A 50 minute infomercial for traditional Chinese medicine disguised as a radio show, courtesy of Colin McEnroe

When I wrote about YouYou Tu, the Chinese scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her successful identification, isolation, purification, and validation of Artemisinin, an antimalarial medication that was quite effective. It was also derived from an herbal remedy used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which has led a fair number of TCM advocates to portray this Nobel Prize as a "validation" or "vindication" of TCM. It wasn't. Nor was it a validation of naturopathy or herbalism, as has been claimed. It was a validation of the good, old-fashioned science-based medical research discipline of pharmacognosy, or natural products pharmacology. Not that this has stopped a number of quackery apologists from arguing these things and saying that this Nobel Prize means that we should take a closer look at Chinese medicine. Never mind that what passes for "TCM" these days is really the result of a retconning of Chinese folk medicine by Chairman Mao back in the 1950s.

A reader sent me just such an example of TCM apologia in the wake of the announcement of the Nobel Prize being awarded to Tu. It comes in the form of a radio show broadcast on Wednesday on WNPR in Connecticut, which is part of the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network. This was a particularly misguided bit of radio, courtesy of The Colin McEnroe Show, entitled Is It Time to Take Chinese Medicine More Seriously? One can't help but invoke Betteridge's law on this one. The panel discussing this question included:

  • David McCallum - Licensed Acupuncturist and practitioner of holistic healing methods at the Chi Healing Center in Canton, Connecticut. He's a graduate of Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China
  • Mary Guerrera - Professor of Family Medicine, Director, Integrative Medicine in Dept. of Family Medicine, UConn Medical School
  • Vitaly Napadow - Associate professor at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He's also President, Society for Acupuncture Research.
  • Michael Kelly - Cancer survivor who has benefited from Chinese medicine
  • Elizabeth Curreri - Owner, Curreri Public Relations

Yep. Not a skeptic in the bunch. I haven't heard of any of these people; they're clearly local and not national heavy hitters, but that doesn't stop them from laying down the usual line about TCM being more holistic.

If there were any doubt that the answer to the question posed in the title would be a resounding "Yes!!!" the very beginning of the broadcast (which can be streamed at the link), where there is a conversation in the first couple of minutes between the producer Chion Wolf and McEnroe. The Wolf starts by praising Nexium and going on and on about how taking pharmaceuticals is the American way. McEnroe tells here that those pills don't address her real medical problems. The topic of TCM is brought up, and she asks McEnroe how TCM can be so great if it doesn't have commercials in which an announcer intones a bunch of side effects rapid-fire. Overall, this opening segment is a pretty pathetic attempt at humor, but it does serve the purpose of setting out right from the beginning exactly what the viewpoint of the show would be in no uncertain terms. This will be a 50 minute commercial for TCM.

Right off the bat, McEnroe makes a huge error of history. Telling the story of James Reston, the New York Times reporter who came down with acute appendicitis in 1971 while on assignment in China, first he claims that TCM didn't do too well under Chairman Mao. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It was Chairman Mao who, as part of his "barefoot doctors" program, resurrected Chinese folk medicine, rebranded it as "traditional Chinese medicine," and tried his best to "integrate" it with "Western" medicine. As I like to say, he retconned TCM into what it is today. At least he didn't gush over the claim that Reston had pain relieve mostly from acupuncture. Then McEnroe expresses surprise that the Nobel Prize went to a practitioner of TCM. Again, wrong, wrong, wrong. Tu was not a practitioner of TCM; she attended what is now Beijing Medical College in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and graduated in 1955. Later Tu did train for two and a half years in traditional Chinese medicine at what is now the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing. All of this was before she undertook her research into Artemisinin. In any case, as far as I can tell, Tu was a researcher, not a practitioner, of TCM.

