Is it utterly a placebo effect?

What Do Science communicators Think about acupunture in the UK?

The people’s interest in acupuncture has fluctuated in several decades in the UK. However, the British science communicators have constantly argued that the effect of acupuncture is suspicious. What are their opinions and which factors make them to make the concrete decision.

At the present time, Simon Sigh and Ben Goldacre are the most famous science writers in the UK . They recently published their own books containing a sceptical view of acupuncture.

Firstly, Simon Sigh wrote a book, Trick or Treatment, with Edzard Ernst, the first complementary medical professor in the UK. In his book, he argued against 4 popular complementary and alternative medicines (CAM): acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic therapy, and hermal therapy.

He argued that the effect of acupuncture is suspicious because of several reasons. First of all, the mechanism how acupuncture works is unclear. He introduced the traditional Chinese medicine’s paradigm, Q’i; however, he said there is no ‘scientific’ evidence of it. Then, he mentioned the clinical trial, a modern medical method to prove the effect of medicine. These days, as acupuncture has widely trasmitted to the Western, many organisations includig WHO(the World Health Organisation) have tried to cover acupuncture within the conventional medicine. And, the clinical trial is a typical way to confirm that acupuncture can be covered in the western medicine.

Simon Sigh spent a lot of pages to explain several clinical trials about acupuncture. But he said that these trials showed no evdience of that acupuncture works for diseases. Then, he concluded that acupuncture is likely to a placebo effect rather than an effective cure.

The other author, Ben Goldacre, also showed a result of clinical trial about acupuncture in his book, Bad Science. Virtually, Ben Goldacre also insisited that it is not sure that acupuncture really works. (Although there is no independent section about acupunture in his book, he introduced it in the ‘Homeopathy’ section and the ‘Placebo effect’ section.) In his book, there is a graph to show the percentage with short-term improvement. He said, ‘a review of trials of acupuncture for back pain showed that the studies which were properly blinded showed a tiny benefit for acupuncture, which was not “statistically significant”. Meanwhile, the trials which were not blinded – the ones where the patients knew whether they were in the treatment group or not – showed a massive, statistically significant benefit for acupuncture.

Interestingly, complementary medical doctors explained the same result in the opposite way. Simon Sigh used the result of clinical trial by German scentists. According to the news article on the Peninsula Medical School website, a school of Edzard Ernst, a researcher of the group in University of Heidelberg, said: ‘Our first clinical trial suggests that acupuncture does indeed have benefits, at least in shoulder pain’. Like this, the clinical trials can not become a proper way to prove whether acupuncture works or not.


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A brief history of Acupuncture in Britain

Acupuncture is a main part of the Chinese Traditional Medicine. According to the first description of Acupuncture in China from the second century B.C., there is a vital energy or life force called Ch’i[1] in a human body, and it flows though our body via channels known as meridians. Illnesses are due to imbalances or blockages in the flow of Ch’I, and the treatment of acupuncture is to tap into the meridians at key points to rebalance or unblock the Ch’i.[2]

Of course it is hard to determine an historical date something was revealed, Acupuncture was first coined in Europe by Wilhelm ten Rhyne of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. In the time of Chino-series period, a transmission of acupuncture also followed a surge of popular interested in China in Britain. Interestingly, Humoral medicine was in 17th century English and Scottish medicine, depended on vital principles, and it was very similar to the Chinese vital fluid, Ch’i. But by this time, according to Bivins’s view, acupuncture had already begun to take on a western form.

In the nineteenth century, a therapeutic technique which its practitioners called acupuncture was widely disseminated in Britain. A first British acupuncturist, Churchill published a book, the Treatise on Acupuncture in 1822. In time, some European scholars began to practice acupuncture, but they intended to reinterpret it to fit in with the scientific discoveries. For example, Louis Berlioz, a famous composer, found that acupuncture benefited relieving muscular pain and nervous conditions. He suggested that the healing mechanism might be linked to the findings of Luigi Galvani, who had discovered the electric reaction in the frog’s leg.

As well as this, in Britain, the acupuncture needle was employed to produce minor bleeding by British practitioners, and the minor bleeding was related to a treatment of scurvy which had flourished but been turned out a fault.

