Is acupuncture really ancient Chinese medicine? Does it work? Is it safe?
This ancient Chinese medical tradition stretches back over 3,000 years, the wisdom of the ancients producing medically valid results even today. As in antiquity, slender needles are inserted at precise meridian points on the body and manipulated by a skilled practitioner. Each acupuncture point relates to a specific organ or function in the body, and the practice manipulates the body’s energy, or qi to manage pain and treat a host of conditions including allergies, asthma, headaches, sciatica, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, constipation, and even sexual dysfunction. Acupuncture is, in short, a venerable medical miracle.
Or is it? Let’s cast a skeptical eye at one of the most popular “alternative” medical modalities in the modern world.
Exactly how ancient is acupuncture? Not nearly as ancient as you may think. The first clue is right there in the hands of the acupuncturist: Those slender, flexible, stainless steel needles. The technology to make them didn’t even exist until about 400 years ago.
There are even more historical clues. The Chinese have long kept detailed records. When we examine them we do, indeed, find references to a practice called needling, but the earliest dates to about 90 BCE. The needles from that era were large, and the practice of needling refers to bloodletting and the lancing of abscesses, a treatment nothing like today’s acupuncture. Earlier Chinese medical texts, some reaching back to the 3rd century BCE, never even mention it. There’s no evidence at all that acupuncture is anywhere near 3,000 years old.
No matter. At least acupuncture is Chinese, right? Maybe not.
Chinese scholar Paul Unschuld thinks that the practice may have started in ancient Greece, with Hippocrates of Cos, and later spread to China. A fundamental feature of acupuncture, namely the special meridian points where the needles must be placed, can be traced to the medieval Islamic and European ideas of astrology mapped onto the body. This rather obvious link led researcher Ben Kavoussi to call acupuncture “Astrology with needles” He writes:
…for most of China’s long medical history, needling, bloodletting and cautery were largely practiced by itinerant and illiterate folk-healers, and frowned upon by the learned physicians who favored the use of pharmacopoeia.
Accounts of Chinese medicine first reach Europe in the 13th century. None of them even mentioned acupuncture. Wilhelm Ten Rhijn, writing in 1680, was the first Westerner to reference acupuncture. But what he described bears little resemblance to the acupuncture of today. There was no mention of qi, which is sometimes translated as chi, or any specific points. He spoke of large gold needles that were implanted deep into the skull or womb and left in place for 30 respirations.
The first American acupuncture trials were in 1826, when it was seen as a possible method of resuscitating drowning victims. As Dr. Harriet Hall describes it, “They couldn’t get it to work and ‘gave up in disgust.’ I imagine sticking needles in soggy dead bodies was pretty disgusting.”
Even through the early part of the 20th century nobody spoke of qi or meridians. Practitioners merely inserted needles near the point of pain. In fact, qi used to refer to the vapor arising from food, and the meridians were called channels or vessels, which is part of acupuncture’s link to medieval astrology and vitalism.
So just when and where did meridians enter the picture, and qi finally become some kind of energy?
This New Age alternative health fad claims to be based on ayurveda… but is it?
So it’s the 21st century, and our collective knowledge in fields such as medicine and hygiene is better than at any other time in our past. If you have some medical problem, chances are we’ve developed a pretty good treatment for it that’s better than it was 25 years ago, and 25 years before that. Just about everything anyone can think of has been tried and tested as a treatment for that condition. Why then do some Westerners shun the results of what we’ve been able to learn, and instead seek out folk remedies notable only for their roots in pre-scientific knowledge? Nowhere is this trend more aptly illustrated than in the latest fad, oil pulling.
Oil pulling is an alternative therapy that involves putting vegetable oil in your mouth, swishing it around for a few minutes, then spitting it out. There are many different variations. Some say you should do it for about 3 minutes; some say you should do it for a full 20 minutes. Some say you should gargle it; some say you should swish it around; some say you should fill your entire mouth cavity completely and just hold it. The types of oil to be used also do not seem to adhere to any particular standard: some say that any store-bought oil is equally useful; some specify that coconut oil should be used; some say sesame oil, sunflower oil, or even the oil produced by separating butter, called ghee in India.
For all the many variations of how oil pulling is to be done, there are just as many conflicting beliefs about what it is supposed to do for you. Most often found is the claim that it cleans and protects your teeth from plaque and bacteria, but just as common is the idea that it “pulls” toxins out of your body (thus the name oil pulling). Like all alternative detoxification claims, there is no accepted description of what these alleged “toxins” are. An article on Food Matters, an anti-pharmaceutical activism web site based on the 2008 film of the same name, lists the following as other “possible benefits of oil pulling for overall health”:
- Migraine headache relief
- Correcting hormone imbalances
- Reducing inflammation of arthritis
- May help with gastro-enteritis
- Aids in the reduction of eczema
- May reduce symptoms of bronchitis
- Helps support normal kidney function
- May help reduce sinus congestion
- Some people report improved vision
- Helps reduce insomnia
- Reduced hangover after alcohol consumption
- Aids in reducing pain
- Reduces the symptoms of allergies
- Helps detoxify the body of harmful metals and organisms
Oilpulling.com says that:
Oilpulling heals totally “head-aches, bronchitis, tooth pain, thrombosis, eczema, ulcers and diseases of stomach, intestines, heart, blood, kidney, liver, lungs and women’s diseases. It heals diseases of nerves, paralysis, and encephalitis. It prevents the growth of malignant tumors, cuts and heals them. Chronic sleeplessness is cured.”
