Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Ancient Chinese Secret

How many times have you heard:

"They've been doing this in China for thousands of years"
"My healer is trained in Ancient Medicine"
"This have been practiced by millions of people for thousands of years"

This is the exact sort of thing you hear with respect to CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), astrology, homeopathy and so forth. Yes, its an appeal to ancient ways. But when discussing health its so much more than some fallacious arguement, its bad for the health of a society as a whole, never mind being bad for the individual. Let me explain.


It is true that Dawkins addressed this a little bit in his "Enemies of Reason" series. but I wanted to address on little bit of evidence that I dont think he made quite clear and didn't emphasise enough.

Both China and India are credited with the development of most of CAM. Acupuncture, Ayurvedic Healing, and a number of other "ancient medicines". Panda Bear M.D. has already posted some great info about homeopathy. Some folks have also include shamanistic indian rituals, drug use, and a number of other practices.

More recently, people have been simply justifying these practices by pretending to understand quantum mechanics, and saying that is the reason it works.

None of this is new or original. I really have nothing to add to the specifics of each piece of CAM, just something more general. My question when I hear a statement like those I started out this post with is:

Why would you do something that has already been shown to only allow you to live 1/2 as long?

Here is what I mean.

I took life expectancy data from the US from 1900 to 2004 and plotted it against what I could find for that same year range for China and India.(1,2,3,4)

Some notes about this:

By 1900, our lifespan doubled that of China and India. by this time we had worked out vaccinations, germ theory, hand washing, among a variety of other things.

By 1940 we had worked out the use of pennicillin, which lead to a variety of other, more broad spectrum antibiotics.
1950's we were learning to make and use pacemakers. In the '60s we were learning to transplant hearts and spinning up our abilities to fight viruses. In the 70s we started learning IVF and other fertilization techniques. I dont think I can even summarize our progress in the last 3 decades in imagining, genetics, artificial organs , etc.

An interesting overview of the introduction of western medicine into china is presented here. There we find strong resistance to the influx of western medicine in spite of various places where the western medicine was recognized as superior. Even the smallpox vaccine was still making rounds in the twentieth century.

in 1881 the very first school was made to teach western style medicine. It was quickly run down during the Boxer Rebellion, so once again western medicine was prevented from becoming pervasive in China. Even western sanitation (which goes hand in hand with medicine) was looked down upon.

Around the turn of the century there were a group of Chinese who did acknowledge that China was crumbling and needed modernization badly.

Only around 1920 did China start to require medical licenses, however both traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine were still practiced, with traditional medicine still being favored. enforcement was severely lacking.

It was not until near 1940 did western medicine start to truly penetrate Chinese society, with the obvious benefits seen in the graph.


Folks, science is supposed to change what we know. When it changes it is becoming more accurate, more informative, and a better predictor. It does this by testing hypotheses, keeping the good ones and throwing away the bad ones. Ayurvedic medicine, acupuncture, and other 'medical' treatments that have not changed in 2000 years should be viewed with intense skepticism. Anything claiming to be a science that has not changed in decades, much less centuries or millenia is bad, and not something to admire.

27 comments:

On 12/12/07, 4:48 AM , Buffy said...

Hello

As you may have come to expect from me by now I have one foot on each side of the fence on this issue ha ha.

I have experience in both alternative and allopathic medicine and I have to say from my personal experience they both have an important role to play.

Of course there is a lot or rubbish around and it is easy to throw your money away on some very dubious therapries.

But I have had my health turned around by homeopathy. The homeopath in question was a fully trained doctor who went on to study homeopathy. Interestingly my local GP recently became a full-time homeopath as well.

More recently I have had acupuncture. The lady in question studied for four years. There are some things acupuncture is good for and some that it doesn't touch. From my experience with this person, who talks to me a lot about traditional Chinese medicine, I can see that it is quite different from the modern Western view but in some areas it seems to have an understanding of the body and things that can go wrong that Western medicine hasn't grasped.

I am sure you have heard before the comment that allopathic medicine treats the symptoms and tries to make them go away whereas therapies such as acuptuncture and homeopathy treat the whole person and I have found this to be generally true.