In the twentieth century, acupuncture has risen again due to the re-opening of China to the West in 1970s. However, acupuncture has been regarded as a Chinese product rather than medical service outside of NHS boundary. Chinese traditional clinics do not show evidence based research in the orthodox medical way, but they show individually empirical treatments. This approach causes immense repulsion from the orthodox medicine. A Chinese officer in Chinese ambassador said that British people are sceptical about Chinese medicine.[3]

In terms of science literacy, a communication [transmission] of Chinese traditional medicine had deficits. A philosopher of science, John Dupre, argues that science literacy has three parts: what science is, how science works, and how science really works. However, Chinese traditional medicine had been transmitted in sole terms of what it is to Europe. Also, the orthodox medicine has mainly criticized acupuncture in terms of what it really works. There is little discourse about what it is, a paradigm of Chinese traditional medicine.

[1] Due to a Chinese letter, there are different words meaning the same thing; for example, Q’i or Ch’i.

[2] Singh, S. and Ernst, E., Trick or Treatment

[3] I met him on the 25th of March in the Royal Society.

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A colourful symphony by the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

All festivals are about fun. Then, can science be for a festival? If I ask this question of students who are suffering from scrambling science and technology, such students at Imperial during exam-period, they all glazed at me in blank dismay. However, the Edinburgh International Science Festival shows a bright answer. If you were in the festival, then you would feel that “yes, festivals afford audiences great pleasure, and science festivals should be no exception.”

The festival, taking place during every Easter holiday, is older than some undergraduate students at Imperial. This year, it celebrated its 21st birthday with the opening event of ASIMO, the first robot in the world that walks on two legs, runs, climbs up step. It was so successful start with 8,000 audiences watching the robot ASIMO, and family venues also sailed out day after day. In total, 68,000 people visitors, including me, came and enjoyed ‘jaw-dropping, show stopping, and eye-popping science.’

For my first visit of the festival, why do I mind finding traces of Darwin in Edinburgh? The Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh conserves some plant species which Darwin sent to his friend Hooker during his remarkable Beagle voyage. As well as this, it also has one of the heaviest seed in the world and very old species collected in the 1600s. Of course they are displayed neither in the glass house nor in the garden. Only one day during the festival, the Botanic Garden opened its lab building, and a botanist introduced interesting stories about plant species. Yes, it is totally season-limited item of the festival.

Darwin's collection
Darwin’s collection

One day in the festival, I saw a long queue in front of a theatre; it was also an event of the festival, Dr.bunhead show. Dr.bunhead performed his show in the festival for a decade, every year the size of his show become bigger and bigger. Even though his show is famous for big explosions, he has changed subjects and contents of the show every year. He said, “Of course I believe I should change my show every year because there are some audiences visiting my show every year. One boy of them has been visiting my show from US every Easter holiday.” He stands unchallenged in the present standing science show. Over a decade, how could he gain his fame and attract people’s attention? “When I have a lecture of science communication, I give a strong emphasis one two things. Firstly, we have to be understandable. Also, we have to scrutinise our audiences: their inclinations, their interest, and their reactions.”

Can you light your own f*rts?

Can you light your own f*rts?

I would not want you to see the festival as just funny. There were plenty of well-informed talks and discussions on topics such as an ice age, future computing, and computer simulation of 3D animations. A lecture of Dr.baraff, an expert of computer simulation collaborating with Pixar animation studio in US, explained how computer simulation helped to develop an animation film. For example, he showed a draft film of Ratatouille, one of his projects, without his simulation and compared the simulation adopted film. I asked him, “When there is a technical challenge in order to build animator’s desires, how could you solve or negotiate the difference of a point of view?” He answered, “that is so simple. Animators always win!” Then, audiences laughed.

Also, the festival introduced the recent achievements of science and technology by eminent researchers. “I did my first degree at Imperial.” Dr. Andrew, a science communicator in the family event venue, said. “Now, I work for St. Andrew University to develop public engagement activities about photonics. Our purpose is that we make people to connect dots between other scientific subjects, such as optics and medicines. Our work helps young audiences, even primary school students, to understand the cutting-edge science.”

The 21st festival was a well-organised symphony. It had 170 events in 26 venues around the city over two weeks. The harmony which the sheer energy of organisations collaborating in the adventure makes it fascinating: several Scottish royal societies, many local businesses, museums, galleries, even a cinema, and three universities are involved.    

I do not deny that one strong plus for the festival is that it is in Edinburgh. Yes, I am an ex-resident of the city and even an Edinburgh-phile. Edinburgh is really one of the most attractive cities in Britain; then, there is the lively night life – after few walks from festival venues, you can have fascinating time through drinking, theatre, or concerts. It is only in Edinburgh during the science festival to enjoy cultural life, science lectures, and hands-on experiences. Now, it is your turn. What about a visit in Edinburgh next Easter holiday?

