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Collision of Incompatibles

Last week’s post was about a recent (October 2007) meeting held at Harvard University on the subject of fascia. The purposes for commenting were several.

First, the organizers were partial believers in some forms of “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (“CAM”), now being called “Integrative” but more realistically called sectarian or anomalous, aberrant medicine. The meeting is another in a long series of associating sectarian medicines with science – a bad fit.

Second, it illustrated an increasing infiltration of sectarianism, ideological thinking, and pseudoscience into medical schools and academia.

Third, this infiltrating change is no natural evolution, but is a political and economically driven external force, intent on both selfish and ideological interest. The forces are intent on radically changing society with medicine as the point of their phalanx. They chose medicine because of its admitted openness and self-criticism (no trade secrets, no state secrets, no top secret clearances; its self-criticism is open for all to see.) A vulnerable and often willing victim.

Fourth, the somewhat naïve writeup in Science (November, 2007) shows how even the scientific press takes the soft approach to quackery, showing it in a rosy light.

In contrast, sectarian movers, dealing pseudoscience, are occult and secretive, use obscure and distorted language. They use obscure financing behind the scenes. Progressing over 15 years or more, using cultural relativism and postmodern thought and rationales, its own advocates have described “CAM” as “the quiet revolution.”

The purposes of the fascia meeting, set out in a seven point statement, were in part to integrate the basic research being done on biochemical, molecular biological levels with clinical practitioners and results.

Problem is that there is no clinical specific disease condition or set of scientific therapy methods relating directly to “fascia.” But there are sectarian practices that claim to affect “fascia” in some way. These include massage, “structural integration” and forms of bodywork (Rolfing,) classical osteopathy and its sectarian offshoots like “cranio-sacral therapy,” chiropractic, and acupuncture. Organizations representing all of these were sponsors or supporters of the meeting. They all hoped to receive a dose of “respect” by association.

TAKING OVER.

When the sectarian advance became obvious in the early 1980s, we first became suspicious of advocates’ language. Bill Jarvis of the National Council against Health Fraud called attention to misuse of the word “alternative” in a NCAHF sponsored meeting in 1982. We will explore the history of more language distortions in future posts.

We also recognized the politics of takeover used by militaries and early 20th century communists in other countries and in other American institutions such as unions. Takeover followed a certain set of steps, in varying order, similar to objectives in military takeovers. The military first destroy means of resistance – both military and civilian. These are means of communication – the radio, printed press, other publishing, transportation, and education.

Having no need for or relevance to anything military, the sectarians concentrated on institutions that affect mind and opinion. They gained acceptance into academia by claiming having been ignored or unheard, and claiming to represent just other systems of thought and practice; that those systems could not be rejected by lack of proof, but could be rejected only by disproof.

You get the point here – and how sectarianism eased into a self-examining and self-critical medical system and how difficult it has been to disprove the moving targets of claims by experiment rather than by using prior knowledge. Academia, instead of rejecting this challenge, stepped in, up to both knees, thinking that disproof would be easy, short, and cheap. It is hard, long, and expensive (over $1 billion so far with little proved or disproved.)

Sectarians easily claimed the popular press with its naïve cub reporters and scientifically naïve editors. (Some editors actually being anti-“Establishment” biased.) We have had 25 years of naïve press coverage – devoted to non-judgmental reporting. Three to four page articles quoting advocates, 1-2 paragraphs of skeptics‘ quotes, buried midway in the article, and the last word given to the advocates. Radio and television are conquered by quackery and pseudoscience from paid commercials through standard news broadcasts. Naivete still reigns.

With the press wowed and academics cowed, and no need for transportation or airfields and barracks, the takeover plateaued, now rising slowly in the general population as our educational system turns out more students devoid of thinking skills, suspicious of authority, and attracted to conspiracies.

In 1994-7, I surveyed all US medical schools by questionnaire and telephone specifically as to how they taught “CAM”, and evaluated how much time or exposure was given to critical, scientific views. The survey found only four schools that taught significant amounts of critical analysis of claims, the rest teaching entirely from a position of non-judgment or, as for most, advocacy. I published the results in “The Need for Educational Reform in Teaching about Alternative Therapies.” (Acad-Med. 2001 Mar; 76(3): 248-50) in the journal, Academic Medicine in in 2001.

Since then we have been collecting information on medical school teaching. Several of us have actively opposed sectarian attempts to create new large centers and courses in selected schools – SUNY Stony Brook, Pittsburgh, Colorado, and chiro schools at Florida State and York (Toronto.) plus a few others. The Pitt and Fla. State experiences are published in SRAM and SI.

As a correlate study we have collected names of wealthy private foundations sponsoring med school programs. The Bravewell Collaborative sponsors the Consortium for Academic Healthcare in at least 36 medical schools, and another system for indoctrinating residents and physicians. It also indoctrinates the public, having sponsored the recent PBS series, The New Medicine.

Other sectarian sponsors include, Samueli (money made in broad band technology) which is devoted mainly to homeopathy and paying its medical leader, Wayne Jonas formerly NCCAM Director. Despite its wealth, it sucks on the nipple of the Congress, having been granted several million dollars in 2007 through Senator Tom Harkin’s earmarks (again) and 2 million five years ago from the Dept. of the Army to investigate homeopathy for battlefield wounds.

Add to these, smaller foundations such as Zakeim (Harvard) and Osher (Harvard and UCSF,) Fetzer (financer of the 1988, Bill Moyers PBS TV series Cancer and the Mind, Templeton (religion and science) Rosenthal (Columbia.) The engine of the “Integrative” and “CAM” systems are ideological, revolutionary, anti-science groups and foundations that at this moment are hard at work revolutionizing medicine and society.

Like lit or not.

