Archive for the skepticism Category

Aid Station Acupuncture… Revisited

Posted in Anything else, Military, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on November 12, 2009 by 556caliberatheist

Recently one of my Soldiers went to the Aid Station to help him alleviate his lower back pain. He’s had lower back pain for the past few months. He’s seen several doctors and physical therapists, been on plenty of medications: Nothing.

One of our Medical Officers offered to treat his back pain with acupuncture. I did not express much skepticism for a few reasons. 1) He is an Officer, I am lower enlisted and 2) I was afraid that any doubt on my behalf may negate any positive effect from the treatment, placebo or otherwise.

So here they are, fresh off my camera:


Beginning of the treatment. The pain was on either side of the spine in the lower back.


Inserting more needles.


The needles were proper sterile acupuncture needles and inserted about 5/8ths to 3/4ths of an inch into the affected muscles.


The provider had a small electrical device to stimulate the acupuncture needles electrically. The device had several knobs and switches to adjust the current which I believe pulsed.


Applying the eletrical stimulation to the needles.


Adjusting the current to the needles. When a current was applied through the needles the muscles with the needles spasmed.

The treatment only took about 3-5 minutes to apply and the patient was instructed to lay and relax for about 20 minutes while the electrical device applied current to the needles.The provider and I kicked back and talked about acupuncture and the theory on it’s mechanisms and medicinal properties. Like I said, I did a good job of hiding my skepticism. I managed to squeeze out little nuggets of information from the provider. He mentioned several times that he himself was not sure how it worked. He also mentioned that he was quiet skeptical about acupuncture until he took classes on Reflexology (!).

I don’t know what to make of it but again, I see very little harm. Hopefully, even if it is placebo, this procedure can help this Soldier with his pain.

Happy Armistice Day everyone!


Dowsing… Does Divination Have A Military Application?

Posted in Anything else, Military, skepticism on October 2, 2009 by 556caliberatheist

Dowsing, in case you don’t know, is an age old method of finding hidden things. What things? Well, Dowsers have claimed that dowsing can “find” everything form diamonds to disease. Big money is paid to folks to dowse for oil and water resources.

Dowsing... as old and them thar hills.

Dowsing... as old and them thar hills.

Could this phenomenon have military applications? Could dowsing be used in warfare?

Well it has actually. In the Vietnam War a man named Louis Matacia taught dowsing techniques to the US Marines to find tunnels, mines, booby traps, or wires in the jungle thick of ‘Nam. Video exists of Marines dowsing and Mr. Matacia training Marines how to use dowsing equipment and it pretty interesting to watch.

You can take his “Master Dowser Exam” at

Dowsing equipment, contrary to every other piece of equipment that the military uses, is rather cheap and lightweight and can be easily improvised. I’d like to see our ballistic body armor manufacturers claim that. The equipment can be as simple as a bent stick and a pendulum. You can go ahead and drop a few bucks on some simple dowsing supplies; 8.00$ will get you the “Ball” pendulum which, as I read is “The perfect pendulum for beginners. Its round shape makes it extremely easy to move and to allow a not very experienced dowser to work with it successfully in asking life questions, in the decision-making process etc.” Or you can upgrade to the “Gold Hue” pendulum which it is claimed, “Golden Hue pendulumis one of the most advanced pendulums with therapeutic abilities … It can be successfully used for basic work such as: asking questions, searching better solutions, checking food, cosmetics etc. for allergy, checking compatibility between people and much more. Self-clearing.” The Golden Hue, in case you are wondering, retails for 80.00$. I guess it must be 10 times better than that “Ball” pendulum. Check it out at and pick up an Atlantis Ring while you’re at it.

Dowsing has been used in warfare in the past

Dowsing has been used in warfare in the past

But every empirical and scientific test has shown dowsing to be, unlike our bullets or SAPI plates, ineffective and unable to perform with an above random chance rate of success.

Master Debunker, Former Illusionist and one of my personal heroes, James “The Amazing” Randi, has had a standing offer of 1 Million dollars for proof of any supernatural claim for many years now. Dowsing is actually the most frequently tested claim and no one yet has been able to demonstrate that something other than chance, guess work, and the idomotor effect.