Taken by itself, any one of these is likely to raise your eyebrows: How, the 21st century mind might ask, could swishing a non-specific type of oil in your mouth using non-specific technique address any or all of these conditions? Is human biology really so simple and its health really so easily manipulated? How could someone be convinced by such a claim?
The answer to that question should come as no surprise to regular Skeptoid listeners. We turn to our list of logical fallacies, and look up the Appeal to Antiquity: the invalid logic which states that an idea is old, therefore it’s valid. The antiquity in this case, as presented by nearly every book and web site that promotes oil pulling, is ayurveda, traditional medicine from India.
Today I am going to focus specifically on one essential oil blog which came to my attention through a Facebook post about making your own “dry shampoo.” Why did I click on it? Sigh. Well, I did. I ended up at an essential oil seller making not just bogus claims, but downright dangerous claims. Of course, this seller protects herself with the standard FDA fake medicine disclaimer. Let’s look at a few of the more dangerous suggestions on the site.
Let’s meet Dana. Dana says she is doula and certified by DONA international. A doula is basically a coach for the birthing process. It does not signify any medical training. Yes, before you comment, I know there are nurses and other medical professionals that also serve as doulas. But she does not reveal any medical training. So in essence, she is a coach for the birth. She says:
My mission is to provide women with the information they need to make confident decisions about their labor, the emotional support to motivate them to the next level and the physical comfort to embrace their birth experience.
Based on the information on her website, she isn’t doing a great job of informing.
Let’s look at the information on how to become a “home healer,” which turns out she admits simply means you use lots and lots of the product she is selling. She starts by selling an over $150 “family physician kit.” I find this claim to be dangerous, as well as a bit insulting. Being a physician requires medical education and years of training. To call yourself a physician is a bit like calling myself a professional hockey player because I occasionally shoot the puck around. Here are a few of the claims of the oils in this kit:
You may have already heard me talk about how I only ever use doTERRA’s essential oils, because they are 100% certified pure therapeutic grade. This makes me feel great because I know that what I’m putting in/on my body and my family’s body, is safe and natural. There are no synthetics or fillers in the doTERRA oils and they are highly potent and effective.
What does 100% certified therapeutic grade mean? It turns out the phase is a registered trademark of doTERRA. The great irony is the proponents of these oils claim “big pharma” is shady. I can only imagine how they would feel if “big pharma” reviewed their own science without any FDA or peer review – because that is exactly what doTERRA is doing here. They have no science or any details on what this process means. In other words, it is nonsense.
The next claim is that what you are putting in your body is safe and natural. These are fake (alternative/homeopathic/natural/naturopathic/etc) medicine buzz words. Just because it is natural doesn’t make it safe all the time and in every case. And natural is another weird word. Usually in fake medicine circles as “coming from a plant,” it has no real meaning since the chemicals in the oils are still processed to make them “100% certified therapeutic grade.” So is that natural?
The statement about highly potent and effective is interesting. Because one of my problems with these oils is that because they come from plants, and there is no oversight as to how the oils are processed, the potency is a bit of an unknown.
Alternative cancer cures.
These so called cures have been around with us for as long as science based cancer treatments have been around with us. In fact some of them have been around even longer than that.
These so called cures, while different, also have many things in common, which I have narrowed down to five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about alternative cancer cures:
5. There’s a lot of them.
One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed about alternative cancer cures is that there are a lot of different types of “cures” floating around the internet and alternative medicine communities, and that there seems to be a new one that comes out every few weeks.
I’ve seen claims that balancing your ph levels, vitamins, organic foods, “detoxing” your body of chemicals, breathing in pure oxygen, and soursop can cure cancer, and in ways and speeds that would make conventional treatments obsolete.
The most recent claims I’ve seen concern cannabis oil. Along with doing all sorts of other stuff, the rumors spreading around the internet is that either cannabis oil can cure or at least stop the growth of cancer cells.
While there are a lot of different alternative medical treatments that are claimed to cure cancer, there are a few things that they all have in common, such as the fact that…
4. Many of the claims are exaggerated and dubious.
Of all the alternative cancer cures that I have seen floating around the internet they all just sound blatantly exaggerated, and when I do some research into these claims I find out that they are often times full of half truths, or are outright false. Examples of this would be Soursop which is claimed to be 10,000 times more effective than chemo (both exaggerated and false), and vitamins are often claimed to kill cancer cells because it can kill them in a petri dish (that doesn’t mean it can kill them in the human body).
Many people who promote these so called alternative cancer cures also claim that there is a “conspiracy” by “big pharma” to suppress these so called “cures” (which they have done a terrible job at) and is the reason why doctors won’t even mention these alternative “cures”. This is ofcourse made up nonsense and BS conspiracy theories. The real reason why doctors don’t recommend alternative cancer cures is because…
3. They don’t work and are dangerous.
As the old saying goes “You know what they call an alternative medicine that works? Medicine.”
