Woo and Cold Reading


I had to fire a doctor I’d had for several years recently. TL;DR version is that she randomly told me to stop taking my medication and find something else to replace it. Then she suggested acupuncture, inadvertently demonstrating the wisdom of not having a table in her office (I woulda flipped the shit out of it). The punchline? She’d FORGOTTEN why I take the medication to begin with, and so her only reason for telling me to stop taking it is that she’d mentally filed me into her mental “she’s young and the pain’s all in her head” column.

Later, when I mentioned this story to my housemate, she began gushing about the usefulness of acupuncture in treating all sorts of conditions – and with NO SIDE EFFECTS! Luckily for her, our kitchen table is extremely heavy, so instead I pointed out that a treatment that treats only subjective symptoms for a wide variety of conditions and no negative side effects is otherwise known as a placebo.

“No, it isn’t! I went to an acupunucturist once and I was skeptical at first too. But the first thing the acupuncturist said was, “You’ve had uterine trauma recently.” And it was amazing, because I’d just had an abortion a few weeks earlier.”

Whoa! You might say. How could he have known something so specific? The answer of course, is that he didn’t. He didn’t say, “You’ve had an abortion in the past month.” He used incredibly vague words – trauma, recently – and inserted a body part that half his patients are likely to have, and to have had some kind of problems with. And maybe he’d found out some other way that she is just unaware of. Maybe she’d mentioned it to his receptionist. Who knows? With cold reading, it is up to her to fill in the blanks with her actual experience, to define ‘trauma’ and ‘recently’ in ways that confirm what he said, which she did eagerly.

For all my house mate knows, this dude may say that to every single female patient who comes through his doors. He may know that for every ten women who say, “Nope, that doesn’t apply to me,” he’ll have one person like my housemate who will go around for the next twenty years singing his praises to everyone she meets, whenever the subject of acupuncture comes up. You couldn’t pay for that kind of publicity.

alt med

I said previously that acupuncture is a placebo. What many people don’t realize is that as far as placebos go, it’s actually risky. Given that it’s no better than sham acupuncture, there’s literally no way to medically justify the extra risk of having some clueless con man shove needles into your patient’s skin. Let me say that again: needles are going into your skin.

If a person can’t see the potential risks in having some idiot who believes in fantasy meridian lines, who might even distrust germ theory (I know an acupuncturist who treated her son’s 104 degree-causing scarlet fever with fucking Chinese herbs because “those idiot doctors kept trying to prescribe antibiotics, but that won’t work on a virus!” Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection), stabbing needles into their body, then they shouldn’t be giving medical advice to anyone ever.  Same goes for letting someone jerk their neck around on the theory that subluxations are causing their acid reflux.  Whatever problem you’re having, it’s probably not worse than a cervical stroke.

These studies were grouped into three categories: Infection (38 cases), trauma (42 cases) and other adverse effects (13 cases). Many of these adverse side effects are not intrinsic to acupuncture, but rather result from malpractice of acupuncturists. The most frequently reported complications included pneumothorax, (penetration of the thorax) and bacterial and viral infections. Five patients died after their treatment.

For my doctor to even suggest acupuncture (much less as an alternative to an extremely safe and effective medication that has worked for years) was for her to tell me one of two things: either 1. “I do not research suggestions before making them and I will put your health at risk as a result of my own laziness and arrogance,” or 2. “I do not know how to interpret research, and I will put your health at risk as a result of my profound incompetence.”

I’m not sure which is better.

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