Friday, February 02, 2007

Help! My paradigms are shattered!

Former software engineer and computer systems designer Gregg Braden has cracked the God Code, and now he's ready to take on the Divine Matrix. One of several luminaries currently officiating at the shotgun wedding between science and mysticism (a union that seems ever more urgent to many as the birth of Something Truly Awful approaches), Braden is becoming quite the superstar in New-Wage circles. He's actually been around for years, but his fame is steadily growing, and lately he seems to have eclipsed fellow pseudoscientist science-and-spirituality guru Bruce Lipton in esteem among the conspicuously enlightened. Braden's newest work, The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief, reached the Number 5 spot on Amazon a couple of weeks ago (thank you, Christopher Locke, for alerting me to this "interesting" development), and it is still in the top 100 as I write this. The book's subtitle just about says it all, and what it doesn't say, the bio page on Braden's web site does explain:
New York Times best selling author Gregg Braden is internationally renowned as a pioneer in bridging science and spirituality. His ability to find innovative solutions to complex problems led to successful careers as a Computer Geologist for Phillips Petroleum during the 1970’s energy crisis, and in the 1980’s as a Senior Computer Systems Designer for Martin Marietta Aerospace during the last years of the Cold War. In 1991 he became the first Technical Operations Manager for the network innovator, Cisco Systems, where he led the development of the global support team that assures the reliability of today’s internet. Global crises of the late 20th Century inspired him to leave the corporations and begin a full-time quest for the solutions that he believes survive in the oldest records of our past.
For more than 20 years Gregg has searched high mountain villages, remote monasteries, and forgotten texts to uncover their timeless secrets. To date, his work has led to such paradigm-shattering books as The Isaiah Effect, The God Code, and his newest, The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles and Belief. Gregg’s work is now published in 13 languages and 25 countries and shows us beyond any reasonable doubt that we have the power to reverse disease, re-define aging and even change Reality itself, by embracing the focused power of human emotion as the quantum language of change.
You will see the term "paradigm-shattering" a lot on Gregg's web site and in the publicity material for his personal appearances these days. So be prepared to hear those words until you're nauseated – that is, if you weren't already nauseated from repeated use of the term "paradigm shift" when it first became de rigeur among the New-Wagers and Corporate America nearly twenty years ago. Braden is now doing the publicity rounds and lecture circuit for The Divine Matrix, and next month he's coming to one of the New Thought churches in my area to talk about "Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits" (hey, I warned you). The Braden event is billed as a "life-altering" workshop that will show attendees how to unleash the power of their own Reality Codes. Braden's core message seems to be that "we are limited only by the limits of our beliefs!" According to the promo blurb, some of the topics he'll address in his lecture are:
  • The new discoveries and ancient techniques that free us from the "laws" of physics and biology as we know them today!
  • The DNA of life and Reality itself is a code that may be changed and "upgraded" by choice!
  • Why the miracles that we see in quantum particles are actually the guide to our greatest potential!
  • The powerful shift in your beliefs that the world, and your body, can’t ignore!
  • Why your prayers are just as powerful on the other side of the world, as they are in your living room!
Exactly what laws of physics and biology do the new discoveries and ancient techniques free us from? That isn't explained in the promo, but I'm certain it will be covered in the workshop, or at least hinted at in an effort to inspire attendees to sign up for more of Braden's workshops and order more of his products. (I am equally certain that if some of the more mentally unbalanced followers actually try to free themselves from certain laws of physics and biology, lives will indeed be altered, and more than paradigms will be shattered.)

But hey, that's negative, and negativity is not what Braden is all about. His market is pretty much the same group of folks who have so eagerly embraced The Secret and What The Bleep Do We Know?!?, and they refuse to entertain anything remotely negative, lest they end up attracting unpleasantries and creating unwanted realities.

Now, in case you're wondering exactly what "the divine matrix" is, it's something we all live in and are a part of, according to Braden. There, does that clear things up?

So far The Divine Matrix has a four-and-a-half-star average on Amazon, though one recent reviewer, Jim Watson of New Haven, CT, described it as "regurgitated philosophy, no real science":
Unfortunately, it is clear to me (a physicist who is an expert on the scientific side of this) that the author does not understand modern physics. This is not in any way a scientific work or argument, and it is filled with problematic reasoning, illogical arguments, and complete fallacies. It does *sound* good, and I can see how someone that was not a scientist could easily fall for this... in fact, psychologically, his theory could be "fun" to believe in, and I can see why people would like to believe that this is true, just as children like to believe in Santa Claus. It is an important work though, if for no other reason that it is being read by so many people.
Most of the comments to Watson's review were from staunch defenders of the faith, including this one (I have not edited it for spelling or anything else):
Your remarks are quite powerful. In fact, they represent an opportunity of a lifetime for you. Before you lies free money and fame. Simply create the book to refute this so that the world can know the truth. Your passion is apparent in your strong use of language, and I look forward to contributing to your wealth and fame when I buy your book refuting this authors hypothesis.
I wish you well, and beg you avoid vagueness that far to often poorly vails fear and doutbt.
That's a pretty typical response (as anyone who's ever criticized The Secret could tell you).

