Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time to take the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) to task again

I've blogged many times about the AMSA and its promotion of quackery in medical education. I did so with the thought that the best way I could fight quackademic medicine was to expose it. The extreme woo promoted by AMSA made great fodder for ridicule with little elaboration or work required on my part. It pretty well spoke for itself. I gave it a rest a year or so ago though because I thought I had covered most everything and, after they redesigned their web site the woo became much harder to find. They've either toned it down or buried it deep, deep within their site, I thought. Whatever the case I even wondered if I deserved a little credit for AMSA's woo assuming a lower profile.

After reading Orac's recent update and doing a little digging of my own it turns out that AMSA's still pushing the same old woo; they've just adopted a smoother approach and made it a little more palatable. I thought this would be a good time to post my own update.

First a look at Orac's post. It was prompted by AMSA's upcoming International Integrative Medicine Day (the link is from last year's event). Here's a sample from this year's event:

During the Happy Hour, clinical services to be offered include: Acupuncture, Massage, Chiropractic, Energy Healing, and more.
Classes from 4:15 - 11PM include Ambient Music, Yoga, Meditation and Qi Gong, Community Drumming for Wellness, and Salsa Class & Dancing.

This page documents AMSA's role as a partner in the event, alongside a virtual parade of stars of woo.

Now for a recap on some of the material I've posted before and what I dug up today. It seems that the promotion of woo on the AMSA web site is organized around four campaigns: ICAM, EDCAM, HUMED (I'll explain about those three in a moment) and, more recently, a strong and rising interest in naturopathic medicine.

ICAM stands for AMSA's initiative for integrative, complementary and alternative medicine. In its present form it's basically a repository for various woo promoting documents and links. There you'll find, for example, the CAM Pocket Handbook. It contains promotional, credulous statements about acupuncture, Ayurvedic Medicine and, yes, that woo of all woo, homeopathy, describing it as “very cost effective over the long term.” Polarity therapy, Reiki, reflexology get similar credulous treatment.

HUMED stands for humanistic medicine. The old HUMED page redirects here. A current focus seems to be student wellness and self care but again, it's another repository of woo. For example, there's the Complementary Therapies Primer which contains the same old woo, including a particularly non-critical view of reflexology, along with several types of woo I had never heard of. It also claims that large doses of vitamin E are useful in Parkinson's disease. You'll also find the claim that fasting eliminates pesticides and other toxins from the body. Finally, it says chelation therapy (no, I'm not making this up) is beneficial for arthritis, scleroderma, lupus and spider bites.

EDCAM, which stands for Educational Development for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is a completed project in which the AMSA Foundation, with funding from the NIH and the NCCAM, introduced and developed CAM, including a lot of woo, in the curricula of 14 medical schools. In an article published in the journal Academic Medicine (which none of the aforementioned organizations will likely want you to read) reviewers from Baylor found the teaching material to be devoid of supporting evidence and concluded:

By tolerating this situation, health professions schools are not meeting their educational and ethical obligations to learners, patients, or society.

I blogged about the whole thing here.

Finally there's the Naturopathic Medicine page, which says that the AMSA aims for collaboration with naturopathic medical students. This page has lots of dubious links and a recommended reading list of promotional material for all sorts of woo. I won't go to the trouble of fisking it here. This post is getting long and the list speaks for itself.

In my blogging career I've gotten into many discussions about the rise of quackademic medicine. A common theme is speculation as to why, and it seems inscrutably hard to determine for some. Sure, the money behind it is one element. But after following quackademic medicine closely for several years (although it was a few years later that I coined the term, my first post about it was here) I am of the opinion that the AMSA has been a major driver, perhaps the major driver of this trend.

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