Friday, May 6, 2022

New Book Ban

There's an extraordinary new book ban. It's one that I think is actually a good idea, even though the reasons why many rabbonim are banning it are not necessarily the best reasons. 

The book being banned is one that I wrote about in a post titled When Rabbis Quack, which turned out to be the third most-read post on this blog of all time, with over 20,000 views. Due to the significance of this event, I am reproducing that post in its entirety below. In the next post, which I plan to write after Shabbos, I will describe the ban and its significance.

When Rabbis Quack

Posted on Jan 18, 2017

There is a forthcoming highly significant and very tragic publishing event which relates to the rationalist/ anti-rationalist divide in the Jewish community.

A few days ago I was sent a top-secret draft of a book that is going to be published shortly. I have no idea how the person who sent it to me obtained it; it certainly did not reach me with the permission of the author. It's so top-secret that every Rav to whom it was sent for a haskama had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and the manuscript was returned to the author afterwards.

The book is in Hebrew, written by a Rabbi Rafael Szmerla (or Schmerla), who is a Dayan in a Lakewood institution under the auspices of Rav Shlomo Miller of Toronto. The book is titled Ki Ani Hashem Rof'echa, and it is dedicated to advocating for alternative medicine. The chapters discuss auras, chi, reiki, energy healing, distance healing, meridians, acupuncture, applied kinesiology, emotional freedom techniques, dowsing, homeopathy, radionics, crystal healing, geopathic stress, feng shui (the mystical practice of it, not the furniture arrangements), iridology, reflexology, and other forms of quackery.

For almost all these things, the author manages to find sources in the Gemara or Rishonim which discuss them. He thereby simultaneously refutes the possibility of their being idolatrous and demonstrates them to be effective, which he further supports with quotations from quacks. (The only one that he rules unacceptable is feng shui.)

The author claims that those who argue against such alternative medicines due to their being "scientifically undetectable" have been influenced by "Greek philosophy" and will end up as heretics. He stresses that accepting the truth of these treatments even without a scientific justification is an essential part of Jewish identity, as per the declaration at Sinai of naaseh v'nishma, we will do even if we do not understand. And at the end of the chapter on radionics, he adds that relying on such treatments helps our faith in the Sages, who were scientifically far ahead of us.

The book concludes with an explanation of why it is called Ki Ani Hashem Rof'echa and an outright attack on modern Western medicine. Sicknesses are supposed to turn man toward God in prayer and bitachon, but modern medicine and the "arrogant doctors" instead turn people away from God. How many people, he bemoans, trust doctors more than Chazal?! The philosophy of modern medicine, he declares, "stands in complete contradiction to Torah values." The solution is to turn to alternative medicines, which are based on the idea of energies, which in turn are mystical/ metaphysical forces related to spirituality, which flow from God, and thus the practice of alternative medicine leads people to God.

The essential point that the author gets wrong is that the reason why the medical establishment is against all this quackery is not merely that there is no satisfactory explanation for how it could work. Rather, it is because there is no evidence that it works. Anecdotal evidence does not count for much, especially when you take into account the placebo effect. The only meaningful test of whether a treatment works is double-blind testing, something that all these alternative remedies invariably fail.

Unfortunately, this is something that the author explicitly rejects in a footnote in the concluding chapter. He states that requiring double-blind testing and rejecting anecdotal evidence due to the placebo effect stands in direct contradiction to Chazal, who only required that a treatment appear to work on three occasions to declare it effective. Which is indeed true, but it is also the reason why, in Chazal's time, life expectancy was very low and mortality rates were horrifically high.

Now, there are all kinds of silly superstitious sefarim that are published all the time. In the past, I have written about To Fill The Earth: 277 Segulos and Advice on Fertility Issues, In Personal Consultation with Maran HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlitah, which includes such gems as "A dried pig's testicle, pulverized and ground up, will help a woman conceive; if the right testicle is used, a male child will be born; if the left testicle is used, a female child will be born." Such books are not necessarily worth getting worked up about. But this one is different, and much more problematic, for three reasons.

First, telling people to use ineffectual alternative medicine is not harmless, especially when it is accompanied with an overt rejection of conventional medicine. There is a real risk of people neglecting to treat themselves in a way that is actually helpful.

