The WHY-Files

The Official Journal of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York


Volume 1, Issue 9
 
 
 

The Environmental Problems with Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicinal theory is a fascinating combination of ideas from many sources. Among these are ancient proto-scientific theories such as the cycles of yin and yang and the five phases (or ``elements'') of matter. Pragmatic experience with herbal compounds and their effects was another source of ideas, although many argue that these experiences became distorted as scholars struggled to make their experiences ``fit'' ancient, respected, but incorrect concepts about how the body functioned. Numerology and magical thinking were another important source of theories that were utilized to create the many treatments of traditional Chinese medicine. Unfortunately, the ancient Chinese scholars had a love of using rare, exotic and exciting ingredients when they created ``cures'' for various ailments. The scarcity of many of these compounds has led to some of these traditional treatments posing an environmental problem today.

For example, it is a traditional concept in the magic of many cultures that a person will take on the characteristics of something by consuming parts of it. For example, a rhinocerous horn is, of course, a rather dangerous, large hard pointed object used for thrusting on the end of a very powerful animal. To some ancient Chinese healers it seemed like a natural ingredient for an aphrodisiac or medicinal compounds with other uses. The fact that it was quite difficult to obtain, only made it seem more desirable. When choosing ingredients for traditional Chinese medicines it often seems to have been a standard assumption that the more scarce an ingredient was the more potent it must be.

Tiger bones are another product from a large, fierce, rather rare and difficult to catch animal that were used for traditional compounds. It is said to be usful for relieving pain and strengthening bones and tendons.

There are several problems with the use of such products from endangered species at the current time. In the past when these traditions began, there were more tigers and rhinoceri, and less Chinese people able to consume them. Furthermore, those who chose to hunt tiger and rhinoceri lacked modern methods of transportation, weaponry, and other technological hunting aids. (and poaching, don't forget, is a business with no rules, not a sport!) As the economies of many pacific rim countries grow, the purchasing power of Chinese throughout the region has risen accordinlgy. Today many Chinese will quite eagerly pay the equivalent of hundreds of U.S. dollars for a single dose of medicines made with tiger products. In the economically troubled regions where wild tigers tend to live such as Siberia, India, and South East Asia, tiger poaching is a tempting and financially rewarding crime. The small, highly endangered remaining populations of wild tigers struggle to survive extinction and many doubt if they will make it to the end of the century.

Although the governments of China, Taiwan, and Korea (where Traditional Chinese Medicine is widely practiced) all have made claims to stop the practice of importing tiger products, there is much evidence that this effort on their parts is half hearted and done more to appease foreign interests than in an attempt to actually stop the trade of the products. To those familiar with the government of Taiwan, (where I lived for over three years) their ``task force'' for this purpose has the look of a typical government showpiece, a public relations excersise designed to con foreign journalists and relieve foreign pressure while doing nothing to change the actual situation. It is unclear as to whether the ``task force'' is actually manned, staffed, or funded in anyway, and as of March of 1994 it had made no arrests despite the open sale of tiger bones in most of Taiwan's traditional Chinese pharmacies. Reports indicate that various government officials have given highly contradictory reports as to the details and make up of this task force, but it seems that one of its primary duties is to post bilingual, English/Chinese signs announcing its existence in places where foreigners are likely to see them.

In the People's Republic of China, the practice continues as well. In the 1991 publication, Medicinal Herbs, the third volume in the Practical Traditional Chinese Medicine & Pharmacology. series put out by the New World Press, in Beijing both rhinocerous horn and tiger bone are listed and recommended as medicinal substances.[ Clearly, the title is a misnomer. Many of the ingredients recommended in the work, including rhino horn and tiger bone, are clearly not ``herbs'' at all.] The text is believed to follow the official Traditional Chinese medicinal curriculum of the People's Republic of China. Furthermore, as if the environmental damage were not enough, as the rhinocerous horn trade is illegal various African mercenaries and arms dealers have been implicated in the trade in the past. These smugglers then reinvest the profits from the rhino horns in whatever small war they happen to find themselves involved in at the time.

What is terribly ironic about this whole situation is that among those I know, it is the same sort of ``holistically-oriented,'' environmentally aware people who show the most respect and interest in traditional Chinese medicinal theories and compounds. Few familiar with the situation can convincingly deny that the demand for traditional Chinese medical products among the newly developed nations of the pacific rim is contributing to the rapid extinction of some of the world's most magnificent animals.

-Peter Huston

Select Bibliography:

Geng, Junying et al. 1991. Medicinal Herbs. New World Press, Beijing.

Linden, Eugene. ``Tiger, Tiger, Fading Fast.'' Time, March 28, 1994.

Ricciuti, Edward. R. ``Guns N' Rhinos.'' Wildlife Conservation. Vol. 95, Number 1. January/February 1992.

