If you wrote to the organising committee of a scientific conference saying that you have a theory that there is a person in everyone’s bum and if you massage it in the right way, you can cure many illnesses, do you think you would be invited to give a paper to the conference?
Perhaps if you were invited, you might justifiably conclude that the discipline that the conference is in is a pile of rubbish. Or, at least, that the organisation that is hosting the conference is made up of a bunch of quacks.
Well, one professor of medical education in the UK proposed exactly this as a topic for a paper to a “Complementary and Alternative Medicines” conference in Jerusalem. And, to his surprise, he was invited to give a paper.
His conclusion is very nicely expressed:
So called integrative medicine should not be used as a way of smuggling alternative practices into rational medicine by way of lowered standards of critical thinking. Failure to detect an obvious hoax is not an encouraging sign.
He recounts the story in the British Medical Journal‘s Christmas edition, which is full of stuff that’s meant to be entertaining. His article is indeed entertaining and worth a read.
Check out his original pitch in which he subtly alludes to butt-kissing (“gentle suction”):
Recently, as a result of my developmental studies on human embryos, I have discovered a new version of reflexology, which identifies a homunculus represented in the human body, over the area of the buttocks. The homunculus is inverted, such that the head is represented in the inferior position, the left buttock corresponds to the right hand side of the body, and the lateral aspect is represented medially. As with reflexology, the “map” responds to needling, as in acupuncture, and to gentle suction, such as cupping. In my studies, responses are stronger and of more therapeutic value than those of auricular or conventional reflexology. In some cases, the map can be used for diagnostic purposes.
The idea of pulling a hoax to point out the absurdity of disciplines has a great history, which this hoaxster is aware of. He (somewhat self-flatteringly) compares his little stunt to the Sokal hoax in which Alan Sokal famously revealed the absurdity of postmodernist cultural studies by submitting a ridiculous paper to a respected journal and having it published.
If you haven’t read about the Sokal hoax, do some googling. Sokal has also recently written a book about the hoax and other related things that is on my summer reading list…
[Via Cardiology Update]
McLachlan JC (2010). Integrative medicine and the point of credulity. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 341 PMID: 21147748