Taxpayers funding pricks (so what’s new?)

I would have ignored this, except someone’s grabbing my tax dollars, via the Food and Health Bureau’s Health and Medical Research Fund: Chinese University researchers say acupuncture can help elderly people with cognitive impairment.

I’m sure it can. Whenever I run into the blank wall of cognitive impairment myself, I always find a cold shower, or just a pinch on the upper arm, does wonders; why shouldn’t a slight jab with a pin do the trick?

Of course, that’s what not the Chinese U people mean. They are using public funds allocated by politically correct officials in an attempt to prove that acupuncture, applied by officially certified Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, actually works.

I could have saved them the money and assured them that it is, indeed, effective.

But there’s a snag. ‘Sham acupuncture’ performed by genuine, honest charlatans or researchers using scientific testing methods works just as well. (‘Sham’ techniques include applying needles to the ‘wrong’ location on the body, or making patients think needles are being applied when they’re not.) What’s working is the placebo effect. This occurs in science-based medicine too, which is why real, qualified, MD-type (‘Western’) doctors have been known to hand out harmless, inert pills as part of their own rituals to make troublesome patients feel better and go away. (All you could ever want to know here.)

As it says here:

…acupuncture’s origin is that of a healing ritual within a belief system. As such, it is not science … it is not the actual implantation of needles that makes people feel better … People feel better because of the attention, the care, the relaxing atmosphere … Practitioners thrive on the personal anecdotes of happy patients.

And don’t we know it? Even intelligent, educated people who have experienced, or at least perceived, relief following consultation with some sort of voodoo-witchdoctor ‘alternative medicine’ quack, seem happy to attribute the result to supernatural forces. (At least their paranormal healers use the placebo effect and not the nocebo.)

Rational explanations are presumably not acceptable to Chinese U’s peddlers of mysticism, with their serious-looking charts showing meridians and flows of qi, and their desire for government research grants. They want to masquerade as technical, empirical Nobel Prize types with letters after their name, so they regale us with details of sticking their needles in scientific-sounding points on the torso called ‘GV20 (Baihui), GB20 (Fengchi), EX-HN1 (Sishenchong) and KI3 (Taixi)’. (‘Retention of dampness and phlegm in the middle energizer’, ‘hyperactivity of liver yang’, etc – this is medieval.)

Note that they claim to be tackling mild cognitive impairment. No doubt this disorder can, as they mention, lead to dementia (which must start off as something less bad). Moving further back down the spectrum, it must also merge with momentary lapses of the ‘where did I leave my keys?’ variety, and I just bet the whole condition is impossible to measure objectively or accurately.

The methodology of this research seems to have involved a grand sample of seven 65-79-year-olds receiving 24 sessions over eight weeks. That’s three get-togethers a week with those nice young people from Shatin, who were so bubbly and cheerful (and delighted someone was taking their ‘Chinese Medicine’ diplomas seriously), handing out cookies and cups of tea. I’m sure two months of that would make any old biddy feel better. Or younger ones. Why, for two pins (haha) I’d sign up for phase two of the ‘pilot clinical project’ myself. I’d least I’d get a cup of tea for my tax dollars.

Use acupuncture on chickens to eradicate H7N9, and I’ll be impressed.


On the subject of cognitive impairment, Commerce and Economic Development Lunatic Greg So and other insentient promoters of the giant blood-sucking tourism monster may like to consult a couple of links kindly donated yesterday: Alice Poon’s prescient warning, and all the mind-boggling locust-smuggler Yakult-mayhem-frenzy action you could ever want, coming to you live from Sheung Shui.



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19 Responses to Taxpayers funding pricks (so what’s new?)

  1. Occam says:

    Absolutely spot on! When I heard the breathless RTHK report about this yesterday my eyes nearly rolled out of my head. Some degree of scientific literacy might be an advantage for reporting this sort of stuff.

    A sample size of seven. The “study” wasn’t blinded or controlled, and now they’re wanting to expand it. If you read about their plans you can see there is still no plan for control or blinding, perhaps because they’ve already decided it works.

