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Battlefield Acupuncture PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Harriet Hall   
Superstition and nonsense have infiltrated military medicine. The military was never known for critical thinking; in fact, it is often said that "military intelligence" is an oxymoron. When I was in the Air Force we used to say that the difference between the Air Force and the Boy Scouts was that the Boy Scouts had adult leadership. But now they have outdone themselves: the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Instead of getting narcotics for pain relief, wounded soldiers are being stuck in the ear with little needles. This has been happening for some time in our best military hospitals including Walter Reed. As if that weren't silly enough, now the Air Force is training military physicians in "battlefield acupuncture." For details, see Dr. David Gorski's scathing indictment at www.sciencebasedmedicine.org.

I asked my husband what he would do if he were wounded on a battlefield and a medic tried to use acupuncture on him. He said, "I'd shoot him." [Riflepuncture?]

Regular acupuncture would be bad enough, since there is no convincing evidence that it works any better than a placebo; but they are using ear acupuncture, a fantasy  invented in 1957 by a Frenchman  who was inspired by the  thought that the outer ear looked like a curled representation of the human body. Col. Niemtzow, the primary instigator of this insanity, says, "The ear acts as a "monitor" of signals passing from body sensors to the brain."  Sure it does. On what planet?  

As an Air Force nurse once told me, "The Air Force is like a condom: it gives you a sense of security while you're getting screwed." I'd say battlefield acupuncture is a prime example of what she meant.

What next? Homeopathic jet fuel? Incantations on the pre-flight checklist?  


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written by Caligo, December 18, 2008
So many good similes and puns that it put a smile on my face when I should have been weeping smilies/cry.gif

Apparently US soldiers are being killed not only by religious extremists abroad, but also by new age quacks at home...
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written by Willy K, December 18, 2008
Maybe the name should be changed to "The United States Air FARCE."

... Up we go into the wild WOO yonder ...

General LeMay is spinning in his grave. smilies/cry.gif

Willy K
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written by BillyJoe, December 19, 2008
Col. Niemtzow, the primary instigator of this insanity, says, "The ear acts as a "monitor" of signals passing from body sensors to the brain."

I am willing to believe this...
...as soon as the Colonel can show me the nerves that pass from the body's sensors to the brain via the ear.

Do they not study anatomy in medical school?
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written by TDjazz, December 19, 2008
Whoever ordered this should be stuck with something somewhere, but it shouldn't be an acupuncture needle and definitely not in the ear. smilies/wink.gif
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written by Trez, December 19, 2008
Id have thought that's the last thing a soldier who has had holes put in him would want...more holes

Perhaps its that theory that if you've got a headache and you trap your fingers in the door that the distraction of the pain in your broken fingers makes you forget about your headache?

Maybe the distraction of pointless accupuncture would distract the wounded from their pain? They can instead ponder the lawsuit that they're going to bring when they get home
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written by GusGus, December 19, 2008

Homeopathic fuel? That's the answer to the energy crisis. Just pour homeopathic fuel (99.999999999999999999999999999...% water) into your fuel tank. Talk about free energy!!!
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Have to agree with Caligo
written by Jim Shaver, December 19, 2008
Thanks for the information, Harriet. I've been excited that this is the last day before my big furlough. However, this depressing news has brought me down a little.
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written by cwniles, December 19, 2008
Even 18th-century pirates were convinced of the value, piercing their lobes with earrings "to improve their night vision," Niemtzow said with a grin.

This was addressed briefly on the sciencebasedmedicine article linked to in the main post but I felt that this comment really sums up everything in a nice little package. Sure, pirates MAY have pierced their ears due to an unfounded belief in some theories of acupuncture (ie improved vision) and that these pirates probably were exposed to those beliefs while plying the ancient Asian seaways. They also believed that it was unlucky to kill an albatross or sea gull as they were souls of sailors lost at sea and that women aboard ship were unlucky.

Even if his comment was tongue in cheek, I think he inadvertantly spoke volumes about the acceptance of unfounded ideas.
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written by BillyJoe, December 19, 2008
Trez,

Perhaps its that theory that if you've got a headache and you trap your fingers in the door that the distraction of the pain in your broken fingers makes you forget about your headache?

Acupuncture is not actually painful or, at most, only mildly so.
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written by BillyJoe, December 19, 2008
GusGus,

Homeopathic fuel? That's the answer to the energy crisis. Just pour homeopathic fuel (99.999999999999999999999999999...% water) into your fuel tank. Talk about free energy!!!

It's amazing how many sceptics get this wrong.
Like cures like, remember.
If fuel turns your machine into a mostrous raging beast, diluting and succussing it would turn it into a little pussy-cat.
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written by Raindoggy, December 19, 2008
We are talking about the military. Where God and gun walk hand in hand.