Nardini, Daniel, personal communications.

Ask The Skeptic.

Dear Peter,

I love your column. I think its the best thing in the newsletter. And I love your legs. They are so bumpy and manly. But most of all, Pete, I love your brain and I have a question for you.

Oh Pete, Sage of sages, fount of wisdom of the ages, well read reader of thousands of pages, give us some scholarly messages. Pete, Pete, Pete, please tell me, what is the proper way to act, ettiquettically speaking, when one is introduced to a woman who claims to be from outer space. As you will recall, we met such a woman at RPI's third UFO conference (a.k.a. the 1st Symposium on Anomalous Phenomena)? And, by the way, keep up the good work, I, and all like me, admire you so much.

Sincerely,

Michael Sofka[Not his real name]

Gee Mike, was that you I was with? Sorry, it was dark.

Now, having given some thought to the matter, although the situation seems unique, it really isn't. First, its probably safe to assume that we, as skeptics, are not going to accept the woman's claim without hard proof. Secondly, its also safe to assume that the woman doesn't have proof or else she'd probably be more famous. Therefore, speaking in terms of ettiquette, I think its probably safe to simply classify this as a deeply held difference of opinion. In polite society, the facts of a matter are usually given a back seat to the needs of social interaction.

If it is merely a superficial meeting you need not acknowledge that you disagree. If you wish to discuss such a matter in depth then you may make a statement such as, ``That's fascinating. I'm cautious about accepting such things without proof, but I'm always eager to speak to people who can shed a new perspective on UFOlogy.'' I believe though that it is best to let her know that you are a skeptic before you get into an inİdepth conversation. If you tend to write about, especially in a negative way, make this clear as well. It saves emotional strain on all concerned.

There was time, a while back, when I had lunch with a bunch of hard core believers to discuss our common interest. I was unsure about identifying myself as a skeptic. Their leader, with little warning, immediately flew into a strange program on their fascinating otherworldly adventures and astonishing collection of hoaky pictures and, well, I never got around to telling him that I disagreed with everything he said. Instead, I just sat there and nodded my head a lot and grinned. (He was fun to listen to.) Now, for better or worse, when I go somewhere and am publically identified as a skeptic, it is awkward if any of these people are there.

This is the standards of behavior that I would recommend if you are in a social situation. In an investigation, particularly where the person appears to be making money off of a hoax, then you may simply use another, less forward sort of behavior. What is not recommended, or approved, is to tell her that the mother ship has sent you to seek her out to assist you in a breeding program at the local Motel 8. I am astonished that anyone would even think such a thing, and let me be the first to publically condemn this very notion.

And, Mike, thanks for the compliments but if I ever catch you staring at my legs again I will slap you silly.

-Peter Huston

Ask The Psychic.

Question: Dear Mr Psychic, I race a thistle (a sailing boat). During a recent race the wind dropped out of my sails while all the other boats continued past me. Is this due to some Orgonic energy effects? Perhaps the masts of the other ships directed Orgone energy to divert the wind---it would be just like them. Hosed in Hopatcong.

Answer: Dear Hosed, No, thistle sails do not affect Orgone energy (the \'elan vital of the Universe as described in the works of the great psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich) in the way you suggest. Nor do I detect any negative PMF (Psycho-Magnetic Fields) from you (and, I would detect them since dacron sails are very good PMF resonators). No, Mr. Hosed, I think your just a poor sailor.

Q: Mr. Psychic (if that is your real name), Why has it that nobody has seen you at any ISUNY meetings? I've looked up Quinne in the local phone books, and don't find you listed, and you are not listed under ``Paranormal'' in the yellow pages. Skeptical in Schenectady.

A: Dear SiS, I have, in fact, been to every ISUNY meeting held to date. I usually sit in the back, and I enjoy the events very much (despite the negative-PMF that permeates the room). The reason you cannot see me is simply that I am invisible. I can do this because of my extensive training in Transcendental Meditation. At first, I thought that maintaining invisibility in the presence of so many skeptics would be difficult, but I soon discovered that nobody looks back here anyway.

Q: Recently I went to a Psychic in our area. I told her nothing, absolutely nothing, about me. During the entire session I sat quietly with a blank stare on my face. Despite this, she knew everything about me: My name, address, my phone number and place of occupation. She even knew my license plate number. How is this possible.

A: What can I say, she was just a very good psychic.

-David Quinne

Questions to the Psychic can be sent to this newsletter care of the editor.

The UFO Skeptic.

As some of you already know, Fox television recently broadcast a TV special showing the autopsy of an Alien body. This film will be the topic of next months UFO Skeptic column by Alan French. This month, we'll reprint the text of a pre-showtime press release by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal (SCICOP). This release was forwarded via e-mail by CSICOP's executive directory Barry Karr, and was written by Tom Genoni.

