

With that introduction in mind, did you know that the week of October 7 through 13 is Quackery Week in the U.S.? No, seriously, it is. The Senate just passed a resolution declaring that this is so. Oh, it’s true that the Senate didn’t actually call it that. Instead, the resolution (S.Res. 221) was passed, and it declares the week of October 7 to 13, 2013 to be Naturopathic Medicine Week, which is the same thing as declaring it Quackery Week:

S.Res.221 – A resolution designating the week of October 7 through October 13, 2013, as “Naturopathic Medicine Week” to recognize the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care.


Well, one out of three ain’t bad, I suppose. Naturopathy is probably affordable (most of the time, anyway), but safe and effective? Not so much. Of course, it’s just a Senate resolution, allegedly passed unanimously; so it’s not as though it has the force of law or anything, but—wouldn’t you know it?—naturopaths are going nuts over it. Indeed, I first learned of this resolution, apparently passed the evening of September 10, at that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post, in an article by a naturopath named Amy Rothenberg who blogs over there entitled “U.S. Senate Passes Resolution for Naturopathic Medicine Week“. Rothenberg, apparently, is President of the Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors and a Board member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Hilariously, she edited a journal entitled the New England Journal of Homeopathy. I guess it’s just like the New England Journal of Medicine, only without all that pesky science. So this isn’t just any naturopath; it’s a naturopath who is pretty high up on the naturopathic food chain, maybe not as high as the president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), but pretty high up nonetheless. Not surprisingly, Rothenberg is elated:

On Sept. 10, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution designating Oct. 7 – Oct. 13 Naturopathic Medicine Week. The resolution recognizes the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care and encourages Americans to learn about the role of naturopathic physicians in preventing chronic and debilitating conditions.

According to Jud Richland, the American Association of Naturopathic Physician’s CEO:

Passage of this resolution is an historic achievement for naturopathic medicine. The Congress has now officially recognized the important role naturopathic medicine plays in effectively addressing the nation’s health care needs as well as in addressing the increasingly severe shortage of primary care physicians.

Yes, this is the propaganda line that naturopaths like to promote, that they are actually qualified to help address the shortage of primary care physicians by stepping in and—I kid you not—functioning as primary care providers. (Indeed, Amy Rothenberg did just that on HuffPo several months ago.) It’s utter nonsense, of course, as Peter Lipson helped to demonstrate with his Primary Care Challenge directed primarily at naturopaths. The bottom line is, for all their claims of scientific training, naturopaths are taught a system that includes vitalism, the four humors, and homeopathy as bedrock principles. They base a lot of what they do on prescientific belief systems gussied up with “science-y” sounding justifications. For example, Rothenberg herself uses what I like to refer to as “The One Quackery To Rule Them All” (homeopathy) and even advocates using it for autism.

When I first learned of this Senate Resolution, I was curious who was responsible for it. It turns out that it was Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) who sponsored it. No other sponsors are listed. A House Resolution with the same text was apparently introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, but it doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere. Sen. Mikulski, as we’ve seen before, is tightly associated with the Godfather of Woo in the Senate, the man most responsible for the creation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). Back when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, she teamed up with Harkin to insert provisions into the law that could be used to justify reimbursing CAM practitioners under the ACA. She also co-chaired a meeting with Harkin at the Institute of Medicine to discuss (in actuality, to promote) “integrative medicine.” Unfortunately, even though Harkin will not run for re-election in 2014, thus eliminating the Senate’s foremost champion of quackery after 2014, Mikulski is still there, chairing the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. Indeed, once Harkin has retired, it is likely that Mikulski will take over Harkin’s role as the most powerful defender of quackery in the Senate. After all, here she is with that founding father of quackademic medicine, Dr. Brian Berman, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine:

She’s even appeared on Dr. Oz’s radio show to help him promote integrative medicine as the solution to everything that ills American medicine.

But back to Brian Berman. You remember Brian Berman, don’t you? If you don’t just type his name into the search box for this blog and read away! He is one of the foremost practitioners of quackademic medicine in the United States today and on the advisory council for the NCCAM. Clearly, he is tight with Mikulski, and, no doubt, will work with her to defend NCCAM against any attempts to defund it or make it more scientifically rigorous than its current director, Dr. Josephine Briggs, has tried. As Sen. Mikulski said at the 20th anniversary of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine:

“If we can change healthcare, we can change the world.” During her remarks, Senator Mikulski praised the Center for Integrative Medicine for advancing an understanding of complementary medicine in the United States and its pioneering research initiatives. Senator Mikulski has been a champion for the Affordable Health Care Act, which emphasizes disease prevention, health promotion, and wellness, which are the primary goals in integrative medicine. She also reminisced about first meeting Dr. Brian Berman, the Center’s founder and director, and being impressed with his initiatives and goals to create a healthier world through integrative practices.

“If we can change medicine, we can change the world”? No doubt, but that’s not a good thing when “changing medicine” means diluting scientific medicine with quackery the way homeopaths dilute their remedies with water. Yet those are the changes Mikulski is working towards.

Returning to S.Res.211, however, it’s easy for those of us who recognize what naturopathy is to say that this resolution is a meaningless thing, a resolution introduced by a woo-loving Senator and passed on voice vote, almost certainly with little or no serious consideration. Most Senators don’t even bother to read carefully, much less look into, such resolutions, and it doesn’t have the force of law. Even so, it’s still a problem. You can be sure that naturopaths are going to be promoting it relentlessly between now and October 7. So I had an idea. It’s an idea I had a long time ago for Homeopathy Awareness Week. Basically, I think it would be a great idea for skeptics to make October 7 Naturopathy Awareness Week and make it a point to blog about naturopathy as much as possible. If the Senate wants to endorse quackery by passing a resolution declaring a week devoted to that quackery, I think it behooves us to make sure that as many people as possible know the true nature of naturopathy. It isn’t science-based, nor is it necessarily even particularly “natural.” It’s a hodge-podge of nearly every woo under the sun, much of it based on prescientific vitalism and humoral theory. Helping to let the world know that could be a time to do good and have fun at the same time.

Posted in: Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Science and the Media

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