Second, there is likely to be a strong connection between rejecting conventional medicine and not vaccinating children. [UPDATE: I was just sent a lengthy responsum by Rabbi Szmerla in which he strongly opposes vaccinating children.] England's Jewish Chronicle recently published a fascinating and disturbing article about the very low rates of vaccination in the charedi Jewish community. This has catastrophic results; one charedi girl developed meningitis and required a triple limb amputation, r"l. The question discussed in the article is that it is not clear why vaccination rates are so low. One of the frum doctors interviewed says that his patients tell him that their rebbe told them not to vaccinate, but when he speaks to the rebbes they vehemently deny it. Others suggest that the charedi women are so overwhelmed with their children and with working to support their husband's bitachon that they simply don't have time to take their kids to the doctor. But it seems to me that there is another factor involved. This is a community that is taught to believe that the scientific establishment is the enemy. If the scientists are wrong about dinosaurs and about global warming and about spontaneous generation, they are probably wrong about vaccinations too.

The third reason why this book is particularly dangerous is has the most extraordinary range of haskamos. These include from Rav Moshe Shternbuch and Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss of the Eida Charedis, Sefardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel of South Fallsburg, Rav Mendel Shafran, Dayan Gavriel Krausz from Manchester, and more. Now, these people are from the very right wing of charedi Orthodoxy, or other extreme anti-rationalist communities. However, there is also a glowing haskamah from Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, who is generally regarded as the most moderate (and most important) of all the American charedi Gedolei Torah. Unfortunately, while he has in the past demonstrated some rationalist sympathies (and it was his haskama to one of my books which was the reason why they were banned, due to his zealous opponents), he is already known to be strongly opposed to vaccines (see my post Frum Ways To Die).

In his haskamah to Ki Ani Hashem Rof'echa, Rav Kamenetzky begins by noting Chazal's statement that "the best doctors go to Hell" and explains that it is their arrogance which takes them there. He writes that we have to silence those who insist upon empirical evidence. While, he notes, there are charlatans/ idolaters in alternative medicine, nevertheless there are also divinely-placed forces that we should make use of to heal people.

My question is as follows. If and when there is, G-d forbid, an outbreak of measles or mumps in the frum community, or people who neglect conventional medicine in place of alternative therapies, and as a result children suffer amputations or deaths, who is responsible? Is it the Gedolim who advocate against conventional medicine in favor of alternative medicine, but who genuinely believe that these things work because they are too uneducated to know otherwise? Or does the responsibility lie with the other rabbonim and people in the charedi world, many (perhaps even most) of whom do not believe in alternative medicine, but who have given the Gedolim the elevated status to have a large following, and who will be too afraid to speak out against this sefer due its prestigious haskamos from Gedolim? There is a cheshbon hanefesh that needs to be done, and better sooner than later.

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43 comments:

  1. My doctor, my Maccabi doctor, uses acupuncture in his practice, as do all those he apprentices. It's Westernized, to be sure, but it is still acupuncture. And effective. I can't say I am familiar with all, or even more than one or two, of the forms of so-called quackery you mention. That quackery exists does not mean that alternative forms of effective treatment, of ancient provenance, do not also exist. They can work, even if we don't understand why or how.

    Regarding the specific case of measles, fatalities from the illness were down 90% or more before the vaccine was introduced, and rapidly approaching something close to zero. I'll take my chances with Western hygiene and sanitation without the need to resort to some other, and patently, false dichotomy, like vaccines that were late to the party and can hardly be proof of anything but confirming a trend already in place.

    That being said, Western medicine excels, to the point of seeming miraculous, in areas like physical trauma of all sorts, from motorcycle accidents to strokes. But physical trauma like this often needs some sort of physical intervention, even when blessed with incredible siyata d'shmaya.

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    1. As far as the book, what's the point of the drama? Even if the reveal is a huge gotcha (aha! bazinga! and so forth), its significance would likely still only to you and your ilk. Whodunnit indeed.

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    2. Would you please be so kind as to share the source regarding your comment on measles? Thank you.

