There was a comment submitted recently that took issue with a note I put at the top of a recent article on Qigong. It fell foul of our comment moderation policy, so it wasn’t published on the site. (“When you leave a comment, please fill in the name field with your real name or initials.” The comment was left by “Joe Bloggs”, with a similarly fake email address. I have a good idea who left it.)
But I do think the points raised by Mr Bloggs are worth addressing, because they touch on a couple of the most important issues in journalism. Here’s the editor’s note:
Editor’s note — Complementary medicine, such as the technique discussed in this article, should be treated with extreme scepticism. The evidence to support such practices is often scant or non-existent. The Quackwatch website has said of Qigong: “[S]cientific investigators of Qigong masters in China have found no evidence of paranormal powers and some evidence of deception.”
And here’s the comment:
The Editor’s Note is a little out of order. Why should such therapies be treated with scepticism? Aren’t reporters supposed to be impartial?
Unless The Linc can prove that there is reason to believe these therapies DON’T work – but I mean, really, how reliable is Quackwatch as a source?!!
Reporters cannot be neutral or impartial in their reporting. Reporting involves selection of facts, of quotes, of an angle, of style, etc. Therefore, journalism can never be neutral or impartial. (When applied to power, “impartial” reporting favours established power and marginalises alternative and dissident views. Click here for a good explanation.)
The second part of the comment says that we should take people at their word. I have a real, breathing, galloping, magic pink unicorn in my garden.
Believe me? No. You’d want to see some evidence, and rightly so.
Students are taught how to “unlock their energy gates, and control their flow of chi around the body,” which can often become blocked due to stress. These blockages can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, difficulty sleeping and muscle or joint pain. (From the article.)
This paragraph in Jamie Hogue’s article doesn’t challenge what is being claimed by the practitioners. It accepts that there is such a thing called “chi” and that it can “become blocked due to stress”. It’s magic pink unicorn time again.
The need for evidence becomes even more serious when it comes to health. Some of these people may have serious health problems, and it does them no good to have someone telling them they can unblock their chi and everything will be fine.
People’s health and even lives are at risk. This is why new drugs and techniques used by real doctors go through rigorous testing, because the last thing you want to do is hurt someone. Evidence is needed to show what the effects will be on patients.
Qigong, and “complementary” and alternative medicine more generally, does not have that evidence to back up its claims. At best it’s a waste of time, and at worst it could lead to someone delaying proper treatment, or not seeking it at all. The consequences could be horrendous.
This is why I put the editor’s note at the top of the article. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t have been run. But that was not my call.
I linked to Quackwatch because they do excellent work in exposing fake treatments. My first port of call was Ben Goldacre’s BadScience.net, but he didn’t have anything specific to Qigong. Having something about what was discussed in the article was important, to emphasise that this thing right here, this thing talking about chi blockages, is likely to be a fraud.Tweet