Touch – a Trojan Horse

Touch – Ouch. here they are again.

I had planned to post contents of a letter written a decade ago to a Washington Post reporter on why med schools would entertain associating with quacky methods and their advocates. But an article in the SF Chronicle intruded on May 25 on a research project at Stanford on “Healing Touch” (HT). The project is to test if HT affects symptoms of cancer and chemo- and radiotherapy. HT at Stanford?

I had sat down to write a letter to the editor when a call came through Center for Inquiry, where the reporter had called asking for someone to give her information on HT at Stanford. She called within a minute, apologetic for not having included critical comments from others. She had received emails already from irate scientists who told her about 11 year old Emily Rosa’s experiment published in the AMA Journal showing non-existence of human energy fields, which the HT practitioners claimed to be manipulating. And wasn’t HT different from Therapeutic Touch – (TT?) From the reporter’s description, I saw little difference except these HT people seemed to make more of fixing subjects’ chakras.

I was surprised by the article, in that I had not known about the study. But there were a few new wrinkles. I presumed the study was under the “complementary” medicine clinic run by David Spiegel of group therapy for cancer fame. I had thought that the clinic just allowed group therapy, acupuncture, meditation, and a few other more modestly offensive methods. As I read on I found the HT study is under a special program called Healing Partners, a group of like-minded women and cancer patients (<>.) The study is supervised under the department of Women’s Health, associated with the ObGyn Department. I’m still unclear on the administrative arrangement, but med school departments are run almost autonomously, with perhaps cooperation with others, but with little to no review from others or deans. That takes care of objections from outsiders.

Second, I was reading a reporter’s report, depending on her take as to what was given to her by proponents and the indoctrinated. As per most articles, this one was mainly descriptions given in testimonial style by the satisfied and convinced. One of them stated that her wound healed under HT – implying that the HT did it (I’m thinking, she should have been on the OJ jury…) Here’s the quote: “It opened my mind to the fact there are some things in this world we can’t explain, and that doesn’t make them any less real. ” said CP, a trained geologist….[Analyze that sentence for logic]…” As a scientist I didn’t have a real spiritual background, …I found it really powerful.” [I stumbled – real spiritual?” But who’s talkin’ logic and reality here?] Did the report reflect the real quality of the study?

I think so. The report was frank and open about some aspects, like the beliefs of the practitioners as well. I wondered how the study got so far, how it had passed an IRB inspection and so forth, but as if to answer that, they told the reporter about their international organization, Healing Touch International, Inc.

HT Int., Inc. lists some 85 or more certified instructors, and the list of official and unofficial practitioners must be a multiple of that. And there are five stages of expertise and advancement. Most are RNs. I did not see the Stanford people on the list of instructors. One can safely assume that through the organization a template for research protocols could be developed, and a plan of action as well.

But more important was what I found on searching for federally sponsored research – projects initiated through or listed at the NIH. There are 11 separate HT protocols in US medical schools, 9 testing HT results in cancer patients. None of the studies has as end points, tumor recurrence, survival, tumor growth, etc., but all have end points of symptom control and quality of life. Those make it easier to pass IRB scrutiny. Most of the studies are NIH/NCCAM sponsored.

The surprisingly large numbers of trainers and research protocols, the faithfulness of the Stanford practitioners’ description to those of others’ projects and to the material on the international organization’s web site, suggested an organized push for acceptance of HT by the establishment through medical school research. Despite being denied a place in the curriculum at the place of origin, U. of Colorado School of Nursing, the HT/TT community has found an opening in gullible and academically correct medical schools. I have no question that HT/TT will be found “positive” in a number of projects. The blinding procedures probably leave lots of holes for subject detection of practitioner activity. But positive reports are common in studies of things that don’t work, anyway. Positive biases outnumber negative ones, and even in well controlled studies, results form a normal distribution array around the zero effect point. Some systematic reviews or meta-analyses (MAs) will record positive results. Relationships among HT practitioners, patients, and some physicians will result in formal programs at the schools. Satisfied patients may even fund special sections for continuation of HT.

The reporter told me she felt bad about not having looked more deeply into the matter, called for other opinions, or presented the other side. She intended to write another article as a sort of second part, presenting the history and material we gave her. But that was not to last. She called back later that day to say that the editors disapproved a second other-side article, and suggested revisiting the study after completion. That would be 3 or more years hence. I told her that at my age I might not be around (but of course I’ll leave a forwarding phone number ..)

Well, I don’t know the editors’ names, but from prior experience with that newspaper, there does not seem to be a thirst for truth or reality there. It’s more a matter of pandering to a readership known to be – um, more interested in the possible and exciting rather than probable? What does one call the praising of cult leader Jim Jones? The praising of the NIH acupuncture conference report, and rejecting an article revealing its errors? Stuff like that.

So the SF Chron’s readership is left with an accurate report but based in biased information from cult-like advocates of a cult-like organization with probable ulterior anti-scientific motives – to change the character of medicine from science based to feeling-based. And a reporter is left with knowledge that she did an inadequate job after being taken in by HTers’ masks of goodness; knowing what a good report should have looked like. Awaiting assignments from editors who should know better, to a reporter who does know better.

And we are left with the effects of an anti-scientific cult, members of which have learned how assume the mask of goodness and innocence, but with a salient sharpened to penetrate the thin veneer of science that medical schools think is protecting them. That veneer’s faults are guarded by sleeping sentries and are willingly opened by gullible recent graduates and trainees coming out of other “Integrative” programs financed by last week’s power idealists. Medical academics: Beware. Presidential candidates and politicians: Take notes from these people.


Posted in: Energy Medicine, Medical Academia

Leave a Comment (90) ↓

90 thoughts on “Touch – a Trojan Horse

  1. apteryx says:

    You write: “11 year old Emily Rosa’s experiment published in the AMA Journal showing non-existence of human energy fields…”

    Technically, this experiment showed only that Emily and her adult associates’ subjects could not in fact perceive “life energy” that they imagined they could. It could not show the nonexistence of such a field; to do so, it would first have had to demonstrate that the chosen subjects were infallible detectors, such that they would have sensed such a field if it existed.

  2. overshoot says:

    Maybe it’s about time to do a series of studies on post-hoc coin tossing and its improvement in patient perception of well-being. If we do enough of them we should be able to get results comparable to HT, homeopathy, etc.

  3. Zetetic says:

    apteryx: Are you familiar with the classic children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” ?

  4. daedalus2u says:

    apterys, I disagree. What Emily Rosa’s experiment showed was that effects attributed to “human energy fields” (the subjective feelings of those who said they could detect them) were not due to “human energy fields”. She did show that the energy fields the subjects claimed to be manipulating did not exist.

    This is an important point. The “human energy fields” that she studied were claimed to have certain properties. She found that there were no effects that were consistent with any sort of “human energy fields” that were consistent with the properties being claimed.

    There may be other types of things that may have other properties that can produce other effects that other individuals may claim exist. Those other individuals may apply the same label, “human energy fields” to those other effects, but those are different effects and are not the “human energy fields” that Emily Rosa studied and showed did not exist.

    She did show that multiple individuals claim to be able to detect and manipulate what they call “human energy fields”, and that those “human energy fields” do not exist with the properties they are claimed to have. Whether those individuals are frauds or simply mistaken in their abilities is unknown. That they do not have the abilities claimed is clear.

  5. apteryx says:

    Zetetic – Yes, but what’s your point? Including a child in one’s debunking research is indeed a clever way to make fun of the persons debunked. That isn’t, however, relevant to my comment, which reflects plain logic rather than sympathy for belief in energy fields.

  6. apteryx says:

    daedalus2u – Sorry, no. If these individuals “clearly” “do not have the abilities” to detect putative life energy, then their failure to detect it is not evidence that it does not exist. You would be using an “instrument” that you acknowledge is not capable of detecting what you claim to be looking for.

  7. David Gorski says:

    The clinical trial described is worthless for the following reason:

    Allocation: Non-randomized

    Masking: Open Label

    Control: Active Control

    Assignment: Single Group Assignment

    In other words, it’s a non-randomized, single-arm, non-blinded study with no control group. It’s virtually guaranteed to produce a “positive” result.

  8. Zetetic says:

    apteryx: I’m not sure how your could actually validate that a chosen subject was an “infallible detector” of life energy fields without another standard to compare to. That’s the rub here, these fields are not otherwise (scientifically) detectable!

  9. apteryx says:

    Zetetic – I fail to detect gravity fields with a voltmeter. Should I conclude that this proves gravity fields do not exist? Not if I simultaneously announce that I have proven that voltmeters are incapable of detecting gravity! Please observe that I have not said the two cases are in any other way similar. There are numerous indirect evidences of gravity, versus little or no objective evidence of a life force. It should suffice to say that you do not believe in the latter, based on that lack of evidence. When you claim that something has been disproven by a particular experiment, and that is plainly not true, it doesn’t make you more convincing. I’m basically on your side here, as long as that side is actually based on science rather than dogmatism.

