To those listening live or to our patrons, welcome back. For those listening weekly, welcome to Shift To Reason radio the Brainstorm production that focuses on science outreach and education. We’ll try our hand at teaching you a little bit about common skeptical topics, logical fallacies and errors in reasoning, as well as a bit about some religious apologetics. This episode is brought to you by audible.com, sign up for your free trial membership and free audiobook at audibletrial.com/brainstorm.
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COMMON SKEPTICAL TOPICS
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a medical technique usually involving the shallow insertion of needles through the skin at particular points on the body (called acupoints). There are many different kinds of acupuncture, involving different kinds of needles, different insertion points, different techniques, and the use of various accompaniments such as electricity or moxibustion. Some acupuncturists use low energy laser beams; others use magnetic BBs on patches applied to acupoints. There are other variations as well, such as microacupuncture, which uses forty-eight non-traditional acupoints located on the hands and feet, andauriculotherapy or ear acupuncture, which postulates that the ear is a map of the bodily organs. Similar notions about a part of the body being an organ map are held by those who practiceiridology (the iris is the map of the body) and reflexology (the foot is the map of the body) and traditional Chinese medicine (the tongue is the map of the body). Staplepuncture, a variation of auriculotherapy, puts staples at key points on the ear hoping to do such things as help people stop smoking or relieve withdrawal symptoms of heroin addicts. Acupressure applies pressure, rather than needles, to acupoints.
Where did it start?
Acupuncture is thought to have originated in China, but its origins and early use are controversial.
The earliest manuscripts of Chinese medicine date from the second century BCE and they make no mention of acupuncture. A tomb of a Chinese prince dating from the second century BCE contained a set of four gold and five silver needles, but it is speculation that the needles were designed for acupuncture. Stone needles thought to be 5,000 years old have been found in a tomb in Mongolia, but how the needles were used is speculative. Ancient cultures around the world have used needles on humans for such things as tattooing, scarifying, burning, cauterizing, lancing, piercing, and bloodletting
Willem ten Rhijne (1647-1700), a Dutch physician, was the first European to write a detailed account of Chinese and Japanese medicine. He also coined the term acupuncture--acus means needle in Latin and pungere means to prick--and was responsible for bringing the practice to Europe.
Alternative medicine is medicine that hasn’t been proven to work. Most people think acupuncture has been proven to work, but everything you’ve heard about acupuncture is false.
The theory of acupuncture says:
• There is a vitalistic energy called qi
• Qi flows through mythical “meridians”
• Disease is caused by blockages of qi
• The flow of qi can be restored by inserting needles at “acupoints.”
Qi, meridians, and acupoints are mythical: they have never been shown to exist.
None of the following are true:
• It’s an ancient Chinese treatment method.
• Involves sticking needles in acupoints
• It’s widely used in China.
• Works to relieve pain and nausea.
• Works for other conditions like infertility.
• Can be used for surgical anesthesia.
• Is harmless – no side effects.
• Has been validated by scientific research
• It’s not as ancient as they claim, and one kind of acupuncture was invented in 1957.
• It may not be Chinese: may have originated in Greece
• Not “a” method, but many different methods.
• Many acupuncture methods don’t use needles.
• Not widely used in China:
• Acupuncture anesthesia is a myth
• It’s never used alone for anesthesia, but only as an adjunct to local anesthetics, sedatives, and narcotics.
• There is disagreement as to the number of meridians and acupoints.
• It is used on animals but humans’ interpretation of animal’s response is influenced by suggestion, so alleged effects are likely placebo.
Could acupuncture effects be explained scientifically?
• Acupuncture increases endorphins, but so do placebo pills.
• Anatomical verification of acupoints has been attempted, but without success.
• There’s no point in trying to explain how it works unless we can establish that it does work.
Does it work?
• It’s claimed to work for all these conditions: addiction (such as alcoholism), allergies, anxiety, asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, constipation, depression, diarrhea, endometriosis, facial tics, fibromyalgia, gastroesophageal reflux, headaches, high blood pressure, infertility, irregular menstrual cycles, kidney infections, memory problems, multiple sclerosis, PMS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, low back pain, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis, pain, pharyngitis, post-operative nausea and vomiting, psychological disorders, sciatica, sensory disturbances, sinusitis, spastic colon (often called irritable bowel syndrome), stroke rehabilitation, tendonitis, tennis elbow, tinnitus, and urinary problems such as incontinence, sports injuries, sprains, strains, ulcers, whiplash.
• It has been tested for all these conditions and only found effective for two of them: pain and nausea. And the apparent effectiveness in those cases can be explained by a placebo response.
• A study can be found to support almost any claim, but acupuncture studies are inherently flawed: double blind studies are impossible.
• The effects found in the positive studies are small and not clinically useful.
• The best studies show that it doesn’t matter where you put the needles, it doesn’t matter if you use real needles or sham needles; all that matters is whether the patient believes he got true acupuncture.
• A systematic review of systematic reviews found a mix of negative, positive and inconclusive results consistent with the noise that would be expected when studying an ineffective treatment.
Acupuncture is not harmless
• There are at least 95 published reports of serious adverse effects including 5 deaths.
• There are several contraindications.
Some acupuncturists accept that it is just a placebo but want to use it anyway.