Braden's previous work, The God Code, seems to be a mixture of Star Trek, the Kabbalah, and numerology. Its premise, in a nutshell, is that the Creator of All That Is encoded a message in Hebrew in human DNA...or something like that. Gregg 'splains it all in The God Code, with lots of science, history and cutting-edge research to back his claims. Not everyone bought this premise, of course; here's an interesting critique from a former Braden fan (also follow the link to the site editor's opinion of Braden). Further, The God Code has a lower average rating on Amazon than The Divine Matrix currently does.
Not that Braden is going to let a little thing like criticism – even from real scientists – stop him, now that he's on a roll.

One Amazon reader who attended one of Braden's lectures on The God Code a few years back quoted the author as stating that "only established people on the top of Maslow's Hierarchy" can understand and discuss the concepts Braden writes about. (Can you say "elitist," boys and girls?) In case you're not familiar with the reference, it comes from a 1943 paper, A Theory Of Human Motivation, in which Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of human needs in the form of a pyramid. The wide bottom of the pyramid is devoted to basic physiological necessities such as breathing, food, water, "excretion," and the like, and the top covers the more lofty needs such as morality, creativity, problem solving, acceptance of facts, and the burning desire to attend overpriced workshops.
So I'm thinking that maybe my whole problem – not only with Gregg Braden and Bruce Lipton, but with The Secret and everything else I've blogged about for these past six months – is that I'm slogging around near the bottom of the pyramid. In other words, I'm simply not sufficiently evolved (or self-actualized). Which actually comes as no great revelation, as I've previously been informed that I'm not as psychologically fit and spiritually developed as others around me. No doubt my little blog is simply my way of "vailing" my own "fear and doutbt." In the world of the Secretrons, the Bleepers, and the Braden bunch, there simply couldn't be any other explanation for my constant criticism of the paradigm-shattering "truths" they're hawking. 

In my world, however, all of those life-altering revelations about quantum miracles and ancient secrets and cutting-edge pseudoscience generally give rise to another need that surely resides at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid: the overpowering need to regurgitate.

PS – Happy Groundhog Day to everyone. And here's something else to celebrate: on January 27 – three days after my birthday (which we've been celebrating nonstop for nearly two weeks) – Whirled Musings turned six months old!

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Anonymous said...

What a great review. It is unusual to be able to give such a balanced opinion (usually people swing one way or the other). The important thing about Braden is that he is inspiring, and that is probably the most important thing, but he dresses up that inspiration in ill-fitting scientific clothes. He is no scientist! Braden writes from feeling and emotion, bringing together every New Age concept and fact into one grand vision, a bit like Icke has done in his latest book. I just wish he would not keep trying to play the scientist, something he is just not capable of doing. It would be much more honest if he just presented his books as philosophy and not leading-edge alternative science.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Anon. Beneath my sarcasm and smart-aleckry, I view Braden and others like him as basically good-hearted idealists who somehow took a detour into silliness. It doesn't help that there are so many willing followers who elevate these gurus to godlike status, and that just encourages more silliness (not to mention, in some cases, arrogance. To me, there are few people more annoying than an arrogant new-age or new-wage superstar).

I have nothing against feeling and emotion, or poetry and mysticism; the world would be a pretty colorless place without them. But I do have an issue with those who co-opt science (particularly quantum physics and quantum mechanics) in an attempt to give credence to their p.o.v.

And it's so easy for them to do this because, I think, most of us -- myself included -- are scientifically semi-literate. We're all too willing to accept stuff that *sounds* scientific or technical. And many of us dare not question the "science" because we just don't want to sound uneducated or unsophisticated.

(Cosmetics companies are just as guilty of pseudoscientific claptrap, btw, and I have been duped more than once by the made-up words and terms that clever marketers have used to make their products sound more "advanced.")