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    3. Health care orgs such as Maccabi offer alt-med because it's good business. It expands their clientele. Acupuncturists are cheaper than doctors. So the HMO can save big bucks if their patients with a "minor" complaint consults with the alt-med staff rather than a real doctor. Hopefully, the acupuncturists, the reflexologists and others know enough to refer to real doctors when a patient presents serious symptoms.
      The most successful alt-med are those that treat self-limiting (i.e. it goes away anyway) conditions, and those with a subjective rather than strictly objective diagnosis. The latter category (includes pain, nausea & anxiety) is particularly prone to placebo effect.
      It's more accurate to say acupuncture has been "modernized" than "westernized".You would have a hard time finding anyone anywhere that practices acupuncture the way it was done centuries ago. The whole "traditional" Chinese medicine thing was promoted by the Maoists to prevent unrest, since otherwise there wasn't enough real medicine & doctors to go around to treat the 100s of millions of citizens.

      "fatalities from the illness were down 90% or more before the vaccine was introduced"
      What does that mean? What was the fatality rate? What was the severe complication rate? What is the current fatality & complication rate now? Cherry picking data is one of the hallmarks of quackery.

      "false dichotomy"
      The quacks are really good at false dichotomy. RFK Jr does that sort of thing all the time.
      Here's an example of a false dichotomy: "They can work, even if we don't understand why or how."
      While the statement is true, it presents a false dichotomy how real medicine works. Homeopathy is not rejected just because it doesn't make sense; it's rejected for lack of good quality evidence. That being the case, when purported evidence is presented, it will be met with suspicion because homeopathy doesn't make sense. But suspicion is not rejection.

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    4. Took the words out of my mouth, Ephraim. The kuppot offer "alternative" care- for which their patients pay a premium, of course- for the same reasons otherwise-respectable institutions of higher learning offer courses in them: Good business.

      (I always have to chuckle when I see one of the latter saying something like, "Certified program in Eastern medicine." "Certified"? By who, and under what standards? I guess someone else is also making money down the line.)

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    5. Anonymous, most people who ask for cites are disingenuous and are more interested in disqualifying the source rather than to gain knowledge.

      https://voxday.net/2015/02/05/measles-actual-risks/

      There are other posts from the same blog. This is not news to people who are sincerely interested in gaining knowledge.

      Ephraim, what part of my doctor offers the service, not an un-degreed and unlicensed acupuncturist, did you miss, in your zeal to mock? Or are you simply an idiot? I favor the latter, given your belief in false dichotomies and inability to identify one correctly. This is not a false dichotomy: "They can work, even if we don't understand why or how." Note, I didn't say anything about what works, whether all or a subset. Or what they work on. It's also not an either/or option.

      "fatalities from the illness were down 90% or more before the vaccine was introduced"
      What does that mean? What was the fatality rate? What was the severe complication rate? What is the current fatality & complication rate now? Cherry picking data is one of the hallmarks of quackery.


      Thus confirming gamma. It means exactly what it sounds like it means. Measles the dreaded disease that vaccines allegedly saved us from. Except, no so much. 90% or more decline of fatalities (with a concomitant decline in all morbidities) in the allegedly dreaded disease, with no discernible change in trend after the vaccine was introduced, and it's just "I can't hear you!"

      At least Anonymous appears honest and seeks more information rather than just react in a kneejerk (aka "rational") manner.

      No doubt you, as well as the proprietor, are completely oblivious to the very serious reproducibility crisis infesting all so-called peer-reviewed science. Numerous links documenting the problem here, predating Covid by years. Not just the "squishy" sciences too. Hard sciences are not so hard now, given the problem. None of this should be a surprise to anyone with a brain that is actually used. The money flowing into research is beyond imagining, and human nature does not change when donning the white lab coat and other vestments of the profession.

      https://voxday.net/?s=reproducibility

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    6. "No doubt you, as well as the proprietor, are completely oblivious to the very serious reproducibility crisis infesting all so-called peer-reviewed science. "

      Wrong. I am familiar with the problem.
      What do you mean by "so-called"? Please elaborate. Are you aware that "peer review" and "reproducibility" are two different concepts?

