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The Forefather of Acupuncture Energetics, a Charlatan?

Not only his name and his titles of nobility were forged, but parts of the teachings of the man who introduced acupuncture to Europe were also invented. Even today, treatments are provided based on his fantasies.

– Hanjo Lehmann1

Decades before President Nixon’s visit to communist China, and before the articles in the Western popular press on the use of acupuncture in surgery, a Frenchman by the name of George Soulié de Morant (1878-1955), published a series of colorful accounts of the use of acupuncture in early 20th-century China. His work led to the creation of a school of thought known as “French energetics,” which has become the theoretical foundation for many proponents of acupuncture in the West, including Joseph Helms, MD, the founder and former director of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA), and the founder of the acupuncture certification course for physicians.

But just as the medical community gradually learned that the reports of the use of acupuncture in surgery in communist China were inaccurate, exaggerated, or even fraudulent, we are now learning that the reports on the use and efficacy of acupuncture by Soulié de Morant were also fabricated.

According to a 2010 article published in Germany by Hanjo Lehmann in the Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a short version was published in Süddeutsche Zeitung), there is no real evidence that the Frenchman who is considered the father of Western acupuncture ever stuck a needle in anyone in China, and he probably never witnessed a needling.

A century prior to Soulié de Moran’s publications, the therapeutic use of needles enjoyed immense (though short-lived) popularity in Western Europe — mainly in France, Germany, Austria. This use of needles consisted mostly of the so-called locus dolendi treatment, where needles are placed solely in the vicinity of the affected area(s).2 But due to its lack of significant efficacy, this treatment vanished just as rapidly and completely as it had appeared.

During that time, paradoxically, acupuncture was excluded from the Imperial Medical Institute of China by decree of the Emperor in 1822. The knowledge and skills were retained, however, either as an interest among academics or through everyday use by rural folk healers. With China’s increasing acceptance of scientific medicine at the start of the 20th-century, final ignominy for acupuncture arrived, when in 1929, it was outlawed, along with other forms of traditional medicine.3

The practice of acupuncture, however, reappeared in France a few years after it was outlawed in China, and from there it gradually spread to Western Europe and the US. This time, its theories were based on the laws of meridians (where points distant from the affected areas are needled according to intricate algorithms). This renaissance was largely due to Soulie de Morant’s legacy.

Soulié de Morant was born in Paris in 1878, and attended a Jesuit school. The prevailing story is that he was a child prodigy, and in addition to speaking fluent English and Spanish, he also learned Mandarin from a Chinese man who lived in Paris, and who (according to family friend Judith Gautier, a French writer) spent an afternoon with the young George writing Chinese characters (or ideograms) in the sand.

Soulié de Morant went to China at the turn of the 20th-century at the age of 21 to work for a French bank. The legend goes that he was fluent in Mandarin before going to China, and that once there, he also learned Mongolian. Reportedly, his language skills and his knowledge of Chinese culture brought him to the attention of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who appointed him judge of the Joint French Court of Shanghai, and later the Vice-Consul of Foreign Affairs in Yunnan. Presumably, he then became the French Consul in several Chinese cities.

The legend also includes the story of how, while in office, Soulié de Morant witnessed a Chinese physician help the victims of a “terrible cholera epidemic that raged in Beijing at that time,” without recourse to modern medicine. His curiosity aroused, he began to read ancient medical texts, and studied acupuncture under several renowned physicians. Purportedly, he later practiced acupuncture himself, and it is reported that his knowledge and skills were such that he became respected by the Chinese — an incredible accomplishment for a foreigner, then or now.4

He returned to France in 1910, was married in Paris in 1911, and had two children. He then tried to return to China, but only succeeded to go back for a few months in 1917. After this final trip to China, he wrote several books on Chinese art and literature. Curiously, he didn’t mention acupuncture in any of his writings until 1929 — the same year it was outlawed in China.

