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346 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Depend On The Press For Science Reporting

  1. Fifi says:

    lizkat – By arguing an AIDS denialist perspective (because there’s not absolute proof) AND arguing that reiki and “energy healing” should be given the benefit of the doubt without any decent evidence (and despite there being no plausible mechanism) in the same thread, you make your very unbalanced requirements for evidence and personal bias obvious. If you were demanding absolute proof (not a very scientific thing to do in the first place) before something should be accepted and used for both, then perhaps your claims to be a skeptic would have at least one leg to stand on. As it is, you’re making it blatantly obvious that you kneel down to woo and turn your back on medicine and science. You’re merely doing a cargo cult ritual of weighing evidence and being scientific.

  2. lizkat says:

    No Fifi, I don’t deny AIDS or HIV. I am skeptical about the antiretroviral treatments. I am not expecting absolute proof. I said there was no evidence that AZT is safe and effective long term, and yet it was approved. All later treatments were compared against AZT, so we can’t know if the later treatments are safe and effective long term.

    “you’re making it blatantly obvious that you kneel down to woo and turn your back on medicine and science.”

    That’s really silly. A person can be open-minded and skeptical about mainstream medicine and science, without denying all of CAM completely. It doesn’t have to be all one way or all the other way.

    You seem to be drawing a hard “us vs. them” line between what you consider scientific and what you consider to be “woo.”

    “arguing that reiki and “energy healing” should be given the benefit of the doubt without any decent evidence (and despite there being no plausible mechanism)”

    I don’t give energy healing the benefit of the doubt. I just consider the evidence, whichever way it goes. As for “plausible mechanisms” — how the heck can you decide in advance what is plausible or not?

    If you refuse to consider evidence because you think there is no plausible mechanism, your attitude is far from scientific or skeptical.

  3. Fifi says:

    lizkat – The point is that you’re willing to believe in woo and argue for it but entirely skeptical about medicine and argue even against evidence, this makes you a pseudoskeptic. There is a hard and fast line between what is based upon viable evidence in the scientific sense and what is woo and wishful/magical thinking based on no viable evidence. There are plenty of unknowns in between but that doesn’t mean that make believe things with no plausible mechanism are simply part of the great unknown. You’ve yet to actually offer any viable evidence for “energy healing” despite constantly claiming there’s evidence. Having actually investigated energy healing and undergone a reiki initiation – being a reiki master, for what that’s worth if you’re not out to make money off of it – I’m actually quite familiar with what reiki and other energy healing modalities are. It’s pretty easy to convince someone you’re psychic or magical, particularly if they want to believe. (All cons are based upon lies people tell themselves and their desires.) If you know a bit about cognition and psychology, it’s actually pretty easy to figure out why people delude themselves and others into believing woo “works”. I am curious and open minded, I just don’t hold woo and medicine to different standards of evidence. You’ve made it very clear in this thread that you do.

  4. Fifi says:

    I don’t actually have a problem with people playing make believe or dress up – it’s a really fun thing to do and it’s an essential part of creativity. Besides, we all need a break from the mundane realities of life every once in a while and, working in the arts, I’m a huge fan of play. (In many ways I’ve designed my own life to have maximum play time.) However, when people try to pass off make believe as medicine or reality – particularly for a fee – I find it problematic because it has very real world impacts and it’s exploitative. It’s not compassionate or kind to con sick or vulnerable people out of money or to give them false hope. I’m generally pretty tolerant of relatively harmless woo in my day to day life – I practice yoga, meditate and work in the arts so I have to be! Because I walk in two worlds – one that privileges subjectivity and one that privileges objectivity, I’m particularly interested in how these interact. I’ve always found it odd that so many people seem to need to give up either imagination or reality-based thinking and can’t simply enjoy both for what they are. (Though I’ve come to understand that some people are more prone to fantasy/imaginative/subjective thinking, while others are neurobiologically primed for objective/linear thinking and this can create some very different ways of thinking and experiencing the world which many people can’t overcome to see beyond their own subjective experience of the world. My favorite artists and scientists can generally use both imagination and analytical thinking.)

  5. wales says:

    Kimball Atwood said “There has been more than enough scientific effort squandered on psi for decades, and it has long been time to “close the books” on it.” I understand that the majority of medical professionals are comfortable embracing the practical fruits of quantum mechanics (lasers, MRI) while distinctly uncomfortable confronting the philosophical interpretations and ramifications of QM (and how those in turn might impact medicine). The practice and instruction of medicine appears to be still largely based upon classical physics rather than quantum physics. But calling for a “closing of the books” on research into energetic healing (or any subject for that matter) is distinctly counter to the spirit of scientific inquiry. This head-in-the-sand mentality has distinct disadvantages, as explained by the authors of Quantum Enigma.

    Discomfort with and avoidance of the mysteries contained in the proven theories of quantum physics (primarily the observer or measurement problem and the entanglement problem) are also felt in academia and industry. For the moment we’ll ignore the yet unproven hypotheses of multiple dimensions, etc. currently circulating among theoretical physicists. There is quite enough mystery contained in particle physics and the standard model. The authors of Quantum Enigma (Rosenblum & Kuttner) wish to make the mysteries of quantum mechanics known by physics and non-physics students at the university level and have written their book for this express purpose. They use the analogy of human reproductive education: it is a social responsibility to acknowledge the mystery and have accurate facts laid out rather than to sweep the subject under a rug. The authors explain that physics’ “skeleton in the closet” is unresolved (though has multiple interpretations) and is usually either ignored in physics instruction or explained away as not important (or as someone put it, the advice to physics students and physicists in industry is to “shut up and calculate”). The authors take great pains to avoid unwarranted speculation, but they set the stage for (and prompt the reader to) speculation on the subject, after laying out the undisputed proven scientific facts of quantum mechanics.

    The authors state “The human implications of quantum mechanics that fuel popular discussion arise in the “measurement problem” and “entanglement.” That’s at least how we refer to these topics in a physics class, where we rarely go much beyond their mathematical formulation. These same issues are also legitimately discussed more broadly in terms of the nature of reality, universal connectedness, and consciousness. But we don’t distract physics students with excursions into issues that extend embarrassingly beyond the boundaries we define for our discipline. Accordingly, unlike the biology student able to defend evolution against Intelligent Design, a physics student may be unable to convincingly confront unjustified extrapolations of quantum mechanics.”

    They continue “It’s not the student’s fault. For the most part, in our teaching of quantum mechanics, we tacitly deny the mystery physics has encountered. We hardly mention Bohr’s grappling with physics’ encounter with the observer and von Neumann’s demonstration that the encounter is, in principle, inevitable. We largely avoid the still-unresolved issues raised by Einstein, Schrödinger, Wigner, Bohm, and Bell. Outside the physics classroom, physicists increasingly address these issues and often go beyond the purely “physical.” Consciousness, for example, comes up explicitly in almost every one of today’s proliferating interpretations of quantum mechanics, if only to show why physics itself need not deal with it. “ The authors go on to say that “Physics’ encounter with the observer and consciousness can be embarrassing, but that’s not a good reason for avoiding it.”

    Now that is the spirit of open and rational scientific inquiry and informed speculation that I wish more skeptics embraced, rather than a reflexive dismissal of and a call for closure on certain topics. With physics instructors increasingly teaching from the Quantum Enigma book (Oxford University Press recently requested a second edition), awareness of and inquiry into these areas will not go away but will increase, and deservedly so in my opinion.

  6. pmoran says:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC100314/?tool=pubmed

    squirrelite, thankyou so much for posting this link. I knew there must be data like this somewhere, but was unable to locate it myself in previous brief searches, including of Cochrane. It is entirely understandable that Lizkat and others will buy the views of contrarian web sites when for many reasons it is not easy to directly access the primary evidence.

    Lizkat, the above link is to the full paper online, and you should examine that as carefully as you are able and as critically as you like.

    Note that FIFTEEN quality controlled studies compared Zidovudine and placebo.

    This figure http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC100314/figure/F2/ shows their results. There are in the main quite dramatic effects in terms of disease progression or death, but you should also look at the graph that shows how the duration of the studies affected the result. Even in the two longest and largest trials there was a small benefit in favour of Zidovudine, with only one of the fifteen studies suggesting a tiny disadvantage for that drug.

    This is as strong evidence as you will ever get in medicine that Zidovudine is better than placebo in delaying death in the short term and either about the same as placebo or, more probably, better in the long term.

    So on what logic would studies comparing combinations of drugs with Zidovudine not be reliably demonstrating superiority over placebo? How would you justify now comparing new drug combinations against placebo, which in this context is the same as saying “no treatment”. Why would anyone remain dubious?

    And please don’t now try to switch debate onto your safety concerns about ARVs. That is, essentially, an informed consent issue, with patients mostly being preapred to make major trade-offs when it comes to living or dying.

