Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bowen Therapy 2: The Evidence

Actual evidence of the effectiveness of Bowen Therapy is a little scarce on the ground (well, it would be, wouldn't it, if you're arguing for meridians, trigger points, qi, chakras and auras?). The Cochrane Collaboration gives no results. PubMed gives one result, published in the now defunct Australian Journal of Holistic Nursing. Brief details are available on that site, as well as one other article. EoR hesitates to refer to these as studies since it appears they are "evaluations" of Bowen Programs, or reports.

Abstract: A six week program using Bowen Technique treated 31 Hospital and Community Health Service staff in a group setting providing an innovative way to reduce stress and improve physical health. Quantitative and qualitative data indicated that Bowen Technique was successful in reducing pain, improving mobility, reducing stress, and improving energy, well being and sleep.

Abstract: A program in Byron Shire in 2002 offered Health Service staff treatments with Bowen Technique. The program was evaluated after 9 months. The evaluation explored the effect of the treatment on work related injuries. The responses indicated that the provision of Bowen Therapy for staff might be an effective way of reducing Workcover claims.

Eor wonders, at the very least, whether there were control groups in either of these reports?

While independent, peer-reviewed studies published in reputable journals are scarce on the ground for Bowen Therapy, powerful studies have been conducted by the bowenists themselves to show the power of this therapy. The same studies tend to get reported on most of the Bowen sites. The European College of Bowen Studies, for example, reports on lymphatic drainage.

I started with those with primary Lymphoedema and lymphovenous oedema. I found that most patients felt better, moved more freely and after an initial feeling of great tiredness, began to feel better. Over a period of months a gradual sustained limb volume reduction was noticed.

This 'study' is clearly a report of various case studies. No controls were provided, nor any blinding. Most of the patients were also undergoing other therapy at the same time.

Migraine is another favourite of the bowenists. In this study 42 volunteers (37 female, 2 male, 3 failed to complete the study) were given Bowen over a two week period, and then observed over the following four weeks. Migraine severity and frequency was self-reported. 31 participants reported a decrease in frequency and/or severity. 11 had no change, and 1 reported an increase. Again, many issues arise with this study: there was no control, the treatment* group was not blinded, and the effect was self-reported (leading to a possibility of wanting to feel there was an effect, or wanting to please the researchers, however involuntarily). Also, of the three who did not complete the study, one had a "healing crisis" (EoR assumes that means they got worse, in which case they should be included in the adverse affects group) and one failed to return the final questionnaire (again, EoR would hypothesize that a likely reason for this is that the therapy was not working for that person). While the author claims a positive result in 79.5% of participants, 2.5% of participants got worse. EoR feels that anything that caused sick people to get worse in 5 out of every 200 applications (7 out of every 100 if you include the two completion failures) would immediately be denounced by these practitioners as an evil from Big Pharma with terrible side effects that were being ignored just so the commercially oriented therapy could continure to be pushed solely in order to make profits. Vioxx anyone? Of course, alties never sin in this manner.

Another favourite complaint is frozen shoulder.

We also wanted to gather evidence that would clearly address the frequently expressed opinion of the medical profession that complementary medicine works purely as "a placebo".

Actually, the medical profession doesn't argue that. They argue that you have to control for the placebo effect in order to see clearly whether any drug/therapy/intervention (complementary or conventional) has an actual effect. It is, however, pleasing to see the bowenists dragging in yet another woo therapy to describe how Bowen works:

It is often described as physical homoeopathy.

In this study 100 volunteers were randomly assigned to a treatment* group, or a placebo control group, and were treated* with Bowen for six weeks (three sessions total). Patients were assessed for six shoulder movements, and also self-reported pain levels. Various graphs are shown indicating a dramatic improvement in shoulder movement in those treated* with Bowen against those who received only placebo.

This is probably the most promising Bowen study, but certain things need clarification: how many participants received treatment* as opposed to placebo (EoR assumes 50/50, but this is not stated)? How was therapy/placebo applied and controlled, since this was done by a number of therapists across the UK, not in a single location? EoR had a little trouble reading it, but the only graph that shows a category of "worse" shows something like 8% got worse with Bowen (48% with placebo) - refer to his previous point about therapies that improve some people, but make a lot of others sicker above. EoR would also want to follow up the final point:

Placebo patients were treated with Bowen at the end of the placebo period. This produced unexpected results as, although the patients’ range of motion increased significantly, there was not such a great reduction in pain levels. This was compared to the patients who hadn’t experienced the placebo period first. This could be due to the fact that pain level is a subjective assessment and the fact that the patients had seen no initial improvement may have led to them subjectively assessing the pain to be more than those who got an initial improvement and therefore felt good about the treatment.

It could also be due to something else entirely. Some other effect? No effect at all? Some statistical anomaly? Poor design of the study?

EoR would also like to know how Bowen can treat* fibromyalgia, but this page states

Further information will be available here very soon......

Various other 'studies' can be found if you go looking for them, but the great majority of them, EoR found, were "ongoing" and "promising".

Wikipedia lists the frozen shoulder study, a study on heart rate variability in fibromyalgia sufferers, and a study in hamstring flexibility as the only three extant studies into Bowen Therapy. Problems are noted with the first two (particularly seriously in the second where methodological bias is apparent), and the third study is yet to be published (though this is the most interesting, since it is claimed to be the "first properly conducted study, with approval from ethics and applying strict methodology").