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    7. "what part of my doctor offers the service..."
      His fingers I suppose.

      "Or are you simply an idiot?"
      Idiocy is never simple. It's the subject of much scholarship.

      "Measles the dreaded disease that vaccines allegedly saved us from..."

      Please define how bad a disease should be before you consider it to be "dreaded". You only mention deaths, what rate is acceptable to you? What if that rate is preventable? What about the complication rate? What complications are acceptable to you? What rate of those complications are acceptable to you? And what if such complications are preventable?

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    8. What do my feelings have to do with the facts? A simple statement of fact that measles deaths and complications were down around 95% before the vaccine was even introduced is rebutted by you with a barrage of irrelevant questions about my feelings on what number of deaths I deem acceptable?! The science fetishist in action when faced with cognitively dissonant information. At the same time presenting yet another false dichotomy that any measles death since the vaccine is due to non-vaccination.

      The reason for the use of the word dread was due to Slifkin's dishonest appeal to the disease. Which is obvious to normal people but not to gammas who think they know everything.

      I know what the difference is. That's why it's called the reproducibilty crisis in peer-reviewed research.

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    9. Acupuncture is fine. You don't have to believe in "meridians" or "lines of chi," which is how it is supposed to work. Rather, we can imagine that it is like a tiny massage, or pressure release, or something physical and local.

      And temporary.

      Acupuncture is a nice ADJUNCT treatment. It helps soothe pain or cramping. It does not cure, and the relief is short-lived.

      For the few people who find that acupuncture helps with more internal issues like migraines or smoking cessation or weight loss, then I have to back away toward the double-blind requirement. It may be a harmless adjunct option (as harmless as sticking a needle into your ear may be [why the ear? well, that is where the spirit gate is, of course]), but I'd be careful in relying solely on it.

      Delete
  2. You realize Nature Magazine just published a report this past April 28 detailing the cardiovascular risk in Israel caused by vaccines? Those "perfectly safe" vaccines. There's much more than this, but even those on the left who tried to shut their eyes to all the evidence can't avoid a thoroughly establishment periodical like Nature.
    I know you meant well - everyone always means well - but the fact is that you and your ilk were disastrously wrong on everything about Covid. From masks to social harms to degree of risk to vaccines - everything. You foolishly believed everything the government told you to believe. So maybe show a little introspection on some of these matters. What on Earth do YOU know about the vaccine panel currently being pushed on children?

    GP

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    1. footnote on the report:05 May 2022 Editor’s Note: Readers are alerted that the conclusions of this article are subject to criticisms that are being considered by the Editors. A further editorial response will follow once all parties have been given an opportunity to respond in full.
      kt

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    2. "but even those on the left .."

      RFK Jr is on the left. Piers Corbyn is on the left. And pro-Vaccine Trump is (sort of) on the right. And the right wing & non-leftists here in Israel are pro-Vaccine. In Israel there's a very high vaccine rate among the elderly, and they can't all be leftists!

      "You foolishly believed..."
      No. You believe everything the covid-deniers & anti-vaxxers tell you. I actually examined some of the covid-denial/anti-vax claims. In most cases, it was easy to show the claims were false. Like your claim about the "left".

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    3. Also on the liberal side are Alex Berenson, Russell Brand, Bret Weinstein, Joe Rogan (possibly), Robert Malone, etc. The opposition to Covid-related mandates has been a uniting issue between conservatives and classical liberals. There is a distinction between classical liberals and "leftists," who desire a paternalistic and authoritarian government that prioritizes public health over individual freedom, albeit with the actual goal of taking power from the individual, and centralizing it into the hands of bureaucratic know-betters. Perhaps "Unknown" was referring to this group. Then separately, there are those on the right that perhaps don't fully understand conservative ideology, or are too emotionally weak to have resisted a media propaganda campaign or to have dissented with administrative "experts", who seek to advance the leftist model.

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    4. Anyway, "Unknown," what was incorrect about masking? That it was recognized as time passed that the lower standards of cloth masks needed to be raised? OK Big Deal. Refining itself is how knowledge works.