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How orangutans help save the rainforests.

Do you think the ‘palm oil’ is a good oil rather than other fats? Think it again, and listen to Joanna Blythman‘s voice.


Ethical shoppers live with the knowledge that some of the foods they buy could be fuelling environmental destruction and the exploitation of people at the other side of the world. So they switch to fair trade or support a boycott, never entirely convinced that this is making any difference on the ground. But every now and then, a particularly effective campaign of action gets astonishing results back in the country in question. The most striking example in recent years has been led by Friends of the Earth.

For decades, Friends of the Earth in the UK had been campaigning to stop the destruction of tropical rainforests, but its emphasis had been on deforestation caused by the paper industry. Then FoE in Indonesia alerted it to the fact that the clearing of forests to make way for food-oil-producing palms was now a bigger threat – causing unprecedented environmental damage and driving indigenous people off their land to make way for this new gold rush crop.

Friends of the Earth’s campaigner Ed Matthew faced the problem that palm oil, the cheapest oil available to food manufacturers, is rarely listed as an ingredient on food labels, more often being subsumed under the heading of vegetable oil, Yet consumers were indirectly accomplices to tropical-forest destruction because they were buying this oil unwittingly in as many as one in 10 products on supermarket shelves – in everything from crisps and instant soup to margarine and chocolate. But how do you focus public attention on a mystery ingredient that you cannot see, smell or feel ?

In 2004, FoE decided the answer was a troop of apes, an ambitious goal considering its allocation of just one full-time campaigner and a budget of 8000 Pounds. Palm-oil plantations were wiping out the habitat of the orangutan, so FoE decided to use this iconic endangered primate as an emotive example of a species that could disappear entirely if unbridled conversion of primary forest to palm-oil plantation was allowed to continue. The only orangutans now left in the world live in Borneo and Sumatra, where the lowland peat forests that sustain them are being rapidly destroyed in a race between Malaysia and Indonesia to become the world’s biggest supplier of palm oil. Wildlife groups warn that, without urgent intervention, the palm-oil trade will make the species extinct within 12 years.

A great hairy ape was the perfect pin-up. Within two years, FoE had made astonishing progress. In 2005, the Indonesia government had announced its plan to develop a palm-oil fence running the length of the Malaysia-Indonesia border in Borneo. This mega-plantation-which would have been the world’s biggest and most destructive agricultural project- would have sounded the death knell for the remaining orangutans on the island. By 2006, embarrassed by the coverage of the scheme, the Indonesian government abandoned its plans.

This international reaction had been triggered by campaigning in the UK where FoE turned its attention to the supermarkets, exposing how none of them had a clue where their palm oil was coming from. It organized demonstrations outside stores, urging supermarkets to join a Roundtable on Sustainable Oil Palm. At first they refused, but within months they changed their tune. ‘Their language changed from, “we don’t see the point” to, “we think it is incredibly important”.’says Matthew. Now food retailers, manufacturers and even palm-oil-producing companies are currently working with environmentalists on a scheme for certifying sustainable palm oil, so that buyers can be sure they are not aiding and abetting rainforest destruction. The first of this certified oil should be on the market in a year’s time. Clearer labeling will also mean that companies cannot hide behind a generic label because all vegetable oil will need to state its source.

So are the orangutans safe? Unfortunately not. Tow new developments make palm-oil production even more attractive. Being cheap and easy to grow, palm-oil is a perfect crop for biofuels, and the urgent need to find alternatives to petrol and diesel is being used as a justification for more palm-oil expansion. So while health campaigners have largely succeeded in getting companies to remove artery-clogging transfats from their foods, palm oil is more in demand than ever as a cheap, liquid replacement. So at this point in the battle it may be one up for the orangutans, but there are no grounds for complacency. Friends of the Earth’s palm oil campaign continues. OFM

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The end of oil

 When you wake up in the morning, what do you do first? Maybe you turn on the light in your room. Also when you finish a day, you turn off it. In the other words, your day starts and ends with electricity. For the most part, 40%, of total energy consumption derives from the oil. Now the oil will run out in 50 years. What will happen after the end of oil? I think the most effective changes will occur in transport.

