Anti-Science

Healing Touch?

This afternoon, I went to the little gym in the Stata Center at MIT. I went to the bathroom after my hour of bicycling, and I saw an ad for Reiki Healing Classes sponsored by the MIT Athletic Department. I was appalled. I had never heard of Reiki before, but I knew that anything described as a “life force energy” had to be bad. In my opinion, Reiki is a delusion that some people believe and a scam that other people use to make money. The class at MIT, for instance, costs $175 whereas most PE courses are about $15.

Looking up information online, I realized that Reiki is worse than I thought. Here are a couple of excerpts from the website of The International Center for Reiki Training:

“Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of spiritual healing and self-improvement that everyone can use. It has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.”

Right… so, Reiki works 100% of the time for ANY illness. Sounds like a scam to me. No pharmacist or doctor would claim that their treatments work all the time, let alone that the same course of treatment works for all illnesses.

“An amazingly simple technique to learn, the ability to use Reiki is not taught in the usual sense, but is transferred to the student during a Reiki class. This ability is passed on during an ‘attunement’ given by a Reiki master and allows the student to tap into an unlimited supply of ‘life force energy’ to improve one’s health and enhance the quality of life.”

So, anyone can learn Reiki and anyone can pass on Reiki? In a single class? Well, that beats medical school. Besides, at $175 for a course, one can potentially earn far more as a Reiki master than as a doctor!

This following paragraph has to be my favorite, though:

“While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. It has no dogma, and there is nothing you must believe in order to learn and use Reiki. In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not. Because Reiki comes from God, many people find that using Reiki puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion rather than having only an intellectual concept of it.”

So, Reiki is not a religion. Okay, I can accept that. I cannot accept, however, that Reiki doesn’t require some form of belief. Apparently, you have to at least believe in God. As an atheist, I guess Reiki probably won’t work on me. You also have to believe that running your hands over a sick person will magically make that person feel better. I can’t believe that. Certainly, running your hands all over someone can make you and your new friend feel better, but no more than a nice massage or a good night of sex. I don’t believe Reiki hand healing is going to cure cancer.

I am somewhat dismayed that a Reiki class is being offered at the Massachusetts Institute of TECHNOLOGY. Reiki seems to be pretty much the polar opposite of technology. I consider Reiki a kind of Japanese medieval folklore, revived in the 1800s by a couple of Japanese dudes and now used by some California yuppy capitalists to make far too much money. Oh, wait… make that Michigan yuppy capitalists since the International Center is based in Michigan, apparently. Even if there is such a thing as Reiki healing, should such a class really be offered by the MIT athletic department? Trust me, MIT students need more exercise, in general. Running one’s hands all over another person and talking about magical healing forces does not count as exercise, in my opinion. Admittedly, running one’s hands all over another person (particularly a person of the opposite gender) is a good exercise for the average MIT student, but I still don’t think MIT should offer such a class!

Personally, I will be writing a letter with my complaint to this address: [email protected]

If you’re an MIT student or alum (or just a concerned skeptic), please also write to this address! Maybe we can cause a stir in the MIT Athletics Department.

Evelyn

Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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57 Comments

  1. Yeah, Reiki is pretty "woo". My stepmom believes to this day that it cured her of a skin rash that was seriously affecting her health. She was told by at least three doctors that I know of that there was no physical basis for her condition.

    Of course the fact that she was "cured" shortly after leaving California (which she and my father loathed) for her home state of North Carolina (which they love), no doubt was pure coincidence. And that she doesn't have the most mellow of temperaments, and tends to react to stress badly; coincidence as well. No doubt.

    I adore my stepmother. She's better educated and smarter than I am by far. But regarding Reiki, she's giving credit to something that definitely doesn't deserve it.

  2. "Certainly, running your hands all over someone can make you and your new friend feel better, but no more than a nice massage or a good night of sex. I don’t believe Reiki hand healing is going to cure cancer."

    Ergo, a good night of sex can cure cancer? Experiment time! … Hey, don't judge me, cancer patients need lovin', too.

  3. Talk about your twilight zone.here's what I saw:

    " I had never heard of Reiki before, but I knew that

    anything described as a “life force energy” had to be bad"

    Okay,I'm sure your putting your parents money to

    a very good use,considering it's not going toward

    your higher education that they intended it to..

    Your(lack of) hard work is starting to pay off,because

    you're finally educated enough,to talk about topics you

    adequately proven you know nothing about..