McEnroe starts out by asking McCallum about TCM, revealing that he has been treated by McCallum. Big surprise, eh, that he is a believer in TCM? Not really. In any case McCallum apparently suffered as severe injury to his back in high school football and didn't want the surgery that they were proposing for him; so the ended up. McCallum, of course, is an acupuncturist who actually trained in China. He also claims that he didn't believe in acupuncture at first, thinking all the stuff about qi was just nonsense (which it is). He started to believe it when he witnessed a patient's back spasms get better after needling an acupuncture point behind the knee. He then "tested this theory" on many patients, apparently blissfully unaware of the phenomenon of confirmation bias, and became a believer.

Next up is Mary Guerrera at UConn. Now, if there is a specialty that seems particularly prone to woo, it's Family Medicine, unfortunately (with oncology probably running a close second). Her job, clearly, was to promote the ubiquitous message among believers that "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) and "integrative medicine" are becoming more popular and are the wave of the future. Of course, my retort to that is that integrating quackery with medicine does not make the medicine better, but that apparently has never stopped advocates of integrative medicine before. Like the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH, formerly the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or NCCAM), she touts acupuncture and TCM as a solution for an "epidemic" of chronic pain. Of course, whenever I hear the claim that there is an "epidemic" of chronic pain, I wonder whether there really is more chronic pain in the US than there was in years past or whether what we're really seeing is an epidemic of opioid use and overuse of opioids. Be that as it may, the answer to such an epidemic, if such an epidemic exists, is not to start treating chronic pain with quackery, as tempting as that option might look. It's to do the hard work in terms of research in order to figure out better ways of treating chronic pain.

Guerrara is, as I like to mention, a quackademic. She's in medical academia, but she integrates quackery with conventional science-based medicine to offer quackademic medicine. I also can't help but notice that McEnroe might have a rather distorted view of how popular acupuncture is. He claims that it's hard to find someone who hasn't had acupuncture at some point in his life. If you hang out with people who are woo-prone, that's probably true, but in reality use of what I like to refer to as "hardcore" CAM, like homeopathy or acupuncture, has remained pretty much flat for many years. For instance, in the 2015 National Health Interview Survey showed that only 1.5% of the population had used acupuncture in the last year, virtually unchanged over the last decade.

Hilariously, McCallum discusses how all that stuff about "wind" and the five elements in TCM are really metaphors. For instance, to him qi is not one thing but is a metaphor for all the unseen things that happen because science did not yet understand what made blood flow, for instance, or muscles move. So to him the ancient Chinese came up with metaphors for this as "energy." This is a profoundly silly argument, of course. Just because you call it qi or "wind" or whatever doesn't make it any less vitalistic, and TCM is rooted in vitalism. Risibly he claims that ancient Chinese had explanations for the "interrelatedness" of symptoms that explain things that modern medicine can't.

Because, I guess, everything is related, at least when it's convenient.

Guerrara flails discussing qi. For instance, she says that "Western medicine" measures all sorts of energy, as it does when we measure EKGs, EEGs, and the like, which is trivially true, as is her observation that the body has a magnetic and electrical field. It's a good thing that, as I was listening and typing last night, I hadn't just taken a drink, or Guerrara would have owed me a new laptop. This is a seriously ignorant thing to say, and here's why: The energies that she discusses can be measured quite accurately. We know they exist. You hook up electrodes to the chest and you get an EKG. You hook up electrodes to the head and you can measure an EEG. The patterns of these energies mean something, something that's been studied and validated over many decades. They are reproducible. They are also predictive; changes in them can signal disease or dysfunction. In marked contrast, no one has ever demonstrated the existence of qi, Guerrara's attempt to link qi to biomagnetism and bioelectricity notwithstanding. Qi, "metaphor" or not is basically a magical force or "energy" that can be invoked when it needs to be invoked and "does" whatever a TCM practitioner needs it to do. Guerrara's comparions is utter nonsense of course, as is her invoking the concept of team care (which is a good thing) as a reason to "integrate" quacks into the team giving the care. To paraphrase Mark Crislip, adding cow pie to apple pie does not make the cow pie better; it makes the apple pie worse. Adding TCM to a team of practitioners of science- and evidence-based medicine is the equivalent of adding cow pie to apple pie.