To conclude (as EoR) began: evidence for Bowen Therapy is rather scarce. Given its "dramatic" potential to improve patients "even after a single treatment*" (though, to hedge their bets, bowenists follow that amazing claim by usually immediately saying multiple treatments* may be required, as well as "tune ups") EoR would expect to see a "dramatic" effect across a multitude of conditions. The evidence isn't there yet.

*Bowen, of course, doesn't "treat" anything - it simply allows the body to "rebalance" and "heal itself".

Bowen Therapy 1: An Introduction

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bowen Therapy 1: An Introduction

Bowen Therapy, while little known in the US, is popular in Australia (indeed, it originated in this country) and is quickly making inroads in the UK. The actual origins of Bowen Therapy are clouded in mythology:

Bowen is called after the man who developed it, Thomas Bowen of Geelong, in the Southern Australian state of Victoria. Bowen left school at fourteen and in spite of having no further formal education, by the mid seventies was one of the busiest therapists in the country, treating by his own estimates, over thirteen thousand clients a year. As remarkable as this is in itself, the claim that 90% of people only required one or two treatments is even more astounding. This kind of statistic however does hold up even today, as most busy Bowen therapists will tell you that the average number of treatments required by clients will be between two and four.

EoR has previously looked at such outrageous claims. Without knowing how many of the 13,000 patients were in the one-visit or the two-visit categories, assuming 10% needed the three-visit regime, that equates to 15,600 consultations in a single year. Assuming Mr Bowen was a workaholic and worked the full 365 days a year without a break, and also that he was an insomniac requiring only 6 hours sleep a night so that he could run his clinic for the full 18 hours a day (assume 6AM to midnight, with no break for meals, rest or toilet breaks), that means he was working fulltime doing a little over 42 consultations a day, with 25 minutes for each consultation. If you then assume he may have had the occasional day off, or even stopped to eat occasionally, the superhuman effort involved becomes even greater.

The actual way the method is implemented appears, at first sight, plausible:

The treatment consists of a series of gentle moves performed with the thumbs and fingers, over muscle, tendon ligament and skin. The pressure that is applied by the therapist is very little and is referred to as eyeball type pressure, that is the type of pressure that could be applied to the eye, without causing pain or damage to the eye. The therapist uses the slack skin to access the tissue, applies pressure and then makes a rolling type of move over the area. Although not a flick, the movement of the muscle creates a sort of alarm in the brain, which in turn triggers a neural response in the body.

The explanation starts slipping into woodom very quickly, as the author explains nervous feedback loops in the body (a well described phenomenon) and how Bowen transforms these:

A Bowen move interrupts this flow and creates a blip, which the brain in turn needs to interpret. In the process of this interpretation, a point of reference is created and blood is sent to nerve endings in the areas being worked. It’s as if the brain is asking "What happened?" and when not given a reasonable answer, tries to recreate the parameters of the move.

Bowen is different from other manipulative therapies (EoR can't get enough of that description!):

A key feature of The Bowen Technique is that of the therapist leaving the room in between certain moves in order to allow the work to take effect. With the move being as subtle as it is, the body and the brain need time to establish a) what has happened and b) what action if any needs to be taken as a result. The therapist leaving the room allows for this to happen and far from being a passive action is actually allowing the work to start to take effect. In addition an advanced therapist is not simply using a set of pre determined procedures, but is actually working according to the energetic and physical changes of each client and the breaks allow the therapist a space from which to make effective comparisons.

Why can't these miraculous changes work with the therapist in the room? We are never told. Apparently, the human brain can't think clearly if there's a bowenist in the room (though EoR admits he's seen believers in bowenism who seem to suffer from this intellectual deficit).

Even with these very light touches and "advanced" therapeutic absences, Bowen, like any good woo therapy, doesn't actually do anything:

The key element within all of this however, is the need to understand that it is not the therapist that is doing the repair. The principles of Bowen start with the understanding and conviction that the body is capable of repairing itself, given the right time and conditions. As there is no physical adjustment or high velocity thrust movements, Bowen is a treatment, which creates a set of parameters whereby the body’s own restorative ability is accessed.

Also, like other woo therapies, scientific proof is exceedingly hard to obtain:

Researching anything is a time consuming and expensive exercise, but in the case of CAM it raises several other issues. If we are to treat the individual as a whole, then it follows that the treatment given will vary from one client to the next, as different needs and abilities to respond arise. How then can this be put into the rigid format that would fall into the category of ‘scientific’ and therefore be acceptable by the medical profession?

Presumably, these wooists have some basis to decide which magic massage moves to make. If so, it would be easy to run a scientific study of a specific condition and group of patients that all required the same treatment. If there is no logic to their choice of moves (which EoR feels the bowenists are arguing for) then what on earth do these people think they're doing? Nonetheless, if any studies show that there might be an improvement, the bowenists are happy to jump on the scientific wagon. If they fail to show any effect, the above disclaimer is an easy out (are any of EoR's readers reminded here of the magic of homeopathy? or are they perhaps just thinking "selective data"?). EoR will return to some studies beloved of bowenists shortly. Of course, testimonials published in newspapers, and helpfully headed It Works For Me (that's the gold standard altie protocol) are always much more helpful.

Also, like all other altie therapies, Bowen claims it is better and kinder than other altie therapies:

Many other therapies inflict the will of the therapist on to the patient. In osteopathy, chiropractic and physiotherapy for instance, a diagnosis is made and treatment is given accordingly. On the face of it this may seem okay, but Bowen doesn’t work like that. The important thing about Bowen is that it allows the body the space to decide what is wrong and how to go about fixing it. Many conditions will respond that the therapist was not even aware of, simply because the body has made the decision to restore lines of communication to that area. A Bowen therapist will understand that the body is capable of healing the cause of the pain and not only the symptom.