The fact is that these so called alternative cancer cures don’t work. They have been tested in scientific laboratories, and have been shown . . .
by Jerry De Luca via My Best Buddy Media
One can’t help but be perplexed by the bizarre world of homeopathy. From miracle cures to snake oil peddling, from deceptive advertising to FDA warnings, from questionable medical claims to rigorous scientific testing, it’s an uncanny circle of health declarations and assertions. Here is hopefully a comprehensive overview of the evidence in 17 concise reasons……
1 • The active ingredient of a homeopathic remedy is diluted to a ratio of: 1 : 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Or to look it another way, combine all the world’s oceans, let one drop of the active ingredient plunge into the middle, stir, and the result is a genuine homeopathic cure. The world’s most powerful microscope would be needed to locate even a single molecule in the average pill or tablet. When two completely different homeopathic remedies with two completely different “healing” agents are compared under a microscope, they are INDISTINGUISHABLE from each other!
2 • Homeopaths claim their pills work because “the water remembers” – the active ingredient has made “contact” with it. This has never been proven in any field of science – chemistry, physics, and molecular biology. Furthermore, many homeopathic remedies are dry tablets or pills. There is no water to remember.
3 • The FDA does not require manufacturers of homeopathic products to prove their efficacy or safety. They are under no obligation to test their products. You have to take their word for it.
4 • Homeopaths advocate the “Principle of Similars”. They assert if you take the substance that made you sick in the first place, and dilute it to almost total invisibility, then ingest it, you will be cured. With a couple of rare exceptions (anti-venom is derived from venom, but contains numerous other elements), this has never been proven scientifically. A comparable is the homeopathic remedy that is supposed to help you fall asleep – the sleeping pill. What is the miniscule active ingredient? Caffeine! Time and again skeptics have publicly ingested several full bottles of “sleeping pills” without exuding even a yawn (http://www.1023.org.uk/the-1023-overdose-event.php).
5 • Many homeopathic manufacturers lie when they claim on their product labels that the remedy is FDA approved. Most consumers assume this refers to its efficacy. In fact the FDA has only ratified its safety. These are the exceptions, as most homeopathic products are not sent for any testing to the FDA.
6 • In recent years the FDA has successfully sued several homeopathic companies for making unsubstantiated claims to cure a variety of diseases. However, many companies have found a legal loophole by claiming cures for general illnesses, not specifics. For example, the product will help your “liver problems”, with no mention whatsoever of hepatitis. Also, many homeopaths will make these claims verbally in one-on-one sessions with the patient, where there is no legal liability.
Why do some people continue to use alternative medicine?
Despite all the information there is about alternative medicine and how not only does it not work, but that infact it can even be harmful, people still use it and believe that it really does work.
So why is it that people still use alternative medicine? Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve come up with quite a few reasons why:
Science based medicine is an incredible thing and can cure many diseases and fix a lot of things that can go wrong with the human body, but unfortunately it can’t cure every disease, or fix everything that goes wrong with our bodies (not yet atleast). So when science based medicine can’t fix or cure what ever is wrong with us (or atleast not doing so in a way that is fast enough for us) some people, even rational people, might become desperate enough to use alternative medicine.
This sort of situation especially happens when someone has a terminal disease and they are told by their doctor that there is nothing they can do to cure what ever it is that is killing them. Some people will not accept this and will seek out anything that is claimed to be able to cure them (even if all the evidence says otherwise).
They think it’s cheaper
Because alternative medicine isn’t manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies (who are for profit businesses) it is assumed by some people that alternative medicine must be cheaper than science based medicine because they believe that the people who are manufacturing these alternative medical products are not doing it for a profit, plus when a person is told about a product that is suppose to be cheaper and work better than the conventional product, people tend to buy the supposedly cheaper product.
Now if you seriously believe that alternative medicine is cheaper than science based medicine, and that people who make these alternative medical products are not doing so for a profit, then I know a Nigerian prince that wants to give you $15,000,000.
A friend told them it works
Probably the best form of advertising there is is word of mouth. You don’t do have to pay for anything, and people tend to trust the opinion of a friend or family member over a creative ad in a newspaper or a TV commercial. Same thing holds true with alternative medicine.
Lets say you’ve been sick for a while and you have been taking some medicine for what ever has been ailing you, but so far it has had little to no affect. You tell a friend or a family member about your health issues and they might recommend that you take some herbs, or to go see this “doctor” that they recommend (who turns out to be an alternative medicine practitioner and not a real doctor) because they claim that it helped them, or it helped someone they know. Because you trust the person whom is recommending this “doctor” or this product, you might be more willing to see this “doctor” or try this product than you would if some stranger had told you.
Science based medicine can be harsh
Science based medicine (or modern medicine, or real medicine as some people like to call it) is a great thing. It has cured a lot of stuff, and has extended our average life expectancy by years, but it can also be pretty harsh at times as well. Because of this some people might either choose to stop using a science based medical treatment because they feel that it has become to harsh on them and that they believe that it might kill them if they continue to use, and so they decided to use alternative medicine instead because they believe it will help them without any side effects, or they might already know (or atleast believe) that the medical treatment that they’ve been recommend that they do could or will be harsh on them, and they decide to forgo it and use alternative medicine instead.
