Category Archives: Reiki

Why reiki masters can’t lose

by Orac via Respectful Insolence

reiki 1225Regular readers of my not-so-super-secret other blog, where I write under my own name, know that last month Steve Novella and I published a rather nice (if I do say so myself) opinion piece in a peer-reviewed journal about what we called “clinical trials of magic.” In it, we argued that certain alternative medicine modalities are so incredibly implausible from a purely basic science viewpoint, on physics and chemistry considerations alone, that it is a waste of time and resources, not to mention unethical, to do clinical trials testing them. Two of the main examples we used were homeopathy (of course!) and reiki.

Reiki, as you recall, is a form of “energy healing” that I’ve discussed many times before. Its basic precept is that reiki healers, known as reiki masters, can, through a series of hand gestures that might or might not involve touching the patient and often involve symbols drawn in the air over the patient, tap into what they call the “universal source” and channel energy into the person being treated to heal them. You can probably see why I generally refer to reiki as faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for Christian beliefs. If you can’t see why, then simply substitute the word “God” or “Jesus” for the term “universal source,” and my meaning becomes obvious. Of course, reiki can get even more bizarre, particularly when it’s used in distant healing, which can only be likened (to me, at least) to intercessory prayer or when reiki masters claim to be able to send reiki energy into the past or the future. Yes, it does get even woo-ier than claiming to be able to channel healing energy.

reiki cat 139_300pxReiki is, without a doubt, far more a mystical belief system akin to religion than it is anything having to do with medicine. That much is obvious. That’s why I couldn’t resist a bit of amusement when I somehow (don’t ask how!) came across an article by someone named Tammy Hatherill, who runs Tammy’s Tarot and Healing entitled When Your Reiki Client Doesn’t Feel the ‘Energy’.

Wow. So reiki doesn’t always work? Who knew? Well, not exactly. Remember, reiki is a mystical magical belief system. Like a religion, it always works, and if it doesn’t it isn’t because the reiki has failed. You’ll see what I mean in a minute. First, savor the frustration of reiki masters who can’t get their clients to “feel it”:

It doesn’t happen to me very often, but on occasion it does. A client will say, “I don’t feel any different.” Or they may say, “In all honesty I didn’t feel the energy at all”.

What!!! How could the client not feel the wonderful and glorious energy that I felt and sensed whilst giving the treatment? How could they not ‘feel’ any different!!!

Please don’t despair, as the Reiki energy will still be working its magic and will still support the client on all the different levels (emotional/psychological/physical and spiritually.) Just because the client didn’t ‘feel’ anything doesn’t mean the Reiki wasn’t working.

reiki-cat 1104_250pxSee what I mean? If the patient doesn’t feel any different after the mystical magical glory that is reiki, it doesn’t mean anything at all. The reiki’s still working. How do you know? Well, you don’t. But if you’re a reiki master you do have a patter ready for your client before and after. Before, you basically tell the client that they will feel “something.” That something could range from tingles, colors, heat, cool, floating, heaviness, sleepiness, or peacefulness, to nothing at all. Convenient, isn’t it? I wonder what it would be like to be able to tell my patients that virtually any sensations they feel mean that the treatment worked—even if they feel nothing at all! Talk about a “can’t lose” setup. You really have to tip your hat to whoever thought of this scam.

Then, of course, there’s the after treatment patter for the mark client  .  .  .

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Back to the future with the healing energy of reiki

By Orac via Respectful Insolence

reiki_IHdsCxZvUnGm_200pxOver the last two days, both Mark Crislip and Jann Bellamy wrote great pieces over at Science-Based Medicine about reiki. In particular, Jann Bellamy discussed reiki starting with an example that I’ve been citing in my talks about the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia for at least four or five years now: The Cleveland Clinic Foundation and its website, which describes reiki thusly:

Reiki is a form of hands-on, natural healing that uses universal life force energy. The term comes from the Japanese words “rei,” which translates into universal, and “ki,” which means vital life force energy that flows through all living things. This gentle energy is limitless in abundance and is believed to be a spiritual form of energy. It is not tied to any specific religion or nationality.

The Reiki practitioner is the conduit between you and the source of the universal life force energy. The energy flows through the practitioner’s energy field and through his or her hands to you. The energy does not come from the practitioner; it comes through the practitioner from the universal source. There is no energy drain on the person giving the treatment. You may experience the energy as sensations such as heat, tingling, or pulsing where the practitioner places her hands on your body, or you may feel these sensations move through your body to other locations. This is the energy flowing into you. Some people may not perceive any change at all. Most people feel very relaxed and peaceful. Many clients even fall asleep while receiving Reiki treatment.

The way I like to handle this during a talk is to place an excerpt from the above two paragraphs onto a slide and just let the audience soak in the stupidity. Generally, they react with utter shock that a respected academic medical center would have something so unbelievably ridiculous on their website. I then continue my talk by explaining how reiki is faith healing that substitutes Eastern mysticism for Christian beliefs. reiki-cat 1104_300pxThink about it. In reiki, reiki masters claim to be able to tap into “life force energy” from the “universal source,” as described above, and channel it into a patient for healing effect. Now, substitute the word “God” or “Jesus” for “universal source” in the description above. Yes, that’s faith healing. Stripped to its essence, there’s no difference between reiki and channeling the healing power of Jesus or God into a patient to try to heal him.

That’s why the Catholic Church doesn’t like reiki being practiced in its hospitals, and that’s why fundamentalist Christians view reiki as a “sin.”

Next, I list some of the high profile medical schools and academic medical centers that offer reiki to patients, the most recent of which I discussed was the University of Arizona Cancer Center. It’s a depressing litany that includes luminaries such as M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Yale University (sorry, Steve Novella!), and Harvard, among many others.

