"If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse."
When stories arise about foreign governments decreeing the existence of magic, the Western world generally looks outward with awe and mockery. A recent article in The Atlantic titled "Saudi Arabia's War on Witchcraft" lambasted the theocratic regime's archaic treatment of witches, wizards and woo-warriors of all variants. Of course the injustice of abusing and at times killing these harmless men and women for their alleged metaphysical endeavors is the preeminent concern, but what is the origin of this barbarism? It all stems from the belief in magic; that the metaphysical has a tangible relationship with the physical. Worse yet, it stems from a formal government acknowledgment that magic is real.
Since 1991 the US government has found it so prudent to investigate mystic quackery that it has been doling out well over $100 million annually for the maintenance of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). This organization takes our money and applies it to the pseudo-scientific study of such woo as homeopathy, prayer therapy, ayurveda, and the ever popular acupuncture. After over two decades of operation, and not a single peer-reviewed study demonstrating the viability of magical medicine, the US government has still not put a tourniquet on this gushing waste of funds. In fact, these programs are alive and well, and have even gained ground in our military.
The U.S. Army's MEDCOM Pain Management Initiative is one such program. This program deviates from its self proscribed mission which in part reads to "build a full spectrum of best practices for the continuum of acute and chronic pain, based on a foundation of best available evidence" (emphasis mine) by advocating for the incorporation of alternative medicine into treatment plans for our soldiers. The best available evidence shows that any endeavor in alternative medicine is a laborious trip to nowhere.
The most common quack treatment being promulgated is acupuncture. Although acupuncture has earned its place in our culture as a widely accepted mystic medicine, the simple truth is that acupuncture is not founded on any scientific principles and has no measurable positive effect beyond a placebo.
Acupuncture is not the limit of the Department of Defense's (DoD) fascination with woo. In 2010 the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) opened, and shortly thereafter the responsibility of its funding was assumed by the DoD. The following excerpts from an article published last year demonstrate just where our tax payer money has been going:
...the bottom line for the military is to identify safe and effective treatments that can be implemented on a widespread basis within the current military infrastructure. There is a pragmatism and opennes that allows, in some cases, for using methods or treatments that will help get the "mission accomplished" so long as they are not harmful to the patient. This includes modalities such as acupuncture, yoga, homeopathy, and mind-body techniques.
...Results of this feasibility study, the first to test the use of acupuncture for injured troops in transit, showed that the acupuncture procedure did not interfere with the normal evacuation process, may benefit some service members to augment current pain treatment during flights, and justifies that further research is warranted. (emphasis mine)
The Institute's researchers were not able to demonstrate these biological effects...but what was more interesting about this project was the emergence of a "social management" process for doing research in controversial areas, bringing together investigators who come in with biases on both sides of the issue. This was the first time a conflict management process was used in science to test a hypothesis.To put that all together, our military is funding the study of mystic quackery such as "acupuncture, yoga, homeopathy, and mind-body techniques" even after decades of research "were not able to demonstrate...biological effects" and are justifying this expense by stating that such treatments "are not harmful to the patient," "may benefit some service members" (as much as placebos), and "doing research in controversial areas" is good practice for "social management."
When our government endorses sale of drugs which have been proven ineffective, alarms are raised. So far, these mystic programs have been able to evade such scrutiny. Their exclusive contributions of waste and mass delusion do not deserve the support of our secular government.
**Disclaimer: This work is entirely my own and is in no way reflective of any position of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation**