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Pro-CAM Wikipedia – Skeptics Need Not Apply

The internet is arguably the ultimate expression of democracy and the free market. For the cost of internet access anyone can pull up a virtual soap box and preach to the world. There are no real gatekeepers, and the public can vote with their search entries, clicks, and links. Every point of view can be catered to and every special interest satisfied. Type in any obscure term or concept into Google and see how many hits you get (“banana farming” yielded 1,470,000 hits).

There is potentially a downside to this as well, however. Because there are websites fashioned for every opinion and perspective no one has to venture far out of their intellectual comfort zone. Virtual communities of like-minded individuals can gather and reinforce their prejudices, and to varying degrees keep out contrary opinions. This is harmless when dealing with aesthetic tastes, but can be stifling to intellectual discourse.

On the other hand defining the mission, scope, and character of a blog, website, or forum is necessary to some degree. Every site does not have to be a free-for-all. If biologists want a forum to politely discuss biological topics in a collegial fashion they have the right to create a virtual space in which to do that, and whoever owns and operates the site has the right to mandate whatever rules they wish. Allowing political activists to overrun the site and hijack the conversation would be counterproductive. Like most things a healthy balance probably works best.

It was with all that in mind that I took a look at the new website, Wiki4CAM, the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Encyclopedia. As the name suggests, this is a wiki-style information resource on all things CAM. Why did the creators think that such a thing was necessary? On their main page they write:

Wiki4CAM has been started to provide the CAM community their own space where they can build their knowledge base without any undue skeptical diversions.

And on a page dedicated to explaining why they are needed, they write:

Wikipedia is undoubtedly the world’s biggest and most read and referenced encyclopedia. The community participation has made it a huge success. But its open architecture has (at times) also led to the use of Wikipedia for gaining political mileage and for spreading biased views by a handful of editors.

The same thing has happened to most complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies on Wikipedia. A handful of wiki editors are going out of their way to discredit and disrepute nearly all alternative medicine as unscientific. Read how most alternative systems are introduced at Wikipedia:

The creators of Wiki4CAM believe that the information on Wikipedia is biased against CAM. So they are not going to play anymore and instead are going to make their own sandbox. This is very different than a blog or forum – an encyclopedia is not a place to present an opinion or point of view (like a blog) or for open discussion (like a forum) but is supposed to be an authoritative source of unbiased information. What Wiki4CAM is designed to be is a source of information that is styled to look authoritative but which is biased consistently in one openly stated direction – pro CAM.

Wikipedia is an excellent resource because it is the product of so many individuals – anyone can add their knowledge to this communal repository. But it does have difficulty dealing with controversy. By now most people are familiar with Wiki wars where people of incompatible opinions fight over Wiki entries. The editors of Wiki have come up with various solutions that work pretty well. They simply create headers for the various opinions. They also will sometimes label certain entries as disputed, to warn the reader that there is controversy over the content.

Many entries will explicitly say – this is what proponents say, and this is what the skeptics say. But it seems that some CAM practitioners are not happy with these solutions. They want to be the only word. Their statement that they do not want any “undue skeptical diversions” is extremely revealing. To them skepticism is a diversion, it detracts from the purity of their message. This is the behavior of a cult, corporation, or belief system, not a scientific or academic discipline.

This attitude contradicts their statement that they do not want CAM to be discredited as “unscientific.” This means they feel it is scientific – but the cornerstone of science is skeptical critical analysis of all claims. Therefore they want the perception of being scientific but want to completely avoid the process of scientific review – that is the very definition of pseudoscience.

Also very revealing are the examples they give of the outrageous anti-CAM bias of Wikipedia. They quote from Wikipedia:

Applied Kinesiology
With only anecdotal accounts providing positive evidence for the efficacy of the practice, a review of peer-reviewed studies concluded that the “evidence to date does not support the use of [AK] for the diagnosis of organic disease or pre/subclinical conditions.

To me this is a very sedate and no-nonsense review of Applied Kinesiology. It is simply quoting from a review of the literature that shows that AK does not work, and that the only positive evidence for AK is anecdotal. Here is the brief description from Wiki4CAM:

Applied Kinesiology (AK) is a practice of using manual muscle-strength testing for medical diagnosis and a subsequent determination of prescribed therapy. It purportedly gives feedback on the functional status of the body.

The reality is that AK is pure pseudoscience. There is absolutely no biological rationale for this method, and the evidence clearly shows that it is worthless. Practitioners of AK will, for example, place a substance in a subject’s hand and if that arm tests weak they will conclude that the subject is allergic to the substance. Studies have shown, however, that the “weakness” is entirely due to suggestion and the ideomotor effect, not a true physiological effect. Double-blind studies fail to show any reliability.

The authors of the Wiki4CAM are therefore upset that Wikipedia sometimes contains accurate information about the modalities they practice. It also commonly contains the proponents position, but will often link to published evidence that calls into question the claims of CAM practitioners. One can only conclude that the authors do not wish the public to see any skeptical or scientific information about their claims.

The Wiki4CAM is similar in mission and execution to another Wikipedia alternative, the Conservapedia. The promoters of this wiki resource were upset that the Wikipedia was full of “misinformation,” like evolution. They kept trying to correct entries on such topics but those pesky scientists kept putting in their “dogma.” So they too decided to just create their own information resource – free from any interference by scientists.

The Wiki4CAM is likely to be as useful a source of information for the public as the Conservapedia is. The creators essentially are trying to tell the public to “ignore the man behind the curtain, this is the information you are looking for” (sorry to mix my movie references).