    You guys are so funny,like a bunch of freaking monkeys

    So Lets swing your philosophy in other areas??l.o.l

    I never heard of sex before,but because it's new and strange

    to me,anything that makes you feel good must be bad..

    I don't know anything about the planet Mars,

    but that not going stop me from having an opinion..

    we should call it the blue planet

    For your education Orgone energy is the primordial

    life energy the fundamental creative life force long known

    to people in touch with nature, speculated about by natural

    scientists as the universal ether, employed by acupuncturists,

    and finally objectified and scientifically demonstrated by the

    work of the late Wilhelm Reich, M.D

    .
    http://www.orgonomicscience.org/orgoneenergy.html

    Now dance for me you little monkey..

    Devils' Advocate:M.Dmon

  4. I'm a little surprised you've only just learned about it, Miss Evelyn. You really need to get out of that lab now and then! ;) My woo-filled pagan friends have been touting reiki's effects for years.

    I would concede that reiki may alleve some maladies the same way placebos do, I'm not ready to believe in any energy transfers.

    Then the article said,

    "In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not."

    I would think if you don't believe it at all, you wouldn't even get the placebo effect.

    I am definitely against a well respected technical colege endorsing such a course.

  5. Leave it to a troll like like “Devil’s Advocate” to ruin a perfectly valid rebuttal. Le sigh.

    First, set aside the group-associated sites and, if you haven’t already, do the obvious and go read the Wikipedia write-up. It should get across the point that the ranks of Reiki practitioners are highly factionalized and cover a very broad spectrum of techniques and beliefs. The ones charging lots of money, who sadly but not coincidentally are the ones who market themselves most effectively, are indeed a scam — at least in the estimation of a lot of people, including me.

    Not all practitioners subscribe to the need to charge beaucoup. Not all practitioners buy into the New Age explanations. My wife, coming from a background as a massage therapist, went through the three classes up to “master” level training. It wasn’t expensive, and it can be gotten for free with a bit of searching and willingness to travel. Her second-level instruction was from a researcher at Fred Hutch (the local cancer center) and not someone I was ever describe as either a kook or a snake-oil peddler. Being a good sport and eager to subject it to a healthy dose of engineer’s skepticism, I was one of her handful of subsequent first-level trainees, with the aforementioned researcher supervising.

    Now, I can fully appreciate your distaste for the woo-woo crap and the arbitrary pricetag. However, try look past that though (and yes, there is quite a lot) to the practice itself and consider whether there is in fact the possibility that a real physiological phenomenon is at work, which might be harnessed under certain circumstances. I doubt seriously that it has anything to do with “life energy” or whatever, but I am willing to accept that there nevertheless may be something going on — beyond the very real placebo effects that are clearly are also at play. Maybe something with interaction of weak bioelectric fields and some feedback mechanism for which a clear understanding has not yet been reached? Who knows. With the breadth of techniques, studying this is problematic at best. Research is ongoing though, so I’m sitting back to wait for the results.

    And I encourage to keep an open enough mind to consider that there may be a kernel of truth beneath the metric tonne of surrounding bull. It wouldn’t be the first time. Also, skeptics are not, cynics are not.

  6. Dear Jope,

    If not for me,there would be no rebuttals??

    Dear Melusine,

    Evelyn wrote:"anything described as a “life force

    energy” had to be bad. In my opinion"

    I never suggested that Reiki techniques are identical

    to the work of the late Wilhelm Reich, M.D,I only

    point out that a "life force energy" have long been

    theorized and explored,acknowledged and even tested

    by professionals,who think out of the box..

    I also recognize the knowledge and underlining teachings

    of a "universal life force" that's not martian,or based in

    folklore imagination,in various avenues,the concept can

    becomes very scientific…

    This point,primarily counterbalances a monkeys

    opinion that says:"anything described as a “life force

    energy” had to be bad. In my opinion"

    Aren't we a life force of energy?

    Dear Briarking,

    "I would think if you don’t believe it at all, you

    wouldn’t even get the placebo effect.I am definitely

    against a well respected technical colege endorsing

    such a course."

    Reiki has been gaining some popularity worldwide within

    hospitals.The UK NHS (National Health Service) as part of

    its CAM (Complementary and alternative medicine) program

    uses Reiki and other CAM therapies as part of day care patient

    programs

    "Not all practitioners subscribe to the need to charge beaucoup.

