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More dubious acupuncture research

Believe it or not, I happen to be on vacation this week. Fear not, it’s a stay-at-home vacation (sometimes the best kind) and therefore my vacation doesn’t mean I’ll stop blogging. In fact, I consider blogging to be part of my recreation. What my vacation does mean is that I will probably slow down a bit and not do posts that force me to do a lot of background reading. It also means that, because I went to an actual rock concert last night (something I haven’t done in years), not only did I sleep in a bit and therefore not have that post that usually goes up here by 8 or 9 AM, but I didn’t have time to come up with any of the Insolence, either Respectful or Not-So-Respectful variety, that you’ve come to crave every day, before my planned activities for today commence.

Oh, well. It’s vacation. Cut me some slack.

Fortunately, an old “friend” has taken care of critically examining an acupuncture study that’s been making the rounds since late last week (I know you were wondering why I didn’t take it on last Thursday or Friday, didn’t you?), with a post entitled Needles in the skin cause changes in the brain, but acupuncture still doesn’t work, or, as it should have been subtitled, “I do not think it means what you think it means” (referring to the results of the study, of course).

If there are any neuroscience mavens out there, have at it. Actually, you don’t have to be a neuroscience maven to have at it. In fact, everybody, just have at it.

And, as a certain Cyborg from a certain series of movies would say, “I’ll be back.” Probably tomorrow. Maybe tonight if I’m bored.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

27 replies on “More dubious acupuncture research”

I’m confused. Don’t you and your friend typically have some kind of content-sharing agreement where you cross-post each others’ blog posts?

I know that PalMD and Dr. Lipson have a similar arrangement.

Oh, and @JD, I would totally be that surgeon, if I was a surgeon.

So now I will have to start screening potential docs to find out if they are free of institutionally sponsored woo! Have any students protested this gross invasion of the scientific method? It is a travesty and a (sick) joke. Who’s behind this? What a coup for Harkin, Paul, Weill, Chopra, et. al.; this will give them endless crediblity (as sham as the acupuncture study) to bolster their efforts. What’s next, a course in the evils of “toxic” vaccinations?

Better to study the brain phemonenon of blind belief, even when exposed to high quality scientific training. There wasn’t a word of logic or science in any of that mumbo jumbo from U of M promoting their new “program”. Have any students refused to participate in such nonsense?

I don’t want to have to register to leave a comment there with your “friend”, Orac, so I’ll ask this here: the study had only 20 people in it. I’m not an expert, but that seems like an awfully small number of participants. Or is 20 actually a reasonable number for a study like this?

I recently heard about a Danish study done on acupuncture relief for labor pains. My guess is it is this study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19278378

It concludes that acupuncture reduces the need for pharmacological and invasive methods during delivery.

One problem with study is that there is no placebo acupuncture. I haven’t got access to the full article, but on the Danish website for the hospital (Skejby), they state that placebo needles, that do not penetrate the skin would not work, since they have to be placed orthogonal to the skin.

They further defend not using sham acupuncture with the fact that new acupuncture points are discovered all the time, so placing the needles where there are no acupuncture points, might conceivably still be acupuncture???

Are there other faults with this article in your opinion?

…meanwhile tens of millions of patients over 5,000 years in cpuntries all over the world report positive results. So, like you refuse to see it even if it’s right in front of you, huh? And you guys are the smart guys? I understand full well the mechanisms have not been worked out but on some level the results over time and across all cultures cannot be ignored…even by you doubting Tom’s.

Gosh, it even works on race horses. And not just for symptom relief, either. They actually run measureably faster and with more stamina after chiropractic and acupunture. Where is your scientific curiosity? The same curiosity that motivated your hero’s?

Rita- you really need a reference for everything. You are incapable of personal observation? Not likely the throroughbred owners give a crap about very narrow double blind studies. You certainly are free to ask one yourself. They pay about $2500 per treatment for the top animal chiropractors and acupunturists, who work side by side with the vets, to treat these gorgeous animals.

My argument is that the pinheads on this blog seem to think just because it is not cited in the literature it simply does not exist. As if all scientific study is already complete? Meanwhile the world rages on without you all.

…meanwhile tens of millions of patients over 5,000 years in cpuntries all over the world report positive results.

Just like they did for bloodletting.

So, like you refuse to see it even if it’s right in front of you, huh? And you guys are the smart guys?

Yes. You fail to recognize how easily the eyes are deceived.

I understand full well the mechanisms have not been worked out but on some level the results over time and across all cultures cannot be ignored…even by you doubting Tom’s.

Again, bloodletting.

Gosh, it even works on race horses. And not just for symptom relief, either. They actually run measureably faster and with more stamina after chiropractic and acupunture.

So where are these measurements?

Where is your scientific curiosity? The same curiosity that motivated your hero’s?

It’s precisely that scientific curiosity that moves us to look at the actual data, which results in the inevitable conclusion that it doesn’t work.

Rita- you really need a reference for everything. You are incapable of personal observation? Not likely the throroughbred owners give a crap about very narrow double blind studies. You certainly are free to ask one yourself. They pay about $2500 per treatment for the top animal chiropractors and acupunturists, who work side by side with the vets, to treat these gorgeous animals.