  10. daedalus2u says:

    no apteryx, you are missing the point. These people claimed to be able to detect something that they claimed had certain properties. One of the properties that they claimed this thing had was their ability to detect it. They could not detect it. What ever it was they were claiming to be able to detect did not exist with the property of being detectable.

    Maybe something else exists with different properties than what they are claiming. Emily Rosa’s experiment was silent with respect to things she did not attempt to measure. What she did try to measure, what was termed “human energy fields” with the properties that it was claimed to have, she found did not exist.

    You are modifying the definition of “human life energy” beyond what it was that Emily Rosa studied. What she studied she found did not exist. You want to modify her definition to say that she didn’t find that something else.

    Every time someone has claimed the ability to detect what is called “human life energy”, and they are tested under controlled conditions they are unable to do so. In each instance, that inability to detect what is claimed to have the property of being detectable demonstrates that that “human life energy” does not exist with the property of being detectable.

    If you want to hypothesize something you want to call “human life energy” that is not detectable, then you are outside of things that science can investigate and into the area where things are “not even wrong”.

  11. apteryx says:

    *sigh* There’s no point in continuing beyond this. I, personally, do not wish to hypothesize such a thing as “life energy.” However, it is something that most people have more or less intuitively believed in throughout history — not, I think, because it is objectively real, but because it seems plausible given the observation of dramatic qualitative differences between living and nonliving objects. That being the case, the concept was hardly newly invented by these TT advocates Emily and her parents experimented with. To say that their failure to detect it proves it is not detectable (which still would not prove it did not exist, technically), you would have to show that if it were detectable, they would be able to detect it. The fact that they believe this of themselves does not make it so. You cannot treat their claims as nonsense or gospel depending upon whether it winds up suiting your purpose.

    Dr. Sampson overstated the results of the Rosas’ study. You went a step further, logically contradicting yourself by announcing that these supposed sensitives had been proven to lack the ability to detect “life energy” and yet that they could be used as measuring devices to disprove its existence. If I believe that mice make high-pitched squeaking sounds, but you have me listen to a mouse and I don’t hear anything, this means either that mice don’t squeak OR that my hearing is not what I hoped it was. You could not announce simultaneously that I had been proven hard-of-hearing and that mice had been proven mute. Again, I am not supporting the belief, just pointing out the basic logic involved. You can take it or leave it.

  12. Zetetic says:

    It’s all too much like religion to me…. Healing/Therapeutic Touch has so many things you have to “believe” in order to accept it!

  13. DavidCT says:

    While reading this article I glanced over at the Google ads and found:

    1. Accupuncture Portland ME: Nationally certified established practice, treats many disorders.

    2. NE School of Acupuncture

    3. Holistic Wellness degrees

    4. Naturally heal the Body

    There is not just one Trojan horse there is a whole herd!

  14. daedalus2u says:

    apteryx, you are missing the point I was trying to make. The term “human life energy” is poorly defined. Unless we have a shared definition, we have no idea if we are talking about things that are “the same”, or that “are different”.

    The definition of the term “human life energy” as Emily Rosa and the participants in Emily Rosa’s study defined it, included the property that the participants could detect it. They could not detect it. “Human life energy” as they defined it did not exist.

    I think you have a different abstract idea of what you mean by “human life energy”, and that these people were unable to detect it simply means they are non-sensitive to it (what ever it is). That is a different type of “human life energy” than what Emily Rosa investigated. She specifically asked the participants if they would be able to detect what the experiment was about and they said yes.

    If I said that mice made sounds and that I could hear those mouse sounds and you set up a blinded study where you could expose me to sounds a mouse produces and I was able to identify those times a mouse was present by listening to those sounds, then you would have proven that I was able to detect the sounds the mouse produced. That would be true even if you were unable to hear the mouse yourself. That was the experiment Emily Rosa set up.

    If I was unable to identify when mice were present by their sound, you would have proven that mice did not produce sounds that I was capable of hearing. That was the result that Emily Rosa found.

    Mice may produce other sounds that are outside my range of hearing. That is the result you are trying to infer. Even were I to test all mice against all humans, some mice may still produce sounds that are outside the range of hearing of all humans. There is no way to demonstrate that if mice made a sound that a human would be able to hear it without access to non-human measurement capabilities.

    You are trying to set up a hypothesis that cannot be falsified. It is not possible to demonstrate that something non-existent would be detectable if it actually existed.

  15. apteryx says:

    The only thing I am trying to do is stop you from shooting yourself in the foot, assuming that your goal is to persuade other people not to believe in “life energy” (which, if it existed, would also be possessed by animals other than humans, so there is no point in constantly saying “human life energy”). You did not go through these rhetorical contortions in your original remark, and they don’t help you (nor validate Dr. Sampson’s statement). If I hypothesize that mice squeak, I may fervently believe that I can hear them squeaking, but I do not define a squeak as only a noise hearable by me; for you to assert that it must be defined that way, whatever I or others say, is simple arrogance. In any case, once you have asserted that there is no such thing as squeaking, you cannot claim that I have also proven to be too deaf to hear squeaking. Got that? If nobody has ever heard mice squeak, we logically should not believe that they do – although, if there were other reasons to suspect that they might, and we had technological means of investigating the question, we ought to do so rather than making it a matter of dogma that they don’t.

  16. Wallace Sampson says:

    People arguing over what I wrote…Hate it when that happens.

    The easy way out is to re-read the sentence. I was relating what the reporter told me was told to her. As with the game of telephone, I am not sure she used those words or that she described Rosa’s conclusion. I am recalling a 35 minute phone conversation, and I cannot affirm that I did so word for word.

    But the discussion is worthwhile in that Apteryx is technically correct in differentiating the conclusions one may draw from a experiment that fails to show what was intended to show. To be more technical, the conclusion could only apply to that experimenter and those subjects at that time and under those circumstances.

    But reality and practicality principles dictate (or suggest, etc.) that if the TTers failed under those circumstances, which they approved of beforehand, reasonable people can agree that the findings can be generalized.

    And, I considered mentioning the reference only in passing, to emphasize the reporters discomfort when told by others about the experiment. Either that or a half a blog on the Rosa experiment…and there have been pages already on that.

    David Gorski shortened the course by listing the specifics of the Stanford study. Uncontrolled. Thanks for that, I plum forgot to. Some of the others do have controls, but as I recall, some do not state what happens to the controls, and one revealed that the control procedure was for the practitioner to repeatedly circle the subject and table, stopping at specified points for specified periods, while concentrating on something else so as not to inadvertently think in a healing mode, which would ruin the control. You may be smiling.

    There’s more. The originator, an RN at Colorado is not the same one who led the charge for TT at the university, and the methods are somewhat different. Besides the chakra concern, HT people do lay on hands – just where and when I think are taught in the courses which cost $200-300 each. So don’t expect to discover too much for free. But both assume presence of an energy field of some sort that is out of wack. (I know, can be fixed only by doing something wacky.)

  17. daedalus2u says:

    I wasn’t trying to argue over what you wrote, but perhaps the point I was trying to make is too hyper-technical. The term “life energy”, is poorly defined. I certainly don’t know what people who talk about being able to detect “life energy” actually mean. I am not able to detect any such thing as “life energy”. I know nothing about any of the properties of “life energy” other than what people who say then can detect such things tell me.

    As a scientist, I can still study “life energy”, but I have to use people who report that they can detect it to help me. If I find 10 people who each report that they can detect what they call “life energy”, now I have potentially 10 different types of “life energy” that each of the 10 different people report they can detect. Without a common definition, I don’t know if “life energy #1” is the same as “life energy #2” is the same as “life energy #3” and so on.

    If person #1 says they can detect “life energy #1”, and I test person #1’s actual ability to detect what they call “life energy #1” in a double blind manner and they are unable to detect it, then I can say that “life energy #1” does not exist. The definition of “life energy #1” is the “life energy” that person #1 can detect. If person #1 is unable to detect “life energy”, then “life energy #1” does not exist. If “life energy #1” did exist, then person #1 would be able to detect it. The only properties of “life energy #1” that I know are that person #1 calls it “life energy” and person #1 says they can detect it.

    I still don’t know if the reason there is no “life energy #1” is because there is no such thing as “life energy”, or because person #1 is unable to detect “life energy”. I am unable to distinguish between those two alternatives. However I still know that “life energy #1” does not exist. I also know that person #1’s reports that they can detect “life energy #1” are unreliable.

    My goal was to correct the misinterpretation that to disprove the existence of different forms of “life energy” it is necessary to show that any human is an infallible detector of such “life energy”. The “life energy” that person #1 says they can detect does not exist if person #1 cannot detect it. By the definition of “life energy #1”, person #1 is an infallible detector of it. There may be other forms of “life energy”, but there is no “life energy #1”

    I have read the Emily Rosa report and I think this is a fair interpretation of it. One could become more hyper-technical and limit the “life energy” that did not exist to the “life energy” emanating from Emily Rosa on those specific instances.