Going back and reading about reiki again after having seen Jann’s discussion of whether advertising reiki as medicine could be viewed as fraud and whether there a class action lawsuit charging that could actually succeed, I came upon a hilarious article on reiki that helps to illustrate just how utterly nonsensical the ideas behind reiki are. Now, I’ve discussed how reiki isn’t really any “ancient” Japanese art of healing, having been invented out of whole cloth by a man named Mikao Usui back in the 1920s. I’m referring to an article on About.com’s Holistic Healing page by Phylameana lila Desy entitled Projecting Reiki Energies into Past and Future.

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Also see:

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New Age Energy

An examination of energy, as new agers use the term.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid – October 03, 2006
Read transcript below or listen here

I’m feeling a little low today, so let’s tap into a source of energy from a neighboring dimension as a quick upper.

NewAgeFaith in pseudoscience is rampant. Everywhere you turn, intelligent people fully accept the existence of anything from psychic phenomena, to angels, to new age healing techniques, to ancient health schemes based on mysterious energy fields not understood by science. Most of these paranormal phenomena rely on “energy,” and when the performers are asked to explain, they’ll gladly lecture about the body’s energy fields, the universe’s energy fields, Chi, Prana, Orgone, negative energy, positive energy, and just about anything else that needs a familiar sounding word to explain and justify it. Clearly, there are too many loose interpretations of the word energy, to the point where most people probably have no idea exactly what energy really is.

I believe that if more people had a clear understanding of energy — and it’s not complicated — there would be less susceptibility to pseudoscience, and more attention paid to actual technologies and methods that are truly constructive and useful.

body-energyfield_250pxA friend told me of her ability to perform minor healings, and her best explanation was that she drew energy from another dimension. She had recently rented What the Bleep Do We Know, so she was well prepared to explain that alternate dimensions and realities should be taken for granted, since science doesn’t really know anything, and thus those things cannot be disproven. That’s fine, I’ll concede that she can make contact with another dimension: after all, the latest M theories posit that there are probably ten or eleven of them floating around, and I’ll just hope that my friend’s is not one of those that are collapsed into impossibly small spaces. What I was really interested in was the nature of this vaguely defined energy that she could contact.

I asked what type of energy is it, and how is it stored? Is it heat? Is it a spinning flywheel? Is it an explosive compound? Is it food? These are examples of actual ways that energy can be stored.

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Spock encounters New Age energy

In popular New Age culture, “energy” has somehow become a noun unto itself. “Energy” is considered to be literally like a glowing, hovering, shimmering cloud, from which adepts can draw power, and feel rejuvenated. Imagine a vaporous creature from the original Star Trek series, and you’ll have a good idea of what New Agers think energy is.

In fact, energy is not really a noun at all. Energy is a measurement of something’s ability to perform work. Given this context, when spiritualists talk about your body’s energy fields, they’re really saying nothing that’s even remotely meaningful. Yet this kind of talk has become so pervasive in our society that the vast majority of Americans accept that energy exists as a self-contained force, floating around in glowing clouds, and can be commanded by spiritualist adepts to do just about anything.

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The Weekend I Became a Reiki Healer

Carrie PoppyBy Carrie Poppy via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

I am a Reiki practitioner, but I don’t believe in Reiki.

That may sound like a contradiction, but apparently it isn’t. One of the lessons Jenny, my Reiki master, taught my class when we first gathered in her small, purple classroom in La Crescenta, California, was this:

poppy-reiki-certificate_cropped_350px“Belief is irrelevant. You don’t have to believe a single word I say. If you have the Reiki energy and even the vaguest intention to heal, it will work.”

Now I had paid $350 to learn the “ancient” technique myself in a class called “Reiki 1-2.” But, contrary to popular myth, Reiki isn’t all that ancient. This hands-on healing method was developed by Mikao Usui just shy of one hundred years ago. The stories are not entirely clear, but the general idea is that he went up on a mountain top in Japan, fasted, and ended up receiving special healing energy from the Heavens, which he then passed down to his students. Reiki is hugely popular in the United States, where you can find a healer in nearly every city. During a Reiki treatment, you can expect your practitioner to wave his or her hands over you, often without even touching you, to heal your body, mind, and spirit. The National Institutes of Health warn that Reiki hasn’t been thoroughly studied and should never replace conventional health care.[1] Our best bet, my instructor told us, was to always assume that whoever we were dealing with was skeptical of Reiki. And plenty of people are.

When I told Jenny I didn’t know whether I thought Reiki was real myself, she said, “Oh, perfect! People who believe in Reiki are so boring. Skeptics are so much fun! Skeptics are the easiest to work with, because they want to be fair. Just go through the motions, and let them tell you if it worked. Pretend you know what you’re doing.”

reiki-cat 1104_300pxThe six of us students looked at our hands, which would soon be divine instruments.

“This is a metaphysical software download,” Jenny said. “It works as long as you have the software.”

Jenny explained that everyone’s hands have some healing energy, but 10–20 percent of the population have enough to be healers already. People who get the special healing Reiki energy (passed down from Usui to every other master and student since Reiki’s birth) have the strongest, most divinely guided healing powers possible. And receiving the two “attunements” we would get in this class meant having “Super Hands” forever. It couldn’t be undone. Jenny had guided this process many times, training 2,000 students, ages five to one hundred, over twenty-three years.