    Not all practitioners buy into the New Age explanations. My wife,

    coming from a background as a massage therapist, went through

    the three classes up to “master” level training. It wasn’t expensive,

    and it can be gotten for free with a bit of searching and willingness

    to travel"

    Devils' Advocate M.Dmon

  7. I have to agree with jope.

    I'm not defending the practice or its claims–I even think chiropractors are mostly a bunch of quacks–but just remember what the medical community's initial reaction to acupuncture was. We don't accept all of their claims about "chi", but we have come to understand that acupuncture works. Being a good skeptic means you have to be skeptical of everything, including your own preconceptions and what you think you know.

  8. Regarding the running of hands over bodies to be, in general, a good thing, I believe that many (if not most) reiki practitioners do not actually touch the "patient" at all. I could be wrong on that, though. A good friend of mine (who you know, Evelyn) goes to weekly reiki classes, and she has said she would bring me along one of these days.

  9. Sorry, everyone, I just can't buy into Reiki. It's definitely woo, and individual stories of success are far from convincing, for me. Until someone presents me with a scientific paper showing exactly how there is a biological effect, I'm going to have to continue to be a skeptic.

    Certainly, there may be a placebo effect… or perhaps the effect of people just talking to each other while they practice Reiki. There's no magical healing force here, though.

  10. Reiki must be reasonable because acupuncture works!

    That's not what I said.

    Wait, since when did acupuncture work?

    When clinical trials show efficacy, that's when I start tentatively believing something works. I have seen this for acupuncture. When I start seeing it for Reiki, I'll start believing that too. Until then, I'm skeptical.

    How do you decide whether or not something is effective?

    Woo within woo within woo.

    Oh, I see. Well, I can't argue with logic like that.

  11. From what I've gathered, clinical studies show that there is a slight benefit for accupuncture with regard to pain relief. Studies show the same level of effectiveness from jabbing needles into a person at random. So there might be something to accupuncture, but it doesn't involve chi or meridians.

  12. From what I’ve gathered, clinical studies show that there is a slight benefit for accupuncture with regard to pain relief. Studies show the same level of effectiveness from jabbing needles into a person at random. So there might be something to accupuncture, but it doesn’t involve chi or meridians.

    Not precisely at random. There are definitely places where you can stick needles that will do more harm than good. But, I agree, it doesn't have anything to do with chi or meridians.

  13. I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that you shouldn't reject something out of hand just because it doesn't fit in with your world view. Wait for the evidence. Stuff that doesn't fit in with your world view, yet appears to be supported by evidence turns out to be the most interesting kind of thing there is, and it affords us the opportunity to expand our knowledge.

  14. Agreed, with a caveat. The more it disagrees with my world view, the more evidence I'd require (extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence). Some subjects (UFOs, psychic anythings) are so notorious for fraud that I'm afraid it would require truly spectacular evidence to overcome my disbelief.

  15. It's not about "world views". It's about the scientific. If you show up and start claiming that you can heal diseases by tapping an unspecified life force, you don't start by explaining how cancer is cured by this combination of hand waves and impotence is cured by this other combination of hand waves, you start by demonstrating that this "Life Force" exists.

    Practitioners of Reiki, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, chiropractic, and whatever else have thus fair failed to demonstrate anything like a mysterious "life force". They have failed to demonstrate the theoretical grounding of their claims, which makes all the rest irrelevant if somewhat curious. (But ultimately falling under the placebo effect, e.g. relaxation that results from the therapy, alleviation of anxiety through feeling like you've done something to fix the problem, etc. — all potentially interesting for research, but a far cry from the grandiose claims of practitioners.)

    Before a drug hits human trials, in vitro studies are performed to demonstrate that the theory behind the drug is sound, that it does essentially what it's supposed to in a simplified environment. Energy medicine has so far not demonstrated any evidence that the theory is sound. If a drug failed in vitro tests, then performing human trials with it would be monstrously unethical and amoral. Why, then, is it completely ok for practitioners to jump past the clinical trials and go straight to applying their methods to real patients with the kind of complete confidence that you rarely if ever see from a conventional modality that has been well-studied?

    That's the difference between woo and medicine, right there. And that's why Reiki is a load of shit.

  16. Acupuncture points (Chinese: 腧穴; pinyin: shùxué, also called

    acupoints (Chinese: 穴位; pinyin: xuéwèi) or tsubo) are locations

    on the body that are the focus of acupuncture, acupressure,

    sonopuncture, and laser acupuncture treatments. There are

    several hundred acupuncture points that are distributed along

    meridians (connected points across the body which effect a specific

    organ or other part of a person) as well as numerous other

    "extra points" that are not associated with a particular meridian.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupuncture_point

    daver said,

    February 16, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    From what I’ve gathered, clinical studies show that there is a slight benefit for accupuncture with regard to pain relief. Studies show the same level of effectiveness from jabbing needles into a person at random. So there might be something to accupuncture, but it doesn’t involve chi or meridians.

