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The Selectiveness Of Science Denialism

Statement #1:

The holocaust never happened. Hitler loved Jews and respected Jewish culture. The photographic evidence of the camps, including the bodies and atrocities, were all fakes designed by the State of Israel to generate international sympathy.

Statement #2:

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an effective treatment for numerous medical conditions. Acupuncture has been around for centuries and is widely practiced in China and elsewhere. Science has proven its efficacy in controlled experiments.

With any luck, that first statement should generate dozens of hits from watchdog groups berating me for spreading the vile lie of Holocaust denial.

The second statement, or words perilously close to that effect, has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, a previously-prestigious medical publication now revealed to be no better than the National Enquirer or any other sleazy tabloid, fit only for lining bird cages and wrapping week-old fish. Thanks to this wonderful article by Harriet Hall, it turns out that the first reference to “needling” in Chinese medical literature is from 90 B.C., although it doesn’t refer to acupuncture. It’s talking about lancing abscesses and bloodletting. The technology required to make sufficiently thin needles didn’t even exist until 400 years ago.The Chinese government tried to ban acupuncture several times around the turn of the twentieth century. The actual term “Traditional Chinese Medicine” was coined by Mao Tse Dung in the 1960s! (Go read Hall’s article linked above. It’s awesome.)

So riddle me this, campers: Why (and how) do science denialists get away with these outrageous lies?

Not just on their websites and to their minions where anything goes, but even the mainstream media regularly assumes that “TCM” is “ancient.” All you have to do is go to the source: China. (I already wrote about this.) Come to think of it, if acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine were really so wonderfully efficacious for so many disorders, wouldn’t people in China be using it instead of attacking, beating, and sometimes killing doctors for failing to heal their loved ones with “conventional” medicine?

Acupuncture is a con, pure and simple. Originally perpetuated by Mao in the Communist era, renounced by Chinese physicians in 1980, it persists in affluent cultures as the refuge of quacks making a quick buck by relieving the naive of their hard-earned dollars.

Where’s the outrage? Newspapers that wouldn’t be caught dead promoting Holocaust denialism have no qualms about continuing to report the falsehood of acupuncture’s antiquity. Even the august Dr. Steven Novella fell for it in this post from 2007. (Just because something’s old doesn’t make it right/better. True, but acupuncture isn’t even old.)

Why isn’t every media mention of “traditional Chinese medicine’s 4,000-year-old medical techniques” met with the same howls of rage at perpetuating a lie as the historical revisionism that Holocaust denial is? I’d like to see letters to the editor loudly correcting the misperception of the antiquity of acupuncture every time it’s mentioned. All a lie requires to continue is for the truth to keep silent.

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

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3 Responses to “The Selectiveness Of Science Denialism”

  1. Don’t you think a bit of open-mindedness is a good thing, even for an old-school doctor?

  2. Just to be clear – I’m referring to the acupuncture study. I agree that the paper is flawed. Still, I know many rational people who’ve been helped by acupuncture.

    If we’re not open to the possibility that this treatment can be effective, as it seems to be in many people, then we’ll never figure out why and when it works in those individuals who do benefit.

  3. #1 Dinosaur says:

    @Elaine: Open-mindedness is fine, as long as you let your brain fall out.

    The only benefit of acupuncture is the placebo effect. A great deal has been written about why placebos are unethical. That NEJM article has been ripped to shreds not once, not twice, but at least three times on Science Based Medicine alone (tried to link each time; comment-bot thought I was spamming). Our VALiant leader Dr. Jones herself coined the term Shruggies for folks like you who don’t seem to see any harm in pursuing these bogus therapies.

    There is nothing more to figure out about acupuncture. We just need to call out the persistent lies, at least about its origins.

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