The scientific consensus appears to be that, to the extent that acupuncture makes people feel better, it is through relaxing the patient, also the acupuncturist might help in other ways, encouraging the patient to focus on his or her lifestyle.
A friend recommended an acupuncturist to me awhile ago and I told her the above line, to which she replied: No, I don’t feel at all relaxed when I go to the acupuncturist. Those needles really hurt!
I don’t know anything about this, but one thing I do know is that whenever I discuss the topic with a Chinese friend, they assure me that acupuncture is real. Real real. Not “yeah, it works by calming people” real or “patients respond to a doctor who actually cares about them” real. Real real. The needles, the special places to put the needles, the whole thing. I haven’t had a long discussion on this, but my impression is that Chinese people think of acupuncture as working in the same way that we think of TV’s or cars or refrigerators: even if we don’t know the details, we trust the basic idea.
Anyway, I don’t know what to make of this. The scientific studies finding no effect of acupuncture needles are plausible to me–but if they’re so plausible, how come none of my Chinese friends seem to be convinced?
Maybe I just haven’t asked enough people, and now they’ll come up to me and say they don’t think that acupuncture works. But I don’t think so.
P.S. Just to clarify: my question here is not whether acupuncture could work (possibly through some backdoor mechanism like the needles stimulating your body in some useful way, or whatever) but on the evidence of how much it does work. As noted, I think the overwhelming impression among my Chinese friends–statisticians included–is that it does work, and not merely through some vague calming effect. But this would seem to contradict the research, so I don’t know what to think.