Society for Science-Based Medicine

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Minnesota legislators invent new way to do a worthless acupuncture study. Taxpayers to pick up tab.

A Minnesota legislator, a chiropractor by trade, is bypassing the usual ways of doing a worthless acupuncture study by inventing his own methodology. Acupuncture studies are famous for their sloppiness: no placebo controls, comparing Treatment X to Treatment X plus acupuncture, lack of blinding, spinning negative results. All of this generates results that look may look positive to the uninitiated but really demonstrate that acupuncture doesn't work, a subject my colleague, Mark Crislip, MD, has pointedly addressed many times both here at SFSBM and over on the SBM blog. Plus, the whole idea of studying acupuncture is tooth fairy science to begin with.

Sen. Jim Abeler, D. C., is either unaware of the current body of research demonstrating that acupuncture doesn't work for pain or he knows about it and just wants to try out new way of doing a bad study. In any event, he has filed a bill (Senate Bill 1958) in the state legislature appropriating $375,000 to study acupuncture for pain relief. He is joined in this effort by a legislator who works in marketing and two legislators who are nurses and should know better, all of whom have signed on as co-sponsors. There is a companion bill in the House (House Bill 2389).

The Senator/chiropractor wants the state to contract with a vendor who will collect data from acupuncturists consisting of "at least" 200 cases where patients received more than 6 but less than 30 acupuncture treatments for pain relief over a six-month period.The vendor is then supposed to write up a report to address

"the use of acupuncture for pain relief and the potential for acupuncture treatments to contribute to a reduction of opioid prescriptions in Minnesota."

To paraphrase a famous observation about scientific ineptitude, that's not even a study. Perhaps it is trying to be a retrospective study, but it's not.

"A retrospective study looks backwards and examines exposures to suspected risk or protection factors in relation to an outcome that is established at the start of the study." 

And,

"you should take special care to avoid sources of bias and confounding in retrospective studies."

This "study" is basically a collection of anecdotes about whether patients said their pain improved after acupuncture. See any problems with bias and confounding here? I thought so.

We can save Sen. Abeler the time and effort of pushing this bill and the good citizens of Minnesota $375,000 by pointing to the large body of research showing acupuncture doesn't work for pain of any kind. Unfortunately, this waste of taxpayer dollars made it out of the Senate Health & Human Services Finance and Policy Committee and on to its second reading in the Senate. 


Points of Interest 03/20/2017
Points of Interest 03/18/2017