A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: Emotional Freedom Techniques

20 April 2014
I couldn’t agree more that EFT seems like total woo. Recently, it seems, the American Psychological Association has concluded that it is supported by evidence. I don’t know enough to critically evaluate this article; I assume it’s just capturing placebo effect? If you are able to respond thank you, if not I understand.


reply: The article Peter links to is "Clinical EFT as an Evidence-Based Practice for the Treatment of Psychological and Physiological Conditions" by Dawson Church, the head of an outfit called National Institute for Integrative Healthcare. The article was not published in an American Psychological Association journal nor has the APA concluded that EFT is supported by the evidence. Church claims that his article "describes standards by which therapies may be evaluated, such as those of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 12 Task Force, and reviews the studies showing that Clinical EFT meets these criteria." This simply means that Church thinks EFT meets the APA's standards. The reader can look at Church's article and make up his or her own mind. I'll review one section of his article--one that I think is crucial to any claim that tapping on acupoints while using standard cognitive behavioral techniques is essential.

I've stated this before but I'll repeat it for those who insist on misreading what I write: EFT works. It works because therapists use proven methods of therapy. The tapping of acupoints and any claim that some sort of subtle energy is being affected by the tapping is pure pseudoscience.

Below is a copy of the section of Church's article that I will review:

Is Acupoint Tapping an Active Ingredient in EFT?

EFT’s “Setup Statement” is an essential part of the “Basic Recipe.” The Setup Statement has two parts. One is a statement of the client’s presenting problem, and clients are instructed to focus on the problem by saying something like, “Even though I have this problem…” while tapping on a specified acupressure point. They repeat the name of the problem while tapping on the other points. This focus on the problem is reminiscent of the exposure techniques practiced in Prolonged Exposure (PE) and other exposure therapies. The second half of the Setup Statement directs the client toward acceptance of conditions as they are: “… I deeply and completely accept myself.” This cognitive reframe is akin to the techniques used in cognitive therapies, which seek to modify dysfunctional client cognitions and emotional responses to events. In a review of therapies for PTSD, the US government’s Institute of Medicine found that therapies that use exposure and cognitive shift were efficacious (Institute of Medicine, 2007). EFT’s Setup Statement draws from elements of these two established therapies.

The third ingredient used by EFT is tapping on points used in acupuncture and acupressure (acupoints). Is this component of EFT an active ingredient, or is EFT’s efficacy dependent solely on the exposure and cognitive components it shares with other therapies?

Fox and Malinowski (2013) sought to answer the question of whether tapping is an active ingredient or an inert placebo. Their study examined mindfulness, and study-related positive and negative emotions in an RCT of 20 undergraduates using the Achievement Emotions Questionnaire (Pekrun, Goetz, Frenzel, Barchfeld, & Perry, 2011). The EFT group received the Basic Recipe as described in The EFT Manual. The control group received the cognitive and exposure elements of the Basic Recipe but without acupoint tapping. Instead, they received an active control of diaphragmatic breathing (DB) in its place. The intervention lasted 40 minutes, and participants were reassessed 7 days later. Significant improvement in study-related positive emotions such as enjoyment and hope was found, along with decreases in negative emotions such as anger and shame. No change in mindfulness was detected.

This indicates that EFT’s acupoint stimulation is an active ingredient. This finding supports studies that use fMRI to measure the effects of acupuncture on the areas of the brain associated with fear (Hui et al., 2005; Fang et al., 2009; Napadow et al., 2007). These studies uniformly report acupuncture to produce rapid regulation of these brain regions. They are also consistent with the studies that use EEG (electroencephalogram) to evaluate EFT. They find that EFT reduces the brain wave frequencies associated with stress or amplifies those associated with relaxation, as well as producing other beneficial physiological changes (Swingle, Pulos, & Swingle, 2004; Lambrou, Pratt, & Chevalier, 2003; Swingle, 2010). When the established protocols drawn from exposure and cognitive therapies are paired with acupressure, their effects appear to be enhanced. It is probable that the amygdala and other fear-processing centers of the nervous system are being regulated, as stress-laden emotions are calmed (Phelps & LeDoux, 2005).

The only study Church cites to prove that the tapping of acupoints is essential to EFT had a sample of twenty and the sample was of college undergrads, none of whom was receiving therapy.The sample is too small and non-representative of patients in therapy. The claim about the tapping regulating the amygdala is speculation that adds nothing to the evidence for EFT being "evidence-based." The references to fMRI studies on acupuncture and EEG studies on EFT are superfluous to the claim that tapping is essential to the efficacy of EFT.

The journal this article was published in is an online open access journal. It is peer-reviewed, but the standards are obviously pretty low.

20 Feb 2014
Dr. Carroll:
Is there a basis for this statement: “Tapping works on so many things because it's been scientifically proven to re-wire the brain.”