Regarding quantum physics, etc., I have made an honest effort over the years to get excited about the possible applications of quantum realities to everyday reality. It's one thing to say that at a quantum level, particles or waves seem to be altered by the observer. It's quite another to use this concept to back up the idea that we are in complete control of our "own reality," and all we have to do to change our lives is to change our perceptions. Changing one's perceptions is always a good start, of course, but beyond that, there's often a fine line between "creating one's own reality" and living in a state of denial or delusion.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I was wondering what the matrix stuff was all about. I've heard about some workshops on it and had no idea what they were talking about.
Paradigm shift seems to be used for just about anything these days. I recently heard it being used in gender studies in literature. Now I have a whole new "paradigm shift" to look forward to! I have recently shifted my own paradigm, which is to not believe anything "scientific" coming from new wagers unless they are thoroughly grounded in the tradition of peer reviewed research . There's a lot of stuff out there that self promoting new wagers pedal, and in my experience, it can do a lot of harm if they are presenting themselves as healers yet know little about psychological and scientific theories that have been researched and tested. I don't mean to be so dry about it, but have been burned several times by new wagers and their workshops. I'm sure some of them may be really good, but it's best not to be naive when listening to their spiel.

Cosmic Connie said...

Y'know, Me, I still have no idea what the divine matrix actually *is*. Yet somehow I do not feel moved to actually find out. As I noted in my previous comment, I think Gregg Braden is basically a good-hearted sort who really wants the world to be a better place. And he is, no doubt, quite educated. But he is not a scientist -- not that this will keep him from using science to promote his ideas. Nor will his lack of credentials be any problem for the bobbleheads who seem so enchanted by the idea that "we are not limited by the laws of physics and biology as we know them today."

Anonymous said...

Yes, I guess some of these people are quite educated and do know a lot about science and take some of their ideas from actual theories that have been researched. I agree with you in that it's their application of the theories that is dubious, and it's easy to mislead people because 99% of the population knows nothing about real cutting edge scientific discoveries, including moi.
I went to see a lecture once by one of the scientists in What the Bleep. He did elaborate experiments with some kind of messages in a box on the effect of prayer and /or affirmations on the environment and through time and space. He concluded that these prayers/affirmations could be felt on another part of the planet or something like that. His talk was so over everybody's head that no one understood a word on it except for other scientists. Do you have any idea of what I'm talking about? If so, what did you think of the experiment? I can't think of his name. I know he went to many cities and gave the same talk.

Cosmic Connie said...

Me, I am pretty familiar with the concepts that the What The Bleep scientist was supposedly demonstrating. I've read about similar experiments, though the name of the scientist to whom you are referring escapes me for the moment. I am obviously not qualified to critique the "science" behind these experiments. All I can say is that it all sounds suspiciously like pseudoscientific claptrap to me. And as we both know, most of the folks who so enthusiastically embrace this stuff are similarly unqualified to accept it on a scientific basis.

Anonymous said...


Nice takedown of Braden’s nonsense. You should submit some of your posts to the Skeptics’ Circle - it’s a good way to publicize your blog. We’re always looking for hosts, too.

I’m not so sure Braden is such a good hearted sort of guy. As I wrote in my review of Braden’s “Zero Point”, it looks to me as though he knows most of what he writes is nonsense, because of the cynical manipulative way he writes. I could be wrong though. Btw, if you get hold of a copy of the 4Q 2005 issue of Skeptic magazine, you’ll find Harriet Hall’s hilarious take-down of Braden’s The God Code.

If you haven’t already seen it, this is what I thought of What the Bleep.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, Skeptico, for your comments *and* for the links. I will definitely be spending some time on the blogs you mentioned. I completely agree with you about "What The Bleep," and I've blogged about it too, though so far I haven't been criticized for that the way I have for dissing "The Secret."

I freely admit that I have been giving Braden the benefit of the doubt (regarding his good-heartedness). That's because I am only superficially acquainted with his work. You seem to be much more familiar with his work and I wouldn't be at all surprised if you were correct about his true motives. (And to tell the truth, if I were to judge him merely by the publicity photo that is most often used these days, I would say he is arrogant, egotistical and more than a little pretentious.)

And thanks for pointing me to "Skeptic" magazine. I've been a "Skeptical Inquirer" fan for years but haven't really gotten around to reading "Skeptic." But I'll check it out. What with the popularity of Braden, Bruce Lipton, "What The Bleep," "The Secret," etc., it looks as if all of the skeptics have their work cut out for them.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I’ve become fascinated by Gregg Braden. Fascinated that anyone could put together such a pile of unconnected drivel and get otherwise seemingly intelligent people to think it profound. The response from Braden’s faithful has been instructive too. See this email exchange I had with a guy who had traveled with Braden to Tibet. In the entire exchange he couldn’t come up with one thing Braden had got right. He was pretty angry at me, though.

Btw I like your “New Wage” label. I had been calling it Newage (rhymes with sewage), but I may have to call it New Wage in future.

Anonymous said...