Both endeavors are unscientific in the extreme. Science, by necessity, is an open and public endeavor. It requires open analysis and harsh criticism. It is a meritocracy in which competing opinions fight over logic and evidence. It is a messy process, but useful knowledge slowly grinds forward as a result. These specialty-wikis are being promoted by the losers in this public battle of science who are now forming their own game with their own rules that they cannot lose. They created not only their own game, but their own playground. And those pesky skeptics are not allowed.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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195 thoughts on “Pro-CAM Wikipedia – Skeptics Need Not Apply

  1. David Gorski says:

    Wikipedia is an excellent resource because it is the product of so many individuals – anyone can add their knowledge to this communal repository. But it does have difficulty dealing with controversy. By now most people are familiar with Wiki wars where people of incompatible opinions fight over Wiki entries. The editors of Wiki have come up with various solutions that work pretty well. They simply create headers for the various opinions. They also will sometimes label certain entries as disputed, to warn the reader that there is controversy over the content.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and disagree with you that Wikipedia is an “excellent” resource–at least in areas where there is any controversy. At best in these areas it can be an “OK” resource, but more often it’s pretty mediocre. In particular, it is an unreliable and dubious resource for good information on pseudoscience. Credulous activists are constantly trying to edit entries to make the content agree with them or to be less critical, thus requiring an enormous time commitment from skeptics to undo the damage. The insistence of the Wikipedia culture and its administrators for the “neutral voice” makes serious discussion of some areas of pseudscience all but impossible, and the “solution” of putting “both sides” into articles is nothing more than the “tell both sides” fallacy that drives me nuts in news reporting about CAM.

    On the other hand, the very fact that Wikipedia bothers homeopaths so much (Wiki4CAM was set up by the owners of a pro-homeopathy website) does somewhat restore my faith in it.

  2. Jules says:

    This is very different than a blog or forum – an encyclopedia is not a place to present an opinion or point of view (like a blog) or for open discussion (like a forum) but is supposed to be an authoritative source of unbiased information.

    Anybody who takes anything on the Internet as the gospel truth deserves the consequences.

    And yes, that applies to this blog, as well (and Wikipedia).

    In all fairness, though, if you want to have a discussion about CAM, you can’t discuss it without understanding what it purports to be about. And for this reason alone, I have to condone the new Wiki (with the reservation that it shouldn’t be used to “pimp” CAM, but just to say “this is what reiki is”). I mean, it’s hard to get reliable information on what constitutes Ayruvedic medicine online, with this site saying X and that site saying Y.

    Not that I believe in energy meridians. But not believing in it doesn’t mean you should deliberately cloak yourself in ignorance about it. After all, if I can convince someone in dire need of medical help to see a doctor by couching the argument in terms of CAM, well, I’ll do it.

  3. David – your comments about controversial topic in Wikipedia is correct – that was what I meant to convey but I guess I was not clear.

    For non-controversial topics reviews suggest that Wikipedia is almost as accurate as edited encyclopedias, like Brittanica.

    It has many problems with controversial subjects, and it has dealt with them in a suboptimal way but perhaps as good as can be expected for a public resource.

    The ultimate “problem” with Wikipedia is that it is a democracy – but science is not a democracy. Wikipedia will reflect, to some degree, the spectrum of opinions on a topic – not the best opinions.

    For what it is I think it is an excellent resource – you just can’t treat it like something it is not. It does not, for example, necessarily reflect the scientific consensus – because non-scientists or fringe scientists can contaminate entries, which they do on controversial topics.

    The idea that this new wiki will not be used to “pimp” CAM, in my opinion, is naive. That is exactly what it is for – to give a patina of legitimacy to CAM by putting into an authoritative form, but deleting all the actual science and skepticism from the entries.

  4. Joe says:

    Someone (elswhere) has observed that one could write an article for Wiki4CAM describing heretofore unknown sCAM; such as the diagnosis and treatment of feldspar deficiency.

    As for the standard Wiki, there are people who add paragraphs that are pure fiction, on non-controversial subjects, just for fun. I read an early review of it in which the reviewer changed some facts to see how quickly they were corrected; so anyone looking up those subjects before reversion got bad information.

    There is a use for the original Wiki when it comes to woo. I once was arguing with a chiro concerning the Innate (life force). I wanted to know what modern chiro literature had to say. The Wiki article cited the papers I wanted.

    BTW, modern chiro would like to ignore the Innate; but, if pressed, the most popular response is that it is another name for homeostasis. It has been two years since I asked which homeostatic systems are improved by spinal adjustment, I am still waiting for a response.

  5. pec says:

    “Virtual communities of like-minded individuals can gather and reinforce their prejudices, and to varying degrees keep out contrary opinions. This is harmless when dealing with aesthetic tastes, but can be stifling to intellectual discourse.”

    This is pretty ironic. Almost every blogger and commenter at this blog is dead set against CAM, except me. You hate intellectual debate and you’re only happy when commenters say “Yeah, me too, you got it right.”

  6. qetzal says:

    lf only we could find someone who’d promise to provide a literature review showing the benefits of some CAM. Say, energy therapy, for example. Then maybe we’d have something intellectual to debate.

    Alas, even if someone made such a promise, would they ever deliver?

  7. Russ1642 says:

    Since when is banana farming obscure? Bananas are on sale in every grocery store I’ve been to so I’d expect that lots and lots of people grow them. It’s the exact opposite of obscure.

  8. wisnij says:

    “Almost every blogger and commenter at this blog is dead set against CAM”

    No, we’re dead set against pseudoscience and fakery. If CAM happens to fall into that category (which the evidence indicates it does), that is hardly our fault.

  9. pec says:

    “lf only we could find someone who’d promise to provide a literature review showing the benefits of some CAM. Say, energy therapy, for example.”

    I already have a long list of links, and am in the process of reading whatever I found at the public library. There is a vast amount of energy healing research, and it does not seem possible that you are completely unaware of it.
    If I provide any links or references and you find the tiniest thing wrong with any of it, you will fixate on that and discard the whole vast quantity of valid scientific research. That is of course what you’re waiting for, as a militant supporter of mainstream materialist medicine.
    I can post isolated links as I find and read them, if you want. Or you can wait for the entire list.

    In the meantime, notice that Harriet had only one criticism of Gary Schwartz’s energy experiments — they were not published in mainstream journals. Well yes that is always your last defense when you have no logical criticisms. You realize of course that mainstream materialist medicine does not yet consider energy healing to be very “plausible” and that this research is normally published in journals that do consider it plausible. And those journals are discounted as non-mainstream by you “skeptics.” A perfect catch-22.

    But do worry, CAM is gaining acceptance despite your militant political efforts.

