The Army is using quack "battlefield acupuncture" based on junk science

The exciting field of "battlefield acupuncture" involves training soldiers and medics to perform what amounts to a "theatrical placebo" involving jamming glorified thumbtacks into fellow soldiers' ears and leaving them there until they fall out.

The practice, which just keeps on expanding, is based on a handful of small, badly flawed studies. Meanwhile, the best evidence is that acupuncture itself performs no better than a placebo — and that's the stuff that doesn't involve having a fellow soldier ineptly pierce your ear on the battlefront.

What could possibly go wrong?!

I could find no publications in the peer-reviewed medical literature to examine supporting it. Regarding the second claim, I looked up the actual study. (It's what I do.) Let's just say that the study is…underwhelming. Yes, it was a randomized controlled trial looking at 54 patients with acute sore throat. However, it was unblinded, a feature that renders any acupuncture trial pretty much worthless scientifically because it doesn't account for placebo effects. Indeed, it's a pragmatic trial. That means that the intent is to determine effectiveness under "real world" conditions; hence, no sham/placebo controls. In real medicine, pragmatic trials are used to assess the real world effectiveness of treatments already shown to be efficacious in randomized controlled clinical trials. However, given that auricular acupuncture has not been shown to be effective in such trials, doing pragmatic trials studying it is putting the cart before the horse.

Not that ever stopped acupuncturists from doing such trials before. After all, it's the way they generate "positive" trials. After all, doing rigorous randomized controlled trials with good shame acupuncture controls generally find that acupuncture is indistinguishable from sham acupuncture.

[Orac/Respectful Insolence]

(Image: On pins and needles, Navy doctor branches out with deployment medicine, Cpl. Paul Peterson, PD)