Complementary and alternative medicine Humor Medicine

Should I go to this “medical” conference? Or, sometimes the universe laughs at me.

Sometimes, coincidence is a strange thing indeed.

Friday, I wrote this post about yet another meta-analysis whose results are completely consistent with acupuncture being nothing more than an elaborate placebo. Later that day, less than four hours after my post went live, I received this e-mail sent, not to my work account or my other Gmail account, but rather to my account for this blog:

For immediate release

Contact: Karla Shepard Rubinger, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (914) 740-2100, ext 2153, [email protected]

21st Annual Symposium of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture to Be Held April 2 -5, 2009

New Rochelle, NY, January 29, 2009–The 21st Annual Symposium of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA) will take place in Fort Worth, Texas from April 2-5, 2009.  The Symposium, sponsored by AAMA, promotes the integration of concepts from traditional and modern forms of acupuncture with Western medical training and thereby synthesizes a more comprehensive approach to health care.

The 21st Annual Symposium is an ideal context for physicians to foster their professional education and clinical practice in a highly respected, stimulating, collegial environment, while earning continuing medical education credits.  “It is an exciting time for the field of medical acupuncture, and no other conference can attract the outstanding evidence-based presentations which are the focus of our 21st Annual Symposium,” says Hiroshi Nakazawa, MD, President of AAMA.

The main AAMA Symposium will take place April 3 – 5 and qualifies for 22 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s) ™.  Three Pre-Symposium Workshops will take place on April 2, with 7 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s) ™ available. In addition to the Symposium, the AAMA Review Course will be available March 31 – April 1, and the Board Certification Examination will be available following the Symposium on April 5.

AAMA works with its members and other leading clinicians to bring evidence-based approaches into clinical practice. AAMA’s official peer-reviewed Journal, Medical Acupuncture, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is the leading journal providing the translational research and clinical tools needed to offer this popular and effective therapeutic option to patients in a hospital, clinic, or private office setting.  For more information on the Journal, visit

For more information, contact the AAMA at:
(310) 364.0193 (phone)
(310) 364.0196 (fax)

[email protected]

For registration and the most up-to-date program information, visit the Academy’s website at

This e-mail was sent by:
The Mary Ann Liebert Companies
140 Huguenot Street, 3rd Floor
New Rochelle, NY 10801-5215, USA

What do you think? Coincidence? Probably. An acupuncturist having a little fun at my expense? Less likely but not outside the realm of probability.

But, more importantly, should I go?

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

21 replies on “Should I go to this “medical” conference? Or, sometimes the universe laughs at me.”

should I go?

You have $1100 to waste on this? Or perhaps a better question, do you really want to do that to your blood pressure?

Actually, its pretty smart. After all, you did post it. How many people who disagree with you read your blog? Probably a lot. Ta Da, free publicity.


There’s some mighty-fine sounding woo in the schedule! I particularly liked this one:

Joseph M. Helms Founder’s Lecture
“Bringing Ancient Wisdom into Modern Times: Medical Acupuncture and the Re-sacralization of Health Care”
John C. Reed, MD

Sacralization? Admittedly, from the title, it’s not too clear just what the speaker will be droning on about. Presumably it’s something to do with patients calling doctor dog—that is, believing everything the doctor spews—which I suppose would be helpful in getting the the patient to believe being stabbed with needles is anything other than silly. Or maybe being stabbed is supposed to convince you the doctor’s an idiot (well, yes, that’d probably work with me!)?

The burble about ancient wisdom is a good tip this is pure unadulterated woo. Quackery, placebo effects not withstanding.

I don’t know if it is good for your health to be going into an object of such concentrated anomalous stupid caused by stupid collapsing onto itself into an even denser ball of stupid. But hey, I bet you could handle this. ^_^

It’d be fun, but I would waste you money. Their website says:

Guide for Physicians Seeking Hospital and HMO Privileges

By Russell J. Erickson, MD

Acupuncture is the third oldest healthcare art, following faith healing and herbology. Its existence, during 3,000 years, when many medical approaches, both good and bad, have winked in and out of existence, should give us cause to look seriously at its contribution to healing, even though it is part of a paradigm not indigenous to allopathic medicine and was not invented in the USA. It rose in China instead of Europe “because ancient Chinese science was empirical with a distaste for theories and emphasized holistic patterns, relationships, cycles and processes” (Bruce Pomerantz). The fact that acupuncture is not a placebo therapy is accentuated by its use in veterinary medicine for 1,000 years in the Orient and 100 in Europe, with increasing use during the last 20 years in the United States, and by its effectiveness in treating children down to infants. It appears effective, especially in areas where allopathic medicine is weak.

