“Pushing it” (Applied kinesiology)

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Pseudoscience refers to misusing or remarketing scientific terms in order to give undeserved credence to an untenable position. One such example is applied kinesiology. The second word in this phrase is a legitimate medical field, the study of movement.

By applying, so to speak, another word to the phrase, an area with no scientific backing attempts to coopt this legitimacy. Applied kinesiology is a putative muscle-testing technique based on the supposition that the way a subject’s muscles respond to being pushed, pressed, and prodded tells the practitioner what ails the patient.

The field assumes the existence of unproven concepts like chi, meridians, and a universal intelligence which runs through nature, to include the human nervous system. Proponents believe that muscles reflect the flow of chi and that resistance reveals the health of the subject’s bodily organs and what nutritional deficiencies afflict them.

The original applied kinesiologist was George Goodheart, who claimed his technique could evaluate nerve, vascular, lymphatic, and digestive systems. The key was the flow of an undefined and undetectable energy along equally non-existent meridians.

Energy is the most frequently misused word among alternative medicine practitioners. It serves as a placeholder that substitutes for any meaningful term or function. In science, energy means “measurable work capability,” and using this phrase instead of energy will reveal just how silly and shaky such claims are.

For example, this site informs its readers that, “Kinesiologists test specific points along the Chinese acupuncture meridians to discover areas of stress/imbalance in the body, mind and energy systems. Then, by using one or more of the many balancing methods – including chakra balancing, sound, color and more – you will be able to balance the body’s energy.”

Using the scientific definition of energy would leave us with this phrase: “Kinesiologists test specific points along the Chinese acupuncture meridians to discover areas of stress/imbalance in the body, mind and measurable work capability systems. Then, by using one or more of the many balancing methods – including chakra balancing, sound, color and more, you will be able to balance the body’s measurable work capability.”

When subjects go to have their measurable work capability adjusted by an applied kinesiologist, the practitioner will consider weak muscle responses to be an indication of illness. Which muscles correspond to which organ or allergy varies by practitioner, which makes for a pseudoscience giveaway.

My astigmatism has been correctly diagnosed and treated by a half dozen optometrists in multiple states and countries. By contrast, a person whose left elbow responds poorly to pressure may be said to have pre-diabetes, gout, or celiac, depending solely on which applied kinesiologist is pressing the arm.

So it’s unsurprising that repeated double-blind studies have shown applied kinesiology to be no better than chance at diagnosing a condition. Any seeming successes are owed to post hoc reasoning, the cyclical nature of some illnesses, and the ideomotor response. The latter refers to how expectations can lead to infinitesimal, unconscious motor movements. Because the person is unaware of this, he or she attributes the movement to an external force. This can be spooky when glancing at a Ouija board, a revelation when holding a dowsing rod, or a diagnosis when at the applied kinesiologist.

Practitioners think they are applying the same amount of force each time, but their beliefs are causing them to apply more or less, depending on their subconscious expectations. Similarly, subjects believe they are applying the same amount of resistance each time the applied kinesiologist pushes, but expectations will alter this.  The difference is subtle, but enough to make a difference. Therefore, the technique seems to work. But anybody could do it. It’s just that nobody should. 

 

 

 

 

 

“Home evasion” (Social distancing and the immune system)

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There are many conspiracy theories centered on the coronavirus. Some of these would seem mutually exclusive but all are still bandied about by believers. For example, the suspicion that China developed it as a bioweapon is at odds with the idea that COVID-19 is mostly innocuous and being greatly overblown by leftists hoping to wreck the economy. Harmless chemical warfare does seem a tad contradictory. Yet this position, at least when broken into two separate charges, is a regular feature of the conspiracy crowd, whose members make appearances on my news feed with annoying regularity.

While there are many COVID conspiracy theories, our focus today is the narrow idea that being mostly homebound damages our immune system. In short, proponents feel that social distancing harms, not helps, the situation. Similar attempts to invert the normal order pop up frequently among conspiracy theorists: Excess carbon dioxide is good for the environment; insulin causes diabetes; vaccines are worse than what they prevent.

In Mother Jones, Keira Butler wrote of three persons who have posted claims about the putative immune system damage that social distancing is causing. She referenced two physicians and one engineer, who made separate videos outlining their positions.

It is telling that these claims were pitched to a sympathetic audience on YouTube and not submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Alas, we will still assess the legitimacy of their assertions, not where they aired them.