  7. Fifi says:

    The physicists I’ve talked to seem pretty comfortable dismissing the new age version of quantum physics and “energy healing” type beliefs (if not actively frustrated that their discipline is being abused in this way). Not being a physicist myself, I’m quite willing to take their word for it (particularly since it changes nothing in my life either way). While the nature of reality is clearly not how we subjectively perceive reality to be, the attempts to try to latch onto quantum physics to justify woo is nothing other than an attempt to latch onto something science-related (but not biology related) to pretend that woo is real. The greed and size of many people’s egos and desire to be eternal and magical may be infinite, that doesn’t mean consciousness is! There are many very plausible and pretty self evident ways to explain how we’re interconnected without needing to resort to magical quantum psychic powers.

  8. Fifi says:

    Besides, one doesn’t need to resort to quantum physics to understand that the nature of reality is not how we perceive it to be. Some basic knowledge of how our brains and perception work from studying cognitive science or contemporary psychology will show you this. Of course, most quantum woo claims are based on confusing the imaginary and reality and misrepresenting certain cognitive traits or quirks (or states) so contemporary charlatans/gurus do tend to reach for quantum woo instead of cognitive science. After all, you wouldn’t want your marks to actually understand the con you’re pulling! (And if you’re deluding yourself, then it means accepting a whole other reality than the idea that you’re a special magical person with spiritual insight or enlightened in a way that makes you better than the average bear! And, of course, that justifies much ego massaging and tithing of gold…)

  9. wales says:

    The book Quantum Enigma clearly draws a scientific line between the unjustifiable extrapolation of physics theories and the proven scientific basis for as yet unexplained mysteries regarding physical reality and how it’s related to consciousness. That has been my point and why I recommend the book. They do not shut the door on further exploration and speculation. Careful reading of my comment above will reveal the a key point is that the education of physicists has in the past brushed the mysteries under a rug or explained them away as somehow reasonable, when they are not. Hence many physicists today will not publicly admit of any mystery, in keeping with Fifi’s experience. My comments really don’t do justice to the book. Those interested should read it for themselves.

  10. Fifi says:

    wales – “Hence many physicists today will not publicly admit of any mystery, in keeping with Fifi’s experience.”

    What is unreasonable is how, despite the evidence to the contrary, some humans are simply unable to believe that their “consciousness” (though I suspect “ego” may be more appropriate) isn’t the centre of the universe or creating more than their subjective experience of their personal reality. Really, it just seems like yet more attempts to find a scientific rationale for religious beliefs. Our religious beliefs are in and of themselves projections of our desires and based upon our subjective experiences. It’s one reason I find religion and religious beliefs interesting despite being born and raised an atheist. I’ve tried out many different religious rituals and practices, I enjoy culture and make believe. I’ve had quite a few ecstatic experiences, including many that people tend to classify as being psychic or metaphysical. (Apparently my neurobiology is good for that kind of thing.) I’m quite comfortable with mysteries and the unknown, and have no need to explain away what can’t yet be explained. The thing is, if you understand a bit about cognition and you’re not a true believer, a lot of subjective experiences that people think “prove” the existence of the metaphysical are quite easily explained with what we already know. It’s also quite understandable how the stories about ghosts and psychic powers were created to explain these experiences (though many gurus and fakirs were well aware of the tricks they were playing on the uninitiated).

  11. weing says:

    wales,

    Do you understand quantum mechanics? Does it make you angry?
    If not, then we can safely assume that you don’t understand it. The woo associated with QM is quite understandable. It reminds me of when I was in college studying what QM was necessary for my chemistry and physics courses and then ruminating about it under the influence of hashish. I believe the term “pipe dream” describes the experience.

  12. wales says:

    Weing, No I don’t understand it fully (though this book further my understanding tremendously), and no it doesn’t make me angy, it fascinates me. Just as Fifi is comfortable taking her physicist friends’ “word for it” I am comfortable taking the authors’ (physicists) word for it that there is an unresolved mystery here that deserves attention. In my physics and chemistry courses at the University of Michigan I don’t recall being taught about any quantum mystery, I never realized there was a mystery. One of the authors discusses a meeting he had as a youth with Einstein, arranged by a friend. Einstein wanted to discuss the weirdness of QM, but the author was unaware of what Einstein was getting at because his physics education had glossed over the mystery. The author states “That evening with Einstein still haunts me (Bruce). And makes me regret (to put it mildly) that my courses in quantum mechanics left me unaware of the weirdness of the theory that Einstein wanted to talk about.”

  13. wales says:

    Anyhow I don’t get what anger has to do with it. Bohr said “Anyone not shocked by quantum mechanics has not yet understood it.” Yes I am shocked, and fascinated.

  14. weing says:

    wales,

    I don’t have a problem with any of that. Anyone who seriously studies it finds mystery and weirdness. Maybe your courses only glossed over the material to give you only what you needed to know? Still, the mystery and weirdness of QM has nothing to do with energy medicine. QM is just a term appropriated by these practitioners of woo to make it sound sciency. Their understanding is akin to the understanding of cargo cults.

  15. weing says:

    I get angry when I’m shocked. Just my nature.

  16. wales says:

    The idea that university professors decided what I needed to know does make me angry, and thus I laud the QM authors for deciding students have a right to know. I also don’t think that we can rule out energy medicine, given the unknowns in the standard model and the weirdness of virtual particles and a hypothetical 5th force, etc. I am not a proponent of energy medicine, and I am not a Reiki master. I am merely contemplating the possibilities. But I understand that doesn’t sit well with most sbm bloggers and commenters. All the same, it’s been interesting chatting with you Weing.

  17. lizkat says:

    “The point is that you’re willing to believe in woo and argue for it but entirely skeptical about medicine and argue even against evidence”

    That is not what happened here. I did not argue against any evidence for AR drugs. — I showed where the evidence is weak. I didn’t see you showing that I was wrong and that the AZT evidence is not weak. Instead you fall back on calling me a woo-believer. But I never claimed to believe in energy healing. I said the evidence for energy healing is stronger than the evidence for AZT.

    I am simply looking at the evidence.

  18. weing says:

    I wouldn’t get too angry with them. I remember, when my children were little, they were not allowed to cross the street. Later, when they were ready, they were taught to look to the left and then to the right before crossing. Regarding energy medicine, I think the production of ATP and it’s consumption in driving the complex reactions and interactions leading the emergence in the cell of what we call life and, on a greater scale, consciousness, is fascinating. But, that is not what these woomeisters are about.

  19. weing says:

    “I said the evidence for energy healing is stronger than the evidence for AZT.”
    I guess there are pockets in Africa where medications are not available and energy healing is all they have. How’s it working out for them?

  20. lizkat says:

    “I also don’t think that we can rule out energy medicine, given the unknowns in the standard model and the weirdness of virtual particles and a hypothetical 5th force, etc. I am not a proponent of energy medicine, and I am not a Reiki master. I am merely contemplating the possibilities.”

    Me too.

    “But I understand that doesn’t sit well with most sbm bloggers and commenters.”

    No, it doesn’t. There is some kind of political taboo surrounding the idea of energy medicine. Somebody decided long ago that all forms of energy are already understood, and it would get people upset if other forms were discovered.

  21. weing says:

    It’s not “political taboo” it’s just woo.

  22. wales says:

    Weing your analogy is understood by all of us with children, and I do understand the practicalities of teaching and deciding what students need to know for all practical purposes (or FAPP as John Bell of Bell’s Theorem disparagingly referred to it). Certainly as a non-physics major I would not have encountered the QM concepts in any depth. The authors of QE explain how the topic or mystery has been ignored or avoided even in graduate level education and I applaud their attempts to teach the concepts to undergrads and non-physics majors.

  23. lizkat says:

    [a lot of subjective experiences that people think “prove” the existence of the metaphysical are quite easily explained with what we already know.]

    Fifi,

    You were raised as an atheist and your parents convinced you that the mysteries have easy explanations. I had a similar kind of upbringing, and it was reinforced by my education. However I gradually awoke from the brainwashing and realized that hardly anything is explained. That doesn’t mean I believe in any particular religion or dogma. I am a skeptical agnostic. But I can see the limits of our scientific knowledge. It seems like we know a whole lot, since science has progressed rapidly in the past century. Even so, most mysteries are still very far from being solved.

  24. weing says:

    I’ve never heard of any scientist claim that they understand dark energy. How much of the universe is accounted by it? Looks like you are straw manning. Energy medicine is simply imagined. The universe and reality are so much more than can be imagined.

  25. weing says:

    You don’t have to be an atheist. I was raised a Roman Catholic and was an altar boy. The first book I read was the New Testament, not in English, but in my native tongue. I used to believe there was something to woo. I studied it and gradually realized that there was nothing to it.

  26. squirrelelite says:

    @pmoran,

    Thanks for your helpful elucidation on antiretrovirals. I’m sure I’ll keep reading up on this, but fortunately I don’t have an immediate personal need to do so.

    @wales,

    Quantum Enigma sounds like an interesting book. I’ll probably try to read it sometime if I can borrow a copy or find it at a reasonable price.

    However, when you say that “calling for a “closing of the books” on research into energetic healing (or any subject for that matter) is distinctly counter to the spirit of scientific inquiry”, I think you miss the fundamental difference between quantum mechanics (in physics and chemistry and biochemistry and all around us) and “energy medicine” or psychic healing or reiki or whatever the practitioner chooses to call it.

