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— updated 2011-11-12

Herbalist Review, Issue 2011 #2: Trends that will affect the practice of TCM herbology over the next 10 years — the Internet Revolution, the College Bubble, Chinese adulteration scandals, regulatory wars

by Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.

with ideas contributed by C.S. Cheung, M.D. (founding president of American College of TCM)

Here we explore several major crises that will inevitably affect the TCM herbal profession, as well as other sectors of our economy: the Internet Revolution and the disintegration of hierarchies and bureaucracies worldwide, the educational bubble, Chinese adulteration scandals, EU regulatory crackdown on herbal products. Solutions and recommendations for individuals: alternatives to college.

Subtopics on this page…

Copyright ©2011 by RMH-Publications Trust; all rights reserved.


Preface — some blunt words

I'll get right to the point. No academic windbaggery here. If you want footnotes and references, there are plenty of those at the end of this article. This article challenges assumptions that many of us have been indoctrinated to believe since childhood:

  1. If you want to get ahead in the world, you have to go to college.
  2. Officially recognized authorities are the best source of information about their respective areas of expertise.
  3. Scientists are the best source of objective, unbiased information about matters of health.
  4. Government regulators are working to protect and serve the public, and if they mess up occasionally, it's only because they don't have all the facts.

When I was a child, I believed every single one of these assumptions, because that's what I was taught in school. Possibly what spared me from perpetual ignorance was my mother, a blunt-spoken farmer's wife who had grown up skeptical of everyone: her pastor (we were Lutherans), her doctors, and her teachers. My TV viewing time was strictly limited so as to spare my tender mind from overload with "absurd and vicious nonsense". At the age of 20 when I mentioned to her I was considering applying to medical school, here is her reply to me: "How could you consider throwing away your life on such nonsense? You know very well that doctors are nothing more than glorified pill pushers." At times, my eccentric and very independent-minded mother embarrassed me in front of my childhood friends, most of whom were more conventionally bred.

After I entered college, my mother's words echoed within my head with continually greater urgency. I heeded her advice to avoid medical school; instead, I pursued a course of graduate study in biomedical engineering and physiology on the rationale that scientists (not doctors, who had long since succumbed to influence by evil pharmaceutical corporations) were the most reliable sources of information about matters of health.

I'm now 57 years old. I no longer believe any of these four assumptions. In the remainder of this article, I explain why. Some of the smartest people I know, and whose advice I rely upon today, never attended college or dropped out because they were bored and offended by the barrage of officious hypocrisy emanating from institutions of "higher" learning. I've witnessed too many instances of government bureaucracies run amok, situations in which government regulatory agencies have had reams of documented evidence of problems shoved under their noses with either no response or categorical denial — if bureaucracies were real people, this behavior would merit a psychological diagnosis of sociopathic personality disorder, for which a key symptom is a propensity to lie, cheat, and commit fraud without shame or remorse. And, finally, the last straw for me, scientists have demonstrated time and again how many of them have become intellectual whores, willing to sell to the highest corporate bidder. While individual scientists, government officials, and physicians may have attempted to buck the trend toward increasing corruption and mercantilism, at least until the year 2000, these brave souls had been overwhelmed by a pervasive collusion of government and corporations to manipulate institutional power for short-term profit. Meanwhile, the national infrastructure from roads and bridges to electric power networks, the educational system, and real economy deteriorated; productive activity was replaced by speculation and fraud at all levels.

During the 1970's, my college years, I aspired to become a member of the technological elite; I was told by teachers that I was "special, gifted", etc. Many years later, I stumbled onto some research that explained how even smart people can be induced to believe and to do stupid things (Milgram •[a000]•; Zimbardo •[a001 - a002]•)

  • If they are repeatedly told that they are special and gifted, and deserve to rule over others for the good of society;
  • If they are tricked into paying huge amounts of money (e.g., tuition fees) for the perceived privilege of entering a profession with high social and economic status;
  • If they must survive hazing rituals and other indignities before receiving their initiation into the elite — the delayed gratification and release from stress produces irrational euphoria and delusions of grandeur that tend to cloud good judgment.

Not that I take any scientific research at face value anymore, but this research resonated. I got the chills reading it, because it explained how I had been hornswoggled.

Introduction

For the past 25 years, TCM-style clinical herbalism has been the focus of my professional life. My original intent in learning this subject was to improve my own health. Chronic health problems, including stress, heavy metal toxicity, and musculoskeletal disorders, that failed to respond to treatments by allopathic and alternative health professionals motivated me to take charge of my own health. After sampling the cornucopia of alternative health theories and practices of the San Francisco Bay Area during the early 1980's, I was drawn to the study of traditional Chinese herbology, because it had helped me overcome health problems for which other methods had failed. Originally trained as a biomedical engineer and physiological systems modeler, I could admire its methodical obsession with patterns of symptoms and clinical signs and its wealth of insights that might prove useful in developing artificial intelligence algorithms. Meetings and many classes with two men, C.S. Cheung, MD, and Yat Ki Lai, convinced me to abandon medical research and become a traditional Chinese herbalist.

Earlier this year, Dr. Cheung visited me for a week to enjoy the chaos of springtime in Montana. Glacier lilies had erupted into full bloom in the midst of several blizzards, while local people anguished over when to begin planting their gardens. Dr. Cheung and I discussed trends in the Chinese herbal business, China politics, and the disintegration of life in America, including its educational system. We are trying to prepare ourselves and our students to survive these trends. Like Montana blizzards, to newcomers these may seem to arise out of nowhere, but experienced natives observe patterns and prepare for them.

Dr. Cheung and I are both iconoclasts. He is a lifetime scholar of Chinese medicine; I am also an avid student of history and economics. We see long-term trends unfolding and feel compelled to bust the tidy illusions and naive assumptions that many in our profession may hold. Chinese people are generally trained to be agreeable in public and will often say "yes" when they really mean "no"; one is expected to attune to subtle body movements and tone of voice to extract the true message, so as to allow all parties to save face. But Dr. Cheung can be blunt and outspoken, as can I — a low tolerance for bullshit. The urgency of the times demands no less; following is a summary of our discussion, our concerns, and our observation of trends that we see impacting the practice of herbal health care for the next decade.

Rise of networks, decline of bureaucratic hierarchies, and the role of the Internet

By now, the statement "The Internet has revolutionized the way people get and share information" seems passé. As with the introduction of the printing press, power will inevitably shift. The groups losing power can be expected to obstruct, sabotage, or subvert this shift, and groups and individuals gaining power from the new technology can be expected to embrace it. This battle has already manifested in the realm of health care, and professionals and organizations who fail to predict its consequences will become its casualties.

Fifteen years ago, most of the really useful health tips and new ideas in medicine and biology I learned first from colleagues at professional conferences and courses; other ideas I picked up from clients and even from random acquaintances on vacations. By that time I had already concluded that the mainstream media was not a reliable source of health information. Most alternative health professionals had learned by experience that if you wanted to stay current with the latest ideas, you had to develop personal networks. However, these personal networks were inevitably slow, being dependent upon telephoning individuals, traveling to conferences, or the serendipity of bumping into a colleague who just happened to mention a piece of information that you were seeking. Books, telephones, and person-to-person contacts facilitated by air travel are certainly a leap above the technology available before the printing press, but all these do not approach the effortlessness and speed of a Google search or even email discussion groups. Until the late 1990's, the most sophisticated means of searching for information involved proprietary databases developed to catalog library holdings and articles in professional journals. These databases were generally not electronically connected with each other, so that one had to travel to different locations and master different interfaces for accessing each unique database. To master the complexities of searching these library databases and catalogs, one had to acquire training as a reference librarian, or, at the very least, to master the quirks of databases for specific topics like medicine and biology.