The gist of their argument is that the lockdown is harming the immune system. They base this on the notion that germs and disinfectants are in constant battle, both evolving and adapting as they try to get the upper microscopic hand. Without exposure to enough germs, the trio argue, the immune system may grow lax and put up too feeble a fight. In some cases, there is merit to this idea, which is why some immunologists argue against trying to develop ultra-germ killers since it opens the chance that the germs which survive will further adapt and form a superbug, which is impervious to all treatments.

But this does not apply here since COVID-19 is not a chronic immune condition, but rather a novel virus that attacks the afflicted in ways immunologists don’t fully understand. As a novel virus, our immune system has no defense in place for it.

Moreover, isolated persons are still exposed to germs at home, which is another strike against the notion.

Social distancing helps to slow the spread of the virus and the anti-lockdown fervor, which is based not on the rate of infection or any projections, but on livid persons wanting a haircut and dine-in pizza, figures to be a public health disaster.

I miss the park, PTA meetings, and arcades, but not more than I value the health of my children, myself, and everyone else. A nationwide commitment to social distancing and pursuit of a vaccine would have solved this problem.

But selfishness and the ignoring of science are winning. A virus has no idea nor concern if its host is a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or independent, so this should have been the ultimate non-partisan issue. Instead, it is highly divisive and shows how dangerously close to the mainstream anti-science tropes and conspiracy theories are becoming.

Rather than isolation and inoculations, the other side embraces the naturalistic fallacy, where it is assumed that whatever is natural is good and whatever is artificial is bad. Butler cited one error-laden anti-vax group post, which claimed that masks, gloves, vaccines, and synthetic soap damage the immune system. This is another example a topsy-turvy belief where the prevention is labeled as the cause. They also claimed that fear damages the immune system. There is no truth to this, a good thing for the bazooka-toting Subway patron.

 

 

 

 

“The Certainty Principle” (Alternative medicine diagnoses)

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One of the main causes of stress is the unknown. When staring a new job, an employee will wonder what the boss will be like, what the expecations are, and how cool they keep the break room fridge. But as the worker learns these answers, he or she settles into a routine and the fear of the unknown dissipates.

But until an answer is given, the stress continues. More stressful than the unknown at a new job is the angst over a serious health issue. That’s why the seeming ability of alt-med practitioners to offer a definitive diagnosis and a treatment plan can seem attractive. Their answers are often painless, quick, and inexpensive, making it more appealing. But the biggest hook is certainty.

However, Dr. Harriett Hall wrote in the Skeptical Inquirer that uncertainty is a legitimate, important part of many medical diagnoses. She recalled from her days as a practicing physician how patients would clamor for more testing when a thorough checkup and exam failed to find the cause of their malady.

She recalled, “They wanted an answer and thought if we just did more tests, the answer would become evident. I had to explain to them that we had done all the indicated tests and that further indiscriminate testing would only muddy the waters.”

Moreover, when the chance of a disease is minuscule, a test is much more likely to produce a false positive than a true one. Testing for 100 different ailments might suggest the patient has one or two of the conditions, but these would likely be false results, which, Hall explained,  “would only lead to further fruitless diagnostic efforts, including possibly dangerous invasive procedures.”

Sometimes, conditions resolve on their own. The cyclical nature of many illnesses is why many alt-med practices seem to work. By the time one is seeking an applied kinesiologist or a Reiki practitioner, the condition has likely been bugging the patient for some time, so they resort to alt-med. When the symptom then runs its course, alt-med gets the credit and another glowing anecdote in lieu of data.

This desire for certainty fuels alt-med. If a medical doctor tells someone that their leg cramps are a common ailment of unknown origin and will likely resolve, that can leave the patient unsatisfied. The diagnosis may include pain relief pills or leg exercises, but this lacks the reassurance of a quick fix.

Conversely, peddlers of craniosacral therapy, Joy Touch, and iridology will insist they know the precise cause, the specific cure, and how to guard against its recurrence, the latter involving regular visits to their office. This leaves the patient with an artificial reassurance.

Depending on which branch of alternative medicine the provider practices, the focus will be on a different body part that is allegedly the center of heath – the spine for chiropractic, the feet for reflexology, the hand for Therapeutic Touch, the skull for craniosacral therapy – and so on. Tellingly, when such practitioners gather for a group talk or forum, they never challenge each other even though they can’t all be right. If an acupuncturist claims the movement of qi through meridians determines everyone’s health, this is at odds with the iridologist’s insistence that every illness is caused by a disturbance within the eye. Yet all the practitioners and audience members nod and somehow merrily agree.