Posted in: Medical Academia, Politics and Regulation, Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (53) ↓

53 thoughts on “Collision of Incompatibles

  1. Cameron says:

    The lead article in this week’s US News & World Report is on the integration of alternative medicine in some of the top hospitals in the country. They are somewhat soft on it but do point out that many of the therapies have little or no scientific support. The opinion of members of this site on the article would be interesting.

    http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/2008/01/09/embracing-alternative-care.html

  2. David Gorski says:

    I’m very likely going to write about just that on Monday.

  3. pec says:

    You are paranoid!!! Conventional medicine doesn’t have all the answers — far from it. Naturally people are looking at alternatives.

  4. pec says:

    “The engine of the “Integrative” and “CAM” systems are ideological, revolutionary, anti-science groups and foundations that at this moment are hard at work revolutionizing medicine and society.”

    Yes and some things need a little revolutionizing. Conventional medicine is completely blind to certain important realities. In so many cases, is completely helpless to provide relief or restore health. It often resorts to treating symptoms with synthetic drugs whose long-term effects are unknown.

    There are important concepts in chiropractic, for example, which mainstream medicine stubbornly ignores.

    Your mind is utterly closed and you see this as a war. It is not. Mainstream medicine has a lot to learn and nothing is gained by refusing to consider alternatives.

    Some alternatives are quackery, but some conventional medicine is quackery also. If alternative medicine is gaining acceptance that is not because of nefarious conspiracies, as you assume. Modern medicine has made some great advances, but in many areas it has been stalled for decades.

    How can you think that millions of people use chiropractic, and other holistic therapies, if there is absolutely no benefit? Do you really think people are that stupid?

    And if people actually are that stupid, no one, not even you, would be exempt. Being an MD does not liberate you from all irrational beliefs. To you, alternative practitioners are as bad as aliens, communists, witches. Your fears are entirely irrational.

  5. pec says:

    Oh, moderated. Well that will never show up.

  6. David Gorski says:

    What was that you were saying again?

    The first posts by new users are moderated. After that, you should be good to go.

  7. Harriet Hall says:

    Conventional medicine doesn’t have all the answers, but isn’t rigorous science the best way to look for better answers?

    What important realities is conventional medicine blind to?
    What important concepts are there in chiropractic?

    No one is saying there is “no” benefit from chiropractic or even quackery. There is obviously subjective benefit, or of course no one would use them. Even quack remedies seem to “work” but what we need to know is whether they “work” better than placebo. If they are not more effective than placebo, we call them ineffective. People do not use ineffective methods because they are stupid, but because various psychological and chance factors lead them to falsely attribute efficacy where there is none.

    Being MDs does not exempt us from irrational beliefs. But being scientists makes us test our beliefs and change them if they are not supported by the evidence.

    I don’t think any of us consider alternative practitioners “bad” except for those who deliberately mislead people for their personal profit. I personally believe most alternative practitioners are good, well-meaning people who are sincerely trying to help others. I think many of them fail to understand the factors that can lead us to false conclusions. For that matter, I don’t consider aliens, witches or communists “bad.” Do you?

  8. Joe says:

    pec wrote “There are important concepts in chiropractic, for example, which mainstream medicine stubbornly ignores.”

    Great. Cite them, with the reliable supporting data. Many of us have been searching for that information for decades.

  9. PalMD says:

    I think many readers here know more about chiropractic “theory” than most chiros, and as far as I can tell, none of us has found anything resembling evidence or even a real hypothesis. I’d love to see it.

  10. pec says:

    The catch-22 is that mainstream journals avoid publishing alternative research, so alternative medicine and science form separate organizations and publications. The result is that mainstream MDs tend to be unaware of advances in alternative or holistic medicine and science.

    Another factor is that mainstream research has major funding sources, such as the big pharmaceutical companies, which non-mainstream researchers lack. Even so, non-mainstream research is abundant, although ignored by conventional medicine.

    The philosophy underlying chiropractic is similar to hatha yoga or acupuncture. You can’t deny that many people have experienced the benefits of yoga subjectively. Of course you can blame that on a placebo effect, but millions will strongly disagree. Yoga works, and it works according to the same principles as chiropractic.

    Mainstream medicine will not consider these concepts because they are based on an alternate view of the nervous system and the immune system.

    Modern medicine has made some great advances, but its ignorance is still vast and most aspects of health are not understood at all. That ignorance does not stop medical practitioners from prescribing artificial substances whose effects on the body are not understood. And MDs have freely medicated their patients with substances that turned out to have no benefit and/or to be harmful. HRT for women is one example. The recent study of Zetia is anther. I’m sure we will soon find out that millions of children have been harmed by drugs like Ritalin.

    It seems that you enthusiastically accept almost anything that is non-holistic, invasive, or artificial. And you are highly skeptical of anything based on ancient ideas, and any treatments that work with nature rather than against it.

    No wonder interest in holistic alternatives is increasing.

  11. Harriet Hall says:

    pec,

    You didn’t respond to my previous message, but I’ll try again.

    I can point to many articles in mainstream journals about alternative medicine, and I can demonstrate that the American Academy of Family Practice is doing its best to keep its members informed on the subject. I also submit that a lot of articles on alternative medicine are rejected by mainstream journals because they do not meet the high standards of those journals, not because the journals are acting out of prejudice.

    We asked you about the “important realities” and “important concepts” you claimed for chiropractic, and all you have given us is generalities and the statement that it and other alternative systems “work.”

    Your statement that “The philosophy underlying chiropractic is similar to hatha yoga or acupuncture” completely baffles me, because I have read about the philosophies of all three and I don’t find that they have anything in common. Perhaps you can explain what you mean.

    What is your understanding of “an alternate view of the nervous system and the immune system”? I submit that there is only one reality, one anatomy, one physiology.