Skeptico, I like your website but why do you have a negation of the efficacy of acupuncture on your blog? imo, they do not fit into the categories of new wagers that are so slimy and deceptive. I think it is great there are alternatives to western medicine. Acupuncture is a science with much credibility.

Cosmic Connie said...

Like you, Skep, I have learned that many of the New-Wage faithful do not take kindly to criticism. Braden's disciples seem to be no exception.

I used to think that overall, the metaphysical crowd were better sports than traditional religious types, and maybe they were at one time, but that doesn't seem to be the case any more. Maybe it's because being offended has become the new national pastime, and they want a piece of that action.

Many New-Wagers don't seem to mind if you disagree with some of their ideas, but if you are actually critical, even in a humorous way, they accuse you of being full of "issues," "negativity," and "anger." One of the fans of "The Secret" wanted to know why I hate myself so much (the evidence of my self-loathing being the fact that I have been so sharply critical of "The Secret").

I have a couple of friends who use the "sewage" pronunciation for "Newage," and that's certainly appropriate too. But New-Wage just seems more apt for the aggressively capitalistic souls, doesn't it?

Cosmic Connie said...

"Me" brought up a good point, and this is an area in which I am a bit at odds with the skeptical community in general. Both the Rev and I have had positive experiences with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. I'm not one to discount the incredible accomplishments of Western medicine, but it doesn't have all of the answers. And though I am quick to make fun of the more wacky "healing modalities" of the New Wage culture, I am also very open to some methods of "alternative" healing.

Anonymous said...


If you had read my posts on acupuncture, describing the tests it failed, you would have the answer to your question. For example, fake acupuncture works as well as the real thing. Acupuncture is certainly not a science. It was made up by people with no idea of how the body really works. It doesn’t matter where you put the needles, so long as the person receiving the acupuncture believe they’re being placed in the special magic places.

RevRon's Rants said...

Sorry, Skeptico, but your summary dismissal of acupuncture just doesn't wash, unless you believe that ecg's & emg's are prone to exhibit placebo effect. That acupuncture failed your "tests" does not offset the extensive positive data collected at major research hospitals worldwide.

If one is going to fault the New Wagers for sloppy science, it would be advisable to ensure that one's own "science" stands up to scrutiny, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

skeptico, you say: "It doesn’t matter where you put the needles, so long as the person receiving the acupuncture believe they’re being placed in the special magic places" is inaccurate.
I am very familiar with acupuncture and have gone to a clinic of students in training and to chinese practitioners who have been at it for years. the ones with years of experience certainly do know where to put the needles to alleviate pain and heal imbalances in the nervous system. i went to one who practices a korean form and my pain completely went away for 2 days. I didn't even think it was going to work, so belief was not a factor. If acupuncture is not a science as you say, it still works much better for pain than western science. All western science has seemed to be able to come up with for pain relief is pharmaceutical drugs with zillions of side efects. And acupuncture is now accepted as a legitimate form of treatment for pain. Several physicians have recommended it to me and some insurance companies cover it.
Western pharmaceutical companies are too much influenced by profit. the US does not invest much in researching alternative forms of medicine because there's not a lot of money in it for them.

Cosmic Connie said...

In my opinion, acupuncture is one of the more credible of the "alternative" methods, at least for many types of pain. Personally, I prefer a mix of Vicodin and Soma for short-term problems :-), but would never consider that for chronic pain. No, acupuncture is not a cure-all, but it's worth considering before resorting to addictive drugs or major surgery.

Anonymous said...


If acupuncture is a science as you say, then you should be able to tell me how the locations of the meridians and the 2,000 precise acupuncture points were derived. So please describe this process. And please show your work.

Also, if acupuncture is a science as you say, then it should be possible to do blind tests confirming the precise locations of the meridians and acupuncture points (using dummy needles and/or needles placed at the wrong places). This hasn’t been done either – as I described in the above-referenced link, it makes no difference where the needles are placed. I note you made no attempt to explain why the studies I referenced, were wrong. Just saying my claim “is inaccurate” because you disagree, doesn’t wash.

The rest of your post is just anecdote and false dilemma reasoning (ie “western science” has side effects and is motivated by profit, therefore acupuncture works).


Sorry Ron, but your summary dismissal of the numerous studies I wrote about just doesn’t wash, unless you believe that output from ECGs and EMGs are the same as curing an illness. Of course sticking needles in people has an effect that can be measured, but that isn’t the question. The question is, does sticking a needle in someone at the special magic place guessed at by ancient people, actually balance yin and yang by releasing blocked qi to cure some illness? The evidence I presented says no. Acupuncture did not fail my “tests” (or even my tests, without the scare quotes), it failed tests, period. I note you don’t offer one reference to support the “extensive positive data collected at major research hospitals worldwide” that you claim. If one is going to fault the New Wagers for sloppy science, it would be advisable to ensure that one's own "science" stands up to scrutiny, IMHO. So far you haven’t presented any science – just blather.