So if some condition the bowenist didn't know about improves, the bowenists are more than happy to claim that they cured it. Like all true woo therapies, bowenists don't even need to know what's wrong with you:

Diagnosis therefore is not generally an area that a pure Bowen therapist will enter. Rather he or she will offer the work to the body and allow it to decide what, when and where it will use the treatment.

EoR is beginning to wonder why you'd go to one of these magicians. If his body already knows what's wrong with it, and can heal itself, can't he just sit at home and allow it all to happen naturally?

A little further searching shows clearly how Bowen works so effectively:

A Bowen treatment works by stimulating your bodies own healing energy. Some sensitive people can feel energy moving around the body along the major energy pathways or meridians. Although Tom Bowen was not trained in Chinese medicine, most of the Bowen moves correspond with acupuncture points which are like nodes in the network through which energy flows through the connective tissue. By stimulating these points with a Bowen move, new information is input to the nervous system, stimulating and causing changes in the energy flow. Traditional medicines have known for centuries that blockages and dysfunctions in body energy (or Chi) are the cause of illness and disease. By allowing energy to flow freely the body can make its own corrections, effectively healing itself. The Bowen practitioner does not need to make a precise diagnosis and know the cure. A body's own intelligence makes corrections where needed. [...] In cases of extreme injury, like burns or a broken bone within a cast, it is possible for a skilled practitioner to perform Bowen on the aura or energy field above the skin.

This is the best of all possible worlds: gentle massage, qi, meridians, selfhealing, auras, body intelligence. And an aside: if Bowen is so good for burns isn't that a simple condition that can be tested in those notoriously difficult to arrange scientific studies? Who cares what precise meridians the bowenists touch, or which specific moves - isn't the point these people claim that bowen does something?

Is there nothing these bowenists won't touch? Probably not, given that one of the Bowen moves is the Breast Tenderness Procedure. This page also makes more of the magic (yet, strangely, ill-defined and undetectable) energy:

Module7 of Level 3 covers positive and negative energy during Bowen Therapy. It includes an explanation of what positive and negative energy means as well as methods of how to ensure that you do not deplete your energy levels while performing Bowen therapy when clients bring in with them different levels of energy.

It gets wackier still:

The Bowen Technique affects very strongly the Chakra system and Auric field. From a clairvoyant point of view, a patient suffering from physical pain or psycho-emotional stress will show imbalances in the chakra system, and areas of dense, gray-dark, low frequency energy in the auric field. After receiving a few Bowen moves, the energy in the auric field will be instantly stirred up and gradually the areas of dense gray energy will clear and shift to white light or gold high vibration energy. The patient's energetic field will become radiant.

Back to Bodytune where the various schools and subsects of Bowen are listed - another sign of an unproven therapy since even the therapists can't agree on which are the 'real' moves nor how they should be done.

While Bowen is generally promoted for muscoskeletal problems, there are many areas that the bowenists are prepared to invade to further their empire: asthma, fibromyalgia, fertility and birth, broken neck, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy being a few.

Unfortunately, even though Bowen is a miracle cure, regular "tune ups" are recommended since, apparently, the body keeps forgetting how to heal itself. Others might think that conditions that have variable intensity are simply reoccuring without any relationship to any body reschooling that may or may not have taken place, with a healthy helping of the placebo effect.

You can become a bowenist with only 14 days training.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man!

Many people struggle to form a relationship with their horses. Some turn to the marketing frenzy of "natural" horsemanship, but there is a better, more straightforward, and simpler method: Your Life Patterns.

EoR first discovered this in an article by Catherine Bird at an equestrian website. It should be noted that Catherine Bird is an aromatherapist, herbalist, massager, bodyworker and "spiritual" kinesiologist (as if there's any other kind, especially if you consider "spiritual" as a synonym for "fictional").

Your Life Patterns shows how our seemingly complicated lives can be reduced to a single digit. Once we understand the vibration of this digit and its supporting minor digits we get valuable insights into the patterns in our lives and instead of being a victim we can take control and get what we want from life. When we understand the impact our own energy has on others around us, which can be easily identified with this system of numbers that has been skilfully developed by Larayne Porter, we can then understand how we have been limiting ourselves in all aspects of our inner and outer world. [...] Someone’s date of birth and then their name when reduced to a single digit being from one to nine can give us insights not only on how they perceive us but also how we can be accepted once we learn how to weave our way through our own and others filters of perception. You can say this is numerology, but this system when explained by Larayne is more than that. Numerology gives you some lovely warm fuzzy ideal aspects of yourself, but few of us are able to step into the positive aspects because of the denseness around us. Whereas Your Life Patterns gives you insights to the negative aspects you generate from each number in your pattern and how it blocks you truly being the best you can. The application as presented in this paradigm can help anyone with any challenge they may face.

Powerful stuff! Not only is this personality by numbers (but, remember, this is not numerology), it's also a "paradigm", and can help with any challenge you may face. You can use it with horses (though EoR is unsure whether you need to work out your horse's magic number - but, remember, this is not numerology - as well):

If we are brave enough to look and be more aware of our own patterns sometimes we may be quick enough to avoid the development of what we don’t want reflected back to us by our horses.

