Study: Fake acupuncture finds no evidence for Chi!


The above is the sort of headline that hasn’t been in the media in the last month after the flurry of announcements about a German study into acupuncture. The general trend has been:

  • “Study: Acupuncture works for back pain”
  • “Research: Acupuncture works better than Western medicine”
  • “News” Acupuncture most successful back treatment”

If you want to find the news articles just Google +”Dr. Heinz Endres” +acupuncture.

The article they are referring to isn’t easily available nor free unless you have access to a medical library. However you can find an article that covers the same group of studies here.

This paper covers both back pain and knee pain, results basically the same.

And here is the real story. 🙂 This is one of those moments in life when the persistence to follow up a story and read some pretty dull medical articles pays off BIG TIME.

Although it wasn’t clear exactly what trial the media was reporting, there were 4 in the GERAC trials, I was curious about the statistical power of the results. Knowing a mean is sort of useless unless you know the variation about the mean , I was after the standard deviations, standard error or even better the p value for statistical significance of the results.

And there they are, on page 7 of the above mentioned paper:

“Treatment success, defined as a reduction of the WOMAC score by 36% or more, occurred in 53.1% of the verum acupuncture patients, 51.0% of the sham acupuncture patients, and 29.1% of the patients treated with standard therapy. After removal of non-responders from the data analysis, the corresponding figures were 34.7%, 37.3%, and 10.1%, respectively. Verum and sham acupuncture both had a significantly better outcome than standard therapy (p<0.001 for both) but did not differ from each other (p = 0.479). “

Now I won’t go into their dodgy way of defining success as it’s a bit moot considering that the difference between acupuncture and sham was not significant. It’s also to note that sham did better than the real thing when the non-responders where removed but it’s not significant. This is the real news story, the one that all the professional papers and media outlets missed. And here are the researchers in their own words stating what they found:

“The lack of superiority of verum over sham acupuncture puts the major assumptions of
traditional Chinese medicine in question, in particular with regard to the choice of acupuncture points, the depth of puncture (sham acupuncture was no more than 3 mm deep), and the stimulation of the needles to obtain a feeling of de qi, which was not performed in the sham acupuncture group”

In summary: Qui, energy lines and the basis for traditional acupuncture is total bullshit. It doesn’t matter where or how you stick the needles.

Sticking needles into your body might do something as this trial has shown but the reasons are most likely more mundane and , shock horror, based on what we know about the human body and mind, not some bizarre friggin idea that has as much reality as opium den hallucinations.

And did any of the major media organisations point this out?

Did any of them read the article to see the authors own concerns about their design?

Did any of them even question there might be a novelty effect because none of the people had tried acupuncture before and all had a long history of failed traditional care?

Did any of them care? No, of course not. They are just part of the problem and promote ignorance. Welcome to the 21st century…

I won’t even mention that “all patients were informed before agreeing to participate in the study that they would be entitled to ten free acupuncture sessions after its termination..”

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One Comment on “Study: Fake acupuncture finds no evidence for Chi!”

  1. […] skepticssa wrote a fantastic post today on “Study: Fake acupuncture proves Chi doesnât exist!”Here’s ONLY a quick extractI won’t even mention that “all patients were informed before agreeing to participate in the study that they would be entitled to ten free acupuncture sessions after its termination..” […]


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