John C McLachlan, professor of medical education at Durham, points out that it’s a common ploy to make nasty things more attractive by dressing them up with new names, like for instance changing the name of “complementary and alternative medicine” to “integrative medicine.” (That seems like a tricky one – you gain the flattering implications of “integrative” but you lose the at least as flattering implications of “alternative.” Decisions decisions.)
When there is tricksy wordplay going on, it may be time for another Sokal hoax. McLachlan sent a proposal to an International Conference on Integrative Medicine to be held in Jerusalem last October. It included this exciting observation:
Recently, as a result of my developmental studies on human embryos, I have discovered a new version of reflexology, which identifies a homunculus represented in the human body, over the area of the buttocks. The homunculus is inverted, such that the head is represented in the inferior position, the left buttock corresponds to the right hand side of the body, and the lateral aspect is represented medially. As with reflexology, the “map” responds to needling, as in acupuncture, and to gentle suction, such as cupping.
The organizers said ooh sounds exciting, send abstract; MacLachlan sent abstract; organizers said ooh lovely, you’re invited.
In short, they bit. They took seriously a claim that there is a homunculus in each human buttock and that this is of therapeutic and diagnostic significance.
It is good to know these things.