- Prince Charles and homeopathy: crank or revolutionary? (telegraph.co.uk)
- Affordable Care Act Raises Status Of Alternative Medicine; Insurance Companies ‘Shall Not Discriminate’ Against Practitioners (medicaldaily.com)
- Integrative Medicine’s Collateral Damage|Jann Bellamy|Science-Based Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Indian board of alternative medicines fake? Talking about Alternative medicines (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Is Indian board of alternative medicines fake? Orthodox Medicine Vs Alternative Medicine (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Because the world needs more Mark CrislipTM|Mark Crislip|Science-Based Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Can the IoE Revolutionize Alternative Medicine? (blogs.cisco.com)
- Online USA Doctors is Now Offering Complimentary, Alternative Medicine (prweb.com)
- This Is Actually A Fast Breakdown Of Alternative Medicine (healthmarketpress.wordpress.com)
“…craniosacral therapy bears approximately the same relationship to real medicine that astrology bears to astronomy…. [it] is medical fiction….” — Steve E Hartman and James M Norton*
Craniosacral therapy (a.k.a. craniopathy and cranial osteopathy) is a holistic therapy that involves the manipulation of the skull bones (the cranium) and the sacrum to relieve pain and a variety of other ailments, including cancer. (The sacrum is a bone between the lumbar vertebrae and tail vertebrae, composed of five fused vertebrae that form the posterior pelvic wall.) The therapy was invented by osteopath William G. Sutherland in the 1930s. Another osteopath, John Upledger, is the leading proponent of craniosacral therapy today. Like other holistic therapies, this one emphasizes subjective concepts such as energy, harmony, balance, rhythm, and flow.
Craniosacral therapists claim to be able to detect a craniosacral “rhythm” in the cranium, sacrum, cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which envelop the craniosacral system. The balance and flow of this rhythm is considered essential to good health. The rhythm is measured by the therapist’s hands. Any needed or effected changes in rhythm are also detected only by the therapist’s hands. No instrument is used to measure the rhythm or its changes, hence no systematic objective measurement of healthy versus unhealthy rhythms exists. The measurement, the therapy, and the declared cure are all subjectively based. As one therapist put it:
During the treatment, the client is usually supine on a table. The therapist assesses the patterns of energy in the body through touch at several “listening stations” and then decides where to start that day and how to focus the treatment. [Woodruff]
The same therapist maintains that the therapy is “a waste of time and money” for people who do not have faith in the therapy. Successful treatments, however, may well be due to the placebo effect and subjective validation. Since there is no plausible biological basis for the claims made by therapists for craniosacral rhythms, it is likely that the therapists are deluded, i.e., imagining they are detecting and manipulating a subtle energy.
Skeptics note that the skull does not consist of moveable parts (unlike the jaw) and brain cells lack actin and myosin (the things in muscle cells that make them move). The only rhythm detectable in the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid is related to the cardiovascular system, but craniosacral therapists deny craniosacral rhythms are due to blood pressure. When tested, therapists have been unable to consistently come up with the same measurements of the alleged craniosacral rhythm. (Dr. Ben Goldacre says there have been five such published studies and “in none of them did the osteopaths give similar answers.”) In a systematic review of the scientific evidence for craniosacral therapy, the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment (BCOHTA) concluded that
The available research on craniosacral treatment effectiveness constitutes low-grade evidence conducted using inadequate research protocols. One study reported negative side effects in outpatients with traumatic brain injury. Low inter-rater reliability ratings were found. CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review and critical appraisal found insufficient evidence to support craniosacral therapy. Research methods that could conclusively evaluate effectiveness have not been applied to date. (1999)
The fact that there is no objective measurement of craniosacral rhythms and that the subjective measurements of practitioners show much disharmony, imbalance, and lack of unity far outweighs the anecdotes of people who give credit to the therapy for relieving them of some malady. If the anecdotes were backed by scientific studies, using proper controls and randomization techniques, the weight of the evidence would swing in favor of the therapy. Such studies are lacking. Six studies have been done, but only one was done with proper controls and that study was negative. There is simply no good evidence for the claims made by practitioners of craniosacral therapy about cranial rhythms being either measurable or an important factor in anyone’s health and well-being.
As one research professor at a college of osteopathy put it:
since interexaminer reliability is zero, and since no properly randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled outcome studies demonstrating clinical efficacy have been published, cranial osteopathy should be removed from the required curricula of colleges of osteopathic medicine and from osteopathic licensing examinations.
View a video:
[END] via The Skeptic’s Dictionary
- Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy | How does it work? (intobeingblog.wordpress.com)
- Is Craniosacral Therapy Effective for Migraine? Tested with HIT-6 Questionnaire. (craniosacralresearch.wordpress.com)
- Craniosacral Breastfeeding Therapy & Support (mosaicchildrenstherapy.wordpress.com)
- Effects of craniosacral therapy as adjunct to standard treatment for pelvic girdle pain in pregnant women: a multicenter, single blind, randomized controlled trial (craniosacralresearch.wordpress.com)
- Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy | Breath of Life (giselaandersson.wordpress.com)
- CranioSacral Therapy Reduces Chronic Back Pain and Improves Structural Balance (ipsbmassageresearch.wordpress.com)
- Craniosacral Therapy (twomamasonebaby.wordpress.com)
- Cranio-Sacral Therapy (consgoodness.wordpress.com)
- Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy | Vagus Nerve | Compassion & Longevity (giselaandersson.wordpress.com)
- Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy | How does it work? (giselaandersson.wordpress.com)
It’s a multi-billion dollar scam industry that millions of people around the world use the products and services of year after year.