For the most part, Jenny seemed like a warm, intelligent woman who defied my expectations of a Reiki teacher at every turn. She studied biology in college and was staunchly pro-GMO. Although she wore a fair amount of green and purple, her outfit was simple and all-American. Her long, brown hair was cut in straight bangs, and she was as glued to her iPhone as everyone else in the class. Besides her odd habit of saying “yesterday” instead of “tomorrow”—“We’ll learn about animal Reiki yesterday”—she was downright normal.

When it came time to receive the sacred Reiki attunements, we all sat in a circle, closed our eyes, and waited for Jenny to walk around the outer edge of our chairs, giving the six of us the holy energy one at a time.reiki 1225 I was sitting with my hands in prayer position, centering myself and focusing on the holy energy within me already, though what I felt most strongly was a longing for the Thai restaurant next door. She reached in front of me and grasped my palms with hers, lifting my arms above my head. Then she patted my crown three times, whistled a strange tune, and touched my back. That was it. I now had partial Reiki powers.

When we opened our eyes, my classmates and I exchanged notes. Richard felt his heart become heavy and his hunger go away upon receiving the energy. Mary felt lightning bolts in her head. Tasha felt vulnerable, like wings had popped open on her back, exposing her spine. Priscilla, a physical therapist, said she was relieved she could finally be a true healer. Pablo and I were the only ones who didn’t feel much. Jenny said all our experiences were equal. We didn’t need to feel anything.

Now that we had received half of the full Reiki energy, we practiced on each other. First, the class tried to cure my headaches by feeling for lumps in the energy field above my head. I was as lumpy-headed as my teacher had expected. My fellow students all stood above me, their hands miming the removal of stagnant energy about three inches above my skull.

“Oh wow,” they said. “I can definitely feel it.”

When it was over, the teacher asked me how I felt.

“Well, fine… But I didn’t have a headache before.”

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Earth Day Festival 2014: How was the Woo?

by The Locke via The Soap Box

Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.

Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.

The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.

Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year  .  .  .

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.  .  .  and the chiropractors from last year are back as well  .  .  .

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.  .  .  but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:

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Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.

Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.

Then there’s the woo.

They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.

In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.

The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was  .  .  .

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Homeopathic Emergency Department


On YouTube

Reiki

steven_novellaby via Science-Based Medicine

Reiki (pronounced raykey) is a form of “energy healing,” essentially the Asian version of faith healing or laying on of hands. Practitioners believe they are transferring life energy to the patient, increasing their well-being. The practice is popular among nurses, and in fact is practiced by nurses at my own institution (Yale).

From reiki.org, we get this description:

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

reiki-healing-the-world_250pxReiki is therefore a form of vitalism – the pre-scientific belief that some spiritual energy animates the living, and is what separates living things from non-living things. The notion of vitalism was always an intellectual place-holder, responsible for whatever aspects of biology were not currently understood. But as science progressed, eventually we figured out all of the basic functions of life and there was simply nothing left for the vital force to do. It therefore faded from scientific thinking. We can add to that the fact that no one has been able to provide positive evidence for the existence of a vital force – it remains entirely unknown to science.

But the discarded science and superstition of the past is the “alternative medicine” of today. There are many so-called “CAM” modalities that are based on vitalism, including Reiki. Reiki, in fact, is very similar to therapeutic touch, reiki-cat 1104_300pxanother energy healing modality that was popular among nurses, and although it continues to be used it is much less popular after 9 year old girl (Emily Rosa) performed an elegant experiment to show that it was nothing but self-deception. Reiki nicely moved in to fill the void.

The research on Reiki, and energy healing in general, is similar to that of many similar modalities – those with very low scientific plausibility that are not taken very seriously by medical scientists. The research is of generally low quality, poorly controlled small studies that seem designed to justify Reiki rather than see if it actually works. The most recently published study, for example, looks at anxiety levels and self-reported well being in cancer patient and finds, unsurprisingly, that patients feel better when they receive the kind attention of a nurse. The study is completely uncontrolled, and therefore of dubious value. One might consider such a study a complete waste of time and effort, as the results were never in doubt.

A 2011 review of reiki studies concluded:

The existing research does not allow conclusions regarding the efficacy or effectiveness of energy healing. Future studies should adhere to existing standards of research on the efficacy and effectiveness of a treatment, and given the complex character of potential outcomes, cross-disciplinary methodologies may be relevant. To extend the scope of clinical trials, psychosocial processes should be taken into account and explored, rather than dismissed as placebo.

In other words – existing research is a such poor quality we cannot draw any useful conclusion from it. I disagree, however, that this necessarily means that more research is needed. The low plausibility of using magical energy that has never been demonstrated to exist by medical science argues otherwise. Further, the last sentence is odd – it suggests the authors are trying to spin placebo effects into real effects. This is increasingly the strategy of alternative medicine advocates as it becomes clear that most of the modalities they favor do not work any better than placebo (which means they don’t work).

Reiki is now squarely in that camp.

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Also See: Full of Energy « Science-Based Medicine

▶ James Randi – Fighting the Fakers

Via ▶ James Randi – YouTube

James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

Call to Action: Tesco and What Doctors Don’t Tell You (WDDTY)

by via The Quackometer Blog

wddty3_300pxTesco may be changing its stance on this highly controversial magazine. Time to act and remind them how dangerous and unacceptable this publication is.

For a year now, there has been much concern that mainstream retail outlets have been stocking and selling a magazine called What Doctors Don’t Tell You (WDDTY). Now, there are many magazines on the shelves that frequently promote superstitious and pseudoscientific forms of health belief, such as homeopathy, vitamins and reiki, but WDDTY goes way beyond most offerings. This is a magazine that plays in the mainstream and yet systematically sets out to undermine trust in medical professionals and promote nonsensical, disproven or misrepresented alternatives.