    Quantum mechanics was developed as a theory to explain the results of many experiments like electromagnetic emission and absorption lines and theoretical problems with the classical model of the atom such as why the orbiting electron doesn’t radiate away all its energy and collapse into the nucleus. The explanation is weird and mysterious, but that does not make the effects observed any less real.

    Energy medicine, on the other hand, is a theory in search of evidence to support it. The energy fields which the practitioner claims to manipulate cannot be measured or even detected by any objective means. And, they seem to have whatever characteristics the practitioner needs to explain their purported effect. The more carefully we design and perform experiments to test these effects, the clearer it becomes that the only “effects” are random variations in the results that come just from doing the test enough times.

    I can manipulate energy fields by waving my hands. I demonstrated it pretty clearly a few days ago when I was hooking up a TV antenna for my sister-in-law. The antenna cable was broken and when I touched it or moved away from it the signal would come on or go off. But, those are the ordinary fields of electromagnetic energy, which we have been studying for centuries and can observe in dozens of ways. They have real and important uses in medicine in MRI’s, laser surgery, and nuclear medicine, all of which depend on quantum effects.

    When the supporters of energy healing can demonstrate a 30 or 40% delay in progression to death (as in the studies I noted above for HAART), I will jump up and down and cheer. But, if the best they have is uncontrolled studies that show that when the practitioner comes in and visits the patient and waves their hands around the patient reports that they feel better, then I think we have flushed enough money down this particular hole and I support Dr Atwood’s position.

    To learn about Quantum Enigma, I looked up a couple of reviews on-line. One is by David Bacon, who is an assistant research professor at the University of Washington.

    http://dabacon.org/pontiff/?p=1300

    I particularly liked his summation at the end.

    “So what do I come away from “Quantum Enigma” with? Well for one, I would recommend this book for any of the “What the Bleep” crowd as a way to ween them towards more reasonable discussions. As a popular science explanation of quantum theory the book succeeds. As a new revelation which convinces me that the answer to quantum theory lies down the road of “consciousness,” I’m not sold.”

    Chad Orzel, who is an associate professor at Union College, also has an interesting review at:

    http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2006/08/review_quantum_enigma_physics.php

    As he commented:

    “Though they deal with some very strange and frequently misrepresented material, they do an admirable job of avoiding and even denouncing quackery. They have some harsh words for What the Bleep Do We Know?, and deny that quantum mechanics supports mysticism:

    ‘ Quantum mechanics tell us strange things about our world, things that we do not fully comprehend. This strangeness has implications beyond what we generally consider physics. We might therefore be tolerant when non-physicists incorporate quantum ideas into their own thinking– even if they do so with less than complete understanding, or even a bit incorrectly.

    We are, however, disturbed, and sometimes embarrassed, by cavalier, perhaps intentional, misuses of quantum ideas, as a basis for certain medical or psychological therapies (or investing schemes!), for examples. A touchstone test for such misuse is the presentation of these ideas with the implication that the notions promulgated are derived from quantum mechanics rather than merely suggested by it.’

    While they could be stronger in their condemnation of quantum abuse, it’s good to see a book on this topic that doesn’t veer off into total woo-woo mysticism.”

    and

    “In fact, this brings me to what I consider the weakest part of the book, which is the sparse reference to experiment. Particularly in the last couple of decades, there have been many beautiful and elegant experiments done to demonstrate the various phenomena discussed in the book, and they’re hardly mentioned here. Where important results have been confirmed by experiment, they usually mention the existence of experiments, but never present data or any detailed discussion of how the experiments were done.”

    And, he pointed out in a comment:

    “They do a good job of avoiding and denouncing quackery. That is, they avoid falling into it themselves, and also have some harsh words for quacks. They’re not letting it go unchallenged.”

    So, it’s an interesting book, but hardly a ringing endorsement for energy medicine.

  27. Fifi says:

    Wales & lizkat – I’m quite comfortable with there being mysteries and with the unknown, I just don’t need to stuff god into the gaps (or some metaphysical human consciousness that’s a slightly more sophisticated version of god that posits we’re the gods). Just because I was born and raised as an atheist doesn’t mean that I believe there’s an “easy answer for everything”. Quite the opposite – it’s pretty clear that “god” is the easy answer for everything and for all mysteries. Me? I’m quite comfortable with there being things we don’t know (yet and maybe we never will)…that’s what growing up with science gives one, the ability to say “we don’t know”. Alongside a good dose of curiosity for how things work and a healthy respect for the mysteries and awesomeness of the real world (not that imagination isn’t fun too, it’s just that truth and reality are often much stranger than the fictions people create…including the god fantasies created to plug the gaps and explain the mysteries). Religion gives people “easy answers for everything”, science rarely does – science usually answers one question while opening up many more. I don’t need to believe I’m the centre of the universe, that there is some cosmic plan that’s all about me or that I imagine the universe into being (not that I don’t enjoy considering these things or creating fictitious universes). I don’t need to believe I’ll live forever. I’m okay with being finite and human, to be an animal that returns to the earth upon death. Meaning is a human thing (or perhaps a mammalian thing), the universe doesn’t care about meaning or you or me. It’s not all about our consciousness/ego!

  28. wales says:

    Squirrelelite: You misrepresent my comments entirely if you believe I said that the book is a ringing endorsement for energy medicine. Here are some more reviews of the book.

    http://quantumenigma.com/reviews-our-responses/

  29. wales says:

    Here’s another review of the book by physicist Richard Conn Henry of Johns Hopkins. I’m not sure I agree with all of his points, but he certainly gives food for thought and I admire him for his honesty and fearlessness.

    http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/quantum.enigma.html

  30. Fifi says:

    Also, while I know it’s somewhat unusual to be brought up without a god or gods, most atheists start out in at least nominally religious households. I wasn’t brought up in an anti-god household or in one where science was a religion, just one without god/s…they’re pretty irrelevant really if you’re comfortable with the reality that there aren’t answers for everything. That said, I do find religion and the stories we’ve made up to explain the mysteries of life and the universe (and our own brains and cognition) quite interesting.

  31. Fifi says:

    “I can manipulate energy fields by waving my hands.”

    Theramin! ;-)

  32. wales says:

    Fifi you are one comfortable person. I am not sure why you have directed your monologue on god toward me.

    Lest you’ve missed my point: my comments here celebrate uncertainty, they do not deny it. Others are “comfortable” as well.

  33. squirrelelite says:

    wales,

    Perhaps I got a little overenthusiastic at the end when I was trying to finish up my comment. (I had a little interruption to go work on supper.)

    Sorry!

    However, when you commented

    “I also don’t think that we can rule out energy medicine, given the unknowns in the standard model and the weirdness of virtual particles and a hypothetical 5th force, etc.”,

    you may have stretched things a little too far. Weirdness and unexplained phenomena are the seeds for future research and theoretical studies. That is why we built the LHC. And scientists are always looking for more unexplained results to study. At a rough guess, I would expect that more scientists are hoping to see something new and unexplained at the LHC than are hoping just to find the Higgs boson and wrap up the standard model.

    But, when they do so, they will have some real results to compare with and use as a basis for informed speculation.

    The difference with the practitioners and investigators of energy medicine is that with energy medicine, there are no real results and only guesses, hopes and allegations to base anything on.

  34. Fifi says:

    Wales – “The practice and instruction of medicine appears to be still largely based upon classical physics rather than quantum physics. But calling for a “closing of the books” on research into energetic healing (or any subject for that matter) is distinctly counter to the spirit of scientific inquiry.”

    Wales – I directed my comments towards you because you seem to be making a roundabout argument for quantum woo and energy healing (or at least investing money into chasing unicorns rather than betting on a real horse). Medical research is about saving and/or improving lives, it’s a practical field of research and not an abstract one – no matter how esoteric some medical research may seem to lay people. (And nothing against the Haldron Collider – I’m sure there’s a practical application for that research somewhere – but that money could have been improving live instead of scaring people who are into woo because they think the Haldron Collider will make the universe implode.) Staying open minded to speculation is a very different thing than investing money into researching things with no plausible mechanism when there are things to research that do have very plausible mechanisms. Yes it’s good to be able to use one’s imagination but when it comes down to allocating resources to research then it’s time to deal with reality.

  35. micheleinmichigan says:

    Wales – firstly – Go Blue :)

    So, if you are saying that you believe it is possible that Reiki is using a mysterious undiscovered energy that has been hinted at by the exploration of quantum physics, wouldn’t it follow that this energy could in fact have incredibly unpredictable and dangerous consequences? Ones that we have no concept how to track, much less control?

    For example, initially, radiation was considered to be a health wonder treatment, until we found out, “whoops! use with extreme caution.”

    If Reiki is actually working on a quantum level, do we know that Reiki therapy is not creating a bunch of alternate probability zombies? Okay, well I’m on a zombie kick this week-end, but what I mean is something so weird that we don’t even know how to look for it.

    So the options as I see it…

    Reiki – a placebo like piece of woo that is relatively physically harmless but has a potential for lost dollars and patient deception.

