Pseudoscientific Chinese Medicine infiltrates scientific publishing
By Steven Salzberg on 3/27/2011 01:23:00 PM
So it turns out that Chinese Medicine has its own journal, published by BioMed Central, a large scientific publisher. The Chinese Medicine journal promotes, according to its own mission statement, studies of "acupuncture, Tui-na, Qi-qong, Tai Chi Quan, energy research," and other nonsense. Tui na, for example, supposedly "affects the flow of energy by holding and pressing the body at acupressure points."
Right. What is this doing in a scientific journal? Actually, there are plenty of garbage journals out there, and I'd ignore this one like I do the others, but BioMed Central (and their owner, Springer Science) is a respectable publisher. It's also one of the largest open-access publishers, which means they make all their articles from their 213 journals freely available. I support BMC and I'm on the Editorial Boards for three of their journals (BMC Biology, BMC Genomics and BMC Bioinformatics). But their corporate leaders seem to care more about expanding their stable than about maintaining the integrity of science. Chinese Medicine simply does not belong in the company of respectable scientific journals.
What is "Chinese Medicine" anyway? (Should we also have journals for Russian Medicine, or American Medicine, or Swedish Medicine?) Actually, the name refers to what is usually called Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. TCM is a grab-bag of superstitious practices taken from Chinese history, most of which are ineffective or even harmful. The most common justification for studying TCM (and using it on patients) is something along the lines of "this is an ancient Chinese practice" as if anything old must be worthwhile (also known as the argument from antiquity, a logical fallacy). But using the term "medicine" to describe Qi-gong, acupuncture, and "energy research" is, to put it bluntly, nonsense.
And by the way, "energy research" in this context doesn't refer to methods for producing electricity. No, the energy research in this journal refers to mysterious energy fields in the body, stuff like the "deqi" in this article from the January 2011 issue of Chinese Medicine: "Perception of Deqi by Chinese and American acupuncturists: a pilot survey." It's a laughably bad study, but here's a link for those with a high tolerance for quackery.
Ancient medicine was almost always bad medicine. People died very, very early in those good old days, and ancient China didn't have any special secrets. 2000 years ago, if you were lucky enough to survive past childood, you might just make it to your 30's. Life expectancy has climbed dramatically in recent times, for the past 150 years or so, thanks to modern hygiene and medicine. So forming a scientific journal whose goal is to validate antiquated, unproven superstitions is simply not science, whatever the editors of Chinese Medicine claim. The journal's claim to be "evidence-based" (yes, they do claim that) is little more than a smoke screen.
BioMed Central publishes at least one other pseudoscience journal, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. BMC should be embarrassed to be publishing journals that promote anti-scientific theories and otherwise muddy the literature. By supporting these journals, they undermine the credibility of many excellent BMC journals. They should cut these journals loose.