Initially confronted with skepticism and derision, Soulié de Morant’s writings on acupuncture eventually managed to attract the support of several French physicians. His major work, L’acuponcture chinoise, outlines his “theory of energy” and its therapeutic manipulation by acupuncture. He is also known for coining the widespread term “meridian,” as a translation for the Chinese expression jingluo (經絡), which literally means “channel-network.” He translated the term qi (氣), the Chinese equivalent of the Greek notion of pneuma (πνεύμα), into the modern term “energy.”

Chinese Acupuncture
The 1994 translation of L’Acuponcture Chinoise. Image source: Paradigm Publications

One of the main people who challenge the authenticity of Soulié de Morant’s understanding of acupuncture and his interpretations of the Chinese classics is the American scholar, Donald (Deke) Kendall, PhD, who writes in the Dao of Chinese Medicine that by jingluo, the Chinese were simply referring to blood vessels. Kendall argues that Soulié de Morant’s theories are actually the result of profound misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the classics, which have resulted in the portrayal in the West of the rudimentary description of the vascular system by the Chinese as an elusive network of intangible “energy” channels.5

There is ample evidence in support of Kendall’s claims, including the work of the classics scholar Elizabeth Craik, who has convincingly argued that the Chinese notion of jingluo is quasi-identical to the Greek notions of phlebes (blood vessels in general) and neura (ligaments, nerves, etc.).6

But Hanjo Lehmann, the author of the recent article in Deutsches Ärzteblatt, goes a step further. Lehmann lists a set of contradictions and inconsistencies in Soulié de Morant’s account of his journey in the Far-East, which shed doubt on his overall character, the integrity of his narrative, and the credibility of his exposure to, and practice of, acupuncture in China. Lehmann calls him a scharlatan.

Lehmann first points out that it would be unlikely for a 21-year-old without any formal education in Chinese (and who had never lived in China) to master a complex language with several thousands of characters, even if he took courses regularly for several years. We recall that the only testimony of Soulié de Morant’s formal “studies” in Paris came from Judith Gautier (1845-1917), who affirmed that on one occasion, a Chinese friend of the family in Paris drew characters in the sand with him.

According to Lehmann, Soulié de Morant likely started his foreign service in 1903, as a low-level interpreter at the Shanghai Consulate, and not as a “judge” in Shanghai. The belief that he was actually nominated as a judge might come from the fact that in his book Exterritorialité et intérêts étrangers en chine, Soulié de Morant states that the French delegate in the Joint Court was “usually the first interpreter” of the consulate.

As for his consular nominations when he was only in his mid-twenties, Lehmann argues that they are certainly false. It is only after he left the French Foreign Office, (probably in 1924), that he received the title of “honorary consul.” In fact, it is only in his writings after 1925, that he calls himself Consul de France.

Lehmann also believes that his aristocratic name “Soulié de Morant” was a forgery, and that he was born simply Georges Soulié.

As for acupuncture, Soulié de Morant claims that he first saw and practiced the technique himself during a cholera outbreak in Bejing in 1908 — but no records of such an outbreak at that time exist. According to the History of Chinese Medicine by Wong and Wu, an epidemic of plague and typhus occurred roughly around that time, but in Hong Kong and Fuzhou in Jiangxi.7 There is no record of a cholera epidemic in Beijing or anywhere else.

Moreover, although Soulie de Morant recounts his studies with two renowned acupuncturists of academic rank, other Western writers remind us that during that time, only street practitioners and rural folk healers, worked with needles therapeutically; the use of needles was actually often associated with amulets and talismans, and thus frowned upon by the Chinese academia.8

These and dozens more inconsistencies that discredit Soulié de Morant, suggest that the his claims about acupuncture, and the lore of energy meridians and qi, are founded on sloppy translations, misconceptions, or even pure forgery. But the accuracy of these notions are never disputed by the Chinese, because — as Lehmann points out — the public image of acupuncture in China today is based mainly on its reputation in the West. The Chinese consider that any criticism or fundamental discussion would jeopardize that reputation.