    Since every instance of someone reporting that they can detect “life energy” that has been tested in a reliable blind fashion has been shown to be unreliable; the most reasonable default position is that such reports are unreliable. When in every reliably tested instance of “life energy” #1, #2, #3, etc., it has been shown to not exist; the most reasonable default position is that “life energy” does not exist.

  18. weing says:

    “life energy” really exists. It’s what you get from the breakdown of ATP.

  19. Harriet Hall says:

    Apart from the questions about “life energy” Emily Rosa’s experiment did clearly show one thing. It showed the beliefs of the TT practitioners were false. They believed they could do something and she showed they couldn’t. They had subjective experiences that they interpreted as feeling human energy fields, but those subjective experiences did not correspond to external reality.

    That’s the real value of her experiment: not that it proved or disproved anything about “life energy” fields, but that it showed how easily people can delude themselves and why testing our beliefs carefully with the scientific method is so important.

  20. pec says:

    “Emily Rosa’s experiment published in the AMA Journal showing non-existence of human energy fields”

    It is unscientific to accept the null hypothesis based on one experiment. You can’t possibly know if the experiment had adequate power.

    It’s a favorite trick of “skeptics” to “prove” a non-materialist claim is false by testing it with an experiment that is intentionally poorly designed. Even better if you can find an 11 year old with no research experience.

  21. pec says:

    “But positive reports are common in studies of things that don’t work, anyway.”

    Yes, I see what you mean: even when CAM studies get positive results, they should be ignored anyway. And when they get negative results, even in only one experiment, that should be taken as final proof that they don’t work. I get it.

    And when a conventional treatment, such as AZT, shows even a hint of a short-term positive effect, the experiment must be stopped so that all the subjects can be treated with AZT.

    Makes perfect sense, if you’re a closed-minded authoritarian materialist.

  22. pec says:

    Oh yes, Wallace Sampson, it’s all an evil plot. Armies of healing touch nurses conspiring to destroy the world.

  23. pec says:

    “It showed the beliefs of the TT practitioners were false. ”

    Lots of people think they have abilities that they really don’t have. And it is possible these practitioners could detect life energy under other conditions — if their hands were moving, for example.

    The experiment was interesting, especially considering the age of the experimenter. But to be meaningful it would have to be the first in a long series of clever experiments that look at the phenomenon under different conditions and from different angles.

    If you want to convince people that something does NOT exist, you should make every possible effort to find it. One half-baked study is not going to be convincing — at least it shouldn’t be.

    There is a lot of life energy research, but of course it is not part of mainstream medicine. Life energy has been out of fashion for a long time, so it might be a while before it shows up in mainstream journals.

    More CAM funding is needed!

  24. daedalus2u says:

    so pec, you wouldn’t answer my question over at denialism, how about answering it here. What p value (to you) constitutes a sufficient “hint” that you would end a placebo controlled double blind trial and give all the participants the more successful treatment when the outcome is death? Note this includes trials where the treatment itself turns out to be more harmful than placebo.

    The controlling ethical authority is the Declaration of Helsinki (in case you need to refresh your ethics).

  25. qetzal says:


    It is unscientific to accept the null hypothesis based on one experiment. You can’t possibly know if the experiment had adequate power.

    I agree (for a change). If all we had to go on were Emily Rosa’s experiment, the only defensible conclusion would be that the test subjects could not detect life energy under one set of conditions, even though they thought in advance that they would be able to. Obviously, that’s far from sufficient to adequately disprove any sort of mystical life energy under any reasonable conditions. (And I don’t mean disprove in the absolute sense, but in the sense of ‘false by reasonable standards.’)

    And when a conventional treatment, such as AZT, shows even a hint of a short-term positive effect, the experiment must be stopped so that all the subjects can be treated with AZT.

    Speaking of “favorite tricks,” how about the strawman trick? Can you point to a single example where an experiment was stopped with just “a hint of a short-term positive effect?” I doubt it. Such studies have pre-specified rules for deciding whether to stop early. They don’t just wait until the results randomly favor them, then declare victory, and I challenge you to show otherwise.

    If you want to convince people that something does NOT exist, you should make every possible effort to find it.

    What about the people who want to convince us it DOES exist. Shouldn’t they be doing something? And please don’t give me that line about all the underground life energy research. You tried that before, and I asked you, REPEATEDLY, to provide even one reference that you thought was credible. I asked over and over and over, on multiple comment threads. You never provided one.

    More CAM funding is needed!

    NO IT’S NOT!

    What’s needed is for the people who’ve already gotten millions of dollars of CAM funding to show that it’s generated even the tiniest bit of useful evidence in favor of their postulated ‘alternative’ whatever.

    Has it? Can you point to any?

  26. weing says:

    Funding for CAM studies that are non-randomized, non-blinded, and without control groups is a total waste of precious resources and should stop immediately. If you think it should be increased, would you want pharmaceutical companies to present crap studies like this and have them accepted by the FDA for drug approval? I am sure they would love that. Real MDs wouldn’t however and would reject them.

  27. daedalus2u says:

    The study that pec is refering to on AZT is this one

  28. qetzal says:


    Really? B/c that study treated patients for 2-6 months, and found that the death rate in the active group was 0.7%, compared to 13.9% in the placebo group (p < 0.001)! Not to mention that at least three other non-mortality endpoints favoring treatment with p < 0.001.

    Is this the one, pec? Do you really consider cutting the mortality rate from 13.9% to 0.7% over a period of up to 6 months “a hint of a short-term positive effect?

    Please, please tell me this isn’t the study you mean (or if it is, that you now realize you misspoke).

  29. It’s nice how some have tried to reverse the burden of proof. Emily Rosa’s study (which was perfectly fine, BTW, not half-baked) was negative – on that we all agree. One study is not enough to conclude a negative. But that is irrelevant.

    Rather – why should we conclude the positive? There is no theoretical basis to postulate a human energy field (or whatever you want to call a life force). It is entirely unnecessary. It is a prescientific notion that is now obsolete. The anecdotal evidence is so flimsy it is not even worth serious consideration.

    The burden to demonstrate that we should take the HEF seriously is on proponents, let alone adequate evidence to actually use it clinically.

    Proponents whined and cried about Emily’s study and tried to knock it down. But the one thing they did not do was repeat it. Normally, in real science where people actually care about the truth, if you think a study was poorly done and you disagree with its conclusions then you try to replicate and even improve upon it. TT proponents did not do that. They ran scared. They made every excuse in the book – but no one has been able to show that TT practitioners CAN sense the HEF. Others have failed to even get TT practitioners to cooperate is a repeat study. They wouldn’t. What they did to was change the name to “healing touch.” Nice dodge.

    Until they do, Emily’s study is the last word.

    In fact – here is an open and public challenge. We will happily repeat a version of the Rosa study, with adequate blinding and power, and whatever conditions practitioners feel they need to sense the HEF (as long as the blinding is complete). We’ll do a consensus trial and abide by the results. Will they?

  30. Wallace Sampson says:

    Re: pec regarding my statement about ineffective methods showing positive results. That is not an excuse or a bias on my part. That is the nature of the outcomes of studies in several circumstances – that I can identify. 1) studies of methods that involve symptoms only, 2) small studies, 3) methods sponsored by commercial or ideological interests, 4) studies with non-quantitative end points, 5) studies on things that don’t work.
    Sorry I cannot give the references for these at the moment, but I have them; systematic reviews and meta-analyses mostly from Annals Int Med, JAMA, AMA Arch Int Med, Lancet, BMJ, and the Cochranes reviews . Anyone can go to a med or hospital library, and look up reviews in these journals and look at the tables and graphs. Things that work show up in reviews as individual studies’ results scattered, but consistently on the positive side of the zero line. Things that don’t work (immunotherapy in chemo neutropenia, etc., ) show up as scattered in a normal distribution around the zero effect line, with some positive, and some negative.
    That’s the nature of things, due both to biases and to randomness and the reason we do statistics on study results.
    Discussing what was proved or not by the Rosa study was not relevant to the post. Steve N. nailed it.
    Yes, one can visualize armies of witches marching on hospitals if one wishes. I prefer to see normally functioning but self-deluded people reinforcing baseless belief on one another. That’s called cult behavior, cognitive dissonance, denial, etc. And, wanting a piece of respect and the power and economics that accompany it. That’s normal human politics and has to be seen as such and dealt with as such; certainly it has to be recognized first, and not dealt with as someone else’s delusion.

  31. pec says:

    “There is no theoretical basis to postulate a human energy field (or whatever you want to call a life force). It is entirely unnecessary. It is a prescientific notion that is now obsolete”

    So there is no need to look at evidence — we already know there is no life energy. Save time and money — follow your materialist preconceptions.