The modern Internet is revolutionary, because, for the first time in human history, a single individual can create a written article, a video, music, or work of art and display it on a webpage for the rest of the world to view

  • At minimal expense and without leaving one's home;
  • Without the permission of any editor or publisher, thus avoiding most forms of censorship;
  • Without the permission or approval of anyone else.

Moreover, potential readers and viewers can easily find such individually published items in any number of ways, all from their home computer:

  • By performing keyword searches on search engines like Google, whose relevance and sophistication continually improves;
  • By learning about its existence from email newsletters, email discussion groups, and other forms of virtually instantaneous communication among worldwide networks of individuals who share similar interests;
  • By using Internet agents that automatically compile and display new references matching a user's interests via periodic email updates.

The attributes of this new information age have the potential to demolish power hierarchies of all types: governments, academia, professional organizations, and religions. They will become increasingly irrelevant. Why? Because the hierarchies are losing control over the information gateways. Before the Internet, hierarchies controlled most forms of information. Publishers and editors decided what was published and when. Academic and journal review committees decided whose ideas would receive attention and whose would not. Religious hierarchies decided what was orthodox or heretical. Mainstream media (TV, popular magazines, and major newspapers) trained us all in which attitudes were politically correct and spoon-fed to us the scientific theories we were expected to believe. Now people have the ability to circumvent all these hierarchies, and they are doing so in large numbers. Numerous print publications that formerly served as arbiters of public opinion, such as the New York Times, are now flirting with bankruptcy, if they have not yet already succumbed.

That establishment institutions feel threatened by the rise of the Internet is evident by their attempts to herd people into vapid substitutes, like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace — so-called "social media", which allow detailed data-mining of users' attitudes, beliefs, interests, and personal contacts with much greater precision than the diffuse network of activities constituted by email and Internet browsing. A Google search for "Facebook CIA" will reveal both speculation and documentated evidence of links between Facebook and the CIA •[a0a - a0d]•, specifically regarding funding sources. A mass awakening to the dark side of social media seems to be occurring, as Facebook has been deserted by huge numbers of users infuriated by Facebook's cavalier treatment of their privacy. Rupert Murdoch's attempts at herding people into his media empire's tool for social networking, MySpace, are currently in crash-and-burn mode for similar reasons. •[a0d, a0e]• As Anthony Wile and other Internet journalists have argued (•[a0a]• •[a0f]•), the truly revolutionary aspects of the Internet are embodied in independent Internet websites, the articles they publish, in blogs, and in email discussion groups, and the mainstream media organizations whose influence is waning have attempted to entice people away from these into "social media" as a means of regaining control over the hearts and minds of the public. If users continue to abandon Facebook and MySpace, it will be no great loss to the Internet revolution.

The Internet information revolution has a number of consequences that have and will continue to impact health care and health care education, which are outlined below.

Rote memorization as a tool of learning is obsolete; skills in evaluation and reasoning have become essential

The sheer volume of information to which we are all exposed demands new forms of self-discipline to master. One cannot possibly remember it all. Instead, the new tidal wave of information demands that we learn to be selective, to evaluate the reliability and trustworthiness of specific sources, and to judge their relevance to our own individual needs.

The principles and methods of Chinese herbology have been traditionally taught by rote memorization. At a period when books were rare and expensive, master herbalists carried encylopedic amounts of information in their heads, because that was often the only way that it could be retained for later access. In many different nations before the era of the printing press, rote memorization was considered a fundamental aspect of education. Apprenticeships were the most common means of learning a profession, and the goal of a young person aspiring to become an herbalist was to apprentice with an herbalist who had a good reputation and was effective at getting results. The master herbalist would recommend books and ideas he thought worth learning. Apprentices learned to trust the judgment of their master over time, by observing the results of this knowledge on the herbalist's clients.

With the printing press, which enabled the publication of inexpensive books in large quantities, rote memorization diminished in importance, because one could always look up specific details in reference texts. Tables of contents and keyword indexes were inventions that further diminished the need for rote memorization. Instead, a vague recollection of an idea or fact and the title of the book in which it could be found were adequate to retrieve the information on demand. However, the availability of large amounts of information in books written by authors one had never met personally required new skills in judgment and reasoning. The abstraction of books and printed literature suddenly made possible the dissemination of inflammatory and revolutionary ideas through propaganda and disinformation. If one could not look the author in the eye, observe body language, have a personal debate with him or her, and gain direct experience of personal character and integrity, then one had to learn skills of logic and reasoning to extract this information solely from details in the book and from public information about the author. Were the ideas logically consistent? Did they match or conflict with one's own personal experiences? To what degree could the known associations and political and economic interests of the author explain his or her biases?

With the Internet, we have even less need to memorize information, because it is not absolutely essential to know the identity of the book or author. The search engines have taken over this function. We do a search and, voilà, a neat list of references ranked by relevance appears by people we have likely never met and never will. Often, we have never even heard of these authors and have no prior basis to judge their character, honesty, or expertise. Anyone familiar with the extreme range of opinions available on the Internet about diet, cancer therapies, vaccinations, or health care policy should recognize that skills in evaluating the merits of specific ideas and information have become crucial.

As with many new technologies, the Internet is disruptive to people's lives, and it demands that we adapt and change to accommodate it. Yet schools of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) seem to pretend that it does not affect them, blithely continuing the ancient tradition of rote memorization even though this mode of learning is dysfunctional and obsolete in today's world.

  • Why should an aspiring herbalist pay $100,000 in tuition to be told to memorize information by rote that the public can easily access from books or from the Internet simply by searching for it?
  • Why should a potential client pay $60-120 per hour for an herbalist's consultation merely to learn information that is readily accessible for free?
  • Why should a client pay $60-120 per hour to receive a patent herbal formulation "for disease X", when he or she can do an Internet search ("herbs [disease X]") and then order that same herbal formula with a few mouse clicks?

I subscribe to several professional email discussion groups on herbal medicine and TCM herbology. On these groups, the most commonly asked question is of the following format: "I have a client with disease X. Has anyone treated this condition, and what formula did you use for it?" I've written numerous articles on this subject, explaining why this type of simplistic framing of the problem violates every basic principle of traditional Chinese herbology, but these articles seem to have fallen on deaf ears. •[a1 - a3c]• Many TCM schools continue to teach by rote memorization, graduating class after class of practitioners who do not understand the basics of pattern differentiation (more on that topic, below), and who abandon the time-tested traditional wisdom in favor of simplistic biomedical criteria for choosing herbal formulas. After four years of expensive education, is this all these graduates have to show for their efforts? Administrators at several TCM colleges have admitted to me that about 80% of their graduates are no longer practicing TCM five years after graduation. No wonder. Why should a potential client pay for information and advice from practitioners who resort to Internet discussion groups for such simplistic advice, when he or she can do a quick search of the Internet and find it for free?

While schools and colleges pay lip service to the ideal of critical thinking, the sad reality is that the demands of political correctness have made reaching that ideal impossible. Academic institutions are beholden to so many bureaucratic and governmental agencies for their survival that any pretense to independence of thought and freedom of speech is ludicrous. Professors are now routinely fired or subjected to punitive litigation for breaches of social and political orthodoxy. Even colleges of alternative health find it easier to go light on criticism of the status quo, for their graduates are encouraged to develop referral relationships with medical doctors; excessive criticism of the cancer-for-profit industry, vaccinations, Chemtrails conspiracies, biowarfare, or any of a number of other hot-button, scandalous topics may be off-limits to the college administrator whose goal is to keep the assembly line moving along smoothly. Schools and colleges have abandoned teaching the critical thinking skills required to use the Internet wisely.

