Sunday, January 4, 2009

An acupuncture fallacy in action

...confusing correlation with causation (among other things…)

For the last 6 weeks, Sam the dog had been seen and treated with acupuncture for an undetermined lameness by a local “natural” veterinarian who specializes in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture therapy. Sam was being seen by a conventional vet and wasn’t responding typically to palliative treatment. That is, he would get better and then get worse intermittently.

After declining, for the moment, further diagnostics this veterinarian grudgingly ceded to the clients wishes to pursue alternative treatments making clear –to her credit- the difference between science and non-science based modalities. This is an unfortunate, yet fairly common scenario among a percentage of many a veterinarians client roster. The ever present, albeit usually tiny, clad of holistically oriented people who innocently –and sometimes tragically- muffle and slow the course of getting to the bottom of a case like Sam.

On the other hand, this is fairly familiar territory and many veterinarians will attempt to establish some kind of continued interaction with these folks in the interest of their patients. In fact, to some alternative veterinarians’ credit there are those who insist on some type of interaction with science based practice and require that a “conventional” diagnosis be given.

That most of these cases are either chronically or terminally ill patients undergoing a constellation of naturally occurring waxing & waning cycles of disease seems to be overlooked –especially when they are experiencing a usually quite temporary upswing. Anything good is ultimately and erroneously attributed to whatever strange concoction or instrument is used.

Because Sam wasn’t responding “as expected” it was determined -quite correctly by the attending alternative vet- that a clearer diagnosis was needed. The regular conventional veterinarian was called on to now pursue a diagnosis after the clients’ discussion with their alternative vet. Yes, the irony is duly noted.

However, by claiming that the acupuncture treatment wasn’t working and actually making the problem worse he used the wrong reasons. Whether an animal is getting better or worse, without a profound knowledge base of the natural history of disease and a good dollop of solid science based studies and data supporting the therapy being used, you really can’t claim anything –good or bad.

It turns out Sam the dog was dying from a severely malignant form of spinal bone cancer. He was basically terminal from day one and is now under focused conventional and humane end of life care…and Chinese herbs for cancer. Any improvement quite possibly will be attributed to the herbs.

The main point of this tale is that when something bad happens in the realm of alternative medicine, the problem is often attributed to an equivocal diagnosis, or that the alternative treatment was started too late, or that some diseases are made worse by one alternative modality…all mostly claims made without any solid evidence (including -on balance- acupuncture studies).

…and here’s one of the big problems. There is always something else to try or mix with the science…often without really knowing what’s going on. This brings all involved dangerously close to the edge of a dark abyss.

Without the proper tools -the light of reason- we're destined to stumble through interminable blind alleys and false hopes...armed with little more than hat tricks to bide the time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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