Accupuncture is a bit better in that, with it stupidity can be painful.
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written by hamradioguy, December 19, 2008
Ahhhh, so Dr. Neimtzow surfaces again. When I was an undergraduate, this chap and I were classmates at a little college that recently hosted a Crop Circle Conference. That might explain why he couldn't get into medical school here in the U.S. He took his MD in France. Perhaps that's where he learned about acupuncture and the notion that "The ear acts as a 'monitor' of signals passing from body sensors to the brain." (Although the last time I had contact with him he was a member of the Mutual UFO Network investigating radiation effects from close encounters with alien UFOs. He seems to have moved on to other interests.....)
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written by mjh937, December 19, 2008
The ear acts as a "monitor" of signals passing from body sensors to the brain.

Doesn't everyones ear act as a monitor? Mine passes audio signals to my brain. Perhaps acupuncturist ears work differently to mine.
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Air Farce
written by trawnajim, December 19, 2008
'Maybe the name should be changed to "The United States Air FARCE."'

As usual, Willy, Canadian comedy is one step ahead (well, several actually smilies/tongue.gif):

http://www.airfarce.com/

Originally a radio programme in the early '70s, it switched to TV several years ago, but alas is now in its final season.
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Vision of the future
written by s_manning, December 19, 2008
I'm imagining an article written in the year 2208: “Even twenty-first century soldiers knew the value of acupuncture,” says Dr. WooMeister. “In the Iraq War (2003-2009) military medics used ear acupuncture to treat the wounded because it was ten times better than drugs. Its bizarre that this simple, traditional treatment is still rejected by a conservative medical establishment wedded to its nanotechnology and tailored drugs.” Henry Wilde of the Luna Skeptical Society disagreed, stating that in the past 300 years no honest double-blind study has shown that acupuncture works better than a placebo.

Anecdotes in favour of quack medicine have a way of lasting ...
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written by sscook, December 19, 2008
JunkfoodScience wrote about this last weekend:
http://junkfoodscience.blogspo...-and.html
Nietzow is a UFO-logist from way back. smilies/grin.gif
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try again with the link
written by sscook, December 19, 2008

http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/
2008/12/surprising-link-between-ufos-and.html
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This could be interesting.
written by drowven, December 19, 2008
I have a friend who was a former Marine and is literally terrified of needles. I have seen him do incredible dumb and dangerous things without breaking stride, but needles make him either run away, go berserk, or pass out. The only way this would work was if the needles made him pass out. Of course I have had to help three guys hold him down for him to get a shot. I can see that ending very badly for the acupuncturist which I personally would find hilarious.
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written by daveg703, December 19, 2008
Written by Harriet Hall 12/19/2008:



"I asked my husband what he would do if he were wounded on a battlefield and a medic tried to use acupuncture on him. He said, "I'd shoot him." [Riflepuncture?]"


Well, if he was a very good shot, would that not also be acu-puncture?
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written by xth_scholar, December 19, 2008
I believe we should update AFI 36-2093 (Dress and Personal Appearance) to include mandatory preemptive ear acupuncture (allowable colors: black, blue, silver, 'natural'). With enough piercings our Airmen will feel no pain, see in the dark, and gain psychokinetic powers.

We can't let those skeptical fools stop us from helping the troops.
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written by nelson650, December 20, 2008
Ouch! I am in great pain due to the lack of needles in my earlobes! Help! smilies/grin.gif
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written by The SkepDoc, December 20, 2008
Dr. Niemtzow has done government-funded acupuncture research of abysmally poor quality: he didn't even use a control group. I've been wondering how his name is pronounced. Does it sound like "Nutso"?
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sad results of pesudoscience run amok
written by Trish, December 21, 2008
This sad story is the logical outcome of decades-long war-on-drugs policies that any shred of info or speculation that might make drugs look ever more dangerous is promoted by our government, while evidence of usefulness or lack of harm is stifled. Great weight is given to personal testimonials that legitimately-prescribed drugs turn people with chronically painful conditions into antisocial, selfish criminals who are suddenly fine without pain treatment after they're caught for illegal drugs, or to criminals who get reductions in sentences when they claim that drugs caused their crimes, ignoring the many drug-free ubercriminals like Ted Bundy, Green River Killer, BTK, Herb Baumeister, to name a few; or people who managed to be contributing members of society while using drugs, like Carl Sagan, who used marijuana, Dr. William Halstead, inventor of the mastectomy and user of opiates & cocaine.

The current popular image of a war vet is someone damaged by the trauma of war & abuses drugs or alcohol to blot out the horror what they saw or did, and the cure offered is a 12 step program [6 steps mention of which mention god], often conveniently offered at a VA facility, where sufferers rehash their unhappy memories again & again. If permitting excruciating pain on the battlefield can prevent vets a life of addiction & homelessness later, many Americans would say that's a small price to pay.

The only problem is that there is no scientific evidence that addiction [or alcoholism] is a disease, and that the only treatment for this disease is religious observations [aka "meetings"], that selfish people who've hurt loved ones &/or committed crimes will suddenly stop being antisocial if they stop alcohol or drugs. There's no evidence that people who use pain drugs to treat pain turn antisocial, or have trouble quitting after the pain is gone.