A recent example of its reporting style was dissected by Dr Matthew Lam on the Sense About Science blog where he describes how the magazine completely misrepresented the evidence behind Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy. “The variety of ways that the authors misused and abused scientific evidence and scientific language to make their claims was shocking”, said LAM. It was not a one-off. Looking through other issues there was misrepresentation and “ill-informed advice on vaccination, heart disease, arthritis, dementia, all cancers, colds, flu, HIV….the list goes on.”

In my opinion, the magazine represents a clear danger to public health in the way it systematically misrepresents evidence and presents a highly selective and skewed approach to mainstream medicine and so-called alternatives. The style of so many stories is that doctors are withholding crucial health advice, they belittle or undermine alternatives, promote drugs, or are just ignorant about ‘natural medicine’ including foods and vitamins.

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Improperly Performed Acupuncture Linked to Spontaneous Human Combustion

Experts in traditional Chinese medicine are warning patients to avoid unlicensed acupuncture practitioners after an apparent case of spontaneous human combustion.

by via Science-Based Medicine

spontaneous human combustion 1122Baton Rouge, LA-When investigators climbed from out of the smoldering debris that was the home of Hank Thomas, the looks on their faces told the gathering crowd what these hardened veterans of the Baton Rouge Fire Department couldn’t put into words. Thomas, a yoga instructor and avid fisherman who had lived in Baton Rouge his entire life, had exploded. And as the grisly details slowly emerge, people are asking questions about what might be to blame and how they can prevent being the next Baton Rougian to erupt into a massive fireball of body parts and Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.

Some local medical professionals have proposed a controversial theory. Based on reports that Thomas has undergone acupuncture treatments for sciatica several times in the weeks preceding his untimely fulmination, a group of local experts are speaking out. They are warning the community to beware of discount acupuncture clinics.

“We aren’t saying that every incidence of spontaneous human combustion is linked to the incorrect placement of acupuncture needles,” Kuang Zhu LAC, Chief of Pragmatic Acupuncture in the Health and Wellness division of Vic’s Day Spa and Pet Grooming Center, explained during a recent press conference. “But in some cases, there is a relationship that is hard to explain otherwise.”

Zhu, a legally licensed acupuncturist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for over thirty years and founder of the “Know Your Needler!” campaign, is reaching out to the Baton Rouge community because of concerns that there are patients seeking care from unlicensed and poorly trained practitioners that don’t charge as much per session. “These rogue needle-wielding impersonators don’t fully grasp the power of acupuncture, acupressure, sonopuncture, electroacupuncture, cold laser therapy, or any of the other ancient techniques of stimulating specific acupoints. With great ability to heal, comes an equal ability to harm.”

acupuncture_250pxAcupuncture, a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine developed sometime in the past 5,000 years, involves the insertion of small needles into specific points on the body in order to improve the flow of life energy or Qi. These points are found along meridians, major pathways in the body through which our life energy courses that are different from blood vessels, nerves and lymphatics in that Western science has been unable to locate them during anatomical investigation or with modern imaging techniques. When Qi is obstructed, it becomes stagnant and illness develops. Properly placed needles relieve this obstruction and improve our health in a number of ways. Needles placed haphazardly can, according to Zhu, lead to further obstruction, a worsening of one’s health, and perhaps even a fiery death.

Zhu states that the phenomenon of injury by inappropriate acupuncture is not new. He has seen countless milder cases over his three decades of practice in the United States. But the worst occurred during his childhood in China. “Neighborhood gangs and even local police forces would use purposefully incorrect acupuncture as punishment or as an interrogation enhancer,” Zhu revealed. “Once I saw a body with the hao zhen needles still inserted in acupoints I did not even know existed. Oh, the disharmony! My childhood ended that day. I’ve heard that the American military is even using acupuncture on the battlefield now.”

acupuncture-needles-smoke_250pxBut not every local acupuncturist supports Zhu’s theory that excessive and erroneous needle placement is to blame for unexplained explosions of American citizens. Frank Grimes, a Baton Rouge chiropractor who incorporates acupuncture into his armamentarium of healing modalities, reminds us that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. “Yes, some of the remaining body parts have been found with needles still in them,” He admits. “But my concern is that linking acupuncture to spontaneous human combustion is akin to the claim that chiropractic manipulation of the neck causes strokes. Perhaps people who are already about to explode seek out acupuncture for symptomatic relief.”

At the heart of this issue for Zhu and his colleagues is the health of their community. He admits that acupuncture-induced detonation is likely rare despite the recent occurrence, and that most people who receive acupuncture from improperly trained practitioners will at most only experience mild stagnation of Qi.

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Therapeutic Touch

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Therapeutic touch is a kind of energy medicine. Those who do therapeutic touch wave their hands over a patient’s body to fix their subtle energy. The science says there is no such subtle energy.

energyhealingTherapeutic touch is a kind of energy healing. Some people believe that health and sickness are caused by some sort of magical energy being blocked or out of whack in some way. There is no scientific support for this magical energy. It can’t be measured by any of our very high tech machines. Yet, many people swear it exists and that they can move it around or transfer some of their energy into another person.

Energy healers say they can “feel” the energy going through or around a person’s body. This is odd because the human hand is not a very sensitive instrument compared to some of the million-dollar machines we have these days to measure very small particles or packets of energy.