Many of those audience members may not even have an ailment. The craving for certainty causes some patients to embrace an unproven treatment for a disease or condition never shown to exist. This includes chronic Lyme disease, adrenal fatigue, and Leaky Gut Syndrome. These are imaginary illnesses, but a desperate patient finally has a name to associate with a real or perceived medical misfortune. They now know what they are suffering from and a kindly alt-med practitioner has the cure. The practitioner offers them sympathy and an attentive ear, plus a diagnosis and treatment plan that sounds sciencey but has no medical basis.

And while replicable double-blind studies remain the benchmark of medical efficacy, they have trouble matching personal experience. A person who would never read or understand a 60-page paper can most assuredly know that a technique worked for them. But as Hall wrote, “You had a symptom, you tried a remedy, and your symptom went away. It might have gone away without any treatment, it might have gone away because of the treatment, or it might have gone away despite the treatment. Before antibiotics, there were people who survived pneumonia. Spontaneous remissions occur.”

Compare that mindset to that of alt-med darling Andrew Weil. Hall wrote that Weil ran “tests of osteopathic manipulation for ear infections, and when the experiments showed no effect, he said, ‘I’m sure there’s an effect there. We couldn’t capture it in the way we set up the experiment.’”

Such a conclusion is silly, to be certain.

“An apple a nay” (Apple cider vinegar)

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Proponents tout apple cider vinegar as an amazing product that can fend off disease as well as managing some lesser accomplishments. But the best evidence indicates the sour fermented liquid has only modest health benefits and certainly lacks an ability to vanquish serious ailments.

It may be of some value since the product contains a probiotic, but claims associated with it can be exaggerated, sometimes spectacularly so.

Like all vinegars, the apple cider variety consists mainly of acetic acid plus whatever was in the original liquid, minus the sugar that was transformed into alcohol during fermentation. It is the acetic acid that usually leads believers to ascribe panacea qualities to the resultant product.

The most extreme assertion is that it can treat or prevent some cancers. There is no evidence anywhere to buoy this idea and anyone gulping apple cider vinegar to halt rouge cell growth is making a fatal mistake.

Those who believe in the oncological power of the sour liquid may be relying on studies in which cultured cancer cells shrunk after being exposed to vinegar or acetic acid. But as Dr. Edwin McDonald of the University of Chicago School of Medicine wrote, “We can’t directly pour ACV on cancers inside of people.

Further, you definitely can’t give someone an ACV IV infusion without causing serious harm or death.”

Another erroneous, dangerous idea is that the vinegar controls high blood pressure. This may be based on one small study of rats that showed a decrease in a specific type of blood pressure when the rodents were plied with a diet heavy in acetic acid. But like most such test results, there is no comparable conclusion reached with humans. McDonald warns, “High blood pressure is nothing to play with. There’s simply not enough data to support using ACV as a blood pressure medication. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and take your meds.”

Sticking with serious conditions, there is scattered belief out there that apple cider vinegar lowers blood sugar among diabetics. There has been one small clinical trial in which drinking a tiny amount of the vinegar each day seemed to improve blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. And Skeptoid’s Brian

Dunning noted, “It’s biochemically plausible; the acetic acid can interfere with absorption of starches, reducing their ability to change blood sugar levels.”

However, he added, there are some caveats. First, all vinegars contain acetic acid, so there would be no added gain from ingesting the apple cider version. More importantly, the benefit is infinitesimal and the vinegar is no substitute for diabetes medication. There’s no harm in using it and there might be minor benefit to doing so, but diabetics should always take their prescribed medicine as well.

A more humble claim is that the vinegar may help with weight loss. There have been a few small studies in Japan that reached this conclusion, but the subjects were already on a diet and exercise regimen. Still, those taking the vinegar did lose more weight than those swallowing a placebo, so they’re might be something there. But the evidence is still murky, owing to insufficient sample sizes and the small number of tests. And in any event, it – at best – only helps augment weight loss. It would be an inadequate replacement for a gym routine and a healthy, balanced diet.

While the cancer claim is bogus and the idea of it being a weight loss ally is a maybe, we can conclude that all vinegar, when mixed with lemon juice, is efficient at disinfecting Salmonella-tainted products.

However, it is up to the person washing the suspect lettuce to do a thorough job. The safer method is to toss the tomatoes and cucumbers and open a can of soup instead.

Next, there are those who think apple cider vinegar can serve as an antimicrobial disinfectant for scrapes and cuts. It’s true that acetic acid is antimicrobial. But apple cider vinegar contains other ingredients that are not and dashing them on an open wound may contaminate and exacerbate it. At a minimum, it will sting like the dickens. Use a salve instead. The pain will be much less and the medicine will actually work.

Finally, we look to the belief that drinking apple cider vinegar will produce an antimicrobial effect. This is likewise mistaken. As Dunning explained, “When an acidic compound hits your duodenum just after the stomach, it’s neutralized by sodium bicarbonate and its antimicrobial properties vanish.