I apologize for hijacking this thread, which was originally about Gregg Braden. I suggest if anyone wants to actually present some science about acupuncture, they start a thread to discuss it here.

Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, Skep, no need to apologize for the temporary detour. I'm all for lively discussion and dissent; I just ask that we keep it civil. And I'm sure that the Rev, who happens to be the love of my life and who, I can safely say, is anything but the "blathering" type, will have a response to *your* response. :-)

Naturally I can't speak for "Me," but it didn't sound to me as if she was using Western medicine's profit motive as an argument for the efficacy of acupuncture. However, the point she made does have a place in this discussion. I don't think we can deny that the profit motive is at least on occasion a factor in determining the course of research, as well as the results of that research. (Can we totally trust research on a new drug if all of the studies are funded by the big company that manufactures that drug? Can we completely trust research on inexpensive non-drug alternatives that are funded by profit-driven pharmaceutical companies?)

I think it's a little dismissive to describe acupuncture points as "special magic places guessed at by ancient people." The fact that it is not couched in the terms of allopathic medicine does not necessarily reduce a healing method to "magic." I suspect that well-trained TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioners have a lot to offer the world of medicine. Even if you don't believe in qi or yin and yang (and I'm not completely comfortable with those ideas myself), acupuncture still may work -- at least on some types of pain -- by redirecting or "tricking" nerve impulses. So even if it's not a cure-all, it does seem to alleviate symptoms in some people, in ways that can't be always be explained away by the placebo effect.

However, Skep, I am no more apt to summarily dismiss your opinions and the studies you cite than I am to summarily dismiss the opinions of "Me" and the Rev. I think more studies are needed, but meanwhile, I think acupuncture remains an effective and economical alternative for many.

Naturally, standard disclaimers apply. I am neither a physician nor a scientist -- I don't even play one on the Internet -- and my own positive experiences with acupuncture are, of course, anecdotal. But when I consider all of the money I could have spent a few years ago on doctor visits and overpriced drugs to help a persistent problem I had, I'm glad I chose acupuncture and a short-term regimen of Chinese herbs. (Like "Me," I wasn't expecting it to help, but it seemed to.)

Besides -- getting back to the original subject of this post -- the *real* pricks I'm concerned with on this blog have nothing to do with acupuncture needles. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

Skeptico –

Attached are a few links to research studies, conducted by respected institutions normally associated with “conventional” or Western medicine. There are many more available; more than I have time to read, and certainly more than the studies that claim to disprove the effectiveness of the technique.

Let’s start with the Mayo clinic:

That well-known “hack” organization, the National Institute of Health ( reached the following conclusion after evaluating numerous studies:

“Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size, and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups. However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.”

The notorious New Wage outpost, the University of Maryland Medical Center ( chimed in with the following conclusion to their studies:

“The sham acupuncture studies were double-blinded, meaning neither the researchers nor the participants knew who was receiving the real or the sham treatment. When looking at those studies, the reviewers found the differences in pain ratings showed a significant difference between the real acupuncture and the sham acupuncture groups, indicating that the benefit was not just due to the placebo effect.’

‘From our analysis, the message for people with chronic low back pain is that acupuncture is a truly effective therapy that provides significant pain relief,” says Manheimer. “Patients with low back pain have many options for treatment including medication, chiropractic care, physical therapy and back exercises. However, these treatments do not always help, and scientific evidence indicates that they have only modest effectiveness.”

If you are interested in the history of acupuncture, I suggest you do your own research. However, you might keep in mind that true research is geared toward discovering the truth (synthesis) relative to a given question, rather than merely supporting one set of preconceived notions (thesis) or refuting same (antithesis). I have little patience for the New Wage hucksters who prey on people who will believe anything, and no more for those who are determined to debunk even established knowledge – facts notwithstanding - in order to appear more astute themselves. Blather, indeed!

Anonymous said...

I don't think bringing up acupuncture is irrelevant to this thread. Your opinions are just as much subject to debate as what you call "newage", and btw, rhyming it with sewage is dehumanizing. I might not agree with most new wagers, but likening them to human feces is beyond the pale imo.

Anonymous said...



