10 to 15 million people per year turn to acupuncture — the insertion of thin needles through the skin at strategic points on the body — for relieving what ails them. But is there any evidence that it actually works?
Welcome to Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan and fact-checker, comedian, and podcast host David C. Smalley break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions.
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- The origins of acupuncture are unclear, and the claim that it started in China approximately 3,000 years ago is debated.
- Peer-reviewed journal Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health claims that acupuncture is one of the most utilized forms of complementary integrative medicine interventions in the US and can help strengthen the immune system and reduce side effects of chemotherapy.
- Studies on acupuncture’s effectiveness in reducing cancer pain have mixed results due to small sample sizes and design problems. One study showed acupuncture helps deactivate brain areas associated with processing pain, but it only involved 17 people.
- Many doctors are privately skeptical about acupuncture and say there’s no real science to support the practice, but they often do not speak out against it publicly as they do not see it as particularly harmful.
- Acupuncture can actually be a risky treatment, and 86 people have died from improperly placed needles — with the most common cause of death being a condition called pneumothorax.
- And much more…
Connect with David at his website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and make sure to check out The David C. Smalley Podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts! If you like to get out of your house and catch live comedy, keep an eye on David’s tour dates here and text David directly at (424) 306-0798 for tickets when he comes to your town!
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider leaving your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- Peloton: Learn more at onepeloton.com/row
Who profits from the proliferation of fake science, and what can we do to separate the wheat from the chaff when we’re bombarded with copious amounts of fact and fiction? Listen to episode 745: Dave Farina | Debunking Junk Science Myths to find out!
Resources from This Episode:
- Acupuncture: Past, Present, and Future | Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health
- The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine by Maoshing Ni | Amazon
- A Brief History of Acupuncture | Rheumatology
- Master of Acupuncture Degree | MUIH
- Acupuncture Needling Sensation: The Neural Correlates of Deqi Using fMRI | Brain Research
- Neural Encoding of Acupuncture Needling Sensations: Evidence from an fMRI Study | Neuobiological Mechanisms of Acupuncture
- Acupuncture | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Dozens Killed by Incorrectly Placed Acupuncture Needles | The Guardian
- Acupuncture Proves Its Point | China Daily
- Puncturing the Acupuncture Myth | Harriet Hall QED 2015
817: Acupuncture | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:08] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger, and this is Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where fact-checker and comedian David C. Smalley and I, well, we break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up and debunk common misconception — topics such as why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why expiration dates are nonsense, toothpaste, chemtrails, recycling, banned foods, and a whole lot more.
[00:00:29] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers.
[00:00:47] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show — and of course, I appreciate that — I suggest our episodes starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic. That will help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show. Persuasion and Influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, China, North Korea, abnormal psychology, just a few of these starter packs right there for you. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start, or take a look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:12] Today, on Skeptical Sunday, well, we all want to feel better, but we also hate going to the doctor. This is why we cringe at that first whiff of hospital air, which I can only assume is made up of anesthesia and embalming fluid with a splash of influenza. So when somebody comes along and says, "You know, we can make you feel better without all that traditional medicine stuff, and you'll hardly know you were here." That is pretty enticing. You wrap that up with a strong cultural connection. You call it alternative medicine, and you've got yourself a winning combination. Plus, hey, it's totally cool to be able to wear a white lab coat without a degree. But are all alternative medicines created equal? For some reason, 10 to 15 million people per year turn to acupuncture. So is there anything to it? Skeptic comedian David C. Smalley is here to discuss.
[00:02:00] David C. Smalley: Hey, Jordan. Yeah, man, acupuncture has been surprisingly controversial in some skeptic circles, mostly because of the cultural connections.
[00:02:08] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:02:08] David C. Smalley: So it can be a little touchy to criticize it without being accused of having ulterior motives. But I want everyone to know today we're specifically addressing the facts surrounding acupuncture, not talking about culture in any way.
[00:02:20] Jordan Harbinger: What do you mean here?
[00:02:21] David C. Smalley: Well, so in this case, it's the cultural connection to China. And to be fair, a lot of these alternative treatments claim to have some ancient Chinese connection.
[00:02:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, but usually that's not the case, right? It seems like they often mislead on that or they overstate things dramatically. That's very common with this alternative stuff.
[00:02:40] David C. Smalley: Right. You think it's ancient, but then it's really just some lady named Pat who started flavoring bubbles in her garage in 1986, and now it's bottled in Whole Foods.
[00:02:49] Jordan Harbinger: So where did acupuncture actually start?
[00:02:52] David C. Smalley: Okay, so like most of this stuff, no one really knows the claim is that it started in China approximately 3000 years ago. But some scholars have reviewed the documents where it was mentioned in these earlier digs. And they determined that while similar words to needle were used, they were more accurately describing bloodletting. The ancient medical technique to basically let people bleed out to cure things like syphilis or women having an opinion, you know? For bloodletting, they used a large sharp needle or big objects like sometimes even sharpened stones. So this idea that we're going to get into as far as like the flowing of energy or Qi from organs to the skin very well could have just been blood. And that was the idea of energy. That's kind of the idea behind breath or spritz or whatever. The Latin for air was spiritus. So people would talk about your spiritus would leave the body when you would sneeze, which is why it was an idea. They thought that was your essence, like your breath was your essence. And that's where we get the word for spirit and ultimately soul. And so this could be very similar to that as far as blood being your energy, the lifeblood of someone. It's kind of along that same vein.
[00:04:11] Jordan Harbinger: Ah right, okay. It took me a second.
[00:04:14] David C. Smalley: When people talk about the meridian lines in acupuncture, which we're going to get into, they call them highways or energy highways or energy flows, they're very likely just blood vessels. So, but again, people even disagree on that.
[00:04:27] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't realize that there was even debate on where it started. That makes sense. But also shakes this around even.
[00:04:34] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so one legend claims that a Chinese soldier had his leg wounded in battle, and then when he was stabbed in the shoulder, the leg pain went away.
[00:04:41] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Well, I can certainly see how he might not be thinking about his leg pain at that particular moment. Like, "Hey, let me stab you in the shoulder." That's ridiculous when you recount it like that.
[00:04:51] David C. Smalley: Yeah, I mean, apparently the legend goes that multiple soldiers claim that this also happened to them, and that was the beginning of acupuncture. But again, people disagree on what actually started this because when they look back historically different things point to different things. And they'll say, "Well, I don't think they meant acupuncture. I think they meant acupuncture." And other people argue that A did and B didn't. So those are kind of the arguments.
[00:05:14] Another story goes that ear acupuncture was started by a Frenchman, and the idea there was that he believed that the human ear strongly resembles a curled-up fetus in its mother's womb. And therefore if you have leg pain, he would poke a needle into your ear where the leg would be on the fetus in your ear. And people started believing that it worked. Apparently, he convinced himself that he could cure his own leg pain by stabbing himself in certain parts of his ear. And that's the origin story of that piece. And people have tried to refine ear acupuncture over time, making it seem more scientific. Having to do with neurology and sort of exploiting just how complicated the human body is.