Over the last half-century since his death, Soulié de Morant’s interpretation of the traditional tenets of acupuncture, known as “French energetics,” have inspired the creation of over a dozen methods, organizations, and schools abroad,9 each with different levels of orthodoxy, critical thinking, or even rationality.

Consider, for instance, a theoretical construct known as the “Energetics of Living Systems” that was developed by the French physician Maurice Mussat. He is one of the leaders of the French school of medical acupuncture, and has taught in the US under the auspices of Joseph Helms, MD. Mussast takes the fabulations of Soulié de Morant to the next level of absurdity by projecting cybernetics, complexity theory, and quantum mechanics onto meridian-based acupuncture.

Mussat indeed believes there is a parallelism between the energetics of the meridians and the “mathematical order inherent in the trigrams and hexagrams” of the I-Ching, a Chinese classic of geomancy (a type of divination based on patterns formed by tossed rocks, sticks, sand, etc.). Mussat, who believes he has connected the symbolism of the I-Ching with modern quantum physics, has devised “algebraic derivations” to measure meridian energetics, and has created a diagram that “incorporates nearly all of the fundamental energy relationships of acupuncture.”10 Mussat’s forced conflation of acupuncture and quantum physics is outlined in his 3-volume Energetics of the Living Systems Applied to Acupuncture, as well as in other creations of his overinclusive thinking.


A German book on Mussat’s “quantum-medicine” (1983). Image source: VGM Verlag GmbH for Integrative Medicine.

The cognitive derailments of Maurice Mussat have, in turn, greatly influenced Joseph Helms, the founder and former Director of the AAMA.11 Helms, who combines family medicine, acupuncture, and homeopathy, served on the advisory panel of the Office of Alternative Medicine, NIH, and presented to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. In his book, Acupuncture Energetics, Helms writes:

Mussat inspired me with the strength of his conviction and his creative merging of two disparate traditions of thought and medicine. He guided me to perfect my clinical skills and to start teaching. My early clinical time with him, combined with the years we lectured together, created an indelible matrix of clear expression that I hope is manifested throughout this work.12

Since the 1980s, the AAMA has taught the fantasies of Soulié de Morant and Mussat on meridians and energy under the label of “medical acupuncture” to thousands of physicians in the US , many of whom were members of the military. In fact, in 2009, the office of the Surgeon General of the Air Force instituted a pilot program for active duty physicians to be trained by Helms Medical Institute, and gave out 32 scholarships on a competitive basis. According to Stars and Stripes, the US military’s independent news source, the program is now expanded to all service branches, and will certify 60 active duty physicians in 2011 as “medical acupuncturists.”

Meanwhile, well-conducted clinical trials have indicated over and over that needling location has little differential effect on outcomes, and that acupuncture is largely devoid of specific therapeutic effects.13 The support for this argument comes from a series of 8 large randomized controlled trials (RCTs) initiated by German health insurers. These RCTs were related to chronic back pain, migraine, tension headache, and knee osteoarthritis (2 trials for each indication). Their total sample size was in excess of 5000. Even though not entirely uniform, the results of these studies tend to demonstrate no or only small differences in terms of analgesic effects between real and placebo needling.14

This evidence indicates that the use of specific meridians, points, and particular types of stimulation are not critical factors independent of conditioning, expectancy or other neuropsychological factors. Needling seems to have a broad anti-inflammatory and antihyperalgesic effect, which could be attributed to the pain and tissue injury, or the neurostimualtion caused by the needle, regardless of the insertion point. In view of this, the meridian and point lore, and the premisses of “Acupuncture Energetics,” are all devoid of any scientific rationality.

Considering that acupuncture was reintroduced to the West based on a narrative that was apparently fraudulent; that its cultural assimilation has conflated it with New Age crackpottery; and that reliable RCTs contradict its medical claims, it’s time once-and-for-all to cease wasting taxpayer dollars on its dissemination.