Even that much vaunted arbiter of truth, the scientific peer-review system, has been exposed as a fraud. When scientific standards of effectiveness are applied to the peer review system itself, it is revealed as a source of officially approved bias that may, in many cases, actually serve to suppress the truth and reward scientists who adhere to the status quo. •[a4 - a8]• Several scientists have proposed an alternative to peer review called the "liquid journal": "The latest death knell [of prepublication peer review] is the appearance of a 'liquid journal' where scientists can post, without peer review, papers in evolution, data sets, pieces of computer code, or blogs. The new journal is a research project funded by the European Union and supported by the French National Centre for Scientific Research, Springer Science (a major commercial publisher), and others." •[a9]•

To learn critical thinking, we are better left to stumble our way toward discovery on our own, and the plethora of Internet scams and disinformation provides many opportunities to learn these lessons. Since the beginning of recorded history, masses of people and entire nations have been victimized by scams — religious leaders, sociopathic tyrants, and academics alike have exercised their arts of persuasion on gullible populations. The Internet is no worse than anything preceding it. The only difference is that the total volume of truth, non-truth, and ambiguous blather has mushroomed by orders of magnitude in only a few years.

During the age of Hippocrates in ancient Greece, the population was largely educated and literate. Doctors of the time were not looked upon as gods, as they were in recent times. Instead, they had a lower status, perhaps similar to that of schoolteacher or tutor, for patients expected their doctors to debate the merits of various remedies, answer their questions, and intelligently comment upon their counterproposals. How remarkable, I thought, when I first read that description in one of my ancient history texts! For since the year 2000, when the Internet became commonplace in the U.S., a small but growing percentage of my own clients reminded me of Hippocrates' patients. Many of these people have complex health problems unlikely to be resolved by cookbookish remedies found in popular reference books or on the Internet. They have already tried those without relief; just as with my own health 25 years ago, I gave up on assembly-line health care and recognized that I needed to do most of the work myself. However, to meet the needs and expectations of such clients, rote memorization will not cut it. A computer is very good at rote memorization, but most computers are still rather stupid; their instructions need to be very explicit and unambiguous or they become discombobulated. The ancient Greeks emphasized logic, oral debate, and critical thinking as essential aspects of basic education; in this, they were far ahead of the rest of the world. Perhaps there are some lessons there for modern health practitioners, including those who are pretending to learn the ancient art of traditional Chinese herbology.

Professional certification and licensing no longer serve to protect the public

An increasing percentage of the population is catching on to the fact that medical licensing is a tool of the pharmaceutical cartels to enforce orthodoxy among medical doctors. Internet news is regularly punctuated by stories of medical doctors targeted for legal harassment for unorthodox research or clinical procedures, especially when these are effective and threaten to lower health care costs. •[b1]•

Economists like Milton Friedman have written detailed position papers on why medical and health care licensing is obsolete and could be replaced by private, non-governmental certification, promoting true free-market competition and lowering health care costs just as the cost of computers and high-tech consumer goods has steadily become more affordable at the same time that quality improves. •[c1]• •[c2]• •[c3]• Interestingly, even Alan Greenspan, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, stated throughout his career that government regulation rarely works to protect the public:

I have never lost sight of the fact that government regulation can undermine the effectiveness of private market regulation and can itself be ineffective in protecting the public interest… As we move into a new century, the market-stabilizing private regulatory forces should gradually displace many cumbersome, increasingly ineffective government structures. This is a likely outcome since governments, by their nature, cannot adjust sufficiently quickly to a changing environment, which too often veers in unforeseen directions. •[c4 - c7]• •[c5]•

(Several authors have speculated that Alan Greenspan may have played out in real life the fictional role of John Galt in Ayn Rand's libertarian novel Atlas Shrugged, in which government autocracies worldwide are sabotaged and allowed to collapse. Greenspan was known to be a close associate of Rand during the 1960's, and many claim he did more than any other person to sabotage U.S. financial and economic policy during the early years of the 21st century. •[c6 - c7]• Regardless of Greenspan's motives, his own action during his tenure at the Federal Reserve demonstrated the pernicious consequences of that institution on American economic life.)

Many hospitals and hospital groups have already implemented forms of private certification. Recognizing that FDA drug approval guarantees neither safety nor effectiveness, hospitals have developed their own lists of drugs approved for prescription by staff members. Analogous to the recognition that FDA-approved drugs are neither safe nor effective, many individuals have determined from experience that medical licenses do not guarantee competence. Reviews of physicians can now be found on the Internet, along with books and other consumer products.

When licensing and certification agencies have become corrupted and serve as de facto enforcement of professional monopolies, the Internet allows individuals a great deal of power to circumvent this corruption. By applying their own criteria to prospective health practitioners and by using patient-generated rating services and reviews plus email discussion groups, individuals can obtain referral advice that meets their requirements.

Many years ago, before I had access to the Internet, a former client of mine was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness and asked me for a referral to a TCM herbalist in his area. Not knowing anyone personally, I chose several practitioners who had been certified by a national organization and listed in a printed directory. I also instructed him in ways to question these prospective practitioners to determine whether they were properly trained in traditional Chinese herbology. Did they inspect the tongue appearance, palpate pulse, and ask about symptoms in addition to the medical diagnosis? •[c8]• He eventually met with all 5 practitioners on my list, and every single one offered to provide him with an herbal formula without any tongue or pulse data, without asking anything relevant about symptoms, and solely on the basis of the medical diagnosis that he provided them. In disgust, I tossed my national directory into the trash. Years later, when I got an Internet connection, I discovered how easy it was to ask for referrals, specifying certain criteria about competence and experience (e.g., skilled in traditional pattern assessment, tongue and pulse, uses whole bulk herbs and individualizes each formula, knowledgeable in environmental chemical sensitivity and food allergy issues, can speak Spanish, etc.)

Health care licensing is likely to remain with us a while longer, but not because it protects the public. Professional organizations demand licensing, because it protects them from competition. If you graduate from a college where you learned a lot of facts by rote memorization, but did not learn critical thinking skills, you are in no position to compete in a true free-market economic environment. You can either upgrade your skills, if that is possible, or you can opt for the lazy way out by convincing your professional organization to swarm the legislature with licensing bills and regulations that will put your competitors out of business. The pharmaceutical cartels and the people controlling the medical profession benefit from this self-sabotage, because every act that alternative health professions take to shoot themselves in the foot means less effort and expense by the medical-industrial complex to impose their own control schemes. Schools that use obsolete teaching methods also benefit by this, at least in the short run, because their monopoly of mediocrity is protected. •[d1]• But what if you have protected your monopoly only to find that you have no customers? You cannot force people to patronize your services, and the Internet is providing people with the tools to become very selective. I predict that legislative and regulatory attempts to impose an essentially fascist health care system on people will backfire in a major way, and any profession that participates in this outrage will suffer. The phenomenon of medical tourism is already hugely impacting the economics of health care in the U.S. I have several friends who routinely travel to foreign countries for health care services that are significantly less costly than in the U.S. and of greater quality. While health care licensing will likely remain for some time due to entrenched monopoly interests, the public will continue to erode its economic power, using the Internet a tool for sharing alternative options.

