From the creator of Video Skepdude

Study says accupuncture works-except it can’t say it!

Acupuncture works for head and neck pain after cancer surgery, according to a clinical study released at the annual meeting here of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

A traditional Chinese medical technique, acupuncture was also found to improve shoulder mobility that is often restricted after surgical cancer procedures involving the mouth, nose, upper throat, sinuses and other throat and nose passages, researchers said Saturday.

Seventy patients took part in a random study by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) researchers, in New York, at least three months after they underwent cancer surgery and radiation treatment.

One half received acupuncture, the rest the usual care, which includes physical therapy exercises and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Of the patients who received four acupuncture sessions over four weeks, 39 percent reported less pain and greater mobility, compared to only seven percent of the group that received usual care.

“Like any other treatment, acupuncture does not work for everyone, but it can be extraordinarily helpful for many,” said study co-author Dr Barrie Cassileth, Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at MSKCC.

Ok, I don’t buy this. There are too many problems with this study, that even I as a non-scientist can point some of them out.

First, small sample size, only 70 patients. That is nowhere near enough to warrant making any kind of conclusion.

Second, study was not double blind, as any respected study must be. People knew when they were getting acupuncture. They didn’t even bother using fake acupuncture to try to control for the placebo effect. On the other hand the sample size was so small that such a thing would probably be impractical, which in my eyes makes this whole study impractical.

Like any other treatment, acupuncture does not work for everyone, but it can be extraordinarily helpful for many,” said study co-author Dr Barrie Cassileth, Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at MSKCC.

“It does not treat illness, but acupuncture can control a number of distressing symptoms, such as shortness of breath, anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue, pain, neuropathy, and osteoarthritis,” she added.

I don’t quite know what they mean when they say “like any other treatment it doesn’t work for everyone”. Generally, if you are in pain a morphine treatment works, unless there is something seriously wrong with your body. I can understand that there will be exceptions, that it won’t work 100% of the time, but does 39% really warrant such a conclusion? Something in my skeptical brain is screaming foul right about now.

Thirdly, there is always a problem with subjective reporting of “less” versus “no less” pain. Is it significantly less pain, or probably less pain. How much less are we talking about? Unfortunately, pain can’t be measured and it’s hard to quantify properly for this kind of study. Unless there was a significant reduction in pain I don’t see how that can be used to support the conclusion.

What I mean is that if someone says “My pain has almost completely gone away, I can barely feel it now, whereas it was hurting like hell before” is very different from saying “on a scale from 1 to 10 my pain went from a 9 to an 8 or 7”. The second one is not reliable, especially given the placebo effect which this study failed to control for miserably.



June 4, 2008 Posted by | Critical Thinking, Science, Thinking Out Loud | , | Leave a comment

The case of the horrible title

Vaccine doubles survival of deadly brain cancer – screams the headline at Except that it doesn’t. What it does double, according to the same article is the survival rate of people with said brain cancer. Quite an important distinction I think.

Why am I reporting this?

For two reasons. One, because it is another example of the benefits of vaccines, and given today’s anti-vaccination movement, you can never point this out enough. Vaccines are good, people, so go get your shots, like now!

Second, it makes me feel better for all my little grammar mistakes that you will find all over my posts. It seems I’m not alone!

June 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We can all see the future-just not too far ahead!

Psychics beware, humans can see into the future, well at least according to one scientist.

Humans can see into the future, says a cognitive scientist. It’s nothing like the alleged predictive powers of Nostradamus, but we do get a glimpse of events one-tenth of a second before they occur.

Researcher Mark Changizi of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York says it starts with a neural lag that most everyone experiences while awake. When light hits your retina, about one-tenth of a second goes by before the brain translates the signal into a visual perception of the world.

Scientists already knew about the lag, yet they have debated over exactly how we compensate, with one school of thought proposing our motor system somehow modifies our movements to offset the delay.

Changizi now says it’s our visual system that has evolved to compensate for neural delays, generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future. That foresight keeps our view of the world in the present. It gives you enough heads up to catch a fly ball (instead of getting socked in the face) and maneuver smoothly through a crowd. His research on this topic is detailed in the May/June issue of the journal Cognitive Science,

Hmm, we see what will happen before it happens? I don’t know if I buy this one. Even if it does happen it must only be limited to certain circumstances. I can understand the baseball example. Just like a computer that can calculate a trajectory, so the brain could in fact do the same for a 1/10 of a second if enough information is available. In other words if you’re already looking at the baseball being thrown you’ll be able to make such projection. You still won’t be able to avoid the baseball smacking you in your head if you have no idea one was thrown towards you. So I guess it is plausible, but I would like to see more consensus in the scientific community before I embrace this idea.

Very interesting stuff indeed. Of course, this is just a hypothesis, not a theory as the article says, not in the scientific meaning of the word theory anyway. But quite intriguing indeed.

I can’t wait to see how the “psychics” and the “clairvoyants” will jump on this news, if at all, to claim that they somehow have a much evolved capacity which lets them see well beyond the 1/10th of a second.

June 4, 2008 Posted by | Evolution, Science | , , | Leave a comment