My advice to anyone who has a chronic condition would be to try both allopathic and alternative medicine but to make sure they choose a practitioner who is accredited by the main traning body and has undergone full training. Unfortunatly anyone can call themselves a homeopath but you can imagine there is a big difference between someone who did a two week course and a trained doctor who went onto study homeopathy full time.

 
On 12/12/07, 8:53 AM , Techskeptic said...

Hi Buffy and Welcome (is this the first time you have visited my little corner?)

I'm willing to bet that most people who use CAM "feel" better after a session. Particularly if pain is the reason they went (pain being the symptom that is most susceptible to placebo).

Of course the same is true for people who smoke pot for pain, even though pot has little or no effect on treating disease (I've heard that perhaps, there are some uses).

That is why anecdotal and non-double blind studies are of little use when assessing the efficacy of a treatment. Things get better on their own (particularly pain), so we ascribe the improvement to the thing we did last. If it was wearing a special hat, then we would say "Hey! This Pain relief hat works great!" (this by the way is why people buy the Q-Ray and think it helps them)

If allopathic medicine treats symptoms only, how does cancer go away? How bacterial infection get get cured? How do viral infections get prevented? Allopathic medicine.

CAM may make you feel better but it doesnt make you better. My little graph should show that as clear as day. Left alone, for the last 2000 years, CAM has brought an average lifespan of 26 years old (I'm not sure that is different than doing nothing). If it treated something, if it did anything at all, wouldn't this have risen over 2000 years?

The only thing it cures are the ailments that are made up for it. For example Qi and acupuncture. Someone made up a model for the body that had Qi energy flow, and that putting in needles corrects that flow and releases Qi blockages.

For this to be true:

1) the should have been some observation that led to the idea of Qi
2) Qi should be able to be measured
3) there should be some sort of evidence the sticking in a needle anywhere actually changes Qi
4) any of this has something to do with health.

Same goes for Homeopathy and Astology, and Water Dowsing. all built on models that are pretty ridiculous by todays standards and in fact totally ignore any progress we have made for the last 2000 years.

Im even skeptical of chiropractic. Ask a chiropractor, what it is they do and they say they find misalignments and correect them. Ask them to show an x-ray of misalignment before and after treatment. If they even show you that, you wont see anything and neither will an orthopedist. however, then the chiropractor will give you some stretches, and pain will go down over a few days. And then you assign the relief to the cracking? Its weird.


I'll take my medicine and treatments from sources that have tested that they are actually better than placebo, rather than sources that refuse to do any testing at all.

Of course there is a lot or rubbish around and it is easy to throw your money away on some very dubious therapries.

Why is one form of acupuncture or homeopathy more rubbish than another form if neither have been tested in a double blind controlled study?

 
On 2/7/09, 6:00 PM , Anonymous said...

Posting life expectancy data without properly addressing the differences in the local situation is pretty misleading. Aside from medical doctrines, other factors play a bigger role in determining how long a person lives...factors such as war, over population, collapse of civil order .etc.

You have to remember that from the beginning of the 20th century all the way up to the 50's China was in a state of turmoil. The constant internal warfare and the invasion by Japan that screwed over traditionally more populated/wealthier regions of China's east is something that you failed to consider before you posted your life expectancy data.

Meanwhile, North America was safe from war and the problems associated with over population and such.

Next time, be a bit more objective.

 
On 2/7/09, 6:37 PM , Techskeptic said...

Hmm perhaps you could be more specific in what you are talking about. Im unsure of how you call us safe from war when we have been in multiple warsduring the 1900's. Alsowe have experienced significant pandemics and economic turmoils just like china. Further could you point out how many people died from wars in china in order to make your point?

I also dont understand how you can put blame on overpopulation when the population is higher in china now than ever, and yet, only after the introduction of western medicine did the lifespan significantly rise as I outlined above.

So with a lower population than now, "ancient chinese medicine" was giving a lifespan of about 25-30.

I don't mind being objective or learning, but you gotta at least try to back up what you are saying with some specific information.

 
On 2/8/09, 3:02 PM , Anonymous said...