 You will change your car instead of gassing up it. Transportation accounts for 28% of all energy use in 2004, and 97% of transportation fuel is petroleum. In 2050, we won’t keep using these cars. The tendency nowadays is toward that the electric car, which will replace the gasoline car. Then, how can we get amount of the electricity energy in place of oil? We can find the answer from the sun. Photovoltage, or solar energy, is the ideal solution. Because solar radiation is most of the incoming energy in earth’s energy budget; the solar radiation entering the earth is estimated at 174 per watt a year, so photovoltage can support the energy consumption for the electric car. Thus, who will charge photovoltage and sell it? They will be the new OPEC, Organization of Photovoltage Exporting Contries. It will be made up of Equador, perto Rigo, and the central Asian centuries. Maybe they will be the new power in the world. Then, the relation of power will be changed. Especially in America, the shoe will be on the other foot.

The world’s energy we have monotonically increased since the industrial Revolution, of course the oil mostly stood up the consumption, but now we face the end of oil. Many countries have the plan to reduce the use of energy. The change is already announced. Though I said that the transport will be changed too much, not only the transportation but also most of our lives will be changed. I think the best solution to cope with the change is to live with it.

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The Weirdest Truth: “Incomplete” Quantum Physics

The truth of our universe occasionally perplexes us due to its counter-intuitive characteristics. The wave-particle duality of light, the fundamental theory of Quantum Physics, is a typical example. Additionally, in 1982, the advent of a new concept, “Quantum Erasure,” made even scientists doubtful.

We can regard the inherent property of light, duality, as a dark box having two types of balls inside, a wave-like and a particle-like ball. To grasp the ball in the box, we need to wear special gloves correlating to each ball respectively. For example, if there is a “mark” on the glove, we can seize the particle-like ball, but if not, we can seize the wave-like ball. Although the two properties are inherent in light, it cannot exhibit both wave-like property and particle-like property at the same time.

It is Young’s double-slit experiment that first attested to the duality of light. He produced an interference pattern of light incident on a double-slit and verified the disappearance of interference when the slit that light went through was identified.

One team of physicists, M. O. Scully and Kai Drühl, suggested a modified double-slit experiment called Quantum Erasure. According to their suggestion, we can recover the interference pattern when we “erase” the mark of the trajectory of the photon. It is as if the grasped ball transforms from a particle to a wave immediately when we remove the “mark” on the glove in the dark box.

Do we remove the trajectory information of light by pushing the delete button? Quantum erasure aroused people’s curiosity, but people should be familiar with how physicists record a physical mark on the photon in order to understand the experiment. For example, they change the polarization of light to physically record the trajectory on the photon itself. 

According to the study by the Walborn research team in 2002, after attaching a different polarizer to each slit, researchers could identify which slit a photon went through by unlike polarization of the incident photon. Then, the interference pattern disappeared. After that, researchers added another polarizer between a double-slit and a screen. Then, they observed the interference pattern recovery. The key to this observation is the loss of physical record due to adding an additional polarizer.

The current Quantum theory is unable to predict Quantum erasure. It is why physicists are now reconsidering Einstein’s assertion about incomplete Quantum theory. Quantum erasure humbles us with the realization that we still have much to delve into nature.

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What is PUS and PEST ?

In the 1980s, scientists in the UK and the US warned that people stopped listening to Science, and that this was very dangerous. They started a movement called the Public Understanding of Science (PUS) based on a report for the Royal Society by Budmer (1985).

The scientists argued five main reasons to promote the PUS: benefits to Science, benefits to National Economics, benefits to Individuals, benefits to Democratic Government and Society as a whole, and benefits to people’s intelligence, aesthetic and morality.

It suggests that the more people know science the more people love science. So increased PUS will lead to more funding, looser regulation, and more trained scientist.

The proponents of PUS argued that scientists needed to make greater efforts to inform the public about science and that this could be done by using various media-from conventional newspaper to displays in shipping walls- to transmit information about the facts and processes of science to lay people.

The PUS movement is laid on the deficit model, people have a deficit of understanding of science, so the public is construed as passive and lacking in information about science. Whilst the focus of the deficit model was on the lack of information, it has much in common with the transmission model of science communication. In this sense, the public had no role to play in making meaning out of the message.

Soon after the PUS was kicked up; however, scholars including educationalists and sociologists complained that those notion of PUS and deficit model were not only ineffective, but could be considered morally resisted. Even they set up their own camp in opposition.

As well as scientists, sociologists also evoked for a new model to replace the PUS. Wynne and Irwin argued that publics were active and capable in dealing with science. Also, a report of House of Lords (2000) formalized the idea of dialogue which is not a one-side communication from scientists to the public, but a mutual communication among scientists and public.

In 2005, Wynne argued public engagement of science and technology (PEST). Work may go under participation or dialogue. Now we prefer PEST.

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