    Take care

    Devils' Advocate M.Dmon

  17. Oh wow… Wilhelm Reich and his orgone eh? This is the same Wilhelm Reich who was regarded by his peers in the pschological communtiy as mentally ill right? The same guy who went to Eintstein with his orgone generator? Which Einstein then tested and showed the results he got to be nothing more than thermal convection. The same guy who actually got his devices banned by the FDA and did time for violating that ban? That Wilhelm Reich? You are going to cite his work as scientific proof of "life force energy"?? This is the guy who claimed he could make rain out of a clear sky with a bunch of pipes hooked to a battery that would produce orgone enrgy! (He never even once generated any couds – let alone rain)

    Gimme a break. If you are going to quote someone as having proven something scientifically at least do some VERY basic research on who they were and what they actually did. Poor Wilhelm was a disturbed man, he died a broken man, and he never produced ANY reporduceable evidence supporting the existence of orgone ("Life Force Energy").

  18. February 15, 2007 at 10:00 pm, Mikal Dmon wrote:

    "For your education Orgone energy is the primordial

    life energy the fundamental creative life force long known

    to people in touch with nature, speculated about by natural

    scientists as the universal ether, employed by acupuncturists,

    and finally objectified and scientifically demonstrated by the

    work of the late Wilhelm Reich, M.D"

    I know, I know, but it's so hard to resist an easy target. So here goes:

    Please provide the scientific basis for "orgone energy".

    If you cannot find or reference to a scientific basis for your speculation/hypothesis, then please don't go around talking about it as if it's fact. Clearly, if there's no evidence to support it, it's not a fact at all.

    I could go further in tearing apart your statement, but let's just start with the very beginning first.

  19. February 16, 2007 at 7:36 am, Mikal Dmon wrote:

    "Reiki has been gaining some popularity worldwide within

    hospitals.The UK NHS (National Health Service) as part of

    its CAM (Complementary and alternative medicine) program

    uses Reiki and other CAM therapies as part of day care patient

    programs"

    Translmation of this paragraph:

    lot's of people are fooled by it, including those who make health care policy in the UK. Or those who attach more value to Prince Charles' statements than they really deserve.

    Either way, none of this in any way sounds even remotely like evidence.

  20. February 16, 2007 at 8:15 am, Buck Fuddy wrote:

    "I’m not defending the practice or its claims–I even think chiropractors are mostly a bunch of quacks–but just remember what the medical community’s initial reaction to acupuncture was. We don’t accept all of their claims about “chi”, but we have come to understand that acupuncture works. Being a good skeptic means you have to be skeptical of everything, including your own preconceptions and what you think you know."

    You would have a good point. IF accupuncture actually worked that is.

    But since it doesn't, the point you were trying to make pretty much falls flat. doesn't it?

    And before you start getting defensive, there's a lot of scientific back-and-forth about HOW accupunture might work. But there's no evidence it actually does. So that back-and-forth is really just empty rhethoric of the "what if" variety.

    And for what it's worth, there are anecdotal instances where sticking a needle in a particular spot might actually cause a real physiological effect. But none of those spots are traditional accupuncture spots, and none of the effects are things traditional accupuncture claims to be able to accomplish.

    So really, what those amount to are things that look like accupuncture but technically aren't apart from the fact they use needles. Kind of how tennis is similar to baseball because they both involve hitting a ball …

  21. February 16, 2007 at 2:10 pm, Buck Fuddy wrote:

    "I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that you shouldn’t reject something out of hand just because it doesn’t fit in with your world view. Wait for the evidence. Stuff that doesn’t fit in with your world view, yet appears to be supported by evidence turns out to be the most interesting kind of thing there is, and it affords us the opportunity to expand our knowledge."

    All I could say in response to that is don't consider something evidence unless it actually proves what you think it does."

    Clearly, jabbing needles into a person at random is not accupuncture. And if the mechanism is "releasing endorphins" that help relieve pain in other spots, then things other than needles might work just as well (and probably do). Which means you've now just dropped the last link you still had with accupuncture, and that's the needles.