  10. Michelle B says:

    For new readers: Why We Are No Longer Answering Pec

    After many long and fruitless discussions with pec, the blog authors and many of the regular commenters have reluctantly decided to ignore pec’s comments. She gives us unsupported opinions, distorts our words, misrepresents our thoughts and then tries to argue with that misrepresentation, and insults us. She seems not to understand our critiques of her comments. She doesn’t discuss, she argues. She doesn’t listen, she contradicts and provokes. She has contributed nothing of substance and has been a disruptive influence, interfering with our attempts to carry on a rational discussion about science and medicine.

  11. Jules says:

    @ Steve:

    What’s this with science and waiting for results before jumping to conclusions? :-D

    Although you’re probably right, I’m still going to hope that it will be the CAM reference that I want it to be.

  12. pec says:

    Michelle B forgot the rest of it:

    “We don’t answer pec because we dislike having our confidence shaken. As long as this blog is dissent-free we can maintain our sense of complete certainty. Therefore, we strongly suggest that you DO NOT READ ANY COMMENTS WRITTEN BY PEC. Unless you’re one of those open-minded independent thinkers that try to undermine the status quo, and if so you are not welcome here. Materialist mainstream medicine CANNOT AFFORD to lose its privileged — and, by the way, quite profitable — position of authority and expertise. Therefore, we repeat: DO NOT READ ANY COMMENTS WRITTEN BY PEC.”

  13. Skeptical Surfer says:

    I think we need to pull a Sokol Affair and just make up a new CAM SCAM and plant it on their wiki, something completely nonsensical and impenetrable.

    I laugh my evil laugh… buwaahahaha

  14. overshoot says:

    Sweet! Wookipedia!

  15. mhuben says:

    I notice that pec’s response consists entirely of conspiracy theory and ridicule. No content.

  16. weing says:

    “I can post isolated links as I find and read them, if you want. Or you can wait for the entire list.”

    I do not want a list of links. I want a critical analysis of energy healing. I want you to approach it with the same critical eye you approach science based medicine claims. You are able to do that despite being a militant supporter of woo, aren’t you?

  17. weing says:

    What might be useful and contribute to intellectual debate would be to point out logical fallacies in each other’s posts. It is easier to see errors in someone else’s thinking as opposed to our own. This does require developing a little thicker skin so our feelings won’t be so easily hurt, but I’m game. I think it might lead to greater clarity in our thinking.

  18. pec says:

    “I do not want a list of links. I want a critical analysis of energy healing”

    You will give me credits towards another PhD, I assume, when it’s done.

    Hey that’s ok, I’ll do it for no money and no credit, just because I’m interested. But not necessarily on your schedule, weing.

  19. Mark Crislip says:

    “Why We Are No Longer Answering Pec”
    Only The Queen should use the we form.

    If you do not want to read pec, you dont have to.
    If you do not want to reply t pec, you don’t have to.

    While your characterization of pec is correct, if you do not want to watch the show, change the channel. Do not ask that I shut off my tv.

  20. HCN says:

    Dr. Crislip said “Only The Queen should use the we form.”

    But isn’t Dr. Hall the Queen of this blog? She is the one who originally said that and who is presently on a cruise off the coast of South America, and I am very jealous.

  21. qetzal says:

    “I do not want a list of links. I want a critical analysis of energy healing.”

    Oh, I’d settle for a lot less than that.

    One decent study that actually supports the veracity of energy healing would be a fabulous start. I’m sure there are plenty to pick from. After all, no self-respecting skeptic would believe in energy healing if they hadn’t first seen compelling evidence, right? Right?

    Of course, I can understand that it takes a while to sort through the myriad publications that come up when you search PubMed for the phrase “energy healing.” After all, there are a href=”http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?orig_db=PubMed&db=pubmed&cmd=Search&term=energy%20healing[All%20Fields]“>43 of them. Perfectly understandable that someone might need months to go through so many and find at least one good one.

  22. qetzal says:

    Apologies for the code error; let’s try again:

    After all, there are 43 of them.

  23. Michelle B says:

    Mark Crislip, Per HCNs comment, those words are Harriet’s and since she is on vacation some of us are cutting and pasting her decision/suggestion for others in her absence. Disruptive Pec is not banned, and you can certainly do whatever you want regarding her comments, read them, ignore them, respond to them. I am more interested in encouraging real debate instead of spoon reading someone who has no interest in learning anything valuable. But, that’s me. The last time I looked in the mirror, I did not see Mark Crislip.

  24. urology-resident says:

    PEC: I understand you.

    I used to be a victim of severe CAM brainwash after I finished a course on “Natural Hygiene” through the mail. I believed firmly in the powers of fasting to cure any disease after reading all this miracle cases described in the course books. My best friend mom fasted for 30 days and was still having BM’s on day 30 which proof to me that fasting really cleaned your body of all that toxins accumulated after all those years of using “drugs, meat, cigarette etc”.

    An MD friend of my family use to try to convince me of my wrong thinking but I used the attacks and arguments learned in my course to “argue with the materialistic skeptics who feel threatened by us and don’t want to give up their cars and status, and the rich drug companies who rather gain a penny, and will do anything to keep the public from knowing the powers of fasting, etc etc etc”

    Fortunately, after starting medical school and reading a couple of Carl Sagan’s books I came to grip with reality again. Unfortunately there were consequences on my health: because “toothpaste was unnatural” I lost a few tooth to cavities and developed severe periodontal disease which is thankfully stable now, but I’m stuck with the Dentist every 3 months and have to floss tid (otherwise I will be leaving half my lunch in between my teeth).

    I profoundly regret my lack of skepticism during those times. I do feel better thou, when I remember what my uncle told me one day: “If you are 18 years old and believe in woo, you can still be normal; if you are 40 years old and believe in woo you are an idiot.”

  25. pec says:

    urology-resident,

    It sounds like you believe whatever you are taught, and swung from extreme pro-CAM to extreme anti-CAM. That is not a skeptical attitude.

    I have explained many times at this blog that I am not a provider of or devote believer in CAM therapies. I practice yoga and believe in some aspects of the philosophy. I have been interested in both mainstream and alternative science for many years and I think each has its pros and cons. I think current mainstream medicine has gone overboard in the direction of extreme materialism, and I think pharmaceuticals are being overused to an insane degree.

    I believe in balance and genuine skepticism; I am not a fanatic or an extremist. I think the bloggers here tend to be fanatical anti-CAM extremists who are engaged in political warfare against holistic science.