NOTE: The opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not reflect the positions of Hanjo Lehmann and Donald (Deke) Kendall.

REFERENCES

  1. Lehmann H. Akupunktur im Westen: Am Anfang war ein Scharlatan. Dtsch Arztebl. 2010; 107(30): A-1454 / B-1288 / C-1268. Return to text
  2. Feucht G. Streifzug Durch die Geschichte der Akupunktur in Deutschland, Deutsche Zeitschrift fur Akupunktur, 10. 1961. Return to text
  3. Ma KW. The roots and development of Chinese acupuncture: from prehistory to early 20th century. Acupunct Med 1992;10(Suppl):92–9. Return to text
  4. Soulié de Morant G. L’acuponcture chinoise. 2 vols. Paris: Mercure de France, 1939-1941. Published in English as Chinese Acupuncture, edited by Paul Zmiewski. Brookline, MA: Paradigm Publications. 1994. Return to text
  5. Kendall DE. Dao of Chinese Medicine: Understanding an Ancient Healing Art. Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition. 2002. Return to text
  6. Craik EM. Hippocratic Bodily “Channels” and Oriental Parallels. Med Hist. 2009 January; 53(1): 105–116. Return to text
  7. Wong KC, Wu TH. History of Chinese Medicine. Oriental Book Store. 1977. Return to text
  8. Hillier SM, Jewell T. Health Care and Traditional Medicine in China 1800-1982. Routledge; 1 edition. 2005. Return to text
  9. Hsu E. Outline of the History of Acupuncture in Europe, The Journal of Chinese Medicine, 29. 1989. Return to text
  10. Mussat M. Energetique Physioloque de l’Acupuncture. Paris, France: Librairie le Francois. 1979. Return to text
  11. Birch SJ, Felt RL. Understanding Acupuncture. Churchill Livingstone; 1 edition. 1999. Return to text
  12. Helms JM. Acupuncture Energetics: A Clinical Approach for Physicians. Medical Acupuncture Publishers; 1st edition. 1995. Return to text
  13. Ernst E. The American journal of medicine, Vol. 121, No. 12. December 2008. Return to text
  14. Baecker M, Tao I, Dobos GJ. Acupuncture Quo Vadis? On the current discussion around its effectiveness and “point specificity.” In: McCarthy M, Birch S, Cohen I, et al, eds. Thieme Almanac 2007: Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. Stuttgart, Germany: Thieme; 2007:29-36. Return to text

a forced

conflation with quantum physics.

crackpottery

Posted in: Acupuncture, Energy Medicine, Health Fraud

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28 thoughts on “The Forefather of Acupuncture Energetics, a Charlatan?

  1. nybgrus says:

    Ben, I reckon that many may contest the relevance of your history of acupuncture here. I envision such arguments as “well so what where it came from? It seems to be doing something there must be some mechanism…” blah blah blah.

    I have no such arguments. Thank you for the interested and well researched post. I find it vitally important to know the context, history, and precise definition of whatever it is that may be currently in question. Often the hardest part of science is not getting the answer – it is asking the right question.

    I have to wonder though – how many times can acupuncture be put out to pasture before it finally dies? I envision you as the lone sniper on the shopping mall roof fending off the horde of zombies. I’m rooting for you Ben!

  2. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Very good! It is a pity that there is not a full translation of Lehmanś article into English. Lehmann gives a couple of examples where one from Soulié’s texts can see that it cannot be true that Soulié really had some knowledge of acupuncture from personal experience in China. I translate some parts of Lehmann’s article:

    He states incomprehensibly [in 1932]: ‘The method which in Chinese is called “Needles and Moxa”, Zhenjiufa, is the most important branch of Chinese medicine.’ This is not at all correct. In Chinese medicine drugs are the most important. Acupuncture (in 1822 forbidden in the Imperial Academy of Medicine) lived in the shadows. Already in 1757 Xu Dachun states that it is a lost tradition [see P.U. Unschuld, Forgotten Traditions of Ancient Chinese Medicine. Brookline, Massachusetts 1990: Paradigm Verlag, page 31]

    In June 1929 Soulié writes: ‘The Chinese … were the first homeopaths.’ Also false. On the contrary, TCM was and is explicitly allopathic: drain excesses, compensate deficiencies, cool what is hot, warm what is cold.

