Metaphysical medicine (e.g. homeopathy, chiropractic, etc.) is getting more attention these days, even though there is still no evidence it does what it claims to. Unfortunately, practitioners of various “alternative medicines” have been able to convince people that what they do “works,” and increasingly, even serious medicial practitioners — i.e. people who know better — are finding they have to adopt it, otherwise, patients will think they don’t “care” or something.

The latest medical corps to adopt metaphysical medicine, is the Air Force, which will train combat doctors in a specific form of acupuncture in the field, as the AP reports:

Now the Air Force, which runs the military’s only acupuncture clinic, is training doctors to take acupuncture to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. A pilot program starting in March will prepare 44 Air Force, Navy and Army doctors to use acupuncture as part of emergency care in combat and in frontline hospitals, not just on bases back home.

They will learn “battlefield acupuncture,” a method [physician Col. Richard] Niemtzow developed in 2001 that’s derived from traditional ear acupuncture but uses the short needles to better fit under combat helmets so soldiers can continue their missions with the needles inserted to relieve pain. The needles are applied to five points on the outer ear. Niemtzow says most of his patients say their pain decreases within minutes.

The idea that “acupuncture works”s is belied by the fact that it does not appear to work any better than placebo. The truth about acupuncture is that it is no more effective than doling out sugar pills:

What is not so clear to some people, but is easily ferreted out from the evidence, is that acupuncture most likely works by classical conditioning and other factors that are often lumped together and referred to as “the placebo effect.” Furthermore, in some cases sham acupuncture works better than other placebos.

The placebo effect is widely misunderstood and its power misinterpreted; I suggest reading more about it if you wish to know more. Basically it is not merely the power of “mind over body” (which many alternative-medicine practitioners talk about); it can also include things like spontaneous remission, the illness or injury running its course, and more.

Acupuncture is said to work by changing the flow of something known as “chi” (sometimes spelled qi) that is presumed to follow minuscule channels known as “meridians.” Its practitioners happily assert this repeatedly, as though it’s authoritatively true and verified — but the cold hard fact is that, despite the many different ways we now have to image the human body (X-rays, PET scans, MRIs, etc.), no one — and I do mean no one — has ever managed to show any qi flowing along any meridian, ever, anywhere inside of any human being. How anyone can spend money on a fraudulently-promoted practice, is simply unbelievable … and that the United States Air Force would train combat doctors in its use, is inexcusable.

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