You can use it for love, for work, for health (who knows, you may be part of the unlucky tenth of the population who has the "unlucky" number that makes you "prone to muscular skeletal issues" (knowing this, the author promises, could significantly reduce your chiropractic bill!). And it's not just about the numbers (but, remember, this is not numerology):

The simplicity of this approach uses healing rays and symbols with the skills you develop in kinesiology processes (muscle testing) to help you improve all aspects of your life.

Woo on woo until you're smothered in nonsense and paradigmatic statements that wouldn't be out of place in a womens' magazine agony column. Your Life Patterns has its own website for those brave enough to face an onslaught of psychobabble and patently misleading statements such as that Your Life Patterns will:

Help you to see how to deal with your life from a realistic perspective.... rather than fantasy, illusion and idealism...

Of course, working your personality out by getting a number from your date of birth (but, remember, this is NOT numerology) is totally unrelated to fantasy, illusion, idealism or even selfdelusion. No, it is clearly scientifically proven reality. This scam is certainly not exclusionary, promising benefits for those aged 1 to 100. Pray tell, exactly what benefit would a one year old get? Please explain, as EoR is really intrigued. There's a whole section on Your Life Pattern for Kids (though EoR assumes they mean children) so that they can be indoctrinated early in this magic number method (but, remember, this is REALLY NOT numerology) of personality analysis. This (like the rest of the site) is short (well, devoid would be more accurate) of actually saying anything about how the method operates, and long on pointing out any normal behaviour as a sign that you need to pay these people money to solve the problems they claim you're having (how many teenagers, for example, don't have signs such as questioning authority, unable to reason and control feelings, difficulty making choices, difficulties with parents and relationship problems?). It goes on and on. Could you be one of those teenagers who are influenced by peer groups? Who resent authority figures? Who are troubled by puberty? Then Your Life Patterns And Not Numerology At All is for you!

EoR wonders how many schools and teachers are promoting this woo as well, since it's also being pushed towards those target audiences (though, basically, everyone seems to be part of the target audience).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pranic Money Lift

The latest magic method of extracting money from your wallet in a gentle, holistic manner is the pranic face lift. The front page even includes photographic "before" and "after" evidence of how effective it is. Never mind that the two photographs are taken from different distances, under different lighting, and at different angles and, in fact, even with all those deceptions still don't seem to show any differences (imagine the before and after photographs swapped around - it would work just as well). The reason EoR can't see any difference between the photographs though is because EoR doesn't believe in this witchcraft. You see, pranic face lifting only works as long as you believe it does ("You are receptive to the techniques"). It says so right on the front page. A bit of magic woo hand waving (which presumably shows God - sorry, "universal life force" - just which wrinkles to smooth out) and a "specialized" crystal (without which universal life force appears not to be universal or a force) can achieve what surgery would only fail at.

Apart from the silly hand and crystal waving, it is also important that you regularly contribute some of your cash to the pranic woo-meister, otherwise your face could seriously start sagging again and crumble away in a horrible Dorian Gray manner:

Then every so often, usually monthly, you should go to see the practitioner for a "tune-up".

Glenn J. Mendoza M.D. reports a study (unpublished and unreviewed, apparently, but who cares when you've got exposure on CBS News?) where some of the "Most Dramatic Observations" include not only

A refreshed "glow" is noticeable after the healing sessions

(Eor wonders how exactly that was measured), but also

Subject 21 (50 year old male) looked 10 years younger after the study

"Looked"? To whom? How was that measured? The list of "More Common Observations" includes solely subjective impressions:

"Face feels happy, light and relaxed", "Face feels warm, clean and refreshed", "Feels tingling sensation and movement of energy on the face", "Face feels plumper, more youthful and fresh"

and so on and so on. EoR agrees, however, that pranic wallet lifting, unlike traditional face lifts which use procedures where

Some of the techniques are painful, some only last a few months, and some are even risky.

will not be painful (physical only, does not apply to bank balance), has no risk (physical only, does not apply to bank balance), and how you look after the session will not change after only a few months (though it won't be any different from how you looked before the session - only poorer).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Willesee and God

For those interested in pursuing the madness of journalists who have passed their use-by date, here are a few links concerning Mike Willesee and his personal, rational relationship with God.

Mr Willesee's appearance on Enough Rope receives a mention in James Randi's latest newsletter (EoR admits to being the anonymous correspondent, though he did provide his name) where Mr Randi makes it clear he has never given Mr Willesee any prize, contrary to Mr Willesee's claim on national television (but why would someone who claims to have rational proof of God want to worry about facts or accuracy?) though Mr Willesee did receive a prize from CSICOP nineteen years ago. More details about that prize and "Signs from God" are also covered by Mr Randi here and at CSICOP.

Mr Willesee is, in fact, a multi-award winning journalist. He was also the proud recipient of the Australian Skeptics' 1999 Bent Spoon:

When it came to voting, the strong last minute run by the programme, Signs from God (9 Network), fronted by the formerly sceptical journalist, Michael Willesee, could not be ignored by the judges, and he was adjudged the very deserving winner.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Your Stars For The Day

Will astrologers continue to include the effects of Pluto on your personality and life, or will all those references be silently removed a la Stalinistic photo retouching?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Jesus Is Real - Oh, And Buy My Book

Andrew Denton's guest on Enough Rope this week was Mike Willesee. Mr Willesee spruiked his belief in god (well, a specific Roman Catholic god, rather than, possibly, Yog-Sothoth), his claims to have rational scientific evidence of his beliefs and, oh coincidentally, he's got a new book all about this gibberish coming out real soon now.

