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Sunday fun: On being “open minded”

One of the most common refrains from advocates of quackery and “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) is the charge of being “close-minded,” that they reject out of hand any idea that does not fit within their world view. Of course, this is a canard, given that science, including science-based medicine, thrives on the open and free exchange of ideas, and it is not “close-mindedness” that (usually) leads to the rejection of dubious claims. Rather, it is the knowledge that, for many of such claims to be true, huge swaths of our current scientific understanding would have to be in error to such an extent that a major paradigm shift in various basic science would be necessary. While such paradigm shifts occasionally occur, they do not occur without the confluence of huge amounts of evidence, often coming from different fields and directions. In other words, to show that a paradigm is wrong or seriously incomplete requires evidence even more compelling than the evidence supporting the paradigm.

This video, via The World’s Fair, explains why when woo-meisters wrap themselves in the mantle of “open-mindedness” it’s almost always a crock:

I’ll have to keep this video around for my medical students to help them counter the inevitable charge of “close-mindedness” by CAM advocates. In fact, the part at the end, with the blond guy letting all sorts of rubbish into his brain because he has no critical thinking filter while demanding that others accept his views without evidence reminds me very much of a male version of Jenny McCarthy, full of the arrogance of ignorance. If the cartoon weren’t of such a good-looking young man, I’d say it was J.B. Handley, although the video does get the cartoonishness right.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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71 thoughts on “Sunday fun: On being “open minded”

  1. Mandos says:

    I think that the video kind of misses the point even as it touches on it. The people making the “closed-mindedness” accusation are in fact accusing you of being unwilling to consider alternate epistemological positions. The video touches on this but doesn’t explore it further. They are, in fact, demanding that you be skeptical of a skeptical position.

    In the CAM context, they accusing the method of verifying scientific validity of being flawed. Consequently, as they reject the premises of the video, it’s not clear how it applies.

  2. pec says:

    ” Rather, it is the knowledge that, for many of such claims to be true, huge swaths of our current scientific understanding would have to be in error to such an extent that a major paradigm shift in various basic science would be necessary.”

    Not at all. The typical claims from alternative science would add to, not contradict, current scientific understanding; current ideas that have been verified would be just as true as ever. Biological fields, for example, are thought to represent a level of organization higher than the levels of physics. The field concepts of physics would not have to change at all if biological fields were accepted.

    Materialist science rejects all “supernatural” experiences as illusions and delusions. But alternative science considers the possibility that there are higher order dimensions (an idea which is supported by theoretical physics).

    Maybe some of the phenomena we now call “supernatural” are actually perfectly natural phenomena occurring on other dimensional planes, or in some not yet understood aspects of reality.

    And most of you “skeptics” have probably never heard of digital physics, the idea that reality is made out of information (relationships), rather than out of little “material” objects.

    Modern physics has already shown that reality is very strange, and that the common sense perceptions of materialism have long been out of date.

    So hang on desperately to your materialism if you like, but you will have to keep your mind sealed shut and your eyes closed to evidence. You can always say, as you did in this post, that the alternative theories are implausible and therefore no amount of evidence could ever convince you.

  3. Diane says:

    Pec ->”Materialist science rejects all “supernatural” experiences as illusions and delusions.”

    No – on the contrary, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, skeptics and professional magicians reject nothing – rather they treat perceptual and cognitive errors quite seriously and try to understand them.

    Read the book, The Body has a Mind of its Own, by well-known science writer Sandra Blakeslee, for more about perceptions that feel and seem absolutely real, such as out-of-body experiences, but which are based in ordinary parietal lobe function or dysfunction. http://www.amazon.com/Body-Has-Mind-Its-Own/dp/B0015DWM3O/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

    Some sensory illusions, such as the rubber hand illusion, can be evoked deliberately.
    http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2008/12/rubber_hand_feels_real_for_amputees.php
    http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2008/12/the_bodyswap_illusion.php?utm_source=sbhomepage&utm_medium=link&utm_content=sublink

    Phantom pain in missing limbs can be successfully treated using mirror therapy, having a patient view a mirror image of the healthy intact limb, which visually replaces the missing and painful limb. Even though the patient is fully aware of the trick, the visual image of a normal moving limb is sufficient to help the patient’s brain downregulate phantom pain. For more about this read Phantoms in the Brain by well known neuro-researcher V.S. Ramachandran.
    http://www.amazon.com/Phantoms-Brain-Probing-Mysteries-Human/dp/0688172172/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238956042&sr=8-1

    Dualism, however, is usually rejected.

  4. Newcoaster says:

    Pec said
    “The typical claims from alternative science would add to, not contradict, current scientific understanding”
    Yes, biological fields proven to exist…I assume you are referring to things like chi..would add to scientific understanding. What is lacking is any evidence such things do exist outside the minds of Eastern and New Age philosophies. Science is not closed to new ideas, it thrives on them, but you have to bring something to the table other than “here’s a cool idea”

    “Materialist science rejects all “supernatural” experiences as illusions and delusions.”
    Science doesn’t feel the need to insert the hypothesis any time it runs across something that at first appears to be inexplicable. The history of the scientific method has shown that there is a natural explanation for everything to which science has turned its attention. Whether the speculation of higher dimensions allows for “supernatural” causes is moot. We cannot prove , study or access higher dimensions, and if they do have an effect in the natural world, it is measurable. I’m agnostic about higher dimensions.

