Global Warming and acupuncture

It looks as though the sun is entering a new dormant period, similar to the Maunder Minimum which led to the Little Ice Age.

This will almost certainly end the global warming hysteria in a few years. The people who continue to cling to this sort of hoax, will be looking for the Next Big Thing. I don’t mean to imply that the earth did not warm over the past century. The Little Ice Age ended about 1850 so a warming trend is expected following such an event. The hoax is the contrived evidence that humans are responsible. I was skeptical about that from the first. The forces involved are too large. If humans affected climate, it probably began with the development of agriculture. Perhaps we have had no ice age in the past 10,000 years because of the effects of agriculture and forest changes. I have previously discussed this and nothing has changed my mind.

The next question is what will replace global warming as the religion of the bored classes ? There are signs that it may be “New Age” medicine. This sort of thing is common in certain circles and has considerable similarity to the global warming arguments.

The Center for Integrative Medicine, Berman’s clinic, is focused on alternative medicine, sometimes known as “complementary” or “holistic” medicine. There’s no official list of what alternative medicine actually comprises, but treatments falling under the umbrella typically include acupuncture, homeopathy (the administration of a glass of water supposedly containing the undetectable remnants of various semi-toxic substances), chiropractic, herbal medicine, Reiki (“laying on of hands,” or “energy therapy”), meditation (now often called “mindfulness”), massage, aromatherapy, hypnosis, Ayurveda (a traditional medical practice originating in India), and several other treatments not normally prescribed by mainstream doctors. The term integrative medicine refers to the conjunction of these practices with mainstream medical care.

Here we have what may become the replacement for AGW in the minds of the exquisite privileged class. It has all the requirements.

1. America is corrupt and inferior ? Yes. (See the comments)

2. Capitalism is corrupt and inferior ? Yes

3. Only the truly intelligent and sensitive can appreciate it ? Well.

You might think the weight of the clinical evidence would close the case on alternative medicine, at least in the eyes of mainstream physicians and scientists who aren’t in a position to make a buck on it. Yet many extremely well-credentialed scientists and physicians with no skin in the game take issue with the black-and-white view espoused by Salzberg and other critics. And on balance, the medical community seems to be growing more open to alternative medicine’s possibilities, not less.

That’s in large part because mainstream medicine itself is failing. “Modern medicine was formed around successes in fighting infectious disease,” says Elizabeth Blackburn, a biologist at the University of California at San Francisco and a Nobel laureate. “Infectious agents were the big sources of disease and mortality, up until the last century. We could find out what the agent was in a sick patient and attack the agent medically.” To a large degree, the medical infrastructure we have today was designed with infectious agents in mind. Physician training and practices, hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, and health insurance all were built around the model of running tests on sick patients to determine which drug or surgical procedure would best deal with some discrete offending agent. The system works very well for that original purpose, against even the most challenging of these agents—as the taming of the AIDS virus attests.

But medicine’s triumph over infectious disease brought to the fore the so-called chronic, complex diseases—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses without a clear causal agent. Now that we live longer, these typically late-developing diseases have become by far our biggest killers. Heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases now account for three-quarters of our health-care spending. “We face an entirely different set of big medical challenges today,” says Blackburn. “But we haven’t rethought the way we fight illness.” That is, the medical establishment still waits for us to develop some sign of one of these illnesses, then seeks to treat us with drugs and surgery.

No doubt the author would prefer that people died too young for chronic disease to affect them.

A well-known science blog states the case for scientific medicine.

Speaking of bad ideas, in contrast to his previous article, in which he managed at least to get the gist of what Ioannidis teaches but merely spun it in what I considered to be an annoying fashion, the entire idea behind Freedman’s new article channels the worst fallacies of apologists for alternative medicine. The whole idea behind the article appears to be that, even if most of alternative medicine is quackery (which it is, by the way), it’s making patients better because its practitioners take the time to talk to patients and doctors do not. In other words, it’s a massive “What’s the harm?” argument. Yes, that’s basically the entire idea of the article boiled down into a couple of sentences. Deepak Chopra couldn’t have said it better. Tacked on to that bad idea is a massive argumentum ad populum that portrays alternative medicine (or, as purveyors of quackademic medicine like to call it, “complementary and alternative medicine” or “integrative medicine”) as the wave of the future, a wave that’s washing over medicine and teaching us cold, reductionistic doctors to care again about patients and thus make them better. Freedman even contrasts this to what he calls the “failure” of scientific medicine. I kid you not. Worse, Freedman makes this argument after having actually interviewed some prominent skeptics, including Steve Salzberg and Steve Novella, in essence, missing the point.