Therapeutic touch healers wave their hands over the body of a sick person. The healer thinks she is moving energy around and that this somehow helps the healing.

patlinsedrawingNine-year-old Emily Rosa tested twenty-one therapeutic touch healers to see if they could feel the energy in one of her hands when they could not see if a hand was actually placed under theirs. She placed a screen with a hole in it for the healer’s arm to go through. Emily sat on the other side of the screen and placed her hand or didn’t place her hand under the healers hand for each test. The healers had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 123 times in 280 tests. Wild guessing would have got about 140 correct answers. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not feel the energy of Emily’s hands when placed near theirs. If they can’t feel the energy, how can they move or transfer it? What are they feeling? Most likely they are feeling what has been suggested to them by those who taught them this practice. Their feelings of energy appear to be created in their own minds.

How does energy healing work?

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Psychics and Alternative Medicine Practitioners: Who is worse?

Via The Soap Box

alternative-medicine-for-dummiesPsychics, and alternative medicine practitioners. Two different groups of people who peddle BS pseudoscience that wastes gullible peoples money. But which one is worse?

Now many people would say that alternative medicine practitioners are worse, because not only are they peddling something and taking peoples’ money for products and services that do not work, they’re also physically harming people as well, and even risking peoples lives by not only selling them products and services that makes them think they can forgo real medicine and medical services that could help them and even save their lives for the alternative stuff, but also selling them products and services that really can cause harm, and possibly even kill you.

So it sounds like a no brainer, right? Alternative medicine practitioners are selling you products and services that could harm you and possibly kill you, while psychics are just taking your money. Except… many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they are doing is harmful, because some do seriously believe that alternative medicine does work (this is mostly due to anecdotal evidence).

People claiming to be psychics on the other hand are different, because while many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they’re doing is fraud, psychics on the other hand almost always know what they’re doing is fraud.

psychic_scam_362px_250pxPsychic powers simply do not exist. Every person who has ever been tested for psychic powers under controlled scientific testing conditions have always failed to prove that they have psychic powers, and the really famous so called psychics have never gone and had their alleged powers proven under controlled scientific testing conditions, so it is very safe to say that psychic powers don’t exist, and that anyone who is claiming to be a psychic is most likely lying (although it is also possible that they may be self-deluded and have actually convinced themselves they are psychic, or they’re just mentally ill) and therefore if they do take any money from you for their services, are knowingly committing fraud.

Besides committing fraud, psychics also . . .

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Integrated Medicine

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Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Experts in the psychology of human error have long been aware that even highly trained experts are easily misled when they rely on personal experience and informal decision rules to infer the causes of complex events. —Barry Beyerstein

Integrative medicine is a synonym for “alternative” medicine that, at its worst, integrates sense with nonsense. At its best, integrative medicine supports both consensus treatments of science-based medicine and treatments that the science, while promising perhaps, does not justify.

Andrew Weil

Andrew Weil

It mixes the scientific with the metaphysical (“spirit-mind-body connection” is a favorite expression) and the scientifically untested, discredited, or questionable. Defenders of integrative medicine have an exceptionally high opinion of things “natural” or “organic.”

The expression is a marketing term popularized by Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative medicine is not a medical “specialty,” nor is it special or superior to plain old science-based medicine. As David Gorski, M.D., says, “integrative medicine” is a brand, not a specialty. Weil’s branding and marketing strategy has paid off. The University of Arizona has given him his own Institute of Integrative Medicine to direct.

Weil graduated from Harvard Medical School but did not complete a residency nor, as far as I can ascertain, ever take the medical boards in any state.

According to [Andrew] Weil, many of his basic insights about the causes of disease and the nature of healing come from what he calls “stoned thinking,” that is, thoughts experienced while under the influence of psychedelic agents or during other states of “altered consciousness” induced by trances, ritual magic, hypnosis, meditation, and the like. —Arnold S. Relman, M.D.

[ . . . ]

SnakeOil-250pxToday, Weil mixes scientific medicine with Ayurvedic and other forms of quackery and calls this practice “integrative medicine.” One of his main tenets is: “It is better to use natural, inexpensive, low-tech and less invasive interventions whenever possible.” However, there is no scientific evidence for the claim that natural interventions are always superior to artificial ones. Millions of people use herbs and natural products for a variety of conditions, such as calcium, echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, glucosamine, saw palmetto, shark cartilage, and St. John’s wort. All of these, when tested scientifically, have failed to support the traditional wisdom regarding their healing powers. Pharmaceuticals and other treatments are much superior to most herbal remedies. If a plant has been shown to be effective as a healing agent, the active ingredient has been extracted and tested scientifically and is part of scientific medicine. Otherwise, any beneficial effect following use of the herb or plant is probably best explained as due to the placebo effect, natural regression, the body’s own natural healing processes, or to some other non-herbal factor.

aura_150pxWhy so many people—including many highly educated and medically trained people—believe in the efficacy of quack remedies is a complex issue. As Barry Beyerstein has pointed out in his most thorough analysis of this phenomenon, there are a “number of social, psychological, and cognitive factors that can convince honest, intelligent, and well-educated people that scientifically-discredited [or untested] treatments have merit” (Beyerstein 1999). The typical believer in untested or discredited medical treatments accepts uncritically the apparently clear messages of personal experience that such treatments are effective. To the uncritical thinker, many worthless or harmful treatments seem to “work” (the pragmatic fallacy). Such people are either unaware of or intentionally ignore the many perceptual and cognitive biases that deceive us into thinking there are causal relationships between quack treatments and feeling better or recovering from some illness or disease. They uncritically place “more faith in personal experience and intuition than on controlled, statistical studies” (Beyerstein 1999).

Furthermore, the mass media is rarely critical of “alternative” healing and often presents non-scientific medicine in a very positive light. And critics of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are often . . .