    “Maybe some of the phenomena we now call “supernatural” are actually perfectly natural phenomena occurring on other dimensional planes, or in some not yet understood aspects of reality”
    Yes, maybe they are. Maybe we are all part of a cosmic Matrix. Maybe I’m dreaming your existence. Science is not unaware of this possibility if you have done any reading on String Theory. What is your point?

    “Modern physics has already shown that reality is very strange, and that the common sense perceptions of materialism have long been out of date.”
    The first part I agree with , the second half I’m not so sure about. However, the point is that modern physics is one of the most fundamentally materialistic branches of science. As strange as quarks and antimatter are, it is science that has discovered them, not mystics or homeopaths or people wearing pyramid shaped hats.

    You clearly missed the entire point of the video, as you demonstrate most of the fallacies of false open mindedness shown in it. For more on open mindedness, there is a good article in the April issue of Skeptical Inquirer (“What open-mindedness requires” by William Hare)

    I rarely quote scripture, except ironically, but “there is none so blind as those who will not see” applies more to your ideas, than to science.

  5. Newcoaster says:

    Correction to above
    “Materialist science rejects all “supernatural” experiences as illusions and delusions.”
    Science doesn’t feel the need to insert the GODDIDIT hypothesis any time it runs across something that at first appears to be inexplicable.

  6. teeps29 says:

    Please don’t bother trying to reason with pec. He/she/it is immune to reason. You can see this in action in a number of posts in this blog. Do it only if you enjoy the back-and-forth; don’t expect any progress. Or sit back as others try it and laugh at his/her/its inanity.

  7. David Gorski says:

    Actually, pec exhibits many of the characteristics of believers in pseudoscience demonstrated in the video.

  8. tmac57 says:

    Ditto what teeps29 said.Been there done that.

  9. weing says:

    Isn’t there a saying that when one door closes another one opens? Based on my observations, I hypothesize that if your mind is open to BS it becomes closed to reason and vice-versa.

  10. delaneypa says:

    One my my teachers in college (a music professor, in fact) was fond of saying:

    “Keep an open mind, and people will throw a lot of crap into it.”

  11. pec says:

    “Actually, pec exhibits many of the characteristics of believers in pseudoscience demonstrated in the video.”

    Yes when you don’t have a logical argument attack me with vague insults. Your readers are probably gullible enough to fall for it.

  12. Dr Benway says:

    pec, go argue your case to the particle physicists. Once you have them convinced regarding your version of vitalism, bring one of them here to corroborate your position.

    Otherwise, I’d say it’s a Great Time For Oranges.

  13. pec says:

    Vitalism has not been proven by modern physics — obviously. But it also has not been investigated by mainstream science. And it has never been discredited by scientific evidence — just off-handedly discarded because materialists don’t like it.

  14. Dr Benway says:

    Now’s your chance, pec. Go prove vitalism. We’ll be eager to hear about your results.

  15. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    That video should be shown to every 5th grader before moving up to middle school. Great!

  16. Harriet Hall says:

    We can’t ask pec to do studies to prove vitalism, but I would be interested in hearing her suggestions as to how it might be tested. I suspect it is a philosophical concept not amenable to scientific investigation. It is not falsifiable.

  17. weing says:

    What is alternative science? Is it another word for witchcraft or magic?

  18. Calli Arcale says:

    pec falls into the trap of thinking that because science insists on evidence, it is closed to unusual ideas. Newcoaster hits the nail right on the head — science *loves* strange and unusual ideas, but it can’t accept them merely on the basis of them sounding cool. That’s the whole point of science. To expect it to do otherwise would be to expect it not to be science at all.

    Continental drift is a great example. When it was first suggested, it was not immediately accepted. Oh sure, it was a cool idea, and it had a lot of emotional appeal by explaining why the African and South American coastlines seemed to echo one another. But it lacked a mechanism for how continents, fixed in rock, might move, and furthermore, Africa and South America don’t really fit together all that well, making the whole thing seem more of an interesting coincidence than an actual theory.

    Then the ocean floor started to get mapped properly. The mid-Atlantic ridge was discovered. Bands of rock with different magnetic alignments provided a clock for the rate of seafloor spreading. The oceanic trenches were discovered, many eerily aligned with large, young mountain ranges on adjacent continents. Seismology revealed that the interior of the Earth is largely molten, with massive convection currents moving it all around. Fossil records lined up very consistently across the Atlantic. And although South America and Africa don’t fit all that well if you look at the bits that stick out of the water, if you map their continental shelves and include those, they fit together a lot better.

    Continental drift is now a firmly established part of the scientific mainstream. It’s taught to schoolchildren. Yet it started out as a fringe notion. It was accepted not because science just decided it was interesting. It was accepted because evidence was mounting in its favor. That took time, hard work, patience, and perseverance by its promoters.

    I often wonder why various promoters of alternative medical techniques don’t believe enough in their ideas to submit them to serious testing, to find the evidence that would convince the world. Either they are too arrogant to think they need to stoop to proof (they should believe me; I’m *me* and I know I’m right!), or they are too lazy (research is very hard, after all, and it’s much easier just to start profiting off of the therapy now), or on some level they are concerned that the evidence does not actually exist, and that the research will actually render the scientific community less favorable to the idea, not more.

    Science is not closed-minded at all. It is in fact fundamentally open-minded. All ideas are judged by the same standards — it is the ultimate meritocracy. I see no reason why this should be changed.

  19. pec says:

    “We can’t ask pec to do studies to prove vitalism, but I would be interested in hearing her suggestions as to how it might be tested.”