Ah, so since it’s paid for it obviously works. Pure BS. Without careful measurements and study, there is no way to tell whether it works or not. “Personal observation” is worse than useless.

My argument is that the pinheads on this blog seem to think just because it is not cited in the literature it simply does not exist. As if all scientific study is already complete? Meanwhile the world rages on without you all.

No, the point is that if there isn’t actual DATA to support it, then the claim is unjustified.

Scott- do you doubt everything until it is published in a peer reviewed journal?

The problem is, it’s not like acupuncture has not been published in peer reviewed journals. Acupuncture studies have been carried out and reported. Unfortunately, the results have been pretty underwhelming.

You keep making all these grand claims about how effective it is. But if it were so darn effective, why is it so hard to show through a proper study?

I don’t know about Scott, but I don’t doubt “everything” that isn’t published in peer reviewed journals. However, I do certainly get suspicious when the “everybody knows” claims get tested carefully and come up lacking.

If it were really as objectively effective as you claim (race horse running times, for example), then it would easily show up in controlled studies.

do you doubt everything until it is published in a peer reviewed journal?

More accurately I don’t accept any claims like yours without replicated peer-reviewed evidence.

BTW, you never addressed my examination of the recent acupuncture/equine literature in the previous thread. Continuing to look at the publications listed in Web of Science under those search terms finds the more of what I reported. Most are reviews and conference presentations with little data or no abstract available. The very few real studies have small sample sizes, poor methodology and/or weak results.

Scott- do you doubt everything until it is published in a peer reviewed journal?

Everything? No. I’m willing to conclude that the carpet in my office is (currently) blue by looking at it, because I have no cause to believe that there are any significant sources of uncertainty in that observation (and DO have strong evidence that in fact there is no significant uncertainty).

But when there’s sufficient observational uncertainty that careful study is needed to get a reliable answer, yes I do. And in fact, I continue to doubt it even AFTER it’s been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Once it’s been replicated repeatedly by different groups and the evidence is sufficiently established on one side or another, THEN I no longer “doubt” it. I do, however, remain open to the possibility that it might not be correct, and will change my mind should sufficient evidence to the contrary be presented.

Acupuncture falls into the category of “evidence is sufficiently established to no longer doubt”. But that evidence is *against* it. But if sufficient evidence supporting acupuncture were presented to outweigh the current depth of negative evidence, then I’d change my mind.

Turning it about, what would it take for YOU to conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work?

Soren @ 10 asks about an acupuncture during labor study:
I found a couple of problems with it.
One of them being :
“New acupuncture points are being discovered all the time”
Makes me ask: Where’d those goalposts go ? They were here somewhere.

For those engaging “Drwonderful” : Happeh, aka DrWonderful believes acupuncture works because this blog’s author and his “Friend” over at SBM say otherwise, based upon the preponderance of evidence.

So the Chinese have been practising quackery for 5,000 years, go figure probably has something to do with fortune cookies (or are those only found in american chinese restaurants). Leave it up to the superior Western civilization to straighten them out. The very system that ranks 37th of 191 countries. Wonder where China ranks.

So the Chinese have been practising quackery for 5,000 years

Actually, no.

Oh, well. It’s vacation. Cut me some slack.

Ahhhh…respectful indolence. Consider your slack cut. You more than deserve it.

So acupuncture predates the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark? Or have I got my dates wrong? I never was good at history and dates.

They pay about $2500 per treatment for the top animal chiropractors and acupunturists, who work side by side with the vets, to treat these gorgeous animals.

This argument is so dumb I think my brain just lost a pound or so. You’re actually suggesting that because people pay a lot of money for these services this suggests that they’re not scams? $2,500? By your argument the press must have deceived us on Bernie Madoff. He must really be another Warren Buffet that got smeared by the evil MSM.

Not likely the throroughbred owners give a crap about very narrow double blind studies. You certainly are free to ask one yourself. They pay about $2500 per treatment for the top animal chiropractors and acupunturists, who work side by side with the vets, to treat these gorgeous animals.

Perhaps this is because they have more money than sense? I would expect that the incidence of this would be very high among “throroughbred” owners.

Perhaps this is because they have more money than sense? I would expect that the incidence of this would be very high among “throroughbred” owners.

To be fair, horses are a legitimate business for some people, particularly in states like Kentucky. But, like in all athletic competitions, the participants are always looking for something, anything to get that slight performance boost needed to win. Many people will try anything. Probably the most obscene example of this is in body building, which is the clear winner for most woo-riddled sport. Body building forums, in their own way, are as crazy as Mothering.com.

Gaaaahhhhh! I just returned from a visit to my GP to get a physical therapy referral and she mentioned acupuncture as a ‘plan b’ if PT fails to resolve my neck strain. Isn’t there some sort of skeptical doc finder service on the intertubes? If not, there should be…although it may be unrealistic to suppose than anyone in my woo-rich community would be on such a list. Sigh.

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