I'm not a walking history book, so I can't provide you with all of the information. But if you're interested, you can easily look that up yourself. Having said that, here are some things to back up what I say. I don't have time to provide sources, but they're all over the net and easy to find.

Before I start, here are some numbers:

Total Population: 517,568,000
Military Deaths: 3,800,000
Civilian Deaths: 16,200,000
Total Deaths: 20,000,000

These numbers are from Wikipedia, and give you a pretty good idea as to how many people was lost during the Japanese invasion.


In order to objectively analyze the effect of population on health, you also have to take into consideration the economic and political situation of the particular era. For example, 1 million people living in a flattened war-zone will live in much worse conditions than 2 million people living in the same area and under peaceful conditions with abundant natural resources available.

I agree, that the US suffered many hardships during the same period. The Great Depression was one of them. The US also sent many soldiers abroad to take part in the brutal fighting. However, the US never really had a powerful foreign force set foot on its soil. Yes, there was Pearl Harbor, but that's nothing when you think about how much could have been lost if millions of foreign troops landed on the shores and started rampaging all over the American East.

Although America lost much, it never lost its industrial centers, agricultural base, and infrastructure. All of those things that are necessary for the sustaining of a healthy civilization were in place and left relatively untouched. You can contrast this with what China had to go through.

Remember, at the beginning of the invasion China had not even emerged out of a long struggle internally. Things went down hill since the slow crumbling of the last imperial dynasty. Foreign invasion (8 nation alliance) and internal rebellions brought it down, and the warlords that rose out of that turmoil further ravaged the country.

So what we are really looking at is a long period of strife and warfare that transcend the clear-cut time period of the second Sino-Japanese War. Under these conditions, how well do you think 500 million people were living? Especially in the war torn, more densely-populated regions of China's East?


I am in no way saying that western medicine did not make the Chinese healthy. In fact, I'm certain it helped a lot. However, your argument that the more traditional medical approaches are inferior and prevented the goodness of western medicine to fully take root sooner is flawed. You did not give the full picture, but only a small part of it. You did not take into account the degree to which the rebuilding of a nation from the ashes of most of a century of conflict helped to restore the health of the Chinese population.


I hope this is more helpful.

 
On 2/12/09, 9:09 PM , Techskeptic said...

Welcome back,

OK first off, yes you are right, using one single metric to prove a concept is not sufficient in and of itself. However lifepan data along with the fact that virtually all of these "ancient medicines" have not been able to pass controlled double blind tests should make you question its provenance and in the end your belief in its efficacy.

Now to your message, I wish you linked to your data but I found it, and will discuss it as is.

In order to objectively analyze the effect of population on health, you also have to take into consideration the economic and political situation of the particular era. For example, 1 million people living in a flattened war-zone will live in much worse conditions than 2 million people living in the same area and under peaceful conditions with abundant natural resources available.

OK after eliminating the 20 million who died in that particular war, why doesnt ancient chinese medicine work if the economy is bad? You dont need fancy medical equipment, you dont need special well researched drugs. You just need some pins, some leaves from local flora and a lot of wishful thinking. So if ancient Chinese methods worked you would expect the remaining population to have long lifespans in the following years. And yet they do not. They have life spans you can expect with strife and poor medical technology, and poor understanding of germ theory. As late as the 1950s, over a decade after the Japanese invasion the average lifespan was 35. Not a good indicator of an effective medical system.

 
On 5/3/09, 11:15 PM , Anonymous said...

I think what buffy was trying to get at with "allopathic medicine treats symptoms only" is that allopathic does not cure the disease. It does only fight symptoms. Does removal of a doomed organ cure the disease? Does killing off cancer cells mean that the cancer will go away?

The answer to those and similar questions is no. Allopathic medicine simply gives the immune system/body more time to heal/cure itself by killing off as much of the intruder as possible. And what homeopathic medicine tries to do is speed up that process by boosting it.

 
On 5/6/09, 6:40 PM , Techskeptic said...