    Reiki – a placebo like technique that could be examined for it’s potential based on psychological benefits, if it could be practiced without deception.
    (FiFi, I read your thoughts on this, but I wasn’t sure if you were saying you thought this possible or not possible)

    Reiki – a mysterious energy that is controlled by a mechanism we don’t understand that has highly unpredictable results. In other words, experimentation on humans without their consent.

    ——–

    Just a side note to commenters. My eyes aren’t what they used to be. I’d appreciate it if folks would consider liberal use of paragraph breaks, say every 6 to 15 lines if it is grammatically feasible. It makes it so much easier for eye tracking while reading.

  36. micheleinmichigan says:

    # Fifi on 28 Feb 2010 at 9:25 pm

    “Staying open minded to speculation is a very different thing than investing money into researching things with no plausible mechanism when there are things to research that do have very plausible mechanisms. Yes it’s good to be able to use one’s imagination but when it comes down to allocating resources to research then it’s time to deal with reality.”

    My thoughts exactly!

  37. wales says:

    Michele, I appreciate your comments. I know nothing about reiki, I mentioned it simply because someone else hear said they were a “reiki master”.

  38. Fifi says:

    Sorry michele, I’m the queen of the run on sentence and paragraph.

    I’d hesitate to promote reiki, simply because I actually think it can do more harm than good – not energetically, but psychologically since it promotes believing in some karmic ideas about disease and woo. On the other hand, I certainly advocate being kind to others, listening and simple, gentle, loving touch. Why? Because we’re social animals and it makes us feel good – that’s entirely natural, there’s nothing supernatural about it!

    On a purely theoretical level, if reiki did actually work then it would be the worst thing ever for people with cancer. (To be very simplistic, cancer cells essentially don’t shut down and die like regular cells so filling them up with more “life” energy would be just encouraging them to grow more!) It can be quite fun to bring that up, not that most people into reiki will actually even ponder the theoretical disconnect between promoting reiki for cancer.

    I’m the reiki “master” – I can also read a mean tarot. If I hadn’t been brought up by doctors with the “first do no harm” credo – and was bereft of a conscience – I’d be rich by now. Damn ethics and empathy (though that makes me good at “reading” people) get in the way all the time!

  39. Fifi says:

    Oh, and I brought up the reiki thing because lizkat was playing the “you’re just close minded card” regarding “energy healing”. I’m a big believer in actually researching and experiencing something before writing it off. That way you can get some insight into why people are into it (or not, I still don’t like the taste of sea urchin!)

  40. micheleinmichigan says:

    Wales – Oy!? wasn’t it you who brought up the energy healing? Must have been Lizcat.

    That’s okay. I know nothing about Reiki as well.

    My comment was based on your comment…

    “I also don’t think that we can rule out energy medicine, given the unknowns in the standard model and the weirdness of virtual particles and a hypothetical 5th force, etc. I am not a proponent of energy medicine, and I am not a Reiki master. I am merely contemplating the possibilities.”

  41. micheleinmichigan says:

    Fifi on 28 Feb 2010 at 9:53 pm

    “Oh, and I brought up the reiki thing because lizkat was playing the “you’re just close minded card” regarding “energy healing”. I’m a big believer in actually researching and experiencing something before writing it off. That way you can get some insight into why people are into it (or not, I still don’t like the taste of sea urchin!)”

    The problem is of course, researching and experiencing is not enough. If you don’t “believe” in it. It won’t work. (Don’t you know.) I don’t know if this attitude applies to Reiki, but I have come across it with other folks who believe in psychic healing.

  42. Fifi says:

    michele – “If you don’t “believe” in it. It won’t work. (Don’t you know.) I don’t know if this attitude applies to Reiki, but I have come across it with other folks who believe in psychic healing.”

    Well, as the practitioner I don’t need to believe in it, only the mark..um, er, patient..yeah, that’s it, only the patient does!

    But, yes, I’m aware of the Tinkerbell theory of faith healing ;-)

  43. BillyJoe says:

    There have been two glaring omissions in this discussions about energy healing and (quantum) physics.

    1) The word “energy” in “energy healing” bears no relationship whatsoever to the word “energy” in physics.
    The term is simply meaningless.

    2) Quantum physics is the study of the ultramicroscopic world of subatomic particles. It has no effect on our everyday macroscopic world in which “energy healing” is supposed to work.

    This puts paid to comments like the following:

    wales: “I also don’t think that we can rule out energy medicine, given the unknowns in the standard model and the weirdness of virtual particles and a hypothetical 5th force, etc”

    Lizkat: “There is some kind of political taboo surrounding the idea of energy medicine. Somebody decided long ago that all forms of energy are already understood, and it would get people upset if other forms were discovered.”

  44. micheleinmichigan says:

    FiFi – hehe

  45. micheleinmichigan says:

    # BillyJoe

    There have been two glaring omissions in this discussions about energy healing and (quantum) physics.

    1) The word “energy” in “energy healing” bears no relationship whatsoever to the word “energy” in physics.
    The term is simply meaningless.

    I have no interest in physic energy healing, I’m only asking to clarify for my future knowledge. There are forms of energy used in medicine. Right? Radiation, would be one, but that is more of a controlled destruction. Electro-magnatic? Electrical used in cardiology, neurology (?). Even traction would be a form of energy, gravitational.

    I ask this for a couple reasons.

    1)Just because I wonder if I’m unclear on the concept of energy. (and, I’m not being sarcastic)

    2)Last night I asked my husband (engineer) if there were any inventions based on Quantum Mechanics and he said he thought some people were working on a couple. Firstly a Quantum Clock. Secondly a Quantum Computer that would replace transistors with atoms and would have variable level based on particle behavior (so not binary, 1 or 0 but a gradation). I think. :)

    A microscopic beyond binary computer? Think of what that could do for medicine.

  46. I still don’t get what makes energy healing special that it should get funding to research it. I don’t spend my day making up nice ideas out of whole cloth and investigating them to see if they are true. (Do I have a billion dollars? [checks] Not in my regular bank account, no. Maybe I have a billion dollars worth of real estate, though. Wouldn’t that be great? I’m certainly not closed minded enough to eliminate that possibility. That wouldn’t be skeptical. [spends lots of money looking up property titles; finds nothing] I know! Quantum theory means that the same piece of real estate can be owned by more than one person simultaneously! There. I own the entire planet. Even better than I originally thought. Anyone who thinks I’m just making this up should read about quantum theory and take lessons from those nice open-minded physicists who admit they don’t know everything.)

    If I acted as if I owned the planet I would probably end up being treated for bipolar disorder by some nasty closed-minded psychiatrists who refused to acknowledge the mystery of quantum physics. (If I just spent a lot of effort trying to prove that I owned the planet, the diagnosis would more likely be schizophrenia.)

    There are reasons to think that dogs exist. There are reasons to think that subatomic particles exist. There are reasons to think that people feel better when you pay attention to them kindly. But there is no reason to think that energy healing exists other than it would be really cool if you could do it — no more than there is any reason to think that I’m a billionaire beyond that it would be really cool. (Even less, actually, because we actually have examples of existing billionaires.)

    I don’t get this whole thing about being closed-minded about “energy” when there’s nothing to be closed-minded about. The concept adds nothing to any current explanations and doesn’t explain things that current explanations do not.

  47. Fifi says:

    Alison – “I still don’t get what makes energy healing special that it should get funding to research it.”

    Oh ye of little faith…it’s spiritual! It strikes me that this is very much about people believing their articles of faith (religious beliefs) should get special treatment. It’s no different than what the ID crowd are pushing really, it’s just got quantum woo mixed in to make is sound more sciency.

    To go off on a bit of a tangent (who me?)…historically religion has claimed ownership of love and compassion. They’re not human, animal or mammalian qualities, they’re divine ones. (Even science, because it’s historically influenced by religion, took a long time to admit that other mammals experience love and it has an evolutionary purpose.) Experiences pretty much got divided up into good=god/divine bad=devil/human/evil. So, a rather natural mammalian need for comfort, touch and signs of caring/inclusion becomes a “spiritual” thing rather than the normal mammalian need for love and social connection that it is. Since only god (be that in the form of “healing energy” or whatever) can provide love under this schema, something as mundane as being kind gets attributed to god. A lot of human blindness regarding reality comes from wanting to believe we are (or I am) the centre of the universe and that our individual lives are incredibly important (and as a species we’re super special and not really animals at all). It’s why so many people cling to religion in its 101 guises (be it quantum woo for those who believe themselves to be sophisticated and contemporary or fundamentalism for those who like things traditional and simple). Seems to me that being an animal is a pretty good thing if we learn to be kind to each other and live like happy animals! It’s the pretending we’re not mammals that gets us into all kinds of trouble!

  48. micheleinmichigan says:

    Alison said “There. I own the entire planet. Even better than I originally thought. ”

    You may own the entire planet, but with this economy you can’t sell it. If you do, you’ll have to take a loss. Then you’ll have to bring money to closing, and I can only imagine how much THAT’s going to be for the entire planet. The assessment fee alone will kill you.

    “(If I just spent a lot of effort trying to prove that I owned the planet, the diagnosis would more likely be schizophrenia.)” Particularly, if the planet told you to.