I don’t want to be all negative here. Let me close by saying apple cider vinegar will give your chili a right proper kick.

“Good Lourdes, No” (River healing)

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The 19th Century featured its allotment of 14-year-olds whose purported visions ignited prominent religious undertakings. Joseph Smith founded Mormonism as a result, while Bernadette Soubirous transformed the River Gave near Lourden, France, into a Catholic holy site after saying that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her many times there.

The Roman Catholic Church credulously and uncritically swallowed this claim and has put its stamp of blessing on 67 specific miracles that supposedly have taken place near the shores. There is no independent verification of these cures, no experiments, no controls, and no winning of the James Randi Challenge.

Furthermore, the miracles have been of the relatively modest variety and are mostly explicable through medicine or human physiology. No one has regained sight, regrown a limb, or risen from the dead.

Curiously, Soubirous claimed only that Mary had appeared to her and made a few announcements. The teen never asserted that she was on the receiving end of a miracle or that the apparition promised future divine interventions on the riverbed.

Still, Catholic believers flock each year to the site. The steady stream of claims that flow from there is as uninterrupted as the river itself. And they are comparable to those made from persons who undertake secular pilgrimages to Loch Ness.

Cognitive dissonance and the desire to believe combine to make the observer impervious to reality. No one wants to admit the traveled all this way for nothing. They saw a beast or received some godly blessing, con sarn it!

Very few of these putative miracles are considered as such even by the Church. The Vatican has criteria for what it considers to be miraculous. The gist of it is that a group comprising nearly two dozen medical doctors must acknowledge that an ailment could not have been cured by means known to science. If a treatment or product could have been the reason, no miracle is proclaimed.

But even when no explanations emerge, it is appealing to ignorance to conclude that the Christian deity, working through magic water, was responsible. Indeed, why would an all-powerful, omnipresent force induce someone with a serious illness to undertake arduous travel to another country or continent to receive healing?

Even when a genuine improvement has taken place, it is post hoc reasoning to attribute this to Lourdes, by way of a supernatural conduit. Many illnesses are cyclical, and the improvement may have taken place if one had gone to the Nile or stayed home. There also may have been other medicine or treatments taking place before, during, and after the trip.

The last Lourdes miracle claimed by the Church was 20 years ago, when the Church insisted that a man was freed of his multiple sclerosis after 12 years. Less fortunate was Soubirous. For being the embodiment of miraculous healing, she made out poorly. She suffered from lingering cases of tuberculosis and asthma and died at the not-so-ripe-old age of 35.

“Head trip” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair)

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On this year’s trip to the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair, I concentrated on merchants hawking Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM). These are all oxymoronic terms. There is no supplementary medicine, complementary medicine, alternative medicine, Eastern medicine, and so on.

Products and treatments repeatedly proven effective in double blind, controlled studies are medicine, with no qualifier needed. If they lack these evidentiary distinctions, they are not medicine.

What proponents and detractors alike label “alternative medicine” are purported remedies that usually have no recommended dosage and carry no possibility of overdosing. This is because the product has no active ingredient and is therefore without medicinal value. I heard many a tale of success at the fair, but no references to double blind studies. And as James Randi noted, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

Further, I have found that even the most rudimentary probing of the alternative medicine field will leave proponents flummoxed. They are used to being asked, “What can this do for my headache,” not, “Explain the mechanism behind how this will help my headache.”

By way of comparison, chemotherapeutic drugs work by inhibiting mitosis and targeting fast-dividing cells. That is a terse, rudimentary explanation, but that’s the gist of it and an oncologist could go into further detail, all of which would be backed by thousands of studies, peer-reviewed articles, and decades of research. But when I asked for the mechanism behind what was being sold at the fair, my ears were overloaded with fabricated terminology, pseudoscience, and anecdotes.

One reason alt med sometimes seems to work is that it usually tried after other methods have failed. Combined with the cyclical nature of many ailments and illnesses, the treatment or product might then seem effective, when in truth, it has just run its natural course.

My first stop was to a Shamanic healer, whom I asked about my headaches. She pronounced, “There’s more to you than just your physical, mental, and emotional bodies. There’s you energy body and that’s what we work with.”

That leaves me with three more bodies than I thought I had, but let’s see what she can do with the energy one.

She used what she called an energy bundle and what I called a red blanket. With this piece of vermilion fabric, she can “check your energy fields. When we do that, we get information about where there are imprints, maybe things you’re still struggling with.” Yeah, like those headaches, let’s get back to that.

“We would have to look at what’s effecting you.” Um, I said headaches were effecting me.