-The Editor

``Alien Autopsy'' Film a Hoax Concludes Scientific Organization A controversial film that purports to depict the autopsy of a space alien and thus substantiate claims that a flying saucer crashed in 1947 at Roswell, New Mexico, has been branded a hoax by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), headquartered in Amherst, New York.

The ``documentary,'' promoted by a British marketing agency that formerly handled Walt Disney products, is scheduled to be aired August 28 on the Fox network.

Since the film first surfaced earlier this year, CSICOP investigators have monitored developments in the bizarre case, networked with those who viewed the film at a special showing in England, and examined close-up photographs of an ``alien corpse.''

Even at face value, according to CSICOP, the film raises suspicion. Recently released Air Force files indicate that the wreckage at Roswell actually came from a balloon-borne surveillance assemblage, launched as part of secret Project Mogul and intended to monitor acoustic emissions from anticipated Soviet nuclear testing. In fact, materials from the launch match contemporary descriptions of the Roswell debris, including that given by the daughter of the rancher upon whose property the unusual object fell.

Additional factors consistent with hoaxing include the absence of any prior historical record for the film, the suspicious circumstances under which it surfaced, and a long tradition of Roswell crashed-saucer hoaxes. (Indeed, the film fails to agree even with earlier purported eyewitness testimony about the alleged autopsy.)

Various journalists, UFO researchers, special-effects experts, and scientists who have viewed the film offered additional objections: that the film bore a bogus, non-military codemark; that the photographer's alleged military status had not been verified; and that the injuries sustained by the extraterrestrials were inconsistent with an aircrash. The level of realism was debated, with some believing the alien body they saw was a dummy while others speculated it was an altered human corpse. One of many suspicious elements was the fact that close-up views of the internal organs were out of focus.

Although the film was supposedly authenticated by Kodak, only the leader tape and a single frame were submitted for examination, not the entire footage. In fact, a Kodak spokesman told The Sunday Times of London: ``There is no way I could authenticate this. I saw an image on the print. Sure it could be old film, but it doesn't mean it is what the aliens were filmed on.''

CSICOP investigator Joe Nickell stated, ``This film has all the earmarks of an obvious hoax.''

And CSICOP chairman Paul Kurtz, Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo, commented: ``The Roswell myth should be permitted to die a deserved death. Whether or not we are alone in the universe will have to be decided on the basis of better evidence than that provided by the latest bit of Roswell fakery.'' Kurtz added: ``Television executives have a responsibility not to confuse programs designed for entertainment with news documentaries. They ought not to present sensationalized and fictionalized accounts as factual claims and thus mislead the public.''

Strange Skyfall.

The following was forwarded via e-mail from Barry Karr, executive director of CSICOP.

-The Editor

I'm looking for strange and wonderful stories of bizarre things people claim fell from the skies recently (not the classic Fortean rains of frogs unless they've occurred since videocameras!!). Stone and metallic pieces can be strange, but ice falls and even jelly falls -- more correctly, ice ``finds'' and jelly ``finds''---have also been documented. This is for a private project I"m working on, for publication.

Thanks! And---duck!!

Jim Oberg (JamesOberg@aol.com )

Meetings.

Our October 4th Speaker will be Dr. Richard Lange, M.D. Dr. Lange is a technical advisor to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. His talk is entitled: Pseudoscience and Medicine Today.

Our November 1st speaker is Dr. David Hess on the topic Skeptics and their Paranormal Others: Some Cultural Dimensions of Debunking. December 6th we will hear from Mark Pendergrast, author of Victims of Memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives.

Thank You.

Thank you to Alan French, Peter Huston and David ``not the Mighty'' Quinne for their help in preparing this newsletter. Thank you also to Bob and Dee Mulford for publicizing the meetings, and to Carla Sofka for donating the mailing labels.

Thank you also to all of our members for their kind support of ISUNY. We would especially like to thank our Supporting members: Sylvia Chessin Arthur R. Petrick Duncan Tuininga, and our Patron members: Jordon Coleman, Charles Davies, Daniel Forest, Alan & Susan French, Christopher Masto, Bob & Dee Mulford, Matthew Schnee, Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.

About the Newsletter.

The WHY-Files are the newsletter of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York. Articles, reviews and letters can be sent to the editor at sofkam@rpi.edu, or to 8 providence street, Albany, NY 12203. Hard copy and disks will only be returned if accompanied by a self addressed and stamped envelope, or at regular club meetings.

The newsletter was typeset using the document preparation system written, and placed in the public domain, by Donald Knuth of Stanford University. Copies of and the macros used for this newsletter are available from the editor. The Journal of Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York is available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/ISUNY/.

Articles, reports, reviews, and letters published in The WHY-Files represent the views and work of individual authors. Their publication does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York or its members unless so stated.