Not that the entire segment was worthless. Guerrara does point out the importance of physicians knowing what supplements and herbal medicines their patients are taking, which is an observation that virtually no doctor could disagree with. None of it validates herbalism or TCM. More amusing is her statement that you should find a practitioner who is well trained. From my perspective, "well-trained' in quackery is not reassuring.

Next up, McCallum tells us that we must embrace the body's "innate wisdom." I don't know about you, but from my perspective the body's "wisdom" leaves much to be desired. He views acupuncture as a "signal," which is hard to argue with. After all, sticking needles into the skin will send a signal, mainly a pain signal. In any case, to him this signal is received and translated to cause "reaction throughout the whole system." He compares this to the old Chinese way of thinking of it, by which sticking needles in "meridians" somehow redirects energy (which is a metaphor) somehow causes effects.

Vitaly Napadow then chimes in. He's a neuroimager. The whole discussion leading up to his appearance annoyed me, I must say. Basically, it's a whole lot of false equivalence. McEnroe (and later Napadow) talk about how there are people who "believe" that acupuncture doesn't work. There are people who "believe" that it "works" through placebo effects. There are even people who "believe" that acupuncture works the way TCM believers say, through redirecting the flow of this invisible, undetectable "life energy" (or qi).

Of course, no discussion of acupuncture is complete without someone like Napadow discussing neuroimaging, such as functional MRI. Here's my view on this sort of thing. If you stick a needle into the body, of course there will be changes in the brain! You've just caused pain, and pain is the sensation that results when a painful stimulus activates a nerve that sends a signal back to the brain that interprets it as pain. Indeed, the surprising thing would be if there were no changes in activity in specific parts of the brain in response to acupuncture. Napadow says that "he loves things that work" and doesn't necessarily care how they work. That's rather a problem, isn't it, given that there's no compelling evidence that acupuncture works—for anything.

I wonder if Steve Novella knows about this. (Actually, I know he does because I sent him a link.) In any case, this show was basically a propaganda piece for the quackery that is TCM that didn't even bother to have a word of skepticism. David McCallum and Mary Guerrara ruled the roost, and Vitaly Napadow invoked dubious brain imaging studies as scientific evidence that there must be "something" to acupuncture. All of them implied that TCM had predicted things that "Western medicine" is only now discovering and that TCM can successfully treat things that "Western medicine" cannot (like chronic pain).

I frequently complain about false "balance" in reporting, but this show was no balance at all. Sure, occasionally McEnroe would offhandedly mention that "skeptics would say," but only as a softball pretext for TCM believers to respond. His show had no balance at all; it was basically a 50 minute infomercial for David McCallum's TCM practice. For shame, WNPR!

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I don't know about an epidemic of chronic pain, but I would certainly agree in the overusage of opiods. Far too often, I see members who want things to be cured immediately (pain, whatever) rather than let nature take its course in healing - especially for minor injuries like joint sprains/strains and acute back pain. Instead of rest, NSAIDS and physical therapy, I see injections and pain killers.

I see a lot of acupuncture, too, AFTER the initial injury hasn't healed properly (because thanks to the injections and pain killers, the person kept using the joint/back/whatever instead of resting it and letting it heal.)

When you see injections and opioid prescriptions 2 days after an ankle sprain in a 12 year old, who "has to be able to do his/her cheerleading" or "has to be able to play football/baseball/sport of choice", you know there is a lot of abuse.

Correction - 2nd para - re "when a headline is in the form of a question the answer is usually no? This is a violation of that law" Surely you mean it's a demonstration/instance/affirmation of that law?

I was referring to Betteridge's law and changed the text accordingly. It's a minor point that I'd prefer not to pursue.

If one wanted to be charitable, one could say the poor journalist has to earn a living somehow. It's man-bites-dog stuff.