So… going against the scientific consensus I decided to perform a little dowsing test of my own in our old motor pool at FOB Hammer, near the Iranian border.

I used a simple coat hanger which I melted and bent to look more or less like the dowsing “Y sticks” that I commonly see used. If I can find a source of underground water or UXO (Unexploded Ordaniance) out here then dowsing, to me at least, would have some military merit as a tool for finding IED’s in Iraq.

Funny thing is, as I was doing this several of the guys in my platoon knew exactly what I was doing and gave me such sage advice as “You’ll feel a tug” and “If you get a signal becareful where you dig”. Not bad advice, this was an old Iraqi Army mortor range and if the technique worked I could face serious injury.

I was pretty confident that I would come out unscathed.

Attempting to summon the spirits to assist me in locating resources.

Attempting to summon the spirits to assist me in locating resources.

Oh... hold the phones... Its looks like we have a little something!

Oh... hold the phones... It's looks like we have a little something!

Looks like we have something!!

Looks like we have something!!

Well... looks like we found a vien of softcore pornography DVDs. If ever there was a useful resource for deployed troops this was it. Obviously dowsing works!

Well... looks like we found a vien of softcore pornography DVDs. If ever there was a useful resource for deployed troops this was it. Obviously dowsing works!

All kidding aside, the bottom line is that dowsing or divination has not stood up to any rigorous scientific tests despite test after test and claimant after claimant shot down in a puff of Atlantis Energy. As such, it has no place being used by front line troops.

SPC Paul K. Brickey

68W Combat Medic

So are you an Evolutionist?

Posted in skepticism on July 11, 2009 by 556caliberatheist

So… are you?

Seriously hot

Off topic but gorgeous

I was once ask if I was an “evolutionist” during a live fire back at Hood. I was caught off guard and it may have taken me a minute to respond. I didn’t know there was any such thing to be honest. I merely stated “yes” but I wish I had thought up this:

“Well I am. I also happen to be a Gavityist, a Heliocentrist, Skyisblueist, Flo-that-chick-from-the-Progressive-insurance-ads-is-really-hotist.”

Since when has the massive scientific consensus been a partisan issue?

Oh yeah, if you want seriously hot check out Emily Rosa. Smart is VERY sexy.

I stick with science because it’s the best tool we have and the best available science… survey says… Evolution has occurred, if occurring and will continue to occur as long as there is life.

I root for the underdog but in this case I gotta go with the best horse. And in this case, as all others, it is science. And until something better comes along I’m sticking with it.

Who would have thought that reality would be so hard for some to swallow?

SPC Paul K. Brickey 68W Combat Medic
Charlie Mike, Out

Aid Station Acupuncture

Posted in Military, skepticism on May 8, 2009 by 556caliberatheist

Recently I traveled from my small FOB to a larger FOB in order to take the Commander to a meeting. I stopped in the Battalion Aid Station to pick up some meds and cholera pamphlets for the Iraqi Army.

Laying on a litter face down was a soldier and standing over him was our PA. I walked over to see what was up and saw little more than our PA practicing acupuncture on the soldier.

“Hey Sir, isn’t that a little bit hokey?” I asked while looking over his shoulder trying to get a better look. Me being a private (actually as of today Specialist so, yay for me) I had to use a little caution.

“Yeah, I used to think so too.” He said not even looking up from his patient.

I let it rest at that. For now.

I tried to think of something to say while keeping the conversation light. I was a lower enlisted dealing with a medical officer (my boss) and this was truly risky.

I joked around with the other medics about what we’ve been dealing with at our little FOB, where everyone in the unit was being stationed and our plans once we got back home. Meanwhile I was poking around and taking as much in as I could about the patient.

It seems he was being treated for back pain. The needles were sterile and true acupuncture needles. I thought it was time for me to crack a joke.

“You know, even though I am Asian I don’t know anything about acupuncture. How’s this supposed to work?” trying best as I could to hide my incredulity.

“Well…” he said again not meeting my eyes “The Chinese believed there to be path ways of energy coursing though the body. The needles act as adjuncts for this energy.”

My skeptical circuits and fuses were blowing. I couldn’t think of a non-offensive tactful way to put it. I blurted it out.

