Academic scheming! Acupuncture and infertility – when you know your treatment doesn’t work, simply change the outcome parameters!!

Vested interests! the scourge of the academic world. Nowhere a bigger problem than with complementary medicine researchers. All scientists agree that acupuncture is nothing more than a placebo and the few scientists who disagree is rightfully known as pseudo-scientists because they usually have some sort of vested financial or emotional interest in acupuncture. And yet at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) this epiphany has completely passed them by and not only that, the university that hosts them continue to reward them for ignoring the glaring obvious.

So what I am talking about? A new study published quite recently (2016) by the NICM; “Prior to conception: The role of an acupuncture protocol in improving women’s reproductive functioning assessed by a pilot pragmatic randomised controlled trial” reported “misleadingly” positive results on which Prof Edzard Ernst commented with his main findings:

“In my view, the main findings of this study are entirely different. Let me propose alternatives:

-In alternative medicine, if you did a lousy study, you can just call it a ‘pilot study’ and all is forgiven.

-The infamous A+B vs B design continues to be popular for those who cannot bring themselves to publishing negative findings.

-It works perfectly for subjective parameters but less convincingly for objective ones, such as pregnancy rates.

-Doing such research on infertility is good for the cash flow of acupuncturists.

-Making women aware of fertility increases (surprise, surprise!) fertility awareness.”

But what does this have to do with scheming? Three years earlier, in 2013, the NICM published a scientific paper; “Acupuncture and infertility treatment: Is there more to the outcome for women than pregnancy?”  Can this title be rewritten as “We know that acupuncture is just a placebo and will not increase pregnancy rates, so we decided to continue to tell people that acupuncture works and that pregnancy is not an important outcome for infertility” Are they moving the goalposts? The NICMs undying believe in the power of acupuncture will not waver and they just cannot bring themselves to accept the simple fact that acupuncture is just a placebo.

If pregnancy is not a desired outcome for infertility, then what is according to the NICM? Their conclusions are revealing: “The qualitative information presented in this review suggests that women find the use of acupuncture empowering, whether or not pregnancy is achieved. This indicates that acupuncture can play an important role in strategies for enhancing women’s health.”

This is no joke, and it gets worse! For this type of work Western Sydney University decided to bestow the Researcher of the Year award upon CA Smith, the senior investigator in these studies. “Professor Caroline Smith has made a sustained and significant contribution to establishing the evidence base of acupuncture in relation to reducing the impact of illness relating to women’s health for which she is recognised as a world leader.”

The public message from the NICM? 1. Acupuncture works, 2. Pregnancy is not all that important for woman struggling with infertility, 3. Feeling empowered is a more important outcome 4. Acupuncture makes you feel empowered, 5. Acupuncture + infertility = perfect fit !!

Surely this is a good example of academic scheming!