Tom D.

reply: One of the more popular, though misleading, claims put forth as proof that some treatment, therapy, or training technique "works" is the claim that it rewires the brain. This is misleading because it falsely implies that any rewiring of the brain, i.e., altering of neural circuitry, is permanent and good. In one sense of 'rewiring the brain' anything you do that isn't a habit or relies on the autonomic system or is a natural reflex rewires the brain because it requires some new neural connections. These kinds of rewiring are ephemeral and in themselves they're neither good nor bad.

I've recently finished reading a book by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., called The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. Schwartz writes that "neuroplasticity means rewiring the brain," i.e., establishing new neural pathways. This can happen automatically, as when the brain rewires itself after an injury to a part of the brain. For example, a particular motor action, like moving your left arm, might be linked to a particular part of the right hemisphere. If that part of the brain is damaged rendering the left arm immobile, another part of the brain might take up the task of linking itself to movement of the left arm, thereby restoring a motor function that may have been lost due to, say, a stroke or an accident. Rewiring can also occur in response to behavior and this is the kind of rewiring that interests us here. Schwartz works with patients suffering from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and has developed a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that, he says, rewires his patients' brains. In the late 1980s, he and some colleagues did PET scans of twenty-four patients and compared the scans to those of "normal controls." Here is what they found:

....our OCD volunteers showed hypermetabolic activity in the orbital frontal cortex [OFC]....The scans showed, too, a trend toward hyperactivity in the caudate nucleus. Another group [of researchers] had found that a closely related structure, the anterior cingulate gyrus, was also pumped up in the brains of OCD patients....

By 1990, five different studies by three different research teams had all shown elevated metabolism in the orbital frontal cortex in patients with OCD....

Other research indicated that the function of the orbital frontal cortex is to detect errors, "alerting you when something is amiss." When expectations and reality are in harmony, this area of the brain quiets down. OCD patients, Schwartz found, can't quiet down this area of the brain. He found a form of CBT that quiets down the OFC as well as another overactive area of the brain of his OCD patients, the striatum. He called the overactivity "brain lock" and compared it to being in a loop that you can't get out of. The loop runs between several parts of the brain; Schwartz calls it the OCD circuit.

Schwartz refers to his treatment program as the Four Step Method. It involves training patients to recognize that they have "a brain wiring problem" due to "an abnormality in their brain's metabolism." Then patients must "refocus on a pleasant, familiar 'good habit' kind of behavior." According to Schwartz, "refocusing changes which brain circuits become activated." The last step of the method involves recognizing that you are not your brain and that your faulty brain is what causes your obsessions and compulsions. The patient learns to devalue his symptoms and attends to them as if he were a spectator. To test his method, Schwartz did PET scans on "eighteen drug-free OCD patients before and after they underwent ten weeks of the Four Steps....Twelve of the patients improved significantly....In these, PET scans after treatment showed significantly diminished metabolic activity in both the right and left caudate, with the right-side decrease particularly striking. There was also a significant decrease in the abnormally high, and pathological, correlations among activities in the caudate, the orbital frontal cortex, and the thalamus in the right hemisphere....The interpretation was clear: therapy had altered the metabolism of the OCD circuit." Schwartz considered this the first evidence of any form of non-drug treatment for a psychiatric disorder having "the power to change brain chemistry in a well-defined brain circuit." He called this "reprogramming the brain." The patients had replaced pathological neural circuitry with healthy neural circuitry.

Schwartz also provides two striking examples from musicians that illustrate the pros and cons of neural rewiring. In one case, a musically gifted young woman suffered from severe seizures that led her to have large parts of her brain removed, including a section of the right temporal lobe where the brain stores musical memories. Yet, after the surgery, her musical memory was intact. Doctors suspect that her brain had been damaged when she was a toddler, perhaps by the measles, and that other regions of her brain took up the task of musical memory.

The second case involves a concert pianist who started playing the piano at age six and practiced for up to eight hours a day for the next thirteen years. Then suddenly, the woman whose fingers could "fly over the keys in a blur" while playing the difficult and demanding Mozart Twentieth Piano Concerto in D Minor, couldn't find the correct notes and could barely get her fingers to the keyboard. "The thumb on her left hand drooped and refused to rise to the keyboard. Other fingers, on both hands, would rise unbidden when a neighboring digit reached for a note." After being rebuffed by a hand doctor, a psychiatrist, and several doctors, she got desperate and tried acupuncture, Alexander technique, yoga, and breathing exercises. Nothing worked. Finally, one doctor told her that she had "focal hand dystonia." It involves loss of control of individual finger movements and "can strike pianists, flutists, guitarists, and other string players and is believed to reflect the brain's response to many hours of daily practice that serious musicians engage in, often from a young age." For most accomplished musicians, practice is what lays down the neural pathways that allow them to perform so well. But for some, the neural wiring backfires. The brain gets rewired alright, but the result is not always pretty. It took more than two years of physical therapy before the former concert pianist "could once again hold up her wrists and execute the keyboard fingering." The physical therapy rewired her brain.