  32. pec says:

    “Despite the failure to positively prove the efficacy or the presence of subtle energy, the weight of such a huge body of anecdotal and historical evidence is driving continued research into the nature of subtle energies with some interesting results. An extremely sensitive magnetometer called a superconducting quantum interference “device (SQUID) has been claimed to measure large frequency-pulsing biomagnetic fields emanating from the hands of practitioners. In another study, a simple magnetometer measured and quantified similar magnetic fields from the hands of meditators and practitioners of yoga and qi gong. These fields were 1,000 times greater than the strongest human biomagnetic field.

    “However, there are considerable technical problems in such research. For example, SQUID measurement must be conducted under a special shielded environment. And the connection between electromagnetic field increases and observed healing benefits reported in the current literature is still missing.

    “Other studies of subtle energies suggested that energy fields from one person can overlap and interact with energy fields of other people. For example, when individuals touch, one person’s electrocardiographic signal is registered in the other person’s electroencephalogram (EEG) and elsewhere on the other person’s body. In addition, one individual’s cardiac signal can be registered in another’s EEG recording when two people sit quietly opposite one another.”


  33. weing says:

    There are no references for those claims on that web site.

  34. Joe says:


    One can go to to get the free, full text of this review “Treatment of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infections” by MARTIN S. HIRSCH* AND JOAN C. KAPLAN in “ANTIMICROBIAL AGENTS AND CHEMOTHERAPY” June 1987, p. 839-843 Vol. 31, No. 6. It makes your points, beyond what is in the abstract linked above. (My citation is in an odd format because that was available via cut and paste.)

  35. Harriet Hall says:

    Pec would have us believe there is scientific evidence for human energy fields. So would the authors of two books I reviewed. The alleged evidence doesn’t hold up. It is poorly done and has not been replicated. For an analysis of why pec and these authors are wrong, see:

    The Gary Schwartz experiments are particularly revealing. Instead of trying to establish the basic phenomenon and learn how it works (does it fall off with distance, does shielding block it, etc.) Schwartz just jumps from one poorly designed, poorly controlled experiment to another.

  36. Harriet Hall says:

    pec said, ‘So there is no need to look at evidence — we already know there is no life energy. Save time and money — follow your materialist preconceptions.”

    By pec’s reasoning, our refusal to look at the evidence for and to do research on the Tooth Fairy is a materialist preconception.

    pec has still not given us any idea of how one might go about studying something immaterial. I’m waiting.

  37. Harriet Hall says:

    Steve Novella said, “In fact – here is an open and public challenge. We will happily repeat a version of the Rosa study, with adequate blinding and power, and whatever conditions practitioners feel they need to sense the HEF (as long as the blinding is complete).”

    This challenge has also been offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation ever since Emily Rosa did her study. With the added incentive of a million dollar prize. Of all the thousands of TT practitioners in the US, only one ever tried out for that prize. She was unable to pass even the preliminary test.

    These folks are not true scientists; they won’t test their beliefs because they don’t want to know “if” it’s true; they only want to use science to prove “that” it’s true.

  38. daedalus2u says:

    weing, I think the reason there are no references is because any competent electrical engineer or electrophysiologist knows that electrical signals can propagate via capacitative or inductive effects and that these are properly called “electronic noise” and are something to be avoided in a clinical setting. If you touch any object that is not properly shielded and grounded you can pick up what ever electronic noise that object produces.

    The electrical signal from the heart happens to be the largest electrical signal in the body because the heart is a large muscle and it fires “in sync”. Signals from the heart are much larger than the much smaller signals from individual neurons and groups of neurons that are measured during an EEG. It is not a surprise that electronic noise from a person’s heart beat could be picked up by an EEG applied to someone else if the application was not done properly.

    If you touch a toaster that is not properly shielded or grounded, the 60 Hz signal will easily be detected in an EEG. Often very sensitive electronic equipment is designed to reject a 60 Hz signal no matter what because there is a gigantic amount of 60 Hz noise in the environment.

    I can detect a person’s heart beat by touching their body at certain places. Most people can. Commonly this is called taking a pulse.

  39. weing says:

    That’s what I suspected.

  40. qetzal says:

    Is that your best reference, pec? A website that makes totally unsubtantiated claims?

    Someone somewhere supposedly detected fields 1000 times stronger than expected? Who? Where? Is there any citation at all? Not necessarily a peer reviewed article – any link to the original “study”?

    Not on that website. Why should anyone believe that? It’s equivalent to someone’s boyfriend’s mother saw a ghost once, so ghosts must be real.

    Anyone who believes in life energy on the basis of such flimsy evidence must be amazingly credulous. They should probably stay off the web and away from email, before they wind up sending all their money to some “prince” in Nigeria.

  41. apteryx says:

    I’m sure qetzal will not be surprised to hear that there’s not much available on PubMed about this. There is a paper (Hisamitsu et al. 1996), which detected unusually high magnetic fields in a whole 2 people practicing qi gong breathing exercises. If these results were solid, I would expect them to have been confirmed by a larger study by now. OTOH, it’s a proven fact that relaxation exercises can affect electrical conductance, so I do not find it entirely implausible that conscious activity could have some degree of effect on the body’s natural magnetic field.

  42. qetzal says:

    Thanks for the cite, apteryx. You’re right that I’m not surprised.

    Moreover, I’m not particularly interested in searching for “good” references on this myself. My estimation of its prior probability of truth is so small that it’s not worth the time to me. ;-)

    However, pec has claimed there are good references in ‘alternative’ sources that support the existence of life energy, as well as instruments that can measure it. I have enough interest that if pec offers what she considers a good reference, I’ll take a look.

    This is the first such ref she’s provided (that I’ve seen, anyway). I hope even she would agree that it’s not a good one.

  43. apteryx says:

    As I understand it, the traditional concept is that vital energy is some sort of unknown force, not to be equated with electromagnetism, whose production by living organisms is detectable and not controversial. So even if this result held up, it would not represent evidence of “life energy” as such. OTOH, one wonders whether some of the sensory experiences that are taken as perception of “life energy” could actually be perception of changes in electromagnetic activity.

  44. daedalus2u says:

    apteryx, changes in conductivity wouldn’t generate magnetic fields. For that you need currents or ferromagnetic materials. The currents that generate the magnetic fields detected with SQUIDs are the currents carried in axons. SQUIDs are able to detect single quanta of magnetic flux.

    Deoxyhemoglobin and oxyhemoglobin have different magnetic susceptibilities and those difference can be used in vivo to measure O2 levels. That is the basis for the fMRI technique BOLD (blood oxygen level dependant) signaling which allows real-time measurement of blood flow in the brain with mm spatial resolution and sub second time resolution. (incidentally it is acute changes in NO levels that cause the vasodilation that cause the blood flow changes that BOLD measures)

    Conceivably there could be changes in magnetic susceptibility that could influence how the Earth’s magnetic field is influenced by the presence of a person. How that could influence another person is not at all clear. Even a very slight motion in the Earth’s magnetic field (as from breathing or even heart beats) would likely greatly exceed any conceivable projected magnetic field variation.

    Meditation also raises the NO level which does explain the physiological effects in the person meditating.

  45. Joe says:

    apteryx wrote “… the traditional concept is that vital energy is some sort of unknown force …”

    Wait, if it is ‘unknown’ how can you know about it?

    apteryx continued “… whose production by living organisms is detectable …”

    Great- how do ‘you’ detect it? Wait, I know the answer- you don’t.

    apteryx wrote “… and not controversial.”

    If so, why do ‘we’ think it is nonsense? Hold on, I know the answer to this, too: Nobody has ever measured it, and there are more, ordinary, explanations for what is inferred about it.

    Aside from that, I think you have your, usual iron-clad argument.

  46. weing says:

    And I thought SQUID was what I had for dinner last night.

  47. daedalus2u says:

    I think it the “tradition” that the concept is “detectable and not controversial”.

    I think it is sort of like a “tradition” along the lines of the Catholic “tradition” that the existence of God can be logically proven (just no one knows how to do it yet, but the Catholic Church is absolutely certain that it can be done).

  48. pec says:

    “why do ‘we’ think it is nonsense?”

    Because believing in life energy has gone out of fashion, and people think in herds.

    Life energy can’t be measured if you have no instruments that will detect it, and you won’t build instruments that detect life energy if you don’t believe in life energy.

  49. weing says:

    First you have to define life energy. To me, it is measurable. I consider life energy to be the energy released when the phosphate bond in ATP is broken and ADP is formed.

  50. qetzal says:

    Life energy can’t be measured if you have no instruments that will detect it, and you won’t build instruments that detect life energy if you don’t believe in life energy.

    You told us before, on an earlier thread, that life energy researchers already have such instruments. Are you ever going to provide a decent example of that?