Many people who use alternative medicine will say it works, while many, many others will say otherwise.
Now there are a lot of things that I have notice about alternative medicine, but I have narrowed it down to five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about alternative medicine:
5. It has a lot to do about nothing.
Alternative medicine products and services basically comes in two different forms: does nothing and uses nothing.
Most alternative medicine just doesn’t work at all (such as homeopathy), and the few that actually does do something, the effects are minor and no where near as effective as real medicine, and could even be harmful if done improperly.
Then there are some that not only does nothing, but uses nothing as well. Reiki healing is a prime example of this as practitioners of Reiki healing practitioners claim that they use “energy” from some unknown source to “heal” people. Sometimes they will use crystals to harness this power. Sometimes they’ll just use their hands. Regardless of how they “harness” this energy, they all do the same thing: nothing.
4. It works off of anecdotal evidence
Some of the best “evidence” that practitioners of alternative medicine have about how effect the products and services they offer works is anecdotal evidence. In fact it’s not just best evidence they can give, it’s also often the only evidence they can ever give (besides the stuff they make up) mainly because scientific experimentation and testing have proven that their products and services are useless.
Most practitioners of alternative medicine will tell you that their products and services does make people feel better, what they often don’t tell you is how long it took to fix or cure whatever was ailing those who used their products or services, or whether they were using real medicine and medical services along with the alternative medicine, or how many people it didn’t work for and ended up having to go and get real medicine and medical services when the alternative medicine failed to cure any thing but perhaps a heavy wallet. And that’s another thing about alternative medicine…
3. It gets expensive.
Some alternative medicine is cheap (or at least it seems that way) but a lot of it is either over priced and even cost to much for some to use (which can be a good thing in a way, because the expense forces that person to go get real medicine). Even for people with health insurance it can still get expensive because most health insurance companies will not pay for alternative medicine, so a person who wants to use alternative medicine will have to pay for it out of pocket.
Even for the alternative medicine that isn’t expensive, and can still get expensive because . . .
- Misinformation from Mayo Clinic|Steven Novella|Neurologica (theness.com)
- Indian board of alternative medicines is not fake! (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Doctors are too trusting of alternative medicine (irishtimes.com)
- The Best Critique of Alternative Medicine Ever (slate.com)
- Findings from Shanghai Jiao-Tong University Provides New Data on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (hispanicbusiness.com)
- How To Improve Kidney Function With Natural And Alternative Medicine (healthsandbeauty.wordpress.com)
- Dr. Paul Offit On Believing in Magic in Medicine (ieet.org)
- Indian board of alternative medicines is not fake: Scope of alternative medicine (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
- Communing with a Reiki Master (travel-monkey.me)
- Indian board of alternative medicines not fake : Positives of alternative treatment for cancer (altmedworld.wordpress.com)
The pragmatic fallacy is committed when one argues that something is true because it works and where ‘works’ means something like “I’m satisfied with it,” “I feel better,” “I find it beneficial, meaningful, or significant,” or “It explains things for me.” For example, many people claim that astrology works, acupuncture works, chiropractic works, homeopathy works, numerology works, palmistry works, therapeutic touch works. What ‘works’ means here is vague and ambiguous. At the least, it means that one perceives some practical benefit in believing that it is true, despite the fact that the utility of a belief is independent of its truth-value.
The pragmatic fallacy is common in “alternative” health claims and is often based on post hoc reasoning. For example, one has a sore back, wears the new magnetic or takionic belt, finds relief soon afterwards, and declares that the magic belt caused the pain to go away. How does one know this? Because it works! There is also some equivocation going on in the alternative health claims that fall under the heading of “energy medicine,” such as acupuncture and therapeutic touch. The evidence pointed to often uses ‘works’ in the sense of ‘the customer is satisfied’ or ‘the patient improves,’ but the conclusion drawn is that ‘chi was unblocked’ or ‘energy was transferred.’
There is a common retort to the skeptic who points out that customer satisfaction is irrelevant to whether the device, medicine, or therapy in question really is a significant causal factor in some outcome. Who cares why it works as long as it works? You can argue about the theory as to why it works, but you can’t argue about the customer satisfaction or the fact that measurable improvements can be made. That’s all that matters.
It isn’t all that matters. Testimonials are not a substitute for scientific studies, which are done to make sure that we are not deceiving ourselves about what appears to be true. It is especially necessary to . . .
- Integrated Medicine (illuminutti.com)
- The Unsinkable Rubber Duck Of Alternative Medicine (acneeinstein.com)
- The fallacy of the middle ground (ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com)
- The Curious Case of Correlation ≠ Causation (sensitivecontext.com)
- Logical Fallacies (gpissues.wordpress.com)
Via The Soap Box
Psychics, and alternative medicine practitioners. Two different groups of people who peddle BS pseudoscience that wastes gullible peoples money. But which one is worse?