She continued, “Maybe some ancestral things that are effecting you.” You mean like genetics, maybe we’re getting somewhere. Instead she went down a different pathological path.

“We have a close relationship with our guides and mountain spirits, with powers, and we open up to the divine. We use stones that have connections to power places.”

By the time our conversation wound down, she had clued me on power stones and I had let her know what a double blind study was. A win for both of us.

At my second stop, the lady asked me, “Did you come last year?” It appears I’ve stumbled onto the Reverse Clairvoyance booth. As to why she was there either time, it was “to do all kind of modalities: Reiki, craniosacral, Shamanic healing, and reflexology.”

She explained it thusly: “You lay down (I’m liking that part) and there are different holds around the whole body, and the idea is to sort of calm your chakras so your body can do what it already knows how to do.” If it already knows how, why would I pay someone to do it?

She suggested craniosacral therapy and its “gentle holds” for my headaches. When I fired my standard question about the mechanism behind how it works, she told me,   “Um, gentle holds.” So, gentle holds works via gentle holds. Hard to argue with that.

She continued, “The weight you would use to hold a nickel is all the weight you would use. It can get pretty energyish.”

I love first-time experiences and while I’ve heard scores of references to energy during my annual pilgrimage to the fair, this is the first time some has uttered “energyish.”

Next up was a holistic healing table. There were the usual references to auras, chakras, clearings, blockages, and energy. And the usual dearth of evidence for auras and chakras, no clarifying of what type of energy is in play, or any explanation for why blockages would be harmful and clearings beneficial.

He blamed unspecified imbalances for causing shocks when touching a doorknob or for a light bulb blowing when you turn it on. In truth, the shocks are due to the build- up of static electricity, which cause electrons to flow from a person to a metal object. As to light bulbs being blown when turned on, that can be caused by cheap bulbs, loose connections, mechanical vibrations, or high voltages. No imbalance of a colorful yet somehow invisible energy field is needed.

He further offered that his chakra assessments may reveal that a person needs more vegetables and to carry a blue topaz. Of course, one is going to feel better eating more peppers and carrots regardless of one’s crystal accoutrements.

As to my headache question, he attributed that to my crown chakra and Third Eye. Criminy, my astigmatism makes it hard enough for me to handle two eyes, now I’ve got another one to worry about?

His cohort, who seemed lifted straight from 1967, said my ailment (and everyone else’s) could be caused by WiFi and cell phones. Since the sicknesses also occurred prior to the advent of wireless technology, this seems unlikely. She suggested keeping my energy field balanced and free of other peoples’ frequencies, offering no evidence for any of these things existing or being capable of manipulation.

I asked about the mechanism responsible and was told it was akin to cleaning the top of a swimming pool. That might be relevant if my issue was pruned hands, but I’m here for a throbbin’ noggin.

I moved on to the chiropractic booth, where a woman told me she uses “the alignment of your nerves and your muscles on your spine to align your spine.” Rather redundant. It would be like describing dentistry as caring for your teeth to ensure your teeth are cared for.

When I asked about my head pain, she had me sit next to an ersatz electronics machine. She rolled an implement on my neck, and this resulted in a readout of my back, neck, and skull that showed two red areas. There was no explanation for what this measured or revealed, or how spine adjustment would fix it, or even if it needs fixing. But red in general means bad, so the point was subtly made, or at least would be to someone less skeptical.

Next I came upon another chakra healing merchant. She reiterated earlier claims about needing to ensure my chakras are lined up and needing to see if there are any blockages. There is no way to measure this and it’s hard to imagine anyone being given a clean bill of health and told that neither they nor their money needs to come back.

She assured me that if my crown chakra is blocked, that could cause it, and that she can see each of my chakras. There have been tests of such claims, where a curtain is placed in front of the chakra reader. They are then asked to see what chakra is emanating from the person behind the curtain, or if there is even anyone there. No one has ever performed better that chance at guessing whether anyone and their accompanying chakra was behind the curtain. As I had come to the fair without any interior design merchandise, I had to settle for trusting the previous experiments and not conducting my own.

When I inquired into the mechanism, she answered, “We’re all energetic beings. Chakras are energy vortexes. When we have emotional garbage, the chakras push it out so the universe can take care of it and it also pulls in the good, clean energy.”

I asked, “What kind of energy is it, thermal, kinetic, nuclear?” She answered, “Divine energy and Reiki energy.” Hmm, don’t remember those from school. Then again, I didn’t take a lot of science.