  51. Harriet Hall says:

    There are two schools of thought about “life energy” – one assumes it is something mystical that can’t be studied by science; the other thinks it is detectable and testable. I gave links to my reviews of two books that fall into the latter category. Money IS being spent on this research, but it’s being wasted because the people doing the research BELIEVE in life energy. They are not scientists trying to determine whether it exists; they are apologists trying to co-opt science to support their prior beliefs. Their best efforts have never been replicated, and most of what they are doing is junk science.

    pec says “believing in life energy has gone out of fashion” – I assume she means among scientists. Yes, and there’s a good reason for that. Believing in ESP has gone out of fashion too – because decades of serious research failed to find any credible evidence. Believing in phlogiston, spontaneous generation, and N-rays has also gone out of fashion.

  52. daedalus2u says:

    no pec, believing in “life energy” went out of fashion for the same reason that believing in caloric went out of fashion. It was not an idea that made useful predictions.

    Caloric was the mythical fluid believed to be contained in fuel that was released when those fuels were burned. How much heat a particular fuel released was thought to be due to how much caloric it contained. It was demonstrated that there was no such thing as caloric when work from a turning shaft could be used to generate unlimited quantities of heat. With unlimited quantities of heat coming into existence with no source of caloric, the hypothesis of caloric was falsified and abandoned.

    The hypothesis of caloric was abandoned because some of the things it predicted were wrong and everything it predicted correctly could be explained better by other hypotheses which didn’t predict wrong things. Rudolf Clausius showed that the caloric hypothesis and the kinetic heat hypothesis could be reconciled if the concept of caloric was replaced with the concept of heat.

    Everything the idea of a non-material mind predicts correctly can be explained by physiological processes occurring in the physical brain we know exists via physical processes we know occur via chemistry and physics we understand quite well. There are still many unknowns, but there is no data that requires the hypothesis of an immaterial mind to explain.

    Discovering and reliably measuring a non-material mind would be a guaranteed first class “ticket to Stockholm”. It would be as important a discovery in Science as would be the discovery of a new continent in the Atlantic Ocean. If someone did discover a new continent in the Atlantic Ocean, they would be instantly famous. They could name the new continent after themselves and become its undisputed leader. The geography books would have to be rewritten, they could claim it and sell parcels to people willing to migrate there and become fabulously rich in the process. Why are there no expeditions to find an undiscovered continent in the Atlantic Ocean? Because the chances that there is an undiscovered continent are perceived to be small by everyone with the ability to raise an expedition, so there are no expeditions. This is the same reason there are no research programs to look for an immaterial mind. Those who know enough to be able to look for it in an intelligent manner know the likelihood of there being such a thing is so small that their efforts are better spent on more useful tasks.

    Life energy can’t be discovered if you have no instruments to detect it, just as a continent in the Atlantic Ocean can’t be discovered unless you look for it. Both of them also can’t be discovered if they don’t exist.

  53. mjranum says:

    Hangon, hangon, hangon…

    If the claim is that someone knows an energy field exists (and therefore that they can manipulate it) they ought to be able to reliably detect it and measure it, as a precondition for manipulating it.

    As apteryx points out, the girl’s experiment does not prove the field does not exist. She is not the first person to do a science experiment and have the media trumpet an inaccurate conclusion arising from it.

    A (former, now) friend of mine started selling “a relaxation therapy device based on an undetectable energy field.” I asked him the correct question – namely – “if it’s undectable, what makes you so sure it exists?” Detectability proves existence. Undetectability leaves the person making claims having to answer a really gnarly question. It is our duty not to preach disproof but rather to ask the gnarly question and not let the claimant off the hook easily. (which is why it’s an ex-friend, now)

    Since traditional healers have been using “energy fields” and “qi” for so many years, and so “successfully” on so many patients, I find it amazing that there is no actual evidence that the fields exist.

  54. weing says:

    I think the experiment just proved that the perception of energy fields by the believers was wrong. It reminded me of the folks claiming electrosensitivity on the recent SGU podcast. If you tested them for the perception of Wi-Fi you would prove that they could not perceive its presence or absence. You would not prove that Wi-Fi did not exist.

  55. wertys says:

    mjranum makes a good point. Foxglove was said to be good for dropsy, and so it was. It was easy to prove so because there was a real effect. Ditto for willow bark extract (aspirin and other salicylates) and even botulinum toxin, which as long ago as 1822 was proposed as a treatment for conditions which caused muscular overactivity.

    If these ‘life energy fields’ exist and can be used therapeutically why is it that they are no further along than they were in the seventeenth century? Still using the same prescientific beliefs and funky ritualistic woo.

    Change or die I say. If it’s real, it can be developed and improved. If its not real you can’t polish a turd…

  56. apteryx says:

    Joe –
    I was about to break my usual rule of not responding to ad hominems in kind, and ask you how you could have been, as you say, a professor without knowing how to read. But upon rereading my comment, I see that we have a confusion related to comma placement here, and if the usage of the humble comma can keep Supreme Court justices from figuring out what the Second Amendment means for two hundred years, I guess I can hardly blame you for struggling with the same problem.

    To clarify: ELECTROMAGNETISM is produced by the body, is detectable, and its existence is not controversial. I do not [personally believe in any types of energy other than strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity, electromagnetism, and of course, The Force ;-) Feel free to apologize for having rushed to assume the worst and respond with “your usual” snideness rather than being willing to pause and give someone who ever dares to disagree with you one second’s benefit of the doubt.

  57. Joe says:

    apteryx, I accept that you made a typo- it happens. But, you also wrote “OTOH, one wonders whether some of the sensory experiences that are taken as perception of “life energy” could actually be perception of changes in electromagnetic activity.”

    OTOH, perhaps they perceive the gravitational force, or, perhaps, they perceive nothing. I don’t ‘wonder’ about it- nobody has yet proven they perceive anything.

    More than that, many people work in proximity to powerful electric and/or magnetic fields (I have) and perceive nothing. Given that, and the low-power electric currents in the body, it is far-fetched to suggest that people sense them.

  58. Angel Friend says:

    My first question would be… have you ever personally experienced any sort of “energy work”? The second would be… where is it written that “science” knows everything there is to know about how the Universe works? Especially in view of how often “science” “learns” new things or changes it’s collective mind when “new” things or conditions are “discovered”? My third question would be… why do so many people “assume” that current medical instrumentation is capable of measuring ALL fields of energy (or anything else for that matter)? Example… the human ear is capable of “manufacturing” and experiencing harmonics that currently available machines cannot register. History is full of examples of people experiencing “feelings” and “events” that science cannot “logically” explain away… like cancer reversals, headache removal without the use of drugs, the relaxation people tend to feel after a massage, the pain releasing effects of a Body Alignment… to name but a few. It would seem “logical” to me that if one were truly in search of “real” or “true” things in life… “logically” it would make sense to have an open mind and experience things as they are presented… not preconceived! Minds… like parachutes… function much better when open!

  59. Harriet Hall says:

    Angel Friend,

    (1) Personal experience with “energy work” only muddies the waters. It can tell us what we “feel” but gives no insight into whether that feeling is self-generated or corresponds to some external reality. Objective testing is the only way to determine that.

    (2) No one has ever suggested that science knows everything. Science is not a body of dogma; it’s a method of testing our ideas against reality and reaching provisional conclusions. Your comment suggests you don’t really understand what science is all about.

    (3) The physical concept of energy and matter accounts for everything we can measure and doesn’t leave holes that could be explained by currently undetected energy. There is a law of conservation of matter and energy; no exceptions have been found. The kind of energy postulated by the energy medicine folks is not compatible with the definition of energy used by physicists. If such energy exists, even if it couldn’t be detected it must necessarily have effects on things we can measure. If it doesn’t do that, the whole concept becomes meaningless and untestable.

    (4) There is no reason to think the phenomena you list don’t have natural explanations. There is no need to postulate some undetectable new form of energy to explain them.

  60. qetzal says:

    Angel Friend,

    If you have any decent evidence that things like healing touch and so-called life energy are real, please enlighten me. I don’t acccept their reality because they appear contrary to what’s currently known about physics and biology, AND they are unsupported by evidence.

    But I agree with you – we learn new things all the time, and sometimes they are things that we previously thought impossible. The key to accepting things we previously did not accept is EVIDENCE.

    Do you have any? If so, I’m willing to consider it. We all agree that we don’t know everything. That doesn’t mean that we should therefore believe anything.

  61. pmoran says:

    Angel Friend, why is it closed-minded to be dubious about energy medicine, rather than an indication of a higher level of medical and scientific understanding?

    The whole history of medicine, and any study of “alternative” medicine itself reveals how any human activity at all, no matter how weird, can become credited with healing powers and accrue a dedicated following. Harriet has listed some of them in her most recent piece. Many are now known to not merely be silly, but positively harmful.

    We now understand many of the reasons why this should be so. We can’t show to everyone’s satisfaction that a unique human energy field doesn’t exist, but we can offer a very detailed explanation as to why we don’t feel obliged to postulate it. Unfortunately that can involve trying to summarise most of the history of medical discovery to people who aren’t very interested in that kind of “reality” or “truth”.

    In short, there are no observations that necessitate the HEF’s existence i.e. that cannot be readily explained by other phenomena. If you have any, tell us about them.