If "allopathic" medicine doesn't cure diseases, what does? Are you claiming that any CAM method at all cures a disease? If so, please list one., using the same criteria you use from evidence based medicine. Why doesn't removal of a failed organ (or transplant of one) cure that disease? Are you saying that Smallpox is still a danger? How about severed fingers? Shall we pour water on them and hope they grow back? Or shall we cure the problem by sewing it back on? Of course there are many diseass the evidence based medicine doesn't cure, but there are a great number that it does.

Contrast that with something as "benign" as homeopathy. The only thing it cures is thirst. Why? Because homeopathy is water and relying on water to cure disease that are treatable by evidence based medicine will lead to death. Trusting water to cure even diseases that are not life threatening with EBM, literally kills children and adults alike. So don't give me this crap that homeopathy does anything or isn't harmful. People die when they are told to forgo evidence based medicine when they have easily treatable conditions, like asthma and eczema.

Homeopaths and other CAM artists love to claim that their form of "medicine" has no side effect and is very safe. Yes, placebo will do that. That very statement completely ignores the risk benefit that goes into modern medicine. For example, heart failure. Shall we drink water? Or shall we do a risky surgery that only has a 40% survival rate, knowing there is a 0% survival rate if we use water.

Yeah, no thanks. I like the scientific method for how my medicine is deduced. Not stuff people just make up.

 
On 11/16/09, 10:49 AM , Michael said...

As a demographer perhaps I may be able to add to the evidence.

It was, as has been pointed out, incorrect of TechSkeptic to simply compare the graphs of life expectancy for China, India and the United States and subsequently arrive at the conclusions about traditional Chinese medicine.

It is also equally, if not more, incorrect to try to make comparisons simply on numbers of deaths (such as those the anonymous commenter gives regarding deaths that took place during the Japanese invasion). It is vital to account for differences in the age structure. For example, the crude death rate in Sweden is around double that of Iran (according to both the UN and the CIA). Why? Because there is a much greater proportion of old people living in Sweden than in Iran.

It would have been particularly revealing if some other countries had been included in the graph. Countries such as England, France and Belgium were also highly affected by recent destructive warfare as of 1950 (which is when the Chinese data-series presented here begins). I only have data for England in front of me (here they are); life expectancy in 1950 even then was 66 years for males and 72 years for females. Even more interesting would be a comparison with Japan, where life expectancy has gone from being not much higher than China in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War (and far behind that of western Europe) to currently the highest in the world - largely through improved medical care (where scientific advances were more readily accepted by traditional practitioners) as well as improved nutritional standards (including a lack of uptake of a high-fat "western" diet), income, and the nature of social relationships (Source: this excellent paper by Prof. Michael Marmot). We don't see high-street shops offering Traditional Japanese Medicine to quite the same extent as Chinese (though it does exist: it's called Kampo, apparently). On the whole, this extra evidence leads me to agree with TechSkeptic's conclusions.

It should also be noted that these figures don't actually mean that "a boy born in England in 1950 is expected to live 66 years". These data use mortality data from a snapshot in time (i.e. everyone in the year 1950) to calculate how long a new-born child would live if they experienced the death rates that prevailed in the time and the place in which they were born - this is called "period life expectancy". The same is true of the US, China and India data presented here. Cohort life expectancy, which actually follows the mortality of people born in the same year through time, is different, and is harder to measure. It is also impossible to measure for cohorts that have not completely died out yet (which is one reason why we can safely assume that the data presented here are not cohort life expectancies).

A couple more technical points for TechSkeptic:

The use of the term "life span" as a substitute for life expectancy is incorrect. "Life span" has a very specific definition: the maximum possible length of time it is possible to live. These terms are commonly confused - as they are currently on Wikipedia!

When giving data for life expectancy, you should be clear about whether you're talking about males, females, or both together. It is usually preferable not to lump both sexes together, as there are differences between genders not just in life expectancy, but in patterns of mortality by age and age-structure as well. If you had to pick one I would suggest males (as male life expectancy is still lower and more variable between countries and/or social groups than females - recent trends in life expectancy in Russia make for very interesting reading).

 
On 11/16/09, 11:10 AM , Techskeptic said...

Michael,

Thank you for your reasoned comment. I think there was some confusion of what my actual point was between you and the previous commenter, however your particular eyes on my post is educational for me.

