The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is a component of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which in turn is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, heretofore NCCIH, describes itself as follows:

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and integrative health approaches. We are 1 of the 27 Institutes, Centers, and Offices that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I happened across a fact webpage titled Melatonin: What You Need To Know after following a string of links from an article that was shared on Hacker News (very easy to do in my nifty feed-reading app). This official United States government resource was put together in a question and answer format. The third question caught my attention:

Is melatonin helpful for preventing or treating COVID-19?

NCCIH melatonin resource

Now I am not a doctor. If I were a doctor at the National Institutes of Health, I might understand the wisdom of things such as funding research on bat viruses in Wuhan, China at a lab with many safety concerns and then resuming said research after a multi-year suspension. But I am only a New Leaf Journal administrator and a legal research specialist in U.S. immigration law. Far be it from me to opine on such lofty matters. So take my initial impression of the NCCIH’s melatonin question with a shred of fully naturally occurring virus:

What in the world would melatonin have to do with this?

N.A. Ferrell

Fear not. NCCIH had an answer:

Current research looking at the effects of melatonin on COVID-19 is only in the early stages. There are a few randomized controlled trials (studies evaluating melatonin in people) in progress. At this point, it is too soon to reach conclusions on whether melatonin is helpful for COVID-19.

NCCIH melatonin resource

I recently paid my taxes. Having paid my taxes, I must ask: Is the NCCIH using ChatGPT or a similar tool to write part of its melatonin question and answer? While I am on record as not being the biggest fan of AI text generation and image generation tools, I hope that this answer is evidence of cost-cutting. You may find this odd. But there is nothing odd about it. See my question and answer.

Q: Why do you hope that NCCIH used ChatGPT or a similar tool to answer whether melatonin is helpful in preventing or treating COVID-19?
A: Because the alternative, that this is actually happening, is worse from my perspective as an American tax-payer.

N.A. Ferrell

I generally encourage people to read things charitably. For example, while I disagreed with a particular take against using Windows compatibility tools for playing Windows games on Linux, I thought that the opinion was well-reasoned and I took the time to explain why I thought that it was ultimately unpersuasive. One could plausibly try to read NCCIH’s answer charitably: “Surely they mean that researchers are looking at whether melatonin can help people infected with the virus deal with stress or lack of sleep!” But the question itself does not refer to symptoms or collateral effects within melatonin’s ambit, it very clearly refers to preventing or treating COVID-19. I regret to inform the hand-waivers that the very next question vitiates the charitable reading:

Does melatonin help with cancer symptoms?

NCCIH melatonin resource

Allow me to repeat Question B with emphasis: Does melatonin help with cancer symptoms? This is bad news for the charitable reading of Question A. Question B specifies cancer symptoms while question A discusses treating COVID-19 without narrowing the scope of the inquiry to viral symptoms. The United States Supreme Court has held that “[w]here Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion.” Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16, 23 (1983) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Now the NCCIH’s melatonin FAQ page is not a statute, and it certainly was not enacted by Congress. But who says that we cannot apply principles of statutory construction to the FAQ? I dare say one is better off applying the principles of statutory construction to an NCCIH FAQ than applying melatonin gummies to treat a viral infection (but again, I am not a doctor). The principles of statutory construction require us to view NCCIH’s exclusion of symptoms in one question before including it in the next question to have been done intentionally and purposely.

Thus, our only way out of the conundrum is to take the position that NCCIH outsourced part of its FAQ to AI text generation software. I, for one, am rooting for the bots.

I conclude by offering my real theory of what happened here. The purpose of the melatonin article is to show up first in Google Search (maybe Bing, but I will venture that NCCIH is primarily targeting Google) for common search queries about melatonin supplements. In preparing the piece, NCCIH employees researched popular Google Search queries with the word melatonin. NCCIH formed questions based on popular queries, with the most-used melatonin queries appearing at the top of the article. Thus, the melatonin-as-viral-illness-treatment question is the result of people using stupid prompts in Google Search. In contrast, the melatonin-cancer symptoms question is the result of people using a prompt which makes sense on the surface, regardless of the correct answer. However, while the path to Is melatonin helpful for preventing or treating COVID-19? becoming a question may be intelligible, the nonsense answer remains incomprehensible unless we go with AI outsourcing.