The incident that "returned him to God" (though, reading between the lines, he appears to have been a believer all along) was a light plane crash:

I had this very strong premonition, so strong as I believed it was going to happen, that this plane was going to crash, and I didn't believe in premonitions. I thought, "What do I do about this? What do I say to Greg? He's going to think I've lost it, I've lost my nerve or whatever". So I thought, "Well, that's it, we're going to crash." So I stayed on the plane, but I said a prayer, which was unusual for me. I'd got to the stage of thinking "What's it all about?" But I hadn't done anything about it, but I did say, believing the plane was going to crash, "Okay, Father, I put Greg and myself in your hands." We took off and flew for a little while and the plane fell out of the air. The only thought that occurred to me was, "Yes, I was right."

EoR can't quite work that out. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster had answered Mr Willesee's personal request and prevented the plane crash he could see how that could be interpreted as proof of divine intervention by the FSM... After spending some time going over Mr Willesee's career, Mr Denton returns to his newfound conversion experiences.

I had the rational belief that God was there, by proving some supernatural things to be true, by reading the writings of this woman Katya Rivas, by seeing a stigmata, which was seeing the wounds of Christ re-enacted. I mean I had all the reasons you needed to believe in God, but somehow that wasn't my conversion. My conversion was a gift.

Katya Rivas is the star of a documentary called "Signs from God" that Mr Willesee made, and which was seen by some 20 million people in the US (it seems to have been shown in Australia as well, but EoR obviously missed it - he was probably busy searching for thistles that day). This was before his "conversion", while he claims to have still been an "investigator". His gullibility levels appear to have been fairly high though. He believes this was the real stigmatic epiphany. No faking. No way.

I don't believe there was any possibility. I mean, master magicians can do things that really fool you, but it's hard to fool a camera. Magicians use movement, illusion and distraction. She didn't use any of those - she was lying still. There was certainly no one that jumped between me and her and did it.

Mr Willesee should know from his decades of experience in television that it's very easy to fool a camera (especially when you're editing something that is supposed to have taken hours to take place down to the length of a documentary, and when you want to believe it's real). Of course, EoR could be mistaken, and "The Lord of the Rings" could be all true.

Mr Willesee's current vocation is to prove the existence of the blood of Christ:

We started thinking about the blood of Christ because there's the shroud which wrapped the body of Christ, which has blood on it. Parts of it have been examined - it's type AB. There's the Sudarium, which is a very little-known cloth which covered the face of Jesus, which also has blood on it. We found that in a place called Oviedo in Spain. That blood's been tested and it's AB also. If you take pictures of the two - and the small cloth only covered part of Jesus' head while he was still on the cross, so it doesn't go all the way around - but if you take that part which coincides with the same part of the shroud, which covered all of his body, there are more than 120 wounds of coincidence when you put the two pictures one over the other. So there's a very strong case already to say that these two cloths were the two cloths mentioned in John's Gospel. So we thought, "Well if the blood's there and science is advancing, why don't we take the same scientific approach, and instead of people arguing about the story of Christianity and the story of Jesus Christ, let's, if the shroud is true and the Sudarium is true, then that gives a very strong rational basis for believing the whole story and gives a much stronger argument for believing the Resurrection, that Christ rose from the dead".

Mr Denton raises a couple of questions here about medical conditions that appear to be stigmata, and problems dating the Turin Shroud (though they were fairly tentative questions and not followed through). Sadly, the transcript doesn't include the excerpt from "Signs from God" where an image of Katya's eye is enlarged, showing some reflections in one corner. "Could this be a reflection of Jesus?" we are asked. Actually, EoR thought they might just be the reflections of studio lights, but that would be an incredible coincidence in the context of a film crew making a documentary. No, a reflection of Jesus is so much more likely.

Mr Denton mentions a certain $1,000,000 prize available to people proving the paranormal, but Mr Willesee could see that one coming, and has the ultimate answer to that, easily cutting Mr Denton down to size:

James Randy is a phoney.

And you're not, Mr Willesee? By this stage, even though Mr Denton's questions were pretty open, and only very mildly critical, Mr Willesee was becoming defensive. Earlier, he had promised to forward Mr Denton a copy of his book when it was published, but that seemed less likely now.

ANDREW DENTON: I can't wait to read your book.

MIKE WILLESEE: I'm not sure you're going to. At the start of the interview I thought you might, but...

ANDREW DENTON: What? You're not going to send me a copy anymore? You cheapskate.

MIKE WILLESEE: Maybe I'll just Photostat a couple of the relevant pages and send them over.

ANDREW DENTON: But are you surprised that I'm taking this line of questioning? Because I'm trying to ask rational questions, in the same way that you are.

Of course, Mr Willesee is on a mission, and rational examination is the last thing on his mind. He wants anything that he can fit into his already predetermined conclusions.