    There is plenty of alternative science research on subtle energies and biofields, for example. And lots of CAM research on energy healing — I had posted some last year and somehow you all ignored it.

    If you try to keep an open mind, rather than automatically dismiss all CAM and alternative science research, you will see ever more evidence for ideas included in what used to be called vitalism.

    How was vitalism discredited? Mesmerism was “falsified” in the 18th century when a couple of one-subject “experiments” failed. That was enough evidence for the materialists.

    Therapeutic touch was discarded by materialists as a result of one small experiment.

    Because life energy has no place in materialist philosophy, no amount of evidence for it would be considered enough. And the slightest evidence against it is accepted without question.

  20. pec says:

    “I often wonder why various promoters of alternative medical techniques don’t believe enough in their ideas to submit them to serious testing, to find the evidence that would convince the world.”

    That is the whole point of trying to get funding for CAM research, which the pseudo-skeptics at this blog are fighting against.

  21. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    @Pec

    “Because life energy has no place in materialist philosophy, no amount of evidence for it would be considered enough. And the slightest evidence against it is accepted without question.”

    Real science can’t actually prove that something is true. It can only show that something is false.

    If one has a hypothesis, then one has to test the “Null Hypothesis”.

    If your hypothesis is that “A causes B”, then the null hypothesis is “A does not cause B”. It is this that you actually test. If the null hypothesis is supported by the data in a proper study, then you have to discard the original hypothesis, even if you do not want to.

    I think that the misunderstanding of this confusing point is the cornerstone of pseudoscience and scientific illiteracy.

  22. pec says:

    ” If the null hypothesis is supported by the data in a proper study, then you have to discard the original hypothesis, ”

    You are very mistaken. First, opinions differ on which studies are “proper” or not. If the results of an experiment do not allow you to reject the null hypothesis, that does NOT mean you should therefore accept the null hypothesis. You obviously have not studied experimental research methodology.

    Let’s say, for example, I want to find out if a new cancer drug is helpful, so I try the drug on one cancer patient for one week. I find that the patient shows no improvement, so I cannot reject the null hypothesis. Does that mean the drug is really useless?

    That is the kind of thinking that led 18th century materialists to reject vitalism.

    In order to accept the null hypothesis, you must be sure your experiment is well-designed and has adequate power. But since there are no fixed rules for determining power, the decision to accept the null hypothesis is not usually made based on one experiment.

    And by the way, accepting the null hypothesis based on one under powered experiment is a favorite trick of pseudo-skeptics, since it’s something that people don’t generally have the expertise to catch.

  23. weing says:

    “Let’s say, for example, I want to find out if a new cancer drug is helpful, so I try the drug on one cancer patient for one week. I find that the patient shows no improvement, so I cannot reject the null hypothesis. Does that mean the drug is really useless?”

    Can’t say anything about this as this is not a proper study. It might be OK for alternative science but not for medical science.

  24. Calli Arcale says:

    How was vitalism discredited? Mesmerism was “falsified” in the 18th century when a couple of one-subject “experiments” failed. That was enough evidence for the materialists.

    Therapeutic touch was discarded by materialists as a result of one small experiment.

    Because life energy has no place in materialist philosophy, no amount of evidence for it would be considered enough. And the slightest evidence against it is accepted without question.

    It is not accurate to say that “materialist philosophy” (which appears to be your term for science) rejects things on the basis of one small experiment. Individual scientists will certainly reject things, but science itself rejects nothing. It would be more accurate to say that science does not accept what is not supported by evidence.

    You say that life energy has no place in materialist philosophy. On what do you base that claim? Science would be very interested in such a thing, and science quite happily accepts many things which are not made of matter. Gravity, for instance, which is the weakest of the fundamental forces. Electromagnetism. Molecular bonds. Energy itself.

    Mesmerism lacks evidence to support itself. Therapeutic touch lacks evidence to support itself. If it should be accepted, then somebody needs to step up to the plate and do the actual work. I’ve often heard pseudoscientists lament that mainstream science doesn’t bother to test their theories, but why is that? Why should other scientists drop what they’re working on to test somebody else’s idea? I would expect the proponents of particular idea to be the first to test it. I don’t think it’s really fair to blame scientists for not taking somebody seriously who can’t or won’t test their idea and furnish some good supportive evidence.

    I’ve read some of the links you’ve provided, pec, and studies like those are a *start*. At least someone’s *trying*. But these things take time, and more than just some evidence that doesn’t actually counter the idea.

    An interesting case in point from outside of medicine: the Pioneer Anomaly. According to Pioneer 10 and 11 telemetry (and, more ambiguously, that of Voyagers 1 and 2), the spacecraft were decelerating more than was predicted by classical celestial mechanics. The effect is very small, and it is plausible that something rather prosaic could have caused it rather than some unknown force. The effect is in fact small enough that it might be observational error. But only just, so it continues to intrigue physicists, who are unable to make much headway on it. Only Pioneers 10 and 11 have been suitable for measuring it. The Voyagers, not being spin-stabilized, have had to use their thrusters periodically, which swamps the effect. New Horizons may be able to provide some new data, however, and its on its way out. It’s not far enough out yet to show the effect, though. (The other outer solar-system probes, Galileo, Ulysses, and Cassini, never showed the effect.)

    So the Pioneer Anomaly remains unproven, and mainstream science does not accept it. But mainstream science might accept it in the future. While individual scientists are human, and can therefore be prideful, arrogant, and even spiteful at times, science itself is brutally objective, albeit slow — a new idea can take decades to catch on, particularly if the research is difficult or if the idea is a bit ahead of its time.

