From the Editors

White House Commission Stacked Against Science

On March 8 of this year, President Clinton announced the creation of a White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. Executive Order 13147 called for no more than 15 members of a commission that “shall provide a report, through the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to the President on legislative and administrative recommendations for assuring that public policy maximizes the benefits to Americans of complementary and alternative medicine.” Mr. Clinton subsequently appointed a chairman and 13 other members of the commission and, as of September 15, amended the original order to allow up to 20 members. None of the members yet named is known for skepticism where “alternative” medicine is concerned. Indeed, the overwhelming majority have been conspicuous proponents of anomalous medical methods. The activities of the commission’s chair, James S. Gordon, MD, bear particular scrutiny.

Dr. Gordon is a Georgetown University psychiatrist who has said that he found “a whole other system of medicine operating under completely different laws” in the 1960s when he began studying traditional Chinese medicine. Then, while receiving his training in psychiatry, Dr. Gordon says he decided that schizophrenia and other disorders “did not seem like diseases to me … [but] instead like different ways of being.” He also has several publications praising the ideas of radical British psychiatrist R. D. Laing, whose “Insanity is Sanity” philosophy achieved great popularity in the 1960s drug counterculture. Dr. Gordon appears to have become enamored of these ideas at the very time that Kingsley Hall, Laing’s “therapeutic community” in which the mentally ill and their therapists lived together and among other things-indulged in LSD, was forced to close. Laing himself went on to become involved in “Primal Scream” and “rebirthing psychodrama.” 

Dr. Gordon was once a follower of the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the Indian mystic who amassed wealth and influence enough to take over the small town of Antelope, Oregon, in the 1980s, before being deported under a cloud of fraud and threats against followers. Gordon subsequently wrote a sympathetic book about the cult, The Golden Guru, and has published other materials on the psychiatry of cults. 

In recent years, Dr. Gordon has been a close collaborator of parapsychologists and Jungian mystics within the Transpersonal Psychology movement. He has become a leading advocate of alien abduction therapy and research, serving on the Scientific Advisory Board of Harvard psychiatrist John Mack’s Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (PEER). PEER was established by Mack explicitly to research alien abductions as real phenomena. 

Dr. Gordon has also involved himself in the Oklahoma bombing trial of Terry Nichols. As a psychiatrist for the defense, he submitted a letter to the court stating that Nichols was not violent and should not receive a long prison term. 

Dr. Gordon is a fellow of the Fetzer Institute, which funded the misrepresented 1993 report by David Eisenberg and others that claimed that one-third of Americans were using “alternative” methods. One of Gordon’s many books, Manifesto for a New Medicine, is in the millenarian genre of others that predict the transformation of medical care along New Age lines. 

Dr. Gordon has previous experience as a presidential advisor, having directed a nationwide study of alternative mental health services for President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health in the 1970s. 

Other members of the White House Commission include: 

  • Wayne Jonas, MD, a homeopath and former director of the Office of Alternative Medicine cum National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which Congress foisted on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in response to industry lobbying. Jonas has repeatedly demonstrated hostility toward any and all criticism of “alternative” medicine. Most recently he has written that Bayes’ Theorem constitutes a form of impermissible scientific “bias.” 
  • George De Vries, who runs at least three different companies. American Specialty Health and Wellness sells supplements over the Internet. American Specialty Health Plans and American Specialty Networks “provide chiropractic and acupuncture managed-care services.” Guidelines for this undertaking are not clearly defined. De Vries’s mission seems to be getting employers and insurance companies, as well as ordinary people, to pay for unproven methods. 
  • Sister Charlotte Rose Kerr, an acupuncturist who is said to “integrate” theology-Catholicism presumably-into her methods. 
  • Tieraona Low Dog, MD, who practices “herbal medicine” in New Mexico and lectures physicians and medical students on how to do the same. 
  • Dean Ornish, MD, who has earned some respect for his work on the dietary management of atherosclerosis. But like his predecessor, Nathan Pritikin, Ornish’s recommendations are not suitable for most people and his work is bypassed by recent advances in pharmaceutical management. Like the commission’s chair, Ornish got his start from an Indian guru. In this case it was Sri Swami Satchidananda, with whom he became involved in 1972 after dropping out of Rice University in a state of suicidal depression. It was during this time that he seems to have formed his opinions about the efficacy of dietary changes. 
  • Thomas Chappell, who runs a supplement company in Maine as well as a management consulting firm in Colorado. He and his companies are also said to be involved in the “animal rights” movement. 
  • Effie Poy Yew Chow, an acupuncturist and “Qigong Grandmaster.” “Qi,” of course, is the traditional Chinese counterpart to psychic “life energy,” the “flow” of which is said to be modified by acupuncture. She has claimed to cure illness and boost the psychic powers of individuals by transmitting “qi” to them by telephone. She demonstrates her powers to medical students using simple parlor tricks such as muscle testing. 
  • William Fair, MD, who claims that dietary measures can treat prostate cancer. He and Dr. Ornish have NIH grants to study dietary effects. 

The other appointees consist of three obscure physician-advocates of unscientific methods, a medical ethicist, a health administrator for a Native American group, and a former official of the Children’s Defense Fund-which, by coincidence, is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s favorite “charity.” How these particular people were nominated or chosen for this commission is uncertain, but the situation is consistent with the secrecy and exclusivity of the administration’s stealth support of “alternative” medicine. Clearly, the composition of this commission is not conducive to providing sound advice to the president concerning questionable and unproven claims and those who make them. It seems unlikely that it is intended to be.