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January 02, 2012


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The woo-merchants spread their BS and get well-paid for it. I'm trying to work-out whether they really believe their BS or are just well-paid liars. I guess if intelligence is measured in financial terms, these guys are way-smarter than me, hell they're smarter than most of us. My bet is they're liars, but I could be wrong.
I try and learn something new every-day. Now I know there's a placebo placebo!
I suppose it's a bit like homoeopathic-acupuncture, whatever that is.
Off-topic, but since I raised homoeopathy in response to the mention of acupuncture, could homoeopathic-food feed the world?
Could homoeopathic-water solve droughts?

A fairly unspectacular year for woo, I thought. No psychics shone out enough to earn a golden woo, although Sally Morgan must have gone close for nearly getting busted in England. No creationists either this year, and maybe they don't deserve it until they come up with something new.

Nice to see theology making the grade for the first time, though.

Here's my nomination: Rhonda Byrne for saying the stupidest thing which has ever been said, and quite possibly the stupidest thing that can be said in a single sentence.

Her latest book, The Power, in which she claims to have discovered the most powerful force in the universe, contains a further development on The Secret's famous use of magnetism as an analogy for "like attracts like".

Where Secretards usually back down when it's pointed out that in fact opposite poles of a magnet attract, Byrne has not only failed to realize the error, but turned it into the assertion that "like attracts like" is the single principle that governs the WHOLE of science.

Cells are held together by this principle, as are atoms and stars; it governs plant nutrition and gravitation and (she curiously insists) is the thing that keeps the tyres of your car on the road.

I'm no scientist, so I am not qualified to speculate about what would happen if, for example, electrons suddenly started attracting each other, but I suggest it would make some rather fundamental and drastic alterations to the universe and its contents.

In any case, I argue that it is impossible to postulate a single hypothetical scientific law that gets it more wrong, or would have more far reaching consequences than “Byrne's Law”.

Yea for the Return of the Golden Woos!

I can't believe you left out Family Radio's Harold Camping for failing to predict the End of the World -- TWICE! Seems you can't make up your own math, even if it's from the Bible.

Should have put in Stainslaw Burzynski for refusal to face reality.

Whoa, whoa, whoa ... Do you oppose any form of placebo even IF it has a slight effect? Why isn't it appropriate to harness the mind-bending placebo powers of acupuncture that apparently can reduce nausea in about 20 percent of the patients?

"because it isn't honest"? Well damn, dude, if I could be convinced that something works and have my nausea reduced while i eat posion, sign me up for it. Whether it's sugar pills, needles, tarot cards, or ouijia boards.

Pierre, I generally take "slippery slope" arguments with a big grain of salt, but in this case I think it might be valid. If we start saying that lying to a patient is justified "because it works" where does the new line get drawn?

I think it's worthy to mention that lying to the patient about placebos changes the relationship back to the old paternalistic 'doctor always knows best' model. I strongly believe that patients should be encouraged to learn about the research behind their conditions and treatments, so that they can maintain their autonomy and make informed decisions. Doctors should be open to honest discussion. If you allow doctors to lie to their patients, that's going to subvert their trust when they find out.

I don't know where the line is drawn, but as long as you can find sufficient support in the hippocratic oath, and it's a community decision, then i'd say it's fine.

Furthermore, placebos are already used in medical practice. "A study of Danish general practitioners found that 48% had prescribed a placebo at least 10 times in the past year" http://ehp.sagepub.com/content/26/2/153.long

The US.
"A survey in the United States of more than 10,000 physicians came to the result that while 24% of physicians would prescribe a treatment that is a placebo simply because the patient wanted treatment, 58% would not, and for the remaining 18%, it would depend on the circumstances"



The thing you’re missing is that for the most part, the placebo isn’t a real effect. It’s just humans being fooled into thinking there was an effect. In reality, it’s mainly:

  • Temporary mood improvements due to the personal nature of the treatment
  • Psychological investment of the patient in the success of the therapy
  • Misdirection
  • Incorrect diagnosis to start with
  • The cyclical nature of the illness (gets worse/gets better/gets worse/gets better…), and the therapy is credited with an improvement that was going to occur anyway
  • Other medicines the patient is taking

The reason we do double blind studies is to make sure we’re not being fooled into thinking there has been an improvement. You shouldn’t take that to mean that placebo is a real response.