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Reiki Healing

Via The Soap Box

reiki-cat 1104_250pxReiki healing. It is a form of alternative medicine that was invented in 1922 by Mikao Usui that many people (particularly those in the New Age Movement) believe that people can focus this energy from some supernatural source and use it to heal people.

While there are a lot of things that I’ve noticed about Reiki healing, there are five particular things that I’ve noticed about it.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about Reiki healing:

5. It’s like faith healing without God.

Reiki healing is to the New Age Movement what faith healing is to Christian Fundamentalist: they both are using a source of energy from a supernatural power that is basically far beyond what they can really comprehend (and that they will admit to not fully understanding it) and expect it to do your bidding. Also, practitioners tend use their hands as a way to channel this energy into the “patient”.

That is the basics of what both faith healing and Reiki healing is, the only real differences is that with faith healing you at least know where this energy is suppose to be coming from, where as in Reiki healing there can be multiple sources where this supposed energy is coming from (except from God… usually). And that’s another thing about Reiki healing…

4. There is no set source from where this energy comes from.

reiki_IHdsCxZvUnGm_200pxDo you know where your spiritual healing energy is coming from? Well, neither do Reiki healing practitioners.

The range of alleged sources for the energy that Reiki healers claim they get this energy from to do their healing varies. Some claims it’s from themselves. Some claims it’s from the “patient”. Some claims it’s all life around us (kind of like the Force from Star Wars). Some claims it’s from the Earth. Some claims it’s from spirits. Some claims it’s from the Sun. Some claim it’s from the Universe.

In other words there is no agreement on where this alleged energy comes from. The only agreement amongst Reiki healing practitioners is that this energy is good for you.

3. It should be cheap.

money-stacks-psd70735_200pxAccording to Reiki healing practitioners, Reiki energy is all around us and/or inside of us, and if you believe them, it is an unlimited resource that can be used by anyone… theoretical speaking.

Now considering this it should be pretty darn cheap to go to a Reiki healing practitioner and have them try to heal you (hence the word “try”) because they don’t have to buy anything to do what they do, they’re just using their own mental power to force your body to heal.

Most people would think that after considering all of these factors that Reiki healing would be cheap, except…

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Prove Your Supernatural Power and Get Rich

If you can demonstrate a power unknown to science, there are people looking to write you a check.

By Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here.

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Houdini’s psychic challenge letter
Photo: Chris Perley
(Click image for larger view)

It can sometimes be quite mind-boggling to hear a friend or family member reveal that they have some kind of supernatural ability. Often they feel an empathetic connection to others, sometimes the ability to perform minor healings, or to predict future events. Many times, these are abilities for which “supernatural” seems too strong a word; they are more spiritual or metaphysical, or based on some sensing of an energy. It’s more than likely that you yourself believe you have such an ability, or perhaps did at one time. Nearly all of us have. But whether the ability is energetic or spiritual, supernatural truly is the best word that applies. A supernatural ability could almost be seen as a superpower, something a fictional superhero might be able to do. And we all want superpowers. We all want your supernatural ability to be proven true. And we want it so much that a large number of groups around the world will pay you to prove it.

Such prizes have been available at least since Houdini, who had a standing $10,000 offer for anyone who could create a paranormal manifestation that he could not duplicate. The granddaddy of today’s challenges is the James Randi Educational Foundation‘s Million Dollar Challenge, which will pay anyone who can prove an ability unknown to science one million dollars, and Chinese journalist Sima Nan will kick in a million Yuan (about $150,000) on top of it. It’s not the only big prize out there: the Belgian group SKEPP offers the Sisyphus Prize for one million Euros, which at current exchange rates, is about a quarter million dollars more than the Million Dollar Challenge. The Independent Investigation Group, with affiliates throughout the United States, offers a $100,000 prize. Puzzling World in New Zealand has long offered the $100,000 Pyschic Challenge, and just across the pond, the Australian Skeptics offer a $100,000 prize. The Science and Rationalists’ Association of India offers a INπ 2 million Miracle Challenge, worth about $50,000. These are most of the largest prizes, but many, many smaller prizes are offered all around the world. If you have a supernatural ability of any kind, you owe it to yourself – or at least to your favorite charity – to prove it and use the reward however you see fit.

It’s easy to dismiss the groups who run these challenges as cynics who just want to gloat over someone’s failure, and for sure, such people are found in those groups. But many members of the groups joined because they, too, have always dreamed of having a superpower. Should you win the money and prove that a supernatural ability is possible, you’ll not only turn the world on its head, you’ll be handed money by people who have never been happier to sign a check.

I truly do encourage you to go for it. Here are three big pieces of advice, based on the experiences of the many previous claimants:

1. Be able to succinctly describe a testable ability.

telekinesis_fullpic_1149_300pxThe biggest headache for the people who offer these prizes is that the claimant can almost never provide a simple, clear description of their ability. For example, if you believe you have the power to influence a cat telepathically, you have to give a specific and testable example. Most claimants usually write in with a great lengthy email, telling about the many examples they’ve experienced of a cat doing whatever they wanted it to do; or perhaps with long rambling experiences of sharing the cat’s feelings or of their history of owning cats with whom they felt empathetic.

The challengers have no use for a long letter. You truly must be able to describe one specific ability in a single sentence. If you have many, then pick exactly one, one that you are most confident you can consistently prove.

Nobody is going to give you a cash prize for the length of your letter, or for the number of cats you’ve felt empathetic toward. You must be able to provide a clear, testable ability. If your ability is broad-reaching and vague, it will not be possible to construct a test protocol, and you will not be able to prove it. You must be able to select, within the scope of your broad-reaching abilities, something specific that’s testable and repeatable. For example, “I can make my cat jump onto its perch, within five seconds of giving it a mental command, when the cat neither see me nor hear me, and I can do it 8 out of 10 times.”

