Summer is not a good time to have your hands go useless on you. I had been learning how to crochet. I learned basic stitches and enjoyed the simple pleasure of it. My girlfriend took me to second-hand stores and bought me old magazines with pictures of granny-squares. Maybe I could make one of those afghans I liked so much when I was a kid.
I’d had trouble with RSI’s (repetitive stress injuries) in my hands years ago. I used the computer so much that I developed serious pain, numbness, and weakness in my hands. At that time I was just in my first semester of college and I had the idea that I wanted to learn how to play the keyboard (piano). You know—electives. The little music education building at DeAnza College was charming and strange and I found something amusing in the friendly but utterly merciless attitude of the nice old lady teaching piano. But when my hands started hurting, piano class was the first thing to go, and the computer got a lot less play (I could never beat the Koreans at Starcraft, anyway.)
I kept the two hundred dollar keyboard I’d bought myself. I’m not sure why, but it came in handy years later. A good friend of mine liked it a lot and I traded it to his parents in lieu of hospital bill money when I accidentally hit him between the eyes with a pizza cutter disc. They, in turn, gifted it to him for his birthday. It ended up feeling like an everybody wins kind of situation.
Last year, however, I didn’t feel like a winner at all, sitting around trying to think of what to do to not strain my hands in the middle of summer. The macrame and crocheting (newfound hobbies) had brought the dormant RSI’s back in full force. I could turn on the sprinkler to water my ill-fated pumpkin plants that I planted too late. I couldn’t play any more console video games. The computer was on ration. (I could never give up the computer entirely. It’s in my blood.)
Then I discovered the dancing game my girlfriend liked to play sometimes on the console. The console had a camera and a laser. It could see you and tell how well you were dancing. I sucked at first, but I got better. I danced a lot. It made me feel pretty good. It felt therapeutic.
This led me to think about what other things I could do about it, and I considered acupuncture. I reasoned out loud at my girlfriend, “It has to have something to it if there are enough people getting it done to keep all these places in business, right?” Portland has a lot of acupuncturists. In fact, Portland is a big center of what’s nowadays commonly (spuriously, I think) referred to as “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.”
I wasn’t any kind of hard core skeptic, but I definitely had an evidence-first kind of operating system running my brain. Acupuncture seemed silly to me, but I was willing to try it when faced with a chronic condition that involved some pain and debilitation. And I really did fall into the trap of believing that it must have something to it just by the sheer volume of the industry. For some reason, observation of the masses and their questionable reasoning, which drove my rejection of Christianity at the age of 14 and my outright spurning of mainstream media a couple years after that, had not kicked in this time.
Now, a scant half-year later, I know a lot more about how acupuncture is essentially worthless but appears to work in some cases due to the expectations of the subject. More importantly, I know about something that would have kept me from falling into that trap of thinking had I known it then, and that’s the idea of logical fallacies.
Specifically, the idea that acupuncture must have some merit because so many people are willing to pay for it would be called the “argument ad populum.” I was telling myself, “so many people can’t be wrong.” I was investing authority in the masses. (the argument ad populum is a form of the argument from authority, which claims that something is true just because someone who has authority or whom we should trust on credentials alone says so.) This is faulty reasoning because the majority can easily be wrong, and though I’d figured that out in other cases using my intuition, I failed to make the connection that time, and I didn’t really have the concept available to me as a simple rule, as I do now.
Luckily, as the healthy living and the natural healing power of my body gave me back a good part of the functionality of my hands, I didn’t stay desperate enough to repeatedly consider acupuncture. I let the idea drift off in my ADD way and then fell headfirst into the media of skeptical activism, in which I’ve been happily immersing myself since.
In fact, I just wrote a 17 page paper for my composition class final about how “complementary and alternative medicine,” including acupuncture, is baseless and doesn’t work. As soon as I’ve thoroughly checked it over to make sure it’s not easy for one of the cranks I wrote about to attempt to sue me for slander, (they often do this to silence criticism) I’ll post it up here for ya’ll. Until then, take my word for it and stick with the good ol’ science-based medicine. Or don’t take my word for it. Take a look around the excellent blog Science-Based Medicine.
There’s a whole list of logical fallacies on the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe page. Plus a little guide on how to use them. They’re pretty fun for picking out problems in political arguments and other propaganda, among other things.