“So what’s the current real medical view on acupuncture?”

Looking back I should have known better. I should have held my questions until after his patient had left. It’s never good to question a medical treatment in the presence of the patient.

I think he panicked a little at my question, it was clear. I could also tell that he didn’t want this lowly private asking too many questions. He mumbled something along the lines of his training in alternative therapy and reflexology (!) and how he has practiced acupuncture for years. I left it at that and before I left he had hooked up the acupuncture needles to some alligator clips attached to an electronic device (I was instantly reminded of an E-Meter) which sent the skin around the needles twitching.

I have several huge problems with acupuncture. First of all basic research has not been sufficiently been carried out to determine it’s effectiveness as a treatment.  Second of all the standards for licensing vary state by state and some states require no license at all. Over 20 states allow chiropractors to perform acupuncture with less than 200 hours training.


Acupuncture is at best controversial. Because of acupuncture’s very nature it is almost impossible to perform a double blind placebo study on it’s efficacy. The best study that I have read about got around this by performing sham acupuncture.

From Wikipedia:

In a Mayo Clinic study, they recruited 103 women between the ages of 45 and 59, which had menopause, who reported that they had at least five hot flashes per day and were not using any other treatments for them. Half were randomly assigned to receive a series of standardized acupuncture treatments. For those receiving real acupuncture, the needles were placed at the same spots in the arms, legs and lower belly and the other half received sham treatments in which needles were placed superficially near the same locations but away from so-called pressure points. The researchers knew who was receiving sham treatment, but the women did not. By the end of the six weeks, there was no difference between the groups. 61 percent of the sham group were still experiencing hot flashes, while 62 percent of the women who got actual acupuncture still reported having hot flashes as well.

That is a single study but to me it speaks volumes.

Let’s talk a little about the placebo effect. I am a health care professional and I can speak from experience that placebos can be extremely effective if used correctly. Typically the more invasive the procedure is the stronger the placebo effect. It’s not 100% but what is? I have given injections of normal saline and told patients that I have given them a strong sedative. The invasiveness of an injection and my assertion is all that it takes sometimes for them to be dozing off right before my eyes. I have seen patients claim drug effects to occur long before they should be taking place.

Acupuncture is invasive. Any placebo effect would be huge with such a well known and invasive procedure. That does not make it bad medical practice. The notion of energy flowing though the body thing may be hokum but if it works it works.

The first rule is do no harm.

So does acupuncture cause any harm? All the information I have read says no. With sterile needles and clean procedure there is actually very little risk.

Again, from Wikipedia:

In a Japanese survey of 55,291 acupuncture treatments given over five years by 73 acupuncturists, 99.8% of them were performed with no significant minor adverse effects and zero major adverse incidents (Hitoshi Yamashita, Bac, Hiroshi Tsukayama, BA, Yasuo Tanno, MD, PhD. Kazushi Nishijo, PhD, JAMA). Two combined studies in the UK of 66,229 acupuncture treatments yielded only 134 minor adverse events. (British Medical Journal 2001 Sep 1). The total of 121,520 treatments with acupuncture therapy were given with no major adverse incidents (for comparison, a single such event would have indicated a 0.0008% incidence).

So if this treatment is safe and in some cases effective who am I to say that it shouldn’t be practiced in our aid station? After all I myself have used the placebo effect and have seen, a majority of the time, great results. Even if acupuncture is only a placebo and has no other medical benefit but it relieves a soldier of pain I have no problem with that.

I don’t know if it’s an approved medical treatment in the US Army but in any case the placebo is a valuable tool that intentionally or not, medical professionals have used to treat every imaginable affliction with a decent rate of efficacy.

In the Army and especially during a deployment soldiers are asked to do the impossible. My gear, armor, weapon and ammunition weights in close to 80 pounds of extra weight I am carrying. Back pain, shoulder pain, muscle cramps, foot problems are all daily problems for soldiers. Relief comes in the form of simple OTC medications such as mortin and naxproxin.

I am open to the possibility that acupuncture may help some patients full in the knowledge that it may be less than scientific. Until more clinical tests and studies are done I remain dubious and skeptical but open minded.