I’ve seen these before. They do not compare acupuncture in the wrong place with acupuncture in the “right” place. They just show that sticking needles in people can sometimes relieve pain. I explained on my blog why randomly applied needles may appear to work (for the same reasons other alternative therapies seem to work), namely:

• Misdirection (the needle makes you forget the other pain)
• The cyclical nature of the illness (it goes away by itself)
• Incorrect diagnosis to start with
• Temporary mood improvements due to the personal nature of the treatment
• Psychological investment of the patient in the success of the therapy
• Other medicines the patient is taking.

In addition, sticking people with needles may stimulate the release of endorphins.


Not a study, but a write up of a supposed success story. However, this is not acupuncture – it included an “electric stimulator to a couple of needles, which generated a low current”. Since the ancient Chinese didn’t have electricity I hardly think they were doing this, and this is not acupuncture, regardless of what the Mayo has decided to call it.

Also, your cites just talk about pain relief But remember, this is a list of things acupuncture is supposed to cure.

Why this matters

It is important to note that the studies you cite do not control for sticking the needles in the “wrong: place, nor for those that rely on electrical stimulation. Also, they just refer to pain modulation. It is important, because without controlling for these, and when only pain is reduced, the yin / yang qi explanations for acupuncture are not supported. Consequently the complex procedures and years of training for acupuncturists are probably a waste of time. In addition, as long as believers stick to the yin / yang qi magic explanations, the real reason (if there is one) that acupuncture sometimes seems to work, will never be determined.

And that’s if there really is an effect. Studies tend to suggest the effect may be illusory anyway. For example there is this review of 50 acupuncture trials:

Without labouring the point about poor quality studies over-estimating effects of treatment, or that evidence for acupuncture is thin on the ground, this study demonstrates both with some clarity. It is worth commenting that for chronic pain where acupuncture is much used, the absence of significant effect is all too apparent. Only three studies showed a benefit, and they contained only 12% of the total patients studied in high quality trials. As a balance, one trial with 9% of the total patients studied in high quality trials showed less effect than an active treatment. The remainder of the high quality studies showed no difference at all between acupuncture and control.

What about bias? Well, the search was only for English language papers, but most non-English papers would be from countries where only positive results are published, so that this strategy may have avoided bias. Many of the studies were small. Of the 19 positive studies, 14 enrolled fewer than 50 patients, and the smallest number was 12. Overall, positive studies were smaller than neutral studies, which were smaller than negative studies. We might conclude that there is some residual bias in this, which would result in an even more negative conclusion.

There are two bottom lines. The first is to emphasise again the importance of using quality information for decision-making. Use poor quality information is likely to result in poor quality decision-making. The second bottom line is that the use of acupuncture for chronic pain is unsupported by any evidence of quality. Consumers and providers should beware.

Also, read the write up of this study of 500,000 patients receiving acupuncture:

Preliminary results were leaked nevertheless. They are intriguing: adjunctive acupuncture turned out to be better than standard care but sham acupuncture yields the same benefit as "real" acupuncture.

This is perplexing because it could be interpreted in two dramatically different ways. The optimist (or acupuncturist) would say that the results demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture - adding it to standard care improves the outcome compared to standard care alone. Hence acupuncture must be a good thing. On the other hand, the pessimist (or scientist) would insist that these results prove that acupuncture is merely a placebo therapy with no "real" effects of its own. It doesn't matter where we stick the acupuncture needle, the patient improves in any case, and this can only be due to a placebo response. Hence acupuncture has no "real" value.

When asked whether these results demonstrate the success of acupuncture his response was decisive: "No, this cannot be. In our studies, we clearly determined that acupuncture will be deemed effective only if it is significantly superior to sham acupuncture".

If this is true, the biggest trials in the history of acupuncture might be the beginning of the end of this therapy.

... I doubt it.

Anonymous said...


The profit motive criticism can also apply to acupuncture. Also, even if we can’t trust research on a new drug if all of the studies are funded by the big company that manufactures that drug, that still doesn’t mean acupuncture works.

By describing acupuncture points as "special magic places guessed at by ancient people”, I was accurately describing the origin of the locations of the meridians and the 2,000 acupuncture points. How else did the ancient Chinese discover these points? What techniques did they have that we don’t? Modern scientists can’t even find the meridians or measure qi. So how did these ancient people do it? The truth is, they didn’t have a clue about how the body works, and they just made up what they thought was correct. Western doctors did the same – they invented “humors”, and used bloodletting etc as a cure. When evidence based medicine began to replace quackery in the west, we realized humors have no basis in reality and we dropped believing in them. The only mystery is why we haven’t done the same for qi.

Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, Skep, I agree with you that more research should be done. As I said earlier, I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of "qi," etc. And I have no idea how the ancient Chinese practitioners determined where the 2000 meridian points were. Maybe it is all b.s. But it is worthy of more research before we make that determination.