I expect to see more and more of “alternative medicine” because it appeals to the scientific illiterate and it damns another traditional source of authority, scientific medicine. Global warming hysteria attacks capitalism and prosperity. Alternative medicine is also going to be useful to Obamacare as a way of cutting reimbursement for traditional care. There are assumptions that it is cheaper. It may be cheaper per session, although is also uncertain, but there is no end point to such treatment. Who can say when the treatment is enough if it cannot be measured ? The theory that it is cheaper will be a powerful wind behind it. Watch for more and more about it in the left leaning media.

27 thoughts on “Global Warming and acupuncture”

  1. One of my friends on Facebook keeps posting how helpful accupuncture was helping her defeat her allergies this Spring – serious head slapping material. She asked me one time what I thought about it and I told her point blank that I thought it was a sham, and that I couldn’t think of any three thousand year old technology I use in my every day life – why would I use medicine from that time period? We don’t talk about it anymore.

  2. Dan, I learned in first year medical school that placebo will heal 30% of peptic ulcers. To be effective, any drug or therapy has to be better than that. I remember that Scotty Reston was supposed to have had his appendix removed with acupuncture anesthetic in 1971 during Nixon’s trip. I wondered for a long time but recently learned the story was a sham.

    The front-page article, “Now, About My Operation in Peking,” appeared in the New York Times on July 26, 1971. Aside from the removal of Reston’s appendix, the account is quite different from what is commonly believed. There are only two passages pertaining to the anesthetic itself:

    …removed my appendix on July 17 after a normal injection of Xylocain and Benzocain, which anesthetized the middle of my body.

    …and then pumped the area anesthetic by needle into my back.

    Thus the anesthetic was a standard regional technique, most likely an “epidural.” There is only one passage that pertains to the treatment of Mr. Reston’s post-operative incisional pain:

    I was back in my room…by 11 [PM]. The doctors came by to reassure me…gave me an injection to relieve the pain…

    In other words, he got a standard injection of narcotic.

    So much for alternative medicine.

  3. Dan from Madison,

    I think a big attraction for non-scientific medicine is that it creates a sense of control for people. Scientific medicine requires years of specialized study to master or even to understand many of the basics. Hell, I was educated as a biologist and I get lost pretty quick in many medical matters. For people with no such background, scientific medicine is just strangers doing unknown things to your body for unknown reasons.

    By contrast, non-scientific (or more kindly pre-scientific) medicine, presents a story that anyone can understand. It lets people choose their treatment based on whim and gives them a sense of control over their own health. That sense of control is itself a powerful stress reliever and probably accounts almost all of the improvements that people claim to see.

  4. I don’t think alternative medicine is the problem. It’s a symptom of the problem. The problem is that lots of people want to believe when they should be skeptical. This is a problem of human nature and can be suppressed, if not cured, only by education in scientific methods.

  5. Shannon, I think you have put your finger on a big piece of this. Science education would help but, as you point out, that may not be enough. I bought a book on molecular biology when I began to teach medical students about 12 years ago. There was no such field when I was a medical student 50 years ago.

    However, there seems to be another factor in that beliefs that denigrate America and conventional thought are unusually popular among the elitist left. I have started reading “Weary Titan” after reading about it here. There is a lot about now concerning decline.

  6. I don’t if “alternative” medicine will replace global warming but I know something will. These fads are driven by psychological and social dynamics that have nothing to do with physical reality. They will create something. It’s no coincidence that global warming became a big deal within five years of the fall of communism. People who were socialist just shifted rationals for centralized state control.

  7. There is also a component of rebellion against authority, especially fathers. I agree that alternative medicine will not necessarily occur to the disappointed AGW advocates but the feds will have a strong incentive to encourage such diversions as alternative medicine is seen as “cheaper.” It is certainly more subject to manipulation as people without scientific standards often have weak financial standards.

