nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pseudoscience: Acupuncture Just As Effective As Not Doing Acupuncture

This is classic for "proving" alternative therapies:  Insist it's "just as effective" as not doing anything.

Here's the title of the article in the NY Times Well Blog:  "Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Pain"
Fake acupuncture appears to work just as well for pain relief as the real thing, according to a new study of patients with knee arthritis...
...both the real and sham acupuncture groups had statistically significant reductions in pain, averaging about a one point drop in pain on a scale of 1 to 7. The researchers also found that the enthusiasm of the person inserting the needles had a small but statistically significant effect. Patients reported slightly more pain relief when they were treated by someone who said “I’ve had a lot of success with treating knee pain,” compared with a practitioner who took a more neutral stance, saying “It may or may not work for you.”
I'm putting this one in my "Contra-rational research" file.  The title implies that there was some benefit, but at least the researchers acknowledged that what was occurring is consistent with placebo effect.  No matter what you do--give a sugar pill, fake an operation--some people will believe they are better for it.  To say that acupuncture equals placebo is just to say that it doesn't do anything...except for those people who are vulnerable to the impact of placebos.

My favorite acupuncture study is one that was done in Germany several years. ago.  They attempted to proved that acupuncture, accomplished in the traditional way along the body's meridians--through which harmonizing Qi flows--was superior to acupuncture that just placed the needles in random locations.

They found that it didn't make any difference where you put the needles.  Placing them on the meridians or not placing them on the meridians was equally effective (but still marginally so).

So what did they conclude?  Could it be that acupuncture theory (all that Qi stuff) makes no sense?

NO.  They concluded that there must be more meridians that had yet to be discovered.

It's enough to make you despair of human intelligence.  We are prisoners of our beliefs.

Doc D

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