[00:05:55] So many of us just don't even know enough about biology to ask the right questions in order to fact-check this stuff. But we do know that during the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644, The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion was published, which forms the basis of modern acupuncture, and in that there are clear descriptions of the full set of 365 points on your body that represent openings to the channels through which needles could be inserted to modify the flow of energy or Qi in Chinese. And interestingly, there are now said to be over 2000 acupuncture points on the human body. So the number has definitely grown over time and things have been modernized.
[00:06:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Did you know that if I punch you in the face and then kick you in the junk, your face will barely, you won't even really notice that it hurts? It's ancient Chinese art. What is moxibustion? That sounds like burning something.
[00:06:55] David C. Smalley: Yeah, that's when they burn mugwort leaves over certain points or acupuncture points for magical essence flow or something. It's the same idea. They're just burning leaves and putting them on you as opposed to stabbing you with stuff.
[00:07:07] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So if they add moxibustion and increase the number of points, then the sessions are much longer. They can obviously charge more. There's some cupping in there and whatnot. So the story isn't really clear where modern acupuncture even started.
[00:07:20] David C. Smalley: Right. And even cupping is they kind of use acupuncture points for cupping to know where to put the cup.
[00:07:26] Jordan Harbinger: I've had it done. I was curious about it. It's just, you know, whatever. Yeah.
[00:07:30] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Did you notice a difference? Did you feel any better?
[00:07:32] Jordan Harbinger: No. No. I've tried acupuncture. I've tried cupping, I've tried all this. I've tried a lot of this alternative stuff and I've never noticed anything getting better in any way. And but I'm also open to the idea that I, one, don't believe in it and that's why or two, I had a bad practitioner sample size of one. You know, I'm not doing science myself, but I'll try stuff like that and I'm like, "Oh yeah, okay. It turns out there's nothing here for me," and I think I might've mentioned this on the show before, but I've had a foot massage from a Chinese doctor from Tibet because my mother-in-law was like, "Oh, this will help. It helps me." So I went there and she's like, "Oh, you must have leg pain." And I'm like, "No." She's like, "Well, you have knee pain." I'm like, "No." She's like, "You have hip pain?" I'm like, "No." And she just was like, "Oh," and then she didn't talk for the rest of this session. And I was like, "What made you think that?" And she's like, "Oh, because these things I'm pushing on in your feet, the reflexology, this, that, and the other thing." And I just thought, "But you kind of just guessed a bunch of stuff that every guy who's 42 years old, every single guy, my age has had an issue with this at one point or another. But currently no, and nothing, everything's fine.
[00:08:33] David C. Smalley: She's like holding your pinky toe going, "Do you sometimes grunt?"
[00:08:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:08:38] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:08:38] Jordan Harbinger: Do you ever sleep and then wake up suddenly? Yeah. Wow. Amazing. So, I just was like, huh, there was nothing to that. And then I looked up foot reflexology, and it turned out to be — well, actually, let's just say it's another episode of Skeptical Sunday waiting to happen.
[00:08:53] David C. Smalley: Absolutely. And I've only had somebody do cupping on me once. But it wasn't the cupping you had. It was my tailor. He said he had to do that to make the suit fit.
[00:09:02] Jordan Harbinger: That's different. Okay. Alright.
[00:09:08] David C. Smalley: Alright. Look, so this is going to make more sense in a moment, but I want to say this as far as where acupuncture actually started, the National Institute of Health, and I want everyone to put a little note there for a moment when I say that because I'm coming back to it. The National Institute of Health does have an article that says acupuncture is a 3000-year-old Chinese practice, so I'll state that for the record. But regardless of the actual origins, even today, it has a pretty solid link to China and is pretty integrated into parts of the Chinese healthcare system. It's even taught at several Chinese medical universities. With the most common education route, being five years studying for a bachelor's and then three for a master's in PhD, or students can just immediately sign up for a master's program and go for seven years.
[00:09:56] Jordan Harbinger: Is that just in China or do we offer something like that here in the United States, Canada?
[00:10:00] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so we offered in the states we have since 1981, there's been a master's program in acupuncture since then. In fact, the Maryland University of Integrative Health says that their master of acupuncture program was the first accredited master's degree program in acupuncture in the United States, and continues to provide students with a comprehensive curriculum combining rigorous classroom teaching and a rich clinical experience. And that the program is designed for individuals who wish to start their own private practice.
[00:10:30] Jordan Harbinger: So this sounds significantly more involved than some of the other practices that we've covered, like Reiki or crystal healing, because it's not like a United States-based accredited school teaching those things. What does the science actually say?
[00:10:43] David C. Smalley: Okay, so this is where we start fights. And I'm clearly not a doctor, but I do have a built-in bullsh*t detector and I can read. So I'm going to share both sides of this debate with you and see where it leads. And I just want to say, I have some listeners of my show who love my skepticism, who love my debates, who love my argument but have written me and said, "I'm actually an acupuncturist and I don't like the things you say about it, but I understand your skepticism." So I do want to share both sides of the debate and just kind of see where it leads, and I'm keeping those people in mind as I'm doing this today. So the National Library of Medicine is a branch of the National Institute of Health which I've used as a credible source on a few of these episodes concerning medical issues. They have an article published in July 2014 called Acupuncture: Past, Present, and Future. And in it they state, and I'm quoting, "During the past 40 years, acupuncture is a therapeutic technique of oriental medicine and has become more and more popular, evolving into one of the utilized forms of complementary integrative medicine interventions in the United States," end quote. And then they almost immediately dive into cancer treatments saying, "Studies conducted on both humans and animals suggest that acupuncture may strengthen the immune system during chemotherapy and can reduce the side effects of nausea and vomiting."
[00:12:16] Jordan Harbinger: So they're making a pretty bold claim in what seems to be a well-respected science journal.
[00:12:20] David C. Smalley: Well, they go on to say, and I'm quoting, "Perhaps one of the most promising signs for the future of acupuncture in the United States is the non-discrimination in healthcare language of the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, and the language of the ACA prohibits discrimination against providers who deliver services that fall under the state defined scope of practice. This ensures in most cases that health plans can no longer make it a requirement that acupuncture services be provided by a medical doctor — a stipulation that means that covered acupuncturists were required to have their acupuncture license and be an actual MD." But now they don't have to be certified or an actual MD.
[00:13:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yikes. Okay. That can't be good. That opens it up to all kinds of grifting.
[00:13:07] David C. Smalley: Well, it goes on to say, I mean, it makes it cheaper and more accessible for people who want to access it. So they go on to say, "Furthermore, in states such as California, complementary and alternative medical interventions such as acupuncture are now considered essential health benefits."