    You have no basis for assuming that we are skeptical of any idea just because of its antiquity, or of any treatments that work with nature rather than against it. We are only skeptical of ideas that are not supported by evidence.

    It really annoys me when alternative medicine proponents think they have a monopoly on “working with nature” and “letting the body heal itself,” because that is exactly the philosophy I learned in medical school. Doctors don’t heal; the body heals. Doctors can only set the stage for that to happen.

  12. pec says:

    “I have read about the philosophies of all three and I don’t find that they have anything in common.”

    Hatha yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic all share a concept of biological energy, and that concept is denied — utterly and completely — by modern medicine. You are taught that it does not, and cannot possibly, exist. You are not told why it cannot exist, but you accept the verdict anyway.

    I am amazed that you see no similarities between chiropractic and yoga. In addition to the concept of biological energy, both consider the alignment of the spine to be of central importance. How did you manage to miss that?

    According to chiropractic theory, subluxations can impair certain aspects of nerve functioning, which in turn can result in pain and illness.

    No one claims to know all the details, and it would be unrealistic to expect that. The knowledge and understanding of mainstream medicine is far from complete, and the same is true of non-mainstream medicine.

    The spine can be, and often is, misaligned in subtle ways which nevertheless may disrupt the balance and circulation of biological energy.

    So yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic all have in common a belief in some kind of biological energy, which is not recognized by modern medicine. Yoga and chiropractic have in common belief in the importance of a correctly aligned and balanced spine.

    Anyone can do their own “research” by trying yoga and feeling its benefits. Direct personal experience can be just as convincing as scientific studies.

  13. Harriet Hall says:

    I was not taught that what you call biological energy does not or cannot exist. I was taught and have continued to observe that there is no credible evidence for its existence.

    If the spine is misaligned in subtle ways that disrupt the circulation of biological energy, chiropractic has been amazingly unsuccessful in trying to demonstrate that fact even after 100 years. It has given up the concept of bones being actually misaligned and now uses a vague definition of a subluxation complex that is so broad it is virtually meaningless. Even many chiropractors now accept that the whole idea of a chiropractic “subluxation” is nothing but a convenient myth.

    You say, “Direct personal experience can be just as convincing as scientific studies.” I would go further and say it is usually MORE convincing. Unfortunately it is often wrong. We have learned to test our internal private personal experiences against our external shared reality with the scientific method – it doesn’t come naturally, but it is the only way to avoid self-deception.

    What you are essentially talking about is the philosophy of vitalism. That takes you out of the universe of discourse of science and of this blog. Philosophy deals with unverifiable ideas; science deals with evidence. If you have no evidence for your beliefs, it will not be productive to discuss them.

  14. pec says:

    Of course there is evidence for biological energy. MDs are so indoctrinated against any form of vitalism you can’t even think about it. Why? Where is your evidence against it? Or is it just that you have not seen evidence for it? Well of course you won’t see evidence for something if you don’t look for it, if you assume that all non-mainstream theories must be pseudoscience.

    It’s not in the prestigious journals, so it’s pseudoscience. And it’s not in the prestigious journals because they would lose their prestige if they published research supporting non-mainstream theories.

    And no, I don’t advocate believing every non-mainstream idea, any more than I believe every mainstream idea. The point is to consider the evidence, rather than dismiss everything you don’t see as prestigious or in accord with the status quo.

    We shouldn’t dismiss ideas because they are “revolutionary” and different, and we shouldn’t accept them for that reason either. Look at varied evidence with an open mind.

    No we can’t look at all the evidence because no one has time for more than a tiny fraction.

    And your dismissal of direct personal experience as a form of evidence is strange. If I experience something and no one else does, I might doubt my perception. But if I experience something and so do millions of others, I count that as evidence. It doesn’t have to be a formal study funded by a giant drug company to tell us something about reality.

    You are so indoctrinated you have been convinced that your own perceptions, and the perceptions of human in general, are worthless. There is no truth except what has already been discovered and confirmed by the scientific method.

    The scientific method is great, but it can’t possibly inform us about everything. Controlled research is slow and expensive, and fallible. That’s one reason MDs treat their patients with drugs that have not been thoroughly studied.

    Very often people who claim to be scientific are really just indoctrinated into a particular philosophy. This philosophy assumes that the basic laws of nature have been discovered and explained. Any concept that has not been endorsed by this philosophy is automatically labeled as pseudoscience. Vitalism has to be pseudoscience because mainstream science has not endorsed life energy, has refused to explore the possibility.

    These prejudices are passed along from professor to student. Being a member of the scientific community means holding certain beliefs. Scientists or physicians who deviate from these beliefs are quickly labeled as pseudoscientists or quacks, are ignored and cut off from the mainstream community.

    There is pressure to conform, both conscious and subconscious. Scientists are not above the normal human need to belong. No one is. But we don’t have to automatically label things we don’t understand and have made no effort to understand.

    You read about yoga and chiropractic and never saw any parallels between them. I can’t help wondering what kind of sources you had. Probably a quick and scornful summary intended to make any non-mainstream idea sound ridiculous.

  15. pec

    You make many false and self-serving assumptions.

    There is no indoctrination against energy medicine in Med School. It is either ignored, or (in those schools teaching CAM) promoted.

    Ironically, while accusing us of being dismissive, it is you who are being dismissive. You are using an ad hominem logical fallacy to dismiss our legitimate scientific concerns as closed-minded, indoctrinated, and part of some academic conspiracy.

    Personal anecdotes are worthless. History has clearly shown this. Unless you want to believe all those anecdotes about the health benefits of radioactive tonics. (just to give one example)

    We rely upon the best scientific evidence and logic available because that is what is reliable. We are open to all claims, but likewise all claims must be supported by scientific evidence and plausibility.