I've wondered if something analogous to focal hand dystonia doesn't happen to some athletes. Suddenly, an excellent pitcher or second baseman can't control throwing a baseball. (In golf, we call it the yips.) The cases of Steve Blass, Chuck Knoblauch, and Steve Sax come to mind.

So, to answer your question, no, I don't think tapping, by itself, is going to rewire the brain in any important way, but tapping might accompany some form of BCT that leads to replacing pathological neural circuitry with healthy neural circuitry.

(Afterthought: the Schwartz book has a lot of interesting stuff, but he thinks he's discovered a new force in nature--the mental force--and that quantum physics is the key to understanding this new force, free will, morality, and possibly life after death. His case for the mental force and quantum physics as a key to understanding consciousness is pretty weak, in my opinion.)


19 November 2011
I will spin you a yarn such as you rarely hear. I will tell you the
tale of a wandering soul in search of truth.

It all began when I was curious what the skeptics where saying about EFT, hence my perusal of your site.

After a couple minutes reading that article and a couple others, in
which you staunchly dis everything you can't see, taste, touch, hear, kick or piss on, I said to myself:

'My, what a truly selfless person! Someone who thinks only of other people, and has put it as his sole goal in life to save the innocent populace of the world from conniving thieves and wicked scammers!'

But 'lo! Something caught my eye! What is that to the right of the
screen? It is a book! Gods above be praised!

Then I asked myself: 'What could cause such an obviously knowledgeable man to dedicate his life to this noble enterprise of saving poor stupid suckers from the douchebags? What could induce him to spend his esteemed time writing this book for the gullible and the ignorant? Surely it must be the goodness of his heart out of which he does these things!'

So I clicked on the shiny book, and was dismayed! Money! I must PAY for it! All my wild hopes came crashing down about my poor ears. I had hoped at last to have found someone who truly cared!

So then I decided: 'This person is just as much of a bullshitter as
every single one of the people his pen vomits about. He makes his living off from the gullible fools who would seek not to have
themselves the target of his scathing pen.'

Then I realized: 'Skepticism is just as much a religion as Islam. The adherents of the religion of Skepticism have their cult followings, their meetings, their speeches, and last but not least, their merchandise. You pay to read their books. You pay to go to their rallies. Like every religion, it is a feel-good cult. You come away in a euphoria of self-satisfaction; after all, are you not now wiser than everyone who did not go to this event? Like all religion, they damn everyone who does not adhere to their strict and unforgiving doctrine.
They recruit new acolytes to their circles, and they celebrate mightily when they convert some poor sod from an apposing religion.

Though they are a small cult, they are more vocal than most. Though they serve no greater good than their own ego, they are persistent. Like all religions, they have their holy books. And they preach a gospel of cold, cruel, merciless message of logic (and pissing on things). And more-so than some religions, the cult of skepticism is profitable.'

And then I left. I walked forth into the light of the dawning sun a
wiser, and more importantly, a slightly richer, man.

The end.

Next: Why is the Establishment the gatekeeper? Because it pays.

Yours truly,

A wiser man.

reply: Mr. Wiser Man failed to note that he was reading the EFT article on a free website and that anyone can read everything that's in the book plus a whole lot more for free anytime on the SD website.

Contrary to Mr. Wiser Man's opening claim, his yarn is worn out, hackneyed, and common. Speculating about motives, rather than presenting specific criticisms of substance, is a standard fare among critics of skeptics. Claiming it only took two minutes to figure everything out is also common among those who rely on insight, intuition, quick thinking, or whatever you want to call it, instead of thoughtful reflection on ideas.

Mr. Wiser Man's claim that I make my living from my books and website is irrelevant to whether anything I write there is true or justified. I am happy to say,though, that this is not how I make my living. I wouldn't live very well if I had to rely on income from my work in skepticism, but that fact is impertinent. I'm retired and live on a pension that I earned while teaching students, some of whom resembled Mr. Wiser Man in talent and focus. Fortunately, most of my students wanted to learn, not show off their cleverness.

These familiar critics of skeptics see logic as cold and cruel because it doesn't comfort them in their delusions. Nowhere does Mr. Wiser Man respond to the claim that EFT has repackaged standard relaxation techniques and marketed them as another type of energy medicine. There is no response to the charge that EFT is placebo medicine. There is just the old familiar ad hominem about motives, totally irrelevant to the claims I or other skeptics make about EFT. There's the standard red herring: you don't believe it because you can't see it! No, I don't believe it because the explanation in terms of subtle energies is superfluous and everything EFT does can be explained by healing processes that are well established.

The characterization of skeptical critics as a cult or religion, known as "poisoning the well" in circles that don't have disdain for logic, is also a common tactic of those who would rather use rhetoric than think about anything of substance.

