The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission declined to investigate reports that phone companies turned over customer records to the National Security Agency, citing national security concerns, according to documents released on Friday.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin turned down a congressional request for an investigation as a top intelligence official concluded it would “pose an unnecessary risk of damage to the national security,” according to a letter National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell sent to Martin on Tuesday.
They took 1162 patients who had suffered with back pain for an average of 8 years (so these were patients who had failed with medical treatment anyway) and divided them into 3 groups. The first group simply had some more medical treatment; the second group had full on acupuncture with all the trimmings, the needles all put carefully into the correct “meridiens” in accordance with ancient Chinese stuff, and so on; while the third group just had some bloke pretending to be an acupuncturist, sticking needles in their skin at random. The study set a threshold for “response to treatment”, which was an improvement of 33% on 3 items out of a bigger scale, or 12% on one symptom scale. So this was not “getting better”, or a “cure”.
I’m not carping, I’m just telling you what they measured. And what were the results? Firstly, 27% of the medical treatment group improved: this is an impressive testament to the well known healing power of simply “being in a trial”, since medical treatment hadn’t helped these patients for the preceding 8 years. Meanwhile 47% of the acupuncture group improved, but the sting is this: 44% of the fake acupuncture group improved too. There was no statistically signficant difference between proper, genuine ancient wisdom acupuncture, and fake, “bung a needle in, anywhere you fancy, with a bit of theatrical ceremony” acupuncture.
There are three possible explanations for this finding. One is that sticking needles in your body anywhere at random helps back pain due to some physiological mechanism. The second is that theatrical ceremony, reassurance, the thought of someone doing something useful, and a chat with someone nice helps back pain. (The third option is “a bit of both”).
But the most important background information missing from the news reports wasn’t about the details of the study: it was about back pain. Because back pain isnt like epilepsy or tuberculosis. Most of the big risk factors for a niggle turning into chronic longstanding back pain are personal, psychological, and social: things like depression, job dissatisfaction, unavailability of light duty on return to work, and so on.
And the evidence on treatments tells an even more interesting psychosocial story: sure, anti-inflammatory drugs are better than placebo. But more than that, bed rest is actively harmful, specific exercises can be too, and proper trial data shows that simply giving advice to “stay active” speeds recovery, reduces chronic disability, and reduces time off work.
We don’t like stories and solutions like that for our health problems. There are huge industries telling you that your tiredness is due to some “chromium deficiency” (buy the pill); your cloudy headed foggy feeling can be fixed with vitamin pills, pills, and more pills. It is a brave doctor who dares to bring up psychosocial issues for any complaint when a patient has been consistently told it is biomedical by every newspaper, every magazine, and every quack in town.
But in conditions like back pain or fatigue, information alone can make a difference to the suffering of millions. In Australia, a simple public information campaign (“Back Pain: don’t take it lying down”, arf) was shown to reduce back pain significantly in the whole population. Meanwhile journalists, patients, quacks, politicians and editors would all rather talk about magical, technical pills and rituals.
A great painting captures a moment in time. But, after the masterpiece is finished, life goes on. Even the most prolific painter couldn’t catch every scene as it happened – but now you can.
In this contest, we need you to show us what occurred after the artists completed their artwork. You can show us a few seconds later, when a cow wanders in front of the American Gothic couple, or hours later, when the waiters and busboys are cleaning up the Last Supper table. We’ll even let you go back in time if you prefer: Show us who took a blowtorch to all those perfectly good watches before Dali got there.