That Prof. Tu got there by the long, slow slog of pharmaceutical research, and that acupuncture is useless, just doesn't make a riveting half-hour's broadcast.

By Peter Dugdale (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

In my 30’s, when my wife could not get pregnant, tests revealed that I was infertile. There are three measures applied to sperm – count, mobility, and motility. Some men’s sperm is deficient in one or two of those; mine was significantly low in all three measures. I tried some Western medical approaches, including surgery, to no avail. Numerous sperm tests indicated that none of the three measures improved.

An acupuncturist confirmed that I appeared to be a tough case, and said that he might be able to help me, but made no promises. After about 8 months; reading my pulses one visit, he said that he thought we had made some good progress with count, but he didn’t think much had changed with motility or mobility. A sperm test confirmed exactly that – my count has increased by tenfold, but my motility and mobility had increased by only small measures.

Was this a coincidence? If so, it was pretty amazing happenstance; I had probably had 10 sperm tests in the previous 5 – 6 years. This was the only one that showed a change. The placebo effect? Well, I would describe myself at the time as being more intrigued by acupuncture that as really believing in it. And if some subconscious power of belief can be so precise as to affect one out of three qualities of something like my sperm, that would be a remarkably skillful placebo effect, and I’d say, no more plausible that thinking that needles stuck in me can have an effect. By the way, the vast majority of the needles never caused any pain.

Also, by the way, my acupuncturist was the first to say that for certain maladies or conditions, we should go to hospital or Western doctor. We can find countless cases where Western medicine has failed, for a wide variety of reasons, to heal patients, as well as countless cases where it has been mundanely effective or downright miraculous, including some placebo-effect cases. We can find a similar range with Eastern medicine.

We can also find those practicing in, or commenting about, either Eastern or Western medicine who appear to have the delusion that they know everything about the human body and healing, and who will try to cast their small-minded ridiculing blanket over an entire medical tradition that has treated hundreds of millions of people.

By Another Dave (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

Since I know virtually nothing about qi, I had a little whip round the net, looking for things known to block qi.
I learned things. I now know the spleen is a digestive organ, its qi is very important and has its own meridian replete with pokable places, and lack of spleen qi leads to all sorts of problems. That's some first class ancient wisdom there.
I guess people who have had a splenectomy must be in terribly dire straits. Or maybe whether the spleen be near, far or wherever, the qi will go on. Spleen Qion?
How can anyone who holds an MD even begin to accept that nonsense.

@Another Dave

Did you make other sperm tests after that successful one? My own mom is somewhat vulnerable to woo, and she did try to treat my allergies back when I was 10 with acupuncture. The first treatment did clean up my sinuses, but it never happened again with new acupuncture sessions. The real treatment was to envelop the mattress with anti-acarian tissue. She also tried homeopathy on us for colds. Again the first time, it did work (one wonders what was in there...did not taste like water if I recall right). When tried again, nothing at all... So unless you can't repeat, coincidence is probable.

@Another Dave - coincidences are always amazing. Otherwise we don't notice them.

Did your acupuncturist provide you with any evidence besides the one thing you reported that either his ability to diagnose or treat was better than nothing? Thanks.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

@Another Dave

who appear to have the delusion that they know everything about the human body and healing

Modern medical training is long and tough (thank goodness) and in the UK and US you have to be a really good student to get admitted (again, thank goodness). In my experience, those who come out of this are only too painfully aware of the limits of their knowledge and of modern medical science. You can see that reflected in many of Orac's posts.

The charlatans for whom you're beating the drum often have no academic or other serious training at all. And yet it's rare to see a sign of humility from these people, or limit to the preposterous claims they make.

By Peter Dugdale (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

@ Peter Dugdale:

It is those charlatans who never were tested by exacting academic standards who crow most about the "ignorance" of doctors and SBM in general. In fact, I'll venture their entire being is focused upon trumping those authorities BECAUSE perhaps they had childish dreams about being in the vanguard of medicine or science and those hopes were firmly quashed by institutions which rejected them without reservation- it may be retribution.