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Ted Serios claimed he could make images appear on Polaroid film just by thinking of an image.
(See: Thoughtography)

It has to be something concise, specific, and unmistakable. If you feel that your ability is too broad to be fairly represented by such a precise example, then you are unlikely to convince anyone, and will certainly be unable to prove your ability to the satisfaction of whatever criteria are agreed upon.

Many claimants report that they feel it’s unfair to try and represent their ability with a single demonstration that’s so much more specific than what they generally do. If you feel the same way and can’t agree to a simple test protocol, then you’re likely to leave the impression that your abilities are really just your own misinterpretation of ordinary coincidences. It’s something the psychologists call confirmation bias – you happen to notice when your cat jumps onto his perch while you were thinking of him, but you failed to weigh it against the far larger number of times your cat jumped onto the perch when you weren’t around and had nothing to do with it.

2. Be aware of why previous claimants failed.

Many people have taken such tests, and so far, all have failed. However, they’ve almost always cited an excuse or some external reason out of their control that the test failed. You must be aware of why previous claimants have failed, and be prepared not to suffer their same fate. This means preparation and anticipation of the problems.

Claimants are generally required to . . .

Five Stupid Things About Alternative Medicine

It’s time for alternative medicine to take its medicine! (See what I did there?)

(I’m sorry.)

via Five Stupid Things About Alternative Medicine – YouTube.

Book raises alarms about alternative medicine

Via USA Today

alternative-medicine-for-dummiesPHILADELPHIA — The 12-year-old girl arrived at the hospital wracked with abdominal pain.

Doctors diagnosed her with acute pancreatitis, in which pancreatic enzymes begin digesting not just food, but the pancreas itself.

The most likely cause of the girl’s condition: toxic side effects from more than 80 dietary supplements, which the girl’s mother carried in a shopping bag, says Sarah Erush, clinical pharmacy manager at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where the girl was treated last summer.

The girl’s mother had been treating her with the supplements and other therapies for four years to treat the girl’s “chronic Lyme disease,” a condition that, experts say, doesn’t actually exist. While some Lyme infections cause pain and other lingering symptoms, the infections don’t persist for years. And, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America, the infections don’t require years of antibiotics or other risky therapies given by some alternative medicine practitioners.

Doctors were able to control the girl’s illness with standard therapies, Erush says, and she was discharged from the hospital after two weeks.

Although the child’s story was unforgettable, Erush says, it wasn’t unusual. Parents now “routinely” bring children to her hospital with a variety of alternative remedies, hoping that nurses will administer them during a child’s stay.

There are an ever-growing number of supplements from which to choose: More than 54,000 varieties sold in stores and the Internet, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 8.07.06 PMAbout 50% of Americans use alternative medicine, and 10% use it on their children, notes Paul Offit, Children’s Hospital’s chief of infectious disease.

The girl’s story illustrates the serious but often little-known risks posed by some forms of alternative medicine, a loosely regulated industry that includes everything from herbal supplements to crystal healing and acupuncture, says Offit, author of Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, (HarperCollins, $29.99), being published Tuesday

Many consumers view alternative medicine industry as more altruistic and home-spun than Big Pharma. But in his book, Offit paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market.

“It’s a big business,” says Offit, best known for developing a vaccine against rotavirus, a diarrheal illness that killed 2,000 people each day, mostly children in the developing world.

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Open Up Your Mind and Let Your Brain Shut Off

Sharon_hill_80pxBy via The Huffington Post

People tell me I should be more open-minded.

There is a clichéd saying regarding open-mindedness: “Keep an open mind — but not so open that your brain falls out”.

This piece of advice is most often said to come from physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988), but also a slew of other more or less famous people, most of them from the field of science: Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, James Oberg, Bertrand Russell, J. Robert Oppenheimer. It’s plausible that they all certainly said it at one time or another because it applies every time one is presented with a fringe or alternative explanation for something. It’s well worth remembering as a rule of thumb.

Because I peruse paranormal-themed sites and various “water-cooler” forums on the web, I frequently see ideas thrown out there that would qualify as amazing and paradigm-shifting. So, what do I think about this latest crazy thing, people ask?

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The Starchild skull.

Here’s a recent example. With all the recent speculation about “alien” remains, someone on Facebook mentioned Lloyd Pye who contends (for almost 15 years now) that a curiously-shaped skull he has is that of an alien-human hybrid. Called the “star child” skull, Pye promotes the story that this is proof that humans descended from extraterrestrial beings.

The plausibility of this idea is practically nil. There is no decent evidence in support of it except a nifty story. To accept it, we’d have to throw out all of what we know about human history, evolution, and a good bit of well-established physics. Just because of one odd-looking skull? No, thank you. That would be stupid. Thus, to consider such an idea takes me about a minute before I realize that would be unreasonable. It’s an imaginative idea, just like mermaids and remote viewing and time travelers. But in order to accept it, I’d have to discard too much (e.g., my brain and society’s accumulated knowledge). The evidence clearly suggests another more down-to-earth explanation. Since the skull DNA tested as human, and we know that certain genetic conditions can cause the enlargement of the skull in just this way, I’m going to accept the obvious and not some far-fetched story just for kicks.

Calling skeptics closed-minded because we discard wacky ideas is a common ploy. It’s often used as a personal insult because the skeptic has rejected a baseless idea that the promoters fancy. When you don’t have evidence to support your idea, observe that the proponent resorts to derogatory tactics.

But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

“But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.”