  25. pec says:

    [“materialist philosophy” (which appears to be your term for science)]

    Oh no, not at all. Science is a method, and is supposed to be objective, without a philosophical bias. An objective scientist would not reject non-materialist hypotheses because of ideological preferences.

  26. pec says:

    “Can’t say anything about this as this is not a proper study. It might be OK for alternative science but not for medical science.”

    Looks like you missed the whole point weing.

  27. pec says:

    “a new idea can take decades to catch on, particularly if the research is difficult or if the idea is a bit ahead of its time.”

    Or if political organizations of dogmatic materialist pseudo-skeptics block funding for the research, and dismiss any positive results because the idea is “implausible” and contradicts their prior beliefs.

  28. Harriet Hall says:

    pec said,

    “An objective scientist would not reject non-materialist hypotheses because of ideological preferences.”

    If he is doing philosophy he might not reject them. If he is doing science he will recognize that there is no way to use science to test a non-materialistic hypothesis. It’s not so much that he rejects them… it’s that they are meaningless to science.

    If any non-material entity has an effect on a material entity, then science can study it – but then it falls into the materialistic sphere because material effects are measured.

  29. Calli Arcale says:

    [“materialist philosophy” (which appears to be your term for science)]

    Oh no, not at all. Science is a method, and is supposed to be objective, without a philosophical bias. An objective scientist would not reject non-materialist hypotheses because of ideological preferences.

    But if science is supposed to be objective, what are you complaining about? An objective discipline should not accept theories without basis. It should require that they prove themselves.

    Regarding “political organizations of dogmatic materialist pseudo-skeptics” blocking funding for research, I have grown very tired of this complaint from alternative medicine. Billions of dollars are spent by Americans annually on alternative medicine, and yet hardly any of the profits from this get reinvested in research other than marketing research. Obviously, most of the purveyors of alternative medicine are far more interested in a quick buck than in advancing the state of the art of medicine, especially given the very real risk of disproving their own cash cow.

    Part of the trouble is that there is very little burden of proof on alt-med suppliers. Drugs and medical devices have to be proven, which forces their manufacturers to run actual studies. If they were not forced to do so, they wouldn’t bother, which is exactly what happens with manufacturers of herbal remedies like St John’s Wort. The stuff might actually work, and it’s a heck of a lot more affordable than the prescription stuff. But the manufacturers know that they can make money off it just fine without spending money to clinically prove it, and a clinical trial might run the risk of *disproving* it. They have no incentive.

    I think the real problem isn’t “dogmatic materialist pseudo-skeptics” blocking research funding. It’s the fact that those who stand to gain most from these things have very little incentive to do the research and will only do so if forced. Pharmaceutical companies and herbal manufacturers — they’re all the same at some level. Greedy bastards who have to be watched intently to keep them from screwing us all over. That’s why I personally favor revoking DSHEA (which, rather than providing a vehicle for better studying alt med, proved to be a perfect loophole for the unethical) and strengthening the FDA. Pouring more money into the NIH would be nice too. They didn’t need to artificially cordon off CAM, which had the net effect of reducing funding, not increasing it. Just boost its budget and let science work. That’s what I wish would happen.

  30. pec says:

    “If any non-material entity has an effect on a material entity, then science can study it – but then it falls into the materialistic sphere because material effects are measured.”

    Ok fine Harriet. We’re getting all hung up on the impossible to define word “material.” When I say “non-material” I am referring to substances, energies, fields, etc., not already known and measured by science. Life energy, when measured, is just as “material” as electricity, or any other known energy.

    The pseudo-skeptics deny the possible existence of life energy, and I do not think you have any good reasons for denying it. Even if there were no evidence for it (and there is), it would be silly to deny its possible existence.

  31. pec says:

    “not already known and measured by science”

    oops, I meant “not already known and measured by mainstream science.”

  32. Dr Benway says:

    pec,

    You have to get the physicists on board with vitalism first. They’re the ones who study energy.

    The Higgs boson won’t be accepted by physicists until it can be convincingly proven to exist with a p-value of 10,000. Vitalism must meet that same standard. No one’s pet hypothesis gets any special treatment.

  33. Dr Benway says:

    oops, I meant “p-value of 1/10,000.”

  34. Harriet Hall says:

    Some people may think they have measured life energy, but the studies you refer to are scattershot, not replicated, do not cohere into a body of knowledge, and do not build on each other to make progress the way real science does. When people who don’t believe in it try to measure it, they fail. All this raises some serious red flags.

    I have never denied its possible existence; I just ask for the same kind of evidence as I would for anything else. The “evidence” for life energy is of the same quality as the “evidence” for homeopathy; it is not convincing.

  35. pec says:

    “When people who don’t believe in it try to measure it, they fail. ”

    Who, exactly, tried to measure it and failed? And was it a sincere effort, or a low-powered trick by a pseudo-skeptic? Are you referring to the Rosa experiment again?

    There is a wealth of evidence in alternative science — are you sure you haven’t ignored it?

  36. weing says:

    I think the reason the refer to the Rosa experiment, is because it is the best one thus far, all the other experiments are not even good enough to be used as toilet paper.
    What is a pseudo-skeptic? Someone who doesn’t believe what hasn’t been demonstrated to exist? A real skeptic would be what? Someone who believes in the tooth fairy until he has been shown not to exist?