[00:13:23] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh. All right. I'm waiting for the bombshell here. David, are you trying to keep us in suspense?
[00:13:27] David C. Smalley: No, I'm trying to not be murdered, so I'm giving a fair shake for the listener. It gets better. "A 2010 study published by Brain Research and conducted by researchers at the University of York, and Hull York Medical indicated that acupuncture has a very significant impact on particular neural structures. Their analysis showed that acupuncture helps deactivate the areas within the brain that are associated with processing pain." And if that's actually the case, that could be huge.
[00:14:00] Jordan Harbinger: Hold on, I'm going to sneeze.
[00:14:03] David C. Smalley: May God bless your soul.
[00:14:05] Jordan Harbinger: My spiritus has left. Well, is that the case?
[00:14:10] David C. Smalley: I'll address that in a moment, but I'd like to offer a few more details from this article. So they make the very bold claim that, "A 2004 study conducted in Sydney, Australia that focused on the point P-6 as a point for treating host operative nausea showed that those who received acupuncture treatments were 29 percent less likely to get sick and 28 percent less likely to feel nauseous. And it says, acupuncture for pain management has changed so many people's lives in the past 40 years. This scientific research increasingly supports the use of acupuncture in the treatment of many conditions in addition to pain management. Increasingly acupuncture practitioners are championing efforts to inform and educate medical professionals and the public on the widespread application and evidence base of acupuncture."
[00:15:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. The acupuncture specialists need to educate the medical professionals. Okay. Look, uh, no. Okay. Keep going.
[00:15:13] David C. Smalley: Well, they can turn to the very trusted source of the Chinese government if they're curious. The National Health Commission of the People's Republic of China, released an announcement in 2018 titled, Acupuncture Proves its Point.
[00:15:27] Jordan Harbinger: Nice Chinese Communist Party coming in hot with the puns.
[00:15:31] David C. Smalley: Their official government website says, and I'm quoting, "China's ancient medical remedy of acupuncture is gaining global popularity after proving to be an effective treatment for illnesses and ailments that Western medicine still struggles to cure.
[00:15:46] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, I think, I see what's going on here.
[00:15:50] David C. Smalley: Yep. Power move?
[00:15:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:52] David C. Smalley: They also say, "Not only is it commonly used to treat pain, nausea, and headaches, it's also applied in beauty clinics for conditions such as skin rejuvenation, stress release, and weight loss. In recent years, acupuncture has become the new healthy lifestyle buzz after developing a fan base among royals and celebrities, including Meghan Markle, movie star, Matt Damon, and singers, Sheryl Crow and Madonna."
[00:16:18] Jordan Harbinger: So let me get this straight. The official Chinese Communist Party website is listing American celebrities as evidence that acupuncture actually works. This is peak China, somehow.
[00:16:29] David C. Smalley: Yeah. I mean they clearly know what Americans value for sure.
[00:16:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Touche.
[00:16:32] David C. Smalley: And yes, I provided the link in the show notes so they can read this themselves. They also claim, and I'm quoting, "In 1993, an incident in the UK transformed the market and created a big demand for acupuncture among British patients. News spread that an acupuncturist in London's Chinatown had successfully cured several British patients of eczema. This condition causes the skin to become itchy, red, and cracked. And even today, there is no cure for it in Western medicine." So they're kind of taking these potshots at the idea of Western medicine saying we've got it better than they do.
[00:17:08] Jordan Harbinger: Right, of course. So now, that you won't be murdered, I have questions. Is the National Institute of Health actually endorsing acupuncture?
[00:17:16] David C. Smalley: Okay. No.
[00:17:17] Jordan Harbinger: Good.
[00:17:18] David C. Smalley: That may sound bizarre based on what you've just heard, but there is a disclaimer link at the top of that page, and if you click it, here's what it says. "Disclaimer, these resources are scientific literature databases offered to the public by the US National Library of Medicine, or NLM. NLM is not a publisher but rather collects indexes and archives of scientific literature published by other organizations. The presence of any article, book, or document in these databases does not imply an endorsement of or concurrence with the contents by NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or the US Federal Government."
[00:17:58] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So they should probably put that entire paragraph on the page at the top of these articles.
[00:18:03] David C. Smalley: Agreed.
[00:18:04] Jordan Harbinger: Come on.
[00:18:05] David C. Smalley: They should also list the author and their credentials at the top of the page because this article was not written by a doctor, but rather an MBA named Jason Jishun Hao, who just happens to be the — wait for it — chairman of the acupuncture committee.
[00:18:20] Jordan Harbinger: Of course he is. So a guy who spent his life studying something/business of marketing something and works with the Chinese Communist Party went ahead and drafted a document that shows that this thing that happens to be valued by the Chinese Communist Party, that again, he's dedicated his life to markets/makes a living selling just happens to be this amazing cure-all that has amazing results. You can't get anywhere else, especially in icky, yucky America or the West. Color me surprised, David.
[00:18:51] You know what's better than haphazardly jamming needles into your skin? One of the fine products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
[00:18:58] This episode is sponsored in part by Peloton. Trying a new workout is like learning a new skill. It can be overwhelming and the uncertainty can be a major barrier to actually getting started. Peloton's approach to convenience is very helpful for people who are looking to take on a new fitness skill or routine. Everything is designed to be as simple and streamlined as possible from the easy-to-use touchscreen interface to the wide range of class options and personalized recommendations. You can access a variety of live and on-demand classes, including cycling, running, strength. Now, there's an incredible rower, which I really enjoy, all from the comfort of your own home. Rowing is great as a full-body workout, which means you'll be engaging multiple muscle groups at once, including your legs, core, arms, and back. This will help you burn more calories. Of course, it'll help you build more strength especially, and improve your overall fitness. Correct rowing form isn't intuitive, at least it certainly wasn't for me, and doing it correctly is harder than it sounds, especially once you start getting tired because of course your form always breaks down when you get tired. Form Assist shows you a figure of yourself as you row, and when you screw up a portion of the body, your body turns red. That's a good way to avoid getting super, super injured or tweaking something and not being able to work out, which stops a lot of people who are diving in either for the first time or getting back into it after a long. So try Peloton Row risk-free with a 30-day home trial. New members only. Not available in remote locations. See additional terms at onepeloton.com/home-trial.
[00:20:23] Thank you for supporting the show. I know these episodes ruffle feathers, but I'm glad you all hear us out. All of the deals and ways to support the show are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for any sponsor using the search box on the website as well. Please consider supporting those who support the show.
[00:20:38] Now back to Skeptical Sunday.
[00:20:42] So what's the basis of their claim on reducing pain when having cancer? If that happens also, then that's amazing.
[00:20:49] David C. Smalley: Okay. So the great thing about the National Library of Medicine is they do require contributors to cite their sources, and that's what I spent the vast majority of my time on this specific topic doing is chasing down the citations that were listed in the specific papers. For the claims on helping with cancer treatments, I followed those sources in the links and it just says, "The results are mixed due to small sample sizes and design problems." And then, another one says, "In one review, acupuncture reduced cancer pain in some patients with various cancers although the studies were small." It also hints that it based its results on the questionnaire of the patients.