I post Mr. Wiser Man's comments as an example of wasting everybody's time with irrelevant "insights." Critics, please offer something of substance. Point out fallacies, errors of fact, that kind of thing. Both I and many readers will benefit from having our errors corrected. Nobody benefits from arrogant rants that try to be clever but do nothing more than distract attention from the subject at hand.


9 October 2010
Hi. I came upon your site while researching the effectiveness of EFT and was amused by the comments posted, skeptical as well as non-skeptical. Here's my two cents for what it's worth:

1) When you get right down to putting things into perspective, "modern" science, as venerated as it is, has not been around very long and is continually changing (leeching, anyone?);

reply: "Leeching?" Strange choice of words. As for science continually changing...you think that's a bad thing? When you make mistakes or learn something new, what do you do? Have you ever heard of John Maynard Keynes? He was once criticized for changing his mind on monetary policy during the Great Depression. His reply is one we should all remember: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

2) I tend to be quite skeptical of research as: A) it's easy to manipulate statistics; B) the funder and the researcher are often in bed together and, if so, this may be a fact that's difficult to discover; and C) no matter how sound the research may be, if the conclusion/s drawn are not correct, it's worthless (if you are fortunate to live long enough, you will see many things such as chocolate, wine, salt, butter going from being "bad" for you to being "good" for you;

reply: It is sensible to be skeptical of scientific research for the reasons you state, but don't be so skeptical that you become cynical and distrustful of all science. Cynicism about science is not sensible, as anyone can see by considering such things as the elimination of smallpox and the near-elimination of polio. Those of us who are alive today because of wonderful drugs, devices, and surgeries can't be cynical. We'd be dead if it weren't for our insulin, our stents, our chemotherapies, and our heart bypasses.

and 3) no technique, medicine, procedure, therapist, doctor or.......? heals anybody; people heal themselves because THEY BELIEVE in it. A wise practitioner knows that and is no more than a facilitator of healing regardless of the method used. In this regard, EVERYTHING is the placebo effect and thus the expression: "Healing is 98% the mind, and 2% the medicine."

Sincerely, Marina

reply: Your belief that nobody heals anybody, that people heal themselves because they believe in something has been proven wrong so many times in so many places that it needs no refutation from me. You also seem to have a profound misunderstanding of what is called "the placebo effect."

It is true that much healing occurs that is independent of the technique, medicine, procedure, or physician involved in the healing process. The causal mechanisms of healing can be complex and misleading. I have written elsewhere:

The evidence from many high caliber scientific studies have shown that many forms of energy healing relieve many people of many symptoms and that this is probably due to one or more of the following factors, some of which are referred to as placebo factors, some as false placebo factors (because in some studies their effects have been erroneously attributed to the placebo effect):

· classical conditioning

· suggestion by the healer

· patient beliefs in the competence of the healer and in the method of healing

· patient expectancy and hope for recovery

· the healer’s manner (showing attention, care, affection, sincerity, knowledge)

· the color of the treatment room or the color of the pill one is given (might affect patient expectancy)

· the rituals and theater involved in the delivery of the treatment, including technical jargon, special uniforms, medical gadgetry, treatment room setup, and the like

· spontaneous improvement (the pain or illness runs its natural course to its natural conclusion)

· fluctuation of symptoms

· regression to the mean

· additional simultaneous treatment from scientific medicine

· patient politeness or subordination (the patient doesn’t want to disappoint the healer)

· neurotic or psychotic misjudgment

· psychosomatic phenomena

Belief can play a role in treatment, as is evidenced by reported cases of patients finding relief from severe pain after being given saline solution instead of morphine. But no belief ever killed a virus or a colony of bacteria or fungi in one's lungs. Unfortunately, it is beliefs such as those of the anti-vaccinationists that will lead to the spread of much disease and suffering. If we could change those beliefs we might improve the health of millions and prevent many unnecessary deaths. This will not happen by adhering to ancient, calcified superstitions, but by changing minds to see that scientific medicine, while not perfect, is the best shot we have at making our planet a healthier place.


15 Aug 2010
....I won't argue placebo, power of suggestion, whatever. All I know is that it [EFT] works. I have not had a single nightmare in 2.5 years. I Haven't had a single anxiety attack, hell I don't even have to take meds for depression anymore. The Drs at the VA will attest to all this, they are amazed as well.

I'm a work in progress, I still have joint pain from arthritis in my back. Gary will admit it doesn't cure everything. He will also tell you: "We really don't know how it works. It isn't about me curing anybody. The human body heals itself." ... What Gary Craig did for me was out of goodness.... I realize you'll probably never understand....EFT has no belief status. You don't need to believe it's going to work, it still will. As far as placebo, animals don't talk about results or beliefs. Yet it works incredibly well on animals too. They don't communicate about expectations or sugar pills. Oh my God, I am so glad I don't have to take all those freak-en pills anymore!