    Nowhere does Soulié mention any concrete things that he supposedly was taught by his teachers, let alone the differences between them. He never says anything about the patients he claimed to have had in China.

    Soulié has only a superficial knowledge of the Yin-Yang-doctrine. For example he associated the right side with Yang and the left side with Yin, which is wrong. The Five Phase doctrine is incorrectly presented, and the theory of diseases with internal and external causes is only fragmentary. He knows that in TCM the spleen is considered to be a main digestive organ (and he enlarges it to ‘spleen-pancreas’), but he doesn’t know that in TCM organs like liver, gall bladder, kidneys and others also are endowed with other functions, for example the kidneys with sexuality. Because he doesn’t know this, he calls the ‘pericardium vessel’ originally ‘circulation-sexuality-meridian’.

    An important criterion of Chinese acupuncture is the needle sensation Deqi (‘attain qi’), An elementary part of the diagnostics is tongue diagnostic. Soulié doen know either. It is unthinkable that none of his three Chinese teachers had explained about this.

    So far the article. I corresponded with Lehmann about Soulié’s early experiences in learning Chinese. After Lehmann’s article appeared the German fans of Soulié adapted the German website about him:

    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Souli%C3%A9_de_Morant

    to make it more believable that he really learnt Chinese at an early age.

    There the story is that he learnt Chinese from this Judith Gautier (who imagined herself to be the reincarnation of a Chinese princess) and her former a Chinese teacher who stayed with her, named Tin-Tun-Ling or Ding Dunling. In itself it is not really impossible that he picked up some Chinese that way. But in that time the Chinese written language was totally different from the vernacular, and even in China it required quite a few years of intensive study to master it, let’s say that it was comparable to Latin in western culture. Only after the May 4th movement (1919) people started to write the vernacular. Soulié’s statement that he was fluent in spoken and written Chinese when he arrived in China is simply not credible. If one learnt ‘Mandarin’ (at that time only the spoken version of Chinese used by high level students and scholars from all over the country in Peking) one might be able to speak to scholars, but the dialects spoken by the common people in China were all different from each other and from this Mandarin. It would not have been of much practical use in Shanghai.

    So what was he translating in Shanghai? At that time there was a part of the town that was governed by westerners, mainly English and French, with their own police, courts and justices. Soulié was fluent in English and French and knew some Spanish too, so he might have been interpreting between French and English, for which there may have been some need.

  3. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    I would like to add a remark Lehmann made in correspondence with me, namely that if one traces the works on acupuncture of Soulié through time, then one sees that he picking up knowledge about it. In 1929 he knows almost nothing. If his knowledge would have been from any experience in China (before 1910) then this would be inexplicable.

  4. JessA says:

    Fascinating stuff – especially the implication that acupuncture in modern China had to be re-imported from the West. Making it a form of “ancient Chinese medicine” that is neither ancient, medicine, nor Chinese.

  5. TsuDhoNimh says:

    During the 1910 pneumonic plague epidemic in Moukden, which was being controlled by the Western notions of germ theory and strict quarantines and isolation camps some citizens decided to do it themselves, with alternatives to modern Western medicine.

    “The most serious resistance was on the part of some merchants, who determined that their business should not be interfered with. … They opened their hospital. On one side of the compound were isolation quarters, and on the other rooms for undoubted Plague cases, who were treated by needling and other methods, all under the charge of two native doctors”. (They were using acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medical treatments.)