[00:21:31] Jordan Harbinger: So they weren't hooking people up to MRIs or measuring pain receptors or anything like.
[00:21:36] David C. Smalley: Right. They basically just asked, how do you feel? But MRIs should definitely be done in these studies. In fact, I found one line that claimed they have. It says, "A 2010 study published by Brain Research and conducted by researchers at the University of York, and the Hull York Medical indicated that acupuncture has a very significant impact on particular neural structures. Their analysis showed that acupuncture helps deactivate the areas within the brain that are associated with processing pain." But again, when you follow the source they cited, it shows that only 17 people were in that study. And it shows that they were imaged in a 3T MRI scanner. "fMRI data sets were classified on the basis of psychophysical participants' reports of needling scores, and brain areas showing changes in what they call BOLD signal increases and decreases were identified." Now, that sounds important. Until you realize 'bold' doesn't mean significant or important. It's an acronym for blood oxygen level-dependent.
[00:22:42] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So I was like, well, that sounds important. Oh, it's an acronym.
[00:22:45] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:22:46] Jordan Harbinger: So yeah, blood and oxygen levels may fluctuate if you are stabbing me. Got it.
[00:22:50] David C. Smalley: Yeah. It may, perhaps. Because a lot of that is the type of words they use as well. "Differences were demonstrated in the pattern of activations and deactivations between groupings of scans," but then, it goes on to admit, "The predominantly acute pain grouping was associated with a mixture of activations and deactivations." That's a very complicated way of saying, for most of the people, we couldn't tell a difference.
[00:23:14] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:23:15] David C. Smalley: I want to say it one more time. I want to read this line. "The predominantly acute pain grouping was associated with a mixture of activations and deactivations." They're saying that in the vast majority of results, we couldn't tell any difference.
[00:23:26] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So even if we don't have to trash the study in the sample size and the methodology and blah, blah. Let's agree, now, it's technically a study. They don't have conclusive results anyway.
[00:23:36] David C. Smalley: Well, and all you have to do is say the word 'may,' right?
[00:23:39] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:23:39] David C. Smalley: So, notice the language. They'll say things like, it may cause a drop in, yada, yada, or seems to have an effect. And that'll be the title, right? Acupuncture seems to have an effect in chemotherapy nausea. But they're rarely definitive about any interpretation. So yes, it's a study, and yes, it may change something, but even that is a stretch.
[00:23:59] Jordan Harbinger: What about the cancer treatment symptoms it supposedly helps with?
[00:24:03] David C. Smalley: Okay, so another 2020 clinical trial to treat cancer pain showed that the combination of different acupuncture types were effective in reducing pain and use of pain medication. But again, the study was limited by a small sample size and a lack of a placebo group, and in this case a short followup. And the big one that focused on chemo says some randomized clinical trials of acupuncture have shown promise in treating chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, which causes pain and muscle weakness from undergoing chemo. Notice how it says 'shown promise.' And then they immediately say, but more evidence is needed to explore how acupuncture may relieve symptoms.
[00:24:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, of course, it is. Of course, they need more evidence or any actual evidence at all. I might add.
[00:24:50] David C. Smalley: There's another contributor who published an article for the National Cancer Institute that said, and I'm quoting, "Six randomized clinical trials studied the use of acupuncture to prevent hot flashes in breast cancer survivors. These trials found that acupuncture was safe and decreased hot flashes." And that's the end of the quote. These trials found that acupuncture was safe and decreased hot flashes. That sounds amazing. And at the very least, they didn't even make me chase down another study to fact-check it because the very next sentence is, "It was not clear whether real acupuncture worked better than sham acupuncture."
[00:25:28] Jordan Harbinger: Sham acupuncture? How is that different from non-sham acupuncture? I know I'm being a dick, but whatever.
[00:25:34] David C. Smalley: Sham is obviously fake, Jordan.
[00:25:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:39] David C. Smalley: Yeah, there you go.
[00:25:39] Jordan Harbinger: There you go. Okay.
[00:25:40] David C. Smalley: Okay. They describe it as poking the needles in for acupuncture, but for sham acupuncture, you're poking the needles in, but you're intentionally missing the meridians. So pokies without the magic as a control to see if magic pokies work better.
[00:25:56] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:25:56] David C. Smalley: And clearly, they work about the same. That's weird.
[00:25:59] Jordan Harbinger: Go figure. So what's the point of even putting it in a scientific journal if it's a coin flip?
[00:26:04] David C. Smalley: Right. So that's like me saying, "Jordan, I'll be available to record a podcast with you tomorrow, and also I may actually not be available tomorrow."
[00:26:13] Jordan Harbinger: Schrodinger's podcast, both things at the same time. It seems pointless. Did you find anything on their claim of acupuncture reducing the nausea or sickness? I mean, placebo can actually do that, at least.
[00:26:25] David C. Smalley: Yeah, it can. And I know that placebo can help with pain and nausea and even vomiting because the action with the belief can do something for endorphins in kind of controlling it. Like, I think Seinfeld says, it's weird how people may pee themselves in public, but the rectum seems to be socially aware. Like for whatever reason, you just don't, you never have to poop that bad until you're pulling your pants down in front of the toilet. It kind of just knows. So there is some sort of mental connection with some bodily function.
[00:26:53] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting metaphor you use there. Yeah—
[00:26:54] David C. Smalley: That's—
[00:26:56] Jordan Harbinger: Keeping it classy.
[00:26:57] David C. Smalley: I mean, I'm quoting Seinfeld, I don't believe he's a philosopher or medical doctor, but they did make the claim that acupuncture can reduce nausea from chemotherapy. And when I went to track down their cited source, their citation was actually quoting a website called acupuncturetoday.com. So I didn't even bother chasing that rabbit. It's more the same claims without scientific proof.
[00:27:18] Jordan Harbinger: It's funny that that's the source, man. It's like source, trustmebro.com says that this definitely works. Did they ever describe in detail how it's supposed to work?
[00:27:27] David C. Smalley: So not in this actual article, surprisingly, even though it's on this medical website, a medical journal, and it seems official with citations, it's really just a puff piece for acupuncture's reputation.
[00:27:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:27:39] David C. Smalley: But I did find some people who tried to medically or accurately, or scientifically explain it. So Hopkins Medicine says, "Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe the human body has more than 2000 acupuncture points connected by pathways or meridians." Now, that's actually incorrect. Traditional Chinese medicine thought it was 365. Modern medicine says or modern acupuncture says 2000. But that's my one caveat to this quote. Then they say, "These pathways create an energy flow, Qi, through the body that is responsible for overall health. Disruption of the energy flow can cause disease. By applying acupuncture to certain points, it is thought to improve the flow of Qi, thereby improving health." And then they go on to warn that improper placement of the needle can cause pain during treatment, and needles must be sterilized to prevent infection. That's just more CYA for the world.
