Every so often I feel like newspapers are writing stories just to provide me with teaching materials and this week has given me a beautiful example. On the 10th December the Daily Mail reported the story of a clinically depressed dog who had been cured by acupuncture. This story is almost perfect for teaching rational thinking. From the headline alone one can generate a couple of interesting class questions:
How was ‘clinical depression’ diagnosed ?
Why might we me more inclined to believe in acupuncture than say homeopathy ?
Once one reads the whole story other questions emerge:
Was the dog’s ‘clinical depression’ a result of its physical injuries ?
Once the physical injuries were addressed would the ‘clinical depression’ have disappeared over a period ?
What evidence is there for ‘traditional chinese medicine’ ?
It seems perfectly reasonable to say that an abandoned and physically injury dog would suffer psychologically, but labelling this as clinical depression just seems ridiculous. One suspects that the method of diagnosis didn’t involve measuring serotonin levels, or indeed completing the Beck Depression Inventory. In relation to western views of ‘traditional chinese medicine’ I detect a reluctance on ‘cultural sensitivity’ grounds to be skeptical about acupuncture, and yet I read an interesting article recently that suggested that ‘traditional chinese medicine’ was a concept constructed by Chairman Mao to bypass China’s inability to deliver empirically tested Western medicine to its poulation !
Finally, this whole story seems to be to be an example of that old joke ‘Treatment X cured my common cold in seven days, and without it I would have had the cold for a whole week’. Once this dog’s physical wounds were cured we have no way of knowing whether his psychological ‘wounds’ would have healed without acupuncture, or indeed whether the undoubtedly caring treatment he received from the vet was effectively a placebo.
All in all, a lot of material from a simple story !