Science is over my head, or in it

n the dead tree version of The Star, I ran across this completely credulous piece about acupuncture with a twist – a session performed in a kitchen between the chili and the pork roast.

Online it has the title Trusting my meat – and well being to alternative treatment. It may seem an unlikely combination but we’ll see how they’re tied together as evidence that acupuncture isn’t magic.

As is so often the case, the article begins with a vague personal anecdote about a painful back spasm that lasted a week until an hour at the acupuncturist left him whistling as he left the office. Probably from the wind rushing over all the holes poked into him.

I’m no evangelist for Chinese medicine. But it was once my saviour. While working as a cook, removing a 20-kilogram roasting tray of bones from the oven, my spine spasmed. For a week I could barely move. When I finally arrived at an acupuncturist’s clinic, it was by cab, my body bent to nearly 90 degrees, clutching a cane. An hour later, I walked out, whistling. If it weren’t for that, I would have the same healthy skepticism for acupuncture that I reserve for dry cleaning and True Blood (really, it’s a good show about vampires?).

Except that he is evangelizing, testifying to acupuncture being his saviour using his very public soap box. The choice of words with religious connotation is interesting as belief, faith, in this superstition has many similarities with spirituality. Healthy skepticism this is not despite the non-sequiturs aboot cleaning and TV.

His dinner companion and or co-patient is conveniently a needle phobic pediatrician who provides that ol’ canard aboot the limits of western medicine and who better to have on your side than a “western medicine man” slagging his own profession:

Western medicine, he says, often fails us. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” he recounts having to tell many adult patients during his training. “But it’s not one of the emergencies that I’m trained to recognize.”

To which the author responds:

That’s what my doctor had told me and why I’d turned to acupuncture.

Typically there is no mention of what his doctor had to say or recommend or what was involved in the diagnosis. Or rather, non diagnosis as we are to believe his GP, after watching his patient hobble in and describe the nature and circumstances of his injury, had nothing more to say than ‘I don’t know because I’m untrained’? Bollocks. Given the very tenuous grasp the pediatrician has of what training is, one has to wonder if his comprehension of it is just as poor.

The reason for the between course puncturing? When asked “Do you guys have back pain right now?”. “Obvs” was the answer. If they were so obviously in back pain I doubt know even the untrained wouldn’t have to ask.

The author claims what he has experienced in the past and what he and his dinner companion are experiencing now is chronic pain. Except by his own description, his first visit most definitely was not an issue of chronic pain but of an injury suffered while lifting. From his description it is hard to tell how long transpired between the injury and getting out of the cab at the acupuncturists “bent to nearly 90 degrees, clutching a cane.” I doubt it would be much longer than the week spent hardly moving.

Is that chronic pain? A week or two of pain following an injury? That could be expected following any injury, depending on the severity. In time, it will pass on it’s own – if it is healing properly.

I know of two people who actually suffered debilitating chronic pain and tried acupuncture and chiropractic to no avail. There was no end of treatment for them, just endle$$ vi$it$ for very temporary relief if any. Western medical imaging allowed accurate diagnosis, showing one person had a ruptured disc, the other spinal stenosis. See, I can fling anecdotes too. I’m in the lead!

After the de riguer anecdotes we have the not unexpected underdog gambit – with a twist:

She charges on a sliding scale, with no questions asked, from $15 to $35. “Basically, I’m a villain in the acupuncture industry because the going rates are $50, if you’re lucky, to $125.”

Everyone loves the underdog, but see the twist? Rather than the dogmatic authority of science or Big Pharma, it is her own industry demonizing her for going against her training:

“We’re trained in school to spend an hour with a person and to charge them a whole lot of money,” says Yoon. Instead, her clinic sees multiple patients, simultaneously, in a large room, which lowers her overhead. “This is how acupuncture is practised traditionally in China and Korea.”

Is this because she’s trying to establish some new theory of Qi alignment? Nope. It’s how she bills the marks patients. Positively Shyamalanic.

The author may not buy the analogy used by the cut-rate shop to justify their discount prices:

Frank believes there is plenty of room for different types of practices. “You don’t have to have a gourmet meal every time you eat,” she says, an analogy that I can in no way endorse.

But has absolutely no problem swallowing eastern physiology:

What we’re doing right now is not a proper treatment. There is something decadently self-involved in digesting food while meditating on the sensation in my skull, which, if I understand human physiology, is where the liver processes gamma rays. But the needles are barely in for 20 minutes. And I do have to start moving on the next course..

Does he understand physiology from any compass point? Obvs not. Has he bought a line of utter BS? The liver processes gamma rays. In. Our. Heads. Ancient Chinese secret, huh? There are very old Chinese texts and I doubt they refer to gamma rays, metaphorically or otherwise. Interestingly, these old texts have pictures of traditional Chinese implements and they look much like traditional European implements for blood letting. Apparently these medical instruments evolved from Greek origins:

There’s certainly no evidence that it’s 3000 years old. The earliest Chinese medical texts, from the 3rd century BC, don’t mention it. The earliest reference to “needling” is from 90 BC, but it refers to bloodletting and lancing abscesses with large needles or lancets. There is nothing in those documents to suggest anything like today’s acupuncture. We have the archaeological evidence of needles from that era – they are large;

So, how was this liver processing of gamma rays determined? How was it shown that these traditional needles – the technology for which didn’t exist until the late ancient 1700s – had any kind of effect when inserted into the skin of the skull? What measures were taken to determine the level of gamma ray exposure and what the flying fuck has it to do with anything like the chronic back pain they say they are treating twixt courses?

Ah yes, the food angle. It seems the author once followed a recipe and used a thermometer on a roast – SCIENCE! – but he messed it up. Therefore, the liver processes gamma rays. In. The. Skull. One has to wonder what the liver does in the liver, process bullshit? While the culinary arts and medicine both involve science, they aren’t nearly the same. It is disingenuous to equate the done-ness of a cut of meat with a health issue and claim an alleged “treatment” is valid simply because one’s ability to use an oven is lacking.

A wee digging would have shown our gullible chef that you can use toothpicks or some other sham variation anywhere on the body without piercing the skin and achieve the same results. Meridians? We need no stinking meridians. Toothpicks FFS, TOOTHPICKS.

Of course, that’s not all they treat at their low-cost, high turnover shop. The usual huge variety of often subjective and self limiting ailments all WHO approved and covered by insurance of course.

And there’s the harm – it is given credibility by an authoritative body of bureaucrats and quite often covered by insurance. This makes it a public issue and not one of personal choice because we’re all paying for quackery now through ever higher premiums. The desperately ill pay too by delaying or ignoring truly effective treatments. Ask Steve Jobs. When looking for images, the last link on the first results page was an advert to combat breast cancer holistically using acupuncture amongst other dubious treatments.

The truth is, though I’ve reread the explanations of food scientist Harold McGee, I don’t understand how heat works on meat any more than I understand how antibiotics or acupuncture function. I only know that none of them are magic. Acupuncture can’t make water boil and an MRI machine cannot get HBO.

He’s right in that acupuncture isn’t magic because it can’t make water boil. It is bullshit because the liver processes gamma rays in our skulls.

Another fine example, along with Dr. zardOz, of doctors, and journalists obvs, not being scientists and really not needing any understanding of science or how it works.In the end, just another variation on “science doesn’t know everything”. Well, science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it’d stop:

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One Response to Science is over my head, or in it

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