  8. I recall reading decades ago Martin Gardner on this foolishness. Human nature remains constant; foolish ideas ebb and flow.

    If that faction of America’s ruling class which writes “Amerikkka,” believes the the American flag offends, believes in socialism, voted for Obama, and deplores vaccination took up alternative medicine, wouldn’t America find itself better off?

    I’ve read that the lottery is tax on stupid. This reminds me of a lottery: certainly the chance of an effective treatment is better than with Pick 6 (by the placebo effect).

    A free people should be allowed to freely choose. That’s that, whether they are Christian Scientists or alternative healers who reject allopathic medicine. Is self-nomination for a Darwin award really something we want to prevent? Is volunteering to rid the gene pool of one’s own genes for ideological idiocy a problem?

    I have my doubts the followers of alternative medicine truly believe in their nonsense. Over 20 years ago (in Austin, TX), I knew several such people who believed AIDS could be cured by the proper herbs and pure water. I said “Great. Let’s give each infected person the herbs and lifetime supply of Evian and AIDS will soon be thing of the past.” And there the conversation ended.

    I want the kind of people who believe in astrology, alternative medicine, and crystal healing to be treated with their desired therapies. So do they. It’s win-win.

  9. I think there are a lot of people who strongly desire a mystical element in their lives but, for various reasons, reject traditional American religions. ThesE are the ones who believe in things like magical crystals and vaguely-defined forces, and, I suspect, aLternative medicine.

    In “Screwtape,” the devil longs for the appearance of the Materialist Magician.

  10. We already have “alternative medicine” out here in the State of Confusion.

    Big Money got marijuana passed on an initiative a few years ago for “medicinal purposes”.

    You should see the TV ads.

    On Global Warming – you haven’t heard the new narrative – Climate Change”?”

  11. David Foster,

    I think there are a lot of people who strongly desire a mystical element in their lives but, for various reasons, reject traditional American religions.

    That’s because traditional religions of all kinds require individuals to keep their pant zipped, avoid intoxication, devote themselves to the benefit of others in the concrete and immediate and generally live lives of self-restraint, delayed gratification and self-denial. People who abandon traditional religions want the emotional benefits of spiritualism without the obligation and responsibility.

    I know this because the supposed non-Western religions they embrace aren’t the actual traditional religions. Hollywood Buddhism basically lets people do anything they want while real traditional Buddhism is very puritanical. The ideal traditional Buddhist is chaste, poor, works in charity and shuns intoxication and revelry. You don’t see a lot of those in Hollywood. Ditto for the ripped off First American religions or even the various pagan religions mashed together to form the basis of Wicca. All the responsibility and self-denial is stripped out because it doesn’t sell.

    If you ask these people what they don’t like about traditional Western religion they will tell you that they don’t like the fact that those religion tell people “how to run their lives.” The idea that that is the entire purpose of religion goes right past them.

  12. Shanon…I think that’s clearly part of it. Another part is the coolness factor.

    Although some of the cool religions DO tell people what to do…eenvironmentalism and vegetarianism surely have this aspect. Maybe it’s sPecifically telling people what to do **regarding sex** that’s found objectionable…recycling commandments OK.

  13. Alternative medicine is the return of shamanism, the harnessing of the placebo effect to increase positive medical outcomes. The problem is that once everybody is in on the con, the placebo effect disappears and shamanism seeks a new cover to recapture the benefits of the placebo effect.

    Placebos are cheap. The theatrics necessary to make them effective may be less so.

  14. David,
    there is a lot of people who desire strong mystical element in their lives – true, but most of those people are proponents of “traditional [American] religions”.
    What Catholicism if not a desire for strong mystical element? how many practicing Jews also believe in Cabbalah? I never seen as much superstition as among Russian Orthodox. Often same people who’d get up at 3am to go for an Easter service are the same who go to homeopaths, leave a saucer with milk overnight for a “home spirits”, or wear “hand of Fatima”on their neck or making pilgrimages to “holy creeks” in the woods.

    I don’t want this argument to sidetrack into “my religion is holier than yours” kind of squabble, but I think blaming the rise of charlatan beliefs on “materialism” is misleading. The problem is deeper, and it is more unifying. Jonathan is right: it is in human nature.