Now many people would say that alternative medicine practitioners are worse, because not only are they peddling something and taking peoples’ money for products and services that do not work, they’re also physically harming people as well, and even risking peoples lives by not only selling them products and services that makes them think they can forgo real medicine and medical services that could help them and even save their lives for the alternative stuff, but also selling them products and services that really can cause harm, and possibly even kill you.
So it sounds like a no brainer, right? Alternative medicine practitioners are selling you products and services that could harm you and possibly kill you, while psychics are just taking your money. Except… many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they are doing is harmful, because some do seriously believe that alternative medicine does work (this is mostly due to anecdotal evidence).
People claiming to be psychics on the other hand are different, because while many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they’re doing is fraud, psychics on the other hand almost always know what they’re doing is fraud.
Psychic powers simply do not exist. Every person who has ever been tested for psychic powers under controlled scientific testing conditions have always failed to prove that they have psychic powers, and the really famous so called psychics have never gone and had their alleged powers proven under controlled scientific testing conditions, so it is very safe to say that psychic powers don’t exist, and that anyone who is claiming to be a psychic is most likely lying (although it is also possible that they may be self-deluded and have actually convinced themselves they are psychic, or they’re just mentally ill) and therefore if they do take any money from you for their services, are knowingly committing fraud.
Besides committing fraud, psychics also . . .
I have been a fan of Dr. Susan Blackmore ever since i read her book In Search of the Light: The Adventures of a Parapsychologist.
One of my favorite topics she writes and talks about is her theory that we don’t have free will. I am fascinated by such a counterintuitive idea. Maybe you will be too.
This video is about an hour long, i haven’t finished watching it yet, but i’m sure i will enjoy it if it’s like all her other discussions.
Watch the video below to see the strangest cloud phenomenon you will ever see! Guaranteed.
Then click the link below the video for the explanation from the good people over at Ghost Theory. Cool stuff.
- Ghost Picture of the Day: Light Anomaly (ghostsnghouls.com)
- The Friendly “Ghost” (rethinkingtheology.com)
- Ghost investigation at Fort Desoto (tampataxihack.com)
- Ghost hunters check Tasmania’s Franklin House for bumps in the night (abc.net.au)
- Ghostly Pics: Hampton Court Ghost (newsfromthespiritworld.com)
It’s time for alternative medicine to take its medicine! (See what I did there?)
About a year ago the editors of Anesthesia & Analgesia solicited a written debate on whether or not acupuncture is effective or simply an elaborate placebo. Four experienced acupuncture researchers agreed to write the pro-acupuncture article, Wang, Harris, Lin and Gan.
The article is fortunately published in open access, and so I can reprint it here (full article is below). What I think David and I convincingly demonstrated is that, according to the usual standards of medicine, acupuncture does not work.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Clinical research can never prove that an intervention has an effect size of zero. Rather, clinical research assumes the null hypothesis, that the treatment does not work, and the burden of proof lies with demonstrating adequate evidence to reject the null hypothesis. So, when being technical, researchers will conclude that a negative study “fails to reject the null hypothesis.”
Further, negative studies do not demonstrate an effect size of zero, but rather that any possible effect is likely to be smaller than the power of existing research to detect. The greater the number and power of such studies, however, the closer this remaining possible effect size gets to zero. At some point the remaining possible effect becomes clinically insignificant.
In other words, clinical research may not be able to detect the difference between zero effect and a tiny effect, but at some point it becomes irrelevant.
What David and I have convincingly argued, in my opinion, is that after decades of research and more than 3000 trials, acupuncture researchers have failed to reject the null hypothesis, and any remaining possible specific effect from acupuncture is so tiny as to be clinically insignificant.
In layman’s terms, acupuncture does not work – for anything.
This has profound clinical, ethical, scientific, and practical implications. In my opinion humanity should not waste another penny, another moment, another patient – any further resources on this dead end. We should consider this a lesson learned, cut our losses, and move on.
I suspect, however, human nature being what it is, that this will not happen anytime soon.
Read the entire article Acupuncture Is Theatrical Placebo (Anesthesia & Analgesia).
- A closer look at vitamin injections (illuminutti.com)
- Energy Medicine – Noise-Based Pseudoscience (illuminutti.com)
- A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind (illuminutti.com)
- What You Need To Know About Acupuncture (thehealthandwellnesszone.com)
- The acupuncture debate – is it over? (scienceornot.net)
- Science-Based Medicine Ebooks, Volumes 7-12 Now Available (randi.org)
- Science Journalism (theness.com)
- The Science Behind Acupuncture As Treatment For Osteoarthritis (wholesomeone.com)
Written by JREF Staff
In the latest installment of our ongoing video series The Randi Show, James Randi goes in-depth on Dr. Oz‘s recent support of homeopathy. Should a medical doctor with a large television audience promote baseless pseudoscience? Randi thinks not.
- James Randi on Dr. Oz and Homeopathy (VIDEO) (randi.org)
- Homeopathy Again Strikes Out In Style (randi.org)
- Keeping Up the Pressure (illuminutti.com)
- James Randi Videos Added! (illuminutti.com)
- Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi (illuminutti.com)
- Dr. Oz’s journey to the Dark Side is now more than complete: It’s homeopathy time! [Respectful Insolence] (scienceblogs.com)
- Keeping Up the Pressure (randi.org)
- Has Dr. Oz Jumped the Shark? (sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com)
Any sociological question is likely going to have a complex answer with many variables that are not easy to tease apart. We should therefore resist the temptation to make simplistic statements about X being the cause of Y. We can still, however, identify correlations that will at least inform our thinking. Sometimes correlations can be triangulated to fairly reliable conclusions.
