Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sharp Pointy Things

You may know that I’ve been having neck, headache, and what I like to call “stabby stabby head ow crap” pain for a few months now. I seem to have some soft tissue or muscle damage to my neck which is causing the other symptoms. I’ve been using over-the-counter ibuprofen, codeine and paracetamol (in varying combinations) to control the pain. The pain isn’t crippling; most of the time it’d be a 1 or 2 out of 10, but when the stabby-stabby head pains come in it’s really… um, painful.

I’ve been concerned about taking the daily limit of these over-the-counter meds for so long, so have resorted to patronizing a well-intentioned charlatan, aka the “alternative medicine” species of witchdoctor. Specifically, an acupuncturist.

I’m quite, quite skeptical about “alternative” medicine. Conventional medicine is science-based; i.e. find what works, test the results, get other qualified people to independently verify your findings, and you have a scientific result. Drug X works 80% of the time? Fine, that’s a pretty good result and worth the time to look at it further. Has that result been repeated in other studies by other people? If not, there’s a fairly big question mark over it. If the result cannot be verified by other independent researchers achieving the same result, it becomes non-science; it’s been demonstrated to be unproven and unrepeatable, as the “cold fusion” experiments of a few years ago became, because they could not be repeated by other researchers.

(This, by the way, is why we see so many conflicting media articles claiming that everything from coffee to caltrops will kill you stone dead yesterday; they’re reporting one, repeat one, published study which has not yet, and may well never be, independently verified by other researchers, and thus, is not as yet established science. This is also why scientists accept as fact Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and the Theory of Evolution. “Theory” in scientific parlance is a statement, or set of statements, supported by a huge body of good, solid empirical evidence from numbers of people working wholly independently of each other, and that predict what, given a particular set of circumstances, will occur next. Check Link. The Theory of Evolution is actually a tested, sound, and empirically verifiable model that explains and predicts genetic drift and mutation.)

Having the needles inserted into my feet, hands, eyebrow and scalp didn’t hurt; they’re so fine that unless you knew it was happening, you wouldn’t really notice. Cue some soft Chinese music and my friendly witchdoctor (quite a nice guy, and I’m not just saying so because he’s heavily into martial arts and could whip my pudgy self without breaking a sweat) departed into the next room to make some phone calls. He’s trying to recruit a front-desk person but doesn’t have one just now.

I finished the session without the headache that had plagued me all day, but no noticeable difference in my neck, which is the source of my woes. I’ve had better results from using a heat pack, and that’s infinitely preferable to shelling out a hundred bucks for some guy to stick needles into me. Oh, and I’m definitely not taking the Chinese herbs he gave me until I can check them out and get some proper medical advice. “It’s okay, they’re herbal.” Yeah, and so is quinine, mescaline and heroin.

Did someone say “trepanation”? No, I’m not that desperate.


Jed said...

You wrote:

". . . it’s been demonstrated to be unproven and unrepeatable, as the 'cold fusion' experiments of a few years ago became, because they could not be repeated by other researchers."

That is incorrect. Cold fusion was replicated at over 200 world-class laboratories such as Los Alamos and China Lake, and these replications have been published in long-established, mainstream, peer reviewed journals such as Jap. J. Applied Physics and Naturwissenschaften.

Our web site features a bibliography of 3,500 cold fusion papers and 600 full text papers. See:

- Jed Rothwell

Tim Lamb said...

Thanks for your comment, but I'd have to dispute that the Pons and Fleischmann experiments have been reliably reproduced. As such we have to count them as remaining unproven. I'd have to agree that there's some good evidence of reproducible effects that bear closer scrutiny, but currently the hypothesis has to remain, at best, extremely doubtful.

Jed said...

Tim Lamb wrote:

"Thanks for your comment, but I'd have to dispute that the Pons and Fleischmann experiments have been reliably reproduced."

Here is what you must do to "dispute" this assertion:

1. Read a large selection of papers from major labs. Say, 250 papers.

2. Find errors in these papers.

3. Write a scientific paper describing there errors, and then have it peer-reviewed and published in a major journal, such as Jap. J. Applied Physics.

If you cannot do that, then you are not capable of "disputing" the results. A negative interpretation of the experimental results must be presented with as much rigor as the positive interpretations put forth by the authors. Bear in mind, there are about a thousand of these authors and most of them are distinguished experts in their field. They include, for example, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry; the director of BARC and later chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission; Prof. Melvin Miles, Fellow of China Lake; three editors of major plasma fusion and physics journals; and three Nobel laureates.

I think it is unlikely that you know more about physics and chemistry than these people do. But perhaps you do. To prove this, you must publish a paper. Everyone in must be held to the same standard. A negative view does not get a free pass.

"As such we have to count them as remaining unproven."

That is not how the scientific method works. When an effect has been widely replicated at a high signal to noise ratio, we have to accept that it is real. Experimental evidence is the only standard of truth in science.

". . . but currently the hypothesis has to remain, at best, extremely doubtful."

It is not a hypothesis; it is an observation. There are no valid reasons why anyone should doubt it. If there were, the skeptics would have published them years ago. Note that skeptics have only published 5 or 10 papers. You can read most of them at See Morrison, for example.

- Jed Rothwell