They parade non-existent degrees or un-related degrees because they didn't get to GO to med school or pharmacy school or to study physiology or psychology or related matters on a graduate level. Many study chiropractic or alt med, oriental med or herbalism as well as nutrition.

From reading their criticisms of MY area, I can tell that they had little to no education/ training at all. They sound like people who read a few articles on line or had an entry level course decades ago. Pathetic.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

@AnotherDave

So, did the acupuncture increase your fertility to the point where you were able to have a baby?

@Another Dave: For crying out loud, man! Sperm counts can go up and down for all sorts of reasons.

By Lighthorse (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

@Denice Walter

If the ads in the weekend papers are anything to go by, commercial training for homeopathy and the like (usually a few weekends courses) is a significant part of the homeopathy industry here in Germany. The places offering it have portentous looking make-ups ("paracelsus institute"), with pictures of caring-looking people in white coats with stethoscopes dangling.
You'd guess they cater for people who'd always fantasised about being a doctor, but didn't make it.

One would love to see a sociological/psychological analysis of the people who fall for this. One phenomenon I've noticed is professionals from non-medical areas (lawyers, engineers) who relatively late in life acquire a dabbling interest in this sort of thing.

It's a problem here socially sometimes, when I know my opinion would not be appreciated. I'm ashamed to admit I sometimes keep my lips buttoned.

By Peter Dugdale (not verified) on 31 Oct 2015 #permalink

@Peter Dugdale: t’s a problem here socially sometimes, when I know my opinion would not be appreciated. I’m ashamed to admit I sometimes keep my lips buttoned.

I know what you mean. I bite my lip a lot when friends go off about chiropractors, homeopathy, antivax, etc. I make my opinion known then drop it because I don't want to get into arguments in social situations. They already think I'm a "Big Pharma" minion anyway.

Gaaaaah! I meant ......when friends go off about how wonderful their chiropractors.... are. Not enough coffee yet.

# Peter Dugdale
There must be some psych articles or books about the topic but I don't see anything particularly relevant it a quick Google search.

I'd suggest having a look at some of the Lewandowsky et. al. papers on Climate Deniers. The behaviour, if not the issues, seems very similar to Anti-vaxers. The parallels are almost spooky.

And if you have a lot of time, I'd suggest having a look at Altemeyer (2006). He does not actually touch on deniers or anti-vaxers, as I recall, but his description of Right Wing Athoritarians seems to match a lot of their behaviour.

Altemeyer, R. (2006). The Authoritarians. Winnipeg: Author. Retrieved from http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G. E., & Oberauer, K. (2013). The role of conspiracist ideation and worldviews in predicting rejection of science. PLoS ONE, 8(10), e75637. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0075637

Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K., & Gignac, G. E. (2013). NASA faked the moon landing--therefore, (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science. Psychological Science, 24(5), 622–633. http://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612457686
Stephan Lewandowsky, Cook, J., Oberauer, K., & Hubble, M. (2013). Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation. Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences, 4:, 73. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073

BTW, Lewandowsky (2013) managed to generate a self-sustaining research program. Most psychologists have to beat the bushes and resort to shanghing subjects, not Lewandowsky.

By jrkrideau (not verified) on 31 Oct 2015 #permalink

[Homer]
D'oh!
[/Homer]

Another Dave: "I tried some Western medical approaches (to infertility)...We can find countless cases where Western medicine has failed, for a wide variety of reasons, to heal patients"

Another Dave should Google "China" and "infertility" (or "India" and "infertility", or other Eastern country and "infertility"). He'd be amazed at all the "Western" approaches that account for the vast majority of infertility clinics' practices in the exotic East, including in vitro fertilization. Acupuncture, not so much.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 31 Oct 2015 #permalink

Johnny, d'oh indeed - for the horse poker!
I note she passed the exam of "National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage." Gotta wonder whence the board got its charter.