When the data is complex and difficult to interpret, however, evidence tends to be overwhelmed by narrative. The recent Sandy Hook tragedy is an excellent example. No one knows exactly why the shooter did what he did, so it is easy to insert your own preferred narrative as the explanation.
Another example is the phenomenon of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Why has it been increasing in popularity (and is it, really?). Is it slick marketing, relaxed regulations, scientific illiteracy, a gullible media, or the failures of mainstream medicine? You can probably guess I think it’s all of these things to some degree. The most common narrative I hear by far, however, is the latter – if people are turning to CAM it must be because mainstream medicine has failed them. This version of reality is often promoted by CAM marketing.
The evidence that we have, however, simply does not support this narrative. Studies show that satisfaction with mainstream medicine is not an important factor in deciding to use CAM, that CAM users are generally satisfied with their mainstream care, and they use CAM because it aligns with their philosophy, and they simply want to expand their options.
None of this is to imply that mainstream medicine has no problems or failings – it does. We should, however, be working toward keeping and improving what works and fixing what doesn’t, not discarding science and reason to embrace fantasy as an alternative. This is often the false choice presented by CAM proponents, and is analogous to creationists pointing out alleged weaknesses in the theory of evolution as an argument for creationism as an alternative.
MORE . . .
- Why Do People turn to Alternative Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Alternative Medicine Use Common In Kids With Chronic Conditions: Study (prn.fm)
- “Mainstream” Doctors and Nurses Often Use Alternative Medicine for Themselves (consciouslifenews.com)
- CAM practitioners versus preventative medicine (scienceblogs.com)
Like their counterparts in traditional Chinese medicine who useacupuncture, as well as their counterparts in the West who usetherapeutic touch (TT), the practitioners of reiki believe that health and disease are a matter of the life force being disrupted. Belief in a life force, known as vitalism, was common in the West until the 19th century. Since then, the concept of life force has joined phlogiston, ether, and many other superannuated ideas on the rubbish heap of discarded scientific notions.
The belief in vitalism is still strong in China, India (where the life force is called prana), Africa (animism), and Japan Each believes that the universe is full of some sort of vital energy that cannot be detected by any scientific instruments, but which can be felt and controlled, often by special people who learn the tricks of the trade.
Reiki healers differ from acupuncturists in that they do not try tounblock a person’s ki, but to channel the ki of the universe so that the client or patient heals. The channeling is done with the hands, and like TT no physical massaging is necessary since ki flows through the body of the healer into the patient. The reiki master claims to be able to draw upon the energy of the universe and increase his or her own energy while performing a healing. Reiki healers claim to channel ki into ill or injured individuals for “rebalancing.” Depending on the training and beliefs of the healer, reiki is used to treat a wide array of ailments. Larry Arnold and Sandra Nevins claim in The Reiki Handbook (1992) that reiki is useful for treating brain damage, cancer, diabetes, and venereal diseases. Many reiki healers are more modest and treat lesser problems such as fatigue or muscle soreness. I was once treated by a reiki practitioner for a wrist injury. The treatment didn’t work because I was a non-believer, or so I was told. If the healing fails—and it will inevitably fail for such things as cancer—it is because the patient is resisting the healing energy. Non-belief is one of the great blocks to healing energy. There is a reason for that, which we will explore below.
- Does Reiki really work? (illuminutti.com)
- Does Reiki really work? (Relatively Interesting)
- Acupressure and Reiki (curesbyreiki.com)
- Reiki Healing Now Available Online: New Marketplace for Healers at… (prweb.com)
- Reiki Healing Now Available Online: New Marketplace for Healers at PsychicTarot.us (virtual-strategy.com)
- What is Reiki? (urbanenergywellness.wordpress.com)
- Reiki, What is it and does it work? (librarianbrain.wordpress.com)
- Reiki Level 2 – Practitioner Level (personalspiritualdevelopment.com)
During a recent gathering with neighbours I found it hard to keep my cool when someone told me recent evidence had come out supporting reflexology’s credentials as a healing technique. Expressing just a touch of scepticism, ho ho, I got the irritated response that ‘science doesn’t know everything’. I’ve already treated that ‘criticism’ in my introductory ‘fountains of good stuff’ podcast, transcribed here, but I feel the need to go further in dealing with this odd line of attack, because it annoys the shit out of me.
‘Science doesn’t know everything’ is one of those semantically not-quite-right phrases that reminds me of the half-opaque lines of Ringo Starr (examples are ‘tomorrow never knows’ and ‘it’s been a hard day’s night’) that tickled Lennon and McCartney into basing songs around them. Science isn’t a sentient being as far as I’m aware – and if it is I hope it’s not a…
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Reiki, a spiritual practice developed by a Japanese Buddhist in 1992, has developed into various traditions. Some call is palm healing, others label it hands on healing – bottom line, it’s complementary therapy and a form of meditation. That being said, Reiki stands out in the world of meditation – but why?