  37. pec says:

    weing,

    A skeptic is not someone who trusts in the authority of political organizations. Where did you get the idea that the Rosa experiment was the only good life energy experiment? From the organized pseudo-skeptics, of course. I’m sure you have blind faith in their authority.

  38. Dr Benway says:

    pec,

    With respect to vitalism, I have more confidence in the consensus of leading physicists than in my own opinion. Once you get the physicists on board, I’ll follow.

    Meanwhile, you’re not going to accomplish much here, aside from some emotional satisfaction at whipping people you don’t like.

  39. pec says:

    “With respect to vitalism, I have more confidence in the consensus of leading physicists than in my own opinion.”

    Ah yes, a brilliant reason you have there for keeping your mind shut. And life energy would more likely be studied by biologists and medical researchers, instead of or in addition to physicists.

    But either way, it gives one a secure feeling to go with the consensus. I mean, after, where would science be today if people went around defying the consensus? Hmph.

  40. Dr Benway says:

    pec, energy is what physicists do. They’re the experts. I’m not. Better I trust them than myself.

    Biology and medicine don’t handle hypotheses that can’t pass muster with the physicists first.

  41. pec says:

    The high priests of mainstream materialist science should not be questioned. We dare not doubt their all-powerful and all-encompassing authority. And, please, do not question your MD’s expertise and wisdom either; it is disrespectful. Our own opinions are as valuable as dirt, for we did not receive our enlightenment at the exalted temples of scientific learning and wisdom. Who are we to think for ourselves? Hmph. Irreverent know-nothings should stay in their rightful place.

  42. weing says:

    Where did you receive your enlightenment?

  43. Calli Arcale says:

    The high priests of mainstream materialist science should not be questioned.

    Obviously you have not been to very many scientific gatherings. They delight in questioning one another, and there is no greater pleasure for many of them than to prove, unequivocally, that some esteemed figure was actually wrong about something.

  44. Diane says:

    I found a link to a conference on vitalism, offered at Life U (chiro).
    http://www.life.edu/Octagon

    I saw that it provides attendees with 9 cont.ed. hours. It takes whatever the old vitalism is, has repackaged it as “new” somehow. I guess when your living depends of the sale of old dusty ideas, they need to be brushed up once in awhile for resale. The video link shows a person (chiro I guess) who (like chiros worldwide) calls himself a “doctor,” explaining the packaging. There is no mention anywhere in the video of science, or of what one might suppose should be of at least passing curiosity/token interest to vitalists, even if just to rule it out, i.e., neuroscience.

    It would seem that vitalism is on Life support.

  45. pec says:

    Calli Arcale,

    You weren’t paying attention. I was responding to Dr. Benway. But that reminds me of when I was a graduate student and questioning authority was considered disrespectful (I did anyway but they did not appreciate it). If you have tenure I guess you can question, within limits. Don’t ever say you believe in life energy though, even with tenure.

  46. Dr Benway says:

    pec, the “don’t question” argument is off the point. People are free to study physics and develop the relevant expertise needed to formulate informed, appropriate questions of bleeding-edge researchers. I simply choose not to. Only so many hours in the day.

    You don’t advance science by pestering leading scientists with questions. You advance science by doing science and presenting your work in a convincing way to the experts in the field.

    Let the vitalists present their data to the physicists. If they’ve got proof of a new force of nature, people will be impressed.

    If, on the other hand, they
    - present poorly controlled studies
    - show results not significant beyond p=1/10000
    - fail to explain how vitalism fits together with thermodynamics and quantum theory
    - whine that it’s mean not to take them at their word because, because, it just is!

    they’ll be laughed out of the room.

    Standards are a good thing. There are many bad ideas out there and we need a rational means of avoiding them.

  47. cloudskimmer says:

    pec,

    Can we concentrate on the Rosa experiment? She had therapeutic touch practitioners who claimed to be able to detect the human energy field participate in her experiment. All agreed to her protocol, and prior to blinding, said they had no problem detecting her energy field. Once blinded, results fell to chance levels, as would be predicted if there were no energy field that they could detect. This is a clear indication that the therapeutic touch practitioners werewrong. They probably honestly believe in the human energy field, but this simple experiment showed that they cannot detect it. This is a beautiful example of how science is, to a great extent, about how to stop fooling ourselves. It is replicable with minimal apparatus. If anyone could detect an unknown-to-science human energy field, getting Randi’s million dollar prize should be a cinch. How do you explain the results of the Rosa experiment and its clear indication that there is no human energy field?
    There would be no problem with claiming that there is “life energy,” if you could produce positive results using Rosa’s protocol, tenure or not, if the they were replicable, reliable, and collected in a properly performed experiment.

  48. pec says:

    Rosa’s experiment showed that, on average, those particular 20 healers could not tell if Rosa’s hand was near theirs or not. Other energy healing experiments have had positive results. You would never accept that a certain drug has no effect because of a negative experiment with 20 subjects, especially if many other experiments showed the drug was effective.

    And Randi’s prize is always the last resort of pseudo-skeptics. I really don’t know why no one got that prize. As far as I know, most applicants were flakes. I don’t know if any serious scientists have applied, or if applicants are treated fairly.

  49. Harry says:

    Pec, why do you suppose that those 20 particular ‘healer’s could not tell if Rosa’s hand was near theirs or not?

  50. qetzal says:

    pec (the abridged version):

    “No one has proven that life energy doesn’t exist. Therefore, not believing in life energy is close-minded.”