Just the use of the word ‘allopathic’ is enough for me to reach for my blood pressure tablets…never mind the rest of the guff.

You should write a paper to present. Obviously they saw and liked what you wrote as a blog, I would take their email as encouragement to submit something. They do have categories where they award prizes for the best paper.

You could easily write an abstract that would be truthful, but would sound like exactly what they want to hear, lots of “evidence based medicine” and the “true place of acupuncture in treatment”. What research says about acupuncture vs. placebo, that sort of thing.

You should only go if you present a paper. If they don’t accept your abstract for presentation then it isn’t worth going. If they do schedule you, and then bar you at the last minute you will have proven that they do not respect academic freedom or well founded disagreement. Then you could raise a big stink about how their CME credits are worthless and maybe get them disallowed.

I like daedalus’ idea. Someone I am proud to say is a former colleague (a boss than which none was better, someone I cannot praise too highly) made a nice chunk of cash that way. A wealthy guy named Babson (as in Babson College) thought gravity was a substance, and it could be harvested and used to generate power. In 1950 Babson offered $1,000 for the best paper on the properties of gravity. So, this guy wrote a paper about the thermodynamics of gravity and took 1st prize.

I asked why he wrote that since he knows it is nonsense, he replied he was sure to write a better paper than anyone who actually thinks gravity is a substance. I bet Orac could do a spot-on article about the quantum mechanics of acupuncture.

The thing is, what a waste of money to pay these shrills if you go. Also what an extreme angst to be in a roomful of such stupid.
On the other hand, if you did go, though the most likely thing is that your profound sanity and reason would be subject to ridicule, you may jolt the cogs in a few of them to actually reason about the lack of evidence behind what they advocate. Having said that though, you cannot reason someone out of a position/belief they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.

Do go — daedalus had a great idea. You just have to change your paper a bit. Instead of talking about how acupuncture is crap (which it is!), talk about what it will take for acupuncture to be heartily embraced by real medicine.

Suggested Sections:
1. Evidence and how to gather it (large, well placebo-controlled studies)
2. Understanding of the methods (“what is qi anyway?”, mapping meridians, etc.)
3. Symptomology – what patients / symptoms / conditions / etc. respond to each needle placement (different practioners use different meridian charts — which is the right one?)
4. Dose response – how many visits is right? what interval between visits? how much is too much?
5. Changing the culture of the profession — getting practitioners to stop lying, stop claiming it will fix anything, instilling a culture of research and questioning, etc.

This message of what needs to be done needs to be given by a respected real doctor. If people actually listen, maybe they’ll shut up until they actually do have some evidence / rationale to claim anything from acupuncture.

Just because it can’t be done is no excuse for not talking about what needs to be done.

On the other hand, they’ll never listen, so why waste your breath and time when you could be doing something useful?

I think spudbeach nailed it, except that the proposed presentation might be too long.

I also have to add:

An acupuncturist having a little fun at my expense? Less likely but not outside the realm of probability.

What, you think they might needling you a little?

I have the perfect title for your talk. “What to say when critics say ‘Acupuncture is just a placebo’”

Write up all of the criticisms of acupuncture, and say that you will give the EBM and SBM based response to all of them. Don’t put any of your answers in the abstract or in the presentation that you send them, save that for the live performance.

Oh, and take out a good life insurance policy before you attend.

Coming from the very culture that started this myth about acupuncture, I’m pretty amused that even western practitioners can believe this sort of thing. Stop being duped into practising pseudoscience. Evidence-based practice is what defines modern medicine. And I mean modern medicine, not what the quack ethnomedical practitioners like to distort as “western medicine”. How foolish they are not to realise that every society and individual has a stake in the success of modern medicine.

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