Search Results for "acupuncture"

Nov 20 2015

Vitastiq – Indiegogo Pseudoscience

Crowdfunding is an excellent application of social media and the web. Anyone with a great idea, who can sell their idea, can get funding from the public. You don’t necessarily need big investors.

But of course, any tool or application that can be used for good can also be used for ill. Crowdfunding sites have been used to fund pure pseudoscience. A recently example was sent to me by a reader – Vitastiq. The campaign was 185% funded, for over $210,000.

What the product claims to do is measure vitamin and mineral levels non-invasively by simply touching a small probe against a specific location on the skin. I was immediately skeptical of these claims – how can the blood level of vitamin B12, for example, be measured on the skin? Further, the probe just has a simple electrical conductor. At best it is measuring skin conductance, which can be used to measure sweat levels but not much else.

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15 responses so far

Oct 30 2015


Journalists frustrate me. Whenever they cover a topic about which I have a fair degree of knowledge, or even expertise, they seem to do a generally poor job. There are excellent journalists out there, but the average mediocre journalist tends to fall for the fallacy of false balance, indulge in hype and sensationalism, overly rely on individual experts who may have quirky opinions, and often fail to put topics into a proper context.

These failings are exacerbated whenever the topic at issue requires critical thinking and a high degree of skepticism.

Even generally high quality news outlets, like NPR, tend to fail when they deal with topics which require both expertise and skepticism, such as alternative medicine. A recent episode of Marketplace with Colin McEnroe is an excellent example of how a generally reasonable journalist can completely fail when dealing with such topics.

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32 responses so far

Oct 29 2015

Superbrain Yoga is BS

Here is the latest fad to make you smarter with one easy trick – Superbrain Yoga. The technique is simple (and worthless, but we’ll get to that).

All you have to do is touch your left hand to your right earlobe, your right hand to your left earlobe, take a deep breath, and do a squat. Who knew it could be so easy to improve your brain function. There are a few more details, helpfully shared by Parenting Special Needs magazine:

- Connect your tongue to your palate.
- Face East
- The left arm must be inside and the right arm must be outside (over the left arm).
- Inhale while squatting down and exhale while standing up.
- You thumbs should be touching the front part of your earlobes, index fingers behind the earlobes.
- Perform the exercise 14-21 times, once or twice a day.

Facing East is very important, because magic.

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6 responses so far

Oct 16 2015

NZ Pharmacists Want to Sell Snakeoil

A recent proposed change to the New Zealand code of conduct for pharmacists provides yet more evidence for my primary criticism of the alternative medicine phenomenon (CAM), that it is explicitly about creating a double standard, while convincing the public that it isn’t. What was considered health fraud 50 years ago has been transformed through deception and clever marketing (facilitated by a willful media and naive regulators and professionals) into an “alternative” that should be “integrated” into science-based health care.

Broadly speaking, there are systems in place to ensure a reasonable standard of safety and effectiveness for medical products and practices. These standards are based upon evidence, as they should be. There have always been operating in the fringes, however, those who are somewhere on the spectrum from true believers to con-artists who want to sell their treatments despite a lack of evidence.

Despite having an NIH office dedicated to finding evidence to support such treatments, and despite raking in literally billions of dollars which could be used to fund research, for the most part the evidence never materialized. Homeopathy, acupuncture, and energy healing continue to lack evidence of efficacy.

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20 responses so far

Oct 12 2015

Ideology In Search of a Justification

Published by under Skepticism

One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is that it works backwards – typically those engaging in pseudoscience begin with a conclusion and then work backwards to fill in the evidence and logic. People are generally very good at this type of process, which is often referred to as rationalization.

There are several specific components to the pseudoscientific process. In order to find positive evidence for the desired conclusion, the rationalizer will cherry pick evidence. This allows them to quote studies and scientists to make it seem like their conclusions are based on science.

In order to refute any evidence against their conclusion, they will simply find fault with any inconvenient evidence. Here I find a range of sophistication. At the complex end of the spectrum, usually those with some science background, specific weaknesses of studies can be pointed out. No study is perfect, so if you want to find fault with a study you can. It is always necessary to put any criticisms into context – are these fatal flaws, or minor quibbles. This requires judgement, and it is precisely judgement that is skewed in the pseudoscientific process.

