Saturday, September 15, 2007

Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy, Acupuncture, etc

Something few people seem to recognize is there are two separable elements to most of homeopathy. The first is the treatment itself, and the second is the explanation for how it works. For whatever reason people aren't satisfied to know that something works, they also need to know why it works. And unfortunately if there isn't a self-evident explanation one will be invented. And it doesn't end there, the invented rationale is then usually extended to develop other treatments (which don't work of course because what they are based on isn't true).

Take acupuncture. Twirling small needles in the top layer of the skin has a variety of benefits. But why? Traditions tell the story that it balances the energy flows, etc etc. A recent study examined three groups, one with no acupuncture, one with acupuncture in the traditionally prescribed locations, and one with acupuncture in random locations. Both of the latter two groups were better than the first (no treatment), but interestingly they weren't different from each other.

So yes acupuncture has some effect, but the traditional explanation has nothing to do with why it works.

Arstechnica article

James Randi

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