    Ultimately the argument seems to boil down to “Quantum Physics is weird and therefore you can not say that people are physic”

    (aside)Wales, I’m not saying that’s your argument, I’m not quite clear on your argument or if you are just making an observation. I might see it our library has the book you recommended, maybe that would clarify.

    Which basically boils down to people using the fact that you can’t prove a negative to open a loophole for their pet theory. So let’s give everyone a billion dollars!

    My pet theory is that humans live longer when living a carefree life on a tropical beach drinking margaritas. I plan on not only authoring the study, but being a test subject (not in the control group). I plan on publishing my paper in “Surf” which will make it peer reviewed (after I learn to surf). It’s all Quantum Dude.

  49. Fifi says:

    michele – “My pet theory is that humans live longer when living a carefree life on a tropical beach drinking margaritas.”

    As an animal, I like your pet theory a lot! ;-)

    “Ultimately the argument seems to boil down to “Quantum Physics is weird and therefore you can not say that people are physic”

    I’m assuming you meant to say “Ultimately the argument seems to boil down to “Quantum Physics is weird and therefore you can’t say that people AREN’T psychic”, in which case I agree. Sure, anything is possible but science is about probabilities.

  50. wales says:

    Billy Joe said “Quantum physics is the study of the ultramicroscopic world of subatomic particles. It has no effect on our everyday macroscopic world in which “energy healing” is supposed to work.”

    Really? Quantum physics has no effect on our everyday macroscopic world?????? You may want to retract that statement. I think it’s self evident, but let’s quote the physicists.

    1)If all matter is ultimately composed of subatomic particles just how exactly is there “no effect on our everyday macroscopic world”? This requires explanation. Quoting QE: “Quantum mechanics is essential to every natural science. When chemists do more than follow empirical rules, their theories are fundamentally quantum mechanical. Why grass is green, what makes the sun shine, or how quarks behave inside protons are all questions that must be answered quantum mechanically.” Also “The still-to-be-understood nature of black holes or the Big Bang is sought in quantum terms.” I guess the Big Bang had no effect on our everyday macroscopic world.

    ( 2) quoting the QE authors “The details of MRI are complicated, but the only point we wish to make is that, as for the laser and transistor, physicists and engineers developing MRI must explicitly take quantum phenomena into account.” That should answer Michele’s question as well “Last night I asked my husband (engineer) if there were any inventions based on Quantum Mechanics” The authors further state that “MRI is made possible by the coming together of the quantum phenomena responsible for nuclear magnetic resonance, superconductivity, and the transistor. Each of these technologies, as well as the laser, has led to a Nobel Prize in physics, MRI most recently in 2004.” The authors estimate quantum based technologies to comprise one-third of our economy.

    As for Billy Joe’s first point, since particle physicists have found
    that under the standard model there is a fifth unknown force, where’s the proof that there is not a fifth type of energy that impacts healing? According to QE “Quantum mechanics is the most accurate theory in all of science.” Well, if the most accurate theory in all of science is still searching for a fifth force to explain how all the fundamental particle masses are generated, how can we be certain about the impossibility of energy healing?

  51. wales on proving a negative:
    “As for Billy Joe’s first point, since particle physicists have found that under the standard model there is a fifth unknown force, where’s the proof that there is not a fifth type of energy that impacts healing?”

    And while you’re at it, where’s the proof that I don’t have a billion dollars? And the proof that Russel’s teapot doesn’t exist?

    My question is, why would anyone think any of these things in the first place? Physicists think some very weird things, but they know why they think them.

  52. wales says:

    Alison, I am not trying to prove a negative. I don’t even consider this a debate. I am trying to point out that those who state absolutely that energy healing is impossible have no proof for their absolutist stance. Why do they insist on a false sense of certainty instead of just admitting we don’t have good evidence at this time but it could be a possibility?

    If you had told someone before the advent of the laser that we would be able to cut through matter using light, most people would have said “that’s impossible” instead of “perhaps, but we don’t have any evidence of that yet”. Who could have imagined lasers and MRIs fifty years ago (aside from science fiction writers)? I understand a “that’s impossible” stance from the general public. But in a science based venue I expect a more thoughtful and science based response about possibilities. Physics is the most fundamental of all sciences, literally underlying all the others (chemistry, biology, etc.) If physicists stopped exporing possibilities we would have no new technology. Another book I recommend is “Physics of the Impossible” by physicist Michio Kaku.

  53. wales says:

    I also recommend all of Kaku’s other books.

  54. But why are you even entertaining energy healing in the first place? Where does the idea come from?

    Nobody can deny it outright, because a negative can’t be proven. I can’t deny it outright. But neither can I deny the existence of Russel’s teapot (or my billion-dollar property title that I just haven’t found yet). Why would you invest any energy at all in thinking about something there’s no reason to think about?

    Actually, I would expect that the first person who played with a lens was motivated to speculate about cutting through hard stuff with a really good lens. Lasers weren’t invented in a vacuum. The idea came from somewhere. Where is the idea of energy healing coming from?

  55. weing says:

    “I am trying to point out that those who state absolutely that energy healing is impossible have no proof for their absolutist stance.”

    We are not saying it’s impossible. There is no evidence for any such thing. We also have no proof for our absolutist stance that Santa is not real.

  56. lizkat says:

    Fifi,

    You are right in saying kindness did not originate with religion. Cats and dogs aren’t religious but they can be kinder and nicer than people, if treated well. Look at any social animal and you will see creatures expressing love and kindness towards each other.

    When people give religion credit for morality and compassion, it’s because they are ignorant about evolution and zoology. And/or because they have never even bothered to observe their own pets.

    How could anyone say that kindness and compassion started with humans, and that humans would be entirely selfish and cruel without religion? But they do say it, and I agree with you that they are wrong.

    But the fact that people make ignorant claims for religion does not prove that there are no undiscovered substances or energies.

  57. weing says:

    “But the fact that people make ignorant claims for religion does not prove that there are no undiscovered substances or energies.”
    Or Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

  58. Zoe237 says:

    No, and you can’t prove there is no god either, which is why I’m agnostic. I don’t know if there are undiscovered substances or energies emanating from the human body, but there is no evidence to think so at this point.

    What I don’t understand is why religious people insist on having science behind their beliefs and confusing the two. I have no problem with religious people using energy healing, and maybe it does work as a placebo. Nothing wrong with that. Just like there’s nothing wrong with creationism- until you try to put in a science classroom. Why can’t people separate faith and science?

    Seriously, I don’t know why you guys bother. You have to ask Lizcat and Wales- what is it that will convince them that there are no energy fields? Are their beliefs falsifiable? It’s like arguing with somebody who believes the Bible is the infallible word of God- no winning!

  59. wales says:

    “Science is about probabilities” Yes, but wildly improbable realities are quite common in our world.

    David Bailey of Berkeley Labs states in his paper “Evolution and Probability” that the probability that a chain 141 amino acids long would be a usable hemoglobin molecule can be calculated as 1 in 20 to the 25th, or roughly 1 in 10 to the 33rd. (sorry I don’t know how to get the superscripts in here)

    Bailey, speaking on the specific subject of evolution, says “Probability calculations should be a tool to help us calibrate the diversity of life and the extent to which various lineages may have diverged from common ancestors. Instead, they often are used as a tool to manipulate scientifically unsophisticated audiences.” In other words, anti-evolutionists use improbability as a tool to support their claims that evolution is impossible.

    All I am saying is let’s not fall into that trap, of claiming that improbable things are by definition impossible.

    This has been fun. Unfortunately I won’t be able to contribute as much time to this conversation as I’d like to.

    http://crd.lbl.gov/~dhbailey/

    http://www.dhbailey.com/papers/dhb-probability.pdf

  60. wales says:

    “I have no problem with religious people using energy healing” do you think only religious people believe in energy healing? I had never equated energy healing with religion.

  61. wales,

    Who said that “energy healing” was impossible?

  62. weing says:

    Alison,

    You are right. Physical therapists use heat. Radiation oncologists use energy for killing tumors. Pacemakers use electrical energy. Nuclear medicine uses nuclear energy in diagnostics. It’s all healing energy.

  63. Zoe237 says:

    ME, that’s who equating energy healing with religion. There’s no scientific evidence that it could work. Or the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, as others mentioned.

  64. lizkat says:

    “It’s all healing energy.”

    And weing I can’t figure out why you think all forms of energy have already been discovered.

    And none of this has anything to do with religion.

  65. Scott says:

    And weing I can’t figure out why you think all forms of energy have already been discovered.

    Because any form of interaction (that’s really what we’re talking about, not energy) with discernible macroscopic effects (by definition, if it’s to be useful for healing) has, well, discernible macroscopic effects.

    High-energy physicists do precise calculations of reaction rates and cross-sections all the time. If there were an interaction strong enough to do what’s claimed of these “energies”, it would throw off those calculations significantly. Yet, they are highly accurate. The inescapable conclusion is that any new interactions are insignificant at low (i.e. everyday) energies.

    There’s room for uncertainty at higher energy scales, certainly, but there is NO meaningful room whatsoever for any undiscovered “energies” along the lines being discussed here.

