Pretend healers generally fall into one of three categories: the religious, those appealing to tradition, and those allegedly accessing cutting edge technology.
Oral Roberts employed faith healing while simultaneously raising funds for what would seem to be a superfluous hospital. It was a staple of revival tents, where the healers could hightail it out of town before the long-term results were assessed. They are still regular features of Pentecostal congregations, where the lack of success is more obvious, but downplayed as being part of God’s will, which would seemingly make those appeals to deity unnecessary. Any seeming successes are highlighted in a ceaseless cycle of classical conditioning, magical thinking, communal reinforcement, and selective memory.
Faith healers made a smooth transition to the television era, as their shtick was a natural for this budding entertainment medium. But the Internet has been far less kind. Most YouTube videos on the subject are of healers being busted or having their tricks revealed. These exposés were more laborious in the old days since not anyone could just put a video product together. Still, there were successes. James Randi’s most public victory was his Tonight Show appearance when he exposed how Peter Popoff was using an earpiece and his accomplice wife to divinely determine the affliction of audience members. Popoff would declare them cured, telling them to throw away their hearing aid or assuring them that their bouts of internal bleeding were over.
While Popoff was a huckster, some faith healers genuinely believe in it, with terrifying results. Idaho is home to the Followers of Christ sect, whose members cruelly deny pain relief medication to their children and allow them to die in agony, all protected by the law.
The second category of pretend healers, the traditionalists, also have practices that can be deadly. This month, actress Xu Ting died from a cancer after using moxibustion and other Traditional Chinese Medicine in lieu of chemotherapy. The Beijing Evening News quoted a TCM proponent, who asked, “There are many cancer patients who still pass away after receiving chemotherapy. Does this mean it is also a sham?”
This is false equivalence, where a shared trait between two subjects is assumed to show they are equal. Here, the equivalence is false because chemotherapy has cured millions of cancer patients, moxibustion zero. Yes, it turns out that the burning of dried mugwort on a body does nothing to arrest rouge cell growth.
With moxibustion, mugwort is applied to corresponding meridians. As these are made up, they vary by practitioner. It would be like having a stethoscope placed on your chest, leg, or ear, depending on which physician you favor.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine and its offshoots, the overriding idea is that chi runs along meridians, which get clogged, resulting is illness and disease. The usual claim is that the procedures and techniques date to thousands of years ago, though most can only be traced to Mao, who didn’t believe in it, but who promoted it to foster Chinese nationalism.
With moxibustion, the purpose is to warm the meridian points. Moxibustion has various methods and accompanying levels of unnecessary pain. Some practitioners merely leave the warmed mugwort near the skin, some apply it for a short while, and others keep it on until blisters form. Practitioners calls these blisters “purulent moxa,” while mainstream medicine calls them second-degree burns. Like most alternative medicine, moxibustion is said to be effective for almost any illness or ailment, as opposed to a specific condition that genuine medicine treats. Skeptic leader Dr. Mark Crislip, while advising against moxibustion in general, has an especially strong admonition that it not be used as burn therapy.
Probably the best known pretend healer of olden times was Franz Mesmer, whose eponym is with us still today. He “mesmerized” women by convincing him he could use magnets to cure their blues, illnesses, and maladies. He later concluded he could get the same results just waving his hands, so the magnets were jettisoned for gesticulating phalanges.
Pretend healers today use both approaches. Sound therapy employs tuning forks, shamans ring copper bowls, and crystal healers have at their meridian-enhancing disposal a large collection of shiny doodads. These accoutrements can create a seemingly more authentic character, such as a bead-wearing Shaman or a Native American healer with feathers and drums.
By contrast, aura readers, chakra repairmen, and Reiki nurses have no products, which must really save on storage space. They feel they can cure without hands or instruments, and more importantly, have customers who believe it, too. And if only needing to get within 3 inches of someone, why not within 3,000 miles? Some of the more enterprising offer their healing online.
Meanwhile, the Internet is an obvious avenue for those using the third category of pretend healing, the cutting-edge variety. These folks also make use of the appeal to tradition’s lesser-known opposite fallacy, the appeal to novelty. This is when a product or idea is considered sound only because it is new. It’s easy to see how this notion could take hold. Imagine someone using a GPS when they hear on their Smartphone via satellite radio about the latest gizmo panacea. However, when the cure is announced in an advertisement or a YouTube video instead of in a peer-reviewed journal, it is almost certainly more science fiction than fact.
Examples include supposed medical products that claim to use vibrating sub-atomic particles, biofields, faster-than-warp tachyons, or a reengineering of neural pathways. This verbiage is meant to impress the listener, or at least befuddle them into not asking probing questions. Many times the seemingly cutting-edge words are just made up, while at other times they are misused.
From takoinic.com, here is a description of tachyon energy that veteran skeptics will see as little more than chi and meridians dressed up for the Cyber Age: “Tachyon energy is a life-force that exists infinitely throughout the universe. It is an organizing force field that diminishes chaos by increasing order and coherence in any system. These products restore and increase your energy and vitality. This encourages your body’s life support system and enhances the natural defense mechanisms to promote wellness.” As expected, anonymous anecdotes are used in lieu of double blind studies.
One cannot wonder too long in this field without encountering the word Quantum. From the One Mind, One Energy website: “Science, through Quantum Physics, is showing us that everything in our universe is energy. When we go down on a sub-atomic level we do not find matter, but pure energy. Some called this the unified field or the matrix.”
This website tries to piggyback on legitimate science by pointing out that Earth was once thought to be the center of the universe, but today we know it sits in an arm of the Milky Way, which itself is one of untold billions of galaxies. “Our frame of knowledge is constantly changing since science is showing us new truths. Our frame of knowledge has been changing as long as we have lived on this planet.”
This is all true, which cannot be said of the conclusion they reached, which is that the key to good health is to buying their music and its incorporated subliminal messages.
The website also puts emphasis on a literal mind over matter: “We need to believe that anything is possible. Cutting-edge research and experiments from leading scientists have shown that human intention can influence physical matter. Also, quantum (there’s that word again) experiments have revealed that our consciousness is part of creating the world we see around us. We all have this power.”
To combat the skeptical and credulous, the website employs the Galileo Gambit, a frequent ploy of the pseudoscientist: “Inventors throughout history have had a hard time being accepted and believed by their fellow man when they invented something new.” This is also another manifestation of the false equivalency fallacy. Like Tesla and Galileo, this website had its ideas ridiculed. Unlike Tesla and Galileo, One Mind One Energy has yet to be vindicated through its enhancement of Mankind.
And while the futuristic healers’ body count is much lower than their faith and chi-based counterparts, there have been fatalities. Mary Lynch and Debra Harrison were convinced that disease is caused by extraneous energy being trapped between cells. Lynch was a retired physician who and claimed to be taking medicine to the next level in something she called Consegrity. The idea was to heal by releasing this trapped energy. Lynch and Harrison were their own guinea pigs and they succumbed to untreated diabetes and a toe infection, respectively.
If desiring a closer walk with Jesus, an adjusted aura, or communion with a higher plain, by all means, seek out Old Time Religion, the New Age, or Novelty Newbies. But if needing to mend a fractured leg, halt a bacterial infection, or close a spurting artery, please go to the hospital. Preferably not the Oral Roberts one.