  15. Tatyana…but the beliefs you mention are long-standing and are held by people who acknowledge a supernatural element to their belief systems. The belief in magical crystals, a conscious Gaia, etc, are often held by people who would reject traditional Christian beliefs as contrary to science, while applying no such test to their own forms of mystIcism.

  16. When I was a resident at the County hospital many years ago, we used to see cases of “cupping.” In this practice, seen in primitive societies, illness is treated by heating a glass cup and then placing it on the affected part, such as the chest in pneumonia. As the glass cools, a relative vacuum is created and the skin is sucked up into the cup. Some of them were pretty dramatic and we had to break the cup to get the vacuum broken and allow the skin to retract.

    In the movie Godfather II, there is a scene of the young Vito watching as a healer woman treats the baby Fredo with cupping for pneumonia. I thought it was a very good example of authenticity. These practices come from the absence of modern medicine plus crude logic analogous to bleeding in 17th century medicine. Bleeding may have begun as a result of Galenical theory (Four humors) but remained as treatment for high blood pressure because it helped.

    The modern alternative medicine movement is a flight from logic but may also represent the absence of scientific knowledge in spite of the progress of science in the greater society.

  17. David, thank you for the response, but your objections don’t counter my argument.
    The length of superstitions belief is not relevant; it does not matter if 5 generations of a family believed in immaculate conception and pray in front of a painted statue dressed in lace – or only one. It is still regretful superstition from an atheist and materialist point of view.
    As to belief in “magical crystals” held by people who declare adherence to scientific principles – the same could be said about a scientist with doctorate in nuclear physics, molecular biology or organic chemistry who at the same time is a practicing Orthodox Jew or…I don’t know…a Hindu.

    It simply means that certain percentage of people, in every generation, have an inner need of believing in supernatural, be it primitive folk tales of Native Americans or infinitely more complex and evolved in centuries legends of Christ, etc. And then there are other people, who feel no need for the fairy tales.

    Again: human nature.

  18. “often held by people who would reject traditional Christian beliefs as contrary to science, while applying no such test to their own forms of mystIcism”

    I’ve seen this often. Some of the most hate-filled anti-Christians believed in, get this, fairies (and crystals and places of power and Carlos Castaneda…). Yup, malicious fairies were persecuting her and shed carried out rituals with sympathetic friends to banish them.

    And aside from the fairies, her vocabulary for describing her beliefs consisted of terms borrowed from 19th century spiritualists ( or Supreme Court justices: “emanations”), quantum mechanics, and engineering.

  19. ErisGuy, funny you brought up fairies and superstitious people who believe in them. A commenter who used to come to my blog was one such person. In this post (where I wrote down few thoughts about Conan Doyle and his father, who was a Roman Catholic, alcoholic and believed in fairies) he commented in the thread under the moniker “I am Thursday”. Yep, he is a Roman Catholic, too – and a computer engineer…

  20. There are not enough people with chronic illness to make alternative medicine as all-encompassing as environmentalism. We all have to exhale carbon dioxide and take out the trash after all. The next big scam is going to be Sustainability. If we are entering a cooling period, with lower crop yields, etc., this will be an incredibly effective propaganda tool.

  21. Tatyana,

    The length of superstitions belief is not relevant; it does not matter if 5 generations of a family believed in immaculate conception and pray in front of a painted statue dressed in lace – or only one.

    That’s is were you are wrong. The duration of an idea does matter a lot.

    Ideas that result in physical behaviors are subject to natural selection just like physical characteristics are subject to natural selection. Ideas pop into existence in vast numbers just like mutation appear in vast numbers however, just like mutations, only a tiny subset persist for any significant length of time. Therefore, just like behaviors encoded in genes, learned behaviors only survive if they are at very least neutral and harmless and usually because they do some active good for the people who engage in the behaviors.

    The very definition of “superstitious” behavior is that the articulated rationale for behavior does describe the actual physical cause and effect. However, from the perspective of natural selection, why an individual performs a act is irrelevant to whether the act is beneficial or not.

    There are a lot of pre-scientific/traditional medical treatments that do have scientifically verified efficacy. However, without explanation, the traditional theory for why they worked are little more than gibberish. Traditional steel makers knew nothing of metallurgy yet they still created metals like Damascus steel even though their articulated rationales for the methods they used were nonsense.