Also, like "Me," I wasn't using Western medicine's profit motive as an argument in favor of the efficacy of acupuncture. I was merely stating that the profit motive angle has a place in this discussion.

I agree with you too that "alternative" practitioners such as acupuncturists are just as likely as Western M.D.s or big drug companies to be motivated by the desire to make money. I also think that some of the acupuncture sites make exaggerated claims. For the most part, though, their treatments aren't nearly as expensive as state-of-the-art Western medicine, and for better or worse, that is a reason many people turn to them.

RevRon's Rants said...

You asked for the science, and I offered a sample. You are, of course, free to ignore it. I would, however, suggest that you read the UM conclusion again.

There have been studies with mixed results, granted, but the vast majority acknowledged that the techniques are measurably effective, beyond placebo effect. As to the as-yet inability to qualify why specific meridians affect specific systems, I would remind you that Aspirin was successful at relieving pain for over 100 years before researchers discovered how it worked. Their ignorance in no way diminished the drug's effectiveness, and I would posit that the same is true in this discussion.

RevRon's Rants said...

Connie -
Is your discomfort with the notion of Qi based in a belief that it does not exist, or is it merely a matter of acknowledging its existence being inconsistent with your skeptical persona?

If the latter, we'll just wink knowingly at each other and continue with the banter. If the former, I obviously won't need to provide any more of the treatments you request when you're in pain. :)

Cosmic Connie said...

Mostly it's the latter, Rev, but sometimes the former. As I said, more research needs to be done, and meanwhile, acupuncture, acupressure and related treatments are a viable alternative for many. (And don't you dare discontinue those 'treatments.' :-))

Anonymous said...

skeptico said: I’ve seen these before. They do not compare acupuncture in the wrong place with acupuncture in the “right” place. They just show that sticking needles in people can sometimes relieve pain. I explained on my blog why randomly applied needles may appear to work (for the same reasons other alternative therapies seem to work),

Skeptico, I will try to read your info later. I am already procrastinating in my own research as it is, whichj is why I didn't take more time to read every word of your report. In any case, I want to add that I have been a guinea pig in an acupuncture clinic. You'd better believe it makes a difference where they put those darn needles. A person in training tried to do something to my wrists that nearly had me jumping out of my seat. the supervisor came in and took over and proceeded to explain to her about the correct points to insert the needles (using my body). I have just had way too much experience with acupuncturists to dismiss them as bs artists. I do think, though, that it does not work for certain ailments. it's best used for pain related to soft tissue. Ya know, I am all for science and peer reviewed research, but I have seen some real tragedies with FDA approved drugs. In Germany they do much more research on alternative medicine so they can actually determine the most effective treatments.

Anonymous said...

RevRon, your studies don’t contradict my criticisms of acupuncture.

Aspirin was (1) shown unambiguously to work and (2) was never AFAIK explained by resorting to magic explanations such as “qi”.

RevRon's Rants said...

When aspirin was first patented by Bayer, the company's managers were hesitant to market the drug, since the "common wisdom" of the day was that any good drug must conduct electricity. Since acetylsalicylic acid (the compound known as aspirin) failed that test, it was originally rejected, until it was introduced in tandem with another painkiller which they thought to be more promising: heroin. We know what a resounding success that was! While modern research methods are much more sophisticated than those at the turn of the (19th to 20th) century, they are nonetheless plagued by biases that have more basis in previous knowledge (often erroneous) than fact.

That the many studies offered do not contradict your criticisms says more about the objectivity of your criticisms than about the science you attempt to negate. As such, I won't bother with further argument.

You should keep in mind that virtually all of what we consider technology was at one time considered magic, and that even the most learned scientists acknowledge that "there is more to Heaven and Earth than exists in [their] philosophies." Skepticism is healthy - even necessary for productive research - but should enhance rather than supplant the desire for additional knowledge. Too many self-proclaimed skeptics seem to lose sight of this.

Anonymous said...


Nice story about aspirin. But it doesn’t alter what I said before which was that aspirin (unlike acupuncture) was (1) shown unambiguously to work and (2) was never AFAIK explained by resorting to magic explanations such as “qi”. This is just a red herring which says absolutely nothing about whether qi or meridians exist or not.

Re: That the many studies offered do not contradict your criticisms says more about the objectivity of your criticisms than about the science you attempt to negate.

That you could write the above says more about your lack of objectivity in this debate than it does about acupuncture. I did explain why the criticisms I highlighted were important; you haven’t explained why these criticisms are not objective.