    We do not dismiss claims because of philosophy. We dismiss them because they lack plausibility and empirical evidence. If you have any convincing evidence for the existence of vital energy, please supply references. Otherwise you are just making handwaving excuses in order to support an unscientific notion.

  16. pec says:

    “We do not dismiss claims because of philosophy. We dismiss them because they lack plausibility and empirical evidence.”

    Right, you dismiss them because they don’t seem plausible within your philosophical framework. And because the empirical evidence has not been published in the journals you read.

    “Personal anecdotes are worthless. History has clearly shown this.”

    Absolutely not true. Fads are followed for a while, but pretty soon everyone sees they have no value. Hatha yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and millions still practice it. Instead of going out of style it is increasingly recognized for its health benefits.

    I don’t need a scientific study to convince me that yoga works because I have decades of experience with it. I was skeptical when I started but all my experiences have been positive.

    Yes people can deceive themselves but overall reality tends to win. Primitive people didn’t need scientists to tell them what to eat — they did their own informal experiments and built up vast knowledge of the plants in their environment.

    Likewise, people who are interested in health experiment informally with diet, exercise, supplements, etc., and discover what seems to keep them healthy.

    Of course this process isn’t perfect, but how perfect is the formal research you put all your faith in? For one thing, the limitations of resources determine that most things will never be studied. And the results of so much research are ambiguous or contradicted by later research.

    No way of knowing is perfect. But to completely dismiss personal experience is ridiculous. I’m sure you don’t ignore your own experiences, even if they have not yet been confirmed by mainstream science.

    And beyond all that, there are organizations that support non-mainstream research, but you don’t read their journals. Most non-mainstream science and medicine assumes some kind of biological energy. This has been the experience of countless individuals for thousands of years, and still continuing. You are wrong to dismiss it just because it is not published in the journals that you read.

  17. David Gorski says:

    Actually, I have read many studies from journals published by organizations that support “nonmainstream” therapy. (I won’t call it science, because it isn’t science.) The studies are almost invariably poorly designed, poorly powered, and full of what I call “overreach,” namely, concluding far more than the data, such as they are, would support even if they weren’t the result of a crappy study.

    As for “biological energy,” science does study biological energy. It’s called ATP, and the chemical energy from its hydrolysis powers most biological functions. The nebulous “qi” energy that is posited by “alternative” medicine practitioners has never been detected by science, and it’s not for a lack of trying. Why do you think that is? Surely if such an energy existed and had biological relevance, we’d have better evidence for it than the “feelings” of various reiki masters who claim to be able to manipulate it.

  18. daedalus2u says:

    pec says: “Controlled research is slow and expensive, and fallible. ”

    So the alternative is something fast and cheap and which will then be infallible?

    On my blog I have the engineering truism:

    “good, fast, cheap: pick any two”.

    The only way you can have something fast and cheap is if you compromise on how good it is. It goes for engineering projects, it goes for experiments, it goes for education, it goes for everything.

  19. Harriet Hall says:

    pec,

    I am disappointed that you have not responded directly to refutations of your claims, for instance my comments on spinal alignment in chiropractic, and you have still not offered us anything in the way of evidence to support your claims.

    As for dismissing personal experience, science certainly does not do that. Testimonials, case reports and personal experiences are taken very seriously by science, but they are not taken as proof. They are taken as suggestions for research. Some of those personal experiences turn out to be true, others false.

    Just one example of things that were accepted as true and effective by nearly everyone for millennia but were wrong: bloodletting to balance the humours.

    You said, “I can’t help wondering what kind of sources you had. Probably a quick and scornful summary intended to make any non-mainstream idea sound ridiculous.” On the contrary. An example: when I first started learning about chiropractic, I made it a point to read books by chiropractors, even by D.D. Palmer himself. I even spent a great deal of time discussing the best evidence with chiropractors and professors of chiropractic on the Internet. I found the best writings promoting chiropractic to be full of logical flaws and lacking in credible evidence.

    I’m wondering if you have given a similar degree of attention to ideas contrary to your own. For instance, have you read the book “Snake Oil Science” that I recommended in another blog entry?

  20. Prometheus says:

    Pec has said:

    “So yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic all have in common a belief in some kind of biological energy, which is not recognized by modern medicine.”

    This “biological energy” that Pec refers to is not “recognized” because it has never been observed or measured.

    If that is incorrect, perhaps Pec could direct me to where I can find the data.

    The problem is that undetectable is often indistinguishable from non-existent.

    If your personal experience tells you that these “energies” exist despite being undetectable, you’ll just have to be satisfied with your own faith in their existence.

    One of my favorite parts of Pec’s comments was the early claim that “Your mind is utterly closed…”. This claim, I have come to realize, is the hallmark of an utterly closed mind.

    I believe that the psychologists call this “projection”.

    Prometheus

  21. pmoran says:

    >Of course there is evidence for biological energy. MDs are so indoctrinated against any form of vitalism you can’t even think about it. Why? Where is your evidence against it? Or is it just that you have not seen evidence for it? Well of course you won’t see evidence for something if you don’t look for it, if you assume that all non-mainstream theories must be pseudoscience.<

    What evidence are you talking about? What is needed are phenomena that cannot be explained other than by existence of this biological energy. All we have so far is the claim that methods purported, but not ever directly demonstrated, to be based upon manipulation of this energy have limited medical benefits that don’t seem to include consistent effects upon any important disease. The benefits claimed are, in fact, too suspiciously close to those also seen with sham treatments.

    If you are referring to occasionally positive clinical trials, these are an extremely indirect form of evidence and too easily corrupted. They cannot on their own sustain belief in something that is not otherwise observable, measurable and distinguishable from other biological and psychological processes.