[00:28:33] Jordan Harbinger: Love that. So they're not endorsing it either, basically.
[00:28:36] David C. Smalley: Well, that's where it gets interesting because they don't, but they seem to believe that the National Institute of Health has endorsed it, which is the other site I just quoted. So they have a line in their article that says, and I'm quoting, "The National Institutes of Health studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment alone or in combination with conventional therapies to treat the following — and then they include nausea caused by surgical anesthesia and cancer chemotherapy as part of their list.
[00:29:07] Jordan Harbinger: Someone didn't read the disclaimer, that's what it sounds like.
[00:29:10] David C. Smalley: Exactly.
[00:29:11] Jordan Harbinger: They didn't click that link.
[00:29:12] David C. Smalley: And that is so scary.
[00:29:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So this sounds like another example of people taking unnecessary risks with their health for something that doesn't seem to have any provable or evidence-based way to cure or even really treat anything other than maybe pain, maybe nausea, but also we're not sure.
[00:29:31] David C. Smalley: Okay, so this is where it takes kind of a weird turn. You're exactly right. The Guardian published an article back in 2010 that said over the previous 45 years, 86 people have been killed by improperly placed needles.
[00:29:45] Jordan Harbinger: I got to hand it to the Chinese Communist Party and the acupuncture journals, though they have managed to figure out how to make something out of what certainly sounds like nothing. It's like an information warfare, propaganda puff piece. It's almost like the Chinese Communist Party is like, "But have you tried Herbalife? That shakes are delicious and I've lost 10 pounds so far." It's just like a government straight-up shilling for fake sham medicine. Crazy.
[00:30:11] David C. Smalley: Did you ever have any idea that someone could die from acupuncture?
[00:30:15] Jordan Harbinger: No, but it makes sense. I mean, if you think about it, look, and I'm not defending acupuncture or any sort of like fake medical stuff, but 45 years, 86 people, if you do the math on that, that's pretty damn rare people dying from this.
[00:30:27] David C. Smalley: Yeah, but I thought it was literally zero. I thought it was literally zero.
[00:30:31] Jordan Harbinger: I thought it was zero. And also since it doesn't really do anything, it that's 86 people, too many. It's not like 86 people have died getting a heart stent where they would've definitely died otherwise, and it saved hundreds of thousands of people. This has saved zero people and 86 people have died. So yeah, that sucks.
[00:30:47] David C. Smalley: Right. So what shocked me about this, and I knew about acupuncture. I've addressed it before. I've talked to people before who did it. What I started to be shocked by is, I just thought the worst part of acupuncture was—
[00:31:00] Jordan Harbinger: Getting milked out of your money?
[00:31:01] David C. Smalley: No, no. I thought the worst was dealing with pain. It's just them poking you, you know, with a bunch of needles all over you. One of my comedian friends just posted on Instagram. He just like put the camera up above his head and you could see a needle like in his hair, like still sticking out of his scalp.
[00:31:17] Jordan Harbinger: Ouch.
[00:31:17] David C. Smalley: And I was like, "Dude, there's not a whole lot of space in between your skin and your skull. Like, what are they stabbing back there?"
[00:31:24] Jordan Harbinger: Ouch.
[00:31:24] David C. Smalley: They left it in.
[00:31:25] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Yeah. You leave it in there for like 20, 30 minutes, I think, sometimes.
[00:31:28] David C. Smalley: No, no, no. When he left, he was home.
[00:31:30] Jordan Harbinger: What? That seems completely unsafe because you could knock that—
[00:31:33] David C. Smalley: That's what I'm saying.
[00:31:34] Jordan Harbinger: —in the car or you could—
[00:31:36] David C. Smalley: That's what I'm saying. He's home and he's going, uh, uh, a couple of hours ago. What the hell's going on?
[00:31:40] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, did they forget to take it out or he did—?
[00:31:42] David C. Smalley: They forgot to take it out.
[00:31:43] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God.
[00:31:43] David C. Smalley: Like they took a bunch out. He gets home and has one stuck in his hair.
[00:31:47] Jordan Harbinger: I thought maybe, they're like, "Hey, take this out in an hour. No, they just forgot it was in there. Oh my God.
[00:31:52] David C. Smalley: They probably put 50 in there or a hundred in him.
[00:31:55] Jordan Harbinger: When they're doing surgery on you and they're using those sponges
[00:31:57] and tools, they have the outline of the thing on the tray so that they don't leave something on or in you, and it sounds like maybe count the needles. Just look, that's one strategy. I'm no acupuncturist.
[00:32:07] David C. Smalley: One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.
[00:32:09] Jordan Harbinger: Looks like we put 30 on the guy. Maybe we should have 30 when we're done on the table just saying.
[00:32:14] David C. Smalley: So that same document also says this, "A review of patients who died soon after acupuncture found a history of punctured hearts and lungs—"
[00:32:25] Jordan Harbinger: What?
[00:32:26] David C. Smalley: "—damaged arteries and livers, nerve problems, shock, infection, and hemorrhage, largely caused by practitioners placing their needles incorrectly or failing to sterilize their equipment."
[00:32:40] Jordan Harbinger: I'm going to pause you right there. Every place that you put a needle inside me for something that is not medicine is incorrect. So, 100 percent of acupuncture needles are placed incorrectly, but failing to sterilize their equipment, that's what I thought people would've died from. Punctured livers, arteries, and hearts and lungs. We're going to talk about that in a second. I'm going to let you finish, but damn, that's horrible.
[00:33:04] David C. Smalley: Yeah, you're right. It's like someone said in court one time was like, "Oh, this was a robbery gone wrong."
[00:33:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:33:10] David C. Smalley: Has there ever been a robbery go right? Like, what are you talking about here?
[00:33:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We got all the money and no one got hurt. I think that's what they meant. Oh, God.
[00:33:15] David C. Smalley: Yeah. But there are places that you can stab yourself with these needles and not die from a puncture wound. And this sounds like one of the most painful, torturous ways to die. It's pretty terrifying. So many of the 86 patients that were between 26 and 82, they died after being treated by acupuncturists in China or Japan. But a handful of fatalities were also recorded in the United States, in Germany and Australia. The most common cause of death was a condition called pneumothorax, where air finds its way in between the membranes that separate the lungs from the chest wall and causes the lungs to collapse.
[00:33:58] Jordan Harbinger: Oh gosh.
[00:33:59] David C. Smalley: So a medical professor who studied the deaths said these reports were very likely just the tip of a larger iceberg.
[00:34:08] Jordan Harbinger: That is, ugh.
[00:34:09] David C. Smalley: There are probably so many more people who went home later and died from something, it was probably listed as natural causes. There was no reason to do an autopsy and no one even knew that they had gone through acupuncture 48 hours before.