  62. weing says:

    Regarding your first question. Yeah, I’ve been doing physical work ever since I was a little kid. Regarding the second question, you are right. What you are describing is religion, not science.
    I never new that science had a collective mind. Sounds like the borg. And yes, science does learn and discover new things, and very often indeed. Regarding your third question, I really have no idea what you are talking about. Could you clarify, give examples?
    How does a sensory organ, the ear, manufacture? What are harmonics? Spontaneous remission of cancer does occur, headaches do in fact go away, massage is very relaxing, and when I stretch my back, it feels great. What’s so mysterious about these things? Basic physiology allows you to understand how these things happen.

  63. weing says:

    In line 4 “new” should be “knew”

  64. rickthetwinkie says:

    Please stop abusing scare quotes. There’s a place for them and it’s not every 10 words.

    First off, you’re “science claims to know everything” claim is a huge strawman. The whole of science does not claim to know everything.

    Secondly, the burden of proof is not on the denier, but the claimant. Do you claim we should believe that certain people are special and can see things that others cannot see, detect, or measure, especially when the supposed effects of these invisible unproven energy fields have been proven false?

    Thirdly, the examples you put forward have more plausible alternative explanations than “alternative medicine works”.

    Fourth, the counter to your final saying is “be open-minded but not to the point of your brain falling out”. And I would argue that the type of “open-minded” (look! scare quotes!) you wish for is not actual open-mindedness, but denialism.

  65. apteryx says:

    Joe – My grammar was fine; you failed to comprehend it, or pretended to do so. I shall not bother to respond to your fatuous remarks above, because I have come to suspect that you are a “concern troll” (thanks to Dr. Gorski for introducing the term). It has become more than coincidental that you argue almost entirely through ad hominems, distortion of your opponents’ words, and sweeping generalizations with few, no, or wrong facts to back them up. For such a fervent defender of orthodoxy, you seem to know very little about either medicine or biological research. I have said before that you seemed almost to be trying to make yourself look bad. In short, I think you may be a practitioner or devotee of some type of CAM, getting your jollies by creating a fake character displaying the proudly ignorant hatefulness that you imagine medical right-wingers show among friends. (Only, as you can see here, most of them don’t.) Some will argue that a concern troll would have pretended to be an MD, but I think you are smart enough to know that your ignorance of medicine would have quickly given you away. If you are a troll, Joe, I see no reason to argue with you at all. There can be no dialogue if one party is lying about his very opinions. If you are a troll, you are the blog owners’ headache now, not mine.

  66. Joe says:

    @ Angel, Answer 1- No. Another anecdote won’t be evidence.

    Response to 2&3- Those are “Straw Men;” that is, ridiculous statements (that nobody has made) which are easily disassembled.

    Angel wrote “Example… the human ear …”

    Can you cite a reliable source?

    Angel wrote “History is full of examples of people experiencing “feelings” and “events” that science cannot “logically” explain away …”

    Unexplained phenomena do not support unconvincing claims.

    Angel wrote “… it would make sense to have an open mind and experience things as they are presented… not preconceived!”

    Many of us have looked at the data, not anecdote and testimonial, and find no support for “energy work.” If you come up with data, you can change my mind. I am open to that; but I know how easily I can fool myself, so my standards for evidence are high.

  67. Joe says:

    Concerning Angel, I waited for someone more eloquent than I to respond. Apparently, they were in the queue, and I defer to them. In the end, my post was redundant.

  68. Joe says:

    @apteryx, No matter the grammar of your statement, the bottom line is that yours is a logically flawed “argument from ignorance.” That is- “maybe it is not this; but maybe it is that.” “Maybe” doesn’t go very far, here. Where is your ‘evidence’ that ‘human electromagnetic fields’ can be sensed by Healing Touch promoters? There is no reason to think (as I illustrated) that humans can sense electromagnetic fields.

  69. Angel, I haven’t “ever personally experienced any sort of ‘energy work'”, but the subjects of Emily Rosa’s study most certainly had or thought they had yet they were unable to demonstrate that they could even detect the energy they were certain they had experienced when a little 9 year old girl tested them objectively. That being the case why should I or anyone else waste time trying to “experience any sort of energy work”? As someone already said, it is the job of the claimant to present evidence supporting his claim not the job of others, certainly not targeted customers, to demonstrate that the claims are false or cannot be substantiated.

    Apteryx, magnificent post! Only in my opinion it describes you not Joe. You are the one I would have suspected was the “concern troll” and a very smart, adroit, practiced, experienced one at that. You consistently use all the techniques used by the scientists in the marketing departments of the supplement companies to increase their market share.

    I’m just amazed that the scientists on this forum other than Joe don’t consistently respond to you and have to wonder why. Could it be because they don’t feel they have sufficient knowledge of specific botanicals or because they are intimidated by your accusations of bigotry and narrowmindedness? If it is the latter, you are far more successful at promoting unproven drugs and therapies than pec. Regarding acupuncture and studies, I believe Dr. Hall has referred you to the book Snake Oil Science. Have you read it yet? It is very relevant. I think of it every time you repeat that there are studies showing that acupuncture works.

  70. apteryx says:

    So, Rosemary, you suspect that I actually *oppose* the use of traditional medicine? A “concern troll” is someone who fakes an opinion other than his own. Why, if I were one, would I repeatedly mention the existence of scientific research that supports the value of TM? If I were trying to make TM and its advocates look bad – the opposite of what I am accusing Joe of doing – I would hardly go out of my way to make people aware of science that makes it look good. Why would I try to be civil even when someone falsely accuses me of, e.g., relying on “accusations of bigotry and narrowmindedness”? Why would I not be as rude as possible, to try to convince people that CAM believers were mean and stupid?

    For an example of troll style, Joe wrote: “…yours is a logically flawed “argument from ignorance.”…Where is your ‘evidence’ that ‘human electromagnetic fields’ can be sensed by Healing Touch promoters?” Nice scare quotes, by the way. Now, Rosemary, if you will reread my messages above, I specifically acknowledged that HT practitioners tested cannot detect any form of energy that emanates from other human beings, and I have indicated that I do not believe in the practice of Healing Touch. Yet because I made a comment that implied the slightest potential deviation from orthodoxy, Joe tried to twist my words into HT advocacy. The victim of this is likely to say “Look at those damn orthodox; see how malevolent they are when anyone questions even the tiniest of their beliefs; see how they see us uppity ‘patients’ only as caricatures.” Not me, though, because Joe does not speak for the medical profession, and because I believe he is not really orthodox at all but faking it. If you have been thinking he’s your best buddy on this site and natural ally, I am afraid you may have been gulled.

    Also – I don’t have an opinion on how acupuncture works. It may indeed be entirely a “placebo” effect, although some studies suggest otherwise, and since it sometimes provides more relief than conventional treatment, one can certainly ask why there should be such a greatly increased placebo effect for this particular treatment, and only when it’s used for certain purposes. If I were suffering chronic elbow or back pain, I would use acupuncture. For practical purposes, I DON’T CARE whether it is a placebo; I just care that my pain be relieved without the painful GI side effects I always get from analgesic drugs. You want things to work for the “right” reasons (and provably so) or not to be used at all; I just want them to work. Which of those viewpoints is better is a philosophical or a practical issue, not a scientific issue.

  71. Apteryx said, “So, Rosemary, you suspect that I actually *oppose* the use of traditional medicine? A “concern troll” is someone who fakes an opinion other than his own. Why, if I were one, would I repeatedly mention the existence of scientific research that supports the value of TM?”

    Apteryx, you sound like a lawyer arguing his case before a judge.

    I don’t think you actually *oppose* the use of TM. I believe that you intentionally want to promote it although I don’t know why. It could well be that you really do believe in it.

    I think that as opposed to several others here who display outright hostility to scientific medicine that you pretend to be a proponent of it and in that guise continually try to convince people that the safety and efficacy of TM and your precious botanical supplements are supported by sufficient scientific evidence to justify their use. Again I don’t know why you do that, whether or not it is to convince people that your claims are true or whether it is because your standards of evidence are far lower than those of the majority of the people on this forum.

    One small example out of many. On another thread you spoke of the studies supporting acupuncture. In Snake Oil Science by R. Barker Bausell the author says that he is a research methodologist who while serving as the research director @ the U of Maryland’s NIH-funded Complementary Medicine Program designed and supervised RCTs to determine if acupuncture and “mind-body” medicine reduce pain and increase function. On pages 102-103 he says that there have probably been over 500 RCTs to evaluate acupuncture alone, half of which were placebo-controlled “yet the number of high-quality acupuncture trials could probably be counted on one’s fingers.” As he concludes, that means that at present there is no scientific support for the use of acupuncture.

    In alt. med. a mixed bag of studies some of which may show effectiveness causes many proponents to scream that they do have scientific evidence supporting their “therapies” and “remedies”, but it doesn’t convince scientists.