  22. February 16, 2007 at 5:22 pm, Mikal Dmon wrote:

    "Acupuncture points (Chinese: 腧穴; pinyin: shùxué, also called

    acupoints (Chinese: 穴位; pinyin: xuéwèi) or tsubo) are locations

    on the body that are the focus of acupuncture, acupressure,

    sonopuncture, and laser acupuncture treatments. There are

    several hundred acupuncture points that are distributed along

    meridians (connected points across the body which effect a specific

    organ or other part of a person) as well as numerous other

    “extra points” that are not associated with a particular meridian.
    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupuncture_point
    "” target=”_blank”>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupuncture_point"

    That's the way it's supposed to work. That doesn't mean it does.

  23. Exlax wrote:”Translmation of this paragraph:lot’s of
    people are fooled by it, including those who make health
    care policy in the UK. Or those who attach more value to
    Prince Charles’ statements than they really deserve.Either
    way, none of this in any way sounds even remotely like
    evidence.”

    Natural Truth suggest:for thousands of years the
    Chinese has cultivated,studied,and practice these well
    known technique.Unfortunately for you,these concepts weren’t
    developed in imagination or Final Fantasy exlax,

    Truth be told This Arcane knowledge was discovered
    on the battle fields and administered to prisoners while
    practitioners recored and detail their tourcher…

    China holds a different philosophy toward
    they’re neighbors as some of us,and without the hindrance
    of moral high roads,and lust for information they decided
    to turn their attention to learn something new..

    Today we have acupuncture,acupressure and pressure points
    We should not ignore the sacrifice,of those that died for us to have
    this knowledge,Just so you can boost your ego exlax,and feel you
    actually make some rhetorically mute point.

    I said before exlax,you need to learn to think
    for yourself,and stop drinking the kool-aid

    STOP FOR A SEC..
    Do you really think for thousands of years if China
    had access to these brutal and deadly exercises,
    they would not come out of this with a working system?

    If Practice makes perfect one would argue
    How long do you think they practiced??

    Devils’ Advocate M.Dmon

  24. Buck, the clinical trials aren't genuine accupuncture. This is not about an unwillingness to accept something because it (used to be?) alternative medicine. This is about not accepting this particular trial to falsify accupuncture as a whole, just because one trial shows that jabbing needles into people releases endorphins that reduce pain.

    Accupuncture makes tons of other claims and theorizes about mechanisms that are not supported by the evidence we have thus far. And the evidence so far doesn't even support a particular accupuncturistic(?) claim. It looks like accupuncture, but is it really? Apart from the use of needles, there's no similarity whatsoever to accupuncture as it has been practiced for thousands of years.

    Hence my warning: don't assume the evidence proves what you think it does, because it doesn't.

    In other words, just because a number of people in a medical trial should somehow get better after taking homeopathy, doesn't prove that "like cures like", or that "the more dilute a preparation, the more powerfull it becomes".

    Even if the result is that people are getting better, that doesn't mean the cause of this result is the one we think it is. That needs further research before we can confirm it.

  25. Mikal, there are lots of interesting things to come from Asia, particularly martial arts, that are grounded in centuries of practical testing and experience. These things work because they are based on simple body-mechanics and physiology. The fact that we can examine a martial arts technique and see what happens in the body when it is performed confirms the value.

    However, thus far, there is nothing that confirms many of the principles behind accupuncture and accupressure. In other words, unlike martial arts techniques, where twisting someone's hand in a certain way stretches the tendons/muscles and makes them fall to the ground in pain, there is no scientifically observable physiological effect to be witnessed when executing accupuncture or accupressure (or reiki for that matter).

    I have the utmost respect for martial arts techniques, because I know that centuries ago, people died in the process of developping and perfecting them.

    However, in the case of the various "healing" techniques, I fear it's rather the opposite, and many people died despite their use. I'm sure a couple of things were discovered that gave sick/wounded people a better chance to survive. But frankly, I think that by now modern western medicine has far surpassed traditional eastern medicine, and anything that worked has already been incorporated.

  26. exarch,

    Maybe you should have said something more along those lines in the first place. I might have seen your point instead of just thinking you were trying to be a jerk. You're not doing well to advance the cause of skepticism when you manage even to alienate other skeptics. One can only imagine what a neutral observer would think.

    From my point of view, clinical trials of acupuncture initially attempted to answer the question of whether or not acupuncture, as practiced by its adherents, has some efficacy. The answer to that question seems to be "yes." Further studies have attempted to address the question of how it works. (These would be pretty pointless if it didn't work.) The results of these studies seems to show that it works, as you say, by stimulating release of endorphins. So we don't have to accept the traditional theory underpinning acupuncture in order to accept that the technique is effective. With that understanding of the underlying mechanism, we can further be skeptical of some of the claims urged by acupuncturists as to the types of ailments amenable to treatment by acupuncture.