    This has been another episode of pec being unclear on the concept of science. Tune in again soon as pec demonstrates the same failure again and again and again….

  51. weing says:

    “Rosa’s experiment showed that, on average, those particular 20 healers could not tell if Rosa’s hand was near theirs or not. Other energy healing experiments have had positive results.”

    The weakness here is the number of healers. The problem is not the protocol used. If the other experiments utilized the same protocol and the number of healers was higher, then you would have something if they were positive. But that is not the case.

  52. pec says:

    “then you would have something if they were positive. But that is not the case.”

    How would you know that weing? Have you read any energy healing literature, or are you just repeating what you heard from anti-CAM political organizations?

  53. pec says:

    “No one has proven that life energy doesn’t exist. Therefore, not believing in life energy is close-minded.”

    That is NOT what I said, or would say, ever. And you know it. I said large amounts of evidence from alternative science and CAM is positive. There is a discrepancy between the Rosa experiment and many other experiments.

  54. weing says:

    I am waiting for anything that uses Rosa’s protocol. I haven’t found it. If you have, please share.

  55. pec says:

    “Pec, why do you suppose that those 20 particular ‘healer’s could not tell if Rosa’s hand was near theirs or not?”

    I don’t know, but I suppose there could be many reasons. Maybe none of these particular “healers” had any real ability. Or maybe some of them were usually right and others were usually wrong, bringing the average to near zero. I would have to see the actual data to determine that.

    Also, this kind of ability, if it exists, probably tends to be unreliable and to vary with the practitioner’s mood.

    So I really have no idea why these 20 supposed healers could not perform in that experiment. But it would make no sense to conclude that therefore no energy healers can detect life energy under any circumstances.

    The reason the Rosa experiment has been so widely accepted is because our current mainstream medical ideology says there is no such thing as life energy. The experiment seemed to confirm a strongly held belief, and is used as an excuse to stop nurses from practicing therapeutic touch.

  56. Calli Arcale says:

    You weren’t paying attention. I was responding to Dr. Benway.

    What, so that means nobody but Dr Benway is allowed to respond to what you said? That kind of dilutes your message that people should be allowed to freely question, since you seem to be objecting to me doing it out of turn.

  57. weing says:

    “So I really have no idea why these 20 supposed healers could not perform in that experiment. But it would make no sense to conclude that therefore no energy healers can detect life energy under any circumstances.”

    Maybe they just imagine they perceive something?

    The reason the Rosa experiment has been so widely accepted is because our current mainstream medical ideology says there is no such thing as life energy. The experiment seemed to confirm a strongly held belief, and is used as an excuse to stop nurses from practicing therapeutic touch.

    I don’t think they say there is no such thing as life energy. There is no proof of life energy.

  58. pec says:

    “What, so that means nobody but Dr Benway is allowed to respond to what you said?”

    No, it means if you read Dr. Benway’s comment you would understand the meaning of mine, because you would then know the context.

  59. pec says:

    “I don’t think they say there is no such thing as life energy. There is no proof of life energy.”

    No weing, they ignore the evidence in favor of life energy because they think the existence of life energy would overturn what is currently known in physics. But it wouldn’t overturn anything; it would just add to the current knowledge. Life energy, and biological fields, are thought to represent a higher level of organization than the level studied by physicists.

  60. pec says:

    “Maybe they just imagine they perceive something?”

    Yes, that’s what the experiment supposedly showed. It certainly can happen that people imagine things. But it also can happen that people actually perceive something but are told it’s just their imagination.

    And, of course, this can only be decided scientifically, with experiments. And many have shown positive results for energy healing.

    When experiments give contradictory results, which so often happens, more research is needed. We don’t generally make up our minds based on one negative experiment when others have been positive.

    I happen to be familiar with Gary Schwartz’s research, since I read his energy healing book. I understand that “skeptics” think he’s an idiot, even with 20+ years of health psychology research.

    I am NOT saying he is the ONLY energy healing researcher! I just happen to know about his work, and his experiments very often got positive results, including those with protocols similar to Rosa’s.

    But there is also a great deal of research that measures the effect of energy healing on cultured cells.

    And, of course, all kinds of people including nuts and flakes as well as serious scientists are using all kinds of devices to measure life energy.

    You won’t usually see it in mainstream publications though, maybe because mainstream scientists “know” that life energy was disproved in the 18th century.

  61. Scott says:

    “No weing, they ignore the evidence in favor of life energy because they think the existence of life energy would overturn what is currently known in physics. But it wouldn’t overturn anything; it would just add to the current knowledge. Life energy, and biological fields, are thought to represent a higher level of organization than the level studied by physicists.”

    No pec, that’s completely wrong. The claims made for what “life energy” does necessarily mean that it interacts with ordinary matter. Healing, for example, inherently requires an interaction of some sort.

    Such a strong interaction would show up in experiments. BUT the Standard Model works exceedingly well for explaining current experimental results. There is no room for such a new interaction.

    So the bottom line is that, yes, “life energy” DOES, most emphatically, require us to completely throw out all current physics.

    “Materialist science rejects all “supernatural” experiences as illusions and delusions. But alternative science considers the possibility that there are higher order dimensions (an idea which is supported by theoretical physics).
    Maybe some of the phenomena we now call “supernatural” are actually perfectly natural phenomena occurring on other dimensional planes, or in some not yet understood aspects of reality.”

    Bzzt! Sorry, please try again. The effects of extra dimensions are extensively studied these days. They bear no resemblance to supernatural phenomena.