OK enough said. I wish you well, have a wonderful week!


reply: I do not claim that EFT doesn't help people. Contrary to DS's claim, Gary Craig does claim to know how EFT works: by manipulating subtle energy (chi).  That is the claim that I focus on in my article on EFT. If Craig merely claimed to be helping people overcome problems, without claiming to be some sort of energy healer, I wouldn't have written about him unless I discovered that he was lying about helping people.

Regarding animals and the placebo effect: it is a common misunderstanding of the placebo effect that leads many people to think that a therapy can't be a placebo therapy if it works on animals. Not so. A study of all the things going on under what is called "the placebo effect" would reveal that classical conditioning is what is going on in animals who appear to be helped by various alternative therapies. (There are also those cases where the animals aren't known by any objective test to actually have been helped. A subjective judgment by an interested party is taken as evidence of healing.)

I wish DS well, too. She has had a rough time of it and has found relief.


24 Dec 2009
Mr. Carroll:

In the process of surfing the Internet for websites that comment on “Emotional Freedom Technique” (EFT), I came across The Skeptic’s Dictionary and the page with your write-up on that subject.

I was looking for reports of success or failure by people who have used or witnessed that technique. Your report seemed critical, so I read on, looking for more specifics. I was disappointed.

reply: Since my entry on EFT is intended to explain what it is and why it seems to work, rather than report on successes or failures, it was inevitable you'd be disappointed. Maybe you expected a critical report to explain why EFT fails to help people or why it doesn't work, instead of an analysis of how EFT and other energy medicines work and remain popular despite the fact that the basis for their healing is delusional.

What I say below will appear as though I am very defensive of EFT. I have no investment in it; I am not a practitioner in the technique; I do not make any money from it. I am only interested in human capabilities. I am an engineer and my motto is, “if it works, use it.”

reply: Your motto is a very popular one among defenders of placebo medicine. Defenders of each of the following are fond of saying: It works! acupuncture, alphabiotics, angel therapy, anthroposophic medicine, aromatherapy, astrotherapy, aura therapy, Ayurvedic medicine, bio-ching, bioharmonics, chiropractic, detoxification therapies, dolphin-assisted therapy, EFT, faith healing, healing touch, homeopathy, hypnosis, iridology, joy touch, magnet therapy, naturopathy, osteopathy, healing prayer, reflexology, reiki, supplement therapy, therapeutic touch, thought field therapy, and urine therapy.

I don't deny that these therapies and treatments have many satisfied customers and that sometimes some of them have positive effects on people's health.

I'm not an engineer. I was trained in philosophy. I'm interested in why things work and in the explanations people give for why things work. I have tried to explain in many articles why none of the above treatments and therapies works the way their advocates claim they do. They all work due to several well-known and understood mechanisms that are lumped together as "the placebo effect." (These are explained in my entry on that topic.) Other factors that contribute to their popularity are communal reinforcement, confirmation bias, subjective validation, and wishful thinking. If you take the time to study the many cognitive, perceptual, and affective biases that hinder our ability to make fair, accurate, and unbiased judgments, you may begin to understand where I'm coming from. Witch doctors and shamans figured out this stuff thousands of years ago. You'd think more moderns would get it, what with all the sophisticated sources and knowledge bases we have.

I don't begin an investigation into a therapy or treatment by looking for anecdotes. I begin by looking for double-blind randomized controlled studies (RCTs). You won't find any for EFT and that fact should tell you something important. Either it can't be tested, so it's not scientific. Or the advocates are marketing it before it's been scientifically validated. I realize that one good story trumps a thousand RCTs in the minds of many people. I could have written a more persuasive piece had I just collected a bunch of horror stories from people who've tried EFT and are now permanently deranged or some such thing, but that wouldn't be fair.

I am an older person. Over the years I have purposely sought out analytical and “doubting” reports to prevent my being a victim of potential frauds; but as the years go on and we learn more, I have become skeptical of skeptics.

reply: That may be because some people who call themselves 'skeptics' would be more accurately described as deniers (e.g., deniers of the Holocaust, that HIV causes AIDS, that humans are contributing to climate change) or liars.

When I was very young (1930s – 40s) my family had an ice box; we didn’t have a refrigerator with a freezer section. If I burned my finger, I would chip off a piece of ice and hold it to the burned area. It felt good and relieved the pain. If my aunt saw me do it, she would say, “Stop that, Billy. You’ll make it blister”. They would take away the ice and put butter on the burn.

Many, many years later I read the bold head of a newspaper article: “The XXX hospital today announced a new treatment for burn victims. Patients are now packed in ice.”

As a child in elementary school I was fascinated with the concept of rockets as a source of power to lift a vehicle. I read every scrap of information I could lay my hands on. Unfortunately, you did not dare say to grown-ups that you would like to be involved in the development of such devices as a career. People would look at you strangely. It was in the 1940s, I believe, that the New York Times stated the idea of space travel using rockets “is ridiculous because there is no air in space for the rocket’s exhaust to push against”.