  27. exarch,

    I’ve already said that there are clinical trials that show acupuncture does work. If your bias won’t allow you to accept that, I see no point in in debating the matter further. I suggest you direct your vituperation to the people who conducted, reviewed and published those trials. I can certainly do without it.

  28. Episodes 7 & 8 of the quackcast podcast deal with acupuncture

    http://www.quackcast.com/QuackCast/Podcasts/Archive.html

    Good listening for those that like their skeptics acerbic.

    The main findings of most studies into acupuncture show that it’s efficacy is limited to pain relief. Outside of this it hasn’t been shown to do anything. Pain relief is an important part of medical care though, so it’s interesting to see how acupuncture holds up to other forms of pain reduction.

  29. Good listening for those that like their skeptics acerbic.

    No wonder I didn't like it.

    He really doesn't help his cause by misrepresenting facts that are easily checked or by overstating his case. I really have no use for skeptics like this. I've studied the history of biology and medicine for too long to feel good about people who play fast and loose with evidence and heap derision on people they disagree with.

    Imagine how "woo" natural selection must have seemed in its day, or the germ theory of disease. The critics who heaped abuse on the advocates of those theories are not my heroes, and it isn't just because they were wrong. It's because they failed the test of the true skeptic, which is that the one thing of which you should be the most skeptical is the assumption that you know all there is to know about something.

  30. February 20, 2007 at 12:46 pm, Buck Fuddy wrote:

    From my point of view, clinical trials of acupuncture initially attempted to answer the question of whether or not acupuncture, as practiced by its adherents, has some efficacy. The answer to that question seems to be “yes.”

    The answer seems to be "no" actually. Apart from pain relief, there's nothing to accupuncture. And as I said before, apart from the use of needles – which seem like they could be replaced by pretty much any sharp object – there's no comparison to accupuncture, as practiced by its adherents.

    So why this insistence on calling baseball tennis, when all they really have incommon is hitting a ball?

    I'm not saying there is no pain relief, I'm saying there is no reason to call it accupuncture. Accupuncture is not about pain relief, accupuncture is claiming to heal a variety of physical and mental ailments and problems. Since none of that appears to really be happening, I think it's extremely premature to claim that "accupuncture works". It simply doesn't, and the evidence that exists definitely doesn't support that claim.

    Hence, my once again repeating this claim for the third time:

    The evidence doesn't prove what you appear to say (or imply) it proves.

    This isn't about me misunderstanding you, this is about woo's misunderstanding the evidence provided as justification for scamming people out of their money because "accupuncture works". Evidence says it does not. And the part that does work isn't really accupuncture in the stricter sense of the word.

  31. Expatria,

    Acupuncture is a hotly debated issue in the medical community. You can't just wave that all away by saying "it doesn't work."

    Just for example, he says that you can't do placebo-controlled tests because you can't make someone believe you're sticking them with a needle when you're not. Actually, you can. You can make people believe all kinds of things. The best example of a placebo needle was developed by Streitberger and Kleinhenz. It is very effective in convincing people they're being stuck.

    But the thing that really got me is that he goes into all this detail about the difficulty of constructing straightforward double-blind RCTs–which is true, this is a very difficult subject–but appears not to appreciate that this cuts both ways. It's hard to clearly assess the efficacy of acupuncture apart from placebo effects (which are, themselves, somewhat controversial), but it's impossible to prove that it has none for that very reason.

  32. Buck,

    I think the difference exarch is getting at is that no-one claims analgesics or statins work based on meridians and some kind of mystical energy flow, nor does anyone claim that, say, a Tylenol will effectively treat some chronic condition. I know YOU aren't claiming that such things are the mechanism by which accupuncture functions, nor that such effects can be ascribed to it.

    The point is, I think, that by saying 'accupuncture works' it IMPLIES those other things. The more precise way of speaking would be to say that 'selective application of needles has shown efficacy in pain relief' (if this is, in fact, supported, which everyone seems to agree it is).

    And then would come the time to determine issues of practicality, ease of use, effectiveness vs. analgesics, opiates, massage, heat, and other things known to help with pain relief. And if needles do have some benefits vs. these other methods, and can be used as easily, and studies back this…there is no further reason to doubt their effectiveness as a pain reliever.

    But we still have to doubt accupuncture's philosophy, its supposed mechanism of action, and all of that side of the issue. And, because of this, it's hard to accept the statement 'accupuncture works' without further qualification. I mean, basically your version is a redefinition, as it were, of accupuncture's tenets. I'm not able to speak for sure, but I'd be disinclined to believe that most accupuncture practitioners would be willing to accept that their practice only works to control pain, and that due to the release of endorphins and not any sort of energy manipulation.