It’s not about actually being open-minded towards new ideas. Instead, the proponent is accusing the skeptic of being stubborn, undemocratic and unfair. They see it as the skeptical person, being overly rational, ignoring a possibly worthwhile option to be considered. But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

Let’s take another example: energy healing. I should be open-minded, reiki practitioners say, and try these forms of energy medicine where healing energy gets channeled or manipulated for better health. If someone offers these treatments to me and I just say “OK! Sounds good!” (and hand over my money) is that actually being open-minded? No. It’s swallowing what I’m being fed without a thought. The same would apply to . . .

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Aura Cleanser: Another WTF Item

Via The Soap Box

Aura Cleanser only $3.23 per ounce!!!!! (source: Amazon)

Sometimes you can find some really strange products on the internet. Some of these products honestly make me wonder how these things can even legally be sold, and why the website companies that these products are being sold off of would even allow these items to be sold using their websites in the first place. Recently I came across such a product on Amazon.com called Aura Cleanser, and the only thing I could think of when I saw this is, “why is this allowed on Amazon?”

In the product description of this spray, it first claims to do this:

  • AURA CLEANSER is a highly effective patterned recipe formulated to erase negativity in and around you on many energy levels.

Okay, how exactly can a spray, whom’s contents are unknown, erase “negativity” (as if that’s a real thing rather than just how you perceive the world and how you allow it to affect you) and effect energy levels on any scale?

The second claim goes as this:

  • This Essence was especially created to help neutralize and cleanse areas where it is sprayed.

Again, how is some simple spray going to “cleanse” an area of something that really hasn’t been proven to exist, more or less yet been proven to actually affect a person’s mind?

Now the third claim made says it can do this:

  • This powerful essence encourages energetic responses from multi-levels of consciousness, clearing any negative threat, psychic or otherwise.

There’s no such thing as psychic powers, and thus no such thing as psychic threats, negative or otherwise. Also, what exactly is this so called “energetic responses” that it is said to encourage? In my opinion that is sort of vague.

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Red Flags Of Quackery

Created by Maki at Sci-ence, the Red Flags Of Quackery inforgraphic below lays out many of the gambits and logical fallacies you may encounter by charlatans and true believers.


(click image for larger view)

2012-01-09-redflags2

(click image for larger view)

Energy Medicine – Noise-Based Pseudoscience

by via Science-Based Medicine

energyhealingSo-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is largely philosophy-based medicine rather than science based. There are a few core concepts that are endlessly recycled in various forms, but it is mythology and culture, not grounded in the rigorous methods of science that allow us to tell the difference between our satisfying fantasies and hard reality. Sometimes proponents of such philosophies try to cloak their beliefs in the appearance of science, resulting in what we simply call pseudoscience.

Harriet Hall coined an excellent term to refer to such pseudoscience –” Tooth Fairy science.” In her metaphor, pseudoscientists sometimes act like scientists by describing the details and statistics of their claimed phenomenon (such as examining all the details of the Tooth Fairy phenomenon) without ever testing the reality of the phenomenon itself. The fundamental concept at the core of their belief is never challenged, or only superficially so, and they proceed prematurely from their faulty premise.

Another term that I find extremely apt is “Cargo Cult science,” a term coined by Richard Feynman. This is a reference to the cargo cults of New Guinea – the pre-industrial tribes were observed building straw mock-ups of control towers, planes, and runways in hopes that the planes they observed flying over head would deliver their cargo to them. In other words – the cargo cults mimicked the superficial appearance of an aviation infrastructure but had none of the real essence or function (because of lack of understanding). This is a perfect analogy to much of what passes for science within the world of CAM.

reiki-hand_200pxNot that we need another analogy, but I have often described such pseudoscience as being lost in the noise. In any endeavor to detect something there is the issue of the signal to noise ratio.  Often the core challenge of scientific research is pulling the signal out from the background noise, or (more to the point) deciding if there is a signal in the noise, or if the information represents pure noise. In this analogy “noise” refers to any randomness in the data or interference from effects other than the alleged signal of interest. What I find is that pseudoscientific investigations of tooth fairy phenomena are completely lost in the noise of data, seeing whatever phantom “signals” support their philosophy. Elaborate but entirely illusory constructs are often crafted (or retrofitted to) these phantom signals.

Energy medicine is a perfect example of cargo-cult, Tooth Fairy, noise-based pseudoscience.

Energy medicine began its life as a philosophy-based notion, and is still philosophy-based, but many of its modern practitioners are desperate for the respectability that science has to offer. Some have therefore erected a pseudoscientific facade for this pre-scientific superstition.

One example I was recently asked to investigate is the Heartmath institute., which promotes an energy-medicine based claim that the heart sends out “energy” waves that regulate the body, including the brain.

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The Honest Liar – Homeopathy

Money for Nothing

by JREF Staff via randi.org

JREF senior fellow, magician and scientific skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, “The Honest Liar”, presents JREF’s newest video series, aptly titled The Honest Liar. Follow Jamy as he uses critical thinking, skepticism, and a healthy dose of humor, along with his expertise in legerdemain, to explore the facts behind false claims.

In our first episode, “Money for Nothing”, Jamy punctures the pretense of homeopathy. How much is too much to pay for a remedy with nothing in it?

View on YouTube

2013 Pigasus Awards Announcement (James Randi)

Since 1997, the JREF’s annual Pigasus Awards have been bestowed on the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudo-scientists, and faith healers—and on their credulous enablers, too. The awards are named for both the mythical flying horse Pegasus of Greek mythology and the highly improbable flying pig of popular cliche. These are the awards for 2012. Find out more about this year’s winners here: http://ow.ly/jDZwg

via 2013 Pigasus Awards Announcement – YouTube.

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