The education "bubble" and the coming meltdown of the U.S. educational system

Throwing money at any sector of the economy rarely creates prosperity, whether it be housing, education, or consumer goods, but it can temporarily create the illusion of prosperity. The housing bubble of the last decade is a classic example of a boom-bust cycle fueled by bank loans, in which many of the participants were openly encouraged to commit fraud. Aptly named "liar" loans were extended to people who had no income, no assets, and little likelihood of ever paying back the loans; many of these people were encouraged to make false statements on their loan applications. Bankers, who packaged these loans into "structured investment vehicles" and sold them to international investors, were encouraged by management to extend as many of these loans as possible, since the bank received a commission for doing so and could pass along all the risk to third parties. So the bankers, in turn, defrauded their investors. International banks that purchased these dodgy investment vehicles, irate at being defrauded, put pressure on the U.S. government to make good on these fraudulent loan packages by guaranteeing them with the full backing of the U.S. Treasury. Ultimately, U.S. taxpayers are now paying for the folly of a complex chain of fraud that was encouraged and endorsed by the nation's financial, business, and academic elite.

So why am I harping about this in the midst of an article on TCM herbal education? Because the same fraudulent process, with a few novel twists, has been occurring in U.S. higher education for the past few decades:   •[e0a - e0f1]•

  • Students, many of whom are barely literate, are encouraged to apply for loans to attend the college of their choice.
  • In the interest of putting lipstick on this pig, academic requirements at colleges have decreased to the point that meaningful homework is minimal, leaving much time for partying and chatting on cell phones.
  • Due to the easy availability of student loans, the cost of tuition has escalated at rates far higher than the official rate of monetary inflation.
  • Corporations and employers take a jaundiced view of the pig, unimpressed by its lipstick, and refuse to hire college graduates who cannot show that they have some useful experience besides attending college and acquiring useless degrees.
  • Banks that have extended student loans package these into structured investment vehicles and sell them to institutions, pension funds, and international investors.
  • International investors, nervous over potential for default, demand that Congress pass a law that prohibits student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy, thus ensuring a lifetime of debt slavery for students who cannot obtain employment or establish themselves in a profession for which their degree, at least on paper, certifies them as qualified. ("Congress ended bankruptcy protections, refinancing rights, statutes of limitations, truth in lending requirements, fair debt collection ones, and state usury laws when applied to federally guaranteed student loans." •[e0g]• There is currently speculation among some financial commentators that the record student loan debts in the U.S. may be used as incentive to force student debtors into the military in order to pay off their debts, because the federal statutes and preconditions for this possibility are already in place, and because such an outcome would avoid an overt military draft to man the future wars of conquest already on Pentagon planning boards; •[e0h]• •[e0i]•; others have pointed out that existing laws provide financial incentives for the government to actually encourage students to default in order to justify confiscating defaulting students' future income, benefits, and property to satisfy the debt. •[e0j]•)

According to some international testing standards, graduates of secondary education (high school) in France and Switzerland achieve a level of knowledge and ability comparable to the average U.S. college graduate. In other words, they receive the equivalent of a U.S. college education free, by graduating from public high school in their countries. To make this crystal clear, U.S. students are an average of four years behind French and Swiss students in level of achievement. U.S. high school graduates routinely rank near the bottom of international standards of achievement in science and mathematics. •[e1]• •[e2]• •[e3]• With the exception of a few elite schools, U.S. "higher" education has become an international laughingstock. (And even at these elite schools one must learn to separate useful knowledge from propaganda and brainwashing as these schools have allowed themselves to become salesmen for global government and peddlers of dysfunctional and discredited economic theories like those of John Maynard Keynes; ask the current Russian leadership how they feel about economist Jeffrey Sachs and his Harvard boys who masterminded the looting of the Russian economy during the 1990's. See the following references for the links between Ivy League universities, the international illegal drug trade, and globalization: •[e5a - e5b]•)

What does this mean for graduates of TCM colleges in the U.S.? Several former TCM college administrators have informed me that about 80% of graduates are not practicing as TCM practitioners (acupuncturists and/or herbalists) five years after graduating. Student loan debts of $100,000 for such folly are not uncommon. Moreover, because of U.S. law banning student loan debt from being discharged via bankruptcy, these debts become a mandatory lifetime obligation.

Economic bubbles, or speculative manias, have occurred repeatedly throughout human history, because of the mathematical interactions between competing emotions of greed and fear and due to the overwhelming tendency of most people to follow the herd. Numerous economic analysts have commented on the mathematically predictable aspects of bubbles (notably: Hyman Minsky, Ludwig von Mises, Robert Prechter). •[f1]• •[f2]• The following is a nutshell summary of the 7 stages of a typical bubble, with my explanation of how this economic description applies to the public adoption of TCM herbology within the U.S.:

  1. Disturbance: The first phase of a bubble generally begins with some type of disturbance to the economic life of a society. Any invention, new technology, or a foreign idea introduced into a society that impacts the way business, commerce, or professional services are performed can provide the seed for bubble formation. The introduction of TCM (acupuncture and Chinese herbal health care) into the U.S. following Nixon's state visit to China, following a long period of Cold-War tension between the two nations, was the start of phase 1.
  2. Expansion/price increases: In stage 2, the new technology or idea gradually spreads, and improvements in quality lead to moderate price increases consequent to a small percentage of the public purchasing, investing, or otherwise patronizing the new technology. However, in phase 2, most people remain unaware of its existence or of its practical significance. During the 1970's and early 1980's, small schools of TCM formed to train students in acupuncture and Chinese herbology; the vast majority of these students' interest had been stimulated by personal experiences with TCM — either themselves or close family members having received health benefits after patronizing the services of ethnic Chinese herbalists and acupuncturists. The general public, however, continued to view Chinese medicine as an exotic practice irrelevant to their own lives. (This article's primary author, Roger Wicke, attended TCM college during the early 1980's for a total cost of $5,000. At official rates of inflation, this would be the equivalent of $10,354 in 2011-dollars.)
  3. Euphoria, easy credit: increasing prices by themselves do not create a bubble, but the availability of easy credit extended by banks does. During the 1990's, the popularity of acupuncture and Chinese herbs increased greatly, finally reaching public awareness. Multilevel marketing companies took advantage of this and began to sell popular Chinese herbal formulas as panaceas for a broad range of ills, making over-general claims for their formulas. At the same time, TCM college enrollment increased, schools became accredited, and students at these schools were able to obtain student loans. At this stage, schools began to attract some students whose primary motivation was making a comfortable income rather than personal health. (These types of students often may be observed on campus consuming junk food and soda pop.) During stage 3, greed becomes a significant factor in the unfolding of the bubble. The fact that, during the 1990's, multiple bubbles were forming in the U.S. and world economies tended to amplify the bubble forming in TCM-related businesses and professions.
  4. Prices reach a peak: Prices reach unrealistic levels, and "amateurs, the foolish, the greedy, and the desperate enter the market". Banks that extend loans for the purpose of such speculation add more fuel to the fire. Students who are willing to go $100,000 into debt because they have delusions of making huge amounts of money for little effort become increasingly common. TCM colleges find it difficult to resist the temptation to reap windfall tuition fees from students who have little talent but large hopes.
  5. Market Reversal/Insider Profit Taking: astute commentators who have seen bubbles before and know the warning signs write articles warning of lack of long-term fundamentals, poor investment rate of return, and other negative warning indicators. Insiders and a small percentage of independent-minded individuals heed the warnings and exit the bubble before it pops. But the vast majority, like a herd of cattle or lemmings, does not; warnings are ignored (e.g.: People seeking health advice are not likely to patronize practitioners whose only skill is having memorized by rote information that can be obtained by a simple Internet search.)
  6. Financial Crisis/Panic: the bubble is sustained as long as optimism and euphoria are high, but insider profit-taking and exiting from the market tend to have a similar effect to yelling fire in a crowded theater. Insiders may try to sneak out quietly, but inevitably fear and panic set in.
  7. Revulsion/Lender of Last Resort: The market reaches bottom when the level of disgust reaches a maximum. Having been traumatized by the market drop, greed, then fear, transforms into stubborn, ingrained revulsion, and the market begins a slow, prolonged climb based on fundamentals. During the preceding phase, anyone hoping to enter the TCM profession to make an easy buck is thrown off like a cowboy from a bucking bronco. During this last phase, only the truly committed remain, who see the long-term value of TCM as a health care option and persist in developing its potential. It is characteristic of many new inventions that they do not reach their maximum potential until well after a market bubble has been experienced. Radio technology is a perfect example. Public radio was a new technology in the 1920's, and radio stocks were bid up to extreme values by 1929, based on exaggerated marketing claims and a public lack of understanding of the technical difficulties; these stocks plummeted during the crash and many only recovered their value slowly over the next 30 years. However, it was during this latter period that radio became a fixture in American life. More recently, after the crash of Internet stocks in 2000, ridiculous companies whose stock value had been bid up to outrageous prices, yet had no products, collapsed. It was only after this collapse that the Internet began to have a major impact on people's lives, and real products and infrastructure expanded at a steady pace. It seems to be a rule of human nature that any new technology or innovation must experience a period of euphoria and speculation before it reaches the more self-disciplined stage of long-term development, requiring patience and skill.

