Not On Australia’s Dime… | Photo: Marnie Joyce, CC BY 2.0
As regular readers of This Week In Tomorrow will know, we’re not huge fans of “alternative” medicine here. That’s because, in the words of the inimitable Tim Minchin, alternative medicine “has either not been prove[n] to work, or been prove[n] not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”
So it is without much surprise that I read today that the Australian advocacy group Friends of Science in Medicine have released a report on the time-honoured practice of sticking needles into people we call acupuncture. Here’s a sample:
“Despite the conceptual difficulties, an enormous number of investigations have been publicly funded and performed over the past few decades. However, as discussed above, examination of the efficacy of acupuncture for any diseases such as that conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, has fundamentally failed to give any credibility to claims that acupuncture is an effective intervention for any illness. Some studies have concluded that acupuncture is not effective or that there is only a small and temporary effect or that there is insufficient evidence that it is effective. Pseudo-philosophical arguments have been made that these findings do not mean that acupuncture is ineffective, simply that “absence of evidence of an effect does not imply that there is no effect”. However, failure to reliably demonstrate any effectiveness of acupuncture in the diseases tested in trials should send signs of significant doubt, even to the most dedicated supporters of acupuncture.” [emphases mine]
That’s basically the long and short of it: despite extensive study, there’s no evidence acupuncture works any better than placebo for anything. (And you know what they say about doing things just for the placebo effect — the word I’d use is “fraught”). Let me repeat that: for anything. And since part of the way the Australian health care system works is that for a treatment to be covered, it requires evidence of cost-effectiveness (and for any treatment to be cost-effective it must have evidence that it actually treats the symptoms or underlying causes of an illness), that doesn’t bode well for acupuncture.
It’s a pretty detailed report, going over a lot of studies and what they tell us (and what they don’t tell us), and is a great first step for anyone considering acupuncture. Here’s what they conclude:
“Acupuncture has been studied for decades and the evidence that it can provide clinical benefits continues to be weak and inconsistent. There is no longer any justification for more studies. There is already enough evidence to confidently conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work. It is merely a theatrical placebo based on pre-scientific myths.
“All health care providers who accept that they should base their treatments on scientific evidence whenever credible evidence is available, but who still include acupuncture as part of their health interventions, should seriously revise their practice.
I can’t say I disagree.
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.