Sunday, March 08, 2015

Shadow of a Doubt - March 2015

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics

  • Mar 14 NCAS Lecture: How diet and physical activity dynamically interact to affect human body weight by Kevin D. Hall, PhD biophysicist, National Institutes of Health
  • April NCAS Lecture at Bethesda
  • CityLab Article Features NCAS SkepTour Map
  • Torn From Today's Headlines, By Scott Snell Tom Harkin, "Father" and Patron of National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Leaves Senate
  • NCAS Board Elections: Call for Candidates
  • AmazonSmile
  • Shadow Light
  • Mar 11 Drinking Skeptically in MD and  VA (New Start Time!)
  • Time to Renew

NCAS Public Lecture Series

The Calculus of Calories
Quantitative Obesity Research

Kevin Hall, PhD
Senior Investigator, Laboratory of Biological Modeling
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease

Saturday, March 14, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA [map] [directions]
(Ballston-Marymount University Metro stop)
Enter NSF from the corner of 9th N & N Stuart Streets.
FREE admission. Everyone welcome, members and non-members

In this talk, Dr. Hall will describe a mathematical approach to understanding the causes and treatment of obesity. Along the way, he will debunk many weight loss myths and introduce useful tools to better understand the relationships between diet, physical activity, and body weight.

Dr. Kevin Hall is a Senior Investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) where he studies body weight regulation. His laboratory develops mathematical models to help design, predict, and interpret the results of clinical research studies. Dr. Hall has been the recipient of the NIH Director's Award, the NIDDK Director's Award, the Lilly Scientific Achievement Award from The Obesity Society, and the Guyton Award for Excellence in Integrative Physiology from the American Society of Physiology. His award-winning Body Weight Simulator ( has been used by more than a million people to help predict how diet and physical activity dynamically interact to affect human body weight.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

April NCAS Lecture
W. Joseph Campbell, professor at the American University School of Communication, will debunk prominent media-driven myths -- those well-known stories about and/or by the news media that are widely believed and often retold but which, under scrutiny, dissolve as apocryphal or wildly exaggerated. These myths include the hero-journalist interpretation of Watergate, the famous "Cronkite Moment" of 1968, and the myth of superlative reporting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Saturday, April 4 at 1:30 pm at Bethesda Library. [map] [directions]
    Note that this is the first, not the usual second, Saturday of the month.

CityLab Article Features NCAS SkepTour Map
A February 6 article in CityLab (an Atlantic Media site covering city life and other urban topics) features the NCAS SkepTour* map of the DC area, an ongoing crowd-sourced field guide of places with scientific, pseudo-scientific, and cultural significance to skeptics.

Do you have a suggested location for the map?  Send it, along with any supporting background information, to

* (Note: NCAS SkepTour is not affiliated with College of Curiosity Field Trips, formerly known as "SkepTours," a project of College of Curiosity.)

Torn From Today's Headlines
By Scott Snell
Tom Harkin, "Father" and Patron of National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Leaves Senate
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) departed the US Senate when his fifth term ended on January 3, 2015.  In his capacity as long-time chairman or ranking member of the "Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee" of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Harkin was able to obtain funding to establish the NIH's Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) in 1991 and provide increasing budgets for it in the years to come.  By 1998, the OAM was elevated to an NIH center: the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), now the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).  That same year, NIH's National Cancer Institute (NCI) established its Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM).  Though apparently not created by Congress (OCCAM was established because "NCI itself recognized the need," said Wendy Smith, OCCAM program director, in 2002), Harkin's leadership role on the overseeing appropriations subcommittee assured OCCAM its steady funding as well.  (OCCAM's budget is typically comparable to NCCIH's, currently averaging about $120 million per year, though all CAM funding across NIH institutes and centers totals about $500 million annually.)

Harkin was also influential in development of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP), established by President Bill Clinton in March 2000.  (CAM critics charged that nearly all of the commissioners had philosophical and economic involvement with the CAM movement, constructed the final report on false premises about CAM, and prescribed unjustifiable policies in support of CAM integration in federal programs, medical schools, and the US educational system.)

Though unwaveringly supportive of NCCIH funding, Harkin eventually concluded that the center had "fallen short" in its mission.  During his opening remarks at a 2009 Senate committee hearing on "Integrative Care: A Pathway to a Healthier Nation," Harkin publicly expressed his disappointment, and at the same time demonstrated his ignorance of the scientific method:

"Now, again, I must say that one of the purposes--when we drafted that legislation back in 1992 and continuing in 1998-- of this center [NCCIH] was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly it has fallen short. The focus--I think, quite frankly, in this center and previously the office before it--most of its focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things." [emphasis added]

David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS, managing editor of the blog Science-Based Medicine and a critic of CAM, has called for NCCIH to be "defunded and dismantled, allowing CAM grant applications to be evaluated by the most appropriate [NIH] center."  Now that NCCIH's staunchest ally has departed from its Senate appropriations subcommittee, is the way clear for doing so?