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    5. Yosef R

      People were shamed for not wearing cloth masks, not following the science, and endangering the lives of others, despite valid questions that were brought up as to the legitimacy of that science, well before "time passed." But alas, the medical establishment was saying it, so few "rationalists" could argue, or they would be considered bad rationalists, or something. Now that "time passed" and cloth masks are admitted to be ineffective, we now know that the shaming was wrong, and those who questioned it were correct. The lesson of all this, is humility.

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    6. Also on the liberal side are ...Bret Weinstein..."

      Weinstein supported Bernie. And Piers Corbyn is a far-leftist too.
      The problem with your analysis is that mandates were implemented across the world even in places were there was a right wing government, such as the United States, Israel & the UK. The Australian government which implemented strict mandates is composed of a coalition that includes a conservative party. Sweden, on the other hand was run by socialists & greens through summer 2021.
      " albeit with the actual goal of taking power from the individual, and centralizing it into the hands of bureaucratic know-betters."
      Wrong. First of all, now that the pandemic is easing so are the mandates. The notion that this was a power grab is false. Second, there was no power taken from individuals because individuals didn't have the power to stop the pandemic. Third, government mandates parallel that which was implemented during the 1918-1920 pandemic, and you'd not going to convince anyone here that the government back then were leftists.

      "authoritarian government"
      Authoritarian? I think you're exaggerating.

      "there are those on the right that perhaps don't fully understand conservative ideology,"
      No true Scotsman.

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    7. Bret Weinstein renounced his support for Sanders due to his ties to the authoritarian social justice faction of the Democratic party. He himself makes the distinction between the "authoritarian left" and the "libertarian left," which is where he stands. It is this "libertarian left" that I am using interchangeably with liberalism, and there are gradations. Look at how the pundits at CNN, NBC, ABC, WaPo, NYT, etc. obsessively talk about restrictive Covid measures, as compared to pundits in conservative media. The difference is fairly obvious.

      "The problem with your analysis is that mandates were implemented across the world even in places were there was a right wing government, such as the United States, Israel & the UK."

      That's not a problem with my analysis. Trump was booed at his post-presidency rally when he mentioned the success of his vaccine campaign. Due to this rare backlash, he had to qualify it by emphasizing the need to maintain freedom, and no mandates (to the reassured cheering of the crowd). This was a clear example of Trump being out of touch with his base. Trump did what he did not because of conservative or liberal values, but because he was afraid of the optics if he was not seen taking swift action, and because he relied on a bureaucratic task force to carry out policy.

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    8. It's not "cloth" masks, it's masks, period. Full stop. The concept never had a Hail Mary's chance of stopping anything. But because the gullible one who pushed it cant bring themselves to admit error, they hedge with the qualifier of "cloth."
      In any event, who cares if such people admit or not. Their admission of error won't change the past, it's not a "victory" if someone actually grows the guts to own up to error. The only thing we can hope is that, going forward, other people learn to be a little less trusting. From what I can tell, that seems to be the case, with more and more people looking with fresh eyes at what they've been sold in recent years. Whether in politics or in medicine and yes, even in religion. And if there's any silver lining at all to be gained of the past two years of madness, it is precisely that. And if the Natan Slifkins of the world actually thought for two seconds before babbling on with their usual nonsense, they'd realize that its a mixed bad for different agendas. There is a price to be paid for a thinking citizenry, and sometimes it's one's own ox that gets gored.

      Gr. Pckls.

      Delete
    9. "Bret Weinstein renounced his support for Sanders due to his ties to the authoritarian social justice faction of the Democratic party."

      I don't buy it. Sanders was always an extremist- Weinstein didn't know before that Bernie was a socialist who until 2016? He didn't know that Sander was involved in the same Stalinist kibbutz that produced Soviet spy Ahron Cohen? Weinstein didn't know about Sander's praise of Castro? Or perhaps Weinstein is just a contrarian maverick & will sell himself to any stupid trend that bucks the trend.

      The fact remains that mandates were supported worldwide across the political spectrum. You can't honestly say that they all suddenly became authoritarian. Certainly, here in Israel, one didn't hear that sort of talk.

      And don't you find it strange that the most fanatical in their devotion to opposing any mandates or rules were the hyper-authoritarian Satmar? And in second place, those lefties at BLM?