It is our belief that the TCM profession in the U.S., along with other sectors of U.S. higher education, is currently approaching the end of stage 4 of the Minsky bubble cycle, based on the following factors:

  • The extreme mismatch between investment principal (total tuition, time, and loss of income during the years of training) versus expected rates of return (likely income during years of professional practice).
  • The high rate, 80%, of abandonment of the profession after 5 years of practice.
  • The record high tuition fees that schools charge, when compared to monetary inflation in other sectors of the economy.
  • The record amounts of debt that students are accumulating.
  • The perception by students that they are buying their way into a profession, at a time when academic requirements and practical skills are at rock bottom, coinciding with a general deterioration of U.S. higher education standards.

So why have I bothered to write this article at all if the madness of crowds makes bubbles an inevitable result of easy bank credit? Marketing specialists have known for many decades that only a small percentage of the population, perhaps 1-3%, does not follow the herd, but is capable of analyzing a situation rationally, observing relevant patterns, learning from them, and then taking appropriate action. This select 1-3% of the population is not necessarily the smartest in terms of IQ, although intelligence can be useful; these people are not typically among the social elite, because that status requires one to be a member of the herd; neither are these people necessarily among the most educated, as modern education trains college graduates to be leaders of the herd, and to accomplish that requires adhering to orthodoxy. Instead, these people will typically have a wide range of practical knowledge acquired through life experience, they are not impressed by mere fads, they can be iconoclastic when appropriate, and what intelligence they do possess they utilize in all situations with tenacious self-discipline. Moreover, if you are a member of this 1-3%, you already know who you are; you are self-selected. You don't need to be awarded presumptuous titles of nobility, academic degrees, or other tokens of social status to act according to your own best judgment.

Just as with public radio technology during the economic depression and world war period of 1930-1950, the traditional Chinese medicine professions may soon experience the equivalent of a financial collapse phase, necessitating the most dedicated among its practitioners to successfully overcome a series of shocks and challenges over the next decade. The lightweights who thought they could make an easy buck will be thrown off the bronco and will drift toward other endeavors.

Author's note, 2011-10-29: In the past, I've been continually surprised by the tricks available to the powers-that-be to extend the life cycle of economic bubbles, so this time I was not terribly surprised to learn that the Obama administration is proposing yet another trick to postpone the popping of the College Bubble by extending partial forgiveness of student loan amounts to students that would be dependent upon their ability to repay. Just as with the housing bubble and its plethora of toxic investment vehicles offloaded by corrupt banks onto the books of the federal government, the taxpayers are the ultimate losers, and such a policy will allow colleges to continue bloating their tuition fees, wasteful building expansion programs, and million-dollar football coach salaries while delivering a fatally flawed educational product for yet a few more years. As with all such economic bubbles, though, postponing the day of reckoning by allowing such abuses to continue a while longer will only make the final pop more devastating to all involved.

The U.S. health care system is the most expensive, inefficient, and wasteful in the world

The United States spends more money per capita on health care than any other country, yet by many measures of health, including infant mortality and longevity, its quality is comparable to that of many third world countries. •[g1]• Practitioners of alternative health and their clients are generally aware of these statistics, so I won't belabor the point here.

In examining the epidemiology of disease in various countries, it becomes clear that the primary determinants of health and longevity are access to sanitation and plumbing, clean water, healthy diets, sparing use of pharmaceutical drugs, use of herbs for common health complaints, and exercise. These essential elements of an effective health care system explain why a relatively impoverished country like Cuba can spend only $251 per person per year on health care, only 4% that of the U.S., and yet achieve similar longevity and infant mortality rates. While there is some debate over the accuracy of Cuban statistics (•[h1]• •[h2]• •[h3]•), it is clear that to achieve dramatic improvements in population health, it is not necessary to break the bank. •[h4]• Cuba has achieved this within a socialist system, which demonstrates that a socialist economic model can work if maximizing health of the population at reasonable cost is the goal. Such top-down bureaucratic models, however, are subject to horrific abuses, and in the U.S., with its corporate-driven health care system, Americans suffer the worst of capitalist profiteering and fascist-corporatism, where corporate profits become the primary driving factor in government regulation of health care. A benevolent health-care dictatorship is highly unlikely to evolve in the U.S., where lip service has been given to the ideals of free markets, even though we have not had a true free market in health care for over 100 years. •[c3]•

Regardless of politics and debate over the merits of various economic systems, Cuba's experience reminds us that population health is achieved by preventive health care and education, getting entire communities involved in controlling risk factors for illness before they manifest as disease. The standard assembly-line health practice, followed by herbalists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and medical doctors alike, is to schedule appointments for patients who have already contracted some illness or health complaint. Very few practitioners spend more than a fraction of their time on education and prevention. Twenty years ago, I chose to abandon the assembly-line model of herbal practice for several reasons:

  • A large percentage of the public is resistant to making diet and lifestyle changes that could significantly improve their health. These types of people expect their health providers to "fix" their problems, in the same manner as they take their automobiles to mechanics for parts replacements. These same people, together with their facilitators in the medical-industrial complex, are responsible for a disproportionate share of out-of-control U.S. health care costs. For an alternative health care practitioner who is genuinely concerned about clients' health, such self-destructive behavior is demoralizing to witness day after day.
  • Due to a toxic food supply, industrial pollutants, toxic home and building materials, electromagnetic pollution, noise, and radiation exposure, an increasing number of people have complex chronic illnesses that present challenging puzzles to the health practitioner who attempts to squeeze a meaningful consultation into a 30-minute session. With many of these people, even 3 hours is not enough to fully explain one's assessment of the situation and the options.
  • Many of the preceding types of clients have already performed significant reading and Internet searches for possible solutions to their health problems; they are highly motivated and many of them are already striving to improve their diets and lifestyles. They have already exhausted the obvious or popular cookbook solutions found in many textbooks and on the Internet. These clients are often quite knowledgeable about their condition and corresponding standard remedies. When they schedule an appointment with a health practitioner, they expect much more than a quick lookup of patent remedies in a textbook or catalog.