In a similar vein, I have a vivid memory of sitting in a large freshman orientation assembly at Austin High School in Chicago in 1941. I remember listening to one of the speakers, a science teacher at the school - a tall man, exuding authority (he looked something like Yul Brynner, the actor – I don’t remember his name).

I recall him admonishing us, “when you are in a rowboat and want to change direction, you place an oar in the water or move the tiller. The force of the water against the oar or tiller will turn the boat. In an aircraft, the force of air against the controlling airfoils allows the plane to change direction. But in space there is no air; there is no way to control the direction of a vehicle, so all this talk about space travel is nonsense.”

That gentleman was well-educated, intelligent, and well-meaning. He wanted to protect us from this foolish information being circulated.

In the years that followed I became a Chemical Engineer and an Aerospace Engineer at that. Since 1953 I have been contributing to the “nonsense” of space travel, having worked on many rocket engines including the Atlas, the F-1 – used for the Saturn moon vehicle, and the Space Shuttle Main Engine. By the way, rockets develop more thrust in a vacuum than in the Earth’s atmosphere. They don’t push against air.

I remember years ago when the taking of cranberry juice for bladder infections was labeled a “folk remedy”. A quick check on the internet will tell you that studies have since established that cranberry juice does work – though not for everyone, nor to the same degree; in fact one study referenced was performed by the Harvard Medical School and reported in a 1994 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Earlier studies could not establish “why” it worked. Perhaps it was for that lack of agreement on the mechanism that doctors didn’t prescribe it; not because it didn’t work.

Which raises the question: Since a full, scientifically sound explanation of the mechanism involved was not available years ago, even though a large number of people relied on it, would the Skeptic’s Dictionary have recommended that you don’t use cranberry juice for a bladder infection?

reply: I now see that you have become skeptical of skeptics because a few people made skeptical remarks about different subjects and were proven wrong. You have not been misled by the deniers or the liars who claim to be skeptics.

I don't give medical advice or recommend that people use or don't use particular remedies or therapies. For example, I don't recommend that people use or not use vitamin supplements, but I do state that there is no good reason to take them unless you have a specific deficiency. I state that because that is the conclusion drawn from several large-scale scientific studies.

Over the years I have had lucid dreams, on and off (the kind where you realize you are dreaming and can take control). In 1980 the phenomenon was demonstrated to be real by Dr. Stephen Laberge in the sleep laboratory at Stanford. For centuries some individuals have experienced and reported lucid dreams (they didn’t call them that name then). But as recently as 30 years ago some psychologists have insisted that such dreams are impossible. Skeptics.

James Randi takes the position (unless he has lately come around) that spoon bending (made popular by Uri Geller) is a fraud; he explains that it is accomplished by magicians using prepared props. Randi can demonstrate that. However, I and my son were in seats close to the stage during a performance by Geller about 37 years ago at an auditorium in Oxnard , California. He invited members of the audience to bring their house or car keys to the stage. Without the benefit of colorful handkerchiefs, boxes, tables, or other magician’s paraphernalia, wearing only black jeans and a black sweatshirt, and sitting on a folding chair at the edge of a bare stage, Geller would take a key from each of the people lined up at the stage stairway and, in view of the audience, rub the key with his thumb. The key would slowly curl. Geller would display it and then hand it back to the donor. I have never seen Randi bend a house key. He rails a lot on YouTube about how Geller uses trickery, but as I said, I have never seen Randi bend a key. There are magic supply houses that now sell a “key-bending” trick. The video presentations make the trick look phony. To investigate this metal-bending fraud myself I attended an “energy” class at the Learning Annex in Los Angeles. Near the end of the class we formed groups and were given spoons and forks. These were standard heavy restaurant supply flatware, not some tinny imitation. Using my left hand and only the ends of the fingers of my right hand I bent a couple spoons and the tines of a couple of forks over backward. I watched with fascination as several young ladies in my circle bent theirs easily - into coils like a snake, better than mine. I still have the spoons and forks. I found that I cannot straighten any of them with my hands in the position used to bend them originally. I would probably have to put the handle in a vice and use work gloves to bend the bowl back to its original position. A skeptic would argue that in the class I was given extra strength in my hands through “hypnotic suggestion”.

reply: You bent a spoon and a fork by holding it in one hand and applying pressure with the fingers of your other hand, you're an engineer, and you think some special explanation is needed to account for your feat? I don't know what to say.

Anyway, I've seen Randi and Bob Steiner bend keys. It's a trick. You may have heard of Richard Feynman. When Uri Geller did the key-bending trick, Feynman remarked that he was smart enough to know that he could be fooled.

