A recent post of mine started an interesting discussion about the research of the NCCIH. Richard Rasker made the following comment:

The NCCIH was initially established as the Office for Alternative Medicine (OAM) for mostly the same reason that Edzard’s department at Exeter was founded, i.e. to study alternative modalities, and determine once and for all which ones were effective and which ones weren’t. Unfortunately, OAM and its subsequent incarnations were taken over by SCAM proponents almost right away, with its core mission changed into validating (NOT ‘studying’) SCAM modalities – a small but crucial difference that will all but guarantee that even long-obsolete and totally ineffective quackery will continue to be ‘researched’ and promoted.

So what’s the score now, after more than 30 years and well over 4 billion dollars in taxpayers’ money? How many SCAM modalities have they managed to ‘validate’, i.e. definitively proven to be effective? The answer is: none, for all intents and purposes. Even their research into herbal medicine – one of the most effective (or should I say: least ineffective) SCAMs out there – is best described as woefully lacking. Their list of herbs and plants names just 55 species of plants, and the individual descriptions are mostly to the tune of ‘a lot of research was done, but we can’t say anything definite’.

I think I can contribute meaningfully to this important comment and topic. Several years ago, my Exeter team – together with several other researches – systematically reviewed the NCCIH (formerly NCCAM)-sponsored clinical trials. Specifically, we focussed on 4 different subject areas. Here are the conclusions of our articles reporting the findings:


Seven RCTs had a low risk of bias. Numerous methodological shortcomings were identified. Many NCCAM-funded RCTs of acupuncture have important limitations. These findings might improve future studies of acupuncture and could be considered in the ongoing debate regarding NCCAM-funding. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 17(1) March 2012 15–21]


This independent assessment revealed a plethora of serious concerns related to NCCAM studies of herbal medicine. [Perfusion 2011; 24: 89-102]


In conclusion, the NCCAM-funded RCTs of energy medicine are prime examples of misguided investments into research. In our opinion, NCCAM should not be funding poor-quality studies of implausible practices. The impact of any future studies of energy medicine would be negligible or even detrimental. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 16(2) June 2011 106–109 ]


In conclusion, our review demonstrates that several RCTs of chiropractic have been funded by the NCCAM. It raises numerous concerns in relation to these studies; in particular, it suggests that many of these studies are seriously flawed. []

The overall conclusion that comes to my mind is this:

The NCCIH has managed to spend more money on SCAM research than any other institution in the world (in the 20 years that I ran the Exeter research unit, we spent around £2 million in total). The NCCIH has wasted precious funds on plenty of dubious studies; arguably, this is unethical. It has misappropriated its role from testing to validating SCAMs. And it has validated none.


As some of the above-cited papers are not easily accessible, I offer to send copies to interested individuals on request.

6 Responses to The NCCIH (formerly NCCAM, formerly OAM) has proven to be a monumental, unethical waste of money

  • I think we should go a step further: Find and localize those, who are responsible for the frauds.

    There are some persons, who appear quite often. They are members of whatever networks, and they manoeuvre again and again near to the money pots.

    Look for instance at this:

    “WARNUNG VOR DEM SAMUELI-INSTITUT! Militärforschung an der Viadrina?”
    “Integrative Healthcare for the Military: A Samueli Institute/Department of Defense Partnership”

    Follow the money…

  • Some US senators enabled some frauds. Some of them are from Germany. It is a pity, but I must not give their names…

  • Sure. But the important detail is HOW to do that. This is very complicated due to legal problems. The laws in Germany are quite different to those in the USA. Americans have an advantage in uncovering facts.

  • The whole thing was cooked up by Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa who believed that his brother (who was disables and also the inspiration for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was cured of something with herbs or bee pollen or whatever. He also thought some health problem of his own was helped by the same. He was very angry after a few years that nothing had been validated and accused the NCCAM of not using their money properly. He was a good man but terribly ill-informed about how science and evidence work.

    The other Senator involved in all this was Orrin Hatch from Utah who stands firmly behind the protection of his state’s billion dollar supplement industry. He too is rich in science-by-testimonial.

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