    “No proper precautions were taken, no masks were worn. Rapidly the disease spread. Those on the isolation side became infected, and almost all died, including the two doctors. Then in consternation the merchants allowed the police to disinfect and close the place. It had been in use for twelve days, and 251 had died, most of them in the last week.”

    This effectively ended the resistance to the control measures.

    Thirty years in Moukden, 1883-1913 by Dugald Christie, Constable and Company Ltd., 1914

  6. TsuDhoNimh says:

    A note on “consuls” at the turn of the last century, which I had to research recently:

    They are mostly the business end of foreign relations, not the policy and diplomacy end. Being a “Vice-consul” merely means you were one of a herd of eager young men sent hither and yon to help their countrymen do business with the locals, and help their countrymen when there were minor conflicts with the local governments.

    The main qualifications are fluency in the language and the ability to schmooze with the local chamber of commerce. The young man I was researching was a Vice-consul in England when he was 22, mostly because he schmoozed well, spoke fluent English, French and German, and his dad was the Consul (not the Ambassador).

    The term “Secretary” was used for the Ambassador’s chain of command.

    **********
    I agree with Jan Willem Nienhuys … what was he translating?

    Shanghai had a huge foreign community, and by treaty, some areas were “Concessions” not governed by the Chinese.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concessions_in_China
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_French_Concession

  7. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    The part from “He states incomprehensibly…” to “It is unthinkable that none of his three Chinese teachers had explained about this.” was translated from Lehmann’s article http://www.aerzteblatt.de/v4/archiv/artikel.asp?id=77695
    It is the part underneath the brown acu-model, marked “Foto: Ullstein”.

    The remainder was just general knowledge.

    Note (from the article):
    It is only after he left the French Foreign Office, (probably in 1924), that he received the title of “honorary consul.”

    In other words, Soulié wasn’t even Consul.

  8. S.C. former shruggie says:

    Excellent post!

    So, it turns out lies need liars to tell them. Colour me unsurprised.

  9. tommyhj says:

    Very nice post. Good to have all this information about acupuncture. Most doctors performing it have no idea about the history or even the lack of evidence of effect.

    I like this comment about acupuncture from JessA:
    “ancient Chinese medicine” that is neither ancient, medicine, nor Chinese.

  10. pmoran says:

    I have to wonder though – how many times can acupuncture be put out to pasture before it finally dies?

    Interesting question. Look at homeopathy. We sceptics see it as a soft target yet, on and on it goes.

    And few have “debunked” it better than Goethe, a contemporary of homeopathy’s founder, Hahnemann. From Faust (1808)–

    The Dark-haired Lady

    The crowd are pressing round to squeeze you dry.
    I ask a cure! For a frozen foot                                                                    6330
    That hinders me in dancing, walking by,
    And I curtsey awkwardly to boot.
     
    Mephistopheles
     
    Permit a little kick from my foot.
     
    The Dark-haired Lady
     
    Well, between lovers that’s occurred before.
     
    Mephistopheles
     
    Child! My kick means something more.   Like cures like, when one’s suffering:
    Foot heals foot, and so with every member.
    Come! Pay attention! No retaliation there.
     
    The Dark-haired Lady (Crying out.)
     
    Ouch! Ouch! That hurt! I call that kicking
    Like a horse’s hoof.

    Mephistopheles
     
    With that the cure I bring.                                              
    You can indulge in any amount of dancing,
    Touch feet under the table with your darling.

  11. JPZ says:

    @ Ben Kavoussi

    Thank you for this article. I feel I learned a lot from it!

    I checked the abstract of ref. 14 as well as the 2009 Cochrane Review on acupuncture and migraine. My impression is that acupuncture relieves pain in clinical trials, but placement of the needles at specific points vs. random points makes no difference.

    You appear to be very well read on this topic, and I would welcome your feedback as to the accuracy of that impression.

    LOL, maybe they should look into a bed of nails or an iron maiden as a control for these studies! ;)

  12. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ nybgrus,

    Thank you for bringing this up. Indeed, the origin of ideas, and the way knowledge is acquired and organized is crucial in science.