    In particular, the various musings wales has posted here are utterly laughable to anyone with an actual background in high-energy physics.

  66. lizkat on Reiki:
    “I can’t figure out why you think all forms of energy have already been discovered.”

    You were asking Weing, but I actually have no opinion on this. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t. But that has absolutely nothing whatever to do with my question.

    What I want to know is why you think a so-far undetected and undescribed energy might have something to to with why offering focussed, kind attention to another person might make them feel better?

    I mean, a so-far undetected and undescribed energy might have something to to with, say, why my coffee is hot. But the fact is, electricity is a perfectly adequate explanation and I have no need to speculate that psi might be involved.

    Ditto why my thigh muscles are sore. Yes, somebody might have put a curse on me, but lactic acid buildup subsequent to running after a young, recently-acquired border collie is, again, a perfectly adequate explanation. I don’t need to invoke psi.

    Do you propose psi as a possible cause of every effect — including effects that are very well explained by currently well-understood causes? Your thirst is quenched not by water but by psi. You’re feeling warm not because you put on a sweater but because of psi. You fell over not because of gravity but because of psi. Etc?

    Or do you only keep your mind open to psi as the cause of some effects? If so, how do you choose which effects you want to keep an open mind about?

  67. pmoran says:

    L:”And weing I can’t figure out why you think all forms of energy have already been discovered.”

    Who said that? It’s more that there is no good reason to postulate the existence of the energy being proposed. Valid theory is always founded upon reliable observation.

    L: “And none of this has anything to do with religion.”

    A form of energy that only manifests itself in healing virtually obligates a mystical explanation.

  68. Fifi says:

    wales – “do you think only religious people believe in energy healing?”

    Well, yes. It’s an article of faith (because there’s no decent evidence of “energy healing”) and always connected to a religious idea, no matter how sciencey Ramtha or whoever tries to make it by calling it “quantum healing” or if it’s called “chi”. And no matter if someone labels it “spiritual” or “alternative” to try to distance themselves from what they perceive to be the negative connotations of Christianity. (Though, of course, there are Christian versions as well as Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic and whatever hodge podge of imaginary and ancient religions and esoterica that’s being peddled by new agers as a replacement religion for your parents’ religion you reject.) Reiki definitely has religious roots. I’d actually be interested in hearing one example of “energy healing” that doesn’t have a religious/spiritual root or aspect (putting aside nuclear medicine and so on since that’s obviously not what people mean when they say “energy healing”).

    There are very simple and plausible explanations for why people enjoy being fussed over and being in a relaxing atmosphere, there’s no need to invoke supernatural causes for relaxation or being cared for. Feeling better because you’re being cared for isn’t the same thing as being healed or cured of an illness (unless it’s purely psychosomatic, of course).

  69. pmoran says:

    Fifi: “There are very simple and plausible explanations for why people enjoy being fussed over and being in a relaxing atmosphere, there’s no need to invoke supernatural causes for relaxation or being cared for. Feeling better because you’re being cared for isn’t the same thing as being healed or cured of an illness (unless it’s purely psychosomatic, of course).”

    Well, put, Fifi, although I would go further than the “simple and plausible explanations”.

    It is now fairly finally established that these limited but useful, all-pervasive generic benefits from medical interactions are mediated by the overall psychological environment, and not by mysterious energies or “quantum connections”. They can be turned on or off or up or down by simply telling the patient different things or merely spending more caring time with them.

    It suits the involved parties to pretend, and even perhaps half-believe that something more mysterious is going on. That is not necessarily always a bad thing, so long as everyone comes back to reality when it really matters. Most do. Even Haitians. apparently.

  70. lizkat says:

    “Because any form of interaction (that’s really what we’re talking about, not energy) with discernible macroscopic effects (by definition, if it’s to be useful for healing) has, well, discernible macroscopic effects.”

    Before there were instruments for receiving or detecting radio waves we had no idea they were all around us. And that is true for any particle or energy that doesn’t register with our senses or the instruments that have so far been invented. It seems possible, or probable, that most of what exists is all around us but unknown to us.

    Some of the energy supposedly used in energy healing might be our familiar electricity. We know that the brain generates electromagnetic waves, and we know that electricity sometimes promotes healing.

    So we don’t even have to hypothesize mysterious unknown forms of energy to consider that energy healing might sometimes work. And that would help explain why some of the research has positive results.

  71. lizkat on electromagnetic waves:

    “And that would help explain why some of the research has positive results.”

    Why do you think help is required explaining it?

  72. weing says:

    “Some of the energy supposedly used in energy healing might be our familiar electricity. We know that the brain generates electromagnetic waves, and we know that electricity sometimes promotes healing.”

    Does this have the ring of cargo cult thinking to anyone else besides me?

    Dark energy makes up most of the universe. Isn’t it possible that it manifests as Santa on Christmas? That would help explain some of the gifts under the Christmas tree. I mean, you can’t rule it out, so it’s possible isn’t it?

  73. Harriet Hall says:

    Lizkat said,

    “Some of the energy supposedly used in energy healing might be our familiar electricity.”

    I doubt that. We can easily detect and quantify our familiar electricity.

  74. Fifi says:

    lizkat – “We know that the brain generates electromagnetic waves, and we know that electricity sometimes promotes healing.”

    Yes but that has nothing to do with what you’re proposing is “energy healing” and it’s not that mysterious. We use electricity in shock therapy and deep brain stimulation. It’s entirely measurable and has nothing to do with waving hands over people or the kind of faith based “energy healing” you’re promoting.

    lizkat – “So we don’t even have to hypothesize mysterious unknown forms of energy to consider that energy healing might sometimes work. And that would help explain why some of the research has positive results.”

    Ahhhhh, yes, actually you do need to hypothesize mysterious unknown forms of energy because we can measure electricity. Once again you’re reaching to fantastic lengths to try to justify your faith that “energy healing” exists despite a lack legitimate evidence or even a plausible mechanism.

  75. Fifi says:

    weing – It must be the dark energy that leaves the lumps of coal for bad children…

  76. colourmetwice says:

    The press get a lot of crap and I’m pretty sure most of you don’t know what they have to deal with.

    Don’t you think that a lot of us writers know very well and good the story needs to be longer, more in-depth, etc.? But you, the readers, want news. Short. Quick. To the point. If you wanted the whole story as we want to give it to you, you would be reading it in a book, not picking up a newspaper. Catch my drift?

    Often, it is the form you are frustrated with, not the writer. The writer often turns in a 1,000 word story and has it cut by the editor down to maybe 600 words. Why? Because not only do you want your news short, you don’t want to pay for it. So our pages have to be filled with advertisements that will bring in money instead information. Quotes are dropped, context left out. It becomes bare-bones and suddenly looked at as inaccurate. In the end, it is a sick cycle with both readers and writers to blame.

    People are multi-faceted and the stories should be as well. Just like medicine though, I think a lot of you expect miracles. It comes down to “Here is the skill set I posses and here is what I know how to do with that.”

    Also, there is a reason so few science journalists exist: its complicated. How do I explain why a TB vaccine is all but useless while being accurate enough that the medical side is satisfied, simple enough that my audience who can maybe conjure up a recollection of BIO 101 lessons can understand, and in-depth and interesting enough that people will read it. Oh yeah, and “unbiased”. All in 600 words.

    This “unbiased” stuff needs to stop. Fair enough though, journalism got itself into that one. But let’s throw out there that it is a good thing to strive for. Doctors should also be unbiased, but that doesn’t happen. You do one thing for one patient that you wouldn’t do for another. Maybe they were nicer to you, maybe they could articulate their symptoms better, maybe you had an extra minute to spare that day.

    We all have bias. Many of us try to work beyond that, but admittedly, we always have to keep trying. It will never be an automatic thing. Bias is who you are. Bias brings you to NPR vs Fox. It is why you do not like this girl’s article but you like something else…that is more in line with your own viewpoints.

  77. Joe says:

    @colourmetwice on 01 Mar 2010 at 11:01 pm “… Don’t you think that a lot of us writers know very well and good the story needs to be longer, more in-depth, etc.?”

    Okay, do you realize that the cited story was a puff piece for modern superstition and con-artistry? It is not lacking in depth, it is lacking in facts. As things stand, it is grossly misleading such that the public can imagine that the described quackery is legitimate.

    @colourmetwice on 01 Mar 2010 at 11:01 pm “Also, there is a reason so few science journalists exist: its complicated. … Oh yeah, and [reporting should be] “unbiased”.”

    It is not okay to promote con-artists because separating the wheat from the chaff is complicated. Bias is a good thing when it is based in education. “Bias [on social opinions] brings you NPR vs Fox” but bias on technical issues brings usable, reliable information. The Earth is not flat, nor is it at the center of the Universe, nor is it 6,000 years old. Do you need to present those opinions when you report on geology and astronomy? I don’t think so.

  78. BillyJoe says:

    It looks like I have to revisit this:

    “There have been two glaring omissions in this discussions about energy healing and (quantum) physics.

    1) The word “energy” in “energy healing” bears no relationship whatsoever to the word “energy” in physics.
    The term is simply meaningless.”