Reading the responses on the guestbook, EoR felt Brother Justin's flock had come out in droves ("Praise Michael! Praise Jaysus!"). The responses clearly fell between two groups: the majority who praised Mr Willesee with lots of talk of end times and retribution and holy revelation (and lots of people with spooky stories beginning "I was just questioning my faith the night before and then I saw your program"). There was lots of talk of a "profound" and "inspiring" interview, and scathing comments about Mr Denton's harsh and skeptical and disbelieving questions. The minority response felt Mr Denton could have gone in a lot harder. Maureen was typical:

My cat had a funny reflection in her eye this morning, could it be Buddha? Can I go on Denton for an entire
program to talk about it? This had to be the worst and most boring Denton yet to air. Andrew seemed afraid to point out the many nonsensical arguments yet even the slightest query got Willessee offside. I am not against hearing about people's life changing experiences but this was just a promo for a book I won't be reading.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Natural Menopause Cures Don't Cure

Australian Doctor of 4th August 2006 reports on "Natural menopausal therapies blasted".

Evidence supporting the use of complementary medicine to relieve menopausal symptoms is lacking, with a systematic review finding many beneficial treatment effects were attributable to placebo. The review of 70 studies examined the effect of protein, vitamin, diet and biological treatments, as well as various body therapies, on relief of menopause symptoms and concluded the quality of evidence supporting the treatments was lacking. [...] Leading gynaecological endocrinologist Dr Susan Davis said women were being misled by claims that nutritional supplements relieved menopausal symptoms. Professor Davis, director of the women's health program at the Alfred Hospital in Victoria, said the Therapeutic Goods Administration should review claims about many of the products. [...] "These products are a licence to make money on flimsy evidence and it's not fair because the community is misled," she said.

Is anyone suprised at these findings? It seems the whole of alternative medicine is based on little or no evidence, an over reliance on poor or minimal studies, and a heavy dependence on the placebo effect. Of the menopausal therapies studied, black cohosh showed some effect in improving vasomotor symptoms (in one study, three others found no effect). Therapies such as mind-body, energy, manipulative and Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine "showed little benefit". Other, presumably, than the benefit to the practitioners' income streams.

Regardless of the fact that one study found soy users increased their risk of endometrial hyperplasia, and users of black cohosh is associated with liver toxicity, the alties see no conceivable harm in their treatments.

Sydney Menopause Centre director Associate Professor John Eden said herbal treatments were safer than drugs and should not have to face the same testing.

Far be it from an old stuffed donkey to naysay an Associate Professor, but herbal treatments are drugs. But it's so much easier when you know the result a priori (ie "herbs are safe"). Obviously, you don't need to do the testing under those presumptions. Professor Eden also bemoans the cost of running studies, claiming

"Only the pharmaceutical industry can afford to spend that sort of money."

Strangely, elsewhere in the same issue it is claimed that fish oil supplements alone are worth $40 million a year (and fish oil use is also based on incomplete studies). The rest of altie medicine is a multimillion dollar enterprise.

And the issue also includes a report on a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner in New South Wales who was fined $12,000 for her traditional treatment of a woman's haemorrhoids (she tied silk "soaked in a traditional Chinese preparation" around the haemorrhoid, reassuring her hapless victim that it would drop off in about five days - when the tissue turned necrotic the woman spent 10 days in hospital). So much for "traditional", "gentle", "noninvasive", "safe", and "effective" being synonyms in the altie dictionary. Though at least they saved space by removing the words "gullible" and "study" from the dictionary.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Journey To Babel

As yesterday's post showed, the line between satire and truth on the net is fluid, permeable, and often hard to define or detect. EoR can't decide if the woo du jour is fake or real, but it certainly fills a gap in the educational system that governments have neglected for far too long. There must be countless young people out there considering what career path to follow, and many of those aspirants have been thwarted in their dreams by the lack of a suitable educational institution to further their goals. Until now. The Exopolitics Institute can help you get that dream job of extraterrestrial ambassador.

The certification program offers a three-tiered system of courses and seminars that each culminate in an Exopolitics certificate or diploma.
  • Exopolitics Certificate - Entry level certification provides the core conceptual understanding so you have basic competency in writing about, researching or investigating exopolitical issues.

  • Galactic Diplomacy Certificate - Second level of certification provides both the conceptual skills and diplomatic training so you can practice citizen diplomacy in extraterrestrial affairs.

  • Exopolitics Diploma - Third level certification designed for those intending to teach or train others in exopolitics.

You will become competent in such subjects as "Citizen Diplomacy with Extraterrestrial Civilizations", "From Egypt to Mars: History of UFO's", and "Extraterrestrial and Developing the Road to Disclosure - Quantum Cosmology". And it even costs less than $US2000! Here's Citizen Diplomacy:

Exopolitics 102 - Citizen Diplomacy with Extraterrestrials

This course examines examines the key principles of 'galactic diplomacy' at the unofficial level, as a form of 'track two' or 'citizen diplomacy' aimed at establishing contact and communications with different extraterrestrial races. The course analyses the nature of diplomatic representation on Earth that might be recognized by various extraterrestrial races. Particular focus will be on the representative status of different global constituencies such as politically organized humanity, cetaceans, alleged subterranean civilizations, and the role of Earth or 'Gaia' as a living organism. The course examines the need for 'citizen diplomacy' with extaterrestrials as a means of complementing official diplomatic relations between major nations and extraterrestrial races. Finally, the course examines how national security agencies will respond to 'citizen diplomacy' between private citizens/groups with extraterrestrials in terms of four key challenges confronting the practice of this form of diplomacy: 1. the extent of private communications and interactions with extraterrestrial races; 2. the coercive resources of shadow government agencies; 3. the degree to which extraterrestrial races may manipulate citizens engaging in track two galactic diplomacy; and 4. implications of initiatives and agreements reached through citizen diplomacy with extraterrestrials.

In fourteen weeks you can learn all that as well as "Galactic History"! EoR really, however, wants to know what the practical assessment involves.