Scientists who have evaluated all the published evidence for acupuncture remain skeptical:
• The Center for Inquiry said positive effects were due to expectation.
• The Medical Letter said it “has not been shown in rigorous, duplicated studies to benefit any defined medical condition.”
• Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh concluded that there was only “tentative” evidence that it “might” be effective for some forms of pain relief and nausea, but that it fails to deliver any medical benefit in any other situations, and its underlying concepts are meaningless.
• David Colquhoun and Steven Novella concluded that “Acupuncture is no more than a theatrical placebo.”
Continuing to study acupuncture would be a waste of research funds.
For a great overview of the material covered here, check out Harriet Hall’s video series on Alternative medicine and specifically her video on acupuncture. I’ll provide links in the show note. Thanks to Skeptic.com for granting us permission to use their materials.
Breaking down the logical fallacies 13
Suppressed correlative – where a correlative is redefined so that one alternative is made impossible
The fallacy of suppressed correlative is a type of argument that tries to redefine a correlative (one of two mutually exclusive options) so that one alternative encompasses the other, i.e. making one alternative impossible. This has also been known as the fallacy of lost contrast and the fallacy of the suppressed relative.
A conceptual example:
Person 1: "All things are either X or not X." (The correlatives: X–not X.)
Person 2: "I define X such that all things that you claim are not X are included in X." (The suppressed correlative: not X.)
Alternatively Person 2 can redefine X in way that instead concludes all things are not X.
Person 1: "Things are either mysterious or not mysterious. Exactly when an earthquake will strike is still a mystery, but how blood circulates in the body is not."
Person 2: "Everything is mysterious. There are still things to be learned about how blood circulates."
Regardless of whether Person 2's statement about blood circulation is true or not, the redefinition of "mysterious" is so broad that it omits significant contrast in the level of scientific understanding between earthquakes and blood circulation. Bain argues that if we hold the origin of the universe as equally mysterious against simple equations such as 3×4=12, it seems unimaginable what kind of concepts would be described as non-mysterious. Through redefinition "mysterious" has lost any useful meaning, he says.
The redefinition is not always so obvious. At first glance it might appear reasonable to define brakes as "a method to quickly stop a vehicle"; however, this permits all vehicles to be described as having brakes. Any car could be driven into a sturdy barrier to stop it, but to therefore say the car has brakes seems absurd.
Rick: I need to know if we should stop for lunch or not. You are either hungry or not hungry, which is it?Tina: If being hungry is being able to eat, I am always hungry.
Kent: My new car is really fast.
Cal: I doubt that it is as fast as a jet fighter so, therefore, it is not fast.
Exception: Refusing to give into a false dichotomy is not the same as committing the suppressed correlative fallacy. In example #1, while one cannot be both hungry and not hungry, one can be a little bit hungry.
Rick: I need to know if we should stop for lunch or not. You are either hungry or not hungry, which is it?
Tina: I am a little bit hungry, so go ahead and stop if you are hungry otherwise I can wait.
Note that this fallacy is not committed because Tina did not attempt to redefine hungry, so “not hungry” is essentially impossible.
calls it a form of straw man argument
This is commonly used in debates about whether things are "art"; the question "is it art?" requires some possibility that something might not be art. The common response, that art is defined as an ineffable quality or a method of human expression, removes any possibility that something created by humans could not be classified as art, and therefore cannot possibly be addressing the opponent's actual argument.
Often used in attempts to classify science or atheism as religious beliefs; the substitute definition of "religion" will typically be so broad that almost any human association would qualify as a religion.
"I don't view humanity as the same species because we're not all the same" - Stefan Molyneux.
ATHEISM FOR DUMMIES -
The basic premise of all of these is the concept of causality and of a first cause. The history of this argument goes back to Aristotle or earlier, was developed in Neoplatonism and early Christianity and later in medievalIslamic theology during the 9th to 12th centuries, and re-introduced to medieval Christian theology in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas. The cosmological argument is closely related to the principle of sufficient reasonas addressed by Gottfried Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, itself a modern exposition of the claim that "nothing comes from nothing" attributed to Parmenides.
Argument from first cause or the prime mover argument
1. Every thing has either been caused to exist by something else or else exists uncaused.
2. Not every thing has been caused to exist by something else.
3. Therefore, at least one thing is itself uncaused.
Is not in itself a proof of any god. Definitely not proof of a Christian god. Doesn’t say that the universe can’t be that uncaused cause.
As a result some variations have come about to fix the flaws.
The Kalam Cosmological argument which changes the wording a bit.
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.
Still no proof of any gods. Definitely no proof of the Christian god. Which makes it a bit weird that this is William Lane Craig’s favorite go to argument.
Argument from contingency
From Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle in claiming that there must be something that explains the existence of the universe. Since the Universe could, under different circumstances, conceivably not exist (contingency), its existence must have a cause – not merely another contingent thing but something that exists by necessity (something that must exist in order for anything else to exist). In other words, even if the Universe has always existed, it still owes its existence to an Uncaused Cause, Aquinas further said: "...and this we understand to be God
Still seems to be a conclusion without reason. Aquinas uses the same reasoning to get to there being a necessary first cause and then just asserts that it’s god, because he wants to.
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