Consumer Health Digest #10-42

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 21, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

New international group evaluates offbeat ALS approaches. ALSUntangled which has more than 90 experts in its worldwide network, was formed last year to use social networking to bring patients, clinicians, and scientists together for investigation of alternative or off-label treatments for for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). The group is led by Richard Bedlack, MD, PhD, director of Duke University Hospital's ALS Clinic in Durham, North Carolina. Its first report evaluated claims made about a drug called Iplex. The other five published so far concern treatment facilities:

The investigators found no evidence to support the use of the above approaches. Nineteen more investigations have been opened.

UK Group formed to challenge "CAM" misinformation. A new force to counter misleading health claims has been launched by Simon Singh, Alan Henness, and Maria MacLachlan. Its formation was inspired by the impact of complaints made by Henness and others about misleading claims on chiropractic Web sites. The Nightingale Collaboration intends to challenge misleading claims and pressure organizations that represent "complementary" and "alternative" practitioners to have robust codes of conduct that are rigorously enforced. The collaboration is seeking volunteers who can gather relevant misinformation, coordinate local campaigns, and submit complaints to the appropriate regulatory bodies.

U.S. higher education accreditation system called "broken." The Center for College Affordability and Productivity has published a detailed analysis of the role that accreditation has played in American higher education. Its 60-page report—The Inmates running the asylum? An analysis of higher education accreditation—describes how accreditation's original purpose (helping schools improve) worked well for several decades but government funding has irrevocably corrupted it. The report concludes:

Our current system of higher education accreditation is broken. The system is mired in secrecy, delivers imprecise and largely unhelpful information, is clouded by possible currents of self-interest, restricts entrepreneurial initiative, is often costly to administer when all costs are considered, and is not sufficiently outcomes based. It does a poor job of conveying important information to those funding it, including the customers themselves (students) as well as major donors (governments, private philanthropists). Its relevance as a quality control and enhancement device is at best marginal. The complete elimination of accreditation is probably not possible or even desirable. For example, someone has to prevent government monies from funding completely fraudulent diploma mills. But this study outlines a series of different approaches to introducing a new system. One approach is clearly rejected: consolidating all accreditation into one government agency. This strikes us as a dangerous and unwise reform, excessively concentrating power and potentially endangering some of the historical strengths that accompany a decentralized higher education system. However, even without radical restructuring of the accrediting agencies themselves, new approaches to the accreditation process could give consumers more practical information on the strengths and weaknesses of institutions (not merely a binary “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” assessment), utilize new methods of ascertaining academic performance (e.g., national standardized tests), and be ultimately governed by persons far removed from those being accredited.

The report is relevant to consumer health because the current system permits schools to promote health care approaches that are not science-based.

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This page was posted on October 22, 2010.