The most exasperating aspect of this recent acupuncture study was the numerous “acupuncture works” type headlines in the press. (Of course, we know that BBC science reporting is quackery, but the BBC wasn’t alone in this case.)
The study CLEARLY shows that sham acupuncture – needles put in the “wrong” place – works the same as the “real” stuff. Therefore acupuncture - releasing of blocked “chi” by placing needles at specific positions – does not work. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that “chi” does not even exist, and so neither can the “meridians” it is supposed to flow along.
As Steven Novella put it:
First let us consider the difference between “real” acupuncture and “sham” acupuncture. Acupuncture is based upon the ancient and superstitious pre-scientific notion that there are lines of mysterious life energy (chi) flowing through our bodies, and that the flow of this energy is responsible for health and illness. Acupuncture is supposed to free up blockages in the flow of chi energy. I grant this idea a scientific plausibility of zero - meaning we can safely discard it.
What does the evidence show for the chi theory of acupuncture? The evidence is overwhelmingly negative, and this study supports this negative consensus. Most well-designed studies that compare traditional and sham acupuncture show no difference between the groups.
Novella goes on to explain the real problem with believing in this “chi” nonsense – namely that it prevents anyone from discovering what (if anything) is really happening when someone receives acupuncture treatment. Something I’ve been saying for years. Novella’s entire article is really worth a read – it summarizes just about everything you really need to know about acupuncture.
Also good is Orac’s Yawn...another overhyped acupuncture study – which includes some additional problems he found with this recent study. Problems that would have made acupuncture look better than it actually was. Yes I know – I was shocked too.
Also, read Bad Science.
I look forward to the numerous compelling anecdotes from true believers, that are sure to appear in the comments.
Other Skeptico writings on Acupuncture
Click the links below. Note the number of times I had to change the news headlines so they reflected what the study actually showed.