The basic point is this. the claims of TCM is that it is better than evidence based medicine. But in order to claim "better" you have to define by what standard. I think Life expectancy is the best aggregate standard to use (although certainly some though has to be put into the quality of life in the later years, but that is a different post).

in order for TCM to be better, there has to be evidence that it is better. By using the metric I put forth, there isn't any, and the previpous commenter didnt provide a new one.

So the entire point war or no war, plague or no plague, there is no evidence to suggest that TCM is better, or even better than doing nothing since the thousands of years before the life expectancy measurements yielded the same span as any other mode of medicine, such as doing nothing, ancient greek medicine, blood lettting and so forth.

I apologize for my conflation of "Life Span" and "Life Expectancy". I truly didnt know there was an actual difference, although hope this post didn't get flipped around by that mistake, I dont think it does. I frequently encounter similar conflation between power and energy, and theory and hypothesis. Thank you for finding a new one that will bother me for the rest of my life.

In this entire post, when I say "life span" or "life expectancy" its for both men and women.

Thank you for your corrections.

 
On 11/17/09, 11:03 AM , Michael said...

No problem. I don't think your argument gets flipped around when you correct the conflation of life span and life expectancy, as the error is essentially only cosmetic.

Similarly I don't think your argument falls down if you were to include more countries with more comparable contextual characteristics - in fact, quite the reverse.

 
On 1/6/10, 12:55 AM , IVF Clinic India said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

 
On 3/28/10, 10:15 AM , WesternWilson said...

When researching the issue of chelation therapy for my dad (I had to prove to him it was bunkum, and turns out it is), I came across a neat study that in looking at chelation (which it revealed as worse than useless)turned up a "therapy response", to whit that patients across the board felt much better simply by interacting with a caring health care provider. It didn't matter what accreditation the provider had, it simply mattered that they were perceived as caring.

So for anyone feeling any ill health effects at all, surrounding yourself with interested, caring people who support your quest for good health will yield a benefit to how you feel, if not a benefit in terms of deeper, physiological healing. This would be especially worthwhile for anyone whose condition is either not treatable or those who in spite of treatment will not recover. At least they could reap the benefits of feeling better.

 
On 3/28/10, 4:54 PM , Techskeptic said...

Western,

There have been a number of studies like that, and they all say the same thing. Think of how good science based medicine could be if the docs also had the time to spend with patients, like placebo based medicine does. For acupuncture you generally get 30 minutes to and hour of talking about yuor problems with someone who is comforting you and touching you. For homeopathy you generally answer huge lists of questions for the so-called customized water. Reiki, tapping, even chiropractic are all similar.

Meanwhile, at least in america, surgeons and doctors are compensated by maximizing the number of patients they see in a day. Everyone gets late and everyone gets a concentrated and fast once over.

 
On 5/6/10, 2:08 PM , Anonymous said...

hi

 
On 5/6/10, 2:10 PM , buy viagra said...

hello friend ... this blog is excellent .... explains how acupuncture was created and where. also lets us know how it works. thanks for sharing this information.

 
On 5/6/10, 2:11 PM , Anonymous said...

hi

 
On 7/16/10, 2:59 PM , retirement homes in costa rica said...

thanks for all!!
retirement homes in costa rica

 
On 9/14/10, 3:29 PM , Firesales Costa Rica said...

These articles are fantastic; the information you show us is interesting for everybody and is really good written. It’s just great!!

 
On 10/23/10, 12:24 AM , lvbagmall said...

wow all those garments are so amazing and fabulous I don't come to your blog as often as I would like, but whenever I do I see some really amazing things keep up the good work! =)

 
On 11/20/10, 12:46 AM , Monogram Denim said...

Totally perfect for your current life-state. Congrats on your move and I hope it is a dream!

 
On 12/6/10, 8:15 AM , Anonymous said...

Oh my, such a spectacle.

1. You argument can be paraphrased thusly: We discovered sanitation and antibiotics before the Chinese, leading to increased life-spans. Therefore, Chinese medicine is totally bogus.

This is me showing incredible egotistical restraint and not typing any of the myriad mockeries that come to mind. I think your, uh, 'argument' speaks for itself.

