Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Charlotte Allen asked for it!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 22, 2009

Charlotte Allen does not like atheists much, in fact she is enraged with us; she can’t stand us!. Did you know that we think that people that believe in God are stupid? Did you know that we are intent to prove not only that God does not exist, but also that he’s evil? Did you know that we are angry? I didn’t.

Thankfully for me I don’t have to give a complete rebuttal to this misguided soul (nice irony huh?) because the LA Times did a very nice thing, they actually opened this for debate and allowed PZ Meyers, The Dark Atheist Lord, to write his own article in response to Allen’s. And by reading the two side by side it is clear who is the angry one! I’m talking about you Charlotte, and I am sure after reading PZ’s piece you’ll be even more angry! Sorry, we don’t mean to irritate you, but the simple fact that you are irritated shows that we’re hitting a nerve!

Suggestion to researchers running studies on acupuncture

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 22, 2009

What can researchers that study acupuncture do to make their studies even more reliable? In the last entry, I linked to a study that used non-penetrating needles, which even the practitioners were not able to distinguish from the penetrating ones, thus effectively double blinding (or so they claim) the study. Except that the people knew, or thought, that they were getting acupuncture, so the comparison with the no-acupuncture group was meaningless. The next step would be to somehow blind people from the treatment they were getting. How can one achieve this? I mean to put forward a suggestion for consideration. Someone more knowledgeable with the rules should tell me if there are any ethical or practical issues here. So here goes my suggestion:

Give people the acupuncture, fake acupuncture, or no acupuncture treatments while they are asleep! Elementary Watson (And I don’t mean Rebecca Watson)!

That way people really do not know if they got treatment at all (they’re asleep you see), and the people sticking the needles have no way of influencing the subjects in any way possible, since they would come in when the subject is asleep, provide their treatment, and walk away while the subject is still asleep.

The hard part is how do you get people to sleep when we want them to? This is where I stop as I don’t have enough expertise. My naive suggestion would be sleeping pills or general anesthesia (which would probably be an issue given that it does  carry certain risks, so it may be a show stopper).

Nevertheless, if this could be done, I predict that there would be no statistical differences between the acupuncture, fake acupuncture and no acupuncture group, thus settling this issue once and forever (well not really, we know how these beliefs go, no amount of evidence will change the mind of the true believer!).

Any comments?

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Acupuncture suffers another blow-One more study shows it does not work

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 22, 2009

Another acupuncture study has been released, this one in the Open Medicine journal by two japanese researchers. It is called “Analgesic effect of acupuncture needle penetration: a double-blind crossover study” which again shows that acupuncture is nothing but placebo by simply showing that even non-penetrating needles cause the same reactions in people, thus acupuncture and it’s whole philosophy of qi get another kick in the sack. I have issues with what the authors do with the results of their study, but we’ll get to that in due time. First let’s look at what they did.

We conducted a double-blind crossover study of penetrating and non-penetrating (placebo) acupuncture trials. We recruited 56 healthy volunteers. They received painful electrical stimulation in the forearm for 1 minute before and immediately after and 10 minutes after each needle insertion to the LI-4 point, as well as 1 minute before, immediately after, and 10, 20, 30 and 40 minutes after the removal of the needle, which had remained in place for 20 minutes. After each application of electrical stimulation, the subjects rated the pain intensity using a numeric rating scale (0–150) comparing it with the baseline pain intensity (100) before the needle was applied. Pain from skin penetration and deep, dull pain (de qi) associated with needle application, which is considered essential for achieving successful acupuncture analgesia, were also recorded.

Ok, good so far. So what were the results (emphasis added)?

We found no significant difference in analgesic effects between the penetrating and non-penetrating needle trials. In addition, no significant correlation was found between analgesic effect and de qi. A significant analgesic effect was observed during needle application and immediately after needle removal for both the penetrating and non-penetrating needle trials when compared with the no-acupuncture control condition.

The Gods are not being very kind to acupuncture. There you have it folks, the whole foundation of acupuncture, the whole inserting needles to affect the flow of energy going down the drain, one more time. It does not matter if the needles penetrate the skin at all. The effect was the same. So long as people think they’re getting a treatment, they respond to it, be it the real or the fake treatment. That is the definition of the placebo effect. Acupuncture is nothing but placebo! Another important factoid: All the participants in the study were “familiar with acupuncture treatment.” which only enhances the intensity of the placebo effect!

Which is what the authors of the study should have concluded, or to be more rigorous they should have said that the purported effects of acupuncture could not be distinguished from placebo. But that is not quite what they say though. This is their interpretation (emphasis mine):

In this double-blind study, we found that the analgesic effect from the skin penetration and deep needle insertion (a distinctive feature of acupuncture) with the penetrating needle was no greater than the analgesic effect from the skin pressure alone with the non-penetrating needle. The analgesic effect produced by the penetrating needle was relatively weak and less persistent compared with previous studies that were performed without effective double-blind controls.22,23 Furthermore, we found no significant correlation between the analgesic effect and de qi, which has been considered essential for acupuncture analgesia.21

Our study has several limitations. First, the analgesia produced by skin pressure with the non-penetrating needles, which may stimulate high-threshold skin mechanoreceptors,29 may mimic the analgesic effect experienced in acupressure treatments.30 Further research using appropriate controls is required for addressing this issue.

No, no, no, no no! They way they’re saying it seems to imply that there is a real analgesic effect in acupressure, which according to these two guys the non-penetrating needles seem to mimic. In other words penetrating needles to affect qi, the usual acupuncture, is nonsense, but acupressure may not be. More studies are needed. No, they’re not! Acupressure is nonsense, just like acupuncture, neither one is better than placebo and this study proves it. Other studies before have shown also that it does not matter where and if you stick the needle, so it is pretty much settled that acupuncture is nothing but placebo. This study shows that acupressure (the non-penetrating needle) performs equally well to acupuncture, a placebo, thus acupressure does not perform better than placebo. Period, done! So why would these guys be tempted to make such naive suggestions?

Competing interests: Nobuari Takakura and Hanada College possess a US patent (no. 6575992B1), a Canadian patent (no. CA 2339223), a Korean patent (no. 0478177), a Taiwan patent (no. 150135), a Chinese patent (no. ZL00800894.9) and a Japanese patent (no. 4061397) on the needles described in this article.

Can you say Conflict of Interest? They have a patent on the non-penetrating needles that they used in this study! It is so completely in their self-interest to make that suggestion,  to try to lend some legitimacy to acupressure, since their needles can be used to provide acupressure. Wow, that throws that little interpretation of theirs right out the window.

Conclusion

Acupuncture is no better than placebo. Acupressure is no better than placebo. Now stop wasting your time and money and go get a massage!

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