    So what I guess we are saying is that, if you define accupuncture as 'sticking people with needles to release endorphins for pain relief', then yes, it seems to work to some extent. But that's not the traditional definition and, in its traditional sense, accupuncture does NOT work. It still only releases endorphins, no more or less.

    /meh, it's 3:30 am here and I have no idea if what I've just written makes sense…my insomnia humbly apologizes

  33. Buck Fuddy said:

    (T)he one thing of which you should be the most skeptical is the assumption that you know all there is to know about something.

    In that light, and not because I don’t trust you, but can you demonstrate some of the points you are making? I’m not trying to be adversarial, merely interested in what QuackCast has gotten wrong, where it is easily checked, WHY it’s wrong, etc. I’m curious about the evidence on both sides…can you provide some info?

  34. The answer seems to be “no” actually. Apart from pain relief, there’s nothing to accupuncture.

    Apart from pain relief, there’s nothing to analgesics either.

    Apart from lowering cholesterol, there’s nothing to statins.

    Are you getting the point? If you define it that way, nothing works.

  35. What expat says makes sense to me anyway. Accupuncture so far has been demonstrated to have some efiicacy in pain relief. Most of the websites and adverts I've seen for acupuncture make claims that go well beyond that, and those claims are simply not supported. They may well end up being true in some cases, but at the moment there is simply no evidence that (for example) acupuncture can lessen the effects of asthma, or allergies, or shingles (all examples I nabbed from the web).

  36. February 20, 2007 at 9:22 pm, Buck Fuddy wrote:

    "

    The answer seems to be “no” actually. Apart from pain relief, there’s nothing to accupuncture.

    Apart from pain relief, there’s nothing to analgesics either."

    I would say that comparison is terribly incomplete. It would be more akin to saying apart from pain relief, there’s nothing to analgesics either, but for some reason doctors are prescribing it to treat flu, colds, infections, nausea, high bloodpressure, diabetes, heart disease, liver cirrosis, cancer, people wanting to stop smoking, etc… etc… etc…

    If pain relief were the only claim accupuncturists make, I would agree that evidence says accupuncture works.

    But since accupuncturists claim many, many things about accupuncture, including curing many different ailments, but on top of that a mode of operation that depends on "meridians" and "ki energy", then the trials simply don't support the assertion that "accupuncture works". On the contrary, since they discovered a different mechanism explaining how it works, the evidence actually disproves accupuncture.

    Do you see why, for the fourth time now, I have to reiterate the same quote again:

    The evidence doesn't prove the hypothesis.

    The evidence doesn't prove accupuncture works as it is claimed to work according to accupuncturists. It doesn't cure the things that accupuncturists claim it does, and it doesn't do so in the way that accupuncturists claim it does.

    I don't know how else I can spell it out for you so you'll understand the point I'm trying to make: It's not about off-hand ignoring or denying something because it's proof for alternative medicine, it's about carefully studying the evidence to find that it isn't nearly as groundbreaking or revolutionary as it sounds at first.

    Since many people have neglected to do that, accupuncture, as opposed to many other alternative rubbish, has for example, now been included in the NHS for decades now. Even though it's only proven use is pain relief (and how efficient it is for that use remains debatable), it's being used for everything imaginable, and gets reimbursed by the NHS verbatim. Quackery that slipped through because once the gate was opened, it couldn't be held back because it bore the same name.

  37. Okay. Let me make this really clear. When I say, "acupuncture works," I mean exactly that the technique is effective for relieving pain. That's what most people in the medical community mean when they say that.

    This is not an insignificant claim. Many people who suffer from acute and chronic pain can't tolerate many analgesics, and all analgesics have side effects. So if you go around saying "acupuncture doesn't work; it's a waste of money" or whatever, you are being too critical.

  38. I don't know if you've ever seen acupuncture in action, but it's pretty impressive. There are dentists and oral surgeons who have been using it instead of local anesthetics to preform procedures that would be very painful without any kind of analgesia, and their patients like it. I don't want to see a tool like that taken out of the hands of people who use it effectively, safely and responsibly just because some people aren't comfortable with the traditional underpinnings of the procedure.