    I have some sympathy for the argument that “pretend medicines” may have a place in society at this stage of medicine’s evolution, while the mainstream lacks simple, entirely safe, and 100% effective solutions for ALL the complaints that mankind seeks treatment for. In my opinion this is compatible with the present state of the science.

  22. pec says:

    Harriet Hall: “As for dismissing personal experience, science certainly does not do that.”

    I was responding to this comment:

    Steven Novella: “Personal anecdotes are worthless. History has clearly shown this. ”

    Of course personal experience isn’t worthless. I’m not sure why I even bothered replying to that comment.

    Science is great, but if we waited for definitive scientific evidence we could hardly do anything.

    There has been research on the benefits of yoga, by the way.

    The author of this blog is horrified that CAM is starting to gain acceptance:

    The engine of the “Integrative” and “CAM” systems are ideological, revolutionary, anti-science groups”

    But increasing acceptance and interest means CAM treatments and theories will get more attention from researchers, and that’s great.

  23. pmoran says:

    >A couple of examples of life-energy research:

    >http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1697750
    >http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1876607

    Did the Ki master randomly treat the preparations, or did he treat “his” batch at different times or on different days to the controls, allowing experimental artefact to creep in? Are we being supplied with the results of all “runs” or have negative ones been witheld? Cell-counting (in the second experiment) is fraught with error if performed by persons not blinded to which preparations they are examining.

    This is not nit-picking, the authors look to be uncritical enthusiasts, to judge by this comment in another of their papaers. Why not test the easily tested propositions made here?

    “Another interesting observation at his school is the Taiki-practice (paired Ki-practice). During this practice, Nishino can ‘move’ his students without any physical contact. Many of them run, jump or roll on the floor when they receive his Ki-energy. We studied this and propose that ‘information’ is conveyed through the air between two individuals by Ki-energy.”

  24. Harriet Hall says:

    These studies are prime examples of what I call Tooth Fairy science. You can study how much money is found under the pillow if you leave the tooth in a baggie compared to leaving it in a Kleenex. You can study how much money children in different socioeconomic groups get. You can study whether the money for the first tooth is the same as for the last tooth. You can get all kinds of statistically significant results. You could publish those results as telling us important information about the Tooth Fairy. But that research would be worthless, because you have not established that the Tooth Fairy is real, and you are not actually testing what you think you are testing.

    If this kind of energy is real, it should be a simple matter to measure it directly, and the experiments should be replicable. And it should be very simple to test the ability of Ki energy to move people by doing controlled studies where they cannot see or hear what the practitioner is doing, preferably with naive subjects who have never observed the alleged phenomenon. They may think information is being conveyed through Ki energy, but a simpler explanation is that the students have learned what is expected of them and are behaving accordingly under the power of suggestion.

    Researchers who believe in this kind of energy usually try to show that it works, rather than seriously trying to find out whether it really exists. These hypotheses are falsifiable, and the researcher/believers are not trying to falsify them. Michael Shermer has said, “…if you don’t seek contradictory data against your theory or beliefs, someone else will, usually with great glee and in a public forum, for maximal humiliation.”

  25. pec says:

    There is and enormous amount of research on life energy. It has been known for thousands of years in the orient, millions of people have experienced it in their daily lives and in healing practices, and it is slowly making its way into modern science and medicine.
    Wilhelm Reich was ridiculed and ostracized for his belief in life energy. Robert O. Becker is another serious medical researcher who studied life energy and could not convince mainstream scientists.
    Fortunately tolerance for the idea seems to be increasing, which of course horrifies the “skeptics” who hate to revise their ideas.

    http://twm.co.nz/DrYan_Pub.htm

    Sure you can assume that every alternative scientist is a self-deceiving fool with no understanding of methodology. Only the indoctrinated elite are in possession of the “truth.”

  26. pec says:

    More: http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=74508

    Blog comment at the end:

    “Of course, one can assume they are all just confused.
    However, once we start assuming everyone is just confused,
    then science disintegrates completely.”

  27. pec says:

    “What differentiates Yan Xin Qigong from other alternative medicines is that it has been subjected to many scientific experiments and has proved effective in reducing the poisonous effects of hydrogen peroxide and keeping neural cells from aging among other positive effects.”

    http://www-tech.mit.edu/V122/N1/1conf.1n.html

  28. pec wrote: Steven Novella: “Personal anecdotes are worthless. History has clearly shown this. ”
    Of course personal experience isn’t worthless. I’m not sure why I even bothered replying to that comment.

    As you can see, I did not say that personal “experience” is worthless, but that personal “anecdotes” are worthless – the context being that uncontrolled clinical observations are not useful as scientific evidence. Anecdotes are not reliable, they are overwhelmed with variables that cannot be controlled. There are countless examples in history of many people believing anecdotally that a treatment was very effective when it was later shown to be fraudulent, useless, or even harmful.

    Defending anecdotes is just a way of using bad science to support bad theories.

    Here is a longer discussion of anecdotes: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php?p=174

  29. pec says:

    Steven Novella,

    Obviously personal anecdotes are not counted as scientific evidence. And, just as obviously, they are not worthless.

    There is no perfect way of knowing. We can’t wait for definitive controlled scientific experiments before making every decisions about our health, so we resort to common sense, personal experience, and the testimony of others whom we trust.

    And our decisions can easily turn out to be wrong. But they can also turn out to be wrong when based on scientific research, since medical research is far from perfect.

    I, and countless others, know from experience that yoga works, for example. And now there is CAM research in support of our subjective experience.

    And according to the links I just posted, there is an abundance of CAM research exploring life energy.

    There is no reason to fear and hate this new direction in medical science. It is not leading us away from science, but towards deeper understandings of nature.