A traditional Reiki whole-body Reiki treatment would go like this: The Reiki practitioner has the patient lie down and relax on a massage table, and then helps bring the patient to a clear and more peaceful state of mind. The practitioner places his hands either on or above various positions and is kept for a few minutes on each position. The main areas covered by this process are the head, back and front of the upper body, the knees and the feet. A general treatment usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
The practitioners believe they are “transferring universal energy (known as reiki) through the palms that allow self-healing and a state of equilibrium.” The process is energizing as a massage and there is a unique emotional/mental level of enhancement that the form of meditation provides. Reiki is unique for having its own array of formats and soundtracks.
Some hospitals have adapted Reiki principles in their programs to help cancer patients and other ill-bodied folk. Throughout the country, Reiki has become a regular practice for them. However, according to the American Cancer Society, “Available scientific evidence at this time does not support claims that Reiki can help treat cancer or any other illness. More study may help determine to what extent, if at all, it can improve a patient’s sense of well being.” Backed by the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) on that theory, Reiki has no scientific evidence to help anyone with anything. But then again, the art of meditation and massage has never been backed by science (other than for general relaxation and localized improvements, respectively) – it dates back for centuries and is based on anecdotal results rather than scientific research. There must be something to it; otherwise the tradition would have died down over the years instead of finding its way into modern-era hospitals. That something is called “the placebo effect“. Throw in a little confirmation bias, and a dash of personalized 1-on-1 attention from another person, and you’ve got yourself an “effective treatment“.
MORE . . .
- Reiki, What is it and does it work? (librarianbrain.wordpress.com)
- Gradual Acceptance of Reiki Therapy in Mainstream Medicine – 5 (curesbyreiki.com)
- How can Reiki help you? (healinghappenshere.wordpress.com)
- Reiki Clients Report Decreased Stress, Pain, Anxiety; Elevated Mood and More Relaxed (reikihealingenergy.net)
What is homeopathy?
Ask many people what they think homeopathy is and you’ll be told “it’s herbal medicine” or “it’s all-natural”. Actually, it is neither of these.
Few people realise that homeopathy involves diluting substances so much that there’s literally nothing left in them.
Homeopathy is an absurd pseudoscience, which survives today as a “complementary” or “alternative” medicine, despite there being no reliable scientific evidence that it works. (keep reading)
Contrary to popular belief, ‘homeopathy’ is not the same as herbal medicine.
Homeopathy is based on three central tenets, unchanged since their invention by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.
The Law of Similars
The law of similars states that whatever would cause your symptoms, will also cure those same symptoms. Thus, if you find yourself unable to sleep, taking caffeine will help; streaming eyes due to hayfever can be treated with onions, and so on. This so-called law was based upon nothing other than Hahnemann’s own imagination. You don’t need to have a medical degree to see the flawed reasoning in taking caffeine – a stimulant – to help you sleep; yet caffeine is, even today, prescribed by homeopaths (under the name ‘coffea’) as a treatment for insomnia.
The Law of Infinitesimals
Following on from his ‘law of similars’, Hahnemann proposed he could improve the effect of his ‘like-cures-like treatments’ by repeatedly diluting them in water. The more dilute the remedy, Hahnemann decided, the stronger it will become. Thus was born his ‘Law of Infinitesimals’.
James Randi Encourages Skeptics to “Overdose” on Homeopathic Medicines
- Homeopathic Logic (illuminutti.com)
- Randi and the race-car driver (skepticblog.org)
- Huffington Post explains ‘How Homeopathic Medicines Work’, without bothering to mention that they don’t (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Can Homeopathy Treat Domestic Violence? (news.discovery.com)
- A Pharmacy That Won’t Sell Pseudoscience (sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com)
- Killed by Homeopathy (thonyc.wordpress.com)
Homeopathic logic is real logic that has been diluted into non-existence. The solvent is bias and propaganda. I was recently pointed to an excellent example of this – an article written by a homeopath arguing that homeopathy is superior to modern medicine. It’s published in what appears to be an obscure rag, but it does represent common arguments put forth by homeopaths so it doesn’t really matter.
Here is the main point of the article:
There are many differences in both the disciplines of medicines. Let’s just focus on one main difference and that is the fact that none of the homeopathic medicines introduced during the last two hundred and fifty years was withdrawn from the market.
The author, Asghar Ali Shah, uses the term, “allopathy” throughout the article. This is a derogatory term used mainly by critics of science-based medicine, and immediately reveals the author’s bias. In the statement above he is also trying to present homeopathy and mainstream medicine as two “disciplines of medicines,” which is a false equivalency. This is a common tactic of fringe beliefs, to appear as a viable alternative to the mainstream, followed, of course, by arguments for its superiority.
Homeopathy, however, is a prescientific superstition that is at odds with basic science, and not just medicine but physics, chemistry, and biology.
Ali Shah’s argument is that real medicine has side effects, and sometimes need to be pulled from the market, while homeopathic potions do not have side effects and are never withdrawn. Ironically, he is actually making an argument for that fact homeopathic products are both worthless and not science-based.
Homeopathic products (mostly – some products labeled homeopathic may have active ingredients) do not have side effects because they do not have any effects. Most are diluted well past the point of having any active ingredient. What is left is ultimately just a sugar pill – a pure placebo.
MORE . . .