    So, any behavior or belief that has been around for a long time is either neutral or provides an active benefit.

  22. either neutral or provides an active benefit.

    …or they are wrong and provide harm, and only their neutral and/or beneficial qualities are remembered and advertised. Like that “cupping” treatment Dr. Kennedy described above as barbaric; many, many times in Russia I have encountered people who swore by it, and one of their “pro” arguments was exactly that it is proven by hundreds years of use. Who knows how many people felt worse after it – only positive cases were mentioned as recommendation.
    (and no, I didn’t agree – not for myself, nor for my little son, even after a pediatric doctor, MD, advised it)
    How old is astrology? Thousands of years, I’d think, but that doesn’t make it either neutral or beneficial (if one decides to wrap his life around it, like medieval royals did). How about alchemy? Tarot cards?

  23. Tatyana,

    …or they are wrong and provide harm, and only their neutral and/or beneficial qualities are remembered and advertised

    No, that would violate the second law of thermodynamics which is what drives natural selection.

    Cupping and other such medical treatments remained stable across many cultures for centuries because they provided some benefit. Cupping is usually done along the upper spine so it can activate the “gating” neurological mechanism by which less intense pain conducted by nerves that enter the spine high up can block stronger pain signals originating nerves that enter the spine lower down. So, if you have severe foot pain, you can reduce the pain significantly by hurting your hand. Bleeding can also reduce pain and provides positive benefits to older men by reducing accumulation of excess iron.

    The major effects, however, were largely psychological. Simply doing something, anything, provides psychological comfort when faced with pain or death. The physical pain of bogus treatments is trivial compared to the psychological torment of laying there helplessly. Just doing something, anything gives the patient as sense of control that probably does provide material benefit on the whole.

    Astrology used to be the clock of the ancient world. Even if astrologers did a lot of damage otherwise, they provided a net benefit just by being able to tell people what day in the year it was. It’s even possible that back in the day when people lived close to nature and were heavily physically influenced by the seasons, that people gestated and born at different times of the year showed different psychological traits. When events were seasonal e.g. wars were fought in the summer, an astrologer could “predict” the possibility of war just by being the only one who knew it was June.

    Astrologers and oracles had the practical function of providing a face saving way of resolving internal debates. A lot of times in the ancient world, people would quarrel over some decision just because they didn’t want to lose the status inherent in having to agree to a competitors suggestion. Astrology and oracles gave them a face saving way to bow out. Today, we use consultants.

    Alchemy was proto-chemistry and produce a great deal of practical good. All modern chemistry descends directly from it as does the word “chemistry” itself. People kept believing that alchemist could turn lead into gold because they kept doing things like turning sulfur, water and hot iron into a powerful acid.

    Tarot cards date only from the 1820s and are largely harmless.

    You have to remember that a behavior persist not because it always produces good for every individual nor does so in an immediate and obvious manner . It will persist if statistically, over a large population, it is either neutral or beneficial.

  24. Shannon,

    In normal physical natural selection, the pressure is on reproductive populations, so for instance a mutation which increases fertility but shortens life span after the reproductive years, is “seen” by natural selection as a benefit, but perhaps not to the organism.

    Does this memetic/cultural practice version have a similar dynamic?

    I’m kind of exploring the idea and thinking for instance of heavy smoking which clearly took off as an idea and a practice, but which is pretty demonstrably harmful rather than neutral of beneficial.

    Does it have some hidden benefit which offsets all the apparent harm? Is 400 years to short a period in which to test, if so, how long is “long term?” What duration “matters a lot”?

    Or, is smoking acting in some way analogous to the fertility/mortality dynamic? Perhaps looking like a 40s movie star confers a reproductive advantage which offsets early morbidity and mortality? OTOH, maybe the death of an individual isn’t relevant to the success and reproduction of the meme.

    I’m afraid I can’t quite see how you’re suggesting this works. Care to elaborate?

  25. I can think of one possible argument against this. The costs of alternative medicine are ultimately inflicted on the believer, individually. The costs of global warming are shifted to “all of us.” Global Warming has become a religion because it is a collective problem that requires a collective solution.

    The whole point is to inflict costs on and force changes in the behavior of other people (sinners) who defy holy wisdom.

    Alternative medicine is too personal, maybe even too personal to be used as a social signal.

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