Ethics in Medicine

Huffington Post: What Acupuncture Can Teach Us About Science

Kristen Sparrow • January 08, 2013

Acupuncture therapy - alternative medicineI came across this article from last October from the Huffington Post.  It is referencing the comprehensive article concluding that acupuncture works for pain. Blog discussion here.
In the Huffington Post a professor from Saybrook University discusses the quandary of acupuncture and that it has been shown to work in spite of a comprehensive understanding of how.  (Readers of this blog know that we are amassing ever more studies showing the mechanisms of action or acupuncture.)  I would like to point out that the opposite is also true.  That there are numerous examples of therapies used in Western medicine that make utmost sense, and are quite popular, but don’t work.  Some are dangerous, in fact. We’ve discussed this phenomenon on the blog here, here, here and in the blog section  “First, Do No Harm.”
From Huffpost here, emphases mine.
It turns out acupuncture works. It’s not a placebo, and it’s not a scam. It’s a technique with documented efficacy.
… I do have two questions that I think need answering: Why did it take us so long to “discover” this, and why was there so much hostility among scientists toward even conducting these experiments?
A headline from The Atlantic tells the story: “Biological Implausibility Aside, Acupuncture Works.”
The hostility came from the fact that acupuncture has no known causal mechanism, leading to an assumption that “we don’t know how it would work; therefore it must not.”
To an extent, this is a sensible approach to take. Given the thousands of potential hypotheses out there that don’t conform to the way we believe the world works, why would we spend time investigating them instead of other more likely ideas? As a time management strategy, going with what you expect to work makes sense. The trouble is that, taken past a certain point, the notion of being hostile to an experiment because of your preconceived notions about the way the world works is as anti-scientific an approach as can be imagined…
The good news is that there is a culture change sweeping through Western medicine: recognition that the mind and body are connected in ways that the last generation’s textbooks refused to acknowledge, and that better patient care requires integrative approaches to health…
If we want science to advance, we need to give it room to grow, and that means room to conduct experiments that are rigorous and well-developed but on the cutting edge. The benefits outweigh the inconvenience, and the truth itself may often prove inconvenient.