[00:34:23] Jordan Harbinger: That is horrifying. The needles, first of all, I didn't know the needles were that long. I thought we were talking about those little ones that end up in your hand. They can puncture organs? Here I'm thinking these little tiny things that go in a couple of skin layers deep, which is bad enough if we're talking about infection or whatever. I mean, that's just horrible. Sounds like a knitting needle going through you at that point.
[00:34:43] David C. Smalley: Yeah, this is going to make you a little antsy, so it's pretty terrifying. So Science Alert posted a notice in 2019 saying "An acupuncturist in New Zealand has accidentally pierced a young woman's lungs—"
[00:34:57] Jordan Harbinger: Oh.
[00:34:58] David C. Smalley: "—after inserting needles in her shoulder region too deeply."
[00:35:01] Jordan Harbinger: Wait. In your shoulder? That's really far.
[00:35:03] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So I was thinking something in the chest that went through the ribs, or right on the side. It was up in the shoulder.
[00:35:10] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:35:11] David C. Smalley: It was a 33-year-old patient. She was seeking treatment for an arm and wrist injury which was causing pain on the top of her shoulders and a shortness of breath. So to treat her, the acupuncturist decided to place two needles in a nearby acupressure point, known as Gallbladder 21. And as the needles were going in, the young woman expressed pain. And then later she told the Health and Disability Commissioner that the insertions felt extremely deep. Both needles were left in her for half an hour. Before they were then rotated and then moved.
[00:35:44] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:35:45] David C. Smalley: And it was at that point that the patient felt a sudden onset of chest pain and a shortness of breath, and she told her acupuncturist — this part creeps me out — she told her acupuncturist, "She felt stuffy," and then she said, "I'm having a strange and painful air sensation," in her chest around both lungs.
[00:36:02] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God.
[00:36:03] David C. Smalley: The acupuncturist sent the patient home.
[00:36:06] Jordan Harbinger: Of course. Yeah.
[00:36:06] David C. Smalley: And she told her, "Rest up and take it easy."
[00:36:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Have some water. Ugh.
[00:36:10] David C. Smalley: Later that night, the woman's husband ended up rushing her to the emergency room where they discovered both lungs were collapsed due to what they call a top-side puncture.
[00:36:20] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:36:21] David C. Smalley: And apparently the lungs are one of the most common areas to be punctured because they're often reached from the back as well.
[00:36:28] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God, that makes me so queasy, dude, to think that.
[00:36:31] David C. Smalley: I know, it's so weird.
[00:36:32] Jordan Harbinger: That a needle would go that far. Ah, can you even imagine? You basically just paid someone to stab you and almost/actually kill you because of some sh*t you read in Reader's Digest or an Instagram post. Like what a foolish gamble that is.
[00:36:47] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:36:50] Jordan Harbinger: You know what I enjoy even more than puncturing my epidermis? The fine products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
[00:36:57] This episode is sponsored in part by Peloton. We are getting so much rain here in California. And finally, right, we need the water. We're probably going to waste a bunch of it, just letting it drift into the ocean, but that's not what this is about. It's like a disaster outside. Trees collapsing. The streets are flooded. All of a sudden people don't know how to drive. I don't know why that is in California. In Michigan, we can go to work in a foot of snow. Here it's like there's an inch of rain and people run straight into walls and each other. I like to stay active, but I don't really want to leave the house when this happens. That's one of several reasons why I love Peloton. The convenience factor just can't be beat. I don't have to go anywhere to stay active and healthy. Peloton makes top-notch machines. The classes are taught by world-class instructors. They're known for their amazing bikes. Everyone's probably heard of that. We have one of those. It gets plenty of mileage here. The rowing machine is where it's at, though for me, rowing is, maybe it's the novelty factor of having a new thing, but I love it. Rowing is great for a full-body workout. It's great for improving your cardiovascular endurance. I've improved a ton since starting this. I love the flexibility. If a call cancels, which happens all the time, I can hop on the Row and get a quick workout in. I can get my heart pumping in the morning before the kids wake up. Working out at home, it's just been amazing, especially, first of all, there's nobody judging me. The kids can bother me and I can go right back to it. There's no waiting for a machine. There's no equipment slathered in other people's freaking sweat, other people's drool and grossness. And what's unique about the Row? It gives you realtime form feedback. The seat and handle contain sensors. And during setup, you go through this five-minute calibration process that then enables Form Assist, which is really cool. It's a little collapsible window on the left hand side of the screen. You can monitor your technique because for me, especially, a lot of this athletic stuff is not super intuitive. Rowing form certainly was not intuitive. And doing it correctly, especially when you get tired, is a lot harder than it sounds, and Form Assist shows you a figure of yourself as you row. When you screw up, a portion of your body turns red. That is a good way to avoid getting injured. First of all, tweaking something, overworking something, not being able to work out, which is going to stop a lot of people who are diving in for the first time, getting back into it after a long time. The last thing you want is some sort of repetitive strain issue. At the end of the workout, you get a read out of how well you did and a breakdown of your most common mistakes. So if you're kind of like me, you want to be competitive, even with yourself, you can improve over time. Like I said, I've improved a lot of these metrics over time. In a way, that's kind of feels good, I won't lie. I also love the scenic rides. That's kind of my new jam. You can transport yourself into the Thames River in London, and when you're basically rowing through London and, you know, smell-free without getting that water in your mouth. You can see famous landmarks such as the Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye. They also have Sydney Harbour. You can look at the Opera House, the Harbour House Bridge. I just think it's really neat to be able to row through Miami or different cities in the world. I just think it's a really, really great idea. There's culture, there's beaches. It's very relaxing for somebody who's going to be sweating their brains out on one of these things. So I really, really enjoy that and I've, frankly, I didn't think I would, but I love it. And so if that doesn't make you want to work, probably nothing will. Try Peloton Row risk-free with a 30-day home trial. New members only. Not available in remote locations, like the ones you scenically rode through on the scenic rides at Peloton. See additional terms at onepeloton.com/home-trial.
[00:40:03] Once again, thank you for listening and supporting the show. All the deals and discount codes are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Or use our AI search box on the website right there at jordanharbinger.com. Please consider supporting those who support the show.
[00:40:16] Now, for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:40:20] What are actual doctors saying about acupuncture?
[00:40:23] David C. Smalley: Well, and you talk about foolish gamble, that's if you actually have a medical issue. Some people go for cosmetic reasons. They think it will make their skin prettier or to get rid of eczema or something like that. Then, they end up going and, you know, dying.
[00:40:34] Jordan Harbinger: You're going to look great when you're embalmed.
[00:40:37] David C. Smalley: Your skin is going to be beautiful.
[00:40:39] Jordan Harbinger: It's going to be very smooth. We're going to staple your neck down. You'll look great. You'll look 10 years younger.