Then I found another shaman who told me he “works with spirituality. I don’t heal you, the body heals itself. It’s a conduit for healing energies that are imparted to you. A good shaman is nothing more than a good plumber.” Interesting analogy. I’ve never heard anyone who was unplugging my bathtub refer to themselves as a right fine witch doctor.

As to the mechanism behind it, he said, “It’s just sending healing energy to that person. It’s also very connected to the spirit world. It is common for us to use drums and rattles to transmit the energy.” If that’s the case, I should just listen to R. Carlos Nakai.

Finally, I paid a visit to a sound healer and his many ringing metal bowls. He suggested I try exposure to various frequencies until I find one I resonate with. This type of approach leads to post hoc reasoning, where the subject keeps trying frequencies and when the pain goes away, they attribute it to that frequency. Yet the headache may have gone away on its own by then. With no plausible mechanism or explanation for how this works, it is mistaken to attribute it to the sound made from rubbing the rim of a copper bowl, no matter how pleasing the result is to the auditory sense.

When I asked the mechanism, he gave me the day’s most honest response, saying he didn’t know and suggested I Google it. I would choose another physician if mine recommended doing a web search to figure out why I have a back rash, so I’m going to move on from this sound healer. And I gotta tell you, a day of having these conversations wasn’t real good for my headache.

“Of one mindfulness” (Mindfulness meditation)

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Mindfulness is a type of meditation derived from the Buddhism, with a Western twist. Its intent is to promote the observation and introspection of thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings. The Western influence paints Buddhism as rational, universal, and compatible with science. Like many avant garde approaches to ancient ideas, mindfulness presents itself as way of getting back to the true meaning of the original concept.

Associating itself with Buddhism allows mindfulness advocates to reap the philosophical fruits of attaching itself to a major Eastern religion and appeal to those captivated by such leanings. Yet it maintains enough distance from the most esoteric concepts that mindfulness isn’t considered overtly faith-based, which would drive away those too far in the other direction. And when proponents declare mindfulness to be universal, they further extend their potential reach.

Some research credits mindfulness with a slew of health benefits, which is usually a pseudoscience giveaway. Genuine medicine generally alleviates or cures a specific condition or disease through a scientifically-understood method. The longer the list of supposed treatments, the more likely the product or practice provides none of them.

Also of major note, most mindfulness studies are poorly designed, hampered by insufficient sample sizes, lack control groups, and are not double blinded. In short, evidence for most of the claimed benefits is scant. A review of 47 meditation trials involving 3,500 participants found no evidence for such stated benefits as increasing an attention span, kicking a drug habit, conquering insomnia, or managing weight loss. There are, however, signs that it leads to moderate improvements for some persons in dealing with anxiety and stress. But the technique only works for people for find mindfulness mediation relaxing. A person who finds painting relaxing would get the same benefit from taking brush to canvas.

Another problem is that there is a lack of agreement on what mindfulness is. The various approaches make it difficult to reach a definitive conclusion as to if and how well it works. Dr. Steven Novella of Science-Based Medicine wrote that the lack of definition matters because proper research controls for specific variables. If those cannot be defined or isolated, the topic cannot be studied in any meaningful way.

He explained this by using an analogy to acupuncture: “If we define acupuncture as placing thin needles through the skin at acupuncture points, we can confidently conclude based upon the research that acupuncture does not work. However, proponents continue to claim that acupuncture does work, citing research results that use a deliberately loose definition of acupuncture. Proponents have essentially said, ‘acupuncture works, it just doesn’t seem to matter where or if you stick the needles.’ Then what is acupuncture? And if specific variables don’t seem to matter, how can you control for non-specific effects?” This lead to another issue, there being no way to control for nonspecific results.

One assertion proponents get right is that mindfulness produces measurable changes to the brain. But the type of brain change cited – thicker gray matter – is associated with many different activities, such as sports competition, playing musical instruments, or learning to reason. And there’s no reason to think these brain changes are beneficial or something to strive for. In summary, a person should use mindfulness if it helps them to relax and destress, but they shouldn’t expect any reward beyond that.

“Not oil it’s cracked up to be” (CBD)

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CBD oil is touted as a cure or mitigation for a wide range of illnesses and conditions. CBD is one of many chemical compounds that are isolated from cannabis, with CBD and THC being the most well-known. THC is what gets marijuana smokers stoned, whereas CBD has no such impact.

But will CBD make a patient healthier? There are a few conditions it might help, but there is inconsistency among CBD products. Depending on location, CBD oil might be available only on the black market or have quasi-legal status, and in these instances, there is no oversight with regard to product quality and uniformity. By contrast, in some countries where cannabis is legal, licensed dealers must have independent validation of CBD and THC content, as well as verification of quality.

