I would have preferred to have as a title “Is Acupuncture Applied Science?” because medicine tends to be recognised as applied science, but if I use that title the answer is prejudiced by such as the one-way sceptics at Science-Based Medicine.

I therefore have changed the blog title although I will return to the issue. First and foremost when you ask if medicine works who is it you ask? The patient. If a patient is cured, then that means the treatment probably works but needs to be verified. In China especially patients have been cured and they repeatedly go back for treatment. This tends to suggest a valid treatment, strong evidence.

However as a sceptic this is not proof. To investigate we start with patients. And here is the problem with science measuring the success of acupuncture, their western machines cannot measure the chi. As a reminder acupuncture sees itself as a chi-based system in which the chi should be balanced. The chi also runs along meridians and if those meridians are blocked disease arises. If your machines cannot measure chi, yet it is a chi-based system then science that does not believe in chi cannot measure. To determine whether acupuncture works, it is not good to use a system that does not believe in the structural framework.

So before we can answer the question “Is Acupuncture Medical Knowledge?”, we have to either determine whether the chi exists or we need to find an alternative methodology; science-based medicine has not attempted to do that.

As a statistician I would try to design an experiment in which similar symptoms and disease has been treated by acupuncture. If various combination of needle placements are supposed to fix a disease, then I would try to find patients with those symptoms and then apply the treatment. I don’t know that science-based medicine has done that.

I have previously argued that there is 3000 years of evidence regarding the efficacy of acupuncture. Here is a paragraph from the one-way sceptics that describes that evidence:-

“In the study of acupuncture trials, 252 of 1085 abstracts met the inclusion criteria. Research conducted in certain countries was uniformly favorable to acupuncture; all trials originating in China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were positive, as were 10 out of 11 of those published in Russia/USSR. In studies that examined interventions other than acupuncture, 405 of 1100 abstracts met the inclusion criteria. Of trials published in England, 75% gave the test treatment as superior to control. The results for China, Japan, Russia/USSR, and Taiwan were 99%, 89%, 97%, and 95%, respectively. No trial published in China or Russia/USSR found a test treatment to be ineffective.” from here.

Now this looks like good evidence that acupuncture works. In fact the figures might well be too good. As a sceptic I would try to find whether the investigations have been manipulated. But until I found such I would have to say the evidence is good that acupuncture works.

Here is what science-based medicine said “This is important to the understanding of the acupuncture literature, as many of the positive studies are coming out of China. The unrealistically high percentage of positive studies makes the Chinese body of clinical literature very suspect.” from here. Suspect, maybe, but given the wealth of evidence in favour of acupuncture a scientist needs to accept the conclusions. Surely if there is such a preponderance of suspect literature, it would be easy to find dubious “studies”. But science-based medicine does not accept the conclusions, has found no dubious studies, and continues to attack acupuncture treatments. This is not sound science. As a sceptic I would also consider such numbers high, but I would need far more evidence than statistical scepticism to imply such a body of evidence is “lies”. And when you consider the level of influence BigPharma has on western medicine the source of the conclusions is more likely to be funding pressure than scientific veracity.

Let me push at the personal boundaries here. Undoubtedly there is Chinese national pride in acupuncture so as a sceptic I must question. However western science also demonstrates its own pride feeling that its own academia is the best in the world – more than likely true. But making a statement that implies that because the figures are high they must be rigged is simply disguised racism. This is supposed to be science-based medicine so the metier of criticism is science. I am sure that the studies in China and elsewhere were published in journals, and I am equally sure such journals had some sort of academic rigour prior to publication. Examine that rigour, point out erroneous assumptions, question experimental methodology. Without applying this sort of criteria and drawing the conclusion they have done has meant that SBM is little more than western pride and disguised racism.

Why does consideration of acupuncture fit in with mindfulness methodology? What is the conditioning point? That is the question. SBM dismisses China’s evidence yet at the same time they do not recognise their own vested interest in supporting a system that is funded by BigPharma – nor do they recognise their own institutional academic pride. Their scepticism is one-way. As a sceptic I would question the evidence in China but I could not dismiss it based simply on scepticism as the evidence is too strong.

This would mean that there would need to be appropriately-funded research. The design of the experiment would have to be extremely robust in terms of:-

a) Effectively measuring the functioning of acupuncture within its environment.
b) Allowing such sceptics as SBM to have unbiassed access to the design.
c) Not requiring western-based machines that cannot measure chi to be part of the design
d) Having a design that could test success or failure without needing to accept the chi framework.

I doubt whether BigPharma would be willing to fund such an experiment, and given the plethora of evidence in China why should the onus of funding be on them. UNESCO might be a way forward but their ties are western and BigPharma influence might be too strong.

BigPharma’s business strategy cannot realistically be access to the Chinese market, however it can be limiting western acceptance of acupuncture. Appealing to racism that dismisses Chinese science would fit in with such a strategy.

“Is Acupuncture Applied Medical Science?” ought to be the title of this blogpost but science dismisses the existence of chi without appropriate scientific investigation. The reasons for this are not scientifically clear given the high proportion of people on earth who accept the existence of chi and prana. As patents cannot be taken out on “nature” and as there can therefore be no profits to BigPharma, my scepticism indicates BigPharma influence as to why science is not currently investigating the chi.

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