    In physics energy is the capacity of a physical system to do work. Energy = force X distance.
    Energy is the work you do to move an object through a certain distance.
    What the altmed crowd mean by energy can be ascertained by its synonyms: vital force, prana, chi, chakra, aura, spirit, soul. These are mystical entities which have no connection at all to science which is based on the materialist assumption.
    Energy in physics has units of joules, ergs, calorie, horsepower etc. What are the units of energy healing:?

    “2) Quantum physics is the study of the ultramicroscopic world of subatomic particles. It has no effect on our everyday macroscopic world in which “energy healing” is supposed to work.”

    It seems wales misread this but perhaps I was little unclear. Of course I did not mean that macroscopic objects are not composed of atoms and therefore not composed of quantum “particles”. What I obviously meant is that what happens at the microscopic level doesn’t spill over into the macroscopic level. Qantum weirdness remains at the quantum level. Spooky action at a distance, entanglement, probability waves do not make an appearance in our everyday deterministic macroscopic world. Even chemical reactions between molecules are pretty straight forward deterministic processes.

  79. BillyJoe says:

    …so, if you want to be a quantum healer, you need to make yourself really really small. Small enough, in fact, to completely disappear from view. Now that would be nice.

  80. Scott says:

    Before there were instruments for receiving or detecting radio waves we had no idea they were all around us. And that is true for any particle or energy that doesn’t register with our senses or the instruments that have so far been invented. It seems possible, or probable, that most of what exists is all around us but unknown to us.

    While superficially reasonable, with an actual understanding of high energy physics it is quite obviously utterly wrong. You see, we don’t depend on detecting energy with instruments. We measure the actual interactions between particles.

    If we didn’t know about electromagnetism but could perform the kinds of experiments like the Tevatron, SLAC, LHC, etc. (yes, a solid grounding of EM is crucial to building such, but let’s leave that aside for the time being) we would see that the observed particles were experiencing additional interactions beyond the ones we knew about. This would very quickly lead us to EM.

    It’s really quite simple. The properties a new interaction would have to have in order to evade our current experiments necessarily preclude such an interaction from having the effects postulated for it.

    Some of the energy supposedly used in energy healing might be our familiar electricity. We know that the brain generates electromagnetic waves, and we know that electricity sometimes promotes healing.

    But we can measure and detect EM fields; there are no such generated in “energy healing.” Nor any mechanism by which they might be generated in a controlled manner.

    In all seriousness, you really should just accept that you don’t have enough knowledge of physics to debate this. You’re just flat-out wrong, in pretty much every conceivable way.

  81. Fifi says:

    Joe – “Okay, do you realize that the cited story was a puff piece for modern superstition and con-artistry?”

    Well, yes, as pointed out earlier when it was noted that complaining about water for being wet is a bit silly. This was critiqued by Dr Jones as if it was science journalism when, in reality, it’s very obviously not science journalism but human interest fluff. It’s a bit like critiquing homeopathy for not being effective medicine and then saying all medicine sucks and is useless because homeopathy sucks and is useless.

    Colourmeblind makes good points about journalism. You want good journalism? Then support good journalism not fluff/yellow journalism, etc. You want SBM, then support SBM not homeopathy. While I take no offense at Dr Jones recounting her story, perhaps she should have done a bit of simple research about the publication and author before agreeing to do the interview. (Just like we all need to do a bit of research before we choose a doctor or a treatment.)

    Seriously, if you want good science journalism then understanding what is and isn’t science journalism is necessary, and having an actual understanding of journalism and how it works is also necessary if you want to be dealing with reality and not a fantasy of how journalism should be. If you get upset when people think woo is medicine, then don’t make exactly the same kinds of mistakes about other professions that you complain about people making about medicine.

    As for blogging being superior – blogging and information on the internet is a two edged sword. Yes it allows for scientists/doctors to interact much more directly with the public and people who are good communicators are fantastic at this. It also allows for the spread of all kinds of pseudoscience and profitable quackery as well (particularly when someone is essentially using blogging as a career or to make money somehow). The internet and blogging are just mediums that have both benefits and negatives, just like print journalism does. They allow for the rapid spread of information and for interaction, that’s the basic advantages over print (and it’s basically free most of the time). The internet doesn’t care if it’s accurate information or woo – as seen by the huge role the internet has played in the anti-vax, AIDS and climate denialist movements, the anti-Codex astroturf campaign, and all kinds of political propaganda and astroturf activism. If anything, blogging and the internet have allowed for woo to spread much more effectively.

    So how does one counteract this? By educating people about how to deconstruct the media (be it online or in print) and think critically about information, as well as about how the media (including advertising) works. (A bit of basic education about cognition and logic help, which is what a lot of education about skepticism essentially is when it’s at its best.) You educate people about reality and how to discern what is real, what is fantasy and what is unknown (and to accept that sometimes there are unknowns). It’s hard to do this effectively if one holds a fantasy image of what media is, just like it’s hard to effectively educate about science and medicine if you’re coming from an ideological and not reality-based perspective. One way to help people understand the difference between science journalism and fluff is to point out good journalism when it happens – and why something is good journalism – so that people can recognize it. Of course, it’s not like politicians or the corporations that buy advertising really want to promote reality-based thinking for the most part!

  82. lizkat says:

    [But we can measure and detect EM fields; there are no such generated in “energy healing.” Nor any mechanism by which they might be generated in a controlled manner.]

    We actually the energy healing researchers claim to measure this. But you would have to read their journals, and you wouldn’t because non-mainstream is all pseudoscience, of course.

    [In all seriousness, you really should just accept that you don’t have enough knowledge of physics to debate this. You’re just flat-out wrong, in pretty much every conceivable way.]

    Oh yes, you can always say that to any non-mainstream argument. But maybe you’re just flat-out brainwashed by your mainstream science teachers.

  83. Scott says:

    We actually the energy healing researchers claim to measure this. But you would have to read their journals, and you wouldn’t because non-mainstream is all pseudoscience, of course.

    They claim it, but the methodology is shoddy at best.

    Oh yes, you can always say that to any non-mainstream argument. But maybe you’re just flat-out brainwashed by your mainstream science teachers.

    You do realize that you’re now essentially claiming to know more about high-energy physics than a person with a PhD in the subject?

  84. Joe says:

    @Fifi on 02 Mar 2010 at 8:54 am “Joe – “Okay, do you realize that the cited story was a puff piece for modern superstition and con-artistry?”

    Well, yes, as pointed out earlier when it was noted that complaining about water for being wet is a bit silly.”

    You quoted me out of context.

    Joe on 02 Mar 2010 at 3:08 am “@colourmetwice on 01 Mar 2010 at 11:01 pm “… Don’t you think that a lot of us writers know very well and good the story needs to be longer, more in-depth, etc.?”

    Okay, do you realize that the cited story was a puff piece for modern superstition and con-artistry? It is not lacking in depth, it is lacking in facts. As things stand, it is grossly misleading such that the public can imagine that the described quackery is legitimate.

    Get it? The story was loaded with detail- but all of it is factually incorrect (as far as health-care is concerned) and offers potentially harmful advice. It wasn’t short on analysis (the argument to which I was responding), it was devoid of analysis. A proper article may have had the headline “Quacks invading our area.”

  85. Scott says:

    Oh, and by the way, why don’t you actually address the actual arguments made? I suspect it’s because you simply don’t have the knowledge or background to do so, hence my point.

  86. Fifi says:

    lizkat – “But you would have to read their journals, and you wouldn’t because non-mainstream is all pseudoscience, of course.”

    Ah, the old “mainstream” vs “alternative” canard….quack, quack… If your “energy healing researchers” claim in their special non-scientific journals to measure energy then it’s very easy to prove that they do if it’s more than an empty claim. That kind of physical evidence would get published in a “mainstream” journal if it had any validity. However, I can see you’re now going down the conspiracy theory road (which you also travel regarding AIDS treatments so it’s hardly surprising that you’re now showing your true colours…wild claims based on no evidence, claims about “mainstream” science conspiracies, etc). I’d say you’re pretty clearly showing you hold faith based believes that you very desperately want to believe are evidence/science based and not articles of religious faith. It’s always highly entertaining to me that people who cling to religious beliefs like “energy healing” think they’re some kind of “alternative” or “radical thinker” when they’re actually espousing very traditional conservative beliefs about the power of god/s and are part of the mainstream (at least in America where most people believe in god/s and ghosts and so on…talk about being part of the mainstream!)

  87. Dacks says:

    “We actually the energy healing researchers claim to measure this. But you would have to read their journals, and you wouldn’t because non-mainstream is all pseudoscience, of course.”

    Some links would make it easier…

  88. Fifi says:

    Joe – “Get it? The story was loaded with detail- but all of it is factually incorrect (as far as health-care is concerned) and offers potentially harmful advice. It wasn’t short on analysis (the argument to which I was responding), it was devoid of analysis. A proper article may have had the headline “Quacks invading our area.”