    There are all kinds of procedures performed in medicine today that don't work for the reasons we think they to or treat all the conditions some people used to think they did. That's no reason for saying they "don't work" or insisting that we call them something else. A procedure is a procedure. It doesn't become something else just because we understand it better. And "acupuncture" isn't even an ancient Chinese word to begin with. It's a term westerners applied to the procedure when we started investigating it, so it doesn't have to imply that we accept the whole theory and philosophy that underpin the technique in traditional Chinese medicine.

  39. But the technique of accupuncture is not what’s relieving pain. It doesn’t matter where you stick the needles, even though accupuncturists claim there are specific meridians and exact spots that you have to find in order for it to work. Although the research indicates there are areas that appear to work better, it doesn’t matter where in that area you stick needles, which means it goes against the basis of accupuncture.

    So what it really means is that there is another method of relieving pain by using needles to get the body to release endorphins. And you might get very similar results using massage, heat theraphy, etc… All treatments that don’t require analgesics to effect some amount of pain relief.

    I know what you meant to say, I read what you wrote in your first post that prompted me to take you to task for it, and the reason I did that is because to a woo, what you wrote is “accupuncture as a whole has been proven to work”. It hasn’t. And the results of the little trial that ended up being positive isn’t really accupuncture by any definition of accupuncture, with the exception of the use of needles. So as I said in my first reply to you, the needles aren’t what makes it accupuncture, the whole load of claptrap that comes with it are what makes it accupuncture.

    The results of that trial would be much better summarized as: sticking needles in certain areas in a patient’s skin caused the release of endorphins that helped in reducing pain. This is exactly what happened, without using the oh-so-tainted term “accupuncture” to associate the results with loads of bullshit that have nothing to do with it.

    Do you understand the point I’m trying to make?
    Do you see why using specific language is so important to avoid confusing/complicating the matter?

    This is a debate rather similar to such things as “creation science“. The language used prompts the listener/reader to make associations that are incorrect. Especially as skeptics it’s very important to make sure we don’t blur matters by making statements that, while technically not incorrect, are incomplete or dubious and can too easily be taken out of context. Which is why, in my first reply to you, I very clearly added the paragraph explaining WHY I objected to your blanket statement that “accupuncture has been shown to work”, and clarified that what has been shown to work is not accupuncture.

    Perhaps the way I said it was a bit too acerbic to your taste, but only because your post was a bit too credulous-sounding to my taste.

    I suggest we bury this hatchet and agree that we both failed at expressing ourselves properly.

  40. February 21, 2007 at 9:52 am, Buck Fuddy wrote:

    "I don’t know if you’ve ever seen acupuncture in action, but it’s pretty impressive. There are dentists and oral surgeons who have been using it instead of local anesthetics to preform procedures that would be very painful without any kind of analgesia, and their patients like it."

    I've had many dental procuders done on me, and my dentist never uses analgesics unless I really ask for it. He doesn't use needles either by the way.

    It usually doesn't really hurt to have him drilling in my teeth anyway, only the last bit cleaning out the bottom of the cavity, when he's closer to the nerve. It'll hurt like hell for about two or three seconds, after which he'll be done.

    I can't help but wonder if people who get accupuncture as an anestetic have a similar experience …

    When I tell some of my friends they thought my dentist was a crazy barbarian. Well, at least I don't walk around with a numb face for half a day, folowed by two weeks of very painful eating and drinking because of accidentally biting your cheek.

    Does this anecdotal evidence refute accupuncture as pain management?

    No, it doesn't. No more than your anecdotal evidence of dentists using accupuncture confirms its validity. That's why we have blinded trials.

    Not to mention a dentist is going to charge you for a procedure as a whole, not for the anestetic, and when he's done, whether accupuncture works or not, your tooth is going to be fixed.

    On the other hand, I've known people who've paid a load of money for accupuncture to treat tendonitis for example. Suffice it to say the tendonitis didn't really improve after several weeks of therapy, but the accupuncturist made his buck anyway.

    And I just don't feel my taxes should be spent on that, since it clearly didn't work. Clearly, "accupuncture", whether a western name or not, is more encompassing than just "pain management", even if that's the only thing it seems to work for. You know that, and I know it. Mention accupuncture, and people think of something completely different than that which it seems to be working for.

    So when "accupuncture" is shown to be beneficial, anyone claiming to be able to do anything with needles is going to get a free pass. They should not be allowed to peddle their quackery and get away with it.

    If a dentist wants to use accupuncture instead of analgesics, fine. Initial research seems to indicate that might be a valid application. But that's it. I have a problem with it when a family doctor sends someone to an accupuncturist instead of kinesiologist. That's just bad medicine, but it's what happens when science says "accupuncture works", even if it doesn't.

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