    I am glad that CAM has started to get research funding. The fanatics here are always saying CAM is not supported by mainstream research, and that is their main argument against it. They know that research is expensive and that CAM has not been funded in the past. They are obviously afraid of being proven wrong about at least some aspects of alternative science and medicine.

    In spite of a lack of funding, there has been a lot of research on, for example, biological energy, although most of it is not necessarily published in mainstream journals. That is because of the aggressive politics of the “skeptic” organizations. But they are losing ground and CAM is being funded and taught in medical schools.

  26. weing says:

    What is “holistic science”? It’s either science or its not science, ie superstition, fantasy, or sympathetic magic. There is such a thing as opportunity cost. If we waste money on superstitions, we don’t have the money to spend on something worthwhile. The CAM nonsense has been discarded by medicine as just so much nonsense after thousands of years of use. Medicine grew out of CAM and started making progress after abandoning superstition in favor of science. It will continue to make progress as we continue to abandon untested practices and make progress in basic science and apply the knowledge gained into treatment. I like fairy tales and fantasy also but I will not use them to fly across the ocean. Each has its pros and cons.

  27. pec says:

    “It will continue to make progress as we continue to abandon untested practices”

    Yeah that is the problem. You want to abandon practices that have not yet been tested scientifically. You assume that everything believed and practiced in pre-modern civilizations must be worthless superstition.

    Holistic science is compatible with some ancient beliefs but, like mainstream science, it goes beyond ancient beliefs and explores nature from a modern perspective.

  28. Mark Crislip says:

    Per HCNs comment, those words are Harriet’s and since she is on vacation some of us are cutting and pasting her decision/suggestion for others in her absence. Disruptive Pec is not banned, and you can certainly do whatever you want regarding her comments, read them, ignore them, respond to them. I am more interested in encouraging real debate instead of spoon reading someone who has no interest in learning anything valuable. But, that’s me. The last time I looked in the mirror, I did not see Mark Crislip.

    At least you now use the first person singular, so it doesn’t give the appearance that it is a recitation official blog policy but rather a suggestion to others. Its that pesky we.

    Me? I’m not inviting pec to my birthday party.

    And you do not know lucky you have it, what I have to deal with in the mirror every day….the horror the horror.

  29. pec says:

    “One decent study that actually supports the veracity of energy healing would be a fabulous start.”

    Do you automatically dismiss everything published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, regardless of the quality of the research?

  30. pec says:

    Why is it impossible to post a link on this blog??

  31. pec says:

    I’m trying. This blog is broken. I am trying to post a link to a mainstream news story about energy healing.

  32. pec says:

    Maybe someone can fix the blog and then maybe I can post a link to a Reiki study by a mainstream skeptical biologist. That would be nice. I have tried and tried and tried.

  33. daedalus2u says:

    weing, holistic science is science that is full of holes. Same with holistic medicine, medicine that is full of holes.

  34. urology-resident says:

    What does energy healing has to do with this blog entry???..anyway..

    Pec, you want to post the link to ONE article, but really one article by itself its worthless no matter how good the article is (even if its coming from JAMA or the NEJM). This is true for mainstream medicine or for CAM or for any other science.

    In my field which is Urology, I would probably say that more articles than not that are published every month when carefully scrutinized are found to be of low scientific quality and do not change the way we do urology. Yes, we do critizice our own field just as rigorously as the bloggers here scrutinize CAM ( and this is not done out of “fear” of change like PEC thinks, but of sound scientific thinking)

    What we need, and this is basically what Dr Novella has said in multiple ocassions, is data that is reproducible by multiple scientist in different regions and that has some basic science explanation/mechanism/plausibility which cannot be provided by JUST ONE ARTICLE/LINK/NEWS STORY (sorry PEC).

    PEC, if you only new how difficult is getting grant money, even for chairmans at respected institutions, to perform research of critical importance, that has being backed by several basic science paper over many years, you would get pissed off at CAM researchers getting money to perform studies with no plausibility. When resources are scarce, they should go where there is a greater chance of success (ie not CAM). If there is anything promising in CAM, believe me, Big Pharma will be the first one to exploit it.

  35. qetzal says:

    Do you automatically dismiss everything published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, regardless of the quality of the research?

    Nope. I expect the average paper in JACM would be much lower in quality than the average paper in, say, NEJM, but I don’t assume everything they print is crap.

    If you’ve got a citation that you think is high quality, I look forward to seeing it. If you can’t post the link, just provide the citation info (1st author, pub year, journal name, volume, pg #). If it was published in J Altern Complement Med, I can access through my local university (although only from 1998 up to 3 months ago).

    But please, let’s try to focus on scientific publications. I’m not interested in critiquing a mainstream news story.

  36. qetzal says:

    Urology-resident -

    The energy healing thing is based on a claim pec made many weeks ago – that there is evidence to support the validity of energy healing. She cited a study or two that were laughably lame (e.g. a rat study with n = 3; not 3 per group, 3 total). Then she backpedaled and claimed she wasn’t really all that familiar with that literature and was only trying to prove that there was some research on the topic. (But she’s still apparently convinced it’s a valid field of study).

    Ultimately she said she was going to review the literature and prove to us that there is high quality research showing that energy healing is at least potentially effective.

    We’ve been waiting and chiding her about it ever since.

    Of course, you’re right that a single positive study is not compelling by itself. But you can’t have 2 good studies until you first have 1, so let’s see if we can even clear that hurdle.

  37. pec says:

    “If you’ve got a citation that you think is high quality, I look forward to seeing it. If you can’t post the link, just provide the citation info”

    I HAVE BEEN TRYING.

  38. qetzal says:

    Are you still trying to hyperlink it? Don’t bother. Just type in the citation info. Like this:

    Narahari, et al. (2008), Evidence-based approaches for the Ayurvedic traditional herbal formulations: toward an Ayurvedic CONSORT model. J Altern Complement Med. 14(6):769-776.

  39. Joe says:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/08/naughty_skeptics_naughty_bad_skeptics.php

    Apparently, some people have been posting at the wiki4cam with evil intent …

  40. Fifi says:

    Here’s the link that pec’s going on about.

    http://www.uchc.edu/ocomm/newsarchive/news08/jul08/healing.html

    She posted it over at Neurologica – where she’s also pretending that she can’t post it here. It’s very weird behavior clearly designed to try to make it look like she’s being censored. Is there no depth that pec won’t sink to? How rude considering that the blog authors have allowed her to continue posting here despite such tactics and her ongoing behavior.

