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The acceptance of all things alternative

I have been amazed with the intelligent people who are willing to accept things like acupuncture. In two separate conversations with two separate people, both of whom I consider to be intelligent, one works in IT, we'll call him Izzy, and one is actually a molecular biologist working with stem cell research, we will call him Stemmy, both thought the use of acupuncture was fine.

Izzy said I was being closed minded, though could not explain to me how acupuncture actually worked. And Stemmy said if it helps people then why not.

In the case of Stemmy I backed down quickly, since we were at a polite dinner party, and I had just met him. With Izzy I pressed very hard, and I think it was to my detriment. I felt he was digging in as a response to my questions. I need to think of a way to overcome that, and maybe be a little more light handed in the matter. I did send him some articles on why acupuncture is not real, and he said I should look at the pro acupuncture literature. Fair enough.

The one trend I noticed in both Stemmy and Izzy is that they both had friends or family who believed or used acupuncture. I can only theorize that they are loathe to slam acupuncture, because it would be like slamming their friends/family. I am not asking them to reject their friends and family though, just acupuncture.

Still I respect Stemmy and Izzy, I just don't understand their acceptance of acupuncture, whatever the reason.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2007 05:41 am (UTC)
I would think that the real question here is "does acupuncture work?" rather than "how does acupuncture work?". If you can present compelling evidence that, in fact, acupuncture does not work (i.e. that the results are statistically the same or worse than doing nothing at all), then I would argue that you clearly have a right to disrespect the practice.

However, if the evidence does point strongly to a beneficial effect from doing acupuncture, then the fact that there is currently no existing explanation for the effect based on current science implies ignorance on the part of the scientist.

But of course, I don't know enough about the subject of acupuncture to vouch for either side :)
Nov. 26th, 2007 07:04 am (UTC)
Light Reading

In a nutshell the study proves that real acupuncture ( following the meridians of the body and setting the needles at the prescribed depth ) is as effective as fake acupuncture ( randomly placing the needles all to a depth of 3 millimeters ).

This is commonly called the placebo affect. :)

My problem with acupuncture is that it detracts from real medicine. If the only gain is placebo, then there is no point in doing it.

Additionally here are a list of claims of what acupuncture can cure/treat

# Digestive disorders: gastritis and hyperacidity, spastic colon, constipation, diarrhea.
# Respiratory disorders: sinusitis, sore throat, bronchitis, asthma, recurrent chest infections.
# Neurological and muscular disorders: headaches, facial tics, neck pain, rib neuritis, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, various forms of tendinitis, low back pain, sciatica, osteoarthritis.
# Urinary, menstrual, and reproductive problems.

That is an impressive list for one treatment. In fact it sounds too good to be true! :)
Nov. 26th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Light Reading
[quote]My problem with acupuncture is that it detracts from real medicine. If the only gain is placebo, then there is no point in doing it.[/quote]

You are wrong here. The placebo effect is real, and can be used to improve some medical conditions. So, using a placebo is better than doing nothing at all.
Nov. 26th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Light Reading
Your wrong here. The problem is that acupuncture claims to cure more than what can be cured by placebo. http://www.medicalacupuncture.org/acu_info/faqs.html

Additionally if someone believes that acupuncture is a true treatment they will believe it can cure other things such as cancer. There is no placebo effect strong enough to treat cancer.

Though this article deals with homeopathy it has a great explanation of the placebo affect and regression to the mean. Factors many alternative medicines rely on to "work". http://www.badscience.net/2007/11/a-kind-of-magic/

Basically it boils down to, I don't think deceptive practices are the right way to treat any illness. If the only benefit of acupuncture is theatrical dressing for the placebo affect, then I would rather not have it at all. It is a waste of money for the patient, and leads to un-critical thinking.

Also because acupuncture has been left unchecked for so long they are starting to teach it in universities.

Do you really want medical students learning acupuncture, when they could be learning about real medicine?
Nov. 26th, 2007 09:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Light Reading
Hey, I was just pointing out the flaw in your statement that there is no point in using a placebo. I'm pretty sure acupuncture is a placebo, and only works as well as any other placebo (i.e. a sugar pill prescribed by a MD) that the patient believes in. That doesn't mean acupuncture isn't useful to someone who believes in it and is suffering from some condition that can be helped by a placebo (e.g. chronic pain or depression). The same could be said about any placebo-effect based practices such as praying.

Now, whether deception is an ethical or safe way to treat an illness... I don't know. In the hands of a responsible doctor, placebos could probably be used safely. But, I guess the problem is in finding a responsible doctor who doesn't mind deceiving his patents.

Personally, I think more research should be done on placebos. Maybe there is a way to administer a placebo without deceiving the patient. Like maybe tell them "Ok, this isn't a real medicine, but if you try real hard to believe it is, then it will help you feel better."

Nov. 27th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Light Reading
I wasn't saying don't use placebos. Though I could see how that would come across that way. I was saying don't lie about what you are doing, and make it seem like magic.

I agree that it would be hard to administer a placebo without deceiving the patient in some way. Maybe a placebo is not the right answer, but counseling or its equivalent is.
Nov. 27th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Light Reading
Perhaps counseling would be better, but going to a counselor has a stigma about it. For example, my mother in law wouldn't be caught dead going to a counselor, but she tries all kinds of "alternative medicine" fads (e.g. herbal remedies and magnets). I don't know how much these "alternative medicine" things she tries are helping her, but at least she isn't dumping a lot of money into them and she still goes to her regular doctor too.

Perhaps what is needed is some kind of licensed, regulated, MD administered placebo treatment that could compete with all the unlicensed, unregulated, huckster administered placebo treatments. Give it a fancy name and all kinds of complex trappings, but have some fine print that states that it is all just a facade for a placebe, for anyone who cares to look into it deeply.
Nov. 26th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Light Reading
And further more: http://www.randi.org/joom/content/view/131/1/#i2
Again this is in regards to homeopathy, but if you read this link
search for homeopathy.

This person who claims acupuncture works also claims that homeopathy works. Well it must be so!
Nov. 26th, 2007 07:19 am (UTC)
The danger in acupuncture isn't that it doesn't work. Sometimes it does, because the placebo effect is real. A person can get real benefits from a treatment they believe is working. No one understands that, either.

But, if we don't know how it works, we can't definitively say when it is completely inappropriate. If someone wants acupuncture to help them stop smoking, or to relieve stress, or to "balance their energy flow," well, that's fine. But some poor, stupid slob out there is using acupuncture exclusively to treat his cancer, because it worked for his back pain, and because acupuncture is painless and chemotherapy is hard. Cancer is almost certainly going to kill him because he's not getting the most effective treatment.
Nov. 26th, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
Re: pseudoscience
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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