Friday, August 16, 2013

Victims of Discount Acupuncture?

Skeptics like to argue that acupuncture doesn't do anything at all, even though the most recent studies show it to be more effective than sham treatments in which the needles are placed improperly. But here's something those studies never observed - spontaneous human combustion! After a mysterious death in Louisiana attributed to this supposed phenomenon, some acupuncturists are warning the public that being treated at discount acupuncture clinics can make them explode. I suppose that's a useful safety tip, you know, if you believe such a thing is even possible.

Some local medical professionals have proposed a controversial theory. Based on reports that Thomas has undergone acupuncture treatments for sciatica several times in the weeks preceding his untimely fulmination, a group of local experts are speaking out. They are warning the community to beware discount acupuncture clinics.

“We aren’t saying that every incidence of spontaneous human combustion is linked to the incorrect placement of acupuncture needles,” Kuang Zhu LAC, Chief of Pragmatic Acupuncture in the Health and Wellness division of Vic’s Day Spa and Pet Grooming Center, explained during a recent press conference. “But in some cases, there is a relationship that is hard to explain otherwise.”

Now what I want to know is in all the studies that have been done trying to differentiate between sham acupuncture and the real thing, what happened to all those exploding subjects in the control group? Because the whole point of sham acupuncture is that it deliberately is done incorrectly with the needles inserted at different points than those specified but in the same general area of the body. Oh, that's right, there aren't any! So it seems to me that this is a transparent attempt to drum up business for the non-discount clinics, which by definition charge more.

But not every local acupuncturist supports Zhu’s theory that excessive and erroneous needle placement is to blame for unexplained explosions of American citizens. Frank Grimes, a Baton Rouge chiropractor who incorporates acupuncture into his armamentarium of healing modalities, reminds us that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. “Yes, some of the remaining body parts have been found with needles still in them,” He admits. “But my concern is that linking acupuncture to spontaneous human combustion is akin to the claim that chiropractic manipulation of the neck causes strokes. Perhaps people who are already about to explode seek out acupuncture for symptomatic relief.”

Well hey, at least the voice of reason has spoken! Everybody knows that when you're about to explode you have symptoms, and going to an acupuncturist to treat them just makes sense. So "acupuncture induced detonation" may just be a confluence of circumstances that simply make the practice look bad. You know, if you believe such a thing is even possible. My working hypothesis for human combustion is pretty much the same as that of most scientists and skeptics - a phenomenon called the wick effect. This is based in part on the observation that practically every single case of spontaneous human combustion involves people who smoke and drink. If you do neither, your odds of combustion are, well, about as close to zero as they can be.

The wick effect is initiated by a flame dropping onto clothing that has been soaked with an accelerant - that is, let's say a person is holding a drink and a cigarette and suffers a fatal heart attack. The drink spills onto their clothing, and then the cigarette ignites the alchohol. Under just the right circumstances the fat of the body will be consumed like the wax from a candle. Experiments done with pig carcasses show that the sort of burning that occurs precisely mimics the "mysterious circumstances" that are found in the aftermath of spontaneous human combustion deaths, and while the exact situation that produces it is unusual so is spontaneous human combustion. The connection to acupuncture is therefore coincidental.

Still, if you can really blow somebody up with acupuncture you probably can do it with a spell too. On the off chance that I'm wrong and it is possible, that's a spell I want to learn.


  1. I've seen alot of pharmaceutically funded hysteria against Traditional Chinese Medicine, but this really takes the cake!

    First of all, "Evidence Based" medicine is a term invented by advertisers. Don Draper himself probably came up with that one. (Scientific Knowledge is not possible by definition. It's a contradiction in terms.)

    Secondly, while chiropractors and Medical Doctors are LICENSED to do acupuncture, they are not trained in TCM theory. Or 5 Element theory. Hence, what they do is called "Medical Acupuncture." I call it "sham needling." But yes, sham needling is somewhat effective, but hardly comparable to the real thing.

    Medical acupuncture is based on the idea of "stimulating nerves." The belief here is that "qi" is an explanatory fiction. Don't get me started on THAT.

  2. It just goes to show that not only do skeptics criticize acupuncture, but that there's also considerable discord within the community of practitioners as well. That doesn't bode well for anyone who wants their techniques to be more widely accepted by the scientific establishment.

    While pointing to your competition and arguing that those "inexperienced practitioners" are going to make people explode might get you more business in the short run, in the end it hurts the whole practice. All a skeptic has to do is pull those statements up as an example of how those "alternative practitioners" are out of touch with reality.

  3. It's easy to criticize any modality. There's no consensus in Western medicine either, otherwise there'd be no ongoing research.

    I've been trying to think of what might cause the body to explode like that. Clearly excess of yang. It's not unheard of for qigong masters to create sparks and be able to set a tissue on fire, for example.

    The Ida and Pingala cause hot and c
    old to flow up the spine during Kundalini.

    Anyway, I reject the scientific method as a rigorous epistemology.

  4. The problem with skeptics is that they take the scientific method for a form of epistemology, which it is not. The scientific method does not state that anything it can't cleanly measure doesn't exist. That's the hard-skeptic interpretation of it, which is clearly wrong in a a philosophical sense as demonstrated by the fact that there are new phenomena being discovered all the time. Clearly they existed before we developed the necessary tools to measure them.

    The trouble with this whole situation is that it's not clear that people spontaneously combust at all. Furthermore, even if you're positing Qigong masters who can do such things, my guess is that the inexperienced practitioners being accused here are not them.

    According to 5-element theory, the best candidate for triggering combustion would be an excess of Fire (no surprise there). So you would want to increase the energy flowing to Fire and Wood (which feeds Fire), and at the same time decrease the energy flowing to Water (which controls Fire). It's not clear to me that doing this would give your target anything more than a bad fever, though.

    It's also fairly complex as acupuncture treatments go, which is why I have a hard time believing inexperienced or poorly trained practitioners might be doing it inadvertently by simply misplacing needles.

  5. Yeah 5E would be a good approach. They'd have to do that on purpose though. Kundalini's more of an out-of-control phenomenon.

    There's another phenomenon in TCM called "pseudo-vitality." When a person's yin is completely gone, the yang will burn a little more brightly, because there is no yin to balance it out.

    This is seen in patients just before death. Often the patient will suddenly improve and feel rejuvenated, then will die soon after.

    However if this is the case, while it might help explain why "fire" would tend to expand out of control, it's likely the patients were at death's door to begin with.