    If you want to use acupuncture or tell others to try it, fine. I have no problem with that, but when you suggest that because a search of a data base turns up lots of studies some or many of which are positive yet you have not actually read all or most of them and actually evaluated them yourself or found a review by reputable scientists in the field who have done that and concluded that the body of evidence demonstrates that the benefits outweigh the risks, and if you keep presenting yourself as a proponent of scientific medicine then I conclude that you are either pretending to be a proponent or that while you may believe you are, you don’t understand what good evidence is.

    If I got the definition of “concern troll” wrong, I apologize. I obviously lack your rigorous educational background, but that is really a trivial point IMO. Your repeatedly mentioning “the existence of scientific research that supports the value of TM” such as acupuncture when a scientist like Bausell who has actually seriously studied the evidence on the topic and finds them completely lacking is what matters.

  72. apteryx says:

    If you want me to accept an argument by authority to invalidate the amassed body of human experience and scientific data regarding acupuncture, the authority had better be someone other than Bausell, who seems to think that all complementary, alternative, and traditional practices not already co-opted by Big Pharma can be lumped into the single category of “snake oil.” I am not so familiar with acupuncture literature, but my experience with botanicals has been that conservatives label as “low-quality” any and every study that shows positive results, while labeling as “high-quality” whatever studies show negative results – even if they have used garbage material or given a tiny fraction of the effective dose. So I am not willing to accept Bausell’s personal word that only 1% of 500 studies are good (and that we should ignore the results in either category, unless negative). Those 500 studies have demonstrated that there are benefits for certain discomforts – whatever the mechanism – and very few risks. “Reputable” people far more knowledgeable than I have concluded as much from examining the literature. Is Bausell more “reputable” than all of them put together? Only if “reputable” is defined as “coming up with the ‘right’ answer no matter what the evidence may be.”

    Now, you have just engaged in more hostile insinuations about my motivations. I would never accuse you of trollhood; you’ve been creditably honest about yourself and the motivations for your emotional reactions to this issue. However, I do find repeated attacks on my character offensive. Let me just say, AGAIN, that nobody is paying me to be a pest on this blog, nor do I work in the supplement industry, so when I make statements of fact or philosophical argument here it is because I believe them (except when I’m playing devil’s advocate, which should usually be obvious). I do know more about herbs than the MDs around here, but not enough that I would represent myself as an expert. When I cite science I don’t hope that any reader will be convinced just by my say-so, but that people who might otherwise be intellectually intimidated into accepting an extreme position will be made aware of countervailing evidence, which they can then look into for themselves. I am not “pretending” anything. I am a proponent of conventional medicine when it clearly does more good than harm and offers a better cost-benefit ratio than traditional medicine. When it seems to be doing more harm than good, when it seems dedicated to making polypharmacy a cradle-to-grave practice for the masses, or when it may be 25% better than the traditional practice but cost five times more, I am not a proponent. That’s what I believe. If you don’t like it, too bad.

  73. Harriet Hall says:


    You don’t have to take Bausell’s word for it. How about this review of all the systematic reviews of acupuncture:

    Authors’ support for acupuncture
    None Qualified Strong
    All studies (n=35) 17 12 6
    Cochrane (n=12) 8 3 1
    Affiliated (n=18) 8 5 5
    Not-affiliated (n=17) 9 7 1

    When criteria of quality, validity, and size were applied, none of the systematic reviews demonstrated robust evidence of effectiveness for acupuncture. After removal of poor quality studies, most reviews had only trivial amounts of good quality evidence. Only six had more than 200 patients, and in these there was no evidence of benefit.

    Large, high-quality randomised trials of acupuncture have been published since the reviews. In fibromyalgia, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, breech presentation, tension headache, and migraine, all were negative compared with sham acupuncture. One in osteoarthritis of the knee, had statistical improvement over sham acupuncture at three months, but not later. Both large trials and this review of reviews come to the same general conclusion; that over a whole range of conditions and outcomes acupuncture cannot yet be shown to be effective.

  74. Harriet Hall says:

    apteryx appears to reject treatment that “may be 25% better than the traditional practice but cost five times more”


    If you could relieve your child’s pain completely with a treatment that cost 5 times more, would you really settle for leaving him with 20% of his pain just to save money?

  75. Apteryx said, “If you want me to accept an argument by authority to invalidate the amassed body of human experience and scientific data regarding acupuncture, the authority had better be someone other than Bausell,…”

    I don’t want you to accept any argument. I am simply pointing out that you have what I consider a very dangerous habit of looking at abstracts and drawing conclusions which you forcefully and articulately express as fact. Then you call everyone who disagrees with you a reductionist or something equally as bad. I have done enough medical research myself and worked with enough fine scientists to know enough to reserve judgment until I have actually done an in an depth review of the available studies, something you obviously think is unnecessary. Since I am not in pain, I am not considering acupuncture. If I were and scientific medicine had no effective treatment, I might well investigate it, but till that time I will conclude that based on Bausell’s education and work that the odds are exceedingly high that his conclusions on acupuncture are correct and yours are wrong.

    Regarding Bausell, you said that he, “seems to think that all complementary, alternative, and traditional practices not already co-opted by Big Pharma can be lumped into the single category of ‘snake oil’.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you have decided that because of that his conclusions are unreliable. If that is what you think, it tells me that you are prejudiced since based on your posts I believe that you have not done any in depth studies on TM. Therefore, you cannot tell whether or not it is true that *all* those things are snake oil or not. (I’m assume you would agree that no one would make such a blanket statement and are only using it to make your point. No one would conclude “all” but rather “all those studied in depth to date”.)

    You said, “’Reputable’ people far more knowledgeable than I have concluded as much from examining the literature. Is Bausell more ‘reputable’ than all of them put together? Only if ‘reputable’ is defined as ‘coming up with the ‘right’ answer no matter what the evidence may be.”

    There you go again sounding like a lawyer arguing to win a case. Making allegations about about the qualifications of unnamed people and calling the one I named along with his qualifications narrowminded. You do that whenever someone disagrees with you.

    You said, “I would never accuse you of trollhood.” But that is what you accused Joe of.

    You said, “However, I do find repeated attacks on my character offensive.” If you think that “attacks” on an anonymous person on the Internet are offensive, I am surprised that you take it upon yourself to attack the character of a named person like Bausell as well as the named people blogging here who you accuse of having an “an extreme position”.

    Your statements would be amusing if the topics were not so dangerous. You carry on about how you really don’t know that much but you are certain that TM and many botanicals are safe and offer great benefits and you know that those who disagree with you are narrowminded bigots who hold “an extreme position” which is most unreasonable.

    Statements like that are what so successfully deceive the general public to whom penicillin is a magic potent into believing that alt. med. is just another branch of scientific medicine. Statements like that are spun continually by the marketing genuses in the supplement industry. That is a fact whether or not you yourself are in that industry yourself or not.

  76. daedalus2u says:

    There is a very nice blog discussing research showing that sham acupuncture works better than real acupuncture.

    This is fully consistent with all the positive effects of acupuncture being due to the placebo effect which is reduced because of the actual pain and injury from the insertion of needles. The sham acupuncture treatment didn’t puncture the skin, so any adverse effects would be less.

  77. According to Apteryx, traditional Chinese healers have observed over many centuries that acupuncture “works”, therefore, it must work, and since Dr. Bausell who has studied the matter believes there are no good scientific studies demonstrating that that is true, then according to Apteryx Dr. B is wrong . He is a narrow-minded white male bigot (NMWMB) who does not respect the wisdom of an ancient eastern culture.

    According to the press, the recently deposed King of Nepal upon being forced to leave his ancestral home, The Palace, consulted astrologers to find a suitable new dwelling. Astrology has probably been practiced around the world longer than acupuncture and in more cultures than acupuncture was by people who, based on their experience, believed that it “worked”. If you disagree with them are you wrong? Are you a NMWMB?

    People in every culture from time immemorial have believed that prayer “works”. Mary has been praying to win the lotto, Bob to find the cure for cancer. So far prayer hasn’t helped them. Have they prayed to the wrong god? Haven’t they prayed hard enough? Do they have to just keep praying longer so that their wishes will eventually be granted? Or, Lord Have Mercy, have they displeased the Lord Himself? There has to be some rational explanation since according to Apteryx all those cultures who believe that prayer “works” couldn’t be wrong and only snotty white Euro-centric male scientists would think that they were.

    I hear you Wally, Joe, Harriet, et. al saying, No, no, no, no…..Well then you are all NMWMBs. And no, Harriet. I am not mistaken. You too are a NMWMB! And I am the King of the Universe! SO THERE! Pass the acupuncture needles! Here’s my arm. Stick them in!

    And while you’re at it, bring out the leeches and hot irons. My ancestors believed that bloodletting, blistering and cupping “worked”, and everyone’s ancestors no matter which culture they belonged to believed that remedies concocted from plants and animals “worked” until roughly 200 years ago when science as we know it started to develop and scientists from many cultures in both East and West stated objectively testing those beliefs and discarding the therapies and remedies for which they couldn’t obtain evidence that supported the beliefs their relatives held about them. This was the time when the world entered the era of narrow minded white male bigots, the names alts often call scientists and medical doctors, and it is this world of scientific medicine that alts want to replace with the old stuff that “worked” and often still “works” subjectively if you believe in it but not objectively.

