What‘s the difference between science and pseudoscience? The definition of science is a “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experiment” (Wikipedia. org). This definition of science seems to be based on observation of how things work, where scientist would draw up a purpose and find a method of proof. With the results of the observation we can established and test facts and laws to describe how the universe works. With science, the observation must be able to repeated and conformed by other scientists.
The definition of pseudoscience “is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method. ” (Wikipedia. org). The practice of pseudoscience seems to lacks the support of evidence from experiments of the observation. Also, pseudoscience can be characterized by the use of exaggerated or unproven claims which are impossible to properly test. With the definition of pseudoscience we can say that it’s similar to science in a way that we can have a purpose for the experiment but has no way to proving the purpose.
Therefore, the big difference is the conclusion of result which make the observation either science or pseudoscience. With the study of alternative medicine practice there always been a question whether it’s science or pseudoscience. Acupuncture is one example of an alternative medicine practice. Acupuncture has been practice in China for over thousands of years and recently became popular in western medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine life force or energy flows throughout the body called Qi. The Qi is influence and balance by stimulating specific points on the body and these points are located along channels of energy called meridians.
Meridian channels are connected to all of the major organs in the body. Illnesses emerge when the flow of Qi becomes blocked or not balance. In Western medicine, acupuncture stimulates certain points on the skin and can alter different biochemical and physiological condition to cure illness and disorder. In both medical practices of acupuncture it involves inserting thin metal needles throughout the skin at specific depth and point to correct the balance of the energy flow, Qi and/or to achieve a cure for illness or disorder. (Susan Levy, Heath. com) What makes acupuncture a science?
Some studies show that there is a connection between acupuncture and the nervous system and with this connection it can explain the effects on acupuncture through pain. The Nerve-Reflex Theory was developed by doctors in Japan named Ishikawa and Fujita. This theory said that with abnormal conditions that occur in the internal organs this affect the skin and muscles that relates to the effected organ by the nervous system. Since the nervous system is connected to every part of the body, it can transmit information about the affected area to the brain.
Acupuncture is used to release the blockage of the flow to heal (acupuncture. com). Another similar theory that has been used in the west is The Gate Control Theory of Pain. This theory was developed by Drs. Melzack and Walls, focus on the mechanism of acupuncture for pain relief. The main idea of this study is that the spinal cords has a neurological “gate” that can block pain signal or allow the signals go to the brain. The “gate” lets signals through from the type of fiber that carrying the pain signals.
The only way the pain signals pass through the gate is that it travels in the small nerve fiber, the gate rejects the large nerve fiber. Acupuncture is used in this study to release the pain is certain area. With thermo imaging it seems that the area that was treated with acupuncture showed results in increasing blood circulation (acupuncture. com). From these theories you can say that acupuncture is a science, where scientist came up with a purpose by trying to understand how acupuncture works and based of the experiment it seems like they have similar results.
These theories tells you how acupuncture works with the nervous system but what it does not explain is why the acupuncture points connects with the meridian channels. Some say that acupuncture is a pseudoscience. An evidence of this is the sham acupuncture experiment. Sham acupuncture experiment is used to test the effect of acupuncture for treatment of different kinds of illness and disorder. This is a controlled study where the patient did not know whether they are getting true acupuncture or sham acupuncture.
Two kinds of controls groups were used, where one group was poked with toothpick to seem like they were getting a true acupuncture and the other group was stick with a needle but the penetration was not in the meridian channel (wikipedia. org). It seems like when they test these control studies they got similar results. The patients with the sham acupuncture felt better with no treatment and the patients with true acupuncture also felt better with the treatment. How can both acupuncture and placebo have similar effects?
The biggest problem with the sham acupuncture experiment is finding suitable placebo control and this is why some say that acupuncture is a pseudoscience. This study seems to be scientific but it lacks a valid method in each study and there was no valid way to test the purpose. It seems that this test won’t work because people have different pain level and different scales of sickness and there is no way to test the level of pain and scale of illness in people. It seems that acupuncture can be either science or pseudoscience.
The studies of acupuncture and the nervous system is an example of how acupuncture can be a science because had a purpose, ran test and came up with a conclusion that there is a connection between the two. But the study of the effect of sham acupuncture vs. true acupuncture is an example of pseudoscience from the definition, where a scientific experiment was established and tested and the result came back with lack of evidence, showed that the sham acupuncture patient had similar effect with the true acupuncture patient.
It seems like some studies and scientist do not favor the practice of acupuncture but there are evidences from people’s testimony that tried acupuncture and it works for them. It seems people who believe that acupuncture works experienced beneficial effect of acupuncture with illness like pain, increasing fertility, treating arthritis, relieving nausea, and much more. What’s odd to me is when scientist explains acupuncture using neurophysiology it’s a science but when acupuncture is explain using Qi and meridians channels they dismiss acupuncture as a science because the process of how Qi and meridians channels work is unclear.
What I believe is that acupuncture is a science where we are still trying to explain how process of acupuncture works. The whole idea of science is to produce a purpose for the observation and run different kinds of experiment until you figure out why or how it works. I believe that science will provide the explanation for the observation of the tradition Chinese medicine. Where science can find a connection between the acupuncture points and the meridians and explain why it works. I don’t think acupuncture should be considered a pseudoscience because we can’t completely explain how it works (yet).