  41. weing says:

    pec,

    Allow me to clarify. I meant practices in medicine that have not been tested and shown to be worthwhile. Practices like giving antibiotics for sinusitis, etc. The CAM nonsense was found to be useless ages ago and abandoned by medicine.

  42. pec says:

    qetzal,

    Of course I tried typing the citation info. I tried everything. I have posted it at neurologica.

  43. Fifi says:

    Gronowicz, G, A. Jhaveri, L.W. Clarke, M.S. Aronow, T.H. Smith, 2008. Therapeutic Touch stimulates the proliferation of human cells in culture. J Alternative Complementary Medicine; 14(3); in press

    Hehehe, and pec claims to be a computer “scientist”…. cut…paste…submit comment….all really rather simple really.

  44. Fifi says:

    She apparently got a quarter of a million dollars to to this research so let’s hope it wasn’t all wasted on shoddy trials that no quality medical journal would publish. I guess CAM research really is where the easy money is!

  45. pec – your link was not blocked by our filter, it was flagged as spam. I have no control over the spam algorithm, but we do review what gets flagged and can restore it. I think part of the problem is that you tried to post the link 50 times, which just upped its “spamminess”.

    In the future if a comment does not appear it is probably waiting for review in the spam folder, which we review every day, although not always immediately (we have day jobs). So be patient. If necessary you can post a single comment to the effect that you posted a link which may be waiting in the spam folder.

  46. David Gorski says:

    Exactly. pec seems to think that we check the spam filters every five minutes.

  47. pec says:

    I can’t do anything about it if my comments are rejected by the blog.

  48. pec says:

    I could not even post the author’s name. I tried many times.

  49. pec says:

    I could not post any part of the citation info. And most of my comments failed to show up, even if they did not contain links or citation info.

  50. pec says:

    “If necessary you can post a single comment to the effect that you posted a link which may be waiting in the spam folder.”

    I tried that. I tried everything. I am not a dope.

  51. pec says:

    “It’s very weird behavior clearly designed to try to make it look like she’s being censored.”

    Fifi is the dope. After the link failed to show up, nothing else I posted showed up. This is very poorly designed software.

  52. Fifi says:

    Hmmm, how odd that a computer scientists doesn’t understand a spam filter and tries to post over and over again until her behavior is recognized by the algorithm as that of a spammer. The algorithm did exactly what it’s designed to do, recognize people who behave like spammers.

  53. Fifi says:

    Of course, pec’s claims that she couldn’t post here after that don’t make much sense since she posted here after that. I guess it’s not so surprising that pec just assumes she’s being oppressed (despite the fact that the blog authors allow her to post here even though she’s so continuously rude and insulting to them).

  54. Fifi says:

    So what is it “most’ of your posts didn’t show up or “none”…get your story straight at least pec! You confusion and paranoia seem to be running amok.

  55. pec says:

    Fifi,

    You complete idiot. I tried to post the link and after that most of my comments failed to show up. I tried to post the author’s name, or part of it, or the name of the university. Every one of my posts were different, since the blog rejects duplicates. So I posted it a neurologica.

    After a couple of hours I was able to post a comment, but then my comments were blocked again.

    “You confusion and paranoia seem to be running amok”

    You are such a complete moron. I explained what happened, and I did absolutely nothing wrong. The point here is the research, which I’m sure you will find a way to ignore or disparate since it doesn’t fit your unbending close-minded ideology.

  56. Fifi says:

    Pec, you’re quite welcome for the help I gave you by posting your link here after you got yourself all snarled up in the spam filter by acting like a spammer. Life really is hard for you isn’t it?

  57. pec says:

    I was asked by some commenters here to provide at least one reference to research supporting energy healing. I have found many, but the one I tried to post here last night is by a mainstream skeptical biologist. She did not expect the experiment to work, but decided to try it out of scientific curiosity. She could do this because she already has tenure.

    I don’t think you will find any stupid mistakes in the experiment. Of course you will try to dismiss it because its claims are implausible, according to your narrow-minded ideology. And then you will say well it’s only one study. And then I will say there are many others, even though it’s a relatively new field of research. And then you will say well there aren’t millions and billions of these studies. And I will say, well CAM needs more funding. And you will say CAM is all pseudoscience and woo and does not deserve funding.

  58. Fifi says:

    This researcher got a $250 000 grant… The evidence suggests there’s plenty of funding going towards CAM research.

  59. I reviewed the Gronowicz paper. The paper purports to show that bone cells reproduce quicker if they are treated with TT than not, but cancerous bone cells do not show this effect. The study has weaknesses, as do most studies. It does not in any way detect the presence of an energy field, and it does not adequately account for other confounding effects.

    But the big limitation is the fact that it is a single study in a single lab and the protocol has not been replicated. Of course I do not find this single study compelling, not because of any ideological bias but because the scientific community does not consider a single study to ever be adequate to establish a new phenomenon. No matter what it is. Replicability is necessary – it is a prerequisite for acceptance of anything new.

    Otherwise we would still be talking about N-rays.

    What we find with many dubious phenomena is that there are many single studies which claim to show an effect (ESP, homeopathy, cold fusion, etc.) but the results cannot be replicated.

  60. David Gorski says:

    I may comment on both Gronowicz papers next week. (There’s one in the Journal of Orthopedic Research and one in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; the two papers are very similar and appear to be an example of pushing out papers with the “MPU”–minimal publishable unit–from the same study.)

    However, my original plan was to look at the recent vitamin C/cancer paper that’s been getting some press, a topic I find more interesting; so I may delay the TT discussion until the week after next–unless something else new comes along to pique my interest. We’ll see.

  61. pec says:

    There have been many other studies on energy healing besides this one. I chose this one because the researcher is a mainstream skeptical biologist, and you can’t simply accuse her of being a pseudoscientist or gullible. You can’t explain away results like this, but you dismiss them anyway. There is absolutely no doubt that many experiments over the past century have demonstrated phenomena that you dismiss, and here we have one more example.