Though my own political philosophy leans toward libertarian, I find the Cuban experience to be instructive. Sanitation, clean water and environment, healthy diet, targeted use of herbs to address specific problems, exercise, and positive outlook on life are indispensable ingredients to healthy living than simply cannot be imparted to clients in a short appointment. Consequently, I've devoted more time to developing RMHI's course offerings and much less to individual client consultations.

China pollution, herb adulteration and contamination problems, and our response as herbalists

Twenty-five years ago, my Chinese instructors warned me to especially avoid Chinese herb products from the seas around China, like seaweeds and shellfish, due to the high levels of industrial pollution being discharged into the ocean from heavily contaminated rivers. Since then, China's blitzkrieg march toward industrialization has aggravated the pollution problem by orders of magnitude. Intentional adulteration of Chinese patent medicine products with pharmaceutical drugs has been occurring for a long time, though American herbal practitioners have become broadly aware of this problem only during the past decade. In 2002, Subhudi Dharmananda published a position paper on his website that thoroughly reviewed documented evidence of both intentional adulteration of Chinese herbal products with pharmaceutical drugs and heavy metal compounds •[j1]•; his article focused more on intentional adulteration rather than from pollution sources beyond the control of herbal growers and manufacturers. After Dharmananda's report was written, the problem of industrial pollution, including heavy metal contamination of food and herb crops has grown far worse. Awareness of the problems have become widely acknowledged among the TCM herbal profession, which is a vast improvement over the ignorance and denial common during the 1980's when this article's primary author attended TCM college. •[j2]• •[j3]•

During the past two decades, U.S., Canadian, and European distributors and manufacturers of Chinese herb products have taken significant steps toward addressing the twin problems of contamination from industrial pollution and intentional adulteration with pharmaceutical drugs and heavy metals. Among the more responsible companies, routine procedures now include inspecting each batch of imported bulk herbs for correct species identity, performing chemical spectroscopy assays for contamination and adulteration by common pharmaceutical drugs and pesticides, and other quality control methods. Additionally, because the visual appearance and smell of whole bulk herbs can be judged more readily than can powdered or highly processed herbs, some manufacturers have tended toward importing only whole bulk herbs for further processing within their own domestic manufacturing facilities.

Industry analysts have attributed the widespread problem of food and herb adulteration and contamination to a number of factors that seem endemic within the Chinese system of regulation and politics •[k6]•:

  • Entrenched corruption exists within China's regulatory agencies.
  • Multiple regulatory agencies often have overlapping jurisdiction with unclear mandates.
  • China's sudden emergence into the world capitalist system of semi-free markets has given Chinese companies only a brief time in which to learn the hard lesson that trust once violated will ruin long-term business prospects, even though short-term profits may increase.
  • Whistleblowers in China are often severely punished, while corporate executives who violate the laws are often rewarded with high positions in government.
  • Inadequate development of China's legal system.

In 2008, dehydrated milk powder from Chinese manufacturers was discovered to have been intentionally adulterated with melamine, a cheap industrial nitrogen-containing chemical that can fool certain crude tests for total protein content, but which is nephrotoxic. •[k1]• Hundreds of thousands of people became victims of this scam, contracting chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. After news of this scandal emerged, 11 countries banned the importation of all Chinese milk products. Contamination was later discovered in eggs, baking powder, and pet foods, originating from melamine-contaminated animal feed. Investigation revealed that Chinese corporate officers had intentionally added the contaminant as a ploy to fool customers to gain short-term profits. •[k2]•

The world reacted in outrage at this scandal, and the Chinese government recognized that this crisis could threaten the credibility and desirability of Chinese products in world markets. Several of the guilty corporate officials were executed and others given long prison sentences. However, skeptics have commented that the Chinese executions were intended as sacrificial offerings to appease public opinion, and that corrupt business practices had become too entrenched to be reformed. Cynics would comment that life is cheap in China, and Chinese business leaders would consider a few executions of their colleagues merely a necessary price of appeasing world opinion so that business could continue as usual.

To place China's period of rapid industrialization in perspective, it is instructive to consider that many of the abuses perpetrated by Chinese industry are similar to those committed by U.S. industries during the late 19th century. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, production of shoddy and contaminated products has been typical of the early stages of industrial capitalism in many countries. •[k7]•

Ironically, as China is under international pressure to reform and may actually be making slow progress toward that goal, U.S. regulatory agencies have come under heavy influence by the very industries they are charged with regulating. The FDA has become notoriously corrupt, ignoring massive evidence of unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and deadly side effects of food additives like Aspartame, all the while waging war on herbal manufacturers and farm producers of raw milk with the assistance of SWAT teams and armies of government lawyers.

During the past few decades, as I have observed how the herbal industry within the U.S. has handled the Chinese adulteration scandals, it is clear to me that voluntary self-policing and quality control measures taken by individual companies, in response to consumer demand, have done more to remedy the problem than any government regulatory scheme. FDA officials often respond with demands for federal regulation long after problems have been publicly acknowledged by industry officials, and after many companies have taken effective action on their own — this "me too" response, too little and too late, strikes me as a calculated attempt by the FDA to convince the public that they are still relevant, when, in fact, they have long ago lost credibility among much of the public, especially among people who patronize herbal and natural health products.

The Chinese melamine adulteration scandal has severely tarnished the image of China's export industry, and a barrage of other toxicity scandals have been exposed since 2008: drywall that emits toxic sulfur dioxide fumes, children's toys with unacceptable levels of lead and cadmium, toxic clothing and food products. If one does a Google search for "toxic Chinese products" one will be deluged with information.

Even if all intentional adulteration of Chinese herbs with pharmaceutical drugs and use of toxic or banned pesticides by herbal growers could, by some miracle, be stopped immediately, there still remains the serious problem of industrial contamination. Pollution of China's water and soils with heavy metals are a serious long-term consequence of industrialization, and this problem seems to only becoming worse. Chinese officials have proclaimed that they intend to take action to reduce such pollution, but as with reforming the widespread practice of food and herb adulteration, practitioners and consumers of Chinese herbal products should not hold their breath.

In summary, I recommend that herbal practitioners who use Chinese herbal products shift the style of their practice toward the following policies and procedures:

  • Buy only from importers, distributors, and manufacturers who closely scrutinize each batch of imported bulk herb for correct species identity, common pesticide residues, and heavy metals. Do they know their Chinese supplier well? Where exactly was the herb grown? How polluted is the local growing area? Have they inspected the growing and harvesting operation personally?
  • Generally avoid imported patent medicines manufactured in China in favor of processed herbal products manufactured in the U.S., Canada, or Europe where quality control standards are higher.
  • Patronize companies that sell organic herbal products grown in North America or other relatively non-polluted regions. As the U.S. dollar continues to devalue against other currencies, it will become an increasingly attractive business prospect to grow Chinese herbs in the U.S. for both domestic sale and export.
  • The real value of traditional Chinese herbology is in its philosophy and methods for evaluating patterns of symptoms and signs, then matching these to appropriate herbs. There is nothing sacred or magical about Chinese herbs — now, quite the opposite — and it's time for practitioners to broaden their materia medica to incorporate local herbs and herbs from non-polluted regions. Several textbooks on the TCM-style interpretation of the properties of western herbs have been published, to promote this goal.