    Concerning the “shelf life” of acupuncture, I tend to agree with Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, in “The Recent History of Acupuncture” (The American Journal of Medicine, Vol 121, No 12, December 2008):

    So, after 3 decades of intensive research, is the end of acupuncture nigh? Given its many supporters, acupuncture is bound to survive the current wave of negative evidence, as it has survived previous threats.1 What has changed, however, is that, for the first time in its long history, acupuncture has been submitted to rigorous science—and conclusively failed the test.

    So, it look like we will have it for a while!

  13. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys,

    Thanks for the comments. Deke and Hanjo have actually translated one of the articles. I will find out where and when it is going to be posted.

  14. Ben Kavoussi says:

    # JessAon

    Thank you, very well said: an “ancient Chinese medicine” that is neither ancient, medicine, nor Chinese!

  15. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ TsuDhoNimh

    Wahh! This itself should be the subject of an article. Thanks for the info and the reference.

  16. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ nybgrus and PM

    I have to wonder though – how many times can acupuncture be put out to pasture before it finally dies?

    I am working on an article related this subject. Acupuncture, healing touch, homeopathy, etc. seem to persist — and rise from the ashes each time they are disproved — because they are the embodiments of a fantasy: that miracles exists and could be harnessed…that healing is easy…it could be done just with a needle, a touch, a pill with nothing in it…

  17. BillyJoe says:

    My brother has chronic back pain because every day he does the same thing – he fits the roof gutters to a new house. Imagine my delight when he told me how useless the chiorpractor was. Then he said: “If you ever have as crook back go to my acupuncturist. He’s a miracle worker”. Damn.

  18. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ JPZ

    Indeed, acupuncture relieves pain in RCTs, but the location of the needles makes no SIGNIFICANT difference.

    It could be it is due to the pain, the tissue injury or the neuro stimulation.

    We know that pain creates a reflex analgesia. This is the idea behind the mustard plaster the the chili ointment.

    Perhaps the micro-injury caused by needles causes a similar reflex.

    Neurostimulation is also shown to reflexively reduce inflammation by inhibiting the innate immunity.

    These are all nonspecific effects which contradict the point-specificity lore of acupuncture.

    I think the proponents of this nonsense should try the bed of nails on themselves!

  19. I don’t know German. Can someone translate “scharlatan” into English? :)

  20. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    charlatan (FR.) quacksalver, charlatan
    Scharlatan (G.) quacksalver, charlatan
    Quacksalber (DU.) quacksalver, charlatan
    charlatan (ENG.) quacksalver, charlatan
    charlatan (DU.) quacksalver, charlatan
    kwakzalver (DU.) quacksalver, charlatan
    ciarlatano (IT.) quacksalver, charlatan
    sarlatán (HU.) quacksalver, charlatan
    For additional versions like sjarlatan, szarlatan, charlatão, charlatán, šarlatán see Google translate

    :)

  21. Ben Kavoussi says:

    # S.C. former shruggie,

    Indeed, complete lies and complete fabrications are the most common thing in the world of CAM.

  22. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ tommyhj

    Indeed, most practitioners never doubt the tale of the 5000-year old practice. It takes a historian of ideas or an epistemologist to dig into the past, and deconstruct the tale and other unexamined assumptions.

    I do not necessary agree with all the ideas of Michel Foucault in “Archaeology of Knowledge,” or “The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception,” but his methodology in excavating the origins of many common assumptions about medicine have been the start point for me.

  23. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ JessA

    What you describe here is called the “pizza effect,” which according to Wikipedia means the process by which cultural exports are transformed and reimported to their culture of origin, or the way in which a community’s self-understanding is influenced by (or imposed by, or imported from) foreign sources.

    I have actually seen a Korean publication on acupuncture for IVF that is entirely based on a fantasy book on acupuncture by a Westerner! This is like a Frenchman making croissants based on a cookbook written in the US, and by someone who has been in France for only for a few months. Not very reliable!