Re: You should keep in mind that virtually all of what we consider technology was at one time considered magic

No it wasn’t. Before modern technology was developed, no one even knew it existed. However, to fill the gaps, ancient man “invented” many things he thought were true, to explain the world around him. We now know many of those “inventions” (eg humors, qi) are not real.

Re: …and that even the most learned scientists acknowledge that "there is more to Heaven and Earth than exists in [their] philosophies."

This is just a fallacious appeal to “science doesn’t know everything”. Of course, science doesn’t know everything, but the corollary is not that any idea you like the sound of, that cannot be proven false, is worthy of consideration. Something is only worthy of consideration if there is a reason to suppose it is true. I don’t see any reason to believe “qi” even exists. Certainly, none of the studies on acupuncture you cited support its existence.

Cosmic Connie said...

I'm just glad that when all else fails, even acupuncture, God has seen fit to bless us with 10 mg Lortab. :-)

My brain hurts...

RevRon's Rants said...

"I don’t see any reason to believe “qi” even exists."

Spend a week in a classical dojo and see if you can say that. For that matter, do some research somewhere besides sources devoted to perpetuating your own preconceptions.

As I'd said, skepticism is a healthy - even necessary - element in any form of learning. But there's a big difference between skepticism and closed-mindnedness, and between believing everything and believing nothing at all. It's in that place where objectivity - and human growth - exists.

The "fact" of acupuncture's absolute worthlessness will just have to be your little secret. Enjoy it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Don't worry, Connie. I'm sure the diuretics will run their course pretty quickly, and yet another pissing contest will dribble off into obscurity! :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Well, as you can see, I've moved myself out of the line of fire...or water. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

You're safe from this side, sweetie. Boredom and the realization of futility have conspired to stem the flow, as it were.

Now, if you're through blogging for the night, I'll give you that ineffective treatment you asked for. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Deal. I'm signing off for the night too. See ya in the Treatment Room. :-)

TheBlade said...

Skeptico quoted:
This is perplexing because it could be interpreted in two dramatically different ways. The optimist (or acupuncturist) would say that the results demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture - adding it to standard care improves the outcome compared to standard care alone. Hence acupuncture must be a good thing. On the other hand, the pessimist (or scientist) would insist that these results prove that acupuncture is merely a placebo therapy with no "real" effects of its own. It doesn't matter where we stick the acupuncture needle, the patient improves in any case, and this can only be due to a placebo response. Hence acupuncture has no "real" value.

I do agree that acupuncture needs to perform better than random needle-sticking to be believed on its terms.

One note on the above though: the author of that makes an error in believing that the above results show that acupuncture must rely on a placebo effect. The therapeutic effect of being stuck with a needle is not necessarily placebo.

It has been speculated that the effect of needle-sticking is to arouse defensive responses in the body, these defensive responses producing the therapeutic effect.

Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, Blade, good to see you here! I recognize you from the Guruphiliac blog. You make some good points, and so has everyone else who has participated in this discussion, on both sides. Thanks for your input. (If I seem to have disengaged from the discussion it's only because I am a little battle-weary. :-))

TheBlade said...

Connie, glad to pop in. Durga of guruphiliac fame sent me in here to look at something, and as usual I decided that everyone is entitled to my opinion. :)

Cosmic Connie said...

You have blessed us all, Blade. :-)

Unknown said...

Remarkebly interesting blog:) A pitty Greg can not be more thuthfull about certain statements...indeed, such is a massive character flaw.
On another note, dealing with accupunture and chi. First of, obviously we are made of energy, so to learn to channel it, in reiki or dimka is to be life supportive or life destructivr. Shaolin monks show this aspect, despite the hardening of body parts, they direct inner body electricity, or intent, to hands or other body parts, to break stones or protect a spicic area.
Acupuncture is what.....4000 years...?????
Does anyone know how loooong that is?? Not in numerics...actual Meaning of it..?
4000 years...if not more.
The how they found it out, the chinese, well thats, literaly ancient history...but, theres texts about it. Ancients one...

The main thing that is comical is this:
Here we in a body...utterly ignorant, almost, of the magic going on or indeed the many processes running in the background...from genes, to testosterone production, happy cells replicating; sperms wiggling, ovaries dancing...etc

To be honest, our ignorence of our selves is.......absolutly....unbelievble ..
So much in our biology works by itself. From heart, to liver, eyes, intestines...immune system. We are part of it and yet have little say in the matter...(only food...simple responsibility that humans cant even handle) living as we the attic of the brain. Only those who have experienced chronic pain or an illness that leaves them angry with their simbiotic biology can grasp just how much of an awhereness cooped up in a biological prison sometimes this human experience seems to be. But, regardless, through such self organising systems,in our biology, we live and, allways we learn, in due time...the meaning of health...and death.
And life...