    To quote Apteryx, “That’s what I believe. If you don’t like it, too bad.”

  78. Michelle B says:

    @ rjstan excellent comment directed towards apteryx.

    Apteryx brings to mind so-called religious moderates who insist that their faith (belief without evidence) is virtuous, and not at all like the vicious faith of fundamentalists. Not only is their faith the right faith, it is reasonable. Personally, I find Apteryx to be quite slippery, and actually prefer Pec’s in-your-face inanity–easier and clearer to know with whom you are dealing.

    As Richard Dawkins opined, there is no traditional or alternative divide–an contrived fallacy–there is only good or bad medicine.

    And for what it is worth, I consider Joe to be smart, funny, and consistently valiant in his attempts to cut through both styles of non-evidence based beliefs: the fundamental approach of Pec and the moderate one of Apteryx.

    If Apteryx is in pain (as there seems to be some reference to that possibility), Apteryx certainly has my empathy as I have dealt with chronic pain for many years, and I commend his/her efforts to alleviate his/her pain.

  79. Michelle B says:

    rjstan wrote: …and everyone’s ancestors no matter which culture they belonged to believed that remedies concocted from plants and animals “worked” until roughly 200 years ago when science as we know it started to develop and scientists from many cultures in both East and West stated objectively testing those beliefs and discarding the therapies and remedies for which they couldn’t obtain evidence…


    rjstan’s passionately eloquent comments bring to mind this wonderful excerpt from an Ian Ewan’s essay:

    And yet it is curiosity, scientific curiosity, that has delivered us genuine, testable knowledge of the world and contributed to our understanding of our place within it and of our nature and condition. This knowledge has a beauty of its own, and it can be terrifying. We are barely beginning to grasp the implications of what we have relatively recently learned. And what exactly have we learned? I draw here from a Steven Pinker essay on his ideal of a university: among other things we have learned that our planet is a minute speck in an inconceivably vast cosmos; that our species has existed for a tiny fraction of the history of the earth; that humans are primates; that the mind is the activity of an organ that runs by physiological processes; that there are methods for ascertaining the truth that can force us to conclusions which violate common sense, sometimes radically so at scales very large and very small; that precious and widely held beliefs, when subjected to empirical tests, are often cruelly falsified; that we cannot create energy or use it without loss.

    Entire essay:,2681,n,n

  80. Michelle wrote, “I find Apteryx to be quite slippery, and actually prefer Pec’s in-your-face inanity–easier and clearer to know with whom you are dealing.”

    I agree. The alt/supplement marketing machine uses people who express nonsense like we hear from Pec to get attention, but they use people who employ the techniques that Apteryx uses so adroitly to get into scientific institutions and to sell their goods and services to the mainstream public.

    IMO, people using the techniques that Apteryx uses, either intentionally or unintentionally, are far more dangerous to the health of society and individuals than those expressing silly ideas.

  81. Michelle B says:

    @rjstan, just clicked on your name link–very interesting life story! I am so glad that you are making a stand against the comeback of colloidal silver. And to think that a nun had the knowledge that set you on the path in understanding why you have a gray complexion!

    To keep the analogy with religious moderates, Apteryx regards his/her concept of acupuncture as the true one (as Religious moderates often contest criticism directed at religion as being directed not towards their religious beliefs, therefore generic criticism is null and void in their use of religion).

    Religious moderates move the goal posts all the time, and pinpointing their beliefs is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. And that is how Apteryx presents his/her case: you are not criticizing my acupuncture, therefore I will keep contesting the evidence that shows that your concept of acupuncture is not effective.

  82. When I learned that silver was being sold as a “dietary supplement” and heard all the fraudulent claims made about it, I investigated botanicals and have tried hard to educate the public on the subject, but most people only want to hear about silver from me. It seems like everyone who knows me personally, even hardcore supplement users, won’t touch silver with a ten ft. pole and they constantly warn others about it, but they are not swayed by the evidence that so clearly demonstrates that the entire supplement industry is one giant house of cards.

    The nun who was the first to learn what caused my skin discoloration was also a pharmacist and a nurse.

    Apteryx promotes botanical supplements with the same fervor s/he promotes acupuncture and with the same kind of techniques as the kind of “moderate” religious person you describe.

    Since Apteryx is anonymous, s/he could well be a sincere true believer, but s/he could also be Andy Weil doing market research or a true believer who also works in the marketing department of a supplement company or trade group. (Yes, Apt, I know you deny this and I know that you may be telling the truth, but as with drugs and supplements, it will take objective evidence to convince me not claims from an anonymous person on an Internet forum.)

    Supplement marketers often go onto forums like this to test out what “arguments” are most likely to convince the market they are targeting that their goods and services really are worth buying.

    About 10 years ago, Varro Tyler glorified the German E Commission as being a great scientific body that regulated botanicals in Germany and that drew up scientific monographs which accurately reported their safety and efficacy. Of course, the reports showed that many were worth buying. Based on my experience, I smelled a skunk. It was just amazing that the Germans had made these great scientific discoveries but no one else had heard about them. As a result of my challenges to promoters for evidence that the German E Comm was what they claimed, European doctors on Dr. Barrett’s health fraud list took note. They were amazed that people in the US believed that the E Comm was scientific and reported as much. I haven’t heard the botanical promoters promoting the E Comm in about a decade now.

  83. daedalus2u says:

    Michelle makes an excellent point. People who practice belief like apteryx and the religious moderates and even some (self-proclaimed) scientists/skeptics need to limit “the facts” to those (and only those) that are consistent with their beliefs. They need to constrict their view of reality to only those “facts” that fit it. They have to move the goal posts because their “goal” is to “find” that there is no collection of facts and no chain of logic that contradicts their belief. It is the possibility of finding that their belief is inconsistent with facts and logic that leads them to deny facts and logic. It is the cognitive dissonance that occurs when their belief is contradicted that forces them to constrict the facts and logic that are available to them to use in their thinking processes.

    I think this is why CAM practitioners can get along with each other. If a set of facts is orthogonal to a belief system (and so is completely independent), then there are no “connections” between the two systems, and so there is no chance that the “facts” in one system can be connected in a chain of logic that contradicts the conclusions of the other belief system.

    This is also why all the CAM practitioners are united against science because science does offer a way to generate facts and chains of logic that can be applied to any and all belief systems.

    It is like trying to nail Jello to the wall.

  84. Michelle B says:

    To expand further on the most recent comments by daedalus2u and rjstan, the so-called CAM moderates could be likened to Daniel Dennett’s Murkys, the term coined by DD to denote Religious moderates, the goal post movers with their Jello-like beliefs that can’t be nailed to the wall.

    Dennett then goes on–and this is where I vehemently disagree with his stance–that nontheists should just chuckle and laugh amusedly at their antics, oh what a bunch of silly murkys. Dawkins has a much better handle on the dangers that these murkys present as they give an aura of respectability to non-evidenced beliefs and faith, just as medical doctors with academic/professional credentials give credence to CAM.

    CAM practitioners, like religious moderates, are so sure they are different from the equivalent of religious fundamentalists–that is, the quacks for the medical analogy–enabling their cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization of non-evidenced beliefs from ones that are buttressed by evidence to develop into a protective wall so thick it won’t crumble (so no different from the same psychological dynamics used by quacks and religious fundamentalists).

  85. Michelle B says:

    An aspect of behavior that I have noted dealing with religious moderates is the abrupt surfacing of simmering passive-aggressiveness when their non-evidence-based beliefs are consistently and clearly challenged. Often, they will disappear and return, with their dogma buttons reset, restarting from zero. Then, a cadre of rational thinkers will yet again dismantle their wonky logic.

    I regard apteryx recent tactics in trying to discredit the validity of Joe’s comments as a clear example of this explosion of passive-aggressiveness. Let’s see if apteryx disappears only to return with h/sh dogma buttons reset.

  86. Michelle B says:

    Regarding the possibilities of Religious fundamentalists (Benny Hinn types) and medical quacks of being frauds or beings folks who have just made a honest mistake, it near impossible to determine that aspect with most commenters at online forums.

  87. apteryx says:


    “If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”

    There is very little in your remarks above that I can usefully address, except for MichelleB’s suggestion that I might be “in pain.” Thanks for your claimed empathy, but I am not, as long as I avoid drugs with harmful side effects. That’s why I said that *IF* I had chronic joint pain, I would try acupuncture first.

    Just one thing, though: Joe has seen my accusation against him in at least one thread. He has not denied it.

  88. Joe says:

    I have been accused of many of things, including putting on airs. I must draw the line somewhere; Apteryx, whatever you accused me of- I deny it!

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