Sunday, April 25, 2021

#2466: Joyce Anastasi

In our previous post, we discussed the phenomenon known as “quackademic medicine” – the inroads woo and quackery have made into medical education and its potentially insidious effects. Here’s more.


Joyce Anastasi is the Independence Foundation Professor of Nursing and founding director of the Special Studies in Symptom Management Program at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and previously the Helen F. Pettit Endowed Professor at Columbia University and director of its Integrative Therapies in Primary Care Program and Center for AIDS Research. Yes, she’s got some impressive credentials. However, Anastasi is also a licensed acupuncturist (an example of legislative alchemy) who received a degree in Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture from the New York College of Wholistic Health, Education and Research, which is, shall we say, less impressive. Apparently, she also authored and developed the Herbs, Nutraceuticals and Dietary Supplements© graduate program funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration – yes, the program name is copyrighted, which should set off all your red flags and alarm bells. Anastasi’s focus is mainly on symptom alleviation and managed, and fits nicely with the concentrated efforts of quacks and altmed practitioners to co-opt the opioid crisis to tout their bullshit as nonpharmacological alternatives.


Acupuncture is theatrical placebo. Anastasi, however, points out that it has been “practiced for more than 2,000 years”, which might not even count as a fallacious appeal to authority insofar as the claim isn’t, in relevant ways, even true. In any case, acupuncture works, as Anastasi sees it, by magically affecting your qi: “The concept of Qi is the central focus of acupuncture. Qi is a vital life force that moves through energy pathways called channels” – yes, it is pseudo-religious vitalism, no different from European ideas about medicine in medieval times, and with just as much support in reality – and “[a]cupuncture points are selected for stimulation on the basis that when the flow of Qi is blocked, imbalance can result in pain and dysfunction. Thus acupuncture can restore the balanced flow of Qi and promote health.” In short, the proposed mechanism contradicts everything we know about how the body works (and acupuncture points do, of course, demonstrably not exist) – which is ultimately less relevant, of course, than the fact that the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from current research is that it doesn’t actually have any beneficial effects beyond placebo.


Before sticking needles in you, Anastasi will of course attempt to diagnose you: “As an acupuncturist, I assess the patient by making a tongue diagnosis, and pulse diagnosis. The tongue provides a geographic map of the organ systems and the pulse provides important information about specific organ networks as they relate to Chinese medicine. Specific information about each patients’ excess or deficiency condition(s) and areas of imbalance is identified.” In reality, of coruse, the diagnostic process used by TCM practitioners contradicts basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Pulse-taking, for instance, involves checking six pulses on each wrist that are claimed to correlate with body organs or body functions, which might then be used to determine which channels (“meridians”) are “deficient” in “Qi. Tongue diagnosis, on the other hand, posulates that body organs (some of which do not exist) correspond to locations on the tongue. It’s basically palmistry, though using the tongue instead of your palm. Through these processes, the pracititioners will end up with fanciful and nonsensical diagnosis with as much foundation in reality as if they’d used horoscopes to determine what demon you are possessed by. It’s fantastic nonsense. 


Anastasi also served on the advisory board for the Institute of Medicine’s 2005 report on The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the American Public,” whose role was to “develop conceptual frameworks to guide decision-making on these issues and questions” but without doing any attempt to “assess the efficacy or safety of CAM products” (a point they will conveniently forget whenever it suits them). Like most members of the group, Anastasi was a true believer in pseudoscientific bullshit, and like most of the other members she had economic interests in pushing it.


Diagnosis: Hardcore pseudoscientist and quack, Anastasi is in a position to do significant, lasting damage to public health. Extraordinarily dangerous.


Hat-tip: Quackwatch

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