    Interest in and acceptance of energy healing has been increasing, so we are going to see increasing numbers of experiments that try to demonstrate it. Whether you like it or not, truth and reality are what matters and that is what eventually comes out. As desperately as you try to cling to the status quo, you cannot prevent reality from being reality.

    There are energies and fields not yet understood by contemporary science. This should go without saying, but at a narrow-minded blog like this I have to say it.

  62. pec says:

    “I may delay the TT discussion until the week after next–unless something else new comes along to pique my interest.”

    Yes, you will delay discussing it until you can find something wrong with it. And if you can’t find anything wrong with it, you won’t discuss it. You will just hope your readers forget.

  63. pec says:

    “it does not adequately account for other confounding effects.”

    Ok, exactly what confounding effects does it not adequately account for? It’s really easy to say that, and hope everyone just thinks “oh, yeah, the study has confounding effects, we should ignore it.” It’s quite another thing to actually state what you think those confounding effects are.

  64. Diane Henry says:

    Do cells in a petri dish/test tube have “life energy”?

  65. “Whether you like it or not, truth and reality are what matters and that is what eventually comes out. ”

    Back at you.

    This one broke my irony detector.

    If only you could accept that that is exactly what we are interested in. We disagree primarily in our assessment of how science best functions and progresses – and yet you seem completely confident in your self-serving assumptions about what we believe and our motive – no matter how many times they are directly disproven.

  66. weing says:

    pec,

    I think it needs to be replicated by others. From just a cursory reading, the methodology section didn’t adequately describe how the cultures were assigned to the different treatment groups.

    What makes you accept this study? If a single group of unaffiliated researchers came out with a study that prozac treats depression better than exercise and psychotherapy, would you be just as willing to accept it?

  67. weing says:

    “Do cells in a petri dish/test tube have “life energy”?”
    As long as the Krebs cycle keeps manufacturing ATP and formation of ADP from ATP continues to drive reactions in the cell, the cells may be said to have “life energy”

  68. pec says:

    “What makes you accept this study?”

    I do not accept any conclusion based on a single study. I was asked to provide an example of research demonstrating energy healing, so I did. There are many others. Harriet made a big tremendous deal out of one small negative study by a “skeptic,” and she ignored all the positive studies completely. That is typical.

    The difference between me and the “skeptics” here is that I am open minded about the possible existence of energies, fields, substances, etc., not already described and observed by modern science. I don’t discount research merely because I think it’s implausible, or because it demonstrates phenomena that are not already understood.

    I have scientific curiosity, and that is something materialists lack. You want to maintain a position of authority and expertise, you want to be revered by the public, and that is only possible if you seem to have the ultimate answers, or at least the means to discover them.

    That is dogmatism, not science.

  69. David Gorski says:

    I chose this one because the researcher is a mainstream skeptical biologist, and you can’t simply accuse her of being a pseudoscientist or gullible.

    Based on a quick reading of the two papers, yes I can, actually, at least for the latter. (Whenever I hear the old “I was once a skeptic but now I believe” line, like the one Dr. Gronowicz used in the press release, my skeptical antennae start twitching mightily.) Whether she evolves into the former remains to be seen.

  70. David Gorski says:

    As long as the Krebs cycle keeps manufacturing ATP and formation of ADP from ATP continues to drive reactions in the cell, the cells may be said to have “life energy”

    You evil materialist reductionist scientist, you.

    You have it all wrong, of course. Measurable chemical energy is not what it’s all about. Insubstantial, unmeasurable, mystical energy is what we’re talking about here. Get with the program! :-)

  71. pec says:

    “Insubstantial, unmeasurable, mystical energy”

    Any energy can be called “unmeasurable” if you do not have the means to measure it. Are you saying that contemporary science has the means to measure any and all possible forms of energy? And if that is your claim, what is the logic behind it?

  72. David Gorski says:

    Are you saying that contemporary science has the means to measure any and all possible forms of energy?

    Of course not. However, the onus is not on me or any other skeptic or scientist to prove that such energy does not exist. For one thing, you can never completely prove a negative (although you can prove something to be so unlikely that for all intents and purposes it is indistinguishable from a negative). For another thing, described as it is by “alternative” healers, such “life energy” is sufficiently highly implausible from a scientific viewpoint that, barring some compelling evidence, we can safely make the tentative assumption that such energy very likely does not exist. In other words, until compelling evidence is put forward to support its existence, there is no good reason to believe that it exists because postulating its existence has no explanatory power from a scientific viewpoint.

    It’s also why the onus is on those who believe such life energy exists does to show (1) that it does, in fact, exist; (2) that it can be reliably measured through scientific means; and (3) that healers can manipulate it for therapeutic results. Until I see all three of these conditions (or, at the very least, #1 and #2), I have no reason to accept the validity of “energy healing” methods.

  73. pec says:

    If #3 is demonstrated scientifically, then #1 follows. And there is a vast amount of work on measuring biological energy, all of which you steadfastly ignore. Your all-purpose argument is that it has to be published in mainstream journals.

    You will have to give in to the evidence eventually. Well, actually, representatives of the establishment are usually incredibly resistant to changing their opinions, and they have to die off before the standard accepted beliefs can be modified.

    Are you proud to be a stubborn close-minded defender of the status quo?

  74. pec says:

    Why don’t you say exactly what you think is wrong with the research I cited? The fact that you consider it implausible is irrelevant. Why should anyone care about your preconceptions and biases? We are talking about objective experimental evidence.

  75. Fifi says:

    It would be pretty neat if this study was true/accurate, though how that would actually play out with a person (not some cells in vitro) is a whole other thing. Still, it would mean I was a spiritual giant chock full of ancient amazing healing wisdom and far more enlightened than most and here too teach….or at least that’s what I’ve been told by all kinds of energy healers I’ve met over the years. (Including random people coming up to me in supermarkets to tell me this kind of stuff on occasion!) Sometimes it’s amazing how a bit of common sense or mundane and very earthly qualities can look like ancient, esoteric wisdom to people who don’t understand psychology, perception or science!

  76. David Gorski says:

    If #3 is demonstrated scientifically, then #1 follows.

    No, it does not. There are other hypotheses that could explain such a result other than the existence of some mystical life energy field.

  77. David Gorski says:

    Why don’t you say exactly what you think is wrong with the research I cited?