    And to think that this BS is comes from a school that is actually within the Faculty of Medicine at CUHK. Disgrace.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go and deal with my Liver Wind stirring internally;

  2. Mary Hinge says:

    What I found weirdly amusing about the H7N9 saga was the unusually swift, decisive government process in ruling out the seemingly sensible suggestion of building a separate facility for mainland poultry (whereas HK has no recorded disease in its chickens as yet).

    “We just haven’t got enough room!” was one of the reasons given by the Health Secretary, without a hint of irony. Perhaps, having witnessed the tourism industry being so successful in grabbing up space, this is a man who knows his coups from his coops.

    Could one of the reasons which might be underlying that incredibly rapid executive decision be that once you’ve sanctioned aparthied on the potentially diseased mainland chickens, separating them from the far superior, clean HK stock, it indirectly reflects poorly on the Glorious Motherland?

  3. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    熱氣 (yit hei) or hot air is something that I avoided before coming to Hong Kong. However, like many who contribute to this blog I’m increasingly suffering this local malady.

  4. Maugrim says:

    Mary, woe bedtide HK when it’s the humans from the North that are believed to be spreading such pathogens . Good luck in our “government”. Being able to do anything about that .

  5. Is it the placebo effect that sends a sharp tingle like an electric shock all along my arm or leg when an acupuncture needle is inserted at a certain point? Just wondering. While you are correct about both the lack of scientific method here and the absurdity of the explanations given for certain phenomena, that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the phenomena themselves. And whatever the arguments about acupuncture, there is no doubt that herbal remedies deserve scientific study – indeed, that is how many of our common drugs were discovered.

  6. reductio says:

    Ref the acupuncture. I think it’s more than possible that the stimulation of certain nerves could have generally predictive clinical outcomes. The theory is a load of baloney for sure (maybe the qi force is the dark energy that physicists and astronomers are investigating? I Don’t think so) But the content of a theory can be wrong but it can still give correct answers, just not for the reasons its practitioners think it does. E.g there is no “force” of gravity, its the result of warped spacetime, but engineers and scientists use Newton’s Law of Gravitational attraction for very accurate results. Maybe the theory of acupuncture is like this. The biggest problem with acupuncture and all alternative medical treatments is overcoming the placebo and other similar effects. It’s a bit difficult to hide the fact someone is sticking a needle in your skin.

  7. Big Al says:

    When we had an outbreak of bird ‘flu’ in 2008, government decided to build a poultry slaughtering centre in Sheung Shui for mainland poultry, which comes over the border nearby. Of course, when the crisis passed, they shelved the idea for a number of reasons that they’ll now have to refute (see The site on Man Kam To Road is still there and still empty. No space my arse.
    Speaking of lame government, last the night the Secretary for the Environment was quizzed as to why Shek Kwu Chau was still the preferred site for the incinerator, when anyone with half a brain (which counts out most of our officials) thinks it should be located on a landfill site. He replied (i) the idea to put it there wasn’t his idea, it was the previous administration’s, and (ii) there’s not enough time to find another spot because it takes TWENTY YEARS to plan for major infrastructure like this. What a load of bollocks. Remind me again how long it took to start building the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge once the current configuration was given the thumbs up? How long is it going to take to build the third runway at the airport? That guy is total cocksucker. No wonder the environment in Hong Kong is crap.

  8. Maugrim says:

    Speaking of Governmental cock suckers, add Eddie Ng to the list. The guy trumpets a new policy and spending initiative in the form of free kindergarten education nearly 2 years ago, however the nuts and bolts have a further 2 years of discussion to go. Please spare me the excuses.

  9. Sojourner says:

    Spot on, hemlock.

    Acupuncture, like virtually all Homeopathic remedies, is pure quackery. If the placebo effect is a valid rationale for medical practice then I’d prefer to have a ju-ju man from equatorial Guinea, clad in bling of bones, do a ceremonial chant around my inert body whilst chanting recondite charms.