Imagine a drug company doing a randomized trial of a new drug versus a sugar pill. Suppose the drug and the sugar pill both produced the same improvement in patients – let’s say a 10% improvement. What would you say if the drug company claimed therefore that their drug produced a 10% improvement in patients, and on that basis wanted the drug approved for the treatment? Would you think that was OK? The drug company should be able to sell their drug and have in prescribed by doctors? I can tell you, they would not get their drug approved on that basis. So why should acupuncturists get to claim that for their treatment, the same improvement over the placebo = a success for acupuncture?

For years, acupuncturists and other SCAM practitioners claimed that their treatments worked. When it was pointed out by skeptics that there was no evidence for this, they started to produce some very bad studies (usually not controlled for placebo) that they said showed it did work. Skeptics pointed out that when sample size was increased and controls introduced, the effect went away. SCAM practitioners have recently realized that they were fighting a losing battle in trying to show with good controlled studies that SCAM works, because it clearly doesn’t, and so they have recently moved the goalposts again to say that, well, SCAM works by placebo. It’s their latest attempt to acquire some scientific credibility for their useless therapies. But it’s just smoke and mirrors. Don’t be fooled by this latest version of their special pleading. If a therapy works no better than placebo then it doesn’t work. Whether you would be happy with a placebo or not is not the issue. The issue is that this researcher is misrepresenting her work. She allowed her woo beliefs to trump the actual results of the her study, and for that she won a well deserved Woo award.

I love the gradual passage of "This is an infallible and powerful treatment for every single human ill" through "It is unbelievably powerful, but you're not looking for it in the right way - you forgot the all-important step of "wiggling the needles around a bit" - that really does cure every ill known to the human race." down to "Look! Placebo effect! Acupuncture is as good as any other sham treatment so it is a worthwhile treatment to stick needles in someone."

Oh, and of course, if you protested that you watched a video of a "real" acupuncturist in action and applied the very same patented, chi-friendly wiggle to the needles, the response is that you omitted to align your chakras properly before you started.

If you then present your "MA in Chakra Alignment" diploma, the response is likely to involve the "wrong" vibrations, or energy, or power, or force, or frequency (all interchangeable terms, you know), or misunderstood zero point energy, or that your plain old closed-mindedness caused a pissed-off Almighty Being to put the hex on your results.

The Big Guy doesn't make it easy for us non-believers; He only gives proof to those who already believe and don't need it.

Then again, He hates atheists, in His infinite mercy, for not getting on our knees and telling how pants-wettingly, fantastically, , gosh-darned, orgasmically brilliant He is, every single moment of the day. Omnipotent beings need that boost to help them get through eternity.

He hates atheists even more for retrospectively having forced Him to make them this way in the first place, in His mercy, love, understanding, omniscience and omnipotence.

And He hates them even more for not spoiling His Eternal Plan by defying the original programming He gave us, that made these accursed unbelievers the way they are.

And He hates them even more than that for not seeing The Truth in the cryptic, cunningly-hidden, devastatingly-obscure hints hidden in the value of the fine-structure constant, or the minutiae of the bacterial flagellum, or the ratio of the Golden Section, or whatever, that the robot-believers understand at a glance.

And He hates them EVEN MORE THAN THAT for not for daring to try to dissuade these well-programmed, hard-coded (you know, the only ones He actually bothers to give PROOF), can't-help-it Believers that they just might not be completely on the right track, actually.

If my biological father was as loving as the infinitely loving and merciful Yahweh, I doubt I'd have lived past the age of ten.

As it is, the merciful well-spring of all love and benevolence will busy Himself by making sure I'm tortured eternally for daring not to adore Him, even though this is evidently in perfect accordance with the programming He must have given me in the first place.

All I can say is that I started out as a C of E believer, migrated to being a vague theist who believed that just maybe the Almighty tweaked the universal constants from time to time when they got wayward, to a weak theistic agnostic (because, of course, I couldn't prove that God didn't exist), and then realised that this position was just a sticking-plaster over a God-shaped hole full of absolutely nothing.

As far as I can see, the majority of conversions go this way, rather than atheists realising suddenly that they were wrong.

To quote the Joker, as you can see, I'm a lot happier now...

Sorry, a bit of a rant. I posted this down the pub.

I'm new to this site and I find it interesting so far. Not sure if I will continue to read or not though since I'm still not sure about a few things regarding content.
That aside I wanted to throw in my opinion about acupuncture. Here's the short of it. I was curious but sceptical of it, I tried it, it worked but not as I expected and it had different effects on the 2 times I've had it done. This is my own experience so I do know it does not count as scientific proof. If you want more info I'll fill it in on request.