What we have in the alcoholism/addiction industry is a religious narrative of sin & redemption being passed off as medical fact: that people use alcohol &/or drugs to dampen the pain of their lives will die unless they experience the destruction of their ego in the context of a group that tells them they have a "spiritual illness" [which is simultaneously "a real physical disease like diabetes or cancer"].

The AMA, which currently supports the alcoholism/addiction as disease model actually panned the AA Big Book when it was first published. At the time they accepted the disease model, homosexuality was also listed as a disease in the DSM. Scientific rigor would permit revisiting whether the disease model stands up to scrutiny.

Skeptics interested in a skeptical view on alcoholism/addiction might be interested in The Orange Papers: http://www.orange-papers.org/

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placebo works
written by icerat, December 21, 2008
Dr. Hall, you say -
Regular acupuncture would be bad enough, since there is no convincing evidence that it works any better than a placebo;

This may be true ... but one thing that needs to be accepted is that this doesn't mean it doesn't work - it just doesn't work the way practicioners may claim it does. Placebo is a very powerful effect. I'm all for using placebo if it works. It's generally cheaper, more portable, and has less side effects than pharmaceuticals. Sounds an ideal battlefield treatment to me.
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If placebo works, call it placebo
written by The SkepDoc, December 21, 2008
I'm all for placebo use - just don't quote poor research to try to pretend placebos are more than placebos; and don't promulgate myths about qi and meridians, and representations of the body on the ear. In controlled studies, only about 35% of subjects improve with placebos - I think the response rate to morphine is considerably higher than that, but then of course it does have more side effects. Tell the soldiers they can have a placebo or morphine and see what they prefer!
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written by icerat, December 21, 2008
On the other hand in some controlled pain relief studies placebo has shown improvements in upward of 75% of patients and some morphine studies have been as low as the 50s - and the morphine subjects get both the pharmaceutical benefits and placebo! This however is really beside the point as my concern was really with your phrasing. Placebo is not an effect that should simply be dismissed and in my opinion part of the reason for recent apparent increases in alternative medicine uptake is as a backlash to the "it doesn't work" claims of "mainstream medicine". The reality is that many alternative therapys *do work*, it's just they may no work better than placebo. If we tell people something doesn't work, when in their experience it quite clearly does, they're less likely to take us seriously in other areas. On a slightly off-topic but related issue that has concerned me for a while, I think some folk are also too quick to dismiss some treatment because of the clear absurdity of the mechanism espoused (eg Qi) when the explanation given (belief and placebo aside) has little to do with the efficacy. Ancient health practioners may have claimed putting honey on a wound fought off evil spirits, but that wrong explanation doesn't stop honey having anti-bacterial properties. A few years ago for example some studies at Vanderbilt showed that static magnetic fields in a particular alignment prevent propogation of action potentials, apparently through somehow blocking ion channels. In controlled studies this mechanism offered significant pain relief. This is certainly intriguing in the context of the popularity of magnetic pain relief and also acupuncture - spinning metal creates magnetic fields. Perhaps, at least in some situations, there may even be more than just placebo going on.

We mustn't close our eyes to the anti-bacterial properties of honey simply because we don't believe in evil spirits. Similarly IMO we mustn't close our eyes to the fact that the placebo effect is something we should be studying how to effectively use, not just as a way to dismiss some crackpot idea.
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written by LindaRosaRN, December 21, 2008
I think the DAV and other veterans' groups might have something to say about adopting acupuncture and Reiki, if they knew the facts. The military should be urged to look at the Cochrane Systematic Reviews before they leap...
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written by dr pepper, December 23, 2008
Hmm, medics should carry dart guns so they can help fallen soldiers in exposed positions. Load the darts up with homeopotions for a doubly effective treatment.
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written by ICBMGuy, January 22, 2009
Since no one here has mentioned it, I will. I am suffering from sciatica. If you have never had it, you should count yourself lucky. After a month of taking Vicodin and every other pain med they could find, we tried this procedure and it really did HELP. To be able to actually sit at my desk without severe pain or walk without a noticeable limp makes me able to come to work again and be productive. Better yet, there is no pain pills involved. This may only be temporary relief but after 5 weeks of non-stop severe pain, the last 7 days of being pain free are worth some tiny bling in the ear. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by The SkepDoc, January 22, 2009
It's possible the sciatica pain ran its course and subsided naturally and the acupuncture had nothing to do with it. That's why we go by controlled trials rather than testimonials.
A friend of mine had unremitting back pain and called on a Friday to make an appointment with a chiropractor for Monday. Over the weekend his pain vanished never to return. If he had seen the chiropractor on Friday, the chiropractor would have falsely gotten the credit.
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Yes, no matter how convincing they sound, testimonials are useless.
written by BillyJoe, January 22, 2009
Unrelated topic, but to add to SkepDocs example, our son had severe generalised eczema in childhood and we were at our wits end as to how to manage it despite using all the advised treatments including potent corticosteroids. Finally we booked him in to see an allergist. Whilst awaiting the appointment, his eczema resovled completely never to return over the next 15 years. In this case the allergist - a proper medical practitioner at least - would have received the acclaim.
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