Hmm let's see if I can make this easy enough ... One belief was held for a long time but it was wrong (blood-letting) therefore, your belief (insert any/all alternative medicines here) that has been held a long time is also wrong. The answer, of course, is: "but blood-letting is different". Why? Well, it has individually been disproved, and because it was wrong 5 seconds after it was invented, let alone 500 years. The only conclusion you can reach from this is that time is irrelevant to truth values. Anyone's whose brain isn't busy imploding with self-importance can see that if the length of time a belief has been held is not relevant in _believing_ it, then neither is it of any importance in _disbelieving_ it. But you have an agenda to keep and you can't let simple logic get in your way, I do understand that.

Lastly, I imagine the OP as a contemporary of Louis Pasteur, on hearing him lecture about his theory of germs: BWAHAHHAHAHA hear that everyone!? GERMS??(QI??)Little INVISIBLE bugs?? This fool wants us to believe in something we can't SEE!(measure) I am educated enough to know that if something really exists, you can SEE it. He's a mystic! A kook! Thrilled with his own grand modern intellect(strangely enough, much like the intellectuals of today, the intellectuals of that time also already knew everything), he runs about the village posting little papers saying ME = SMART PASTEUR=DUMB and holding forums inviting the germ-believers to speak so he can stand on a stage and call them names and ask them to show him their magical fairy bugs or shut up, all the while being covered with and surrounded by billions of magical fairy bugs himself.

Grow up kid. Know how many scientific truths were never inexplicable, immeasurable, unseen, or laughed at by 'know-it-alls' before they 'became' truths? Zero. Thank God science is occasionally blessed with minds that don't 'think' like you do, which is when progress happens. What I want to know is how on earth a reason-based society is _still_ producing these incredibly immature "all-right" "all-wrong" if we don't already know it it doesn't exist mentalities. Sheeeesh.

 
On 12/6/10, 8:16 AM , Anonymous said...

Oh my, such a spectacle.

1. You argument can be paraphrased thusly: We discovered sanitation and antibiotics before the Chinese, leading to increased life-spans. Therefore, Chinese medicine is totally bogus.

This is me showing incredible egotistical restraint and not typing any of the myriad mockeries that come to mind. I think your, uh, 'argument' speaks for itself.

Hmm let's see if I can make this easy enough ... One belief was held for a long time but it was wrong (blood-letting) therefore, your belief (insert any/all alternative medicines here) that has been held a long time is also wrong. The answer, of course, is: "but blood-letting is different". Why? Well, it has individually been disproved, and because it was wrong 5 seconds after it was invented, let alone 500 years. The only conclusion you can reach from this is that time is irrelevant to truth values. Anyone's whose brain isn't busy imploding with self-importance can see that if the length of time a belief has been held is not relevant in _believing_ it, then neither is it of any importance in _disbelieving_ it. But you have an agenda to keep and you can't let simple logic get in your way, I do understand that.

Lastly, I imagine the OP as a contemporary of Louis Pasteur, on hearing him lecture about his theory of germs: BWAHAHHAHAHA hear that everyone!? GERMS??(QI??)Little INVISIBLE bugs?? This fool wants us to believe in something we can't SEE!(measure) I am educated enough to know that if something really exists, you can SEE it. He's a mystic! A kook! Thrilled with his own grand modern intellect(strangely enough, much like the intellectuals of today, the intellectuals of that time also already knew everything), he runs about the village posting little papers saying ME = SMART PASTEUR=DUMB and holding forums inviting the germ-believers to speak so he can stand on a stage and call them names and ask them to show him their magical fairy bugs or shut up, all the while being covered with and surrounded by billions of magical fairy bugs himself.

 
On 12/6/10, 8:19 AM , Anonymous said...

Oh come on, I can't delete my own post? I get an "error post too long" message twice, cut it down then suddenly all three are up there : P

 
On 1/18/11, 10:59 AM , Anonymous said...

hello

 
On 5/6/11, 11:34 AM , Learn Sexual Health said...

excellent

 
On 6/13/11, 5:20 PM , free online games said...

hi sir, thanks