Re: Alternative Medicine (was Re: Skepticism - its uses and abuses)

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Thu Dec 22 2005 - 08:57:12 EST


This does raise some interesting points. After reading Michael's post, I
checked out acupuncture on and
found that they argued that it was most likely to be a placebo effect. The
whole problem with any medical treatment is that the claim "it works for
me" (it worked for Michael) is not scientific - acupuncturists claim it
works by unblocking chi energy (or whatever), a concept that has no
scientific backing. The fact it works for you is just as easily explained
by the placebo effect as it is by saying it's directly the acupuncture (cf
my earlier experiences with the Buteyko method for asthma, which I now put
down to placebo).

However, it's been around for thousands of years, and Jack's point that
maybe we don't know why it works is a good one. It _might_ be placebo, but
it could be due to an as yet to be discovered phenomenon. I think David's
point is also valid, that traditional remedies are likely to be superior to
wacky modern techniques. Although these remedies may work for unknown
reasons, I guess the principal of natural selection applies here. Ancient
people may have tried all sorts of random weird ideas to cure people (like
waving chicken entrails over someone), and there is a chance that some
random things tried will work, and those are the ones that are still with us

I think that maybe "skeptics" perhaps overlook this possibility - they tend
to write off everything that doesn't have tested scientific evidence
(double-blined trials etc), when in fact it _could_ be that something that
has stood the test of time works for an unknown reason.

It struck me that there could be a blinded trial that might demonstrate if
acupuncture is down to placebo, however. As I understand it, acupuncture
has to be done (according to tradition) by putting in the needles at
"meridian" points, something that has little scientific backing. So suppose
you had a trial where the "placebo" was to insert needles into places that
weren't meridian points, and the other half used the known meridian points.
Then if those on the placebo fared just as well as the others, it would
conclusively disprove the meridian theory. The difficulty of doing this
would be to make it "double-blinded"; the person sticking in the needles
would have to be unaware of whether it was a meridian point or not. You
would have to train up volunteers from scratch to administer acupuncture on
a number of points, some of which were meridians, and some of which weren't
& then assign randomly who used which points. I would have thought it could
be done though in a carefully controlled way.


On 12/22/05, jack syme <> wrote:
> > On chinese medicine I am convinced by acupuncture. I have a bad neck -
> I
> > can hear grinding when
> > I turn my head! It's been stretched massaged but acupuncture helped. I
> > only tried it as nothing worked. However there are good reasons why it
> > works.
> >
> This is exactly the issue I struggle with. Yes acupuncture can work. But
> why does it work? What are the good reasons why it works? As far as I
> know
> there is no anatomical correlate for meridians, and no physiological
> correlate for qi.
> My professional opinion of acupuncture is that it works by some mechanism
> that is not at all well understood. And most likely has nothing to do
> with
> qi and meridians. There might be a real effect on neuropeptides, some
> unkown effect on nervous system function, or it might all be placebo
> effect.
> But, the risk of being needled is very small. So if someone can find
> relief
> from a chronic ailment such as headaches, neck and back pain, without side
> effects then just because its mechanism is not well understood is no
> reason
> not to recommend it.
> But, is the fact that the underlying philosophy of acupuncture Taoist a
> reason not to recommend it to Christians? And should I as a Christian
> physician not recommend it for those reasons? Similar questions can be
> raised about kundalini yoga, vedic medicine, meditation techniques,
> etc. I
> have up to this point taken the approach that the underlying worldview
> that
> acupuncture is based on is so far removed from the practice of it, that
> there is little reason to believe that undergoing acupuncture was sinful.
> And it is likely that the traditional explanation of how acupuncture
> works,
> is in fact false.

After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Italian Proverb
Received on Thu Dec 22 08:58:53 2005

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Dec 22 2005 - 08:58:53 EST