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77 responses so far

Aug 31 2015

The Reproducibility Problem

Published by under General Science

A recent massive study attempting to replicate 100 published studies in psychology has been getting a lot of attention, deservedly so. Much of the coverage has been fairly good, actually – probably because the results are rather wonky. Many have been quick to point out that “science isn’t broken” while others ask, “is science broken?”

While many, including the authors, express surprise at the results of the study, I was not surprised at all. The results support what I have been saying in this blog and at SBM for years – we need to take replication more seriously.

Here are the results of the study:

We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available. Replication effects (Mr = .197, SD = .257) were half the magnitude of original effects (Mr = .403, SD = .188), representing a substantial decline. Ninety-seven percent of original studies had significant results (p < .05). Thirty-six percent of replications had significant results; 47% of original effect sizes were in the 95% confidence interval of the replication effect size; 39% of effects were subjectively rated to have replicated the original result; and, if no bias in original results is assumed, combining original and replication results left 68% with significant effects. Correlational tests suggest that replication success was better predicted by the strength of original evidence than by characteristics of the original and replication teams.

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31 responses so far

Jul 24 2015

Another Study that Doesn’t Show How Acupuncture Works

Published by under Skepticism

The pattern is now quite familiar – a study looking at some physiological outcome while rats or mice are being jabbed with needles is breathlessly presented as, “finally we know how acupuncture works.” As is always the case, a closer look reveals that the study shows nothing of the sort.

The current study making the rounds is, “Effects of Acupuncture, RU-486 on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Chronically Stressed Adult Male Rats.” We are told that acupuncture has the same effect as pain medication, but honestly I don’t see that anywhere in the study.

The study presents two experiments with rats in which there is a control group, a stress group, stress plus acupuncture, and stress plus sham acupuncture. The first thing to notice is that the rats were not actually getting acupuncture. They were getting the fiction known as “electroacupuncture.” Electroacupuncture is not a real thing – it’s just electrical stimulation through a needle which is called an acupuncture needle.

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28 responses so far

Jun 29 2015

Drinking the “Integrative” Kool-Aid at the Atlantic

A recent article at the Atlantic by Jennie Rothenberg Gritzi demonstrates just how thoroughly the alternative medicine movement (I will refer to this as CAM) has been able to influence the cultural conversation over the practice of medicine.  This is great evidence of how successful a persistent marketing campaign can be.

Gritzi relates early on in the article that she was predisposed to CAM from a young age, which might explain her journalistic failures in this piece.  She writes:

After visiting the NIH center and talking to leading integrative physicians, I can say pretty definitively that integrative health is not just another name for alternative medicine.

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6 responses so far

Jun 05 2015

Allergy and Other Health Scams

Allergies are a real problem, and for some people are life-threatening. Allergies also appear to be on the rise in developing countries, and scientists are not sure why.

Meanwhile, charlatans are exploiting fears of allergies and making bogus allergy diagnoses based upon bogus tests. Sense about Science recently published an excellent guide for the consumer to help make sense of what is real and what is fake when it comes to allergies. It is getting increasingly difficult for the consumer, as regulations increasingly fail to maintain a single science-based standard of care in medicine.

Narrative-Based Medicine vs Science-Based Medicine

Fake allergy diagnoses is just one manifestation of what might be called “narrative-based medicine.” I am seeing this phenomenon increasingly, both in my office as patients tell me their tales of their diagnostic misadventures, and as part of my science-based medicine (SBM) activism. The problem is that it takes a genuine dedication to, and thorough understanding of, science-based medicine in order to avoid falling into the trap of confirming your own compelling narrative. There is no sharp demarcation line, but there are examples at the extremes.

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13 responses so far

Mar 30 2015

Peer-Review Scandal

Published by under General Science

Biomed Central, a UK company that publishes 277 peer-reviewed journals, announced that it is retracting 43 articles because of “fabricated” peer-review.

Peer-review is a process that many scientific journals use to vet submitted articles. Typically an editor will review the article but also send it out to two or three experts in the subject matter and have them take a close look at the article to make sure everything is high quality. Most submitted articles will come back with required changes before acceptance. Of course many articles are rejected outright.

The process is not perfect, but it is one critical layer of quality control. The “peer-reviewed literature” is therefore a body of evaluated knowledge that has met at least a minimal standard of quality.

Of course, your mileage may vary. Not all peer-reviewed journals are as rigorous. Also, whenever there is any system in place to separate the wheat from the chaff, someone will try to game the system for their own advantage. There also needs to be some monitoring or policing in place to ensure the integrity of the system.

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7 responses so far

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