Look at that photograph of Colin McEnroe.
Look at a photograph of Grumpy Cat.
Now tell me that you aren't thinking "Separated at birth".

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

# 20 doug
I note she passed the exam of “National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage”. Gotta wonder whence the board got its charter.

I can recommend any number of good laser printers. I find my business card describing me as an Applied Nutritionist and Behavioural Economist look pretty good on my inexpensive Brother colour printer. [1]

I am sure I could crank out a good charter in no time although I might have to go to the local art store for top quality paper and some decent wax for the Seal.

1. Some people don't appreciate my sense of humour; I think I almost had a client for the Applied Nutritionist card. It was a bit scary.

By jrkrideau (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

@ herr doktor bimler:

When I first read about Colin McEnroe, I thought immediately of an easy-to-anger tennis player- presently a broadcaster- who was originally from Long Island which is right across the creek from Connecticut. I wondered- is this guy related?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

@ jrkrideau:

I wouls so like a new title :
not 'Behavioural Economist'- although I studied both disciplines-
maybe 'Worldview Analyst and Interior Monologue Decorator'

HOWEVER I think real woo-meisters are much better with faux titles than we are because - even when joking- we're somewhat constrained by the vicissitudes of reality.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

# 24 Denice Walter
I see no reason why you could not have the title of "‘Worldview Analyst and Interior Monologue Decorator" although that last part is a bit opaque. What about "‘Worldview Analyst and Interior Monologue Facilitator"

I've always felt that "facilitator" was reasonably vague and should tie in nicely with some of the more woo-like mindness stuff. Heck, you could relate it to Quantum Cognitive Behavioural Therapy™

We may have a winner here

By jrkrideau (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

@jrkrideau #25:

No, there's a lot to be said for Interior Monologue Decorator. So much so, that I'm going to steal it (sorry, Denice, but I didn't spot a copyright symbol!) and save it up for suitably acerbic deployment at my next departmental staff development session. It'll be a welcome brick in the sanity wall.

By Rich Woods (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

Erk, I used a TM and not a copyright mark. I'm ruined.

By jrkrideau (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

"Look at that photograph of Colin McEnroe.
Look at a photograph of Grumpy Cat.
Now tell me that you aren’t thinking “Separated at birth”."

He looks almost as peeved as Michael Moore did at the World Series game last night (the camera showed him huddled at the end of a row (next to Bill Maher of antivax fame) swathed in layers of protective clothing, looking like a giant antisocial mushroom).

Probably he was ticked off because vendors in the stands weren't selling quinoa salad and kohlrabi juice.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

Ah yes! Quantum Behavioural Cognitive Therapy - which is helpful for sorting out entanglements..

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 01 Nov 2015 #permalink

Taklar: You've identified one of the biggest problems with using testimonial as "evidence" for woo: anything proposed as a solution to a chronic problem can't be considered one unless it works, well, chronically. There are all sorts of modalities, all over the spectrum from mainstream to woo, that will produce demonstrable short-term relief from longstanding conditions like allergies or back pain. Few of them, though, provide long-term relief, but most testimonials for them refer to the short-term effect.

jrkrideau: At least under US law, words or short phrases aren't protected by copyright (e.g. song titles aren't copyrightable; quick, name two well-known American boy bands whose first singles were different songs with the same title), but they can be protected as trademarks.

FYI: every show starts with a skit written by McEnroe, performed by Wolf and a male staffer on the show (not Colin), which attempts to be funny. I usually find them at least a bit amusing. Some show topics lend themselves to humor more than others.

I didn't listen to the Chinese medicine show because it was pretty clearly going to be credulous.

Apparently McEnroe's father was a playwright, a contemporary of Arthur Miller, who had some success early on but whose work later lost the public interest.