  30. Harriet Hall says:

    Yes, there is an enormous amount of research on the kind of energy you mean. Unfortunately, it is not good quality research. It is done by believers and has not been replicated by unbiased outsiders. It is a scattershot demonstration of different alleged phenomena rather than a coherent body of progressively increasing information. I commented on this in detail in a review of Ochsman’s book “Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis.” See http://quackfiles.blogspot.com/2006/01/review-of-energy-medicine-scientific.html

    Science progresses and builds new knowledge on the base of previous knowledge; pseudoscience does not progress in any important way. If there were any substance to the claims for energy medicine, we could expect to have seen some progress since the days of William Reich.

    Are you aware of any good studies that tried to falsify Qi by seeing if a practitioner could knock over a naive subject who could not see or hear what the practitioner was doing? According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary article, the Qi knockout has been tested, and it only works on believers, not on skeptics. http://skepdic.com/chikung.html

  31. pec says:

    Believers in life energy usually have experienced it first hand and are able to feel and/or see it. They might not be interested in proving its existence, since they already feel they know.

    Non-believers are convinced life energy does not exist, and cannot possibly exist. They are not likely to spend time and resources on the kind of experiment that would conclusively demonstrate its non-existence.

    Still, I have linked to the research of Xan Xin, for example, and this research is claimed to be scientific and objective. So of course Harriet ignores all of that and concentrates on making believers seem credulous and ignorant.

    Of course as a non-believer you are going to perceive believers that way. And they will perceive you as ignorant as well. People believe what they, and other members of their sub-culture, have experienced.

    The debate can be settled by objective scientific research. Are the believers all self-deceiving fools and frauds? Or is there an objective basis for some of their beliefs? Are the non-believers actually in possession of the “truth?”

    The scientific mainstream, which has grown to identify itself with the philosophy of materialism, or naturalism, is really a very small minority. That does not make you wrong, since scientific truth is not, or should not be, decided by democratic vote. But you are very much at odds with the perceptions and beliefs of the vast majority of humanity, of all times and places.

    You think the reason you are at odds with the majority is that you base your beliefs on the scientific method. But that is very often not true. If an idea contradicts your materialist philosophy, you refuse to investigate it and you ignore the positive evidence.

    There is no simple way to prove most medical theories, and that is also the case with life energy. Especially since it has been ignored by most scientifically trained experts. Being trained as a research expert usually involves indoctrination into a particular view of reality, which includes the idea that life energy does not and cannot exist.

    If Xan Xin, for example, is not a fake or an idiot, maybe his research has some value.

    Wilhelm Reich, Robert Becker, and many many other alternative scientists, were not and are not fakes or idiots. They never intended to part with the mainstream, but scientific curiosity led them away from it.

    Yes many life-energy believers lack scientific skepticism, since they already believe and do not need objective proof, but there are some believers who are genuine scientists.

    It’s very easy to attack the non-skeptical believers, much harder to find fault with the skeptical, scientific believers. Why not try that for a change?

  32. pec says:

    Explain why this http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16893670 was published by The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology, if it does not follow accepted research methodology.

  33. David Gorski says:

    Be very careful what you ask for. You might just get it. Not this week, given that I’ve already half written my post for tomorrow, but perhaps next week or if I get enough time this week to do an extra post. Or one of my co-bloggers might give you what you want.

    In the meantime, I’ll make a couple of brief comments. First, just because an article gets into a halfway decent journal doesn’t necessarily mean that the science is sound. After all, Bienveniste got his infamous homeopathy article on the “memory of water” published in one of the most prestigious journals in the world (Nature), only to have no one be able to replicate his results and ultimately to be shown by the Amazing Randi to have been fooled by a lab technician who was only giving the boss what he wanted, results-wise. Second, if you look at the work of John Ioannidis, random chance alone will result in a significant number of studies to show an effect when there is none, a percentage that increases when the plausibility of the study and probability of a treatment effect are low. That’s why there are always seemingly “positive” studies for woo like reiki. These studies, however, are almost always just noise, as is revealed when the totality of the literature is examined and when one takes into account the incredibly implausible nature of such studies based on physics and chemistry.

  34. Harriet Hall says:

    pec,

    Individual studies like those you cite are meaningless by themselves. They must be replicated in other labs and critiqued by peers and discussed in the scientific community, in the context of the entire body of evidence.

    No one has even remotely suggested that believers in “life energy” are fakes or idiots. You misunderstand. We are not attacking people; we are asking for a high standard of evidence for all claims. We are not asking any more of “energy” concepts than we would ask of a new pharmaceutical. We criticize conventional scientific studies by the same standards, as you will realize as you continue to read this blog.

    Even the best of us often reach false conclusions, and the only way to avoid them is rigorous science. Beliefs must be tested.

    Please go back and read my comments about Tooth Fairy science. And please read “Snake Oil Science” and then get back to us. We can’t have a productive discussion until we are all on the same wavelength, and the very fact that you used words like “fakes” and “idiots” and “frauds” shows that you haven’t understood us.

  35. pec says:

    Harriet Hall,

    I am very familiar with the skeptic movement and have read many of their articles and books. I don’t have to go read something and then come back. And I read your article and responded to it. Furthermore, I have a PhD in experimental psychology so I understand something about science.

    I am completely aware that the existence life energy can’t be proven by one experiment. When did I ever say there was only one experiment? There are many, as well as countless direct personal experiences. For some people, including me, life energy is clearly visible. No, that doesn’t prove it’s real, but combining that with the experiences of others everywhere and at all times, in addition to the increasing amount of recent scientific research, should at least make you wonder!!

    “Even the best of us often reach false conclusions, and the only way to avoid them is rigorous science. Beliefs must be tested.”

    Haven’t I said that? Did you read what I wrote?

  36. David Gorski says:

    Furthermore, I have a PhD in experimental psychology so I understand something about science.