    Frankly, your arguments are a perfect example of cargo cult science. They superficially LOOK like they’re meaningful, but a brief examination by anyone who actually knows physics makes it immediately obvious that there is precisely zero substance to them.

  62. Karl Withakay says:

    >>>”No weing, they ignore the evidence in favor of life energy because they think the existence of life energy would overturn what is currently known in physics. But it wouldn’t overturn anything; it would just add to the current knowledge. Life energy, and biological fields, are thought to represent a higher level of organization than the level studied by physicists.”

    Right, because science hates new ideas, and physicists hate winning Nobel prizes for ground breaking discoveries and research.

    If there was any decent quality evidence for life energy, you’d couldn’t keep decent physicists from researching it with a flame thrower.

  63. Karl Withakay says:

    To clarify the above, I meant you couldn’t keep decent physicists away with a flame thrower, and not that the decent physicists would use flame throwers to research life energy.

    Isn’t English a grand language :)

  64. TsuDhoNimh says:

    # pecon 07 Apr 2009 at 4:21 pm
    “not already known and measured by science”
    oops, I meant “not already known and measured by mainstream science.”

    And how is this energy measured by your version of science? If you can show that it is always there when measured by a well-defined protocol that can be followed by any researcher, I’ll believe it. Merely saying “I feel it, I feel the force, Luke” doesn’t count.

    What Rosa showed was that the 20 “healers” were unable to feel anything reliably when they could not see her hand close to theirs. They were not detecting any “bioenergy”, they were using visible light on their retinas to detect that there was a hand near theirs.

  65. Scott says:

    The other meaning actually worked quite well, too. If somebody could come up with a good experiment to research life energy (or anything else) which involved a flame thrower, I rather suspect that all sorts of physicists would leap at the chance.

    We all seem to be at least closet pyros for some reason…

  66. cloudskimmer says:

    Too much attention is being paid to pec, who is demonstrably impervious to reason. The TT practitioners Rosa utilized in her experiment were doing TT, and presumably charging for their services. When they could see her hand, they could “feel” the energy; when they could not see her hand, they failed to do so. pec claims that there are studies that confirm the existence of life energy, and that some TT practitioners are genuine. Where is the study, done with comparable protocol to the Rosa experiment that demonstrates that someone can, indeed sense the position of a hand near their own (and which eliminates the confuser of sensing heat instead of the “energy field”)? If a kid could do it, why hasn’t anyone else bothered to do it? Let’s avoid the “healing” effects; just measuring or detecting something would be enough—in fact, it would be better, because “enhancing healing” could be subjective.
    Remember also, that after the results were revealed, the TT practitioners came up with excuse after excuse as to why they were unable to tell where Rosa’s hand was: her impending puberty was sometimes blamed for screwing up her energy field. None of this was a problem when they could see her hand. This is classic rationalization. The best explanation of this is that there is no human energy field.
    So, c’mon human energy field proponents! Do the Rosa experiment (fairly, please) and see what you find. Or, read her paper in JAMA and determine what the flaw was. Sure, she only tested 20 people, but ALL of them claimed that they could manipulate the human energy field, and NONE of them could sense it. (Does anyone know what became of the TT practitioners Rosa tested? Were any of them honest enough to realize that what they were doing was bogus and stop doing it? Or did they continue to be deluded, and collect money for non-existent healing?) [I'm reminded of the PBS show about facilitated communication, where autistic children were 'helped' to type on a keyboard, and seemed to be gifted, but when the assistant was shown a different photo to that seen by the child, the typing was of the photo seen by the assistant every time. To their credit, some of those who had been doing facilitated communication recognized their error and stopped doing it. One can only hope for similar recognition by the TT community.]

  67. yeahsurewhatever says:

    An open mind does not mean an empty mind. Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.

    Richard Feynman

  68. Jason Silvernail says:

    As Ben Goldacre once said, “you can’t reason people out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.”

    My wife made a very perceptive comment a few years ago about people who like CAM – they like it for what it “isn’t”, not for what it “is”. When skeptics engage these people, they often assume that people like CAM because it makes sense to them and they think it works and has value. My wife and I have found that typically the converse is true – CAM proponents rarely know even 1/10th as much about any given CAM approach or treatment as a skeptic like me does, and they don’t really know how it works or what it purports to do. The fact is they don’t care. They don’t know because it isn’t relevant to them. All that’s relevant is that it is “alternative” or different from mainstream science. For these people, there seems to be something fundamentally and emotionally unsatisfying about scientific evidence and methodology and about our current understanding of the world.

    It’s so unsatisfying to them that they will cling to anything that is “NOT THAT”. Whether it makes sense on it’s own merits is just…irrelevant. They appear to feel a certain emotional camaraderie with other CAM proponents on these issues – and I think it’s that emotional attachment that often makes their defenses of each other often so emotional and harshly-worded. I think their attachment and camaraderie isn’t based on the treatment concept they claim to like – it’s based on their apparent shared dissatisfaction with the scientific worldview, and their feeling of belonging to a clique of “truly thoughtful and caring people who know that life is more than just some experiments”. It’s this obvious and untrue caricature of the scientific worldview that they detest so much.

    So, in many cases, I think that trying to show people that these treatments don’t make sense is not going to change their mind – they don’t like these treatments for what they are, they like them for what they’re NOT.