However, some of the curriculum will need urgent revising, since Galactic Awareness with the Dolphins will now need to become Galactic Awareness with the Goldfish.

Angelika, an experienced multidimensional telepath, clairvoyant and contactee, will guide the group through a process of inner expansion of mind, energy, spirit and consciousness to reach into the higher realms to share that information, along with energetic downloads, healings, messages and more. Dr. Michael Salla will discuss the process of interacting with dolphins and how this is indispensable to the work of gaining the confidence and skills to interact with star beings on all levels.

Angelika has more to say about the role of dolphins in extraterrestrial affairs.:

Inspiring work done by those in the field of dolphin communications such as Joan Ocean report that dolphins are not only telepathic and empathic beings, but multi-dimensional travelers who have seeded themselves upon this world and are able to attune to and transverse into higher vibrational densities. Practiced intuitive people are able to verify this information by clairvoyantly, telepathically or empathetically tuning into the energetic frequency of the dolphins and experience cohesive glimpses of this other reality one without time and spatial limitations as we understand them, and one of 'pod consciousness' in which there is a oneness of being that connects all dolphin minds together in a synchronized fusion. Many other benevolent ET races occupy these higher frequency planes called the 4th and 5th dimensions, and are currently in communication with many humans around the globe both physically and telepathically. Consequently this becomes one of the many ways that our cetacean friends are teaching us how to expand our scope beyond the limitations of three dimensional reality.

Does anyone comprehend what "transverse into higher vibrational densities" means? Apart from dolphins, of course. In this magical dream realm, dolphins will lead us poor, limited, unintelligent humans into the brave new world of woo confusion:

Because the dolphins are very intuitively advanced, being in their energy fields (swimming with them) stimulates and enhances one's own inner talents in the areas of clairvoyance, telepathy, clairsentience and empathy, even if these potentials are hidden or undeveloped. Also, the dolphins work with those humans who are open to assistance and will use their sonar like a laser in surgery to unlock blockages which may lie within your emotion, mental, physical and etheric light bodies. They truly are here to help and guide us a part of our journey to personal empowerment.

Just as Angelika and her husband appear to be here to help and guide us as a part of our journey to financially empower Angelika and her husband with our money.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Goldfish Healing

In February, The Onion reported on a study that showed dolphins were not as intelligent as people presumed:

"The dolphins were incapable of recognizing and repeating simple gestures," said study co-author Dr. Scott Lindell. "Their non-verbal communications were limited to a rapid constriction and expansion of the blowhole, various incomprehensible fin motions, and heavy tremors while they lay prone on the lab table."

Well, EoR doesn't know if The Onion is psychic or not, but those findings have been confirmed (also reported here and here).

Dolphins may have big brains, but a South African-based scientist says lab rats and even goldfish can outwit them. Paul Manger of Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand says the super-sized brains of dolphins, whales and porpoises are a function of being warm-blooded in a cold water environment and not a sign of intelligence. "We equate our big brain with intelligence. Over the years we have looked at these kinds of things and said the dolphins must be intelligent," he said. "The real flaw in this logic is that it suggests all brains are built the same ... When you look at the structure of the dolphin brain you see it is not built for complex information processing," he told Reuters in an interview. A neuroethologist who looks at brain evolution, Manger's views are sure to cause a stir among a public which has long associated dolphins with intelligence, emotion and other humanlike qualities. They are widely regarded as one of the smartest mammals. But Manger, whose peer-reviewed research on the subject has been published in Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, says the reality is different. Brains, he says, are made of neurons and glia. The latter create the environment for the neurons to work properly and producing heat is one of glia's functions. "Dolphins have a super-abundance of glia and very few neurons ... The dolphin's brain is not made for information processing - it is designed to counter the thermal challenges of being a mammal in water," Manger said.

EoR wonders how the alties will cope with this shocking news. Will Dolphins and Whales: Gateways to Healing have to become Goldfish and Rats: Gateways to Healing? It wouldn't take much rewriting, and would be just as meaningless:

As people learn to merge their individual energy fields and atomic structure with the harmonic frequencies of the goldfish and rat sounds, they meet and master new aspects of human consciousness and life force. As the goldfish teach, it is by activating and aligning their golden, spiraling, inner spheres of energy with the Universal Rhythms of Life that allows humans to traverse new realms of consciousness, well being and cooperation with each other and all forms of life.

Will Dolphin Brain Repattering (sic) have to be renamed Goldfish Brain Repattering? That too would only require minimal rewriting (EoR has maintained the idiosyncratic spelling and grammar):

Goldfish Brain Repattering was originally founded by Moshe Feldenkrais, and was greatly expanded by the Pleiadians. It was originally called Neuro-Muscular-Cortical repattering. This of course refers to anything that has refference to neurological, muscular body, and the nervious system. The main focus is on the cortex of the brain. Our body systems are in constant communiction with each other and this determines a persons over all health. The main objective of goldfishe brain repattering is to free the skeletal system of holding patterns that inhibit you from being spontaneous and free. Also this allows Cerebrospinal fluid.that in made in the brain. To flow through out your nervious system. To allow you to enhance the electrical stimuli of your brain.