    Your comments here suggest otherwise, I’m afraid.

  37. pec says:

    http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/2/3/387

    Of course I know that simply being accepted by a mainstream journal does not guarantee that research is valid and correct! But if I linked to an article in an alternative journal (where most of the life energy articles are found, of course) you would dismiss it automatically!

    And don’t discard Bienveniste’s entire life’s work just because of James Randi. Memory of water is far from a dead issue.

  38. Harriet Hall says:

    pec,

    You may have a PhD, but I’m beginning to wonder how well you can read. You seem to have misunderstood a number of our points. For instance, I said, “I was not taught that what you call biological energy does not or cannot exist. I was taught and have continued to observe that there is no credible evidence for its existence.”

    Yet you went on to say, “Non-believers are convinced life energy does not exist, and cannot possibly exist.”

    Not believing that there is evidence that something exists is not the same as believing that it does not exist or cannot possibly exist.

    I asked for clarification:”What is your understanding of “an alternate view of the nervous system and the immune system”? I submit that there is only one reality, one anatomy, one physiology.” and you never answered.

    You claimed that chiropractic subluxations are misalignments that impair nerve function, and did not respond when I pointed out that no such misalignments have ever been demonstrated, chiropractic has changed its definition of subluxation so it no longer requires misalignment, and even many chiropractors have rejected the whole concept of subluxation. You did not respond.

    It would help if you read our comments carefully and responded to what we actually say instead of to straw men.

  39. psamathos says:

    This is an interesting characterization of the CAM “movement,” although it’s difficult to tell if it has really been a concerted effort or if it is simply a shift in our society’s interests, a consequence of the long-standing deficit in science education. A few lobby groups does not really warrant the “war” analogy, in my opinion.

    Pec seems to be raging at straw men, however, and I have to say you are somewhat naive if you believe that something is true because some people “feel they know” something. People believe all kinds of strange things, without being pathological. As a psychology student myself, a psychologist who truly understands the scientific issues in dealing with self-report and various personal biases would always treat these things critically. This is not closed-mindedness, but science at work.

  40. pec says:

    you are somewhat naive if you believe that something is true because some people “feel they know” something.”

    I NEVER said that. I think an idea is likely to have some validity if millions of people have experienced it at all times and places, and if I have also experienced it, and if there is also scientific evidence supporting it.

    Even then, I would not be SURE that it’s true.

    That is very different from the attitude of “skeptics” who refuse to even consider evidence or personal experience that does not fit their pre-existing materialist worldview.

  41. pec says:

    “You claimed that chiropractic subluxations are misalignments that impair nerve function”

    Harriet,

    I NEVER said that. I do not think subluxations are misalignments as defined by mainstream MDs. The concept is probably not as simple or straightforward as you would like. Not everything is completely understood, in either alternative or mainstream medicine.

    The alignment of the spine can be improved in almost everyone. Very often the misalignments are subtle and so are the symptoms. The person may not feel sick at all, and do not realize their energy level is lower than it could be. They could feel lighter and stronger, and more relaxed.

    Misalignments are generally caused by muscle imbalance, which is often caused by posture which is habitually sub-optimal. Almost all of us have some degree of muscle imbalance, because we sit in chairs, spend too little time walking, wear uncomfortable shoes, etc. Muscle imbalance can also be a lasting result of traumatic injury or emotional stress.

    When muscles around some vertebrae are slightly out of balance, the nerve functioning is definitely affected. The nerve is not pinched or squeezed by the joint.

    The degree of muscle imbalance can be slight or severe. The effects can accumulate over time, and that’s part of the reason middle-aged and older people are more likely to suffer from low energy, joint pains, and all the degenerative diseases.

    Anyone who makes a serious effort at practicing yoga, or something similar, can experience this for themselves. And if you don’t trust your own experiences, you can read scientific studies showing health benefits from yoga.

  42. pec says:

    How exactly muscle imbalance and subtle joint misalignment interfere with nerve functioning is probably not well understood. I believe the problem is with the myelin, not the neurons. I believe that life energy circulation depends somehow on the myelin (which mainstream science considers merely an insulating layer).

  43. Joe says:

    pec, joint misalignment (no matter how subtle) is neither detectable nor correctable by chiropractors.
    http://www.chirobase.org/02Research/crelin.html

    In recognition of those facts (rather than accept that they were offering sham “therapy”), in good cult fashion, chiros redefined their subluxation.

    “A subluxation is a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health.”
    http://www.chirocolleges.org/paradigm_scope.html

    The best interpretation of that definition is “a subluxation is anything I can pretend to fix and then submit a bill.”

  44. Harriet Hall says:

    pec,

    I said, “You claimed that chiropractic subluxations are misalignments that impair nerve function”

    You said, “I never said that.”

    What you actually did say was:

    “I am amazed that you see no similarities between chiropractic and yoga. In addition to the concept of biological energy, both consider the alignment of the spine to be of central importance.” and
    “According to chiropractic theory, subluxations can impair certain aspects of nerve functioning, which in turn can result in pain and illness.” and “There are important concepts in chiropractic, for example, which mainstream medicine stubbornly ignores.” and “The spine can be, and often is, misaligned in subtle ways which nevertheless may disrupt the balance and circulation of biological energy.”

    You also continue to say things like “the attitude of “skeptics” who refuse to even consider evidence or personal experience that does not fit their pre-existing materialist worldview” even after we have shown you that that is not true.

    If you continue to battle straw men and to deny what you yourself have said, you lose all credibility.

  45. Harriet Hall says:

    pec said,

    “an idea is likely to have some validity if millions of people have experienced it at all times and places, and if I have also experienced it, and if there is also scientific evidence supporting it.”