      Delete
  3. My review of the book:

    https://thelehrhaus.com/scholarship/the-not-so-orthodox-embrace-of-the-new-age-movement/

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  4. Wow the cranks and quacks are going to be coming out of the woodwork again.

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  5. Don't see anything about this on the news

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  6. May we get some details about the ban?

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  7. What happened to the rule that you must consult doctors before deciding how to act halachicly?
    Some Rabbonim are panicking out when they see the charedi
    population being influenced
    from and by the media etc..



    ReplyDelete
  8. What happened to the rule that you must consult doctors before deciding how to act halachicly?
    Some Rabbonim are panicking out when they see the charedi
    population being influenced
    from and by the media etc..



    ReplyDelete
  9. RNS Iam reading your

    ReplyDelete
  10. Waiting for the post..

    ReplyDelete
  11. “My question is as follows. If and when there is, G-d forbid, an outbreak of measles or mumps in the frum community, or people who neglect conventional medicine in place of alternative therapies, and as a result children suffer amputations or deaths, who is responsible? Is it the Gedolim who advocate against conventional medicine in favor of alternative medicine, but who genuinely believe that these things work because they are too uneducated to know otherwise?”
    Excellent question. If, ח״ו, there will be such an outbreak then any victim of this rabbinic guidance can certainly not initiate a class action suit against this rabbi(s), and the District Attorney’s office could also initiate a criminal investigation. The Israel Police recently arrested three men following the death of a Bedouin woman following an exorcism performed by a local Sheik: https://www.timesofisrael.com/woman-dies-in-apparent-exorcism-sheikh-doctor-and-husband-arrested/amp/
    I suggest these rabbis purchase professional liability insurance.

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  12. I wish you had not grouped Acupuncture with other treatments that have no history of research indicating efficacy. Acupuncture has a significant history of peer reviewed published research showing benefits, particularly for pain and stress relief.
    David Ilan

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    1. The fact that he has, and that his sycophants double down on that (see my comment above and Ephraim's responses) is telling about the nature of what passes for rationalism here. Salaried doctors here practice it because it works. Not to milk customers for money they will never see.

      Delete
    2. The whole basis of acupuncture is mythical "energy fields" that surround and pervade the body. It's bunk.

      But it seems like every rationalist has a pet "except for" thing.

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    3. fallacy alert! incorrect explanations do not disprove results. (not weighing in on the particulars here)

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    4. You don’t really know much about Acupunture, both Eastern or Western Theory for its efficacy, do you?
      David Ilan

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    5. "fallacy alert! incorrect explanations do not disprove results. "

      Traditional acupuncture was based on bunk. Modern acupuncture is a sanitised bunk, developed by Maoists to coverup a deficient heathcare system.

      It's also difficult (but not impossible) to set up a proper double-blind study. The studies supporting acupuncture are low quality and typically are not blinded or don't eliminate the possibility of a placebo effect.

      Now, evidence of bunk should be met with a higher level of skepticism or scrutiny. Acupuncture, if true would radically change the way we view anatomy. Revolutionary explanations should mean that evidence for it should be on a higher standard. It's not a fallacy.

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    6. I wrote a bit about acupuncture just now in response to Shimshon's initial comment.

      Even with the studies - which I have heard about also - acupuncture is generally not a good cure. It is a temporary measure.

      Of course, sometimes a chronic condition can only be managed, never cured, even with medications, so that's a parallel, but not a superiority.

      Delete
    7. A chronic condition managed via acupuncture is so obviously superior to a pharmaceutical solution only rationalist would pedantically equate the two. They are in no way "parallel".

      Delete
    8. Eh? Is that Shimshi, the guy who was nispael when someone told him he was in his dream? Is that what passes for rational around here? Could you BE more gullible?? :-)

      Delete
    9. Hey, Shimshi, I had a dream that acupuncture doesn't work. Now what are you gonna do?

      Delete
  13. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupuncture

    See the “Efficacy” section for a good summary of the present state of the (extensive) research on acupuncture.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Welp. Time to listen to Tim Minchin's "Storm" again

    ReplyDelete

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