No, says Gorski: "With Sen. Harkin retired, NCCIH might have lost one of its greatest champions and the man who was, more than any other legislator, responsible for its existence. Unfortunately, federal bureaucracies being as difficult to eliminate as they are, coupled with remaining support for dubious medicine in Congress, I am not optimistic that NCCIH will ever be dismantled and its component parts (and funding) absorbed by the appropriate institutes and centers of the NIH."

Moreover, Gorski and Steven Salzberg, PhD (Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University, and recipient of the 2014 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award for outstanding contributions in critical thinking and scientific understanding) concur that NCCIH still has at least one other staunch ally remaining on the Senate subcommittee: Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).  Salzberg said, "I wish I could say that Sen. Mikulski might be sympathetic to closing NCCIH, but she held a hearing with Harkin a few years ago [the aforementioned 2009 "Integrative Care" hearing] that was just the opposite - basically they were promoting [NCCIH] together."  She's also known for her strong support of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine and her annual sponsorship of Senate resolutions declaring "Naturopathic Medicine Week."

Author's comment:
Senator Mikulski's final term will end in January 2017.  Though she retains her membership on the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Harkin is no longer there as chairman or ranking member.  Conceivably the current chairman and other members are more receptive to science-based arguments against NCCIH.  Concerned citizens, especially those residing in states represented on the committee, can helpfully write their senator to urge the best use of NIH research funding.  On this point, Salzberg said, "We should use [NCCIH] funding for real research - NIH needs every dime."

Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee members (114th Congress):

Watch Gorski and Salzberg CAM lectures on the NCAS YouTube channel:

Quackademic Medicine - David H. Gorski, MD:

How Alternative Medicine Has Infiltrated U.S. Medical Schools - Steven Salzberg, PhD:

NCCIH Funding: Appropriations History:

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Funding by NIH Institute/Center:

NCI CAM Expenditures FY 2003–2011:

National Council Against Health Fraud
Position Statement on White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

Chicago Tribune article on NCCIH:

Funding for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medical Approaches (NIH):

Transcript of testimony before the Committee On Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions:
"Integrative Care: A Pathway to a Healthier Nation," 2009-02-26

Senator Mikulski and CAM:

NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
The upcoming 2015 NCAS election will use electronic voting.  When voting begins, each member will receive an email from NCAS ( containing a unique web address usable as a single-cast secret ballot.  (NCAS will receive information indicating who voted, but nothing to indicate who cast each ballot.)

Note that voters will not be at risk for spamming as a result of participating...SurveyMonkey has a zero-tolerance spam policy:

In October 2013, Amazon launched the AmazonSmile Foundation, which allows customers to support their favorite charitable organizations when shopping at, at no added cost.  The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the customer's designated 501(c)(3) public charitable organization. NCAS has registered as a participating organization.

For more information:

Shadow Light
Some members and contacts of NCAS receive a postal notification of this and every new monthly Shadow of a Doubt.  The Shadow Light postcard announces the monthly lecture and highlights of the electronic Shadow of a Doubt, which is available online at NCAS thereby reduces Shadow production and postage costs. To further reduce costs, members and contacts can opt out of postal notification altogether, while continuing to receive Shadow of a Doubt via e-mail. To opt out, send us an e-mail at

Drinking Skeptically in MD and  VA (New Start Time)!

On Wednesday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m., please join fellow NCASers at either of our simultaneous DC-area Drinking Skeptically events:
Drinking Skeptically Bottle
                          Cap LogoJackie's Sidebar
8081 Georgia Avenue (entrance on Sligo Avenue) in Silver Spring, MD

The Front Page Arlington
 Rear patio / National Science Foundation atrium
 4201 Wilson Blvd in Arlington, VA
                                across from Ballston Common Mall
                                (703) 248-9990

The most recent Washingtonian magazine list of the best DC-area bars (2013) includes Jackie's Sidebar: "Insider tip: Sop up the spirits with some of the best bar snacks around. We love the Chicago-style dog and grilled-seaweed-sprinkled popcorn."

Drinking Skeptically is an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, and like-minded individuals. There's no cover charge and all are welcome. Don't drink? Don't let that stop you from joining us! Some of the world's most famous skeptics are teetotalers, and we are happy to have you! Remember that drinking skeptically means drinking responsibly. If there's one thing science has taught us, it's the effects of alcohol on the human body.

Time to Renew?
Be sure to check your renewal date above your postal address on the Shadow Light postcard. Send any queries to  Use the online membership form to renew.