Comments by Eric Brand, 2012-05-18:
  Most regions where herbs are grown are far from the heavy industry of China's big cities. By weight, about 50% of Chinese medicinals are sourced from wild-crafted sources, and China's State Administration of TCM is heavily emphasizing GAP production of cultivated herbs. At present, over 50 herbs have large scale GAP-certified plantation sites (about 150 common herbs are primarily sourced from cultivated sources in the modern day).
  I recall a discussion with a colleague that has done extensive independent pesticide testing on raw herbs for years, and he estimates that under 5% of Chinese herbs are prone to test positive for pesticides. Certain herbs often have pesticide issues (such as Jin Yin Hua and Ren Shen), whereas others almost never do (such as Chi Shao and Huang Qi). Problematic items such as Jin Yin Hua and Ren Shen can often be sourced from organic or GAP growers.
  While pesticides are a viable concern, I feel it is important not to exaggerate the issue of pesticide contamination in the Chinese herbal market. For example, my main granule supplier sends hundreds of batches to Germany where they are third-party tested for a very wide range of pesticides, and they reliably meet the EU standards. Similarly, at my former job my employer tested hundreds of batches of extracts for pesticides and very rarely encountered any pesticides despite spending huge sums of money on third-party testing. Chinese herbs are often tested far more rigorously than the foods that our patients buy at the grocery store.
— Eric Brand

EU crackdown on herbal products

On May 1, 2011, new regulations went into effect in the European Union (the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive, THMPD, also known as Directive 2004/24/EC) that prohibit sale of any herbal product that cannot document safe usage and sale within the EU for at least 15 years; all products that cannot meet these qualifications must be licensed under a strict and prohibitively expensive approval process. TCM and Ayurvedic herbal products have been impacted severely by these new regulations. •[m1]• •[m5 - m8]• While local statutes may mitigate the specific impact of THMPD on different nations of the EU, there remains a lot of uncertainty among the herbal industry over the future of herbal medicines in Europe. •[m2]• What is of interest to me, an American, is what lessons can people outside the EU learn from this?

Skeptics of the EU regulations claim that they have been implemented primarily to benefit the pharmaceutical cartels, which have been looking for an excuse to seriously restrict the availability of inexpensive alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs. •[m3, m4]• •[m9]• I happen to agree with these skeptics, but whether or not that is true, manufacturers of Ayurvedic and TCM patent herbal products have had a sorry record of adulteration, contamination, and poor quality that were virtually screaming "Hit me!", and the unelected bureaucrats of the EU, probably the most highly regulated place on earth, were eager to oblige.

According to several articles commenting on the likely effects of the new regulations in various nations of the EU, several trends have been evident for many years leading up to the adoption of THMPD:

  • The vast majority of complaints against herbal products involved patent remedies comprising multiple herbal ingredients; common complaints included presence of unlisted pharmaceutical drugs, intentionally added heavy metals like mercury and arsenic (believed to increase effectiveness according to traditional references, but no longer considered acceptable to most modern herbalists), and improper species substitutions.
  • The frequent abuses by manufacturers of Ayurvedic and Chinese patent herbal products provided a convenient excuse to crack down on all herbal products.
  • In several countries, including the UK, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, bulk herbal products may still be sold either as foods or dispensed by registered herbal practitioners. •[m2]•
  • The fact that highly processed patent herbal remedies have been the most severely restricted is consistent with these products having been the target of the most frequent quality control complaints. Conversely, that individual bulk herbs are still available in certain of the EU countries is consistent with the fact that these products have had the best safety record and have been subject to the fewest quality control complaints.
  • The EU regulations focus especially on restricting herbal products that are marketed as "medicines", whereas herbs that are marketed as foods are still widely available.

The preceding observations suggest several strategies for herbalists and herbal industry leaders who wish to protect the availability of herbs to the general public without further restrictions:

  • Promoting the use of whole bulk herbs by practitioners and end-users is ultimately to the benefit of the entire herbal products industry, as this represents the historical core of our tradition, with the best track record of safety. The quality and identity of whole bulk herbs is usually evident by simple inspection and smell, and adulteration can be readily detected.
  • The trend toward use of preprocessed herbal formulas by practitioners coincides with a simultaneous trend toward oversimplified, biomedicalized clinical applications (formula X for medical disease Y) that dishonor the depth of knowledge that both traditional Chinese herbology and Ayurveda have to offer. This trend should be resisted by promoting use of whole herb products in formulas tailored to the specific clinical patterns of each individual and by supporting the schools that teach this approach.
  • Stop obsessing with the goal of competing with the medical profession by dispensing herbal "medicines", as the use of this phrase has legal consequences. In many nations throughout the world, the mere act of labeling an herb as a medicine with medicinal claims of effectiveness has legal consequences that determine how it is regulated, and such laws are closely related in principle to the specific words that define "medical practice". It is critical that herbalists and herb product manufacturers educate themselves in basic legal theory so as to better understand how the words they use may create vulnerability to attack by regulators and the courts. •[n1]•

Adapting to the trends at RMHI

Over the previous 20 years, RMHI has evolved its admissions policies and curriculum to adapt to the trends outlined in this report. Following are a few of the ways that we have changed over the years:

  • Develop admissions criteria that recognize candidates with natural ability in pattern recognition. Conventional educational criteria simply do not work, and, in our opinion, the serious decline in academic quality at many institutions of so-called "higher" learning in the U.S. has rendered many degrees worthless. In our experience, level of higher education completed has no correlation with ability to do TCM-style assessment of clinical symptom-sign patterns, which forms the essential core of the TCM paradigm. In fact, conventional education often seems to ingrain bad habits in students, including an impatience in confronting the typical messy complexities of real life. We've developed a series of interactive games (part of the HerbalThink-TCM software package) that, similar to IQ tests, test applicants' ability to detect patterns from within randomized clusters of symptoms. We now place much less emphasis on applicants having completed formal courses in anatomy and physiology, which generally involve memorization of large quantities of isolated facts, and do not require complex reasoning ability (at least as they are most commonly taught). We specifically encourage applicants who have been homeschooled or have learned by independent study and work experience, because these people have historically constituted a disproportionate percentage of our successful graduates.
  • Supplement conventional instruction with interactive learning software (HerbalThink-TCM) that develops students skills in pattern recognition while increasing comprehension. Rote memorization is obsolete, promotes bad habits in memory recall, and does not promote comprehension.
  • Maintain complete independence from mainstream educational and professional organizations to avoid dysfunctional bureaucracies and economically self-destructive policies. The economic behavior of crowds reveal that the vast majority of people, including organizations and institutions (universities, accrediting bodies, professional societies), will inevitably become caught up in the speculative mania of an economic bubble. The current bubble in higher education will be no exception to this. For individuals and organizations that consciously acknowledge the ongoing folly, the most effective option is to remove and isolate themselves from the insanity around them. Economic cycles are like tidal waves; they cannot be stopped, but individuals can choose to move to higher ground. RMHI is an entirely private organization, not licensed nor formally accredited by any other agency or government body. We exist on the basis of our right to educate others about matters of health, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and equivalent protections of the Montana state constitution.
  • Control costs, minimize bureaucracy. Because RMHI is not accredited, nor does it participate in any federal or state student loan programs, our administrative costs are extremely low. Students cannot generally qualify for tuition loans, but then their total costs at RMHI are a mere fraction of what an accredited college typically charges.
  • Offer scholarships to qualified candidates who can demonstrate financial need. We have no formal scholarship program and no scholarships designated as such by third parties. If a qualified candidate applies for admission with documented financial need, such as applicants from developing nations, we extend a "scholarship" in the form of a simple discount in fees.
  • Oppose licensure for herbalists and any other attempts to restrict access to herbs. Herbal medicine has historically been a major form of health for much of the world's population, and RMHI is committed to maintaining the right of the world's people to access herbs without restriction. Currently, herbalists are not licensed in many countries of the world, including the U.S. •[n1]• Given the failure of licensing to protect public health while increasing healthcare costs and reducing free market competition, we are opposed to licensing of herbalists and any other attempts to form government-protected monopolies, as history has demonstrated repeatedly that such restrictions are prone to abuse by corporations and professional cartels. RMHI believes that voluntary, private certification organizations and private contract arrangements between herbalists and herb distributors can achieve higher quality products and services without restricting anyone's right to access herbs to maintain health.
  • Support independent and private apprenticeships and internships as a superior substitute for assembly-line educational programs. A large percentage of RMHI's students are foreigners who have little desire to travel to the U.S. — we understand entirely. Our Levels 1 and 2 programs can be completed without any travel. Instead of attending our Level-3 clinical seminars, we encourage foreign students to arrange internships with TCM herbalists in their home countries. After completing our distance-learning programs, recognizing competent herbalists should be straightforward. •[q1a]• Historically, apprenticeships and internships provided the most common entry point into many professions and were an effective way to learn. RMHI believes that privately arranged internships are generally superior to packaged programs put together by schools; in the latter case, political considerations too often take precedence over recommending the most qualified master herbalists.
  • Promote "open-source networks of authentification and reputation" (networks of trust) to replace the increasingly meaningless college degree system, similar to what financial writer and economist Charles Hugh Smith has proposed — "an apprenticeship network of trusted masters who would be willing to teach apprentices a defined set of working knowledge" •[q2]• Smith observes that the Internet has already eroded the former monopoly that institutional experts held over the awarding of academic and professional credentials; the truthfulness of scientific data and academic theories is now widely questioned and discussed by bloggers, independent researchers, and investigative journalists; fraudulent scientific research is now being exposed more quickly and more thoroughly than ever before. It is a small step to topple the status of increasingly meaningless academic degrees, professional licenses and certifications and to establish in their place networks of "trusted masters", which evolve according to public criteria such as website links and blogs. This type of protocol has already been implemented by Google's Pagerank algorithm, which mathematically weights the relevance of web pages according to the trust displayed by third-party links to these pages, and, in turn, the credibility of these third-party links are evaluated according to similar algorithms of trust estimation. Such systems could entirely circumvent established bureaucracies and academic institutions, which themselves would be forced to compete with everyone else for public evidence of trust as revealed by the network. Lying and deceitfulness are punished by an adjustment of the numbers as revealed by the network rather than by the courts or by Orwellian ministries of Truth, as our universities and government agencies have become.
  • Develop and promote relationships with quality bulk herb suppliers. Bulk whole herbs are the mainstay of herbalists who adhere to the traditional TCM pattern-matching paradigm. However, herbal product companies often would rather produce highly processed formulas, as these are significantly more profitable than whole herbs. According to Dr. Cheung, throughout the history of Chinese medicine, practitioners who truly understand and practice designing individually tailored formulas from bulk herbs to precisely match each client's needs have always been in a small minority, yet these are the very practitioners who have maintained the high reputation of Chinese herbology. Therefore, it is in the mutual interest of schools that teach the traditional TCM pattern-matching style of practice to support whole bulk herb suppliers, and, conversely, the bulk herb suppliers would be wise to support these schools as the latter are the source of future long-term customers. While patent herbal products may be profitable, if all Chinese herbalists reverted to the simplistic "formula X for disease Y" habit of western biomedicine, they will be seen as nothing more than an inferior type of western doctor and will eventually become submerged within the medical industry.

To make it easy for you to discover whether you have an aptitude for Chinese herbology, the RMHI HerbalThink-TCM software is available for download here.

Alternatives to college for the self-motivated student

Finally, we especially recommend the following article and its accompanying video documentary in reference •[e0a1]•:  "College Education: The Largest Scam in U.S. History". Since this documentary's release in 2011 May, numerous economic commentators have reiterated its themes, including "bond king" Bill Gross, founder of the world's largest bond investment fund, Peter Thiel, founder of Paypal, and Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer. •[e0a2 - e0a8]•

If college is such a scam, what are the alternatives? Following are suggestions from successful businessmen I know:

  • Develop a portfolio documenting projects that you have completed. Include articles you've written and multimedia documentaries. Projects may include anything that you have done to add value to the world by making useful goods and services, improving on existing technology or techniques, learning a traditional skill, etc. Most employers are far more impressed by projects that one conceives independently and successfully completes than by most college degrees.
  • If you do decide to study specific academic subjects, give mathematics and the hard sciences like physics and chemistry high priority. Science and math competence in the U.S. has steadily declined relative to other industrialized nations, which is a major reason why the U.S. has lost its technological edge. If you are intent on becoming an herbalist, in a previous article we have outlined those academic subjects we consider especially useful. Math and basic sciences are quite relevant to all the health care professions.
  • Avoid the fluff courses that have become infested with political correctness and nonsense like economics, business, sociology, psychology, gender studies, theology, and history — these latter subjects are best learned by self-study and by reading authors who are outside mainstream academia. Many successful entrepreneurs have specifically warned me to never allow any Ivy League business school types to get control of one's company or business — "They will run it into the ground." These are the very people who have bestowed a self-destructing economy on the U.S. and are masterminding the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, and U.S. economic policy. Instead, start by reading the excellent free materials provided by the libertarian Mises Institute •[p1]•, a proponent of the Austrian school of economics, which Ron Paul introduced to the American people during his last presidential campaign.
  • If you are of high school age, consider homeschooling as an option. American high schools have become as dysfunctional as colleges. Many homeschoolers have demonstrated that it is possible to learn the material taught in high school in a fraction of the time. Some parents in my community have estimated that the material taught at the local high school could be completed in 30 minutes or less each day. By the age of 14, you could be finished with the equivalent of high school. Then, you could begin exciting things like learning something really useful or starting your own business. I have heard from several sources that some states allow young adults under 18 (yes, people over the age of 14 were considered adults as recently as the 19th century) to enroll in community college courses at no charge. Thus, if you are self-motivated to skip the tedium and nonsense of public high school and to accomplish that equivalent on your own, you might qualify to get a community college education for free. Ask around. See reference items •[p2 - p6]• for some articles written by John Taylor Gatto and others who have good advice for homeschoolers. See references •[p7 - p8]• for links to inexpensive homeschooling materials compiled by scientist Arthur Robinson and the extensive free video lecture series of Khan Academy, founded by MIT and Harvard Business School graduate Salman Khan.
  • If you wish to learn a specialized topic or skill, consider learning by apprenticing with someone who who actually performs that skill as their primary occupation or business. Why learn agriculture from some professor who has spent little time gardening or farming? Or computer programming from a professor who rarely programs computers, but spends much of his time chasing government grant money or writing textbooks? Or herbal medicine from an instructor who has little or no clinical experience? Or any topic, for that matter, taught by graduate students who have no real-world experience, but only bookish knowledge? (Yet these latter abuses are common at colleges and universities.)
  • Ask experts, as evidenced by their success in their chosen trade or profession, for recommended reading. If you know people who are skilled at a particular trade or technique, they are often the best sources for textbook recommendations. These recommendations often differ from college textbook requirements; the college textbook business is a racket in which captive student audiences are forced to buy textbooks that make money for the schools, the professor-authors, and the publishers.
  • If you really need a college degree for your intended trade or profession, do it for a fraction of the retail price. Author Gary North has for many years coached home-schooled students on how to obtain a college degree at a fraction of the conventional "retail" price. These options include distance learning, equivalency testing, portfolios for life experience, community college, in-state resident tuition, dual-track high school/college. •[q1]• Consider Simon Black's recommendation and study at a foreign university •[q3]•; many top-rated foreign schools charge a fraction of the tuition that American colleges do.


You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.   — Mahatma Gandhi

References

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