In either case, the evidence for CBD oil as a medicine is scant, and its efficacy is established for only a few conditions. Those include Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, but there is insufficient reason to believe it acts as a painkiller, and there is zero evidence it treats or prevents cancer.

Now, CBD does have some impact on the body, which also means side effects. CBD oil can hamper or increase the effects of some pharmaceutical drugs, so any patient popping prescription pills should know the risk of combining their medication with CBD oil. Furthermore, aggression, anger, irritability, agitation, and sleepiness have all been reported with CBD products. With no set dosage prescribed and little in the way of controlled, double blind studies, unknowns about CBD oil include its efficiency, its long-term effects, and its safety.

The fact that marijuana was illegal for so long despite suspected medical benefits and it being much less dangerous than tobacco and alcohol seemingly lends credence to the idea that there was a government and Big Pharma cover-up. But in truth, legislation was based on panic, not corruption. And the pharmaceutical industry would have profited from the product were it legal.

While marijuana, which includes CBD has shown some medical promise, smoking it or eating it in brownie form would be far less efficient than identifying, isolating, and extracting the active ingredient and distributing it at the proper dosage.

Dr. David Gorski of Science-Based Medicine writes that most research cited by proponents as suggesting cannabis cures cancer are either in vitro or animal studies. Most often, these do not translate to human use or benefit.

Cannabis will not cure cancer, either in smoked form or extracted as CBD oil. Gorski further cautions that even in purified form, naturally-derived or synthetic cannabinoids demonstrate only modest antitumor abilities in preclinical models. This means they would have to be added to existing chemotherapeutic regimens to possibly have any benefit. Gorski explains, “If they do find their way into the routine clinical treatment of cancer, it will be through rigorous pharmacological studies and rigorous clinical trials, the latter of which, in particular, are painfully lacking.”

Further research is justified, but at this point, CBD oil’s status as a near-panacea is unjustified and such assertions are almost always a pseudoscience giveaway.

“Psi sigh” (Parapsychology)

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Psychology professor Etzel Cardeña wrote an article last year for American Psychologist that purports to show evidence for parapsychological phenomena. To bolster his case, Cardeña referenced quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, and the block universe hypothesis, a model in which past, present, and future exist simultaneously.

As a counter to Cardeña’s claims, psychologists Arthur Reber and James Alcock penned an essay for Skeptical Inquirer, in which they opined that Cardena’s effort was the latest in a 150-year failed attempt to legitimize parapsychology. There reasons for these failures, they assert, is that every claim made by psi researchers violates fundamental principles of science.

Reber and Alcock did not examine Cardeña’s data since they considered it irrelevant.  As a comparison, they noted that pigs cannot fly, so any data that points to swine being independently airborne would be the result of “flawed methodology, weak controls, inappropriate data analysis, or fraud.” They focused not so much on Cardeña’s claims but on parapsychology’s in general.

One reason they did so is because, as they noted, parapsychology is a faux field that hasn’t progressed since its inception in the 1880s. Then, as today, the overarching theme is that there is an unidentified, untraceable “more” to our universe beyond atoms, molecules, senses, people, and planets. This grandiose claim comes with zero testable or empirical evidence.

One scientific law that would need to be violated for parapsychological claims to be true is causality. Effects have causes and, with psi, there are no causal mechanisms, and none have been hypothesized. More relevant, there is no consideration of if the supposed psi effects have one causal mechanism or many. There is also the issue of inconsistency. The skeptical duo ask, “If psychokinesis affects the roll of dice in a psi lab, why not at craps tables? If telepathy exists, why are our brains not constantly abuzz with the thoughts of those around us? For allegedly existing now, the future only shows up in parapsychology lab tests.”

Then there are violations of Time’s Arrow. Parapsychology asserts an ability to warp time, most glaringly when involving precognition. Psi researchers regularly love to drop the term “Quantum Mechanics” and they often do so when referencing the entanglement effect. This in an example of pseudoscience, where scientific terms are used, albeit incorrectly, to try and lend credence to a position. Now, it’s true that two spinning particles separated in space are entangled since the state of one is simultaneously aligned with the other. But this does not equate to a reversal of time; there are merely concurrent effects.

“The notion that the strangeness of the quantum world harbors an explanation of the strangeness of parapsychology is a false equivalency,” Reber and Alcock write. Indeed, this is the secular version of “I don’t know, therefore a god did it,” with quantum mechanics replacing the instigating deity.

Quantum mechanics is hellaciously complex and probably less than one percent of people fully comprehend it. That leaves ample room for confusion and in this large area is where pseudoscientists like Cardeña operate. But there’s nothing in quantum mechanics that would validate or necessitate paranormal occurrences.