It's me! We discussed whether to have a skeptic on this show. We've used Michael Shermer twice in the past, including on this show about Woo http://wnpr.org/post/scientists-confirm-existence-woo-woo-woo-woo-decla…
I must say I relied heavily on Orac's column in preparing for that Woo show, so I' m honored, sort of, to be the subject of this installment. One of the decisions you have to make in doing a 49-minute show on a big topic is whether you want to have an exploration or an argument. Do you want to ask questions or referee? I decided against the argument this time, and I knew I'd be vulnerable on that score.For the record, I'm not a believer in Chinese medicine. My own experiences with acupuncture have been pretty unhelpful and kind of unpleasant. I saw McCallum for neck pain because my dentist recommended him. I don't know much about TCM and did the show because I was curious. It's the reason I do a lot of shows. Anyway, I really do welcome the feedback presented by the columnist and the commenters. In the big scheme of things, I think the battle is kind of over. I don't really believe in reiki, but I can get it at the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic. I also think -- and it's a much longer conversation -- that "settled medicine" is often not all that settled. My only complaint about this posting is this: I'm fully prepared to be criticized in every way, from my journalism to my comedy, but only by somebody who uses his real name. I've done thousands of columns and thousands of radio shows. I always said who I was. Orac, if you're going to take people on, be a man (if you're male), have a spine and take the real risks the rest of us take when we put our ideas and our work out there.

By Colin McEnroe (not verified) on 04 Nov 2015 #permalink

If you can't figure out my real name within two minutes, you can't be that much of a journalist. Seriously. You can even find it right here on the blog without too much effort. It's one of the worst kept secrets in the skeptical blogosphere.

As for your not being a believer in TCM, you sure could have fooled me.

BTW, I'm not the only one who's critical: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/tcm-on-npr/

Mr. McEnroe, you may want to read about Orac's opinion on the less than scientific offerings at places like the Mayo Clinic (though when my son had open heart surgery there three years ago, our only exposure was a tiny card taped to a wall across from the nurse's station, it is not exactly being pushed by much of medical folks there). Just use the search box at the top right of this page.

By the way, Orac's identity is the worst kept secret on teh internets. It serves as a bit of an intelligence test to figure it out. I am afraid you did not do very well. You might want to try finding about that other blog that he and others write for (again, I'm not telling you, you need to figure it out).

If knowing my real name is such a big deal to Mr. McEnroe, perhaps I should cross post this article at my not-so-super-secret other blog. :-)

Oh, that would be fun!

Yeah, but I normally don't do it on a weekday unless it's really important, so as not to take attention away from our weekday regulars. If I decide to crosspost it, Saturday would be the earliest.

That is what I would expect. I am noticing some folks still don't understand that the Nobel Prize for artemisinin for malaria does not prove TCM works.

If it's not a secret, then just use it. Very simple. It's what the rest of us do.

By Colin McEnroe (not verified) on 04 Nov 2015 #permalink

I guess you really aren't that curious about who I am, then, and would prefer to whine about my pseudonym instead. :-)

Actually, you can find my name in last week's New England Journal of Medicine (October 29) as one of the authors of a Perspective article...

@ Colin McEnroe

If it’s not a secret, then just use it. Very simple. It’s what the rest of us do.

"The rest of us"?
Using a nom de plume is a well-founded literary tradition.
It's also used by quite a big section of the 'net community.

Finally, in cases of a hobby, such as this blog, it serves to separate the professional persona from the writing-about-personal-opinion persona.
If anything, the writer's employer is less likely to feel like the writer is putting his workplace reputation in jeopardy by involving it in internet flamewars, if the writer makes it clear he is not talking from behind his credentials.
A few people have been fired for not distancing themselves enough from their workplace while stating their opinion. One of them regularly comments here.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 04 Nov 2015 #permalink

Colin: " I also think — and it’s a much longer conversation — that “settled medicine” is often not all that settled."

Congratulations, Mr. McEnroe! You've discovered a key tenet of medicine (and of science in general): what is held to be true is constantly being re-evaluated on the basis of the best evidence.

That's sort of a key word - "evidence". It relies on a bit more than supposed ancient traditions and someone who says "It helped me!".

