From Abracadabra to Zombies
The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter
Volume 13 No. 6
"It's become politically correct to investigate nonsense."--R. Barker Bausell*
“The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.” –-H. L. Mencken
I'm sure you're all familiar with ACEP, the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. These are the folks who petitioned Wikipedia to stop its "bias and censorship ... with regard to pages on holistic healing modalities such as energy medicine and energy psychology."* The ACEP folks believe in meridians, chakras, the biofield, and applied kinesiology (which they call "muscle testing...to receive biofeedback from the body"). Energy healing, they say, uses methods that "are helping people around the world experience rapid relief from trauma, stress, limiting beliefs and more." They also claim: "By working with the whole body-mind system, energy psychology facilitates rapid positive change and optimal psychotherapeutic outcomes, and is aligned with the latest findings from neuroscience and traumatology."
As of June 7, 2014, a grand total of 10,828 people had signed the ACEP petition addressed to Jimmy Wales to "Create and enforce new policies that allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing." Last March, Wales, founder of Wikipedia, responded:
No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful. Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t.
It may seem unfair to characterize people who base their science on ancient metaphysical beliefs in meridians and chakras, and modern pseudoscientific notions like applied kinesiology, as lunatic charlatans. You might as well characterize all theologians as lunatic charlatans, except that most of them don't claim to be doing science that is aligned with modern neurology.
On the other hand, there is something inherently suspicious about a discipline that multiplies varieties of therapies faster than fruit flies breed new generations of mutants. There are so many kinds of energy psychology that it seems the only standard is that you have to believe in things that are palpably not true and be enthusiastic in researching nonsense.
Many of these therapies incorporate proven methods from cognitive-behavioral psychology along with such nonsense as tapping acupressure points or the belly. The Skeptic's Dictionary has entries on at least two of the energy methods: EFT (emotional freedom techniques) and TFT (thought field therapy). The applied kinesiology entry discusses how David Hawkins uses AK in his energy healing. There are many more such healers: Larry Nims (Be Set Free Fast), Theodore Baroody, Jr. (author of the book Alkalize or Die), Bruce Lipton (for more on Lipton, see Epigenetics: It doesn’t mean what quacks think it means, Bruce Lipton, Quack, Ignoramus, and Bruce Lipton: Quack, Creationist, Buffoon, PhD.), Rangana Choudhuri, Candace Pert, and Deepak Chopra, to name just a few who are discussed on a page devoted to the healing power of nature.
I can understand the impatience of Jimmy Wales with these scientists when I read such things as the following in their scientific papers:
A scientific study conducted by the Heartmath Institute demonstrated that when study participants evoked strong positive emotions like love and appreciation, their DNA unwound and increased in length. However, when these same individuals experienced strong negative emotions their DNA became shorter and in some cases their DNA codes were terminated.
Despite the fact that energy psychology is not rooted in reality but in metaphysics, I would not characterize all of these folks as lunatics or charlatans. Most of them are like zealous religious fundamentalists who connect themselves to the science-based community by motivated reasoning (distorting everything in their path) and who connect themselves to each other by communal reinforcement and the belief that the reality-based community is led by lunatics, charlatans, and persecutors.
Of course, even though these energy psychology folks think real medicine died out with science-based medicine, they are quick to attach themselves to any bit of science that seems to support their love of "the ancient wisdom."
Will Drinking Green Tea Turn You from Fat to Thin?
Dr. Oz thinks so. Researchers at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences agree with Oz....if you're a mouse who exercises regularly. Oz bases his belief about the weight-loss benefits of green tea on his belief in the weight-loss benefits of caffeine. According to the folks at the Mayo Clinic, however:
Caffeine may slightly boost weight loss or prevent weight gain, but there's no sound evidence that increased caffeine consumption results in significant or permanent weight loss....
The bottom line: Be cautious about using caffeine products to help with weight loss. When used in moderation (400 milligrams or less) by healthy adults, caffeine is generally safe. But too much caffeine might cause nervousness, insomnia, nausea, increased blood pressure and other problems.
An 8-ounce cup of regular coffee has between 95-200 mg of caffeine. The same amount of brewed green tea has between 24-45 mg of caffeine.* Do the math. If caffeine is what you want, you have to drink about four times as much green tea as coffee to get the same amount of caffeine.
Oz claims that green tea has "fat-blasting properties," nutrients that help block fat absorption and "help raise metabolism and help your body utilize carbs more efficiently." The evidence? A single study involving ten healthy men, none of whom was obese and who ranged in build from lean to mildly overweight.
Each was randomly assigned to each of three meals containing one of three treatments: green tea extract (50 mg of caffeine); 50 mg capsule of caffeine; or a placebo capsule. On three separate occasions, each spent 24 hours in a specially designed respiratory chamber in which researchers could measure energy expenditure and thermogenesis.
Those who consumed green tea extract had a 4% increase in thermogenesis, with an overall energy expenditure increase of 4.5%.*
Wow! If you want to see confirmation bias at work, do a Google search for 'green tea increases metabolism rate'. To the alties, science-based medicine is a regression from the wisdom of the ancients' traditional medicines...until some scientist produces a study that supports their beliefs. If the study hadn't supported their belief, you can be sure the alties would have been quick to note how small the study was.
Will Drinking Green Tea Prevent Cancer?
Dr. Oz thinks so. He claims that 3 cups of green tea a day can prevent breast cancer by as much as 50% because of its high EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) antioxidant content. Add lemon, he says, and you increase the antioxidant power 10 times. Green tea is high in polyphenols, antioxidants that protect against cell damage.* In a systematic review of fifty-one studies with more than 1.6 million participants, the Cochrane Collaboration concluded:
The evidence that the consumption of green tea might reduce the risk of cancer was conflicting. This means, that drinking green tea remains unproven in cancer prevention, but appears to be safe at moderate, regular and habitual use.*
Belief in the unproven and the unproveable may be anathema to skeptics, but it is a badge of honor among the alties.
Time to End the The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Dr. Josephine Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, thinks it's time for a name change or, as John Renish puts it, to rebrand the quackery. She wants to drop 'alternative' from the name because it implies the agency is promoting unproven treatments. Duh. She wants to stick 'research' in the title "to emphasize the agency's research focus." The proposed new name--the National Center for Research on Complementary and Integrative Health--won't improve things in my mind. The name would convey the idea of doing research on unproven treatments that are popular with lunatic charlatans like Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Gary Schwartz, and Joe Mercola. To be honest, factual, and truthful, this outfit should be renamed the National Center for Research on Implausible Health Treatments
It's time to shut down this monument to government waste. We've been waiting for more than two decades for the NIH to announce some major breakthrough in health care that has emerged from NCCAM. Unfortunately, most of the "alternative" research is driven by faith, hope, and ideology rather than science. Over the years, the NCCAM has given away more than $2.5 billion and has nothing to show for it. Belief in energy medicine and countless quack cures for cancer and other diseases has risen in disproportion to our increased knowledge and improved treatments thanks to science-based medicine. As Dr. Wallace Sampson noted: the NCCAM "is the only entity in the NIH [among some 27 institutes and centers] devoted to an ideological approach to health."* Briggs says she wants our comments and directs us to the the NCCAM website to post them. I went there and couldn't find any way to leave comments. I guess my chakras are blocking my meridians, causing my biofield to malfunction.