I would like the link to any acupuncture research studies that anyone has, if possible, please.

Browse the content under the category of alternative medicine, there are plenty of posts about acupuncture with links to studies.

Your personal experience, as real as it may seem to you, is not scientific data. Simply because our brains and perception are tricky and many times deceiving.

I don't know what "effects" you experienced since you did not provide any detail. Try to read more about the placebo effect since it is the only actual cause of the "effects" you experienced.

Try this study: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4508597.stm (the one linked on this site on the "Acupuncture is a placebo post".

Acupuncture's basic premise is that placing needles in the skin on "energy meridians" will unblock the flow of "qi" which should restore an "energy balance" to the body. Problem is nobody has detected this "qi" (it isn't there).

I'll give you a quick summary of my experience.
I had jumped off a to 10ft metal mesh fence and landed improperly on a parking pylon/block. My ankle was swollen and I couldn't walk. X-rays revealed that nothing was broken and I had to take physiotherapy for 3 months to regain mobility. By the time my physio was done I had near full flexibility but still had constant pain. On the recommendation of a fellow student from school I went to an acupuncturist. The way I figured it, I can give this a shot and if it works it works, if not I tried it and am out $40. He attached needles to my left leg on various points and possibly some sort of electrical device to send current through it. Left me in a room for 1/2 an hour. When he came back he asked if anything had changed, and I told him the pain was still there. He told me that if the pain was still there the next day than I should come back. I had no plan on going back since I wasn't going to spend another $40. That would have been the end of it except that next morning all pain I had was gone in my ankle area. After that point in time I constantly tested the ankle. The acupuncture got rid of the pain but there was still problems that occurred over time. Every once in a while I would feel my foot/ankle area lock. Like we both said Nico, my experience isn't scientific, but having 3 months of chronic and consistent pain disappear after 1 day of acupuncture makes me sceptical of reports that say acupuncture doesn't work.

My second time going there was when I was congested and I wanted to see if anything could be done. Any discomfort was gone but the congestion was still there.

I know the the concept of qi, and I am sceptical about it despite what happened in my case.

Just finished reading your article. I'll read the other ones as well.

Well done, Rob, for presenting it so objectively and inquisitively....

The reason why such one off experiences don't really count for much is because there are simply too many variables that aren't controlled. The more people who get studied under controlled conditions, the less false positives appear, and the more likely it is that any real benefits will show themselves clearly.

The placebo controlled tests for acupuncture are interesting - fake acupuncture (with needles placed randomly) works just as well as traditional acupuncture, which works just as well as sham acupuncture (where neither practitioner nor patient knows whether the needles even penetrated the skin), which works just as well doing nothing at all.

A couple of links you might find interesting: (from Orac)


Here's a good overview of acupuncture (if this comment ever gets rescued from the spam bin!)-



If he was giving you some sort of electrical current then it wasn’t acupuncture.

Regardless, it is wrong to think that if one person (you) got better after a treatment, then the treatment works. We only started to make real progress in determining what cures diseases, after we started doing randomized placebo-controlled trials. The reason is that people fool themselves. Why should acupuncture be any different? Why should acupuncture not be subject to the same types of randomized controls as a new drug? The study on acupuncture that I cited in my post is a good one to look at. It compared acupuncture to a “sham” acupuncture, and found that real acupuncture is no better than a placebo. That is, acupuncture is a placebo.

When a new drug is being tested, and they find that the treatment works no better than the placebo, we conclude that the treatment does not work, and the drug is not approved. Why should acupuncture be different?

Ah skeptics back to their name calling. i see that skeptics can't debate properly so they call people names. perfect.

Exactly what i expect from a bunch of closed minded people

If acupuncture itself doesn't work, but the thought of it does, then isn't it actually working? Round in circles...

If acupuncture itself doesn't work, but the thought of it does, then isn't it actually working?

When a drug company performs a randomized placebo controlled trial of a drug, if the patient thinks the drug is working but it is actually working no better than the placebo, is the drug actually working? Should the drug company be allowed to sell the drug to the public with the claim that it works?

Round in circles...

Indeed. That is how this argument goes. Round in circles. Despite the fact that I covered this very question in my actual post, and again in a comment two above yours, you raised it again as though I hadn’t.

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