Yet another law that would need to be violated for parapsychological claims to be valid relates to thermodynamics. Again, consider precognition. For the future to impact the present, this would necessitate violating the principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system. The act of choosing a playing card, a common technique in psi research, involves neurological processes that involves measurable biomechanical energy. The choice is presumed to be caused by a future that, having no existential reality, lacks energy.

Finally, we have an Inverse Square Law violation. In supposed telepathy, the distance between the two involved persons never seems to be a factor. This is inconsistent with the principle that signal strength falls off with the square of the distance traveled. Psi researchers again employ the entanglement effect as a possible explanation, but within quantum mechanics, there is no transmission of energy between the separated particles, they are merely entangled.

In conclusion, if psi effects were genuine, they would have already landed fatal blows to vast blocks of scientific knowledge.

“Doctor’s horrors” (Jim Meehan)

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Anti-vax doctors represent a microscopic percent of their profession, but when they highlight their medical training, it may cause some with doubts to sway the wrong way. Today we will examine the claims of one of them, Dr. Jim Meehan, as well as counterarguments from the Skeptical Raptor blogger, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss.

While Meehan uses phrases like “informed choice” and “parental rights,” he is not merely an advocate for education and options, he is explicitly anti-vaccine and encourages parents to leave their children vulnerable to miserable, dangerous, and possibly deadly diseases, rather than inoculate their offspring against them.

He claims these diseases are no big deal, might even be beneficial, and are treatable with a holistic, integrative, homeopathic, or other alt-med buzzword approach. With regard to wonderful whooping cough, magnificent measles, and sensational smallpox, the deluded doc insists there are benefits of children encountering these and other diseases. But Reiss notes that Meehan leaves it unclear exactly what a child gains from contracting the likes of diphtheria, polio, tetanus, and pertussis. Such a mindset would have been unimaginable in the days of the iron lung and is only entertained today only because vaccines’ success have made these misfortunes ones that most of us were never exposed to.

Reiss writes that measles kills one victim in a thousand, while diphtheria and tetanus have a 10 percent mortality rate. So unless Meehan is presuming an everlasting paradise after death, it’s uncertain what benefits he is referring to. Polio paralyzes and kills its victims and many of the other diseases Meehan gushes over can lead to weeks of suffering followed by lifelong afflictions. Here is a modern account of measles, which Meehan considers a mild irritant that leads to a positive outcome.

Meehan also trots out the toxin gambit, which plays to anti-vaxxers’ chemophobia. He sounds the sensationalist alarm thusly: “I have seen the evidence of neurotoxicity from ingredients like aluminum, Polysorbate 80, human DNA and cellular residues from the human cells lines, upon which many of the live viruses are grown.”

Reiss notes that in about one case in a million, a person may have a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, usually because of gelatin. So it could be argued that vaccines are only 99.9999 percent safe, but that leaves them much safer than smallpox, diphtheria, and polio.

Also, always remember that the dose and form of the ingredient is what matters. Vaccines never contain elemental aluminum, as Meehan implies. Rather, they contain tiny amounts of aluminum salts in order to prompt a stronger immune response, and these infinitesimal doses are handled by the body’s natural processes. Moreover, there is no evidence that the minuscule amounts of polysorbate 80 in vaccines poses a risk. As to the small amount of DNA that may be in a vaccine, Reiss notes that if it was that easy for fragments of DNA to impact our body, gene therapy would be much easier than it is.

The main plank in Meehan’s rambling rants is that vaccine science is fraudulent and purchased by Big Pharma. But vaccines prevent millions of hospitalizations and their accompanying medications each year, which deprives pharmaceutical companies of a fortune.

Further, there are tens of thousands of safety studies about vaccines. This research is done worldwide and is funded by multiple sources, such as businesses, universities, and governments, including governments that run a national health insurance system, and thus have a strong incentive to find preventive and curative measures.

To believe all this is part of a plot to enrich pharmaceutical company coffers and poison our children is to assume a conspiracy on an unimagined and untenable scale. It also ignores what happens when there is an issue with vaccine efficiency or safety.

Reiss cites four examples where certain strains of a vaccine were shown to be ineffective or contain a significant side effect. Each time it made for major news and the vaccines were pulled or retested. These responses are inconsistent with a secretive cover-up aimed at making pharmaceutical executives even richer with no concern for children suffering and dying.

In fact, for all his accusations, Meehan has been unable to identify an instance where a pharmaceutical company knowingly let a dangerous vaccine onto the market. And for all his dire warnings and writings, Meehan has yet to appear in peer-reviewed journal.