    You can’t exactly experience an idea. I think what you really meant to say was that the treatments or practices based on the idea have been experienced and have some validity. I don’t think any of us disagree with that. We are asking whether the validity is due to anything more than placebo effects, whether the hypotheses put forth by believers are true, and whether the scientific evidence available to date is sufficient to give it credibility and direct further research.

    First you have to show clearly that something works, then you have to consider various competing hypotheses as to “why” it works.

    In other words, chiropractic may be “valid” in the sense that some kinds of spinal manipulation provide symptomatic relief for some conditions, but that doesn’t mean the relief occurs for the reasons chiropractors and patients think. It doesn’t mean there is any such thing as a chiropractic “subluxation” and it doesn’t mean there is nerve interference or obstruction of Innate (the chiropractic name for the kind of energy you are talking about).

    For centuries, patients and doctors all experienced the apparent effectiveness of bloodletting to balance the humours. It was based on the “science” of the time. It was wrong. We now understand that they were deceived by factors like the placebo effect, the natural course of illness, and the fact that other interventions did even more harm.

  46. overshoot says:

    pec:
    “How can you think that millions of people use chiropractic, and other holistic therapies, if there is absolutely no benefit? Do you really think people are that stupid?”

    That’s a very persuasive argument for treatment by exorcism. Unfortunately, it’s equally persuasive as an argument for exorcism by Christian, Hindu, Chinese, and several other schools of exorcism — all of which are mutually contradictory.

    This leaves me with a serious problem in choosing exorcists. How do you propose that I should resolve this problem?

  47. Amy Alkon says:

    Conventional medicine doesn’t have all the answers, but isn’t rigorous science the best way to look for better answers?

    I suggest the term “evidence-based medicine” rather than “conventional medicine.”

    Doctors practically apologize for suggesting treatment that isn’t woo these days. My doctor e-mailed me to propose a course of treatment, and actually gingerly inquired as to whether I was opposed to “Western Medicine.” I’m a science and reason-based girl, and have made that clear, but I guess she encounters a lot of patients these days who prefer to leave their health in the hands of some old guy in Chinatown selling dried grass in a jar. I’m also guessing a number of these believers exhale lead fumes to rival a Ford Pinto exhaust pipe.

  48. faceman says:

    pec said:
    “There is no perfect way of knowing. We can’t wait for definitive controlled scientific experiments before making every decisions about our health, so we resort to common sense, personal experience, and the testimony of others whom we trust.
    And our decisions can easily turn out to be wrong. But they can also turn out to be wrong when based on scientific research, since medical research is far from perfect.”

    Of course, this is the old probability fallacy (as I call it…maybe there’s a better term). It attempts to state that:

    1) Conventional medicine = not prefect
    2) CAM therapy = not perfect
    3) therefore “not perfect” = “not perfect” and thus “Conventional medicine” = “CAM therapy”.

    Of course this ignores the probability of “not perfect”. If conventional medicine is–for argument’s sake–”perfect” 20% of the time and CAM therapy is “perfect” <0.001% of the time for a given disease (e.g., T4N1M0 SCCa of the larynx), most gamblers would bet on conventional medicine over CAM therapy.

    Yes, pec, I could die in a car crash while wearing a seatbelt, or I could die in a car crash while wearing a tinfoil hat. But just because seatbelts and tinfoil hats aren’t perfect protectors against vehicular fatality doesn’t make them equivalent.

  49. pmoran says:

    “Understanding the nature and role of anecdotes is vital to bridging the gap between the proponents of science-based medicine and believers in dubious or sectarian health practices (as well as the public at large). In my experience it is often the final point of contention between these two camps.”

    That is also my experience. I think the medical profession is partly to blame, especially for a somewhat high-handed approach sometimes adopted some decades ago. We still tend to pronounce against “alternative” anecdotal material via in-house judgments that are a complete mystery to those who find the same evidence compelling. Yet we rarely try to explain precisely why the evidence is found to be weak. You do an excellent job of explaining the general principles involved, but those who most need to understand all this will probably have to be led by the hand through the considerations that most relate to each diverse area of clinical interest.

    We also profess that anecdotal evidence can serve as a guide to matters worthy of further research. Yet we are rarely seen to be responding that way in relation to “alternative” methods. This is another mystery for those who see alternative medicine as offering very promising treatment methods. Just what kind of anecdotal material are we looking for? Do we ever offer guidance? Hence the perception that there is a brick wall of unthinking bias, arrogance and even conspiracy against alternative methods.

    Some skeptics explicitly foster the perception that the only kind of evidence we are responsive to is double blinded placebo controlled studies. These persons are probably confusing the kind of evidence that might be needed for the scientific “proof” of some kinds of clinical claim with that necessary to merely formulate a tenable hypothesis. But they are unwittingly offering promoters of dubious methods a ready-made excuse for being unable to produce ” the kind of evidence the doctors want”.

    My special interest is cancer quackery. It should be easy to support the usual alternative cancer cure claim with quality anecdotal material. Many types of cancer are so predictable that the patient can act as their own control with something like 100,000 to 1 reliability, and cancer is mostly easy to objectively measure with modern technology. Who would not be impressed by the production of even two or three recent cases where advanced, biopsy-proved non-small cell lung cancer regressed with treatment?

    That, I think, is the message that we need to be getting across in relation to dubious cancer cures — not that the anecdotal material is weak, but precisely WHY it is weak.. The onus, and the focus must be thrust back onto those making the claims.

    I offer my own take on the role anecdotal evidence in cancer treatment on my web site e.g. http://www.users.on.net/~pmoran/cancer/Brenneranecdote.htm
    I try to explain what good anecdotal evidence might look like in this particular area of medicine.

    http://www.cancerwatcher.com

  50. Roy Niles says:

    I’ve been told many people can see life energy, but they can only get photos (or at least video) of it in Bangkok.

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