  10. Jason90 says:

    The Chinese Medicine trials are all carefully designed to provide no result – as Occam comments – this study was not blinded or controlled – and they never are.
    Typically the pilot has no control, but, given the ‘success’ the larger study will be to compare one form of Chinese medicine against another – always without a placebo arm or an arm using the most widely accepted form of treatment.
    The SCMP usually reports these studies breathlessly.
    The funding bodies should be holding the Chinese Medicine trials to the same standards of scientific and ethical rigour as they do Western Medicine – but clearly they are not…
    A short visit to will reveal that traditional medicines are often adulterated with chemicals – often steroids.

  11. Headache says:

    Private Beach, it might be the fact that a fucking metal needle has just been inserted in your fucking arm.

  12. Wackford says:

    With open mind I gave needles, suction cups and double boiled weeds a try a couple of times with no noticeable result. Much as I would like to believe in its effectiveness, I think any merit that may have evolved over the centuries is mostly now lost by today’s unprincipled practices; quacks, contamination, cheap substitutes. So, agreed it’s a placebo supporting a buckling health care system.
    Some excellent reporting from the ground in NT tipped by Nulle yesterday. Should be daily required viewing for policy makers.
    Hemmers for cerebral analysis, Sheung Shui amateur reporters for nitty gritty reality.

  13. Joe Blow says:

    I am deeply into boob massaging, and it works. Also: ear candling.

  14. Cerebos says:

    So every year Martin Luther King day comes and goes and every year I toy with the idea of posting my attempt at a Hong Kong version of his “I have a dream…” speech as a constructive list of policy changes that would improve the lives of the majority without impugning the reality of “one country two systems”. Here goes:

    1) Creation of an independent Competition Authority (with teeth) modelled on that of the EU or US. No special exemptions.

    2) Direct subsidy education option for all permanent residents. Extension of ESF subvention to many more schools. A cap on fees. Means tested tertiary education.

    3) Means tested healthcare for permanent residents. Visitors charged in-line with private sector for non-emergency treatment. A&E remains close to free ($100) for all persons in the territory.

    4) HKSAR passport open to all ethnicities who pass PR criteria.

    5a) Much higher duty / taxes on any property that is not a family’s primary residence.
    5b)End of the small house / deng / first-born indigenous villager property racket.
    5c) Amnesty on all illegal structures in return for everyone playing by the rules thereafter.

    Is this really too much to ask for? Feel free to append/amend.

    Kung Hei Fat Choi to one and all. Hemlock and your comments are a much treasured high point of my days. Thank you.

  15. Joe Blow says:

    Talking about saints:

    MLK was a womanizer. He was probably “dreaming” about Jayne Mansfield.

    Gandhi was a South African lawyer who didn’t give a f*ck about the blacks.

    Mandela was a womanizer as well. His main accomplishment was that the spent a lot of time on Robben Island. He and his family did really well out of his $$$ainthood.

  16. A Small Voice says:

    Thank you Cerebos for your list. It’s a start and I will be giving it thought. I enjoy this blog but although some of the commenters seem not to be idiots the comments can be very arsey. If you’re not happy with the current state of affairs make some suggestions. Please.

  17. Xiaoyao says:

    Really informative links yesterday, much appreciated. A real eye-opener for those of us who don’t frequent Sheung Shui and Fanling.

    HK’s TCM lobby seems to have benefited from political affirmative-action favoritism by science ignoramuses decades ago and is now almost as deeply ensconced as the Heung Yee Kok. It’s appalling that TCM is actually part of the university curriculum but at this stage probably nothing can be done about it.

  18. @Maugrim – Unsteady Eddie’s already been on the list since the National Education fiasco.

    @Headache – the particular effect I’m talking about occurs when the needle is inserted at a specific point, not just at random. Reductio’s comment makes sense to me.

    @Cerebos – can we add the word “safe” before “illegal”? Otherwise your suggestion may literally bring the house down!

    @Joe Blow – I think Mandela can be credited with a little more than that, though Desmond Tutu deserves at least half the credit for averting the kind of decline arising from racial conflict that has ruined Zimbabwe’s economy.

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