Skepchick Quickies 9.17

On September 17th, 1683, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (a.k.a. the Father of Microbiology) first described “animalcules,” which we now know as protozoa (although animalcules sounds cuter!).


Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

Related Articles


  1. Why don’t they just use people that have had a splenectomy as the control group in acupuncture studies? Those people don’t have chi.

    I love it how they talk about a large, controlled study but we don’t get to know how the controls worked. Oh, wait, it’s a meta-analysis. Of the studies mentioned a paragraph ago. The studies that showed that sham acupuncture and real acupuncture were equally effective. And yet somehow, they got a different result when they put them all together.

    So, it a scam then. Isn’t the Archives of Internal Medicine the same journal that published that acupuncture study where they concluded that not only did acupuncture work, but the placebo worked as well? Why are they still publishing things after that? I know it’s supposed to be peer review, but if all your peers are con artists there should at least be an editor that knows what a placebo is to look over it before it gets published.

    1. How does one apply an effective placebo for acupuncture, though? The results I’ve seen seem to indicate that sticking needles in people does something, whether it’s acupuncture or just random needle-jabbing. Attempts have been made using fake needles that don’t penetrate the skin – but skin tends to notice when needles are not stuck in it. It’s kinda sensitive like that. So that does not appear to work.

      What would you suggest as a solution?

      1. Off the top of my head, you could maybe do some sort of “aura massage” where you don’t touch the person but you move your hands near their body.

        Just the act of being touched in a therapeutic manner can yield similar results, not necessarily with needles. Also, context is huge: getting stuck with a needle at a doctor’s office is much different than acupuncture needle sticks. I think being relaxed makes you feel better, I wonder if they could measure that by monitoring hormones.

      2. No, IIUC, sham acupuncture with spring loaded needles has been tested. The active needles have points, and penetrate the skin like acupuncture needles. The control needles are blunt and don’t penetrate the skin. The needles are enclosed in sheaths so neither the experimenter nor subject can tell which are which. The subject feels the same sort of thump with either sort of needle and can’t tell them apart. (Acupuncture needles are extremely thin, don’t penetrate very far, and don’t draw blood.)

        The results of these experiments are “no effect”. It doesn’t matter which type of needles are used, nor whether they are used at the so-called meridian points or are randomly applied. They all exhibit the same mild placebo effect on vague symptoms.

        The new meta-analysis somehow discovers an effect when none was shown in the individual RCTs. I would wait for an analysis of this study by people who understand this better. There are many ways such studies can be biased (selection effects, weighing poorly controlled studies equally with well controlled studies, properly accounting for study size, etc.) Due to inherent implausibility, I would be very surprised if this analysis holds up.

      3. I don’t see what’s wrong with having a control group that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, doesn’t have chi. Do real acupuncture on them. It shouldn’t work. That’s double blind.

        I know, that doesn’t address the acupuncture in these studies. They’re only testing the most plausible claim, and leaving out all the other equally testable nonsense. The Archives of Internal Medicine says that acupuncture works, and no amount of studies saying otherwise will ever counteract that as far as the public is concerned. It’s all he said/she said.

        But you know what? We’d be able to state conclusively that Chi does not exist. We can’t do jack about the perception that acupuncture works, but we can establish that anybody that starts talking to you about meridians and chi is a quack that is clearly running some sort of scam.

        1. It’s a good idea. I would definitely volunteer. I have ITP and splenectomy is one of the treatments.

          The incidence is 1/10000 though so gathering a group might be a problem. Of course there are other reasons for splenectomy but overall I think, still not common.

  2. Mary,

    I had forgotten about him, but I think that Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was mentioned on an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

  3. “Distress of the Privileged” is one of the best things I’ve read in awhile, thanks for sharing it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button