How does all the above relate to EFT? From the comments made in the Skeptic’s Dictionary you seem to be more concerned about Gary Craig’s explanation of the mechanism rather than whether EFT produces results or not. Let me modify that. You wrote, “It apparently did not occur to Gary that maybe he had tapped into the placebo effect or the power of suggestion.” That statement indicates to me that you acknowledge there are effects resulting from the use of EFT. But the word “placebo effect” raises other questions. Your site does an excellent job of documenting the extensive research on the manifestations of the placebo effect. But I did not see any explanation of how a thought can translate into a bodily change.

reply: No, and you will be disappointed if you expect me to provide one now.

That being the case, maybe the “placebo effect” is one of a sub-set of other unexplainable mind-body relationships that include EFT.

reply: Maybe. Maybe not.

My examples above were meant to demonstrate a pattern. Often there could be more than one explanation for an effect. Persons who refer to themselves as “skeptics” cling to an explanation they understand. But one legitimate explanation doesn’t exclude others.

reply: Since we're getting philosophical, let me remind you that for any event there are an infinite number of possible explanations. We're lucky if we can come up with two or three plausible explanations for complex phenomena, however. Your examples show how we eliminate wrong explanations from the mix.

Suppose a cave man told his friend that he had discovered a way to create fire. He explains that the spirit of fire is in a dry stick and when you rub two dry sticks together, the spirit of fire is irritated and leaves the sticks and becomes visible. Being a skeptic, should the friend say, “there is no such thing as a spirit of fire in a dry stick, so don’t waste your time rubbing them.”

reply: No, the skeptical cave man would urinate on his friend's fire and tell him that the spirit of urine trumps the spirit of fire any day. Seriously, the skeptic would say: "So that's why the trees burn when hit by lightning! Wow, that explains a lot. Let's see what else irritates the spirit of fire. Let's throw a rock at the tree and see what happens. Huh. Not irritated. Let's whack the sticks with some antlers. Huh. Not irritated." After trying about a thousands ways to irritate a stick, the skeptic might say to his friend: "why do you think rubbing the sticks is so irritating? Do you think we hit the fire spirit's ticklish spot? And why doesn't the spirit get irritated when the sticks are green or wet? Hey, you know what? Maybe you're wrong. Maybe the fire has nothing to do with irritating a spirit."

James Randi knows very well how someone can pretend to bend a spoon with his mind using artifice. Why does that necessarily exclude someone doing it by an unexplainable mental process?

reply: Whoever said it did? Randi hasn't. He's simply pointed out that if Geller is bending spoons using his mind he's doing it the hard way.

Let’s assume that EFT works on the “placebo effect”. Is that bad? If I have a sore shoulder and a half-day of work at the desk ahead of me doing income taxes and someone recommends my using EFT to relieve the pain, would you say “don’t try it; it’s only a placebo”?

reply: It depends on whether I like you or not. If I don't like you, I'd do nothing to discourage you from going to the EFT fellow. If I like you, or if you have a disease like cancer, I'd explain to you what I know about EFT and explain why I doubt that this kind of placebo medicine will help with strained muscles or a torn rotator cuff, and certainly won't be of any value as a cancer treatment.

I assume you are not against taking advantage of the placebo effect. Your site gives ample evidence that a significant part of the healing power of prescribed medication or medical processes are dependent on the placebo effect of the doctor’s attitude. So it must be a good thing.

Putting the explanation aside, does the number of people who report being helped by EFT have any bearing on your judgment? Shouldn’t that be the focus of your attention rather than the explanation? What are the data on the successes and failures?

reply: I guess if I were an engineer, your approach would be the one I'd take. But I'm not, so I don't.

Suppose Gary Craig had merely suggested that people “Do this (tap)” and while you’re tapping, say this” without offering a single word of explanation. Where would you go with that?

reply: If he were making the suggestion in order to perform some sort of healing (as a shaman might), I'd treat it just as I do EFT.

It was stated somewhere, “placebos only work for a limited time”. That is also true for an aspirin. The EFT either works or it doesn’t, and it’s free. Let us say someone is about to apply EFT to overcome a fear of a dental appointment or fear of snakes (actual examples). Aren’t you curious as to whether you could tell someone about to use EFT for those purposes that the method is probably a “placebo” and see if there is any difference in the results?

reply: There are some therapies that work for overcoming fears. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has had a good amount of success in this area. Hypnosis, which is indistinguishable from placebo medicine, has also been used successfully in modifying behavior. Other therapies like EMDT seem to incorporate CBT along with superfluous activities. Some forms of EFT might incorporate CBT or hypnosis. In any case, I'd tell a friend who wanted to overcome a fear of snakes to go to a cognitive behavioral therapist.

On that note, again assume that EFT works on the “placebo effect”. Let’s also assume that we are in a period of time before the EFT approach was conceived. Suppose I asked you to suggest a convenient consistent regimen to offer to people to apply this effect on their problems, aches, and pains. The best you probably would have to offer, based on the literature, is to tell them they have to first visit a physician and ask for a sugar pill.

