Philosophical Society of Washington

When Congress Writes the Prescription: Voodoo Medicine at the National Institutes of Health

Robert L. Park
Professor, University of Maryland; Director of Public Information, American Physical Society

2061st Meeting Abstract
Friday, September 06, 1996 at 8:15 PM


Protection of an unsophisticated public from medical quackery was once considered an important responsibility of government. But in 1992 Congress mandated creation of an office of alternative medicine in the National Institutes of Health. This office has contributed to a surge of credulous media coverage for “alternative” therapies ranging from relaxation training and megavitamin regimes to aroma therapy, homeopathy, and faith healing. Americans are currently spending about $14 billion per year on therapies that are nothing more than ancient superstitions dressed up in new-age techno-babble. It is sufficient in most cases to show that the claims of alternative medicine violate accepted laws of physics.

About the Author:

Robert Parks is professor of physics at the University of Maryland. The Korean War interrupted his preparation at the University of Texas for a career in law, and the Air Force decided to make him an electronics officer. After the war he decided the Air Force was onto something, and he entered the physics program at Brown University, where he studied with Harry Farnsworth, specializing in surface physics and earning a doctor of philosophy degree in 1964. After a stint with Sandia Laboratories, he became professor of physics and director of the center for materials research at the University of Maryland and rose to chairman of the department of physics and astronomy in 1978. Now he divides his time between the American Physical Society and the University of Maryland. He writes What's New, a weekly electronic commentary on science policy.

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