    I probably will–in the form of a post.

    If I’m going to go through all the work of reading the papers critically and writing up a critique, I’m damned well not going to waste all that effort just to post a really long comment. I’ll use the results of my labor as a post

  78. pec says:

    “No, it does not. There are other hypotheses that could explain such a result other than the existence of some mystical life energy field.”

    You can call it mystical but that doesn’t change the fact that it has often been demonstrated. If the only difference between the test and control groups was energy healing, then you are stuck with the fact that some kind of energy and/or field was responsible for the differences.

    I can’t wait to see the convoluted arguments you come up with to explain away valid scientific evidence. And of course you will finally fall back on the supposed implausibility of the claim. We don’t want to revise our scientific belief system in any way, after all.

  79. David Gorski says:

    If the only difference between the test and control groups was energy healing, then you are stuck with the fact that some kind of energy and/or field was responsible for the differences.

    You merely assume that the “only” difference between the test and control groups was energy healing. That is not a good assumption.

  80. pec says:

    “You merely assume that the “only” difference between the test and control groups was energy healing. ”

    I’m sure that was the intention of the researcher. If you noticed confounds, why not let us know what they were, instead of hinting and implying. You’re just hoping your readers will take your word for it that the experiment was shoddy and full of confounds, even though you have not stated anything explicitly. Just another tactic in your political war against CAM.

  81. pec says:

    What would be the point of doing research anyway, if people are going to believe what they define as plausible, and ignore the evidence? If you automatically dismiss everything that conflicts with your preconceptions, you are not a scientist.

  82. Joe says:

    @pec, This article may help you http://www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf

    The article is titled Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

    What makes you think you are competent to write on this subject?

  83. pec says:

    “What makes you think you are competent to write on this subject?”

    If you can’t find errors in my reasoning, you can always resort to insults, ridicule, or to questioning my right to have an opinion. And why do you think MDs who have never designed or analyzed an experiment are more qualified than I am to judge research, when I have research experience?

    But even if I had no research experience and were just an informed and interested non-expert, I would still be qualified to have an opinion.

    Maybe you prefer an authoritarian society where only experts are allowed to think and express opinions.

  84. nwtk2007 says:

    Pec – “What would be the point of doing research anyway, if people are going to believe what they define as plausible, and ignore the evidence?”

    Reasearch is like stats, you can interpret it anyway you want, insert doubt about that which you find “implausable”, redesign it to support your “plausable” explanation, etc, etc, etc.

    Pec, you don’t really think these guys are going to consider anything that might actually support your position, do you?

    I am surprised any one of them even read the article.

  85. pmoran says:

    Actually I am prepared to admit that it would take a mountain of studies, and preferably ones I was personally involved in, before I could be convinced that some kind of medically active but otherwise undetectable energy exists. It is so implausible that ubiquitous experimental artefact, contaminants, biased observations by enthusiasts, fakery, data mining, statistical flukes and other matters that can plague even laboratory experiments would be a far more likely explanation for the smettering of “positive” results that supporters like to refer to.

    It is difficult to enumerate all the matters that make me feel this way. One is that it this not a technology-dependent activity. If valid, it should have been discovered thousands of years ago and by many cultures (like herbalism) , not through subtle, suspiciously placebo-like clinical activity as observed by a clique of generally science-naive, New Agey, “healers” of the late 20th century.

    That does not make sense to me. It does, however fit the well-established pattern of practitioners being easily fooled into thinking they are wielding therapeutic power, when they are actually merely massaging the human mind (in a mostly good way, mind you, until certain scientific pretentions surface).

  86. pec says:

    “Pec, you don’t really think these guys are going to consider anything that might actually support your position, do you?

    I am surprised any one of them even read the article.”

    They will try their very best to reject the evidence, and will search for the tiniest possible defect in the experiments. They will demonstrate their dogmatic authoritarianism. But if they have the slightest shred of scientific honesty or curiosity, they will finally admit there are things they cannot explain or understand. They will admit that biological energy deserves more research.

    I have noticed, however, that they guys who challenged me to find even one experiment supporting energy healing have quietly disappeared.

    Most alternative scientists don’t even bother talking to dogmatic, close-minded materialist “skeptics,” because they get tired of the stupid insults and the intentional misunderstanding and dishonesty. But I have some faith in human reason and I think even the most narrow-minded ideologue will give in, even just a little, when faced with clear logic and evidence.

  87. pec says:

    “If valid, it should have been discovered thousands of years ago and by many cultures”

    How very ignorant you are. Energy healing has been practiced in all cultures in all times, and still is.

    “I am prepared to admit that it would take a mountain of studies”

    And how very slammed shut your mind is.

  88. Joe says:

    nitwit2007 quoted pec “What would be the point of doing research anyway, if people are going to believe what they define as plausible, and ignore the evidence?”

    That’s a perfect description of chiropracty. After 113 years, they cannot figure-out what they mean by subluxation http://www.dynamicchiropractic.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=53263 let alone abandon it, and declare their whole cult, as nonsense. Despite all the science against it, they define subluxations as plausible (despite not knowing what they are). They are still trying to rationalize their silly obsessions.

  89. pmoran says:

    >“If valid, it should have been discovered thousands of years >ago and by many cultures”

    >How very ignorant you are. Energy healing has been practiced >in all cultures in all times, and still is.

    Yes, of course the energy healers like to claim that. But they try to twist miracle-seeking religious practices such as the “King’s touch” or the laying on of hands into something that resembles what they do and they do not even claim to be able to cure scrofula or any other serious illness. I have never seen anything resembling therapeutic touch practice or concepts in historical or archeological material.

  90. Two quick points on this study:

    The methods indicate that the assays were blinded, but never indicates that the selection of which plates were in which group, or the handling of the plates were at all blinded. This opens the door to bias in selection and handling of the plates.

    Second – this is from the discussion: “However, once again the
    study may have been unpowered to support use of the
    conservative, Bonferroni approach to performance of
    multiple, pairwise statistical tests.”

    Essentially – they looked at many variables and then cherry picked the ones that were positive. They then performed the appropriate statistical analysis to account for looking at multiple variables (the Bonferroni approach) and each time the statistics were negative, which they blamed on their study being “underpowered.”