[00:40:45] David C. Smalley: We're just going to take two acupuncture needles and just knit your flat skin back together. It's going to be great.
[00:40:52] Jordan Harbinger: That's terrible.
[00:40:53] David C. Smalley: Oh my God. So you asked what the doctors are saying when you say, doctor, so chiropractors call themselves doctors, PhDs call themselves doctors. There are some attorneys who even do it because of the doctorate involved in the education, so—
[00:41:09] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:41:09] David C. Smalley: I mean, a lot of people really don't want to be attacked or get involved with this debate. So, naturally, it doesn't come up in your standard Google search for, like, you're not going to have a bunch of neurologists speaking out against the horrors of acupuncture. Mostly because it isn't seen as dangerous for the most part. I mean, at least statistically. Like you said, it's pretty good numbers. It's not like it's an epidemic that we have to address and they're just, acupunctures are just murdering people, although, we wouldn't really know if someone was dying a couple of days later. It's a very slow and agonizing way to die. So I bet you there are tons of people who have died from this and then, nobody just knows that they had a treatment.
[00:41:49] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. They're like, "Oh, that's weird. Her liver just exploded and she had this toxic septic shock in her body. That's weird. Oh, she must have got hit by something and not noticed. Actually, a needle punctured it and then got removed.
[00:42:00] David C. Smalley: Yep. Or something genetic.
[00:42:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:42:02] David C. Smalley: Or you know, who knows? Or just unknown natural causes or something like that. And that's the reason I did the whole disclaimer at the beginning because I've just commented on videos before of people doing acupuncture, and I've been like, "Ah, the science doesn't really support any positive results from acupuncture other than a placebo." And I was told in the comments to keep my whiteness out of her culture.
[00:42:20] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[00:42:21] David C. Smalley: So if it can become like about race or culture or considered hate speech, to say a scientific fact, you have to weigh the odds and just pick your battles. And so I don't see how a lot of doctors would benefit from putting statements out on the Internet going after something that they see as relatively harmless other than a waste of money. But privately, nearly all of them will tell you, it's nonsense. I had a few conversations with doctors privately when I was writing this and putting the notes together, and of course, they asked me not to mention their names, but they were like, there's absolutely no real science to it. There's no support for the practice, but if it makes someone feel better, then maybe it's not all that bad as long as they're not getting their lungs deflated.
[00:43:01] Jordan Harbinger: That's the common theme of a lot of these things, right? That we've debunked on Skeptical Sunday and even stuff we haven't touched yet. If the Monster Spray makes the kids sleep, then what's the harm and why is it your business, et cetera?
[00:43:12] David C. Smalley: Right. And the skeptic is in the corner going, "Well, you taught the kid about the monster in the first damn place. You're the problem."
[00:43:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:43:18] David C. Smalley: Not to mention the conflict of interest when the Monster Spray company is also pushing ads about monsters and kids' videos on YouTube.
[00:43:25] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:43:26] David C. Smalley: But I did find a few people who would publicly address it. You're aware of Dr. Steven Novella?
[00:43:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, of course. It makes sense. He would talk about this.
[00:43:33] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah. So he's a Yale University neurologist. He's the author of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and of course, he has a podcast by the same name. In a video for Tech Insider, he says, "Acupuncture is essentially an elaborate placebo. You get no effect out of the actual acupuncture itself. The clinical research clearly shows after literally thousands of studies that it doesn't matter where you stick the needles. It also doesn't matter if you stick the needles. You can randomly poke somebody with toothpicks and some studies literally do. And it's just as effective in doing all the things an acupuncturist is supposed to do. It's not science-based medicine."
[00:44:11] Jordan Harbinger: So this is precisely what I figured. You're better off just buying some of the crystals people charge on the back porch during a full moon or whatever and lay on those under your pillow because at least the odds of you puncturing your lung or your heart with a freaking amethyst are pretty close to zero.
[00:44:26] David C. Smalley: Right. Yeah. You're spot on. So if you embrace both of those, I encourage you, go the crystal route.
[00:44:31] I also came across skeptic doc. Her name is Dr. Harriet Hall, and she's a retired family physician and former Air Force flight surgeon who specifically writes about alternative medicine and what she calls quackery. And she gave a 40-minute talk on acupuncture for QED that's available on YouTube. And yes, I've also provided the link for that. She starts the talk by saying, "When we stick pins in dolls, it's called voodoo. When we do it to babies, it's called child abuse. When we do it to prisoners, it's torture, but when we do it to patients, it's alternative medicine."
[00:45:04] Jordan Harbinger: Huh. I like that.
[00:45:05] David C. Smalley: And she makes a very strong point that we don't ever really need to debate these issues of whether or not, alternative medicine works because she says if it's proven to work, we don't call it alternative.
[00:45:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yes. We have a name for alternative medicine that actually works. It's called Medicine.
[00:45:22] David C. Smalley: Right. So she goes on to talk about how acupuncture is not a method, it's multiple methods, and it changes over time. So it was originally 365 points because it was symbolic of days in the year. And now, it's over 2000 and Korean acupuncture only has 300 points and they're all in the hand. There's ear acupuncture that started with 30 points, and now they have like 130 or 140 or something. There's electro-acupuncture, there's cupping over acupuncture points — or at your tailor. And she actually jokes that when you add them all up, there's only one spot. There's never an acupuncture point in all of the traditions and that's the penis.
[00:46:03] Jordan Harbinger: Convenience. Also, while I approve, I think there's a lot of leather-clad dudes in San Francisco that are probably really disappointed to hear that.
[00:46:12] David C. Smalley: That's not going to stop them.
[00:46:14] Jordan Harbinger: That's true. That's true. It's acupuncture, guys, come on, try it out. You might like it.
[00:46:19] David C. Smalley: It's just now you just wait for the flow of my energy. Okay
[00:46:25] Jordan Harbinger: Here comes the Qi.
[00:46:28] David C. Smalley: Okay.
[00:46:29] Jordan Harbinger: And explicit tag in iTunes.
[00:46:31] David C. Smalley: Yeah. There we go. So she also gets into the meridians, which are supposed to be the pathways in which the energy flows or the Qi flows to the body. And they've uncovered ancient documentation that says there are nine meridians. Others say there are 11 that are also ancient documents, and some say there are 12 and some people believe there are 14 or even 20. And some say, they're not necessary at all. No medical doctor, no biologist or anatomist had ever been able to locate meridians in the body. So from a physiological or biological position, the claims of acupuncture fail.
[00:47:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Come on guys. At least get your imaginary meridians and pressure points standardized. But this sort of wild digression between practitioners. Look, people go, well, science has different. Yeah, but not currently, really. You see science improve over time. So if it's like, "Hey, originally we thought there were nine, then we've discovered 11, then we discovered 12, then we discovered 14, then we discovered 20." Everybody would go, "There are 20." Nobody would go, "Actually, we're going to go, we're going to stick with the original nine." That's dogmatic.