    Yeah, I get your complaint but expecting a puff piece to be a critical analysis is tantamount to expecting homeopathy to be effective medicine. Get it? It’s also factually incorrect as far as the woo is concerned too. If you read the article, you may have noticed that the quacks were actually having a hard time making a living and had to go from being a profit-driven enterprise to a non-profit. A better headline might have been “woo not selling as well as energy healer wished” or “magical thinking not so magic”. Look, obviously this article was a puff piece about a local person and not science journalism in any real way.

    I totally understand why Dr Jones is annoyed about having her time wasted and the pretense that was made when she was interviewed, but let’s apply a bit of reality-based thinking here too and show that an SBM blogger can actually discern the difference between fluff/human interest journalism in what appears to be a backwater newspaper and actual science journalism (and some awareness of how the media and journalism work). If someone can’t do that, they’re not qualified to critique – in the same way that someone who can’t tell the difference between homeopathy and medicine isn’t qualified to critique SBM.

  89. Fifi says:

    I’d like to add in something here as a writer who’s written articles based upon interviews. (I tape all interviews and meticulously transcribe what people say, and always take measures to to ensure quotes remain in context. I’ve only very exceptionally had someone take issue with what I’ve written. I write about art and culture mainly so it’s quite different than science or news reporting.) People often sound different to themselves in their own head than they actually do when they speak. They say one thing out loud but mean something else in their own mind, they leave out pertinent things, they don’t talk in complete sentences, and so on. Certainly there are journalists that misquote, change context or misrepresent what someone said but there’s also a lot of people who just don’t communicate what they think they’ve communicated.

    We could get into the nature of TV reporting (which is all about sound bites) vs print too. If people want to be effective communicators in the media – be it tv or print – then it’s worth knowing how they work and how to best communicate one’s message in a way that it stays intact. That said, the MSM – be it tv, print or online – will probably never again (and rarely was in the past) a venue for deep, highly contextualized discussions that recognize complexity and really analyze something thoroughly – that’s what specialty magazines, tv programs and blogs/sites are for and why they exist. We should be embracing the ability to have these kinds of specialized discussions, rather than lamenting that the bloated corpse of MSM doesn’t (and that this inability is part of what killed MSM, along with a lot of other factors…the death was preventable).

  90. micheleinmichigan says:

    Scott

    “You do realize that you’re now essentially claiming to know more about high-energy physics than a person with a PhD in the subject?”

    Oh Scott*, it’s so sad that you think of a PhD as valuable when it comes to expertise in an area. Don’t you know that it only mean’s you’ve spent more time being brainwashed? It only show’s that you are a narrow minded part of the liberal, ivory tower, elite?

    You have to understand that the LESS education you have and the LESS you have thought or read about something the more trustworthy you are. That shows that your mind is open, not cluttered by preconceived notions of facts, observations, scientific history or an understanding of your field.

    I know it’s a set back, but you are going to have to do something to balance this PhD disadvantage. Could you take up bowling**?

    *warning heavy sarcasm ahead.
    **no offense to bowling. I like it, particularly with the gutter bars up.

  91. micheleinmichigan says:

    Argh, moderation! wait for it…. :)

  92. lizkat says:

    [ It’s always highly entertaining to me that people who cling to religious beliefs like “energy healing” think they’re some kind of “alternative” or “radical thinker” when they’re actually espousing very traditional conservative beliefs about the power of god/s and are part of the mainstream (at least in America where most people believe in god/s and ghosts and so on…talk about being part of the mainstream!)]

    So Fifi, this is all about who is the least conservative and mainstream? What matters to me is trying to understand, not trying to be weirder than the next person.

    And I don’t believe any conspiracy theories. I just think mainstream science is capable of being wrong sometimes.

    You are obviously emotionally invested in atheism, and incapable of looking at evidence objectively.

  93. weing says:

    “I just think mainstream science is capable of being wrong sometimes.”

    Is anyone claiming that? The point is. Mainstream science is self-correcting. Pseudoscience is never wrong and therefore doesn’t require self-correction.

  94. weing says:

    I meant. Is anyone claiming otherwise?

  95. lizkat on objectivity:
    “I just think mainstream science is capable of being wrong sometimes.”

    If you rephrase that to “The conclusions that the scientific method leads to are subject to constant refinement and even revision,” then everyone here is in complete and utter agreement with you.

    Why, in particular, do you think that the scientific method is incorrect in not seeking further, untestable, explanations for phenomena that are completely accounted for by current understanding?

    To go back to my example of my sore thighs. The current scientific explanation that takes into account what we know about mammalian physiology and recent events would be lactic acid buildup subsequent to chasing after a young, newly adopted border collie.

    Again, it is possible that the science of sore thighs is wrong — it’s unlikely to be completely wrong about the lactic acid, but it’s possible that there are other effects that contribute to my sore thighs that are not completely understood in all their subtlety.

    It’s possible that I am secretly in much better shape than I think I am and that my sore thighs are really due to a curse. But there is nothing about the current state of affairs that leads me to question the lactic acid hypothesis in any significant way or to leap to a curse explanation instead. There is a great deal of excellent physiological research in support of the lactic acid hypothesis and none in support of the curse hypothesis. Even evaluating the curse hypothesis would be completely arbitrary and random.

    If the lactic acid hypothesis takes all variables into account and is completely consistent with the observations of sore thighs, then what is scientific about saying it could be a curse? What is closed-minded about not investigating thigh curses randomly and spontaneously, but waiting until the evidence leads us to investigate thigh curses?

    There is no evidence at all that leads us to investigate a fifth form of energy as an explanation for the effects of Reiki. The effects of Reiki are completely accounted for currently well-understood psychological and interpersonal effects. (Just like my sore thighs are accounted for by the lactic acid hypothesis and my hot coffee is accounted for by the electric coffee maker hypothesis.) One day there may be data that lead us in that direction, but we’ve been looking for a very long time — hundreds of years anyway, and probably thousands — and not found data that require any other explanation.

    There are many, many things for which there are no data that lead us to think they might be true. Russel’s teapot. Homeopathy. My billionnaire status. Energy healing.

    Long-windedly back to my question: what is so special about energy healing that it needs more open mindedness and special attention than thigh curses, my billion dollars, or Russel’s teapot?

  96. micheleinmichigan says:

    weing on 02 Mar 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I meant. Is anyone claiming otherwise?

    Hmm, my dad was a physicist and he used to claim that he was factually correct 99.9% of the time (yeah, my dad was a man rich in peculiarities). That’s about as close as I ever heard a scientist claim to being infallible. Perhaps I could hook a Ouija board up to my keyboard and he could debate Lizcat from the great beyond. Who’s to say it couldn’t happen?

    Of course my dad would not truck with psychics or any sort of psi. Then again he didn’t like doctors very much either…pretty much thought it was all a hoax, so I’m not sure if he would be a good advocate for SBM.

  97. micheleinmichigan says:

    huh, my other comment is still in moderation. Did I already make the mysterious psi energy moderation joke? Because now would be the time.

  98. Fifi says:

    No, lizkat, actually I’m not emotionally invested in atheism (or the non-existence of Santa Claus as a real being who flies around the world once a year, or Russel’s teapot or the great spaghetti monster). There’s nothing to be emotionally invested in since it’s merely a lack of belief in god/s. I do understand that this can be hard to grasp for people who do believe in god/s and because they hold faith based beliefs themselves it’s hard to imagine someone not having an equivalent faith based belief.

    And since you keep using “mainstream” clearly you’re the one hung up on what is and isn’t “mainstream”. Science is just science to me, and pseudoscience is just pseudoscience. I’ve noticed that a lot of people who believe in new age religious/spiritual beliefs are pretty hung up on “mainstream” and “alternative” and like to pretend that their faith-based beliefs are merely being oppressed by science and are scientific even though there’s no viable evidence or even plausible mechanism. Usually the accusations that their “alternative” beliefs are being oppressed by “mainstream science” is resorted to after they can’t make quantum woo or pseudoscience fly.

  99. micheleinmichigan says:

    To be fair, while I am fine with “closing the book” on types of psi that have been investigated thoroughly, I am not keen to discount any psi-like phenomenon that has not been scientifically explained. I suggest there can be interesting information to be had in unexplained psi-like phenomenon.

    For instance, sometimes I see ghosts. I’ve seen white ladies floating next to my bed, and bizarre apparitions coming up from the floors or floating above me. No I am not dreaming. I am perfectly awake. When I tell people this, some people think “ohhh, haunted house”, other think “Why is she pulling my leg?” some “oh, weird.”

    Although I never really thought I was seeing ghosts, imagine my relief when I found out my visions were cause by a sleep dysfunction. Apparently, sometime you can wake up, but your sensory system is still in dream mode. So you are awake, but can see or hear elements from your dream. Often without remembering the dream.

    In my family we also have the typical weird “everybody call at the same time out of the blue” phenomenon. This wouldn’t be so weird if we all weren’t so phone adverse. No calls for months, then all at the same time with no birthdays or holidays, etc in sight. Is it just a form of confirmation bias, noticing only when everyone calls? Or is there something else? Some sort of salmon homing or interesting social networking brain function? Or maybe someone already has an explanation and they just haven’t featured it on NPR Science Friday yet.

    But that’s not really medicine. and I know, I’m so far out into left field I just ran into the wall.

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