But someone, like Gary Craig, comes along and encapsulates a practice (called EFT) that makes the “placebo effect” available in standard, recognizable packaging and you throw cold water on it.

I would support your contention that Gary Craig doesn’t really know what causes the effects observed in the practice of EFT. But then do you? Isn’t it possible that there are “subtle” processes that determine who we are and how we behave that human intelligence is incapable of detecting or understanding? Do you really want to hang your hat on the “placebo effect”?

William Vietinghoff

reply: The placebo effect has been studied scientifically and we know quite a bit about how various mechanisms work, including a number of mechanisms called false impressions of placebo effects. These scientifically understood mechanisms seem obviously much better explanations for why energy healing works than belief in "subtle energy" or spirits.


24 Oct 2008
I do think we need healthy skeptics in this world. It is just a shame that it is now a case of proving you are right rather than being happy. You will always find what you are looking for.

reply: ?? I'm not sure I follow you. We need healthy skeptics or we need to have a healthy skepticism?

Are you saying that we must choose between being right or being happy? Why?

Maybe you always find what you're looking for, but I don't. I also don't see what these three points have to do with each other.

I have used EFT and NLP [neuro-linguistic programming] to help hundreds of people with many different problems. If I had read your website before starting and was easily convinced, then I would have not learnt it. The knock-on effect would be all the people I have helped would not be helped.

reply: Since you didn't read my website before you started using EFT and NLP, we don't really know what you would have done had you read it first. We can be pretty confident that the people who come to you would have some other purveyor of energy woo-woo to "help" them. But let's stick with the facts and then we'll look for an explanation: you've "helped" hundreds of people with many different problems. Could you be a bit more specific?

Then we come to the question and from what I could see you explain techniques like EFT as working due to placebo. Every drug has double-blind studies to dismiss placebo. The last place I looked placebo accounted for 51% of results. If I can get 98% of results how do you explain the placebo? It even works if people don't believe it can work.

reply: If you read what I've written, then you know that energy healing works by the placebo effect, which is a term that describes several distinct components. NLP is not a form of energy healing and I don't claim that NLP works by the placebo effect.

I'm not sure what you mean be getting 98% results, but if you mean that you have a success rate of 98%, then I would like to see the data. I would like you to define what problems you are trying to help people resolve, describe precisely how you determine when the problem is resolved, and that you include in your data all clients who do not have their problem resolved, including those who don't finish the program. I'd like to see a description of the program that is administered. I'd like to see some sort of blinding process involved, so that we can eliminate as far as possible any self-deception. We really shouldn't let you decide success on the basis of your subjective impressions.

How exactly it works is under questions. My experience tells me it does. If you look through history one thing that is true is that humans are stupid and refuse to accept changes in their environment. This is why science moves on one funeral at a time.

reply: Once again, your train of thought eludes me.

I really couldn't care who believes what I do is a hoax or not. The results speak for themselves. How I get those results as long as ethically right is irrelevant. It beats the other ways that people heal through mainstream methods and certainly costs a fraction of the price.

reply: First, I wouldn't say that what you do is a hoax. You seem to believe that what you are doing is legitimate. You don't seem to be intentionally deceiving people, which is what frauds and hoaxers do. But, just because a practice is ethical doesn't mean it is without fault or that it does what it claims it does.

It would be helpful if you could be more precise about "beating" other ways of healing. Exactly how does what you do "beat other ways that people heal through mainstream methods." You say your work costs a fraction of the price? What do you charge? What kind of mainstream treatment tries to accomplish the same thing you do? What is the charge for that treatment?

If you are the sole judge of the results, you might consider reflecting on some of the problems we all have with evaluating our own experience. It's not that we're stupid, as you say, but that human nature tends to lead us to beliefs that are comfortable and self-satisfying, whether they're true or not.

Websites like this are needed for the doubting minds. As Osho said "A doubting mind is always a doubting mind". No amount of information you ever get will change that.

reply: Osho? Why bring Osho into this? Is he now teaching EFT or NLP? In any case, he's wrong. Some doubting minds are changed by evidence and argument. I think that's a good thing. On the other hand, some believing minds are not changed even when shown they're wrong. I don't think that's a good thing.

It may be that your identify relies too much on you not believing anything you can see. So infrared, dog whistles and ultraviolet cannot exist.

reply: Your non sequiturs are really starting to annoy me.

I just hope that your words do not stop people healing hundreds as I have done. And of course you are missing out on the healing yourself. Ponder that for a while.


reply: Just what is it that needs healing? My skepticism regarding energy healing? In any case, I don't think I'm missing anything or that I need any healing from you or other EFT practitioners. I pondered my loss for a second or two and decided it's not worth worrying about. All that was required was that I readjust my tinfoil cap.

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