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Links With Your Coffee - Sunday

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In 2005, J.C. Hallman stumbled across a scientific paper about "Pleistocene Rewilding," a peculiar proposal from conservation biology that suggested repopulating bereft ecosystems with endangered "megafauna." The plan sounded utterly utopian, but Hallman liked the idea as much as the scientists did—perhaps because he had grown up on a street called Utopia Road in a master-planned community in Southern California.](

To mark the 85th anniversary of the Scopes monkey trial (it ended on July 21, 1925), the History News Network commissioned two essays on public acceptance of evolution. One, by evolutionary biologist David Reznick (University of California, Riverside), highlights the failure of evolutionists to increase public acceptance of evolution. I share his frustration. What do we do? Some of us think that the numbers won’t budge until we break the chain that anchors evolution denial: religion.

The other essay, “A humanist’s reflections on evolutionary biology,” is by Everett Hamner, a professor of English and journalism at Western Illinois University. It’s an annoying piece ripped straight from the pages of the accommodationist playbook. Instead of seeing the solution as removing the obstruction, Hamner faults scientists and academics. It’s as if traffic has been stopped by a huge rock in the middle of the road, and Hamner wants us to resurface the highway. Here are his suggestions (in italics) about what we need to do:

Here is the conclusion quoted from a recent New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) review article on acupuncture for back pain:

As noted above, the most recent wellpowered clinical trials of acupuncture for chronic low back pain showed that sham acupuncture was as effective as real acupuncture. The simplest explanation of such findings is that the specific therapeutic effects of acupuncture, if present, are small, whereas its clinically relevant benefits are mostly attributable to contextual and psychosocial factors, such as patients’ beliefs and expectations, attention from the acupuncturist, and highly focused, spatially directed attention on the part of the patient.

Translation – acupuncture does not work. Why, then, are the same authors in the same paper recommending that acupuncture be used for chronic low back pain? This is the insanity of the bizarro world of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine).



I had acupuncture done 4 times 15 years ago, and I was pretty sure it was feel good medicine at that time. My biggest problem (other than it based on entirely mysticism) was my practitioner kept leading me on what i should be experiencing, i.e. “you should be feeling warmth now”, etc. That screamed to be “placebo effect”.

I'm starting to think that the accomodationism "debate" will never end, seeing as how these people (like the creationists) come again and again with the same arguments and straw men. It's getting tiring, really. I'm starting to think I should just start my own religion, get rich, and forget about all this nonsense.

... come again and again with the same arguments ...

Yep. That's the ticket. While you're at it, you might as well take up smoking since no one has ever proved that there's anything bad about smoking.

Joe Romm compiled a list of Anti-GW code words and phrases:

• Sunspots • Hoax • Midieval Warm period • Hockey Stick • Michael Mann • Climategate • The climate is always changing • Alarmist • Temperature rises precede rises in CO₂ • Pacific Decadal Oscillation • Water Vapor • Cosmic rays • Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark • Ice Age was predicted in 1970s • Global cooling

Even the legitimate stuff in here is cited without the context that has been provided by scientists many times. Every argument filled with these strings has been explained and/or debunked many times, but they just keep on coming. In this case, the point isn't to "win" an argument on the merits - it is to give the appearance of "balance" or doubt.

Nice bullets. :)

The statement "acupuncture does not work" is simply incorrect. It is effective, just no more effective than a placebo. It would be unethical for a medical professional to give a patient a true placebo therefore they refer them to the accupuncturist who belives it to work. Accupuncture relives pain in some people for some conditions. When that condition has failed to respond to long term use of medication then this "placebo" effect is a great relief for some people.

"It would be unethical for a medical professional to give a patient a true placebo"

I know for a fact they do it all the time (usually for viruses that will run their course soon anyway), and I see nothing wrong with it.

Why is it unethical?

First, do no harm. Right?

I know for a fact they do it all the time (usually for viruses that will run their course soon anyway), and I see nothing wrong with it.

All trials are not the same - Chris clearly has some knowledge of how clinical trials operate. For some studies, it IS indeed considered unethical to provide one of the study arms a "true placebo", with true placebo here meaning NO TREATMENT (or the fabled "sugar pill")-- you could not, for instance, conduct a study on the efficacy of a new anti-coagulant drug vs. no treatment following myocardial infarction, nor could you conduct a clinical trial evaluating a new childhood vaccine for measles vs no vaccine (these are extreme examples, but there are far more subtle variations). Whether or not this was the case in the acupuncture study I have no idea - I suppose it would depend on how severe this groups' pain was. On the other hand, it was probably logistically impossible to design a blinded study where one group got no treatment (for the obvious reason that these people likely would have noticed that they were sitting at home rather than in an office being poked w. needles).

Regardless, I agree that the statement "acupuncture does not work" isn't an honest interpretation of the study.

I know for a fact they do it all the time (usually for viruses that will run their course soon anyway), and I see nothing wrong with it.

No question - people who won't be happy until they leave the doctor's office with some pills are much better treated with a placebo than with some antibiotic that is ineffective for the virus anyway.

Heh, I get to hear all those stories during flu season. My wife has sarcastic abilities that put me to shame. I'm paraphrasing, but I am sure she has said something like "Sure I'll prescribe an antibiotic for your flu, Mrs. Doe. Then next month, you can come back and I'll prescribe something for that nasty yeast infection you got while you were on the antibiotic I told you wouldn't help your flu."


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