  24. pmoran says:

    I am working on an article related this subject. Acupuncture, healing touch, homeopathy, etc. seem to persist — and rise from the ashes each time they are disproved — because they are the embodiments of a fantasy: that miracles exists and could be harnessed…that healing is easy…it could be done just with a needle, a touch, a pill with nothing in it…

    I agree about the make-believe. It would be surprising if it were otherwise. You find adult fantasy everywhere, in equally execrable religious doctrine and allegiance to astrology and psychics. Even the books we read and the films we watch are inordinately about supernatural beings and other fantasies.

    But it would be a mistake to concentrate on that at the expense of other influences. At least equally important to “alternative” medicine are unmet medical needs and the almost irresistible sway of the personal testimonial.

    Alt.med could perhaps best be looked upon as a resurgence of folk medicine, with people doing what they are programmed to do in response to a variety of human needs and compulsions with the collusion of a variety of “healers”.

    There is, of course, an equally inevitable admixture of intentional fraud and rank crackpottery. And it has its dangers. This is why we get our knickers in such a twist about what could otherwise be looked upon as a healthy and inevitable societal response to present influences.

    Are you in this agreeing with my contention that understanding of science hardly comes into it at all, despite what most sceptics believe?

  25. GLaDOS says:

    Well we managed to get rid of phrenology, so there is hope.

  26. nybgrus says:

    But we still have trepany. Granted it is very fringe, but not as fringe as we may like to think.

    Are you in this agreeing with my contention that understanding of science hardly comes into it at all, despite what most sceptics believe?

    Yes and no. Mostly no. Yes, because I see your point – the science doesn’t actually matter to the subset of people to whom you are referring. I get that. But the science is the answer to removing that subset of people. The more we educate people, the more children growing into adults understand what science actually is, how it is applied, and how and why it can inform us, the less we will see of CAM and other pseudoscientific BS. That is why I am always up in arms about the state of science education in the US and the blatant anti-scientific stance the religious right is taking. Because when children learn that science is “just another way of knowing” and that it cannot answer certain types of questions, then it becomes very easy to dismiss it and yield to the power and temptation of anecdote and “feeling” to get answers. When enough people adopt that view, then there will be no hope. The solution, as I see it, is two-fold: 1) absolutely ensure proper scientific teaching starting in grade school 2) consistently and unfailingly put the science forth and give no quarter to pseudo- and anti-scientific ideas.

  27. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ pmoran

    What you describe here is discussed in length by the epistemologist and historian of medicine, Paul Uncshuld, in a couple of his books, notably in a short publication called “Chinese Medicine.”

    Unschuld argues that what is portrayed in the West as Chinese Medicine, is actually a small and carefully-selected set of ideas. Furthermore, by cherry-piking these ideas, Westerners have fabricated a “Chinese Medicine” that is closer to their own fantasies, rather than the historical reality.

    All of that to tell you that, indeed, there is a big part of fantasy in TCM and in CAM in general. Unschuld also argues that there is also sociopolitical component to consider. For instance, the idea of “energy” medicine and “energetics” flourished during the energy crisis of the 1970s. In reality, Chinese medicine and the notion of qi have nothing to do with the modern concept of energy, it’s all a fantasy….

    So, this brings out to the role of fantasy in health and healing.We cannot deny that they play a role. This is why we have priests in hospitals. Maybe they make the suffering of the believer easier. They certainly help with the end-of life care.

    But the priests do not practice medicine, not even pretend to it, and remain within a well-defined and confined domain alongside medicine. Whereas most CAM providers pretend they practice medicine, when in reality play the psychosocial role of the priest, the shaman, the New Age guru.

  28. GLaDOS says:

    Unschuld argues that what is portrayed in the West as Chinese Medicine, is actually a small and carefully-selected set of ideas.

    Kinda like the druids. Olde timey, not actually old.

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