[00:47:33] David C. Smalley: Yeah, no one's going, "I don't think there's 206 bones in the human body. I'm going with 163."
[00:47:38] Jordan Harbinger: Because those are the ones we identified in the year 900, right?
[00:47:42] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:47:43] Jordan Harbinger: This sort of wild digression between practitioners is standard pseudoscience, quackery, and this is precisely why this stuff is not science. It's not scientifically valid. There's no actual standard.
[00:47:55] David C. Smalley: Right. And she also discusses the psychological implications as far as. The suggestive nature of the acupuncturist. Like when you look at positive results or someone says, "Oh, it worked for me." Well, a lot of times the patient wants to please the authority figure, and there's even shame and resentment from friends or family members if they were to reject or deny the acupuncture results or even refuse to go to the treatment in the first place.
[00:48:20] One of the most amazing things she talks about is studies they've done with acupuncture on rubber arms. And I'm sure you've seen this experiment where they set up and some illusionist or TV magicians will use this too, where they set up a rubber arm and then they put the participant's arm behind like a wall where they can't see it and they put the rubber arm where their hand would be if both hands were laid out on the table. Have you seen this?
[00:48:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:48:42] David C. Smalley: They will like tickle it.
[00:48:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:48:43] David C. Smalley: They like tickle it.
[00:48:44] Jordan Harbinger: And they would hammer or something.
[00:48:46] David C. Smalley: And then they just slam it with the hammer and the guy's like, "Aah!" It freaks people out, you know?
[00:48:50] Jordan Harbinger: They slammed the rubber arm with the hammer, to be clear. They're not actually slamming the guy's arm, but the person reacts as if it's their arm. That's what you mean.
[00:48:56] David C. Smalley: Right. Yeah. She talks about them doing this with acupuncture while imaging the brain, and when needles were inserted into the rubber arm, the brain responded as though it was happening to the person's actual arm, which means some of these reported feeling. Are happening due to visualization and suggestions from the acupuncturist or visualizing the needle going into the skin, which means actually inserting it is meaningless.
[00:49:21] Jordan Harbinger: Right. You don't have to hit the meridian if you get the same effect from inserting it into a rubber fake arm that you can get at a prop store.
[00:49:28] David C. Smalley: Exactly. Which makes it entirely meaningless.
[00:49:30] Jordan Harbinger: Right. I'm glad you didn't say pointless, David.
[00:49:33] David C. Smalley: I'm trying to be a better man.
[00:49:35] Jordan Harbinger: Well, let's just hope that attitude sticks.
[00:49:38] David C. Smalley: Oh, okay, Jordan. God, are we just going to start writing—?
[00:49:42] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:49:43] David C. Smalley: —snapple joke.
[00:49:43] It is corny as hell, but I just didn't have anything. Yeah, oh, the snapple where we open the top and it's a stupid kid pun.
[00:49:50] Okay. So look, the bottom line here is that there have been countless studies on acupuncture, even thousands. There is no real scientific proof that acupuncture works for anything other than slightly reducing your nausea or vomiting, and even that is probably strongly influenced by context, willpower and belief.
[00:50:09] Jordan Harbinger: Placebo, yay, but with infections and collapsed lungs and punctured aorta. Boo.
[00:50:16] David C. Smalley: I want to leave you with one quick thing that I found in the comments of that QED video. If you follow the links of the show notes and you go watch it, you should see this. I think it was one of the most popular comments. Someone left a comment there that said, "I was an acupuncturist and I was continuing my education doing a BA in psychology, and in my research course on the first day, we talked about the qualities of pseudoscience. And I had an epiphany and walked out that day quite troubled because there were a number of qualities that I was personally guilty of. For example, when asked how acupuncture works, I would begin with, we don't know yet, that I would follow with an explanation of one of a number of theories depending on which one would make the most sense to that particular client based on their background, their education level, worldview, et cetera. So that plus learning how to better critique publications in my psychology degree and seeing inconsistent results in my own practice and seeing hypocrisy in the field led me to leave that career behind."
[00:51:19] Jordan Harbinger: Huh. So at least one acupuncturist finally got the point. Okay. I'm done.
[00:51:24] David C. Smalley: Yeah, that's all I can handle.
[00:51:26] Jordan Harbinger: All right, thanks, David.
[00:51:27] David C. Smalley: Thank you, man.
[00:51:30] Jordan Harbinger: Here's a preview of my conversation with Bill Nye about why anti-vaccination activists aren't only endangering themselves in their crusade against the establishment, why climate change is real and a real threat, and what Bill thinks is even more important for the future of humanity than Elon Musk's drive to colonize mars. Here's a quick listen.
[00:51:52] Bill Nye: It is fascinating the energy people have, the haters have to hate, but meanwhile the climate is changing, even if you hate me.
[00:52:00] Jordan Harbinger: Do you mean my anger towards the things that you say is not positively affecting the climate?
[00:52:04] Bill Nye: No.
[00:52:05] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, it's weird. I got to change strategies, man.
[00:52:08] Bill Nye: The reason. I want you to get vaccinated. It's really not that I care about you. It's me, me, me, me. Because when you are unvaccinated, you are an incubator for mutating viruses, mutating bacteria. We can't fight with good conventional antibiotics. You're denying the discoveries made by diligent scientists over the last three centuries. You're objectively wrong about it.
[00:52:35] Hey, if you're a flat earth, if you're out there, go to the edge and take a picture and send it to us.
[00:52:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:42] Bill Nye: Go out there to the edge. Woo. They won't let you see the edge. Who's they? You think you'll find that you're living on a big ball and you can travel any direction and never leave? Whoa, dude, that's impossible. How could you be something that you could go anywhere and never get off it? Because it's a ball.
[00:53:03] My claim is if you're always curious, the world's always exciting, and every day you will learn something. And big idea behind that is everybody knows something you don't. Radical curiosity. I just want to get people excited about this process.
[00:53:19] I mean, we are living at a time. It is very reasonable that we will discover life on another world. Is there something alive on Mars? Is it like us or is it a whole nother thing?
[00:53:32] Jordan Harbinger: To hear more about why Bill Nye devotes his life to education but has no children of his own, how to deal with cognitive dissonance, the two things that always happen when we go exploring, check out episode 366 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:53:47] Once again, topic suggestions, always welcome, email@example.com. I know these episodes ruffle feathers. We're going to be doing a little bit more, I think measured kind of critique on some of this stuff in the future. But yeah, we're still getting our toes wet. This is an earlier episode than when we released it.
[00:54:02] A link to the show notes for the episode can be found at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter or Instagram or and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and you can find David Smalley at @davidcsmalley on all social media platforms, at davidcsmalley.com, or better yet, on his podcast The David C. Smalley Show. Links to all that will be in the show notes as well.
[00:54:24] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own, and I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on this show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. If you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:54:53] Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.