    At this point, discussion with these folks about the inaccuracies of their pet methods is pointless. You could waste your time disproving each and every separate concept in detail, and it won’t change the underlying problem – which is not a rational agreement with a certain treatment, but an emotional dissatisfaction with a worldview.
    The only approach that I think has merit for these cases is to help show them that science is powerful and beautiful and full of actual wonder and discovery. And this is far more easily done when they are young than when they are already convinced of that big pharma is out to kill people, vaccines need to be “greened”, their life energy needs to be balanced by getting their spine cracked or skin poked, or that small vials of water have wondrous healing powers.

    I think it’s time we reframe how we deal with these issues, from a skeptical and scientific viewpoint.

  69. trrll says:

    It can be hard to distinguish science from pseudoscience. But over time, the distinction becomes more clear. Science progresses through experimental testing, and hypotheses become refined. An idea may sound intriguing or even promising when first proposed, but if no major discoveries appear over time, it eventually passes its “freshness date.” One starts to suspect that it is an intellectual dead end–an idea that doesn’t lead anywhere, either because it is downright wrong, or because it is formulated in a faulty way that does not lend itself to progress.

    Let’s consider biological energy fields. Energy fields are an old, old idea, going back over two centuries. And great progress has been made with some kinds of energy fields. It long ago progressed from the subjective to the objective. Study of electrical energy fields have progressed from simple experiments with magnets and static electricity to a highly developed mathematical theory, detailed physical study of the particles and forces involved, technological devices that almost everybody has in their homes and carries on their person. This includes the study of biological energy fields. The study of biological electrical energy has led to an extensive body of theory and experiment regarding the function of the body, including such once-subjective processes as thought and memory. There is an experimental literature amounting to millions of papers. Electrical biological energy fields are now used routinely in diagnosis, particularly with respect to the heart and brain. Gravitational energy fields have also been studied in great detail. Again, there is a well-defined mathematical theory, and a wealth of experiment. There are also other types of energy fields carried by particles that have been studied in accelerators.

    So how about non-electrical biological energy fields? Where is the progress? Where are the repeatable experiments to demonstrate effects of such fields? Where is the mathematical theory? What are the particles or other means of energy transmission? Where does the energy come from? Where are the instruments to measure such fields? Why so little progress? It is certainly not for lack of interest; it is a topic that has attracted many enthusiastic exponents. After a while, when a field fails to show scientific or technological progress, one begins to conclude that there is none to be had, because the fundamental concepts are wrong.

  70. Prometheus says:

    I have to admit that “pec” has piqued my curiosity with the claim:

    “When I say ‘non-material’ I am referring to substances, energies, fields, etc., not already known and measured by ‘mainstream’ science. Life energy, when measured, is just as ‘material’ as electricity, or any other known energy.”

    So, pec, how has “Life Energy” been measured? I’d really like to know.

    Although I’m not a physicist, I do know that one of the properties of energy is that it can interact with matter. This should be true of “Life Energy” as well, if it is to have an effect on anything we perceive (or perceive with).

    The damning thing about the Rosa experiment was that the twenty subjects all claimed to be able to feel the “Life Energy” of Rosa’s hand under the test conditions but were unable to tell when it was there and when it wasn’t if they couldn’t see the hand. It makes me think that their “perception” was based on photons reflected off of Rosa’s hand – a type of energy that is well-known, even to “mainstream” science.

    Now, it could be – as pec suggests – that this sort of “skill” (i.e. the ability to sense “Life Energy”) is erratic and rare. However, the subjects of this test all had been “practicing” their skill – sucessfully, we would assume – for some time prior to the test. And they all claimed to have their skills functioning immediately prior to the test.

    Are we to assume that the ability to sense “Life Energy” failed in all twenty subjects at exactly the same point in the testing process? The probability of that must be…. well, larger than the probability that they were all deluding themselves into believing that they could sense “Life Energy”.

    Again, as I’ve asked “pec”, if anyone knows of any objective measurements of “Life Energy”, this would be the time and place to bring them forward. Certainly, if it exists, it must be able to interact with matter apart from the human brain.

    [crickets chirping]

    Prometheus

  71. Newcoaster says:

    Continuing the thread about Therapeutic Touch and the Rosa experiment. There was more politics than peer review that led to its publication, we all know that. However, it did show that an experiments looking for proof of energy fields can actually be quite simple to set up.
    Pec claims there are many other experiments that have shown TT to be successfu/proven, but conveniently doesn’t provide a link to a single one.
    It was actually the “threat” of Healing Touch (TT’s commercialized cousin) coming into our local hospital that got me out of the skeptical closet, to become more activist in our local medical community.
    I started by reading everything I could find on TT, and that included tracking down all the major, and many of the minor published papers right back to the original ones with Oskar Estabany in the early 1960′s. Many of these are referred to in the TT and HT lay literature as conclusive, but it was quite a different story when you read the actual paper. Laughingly so in most cases. The HT people in particular provided dozens of pages of abstracts of papers as proof,(lifted off the Healing Touch homepage) but we know that abstracts do not reflect the actual findings of the body of a paper..its the part where you get to spin things a bit.

    So, I am pretty well read on TT and HT, in fact, more well read on it than most of the people who have been trained as “Healing Touchers”, and I have yet to find a paper that shows anything beyond the placebo effect.
    And the effects mostly claimed…more relaxed, less anxious…are pretty…yawn… minor, and could just as easily (and cheaply) be produced by having patients/clients pet a dog.

    So Pec…if you think there’s a convincing paper or two out there on TT, please send me a link, because I’d love to read it and ad to my collection.

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