I suggest you also take that statement about "settled medicine" and apply it to TCM or any other kind of woo, and ask yourself to what extent it's been re-evaluated and revised over the years on an evidentiary basis.

Or you can stamp your feet over my using a pseudonym on the Internet.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 05 Nov 2015 #permalink

Mr. McEnroe: "Very simple. It’s what the rest of us do."

That is hilarious. A journalist who does not know how to use Google, or how to click on hyperlinks in an online article. You are a prime example of why finding out the person behind the nom de plume is used a form of intelligence testing on this blog.

Aargh, missing word: "used as a form of intelligence testing on this blog."

Took me less than a minute to find out whose blogging hobby this is when I first started lurking here. Took another couple of minutes to suss out what the not-so-secret other blog is. I don't see the problem.

One thing not mentioned is that Western medical training in China varies widely, and "physicians" often have the equivalent of a four-year nursing degree. We found out the hard way that this involved considerable remedial training when a "physician" trained in China could not get licensed here and came to work for us as a lab tech. Her knowledge of basic lab procedures was inadequate, to say the least, and another Chinese PhD student was a graduate of a school of traditional medicine. She was constantly having to catch up because everything she had learned in her traditional training was useless to her. Things have changed a bit, but the conventional Western training they got back then did not correspond to any standards that are familiar to us.

This "Orac" seems to preach the same bigoted quackery he pretends to abhor. He clearly did not understand many of the points made. In fact, regarding the neuroimaging, he displays an earnest lack of understanding of fMRI, pain pathways, and regions of the brain. The point is that, indeed, parts of the brain will light up with pain, but it turns out different parts of the brain light up with acute pain and chronic pain, and acupuncture seems to normalize the brain, making it closer to healthy controls. Regarding TCM, it seems he prefers to look at a randomized control trial with n=100 vs. TCM where it is n=over a billion in the chinese population x 2,000 years. Not to say that all TCM is better or good or fully understood, but it is a field of herbal medicine ripe with the potential for further elucidation and discovery. I do agree good research is needed, but I think this blatant narrow-mindedness displayed in the above article is the type of neanderthal approach to medicine that will set us back to an age where amputation was the only way to "save" a limb, vs. the reattachment technology we have now. You never know until you try.

"I think this blatant narrow-mindedness displayed in the above article is the type of neanderthal approach to medicine that will set us back to an age where amputation was the only way to “save” a limb, vs. the reattachment technology we have now. You never know until you try."

In TCM you reattach a limb using acupuncture needles. I knew they had to be useful for something.

Regarding TCM, it seems he prefers to look at a randomized control trial with n=100 vs. TCM where it is n=over a billion in the chinese population x 2,000 years.

To quote the punchline of a very old joke: "Who wouldn't, lady?"

A newer quotation that is also appropriate: "Science. It works, bitches!"

@ Ariel

Not to say that all TCM is better or good or fully understood, but it is a field of herbal medicine ripe with the potential for further elucidation and discovery.

Not just herbal medicine. You forget the parts of TCM using bits and pieces of animals.
The harvesting of these parts is neither ecological nor humane.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 09 Nov 2015 #permalink

"Regarding TCM, it seems he prefers to look at a randomized control trial with n=100 vs. TCM where it is n=over a billion in the chinese population x 2,000 years."

Now _that's_ a hell of a study! "TCM - a randomized prospective study of 357,000,000,000,000 people over 2,000 years." J. of Really Heavy Volumes, pp. 1-131,045 with 97,243 references.

I'll have to set aside a couple weekends to get through that one.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 09 Nov 2015 #permalink

@ Dangerous Bacon

J. of Really Heavy Volumes

My university subscribed to it, but the postman refused to deliver it. He mumbled something about back pain.

BTW, it just went ping in my head, but isn't the Chinese civilization older than 2000 years? Funny how we Westerners are Jesus-centered in our worldview, even when praising other societies..

By Helianthus (not verified) on 09 Nov 2015 #permalink