Critics want to shut down NIH center for alternative medicine

As federal bureaucrats and legislators debate methods for reforming the healthcare system, a once-untouchable institution seems to have suddenly ended up in jeopardy.

The NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine sponsors study of several alternative treatment methods, including homeopathy, acupuncture, therapeutic touch and herbal medicine. It was created 17 years ago, sparked by an idea from a U.S. Senator who'd recently become a believer in such therapies.

The center, which has a comparatively modest budget of $122 million this year, is not the only NIH organization doing research on these therapies. For example, the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine also has a $122 million per year budget. That's out of an NIH total budget of about $29 billion. Still, this center seems to catch most of the flack.

Critics of the center have dubbed its work "pseudoscience" and suggested that its budget could be better spent elsewhere. They argue that many such therapies have shown little or no effect, and that those that seem to work, such as relaxation and yoga, can be studied elsewhere within NIH.

To learn more about the dispute:
- read this piece from The Washington Post