    This is all an elaborate way of saying the data is negative.

  91. pec says:

    “Gronowicz found that cells treated with Therapeutic Touch grew at double the rate of untreated cells.”

    “This is all an elaborate way of saying the data is negative.”

    Someone is lying.

  92. pec says:

    “Results: TT administered twice a week for 2 weeks significantly stimulated proliferation of fibroblasts, tenocytes, and osteoblasts in culture (p = 0.04, 0.01, and 0.01, respectively) compared to untreated control. These data were confirmed by PCNA immunocytochemistry. In the same experiments, sham healer treatment was not significantly different from the untreated cultures in any group, and was significantly less than TT treatment in fibroblast and tenocyte cultures. In 1-week studies involving the administration of multiple 10-minute TT treatments, four and five applications significantly increased [3H]-thymidine incorporation in fibroblasts and tenocytes, respectively, but not in osteoblasts. With different doses of TT for 2 weeks, two 10-minute TT treatments per week significantly stimulated proliferation in all cell types. Osteoblasts also responded to four treatments per week with a significant increase in proliferation. Additional TT treatments (five per week for 2 weeks) were not effective in eliciting increased proliferation compared to control in any cell type.”

  93. pec says:

    “Design: Fibroblasts, tendon cells (tenocytes), and bone cells (osteoblasts) were treated with TT, sham, or untreated for 2 weeks, and then assessed for [3H]-thymidine incorporation into the DNA, and immunocytochemical staining for proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). The number of PCNA-stained cells was also quantified. For 1 and 2 weeks, varying numbers of 10-minute TT treatments were administered to each cell type to determine whether there was a dose-dependent effect.”

    Where is the cherry picking? There were 3 types of cells and all were affected by the treatment.

    I only have the abstract, so maybe you can provide us with the exact context for your accusations.

  94. nwtk2007 says:

    Joe,

    That’s an interesting article you found there. How do you know you don’t fit into that category of thinking you’re way up there when in reality you’re not?

    Did you actually read all four of those studies?

    Based upon previous experience with you in this blog, I’d say probably not.

    It’s a pretty long article and I haven’t even gotten through it all yet but I can see where you might fit into it.

    It’s kind of the intellectual version of “he who smelt it, dealt it”, don’t you think?

    Novella – “This is all an elaborate way of saying the data is negative.”

    Well at least they were honest enough to “sort of” say that, although indirectly. Maybe they will power it up in future studies.

  95. pec says:

    Another one:

    “Therapeutic touch affects DNA synthesis and mineralization of human osteoblasts in culture

    Ankur Jhaveri 1, Stephen J. Walsh 2, Yatzen Wang 3, MaryBeth McCarthy 1, Gloria Gronowicz 1 *
    1Department of Orthopaedics, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut 06030-3105
    2Center for Biostatistics, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut 06030-3105
    3Department of Statistics, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269
    email: Gloria Gronowicz (gronowicz@nso1.uchc.edu)
    *Correspondence to Gloria Gronowicz, Department of Orthopaedics, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut 06030-3105. Telephone: 860-679-3842; Fax: 860-679-2103

    KEYWORDS
    therapeutic touch • osteoblast • osteosarcoma • mineralization
    ABSTRACT
    Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) techniques are commonly used in hospitals and private medical facilities; however, the effectiveness of many of these practices has not been thoroughly studied in a scientific manner. Developed by Dr. Dolores Krieger and Dora Kunz, Therapeutic Touch is one of these CAM practices and is a highly disciplined five-step process by which a practitioner can generate energy through their hands to promote healing. There are numerous clinical studies on the effects of TT but few in vitro studies. Our purpose was to determine if Therapeutic Touch had any effect on osteoblast proliferation, differentiation, and mineralization in vitro. TT was performed twice a week for 10 min each on human osteoblasts (HOBs) and on an osteosarcoma-derived cell line, SaOs-2. No significant differences were found in DNA synthesis, assayed by [3H]-thymidine incorporation at 1 or 2 weeks for SaOs-2 or 1 week for HOBs. However, after four TT treatments in 2 weeks, TT significantly (p = 0.03) increased HOB DNA synthesis compared to controls. Immunocytochemistry for Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen (PCNA) confirmed these data. At 2 weeks in differentiation medium, TT significantly increased mineralization in HOBs (p = 0.016) and decreased mineralization in SaOs-2 (p = 0.0007), compared to controls. Additionally, Northern blot analysis indicated a TT-induced increase in mRNA expression for Type I collagen, bone sialoprotein, and alkaline phosphatase in HOBs and a decrease of these bone markers in SaOs-2 cells. In conclusion, Therapeutic Touch appears to increase human osteoblast DNA synthesis, differentiation and mineralization, and decrease differentiation and mineralization in a human osteosarcoma-derived cell line. © 2008 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res, 2008″

  96. pec says:

    “In conclusion, Therapeutic Touch appears to increase human osteoblast DNA synthesis, differentiation and mineralization, and decrease differentiation and mineralization in a human osteosarcoma-derived cell line.”

    A simple, direct, conclusion. I don’t see any cherry picking or obfuscation, no signs of delusional thinking or unscientific bias. Where is it? What can Novella possibly be talking about?

  97. You have to read the actual study – the abstract is not enough. I gave you a quote from that very study that illustrated what I was talking about. The abstract is only presenting the positive correlations. There were negative ones too. And when you consider them together with accepted statistics the net effect is negative. Negative data. It’s right there in the study itself.

    And to reiterate – one study will not establish a new phenomenon. Only a research program demonstrating a repeatable and replicable effect, looking at it from multiple angles, consistently showing a real effect will be compelling. This is not just our attitude toward CAM – this is the mainstream scientific attitude toward all new claims. This is the one standard that we apply to everything.

  98. weing says:

    pec,

    So you accept this study because of dogmatism and not science. Just as you would reject a study showing superiority of prozac to exercise and psychotherapy because of dogmatism and not science. OK. You just read the abstract and consider it sufficient to support your biases? If I find an abstract that is interesting it only means that I need to read the study and analyze it myself. I do that with all medical studies. Are you suggesting that I need to use a different standard for CAM? If after reviewing the methodology you realize that it doesn’t support the conclusions, do you continue to consider the article as evidence for energy healing because it has been published?

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