And Dolphin Trilogy Reiki could easily become Goldfish Trilogy Reiki:

Experience the love and wisdom of the Goldfish through Goldfish Trilogy Reiki. This system of natural healing calls upon the love and energy of our beloved Goldfish community to heal the mind and the spirit. It is especially effective in helping with emotional problems, addictions, depression, and those looking to remember their Sacred Song.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wrapping Up Your Horse Problems

Linda Tellington-Jones, creator of TTEAM (The Tellington-Jones Equine Awareness Method - which espouses such things as a form of equine phrenology, Chau K'a or skin rolling, riding without a bridle, and woo treatments for colic including that old favourite "Rub or make circles on the skin above the anus, a point that releases gas.") has an amazing device to fix multiple problems with your horse.

The Body Wrap is a TTEAM tool for influencing a horse's behavior, increasing awareness and improving his performance. The Body Wrap is composed of two elastic bandages (for instance, Ace or Tensor) secured together. It is tied in a figure eight around the horse. Slight variations in the placement elicit different responses. The wrap maintains a constant connection with the body because it moves with the horse. This is particularly significant for horses with neurologic deficits because this continual sensory input encourages the rebuilding of the neural pathways.

EoR vaguely wonders how it is known that neural pathways have been rebuilt through the use of this device? Or is that just a magic woo wishful thinking statement? EoR suspects the latter since no studies appear to have been done. Indeed, a lot of the wonderful effects from this device seem like wishful thinking, relying on the observor's impressions:

It is very interesting to notice the subtle and dramatic changes that occur with the Body Wrap. For instance, a strung-out horse or one who is camped under suddenly takes on a more balanced stance, having "a leg at each corner." Or a horse's topline may change so that he looks "rounder." Or you may see more movement and engagement in the hindquarters.

You can also ride your horse with the Body Wrap on (if you don't mind the strange looks and whispered comments). At least the device is simple and cheap to make at home and, unlike the full-on marketers of natural horsemanship tools™, Ms Tellington-Jones doesn't appear to be selling the special brandname version.

Larger images can be seen here and here. Personally, EoR thinks the Body Wrap would look much nicer if it had a bow on top as well.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Unfathomable Queries

In the Guardian Weekly issue of Apr 28 - May 4, 2006, reader Richard Linton posed this question in the Notes and Queries section (where readers ask those niggling questions that have always bothered them, and other readers provide their answers).
In reflexology, which part of the foot represents the foot?

Sadly, to date there has been no response. Maybe the reflexologists are just too busy to answer. And EoR was going to ask the follow-up question: "In iridology, which part of the iris represents the iris?".

Friday, August 18, 2006

Woo World In The Media

It's been a busy week for woo in the media here in EoR's gloomy corner of the forest.

The West Australian newspaper continues to lead the way with its illuminating, factual articles in its Mind&Body supplement. Last week EoR learned that acupuncture needles are different from hypodermic needles (that's why acupuncture needles pierce the skin, but "push blood vessels" out of the way, and that the sex of babies can be influenced by having sex when the moon is in the right astrological position). This week's highlight is "The Power of Crystals".

My first exposure to crystals was when I was in my teens. I was very attracted to one and felt compelled to pick it up and place it to my forehead. I had a headache at the time and I found that my pain was relieved. [...] In trying to understand how and why crystals can help in healing people, my research suggests that the concepts of quantum physics may give some validation to their healing properties. [snip long diatribe about "subtle vibrations", "perfect unity and harmony", "primal integrity" and "pulsating molecules"] Crystals are capable of receiving, containing, projecting, emanating, refracting and reflecting light, which is again a form of energy. Crystals are today harnessed by science for lasers, ultrasound devices, watches, memory chips in computers, as oscillators for controlling radio frequencies in electronic equipment, capacitors to modify energy capacity in circuitry, transducers to transmit energy from one system to another and in condensers that store energy.

Never mind real quantum physicists doing work with high energy particle colliders (which would be a lot simpler and cheaper to make with a couple of crystals), the author has done her "research". Which probably consists of reading Nova magazine. Of course, electricity, and all those other electronic components that are also needed to make a fully functioning laser, or even a crystal radio, are conveniently ignored. And it's a small step from "energy" and "systems" in the physical, electronic sense to "energy" and "systems" in the healing woo non-sense. As Humpty Dumpty (that proto-postmodernist) said: "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean".

The esoteric use of crystals also harnesses the power of these structures to store and transmit energy. Quantum principles help us to understand that the frequencies of crystals can be used to channel energy to reharmonise and intensify our own harmonic frequency. Each type of crystal has a specific frequency and healing property. [...] Far from being inert, non-living substances, crystals pulsate with their own life and vitality. People report their crystals communicating with them and even translocating -- getting lost or showing up unexpectedly.

Which is why computers, lasers, ultrasound devices, and most electronic equipment often fails to work. Their crystals keep "translocating" when they feel the need to go visiting and "communicate" with a woo friend. Hang on... What was that, Mr Quartz? This article is the greatest pile of steaming manure you've seen in a long time? EoR can only agree. Even though it's presented as a factual article.

It's nice to return to some sanity after that: our old friend the Dream Reader, Charmaine Saunders, who replies to a correspondent's dream about a name, and has remembered the name ever since just in case she meets the person. Ms Saunders also believes in this particular form of divination:

I've often dreamed phone numbers and always dial them the next day but nothing significant has come out of it.

Of course, a series of constant failed tests in Woo World is not contradictory to a belief that all is true in Wonderful Woo World:

It could be someone who was important to you in a previous life or a stranger who was merely a visitor in your consciousness. Far-fetched? Don't be too sure.

EoR tends to believe the past life hypothesis. Their number would be different now, hence all the failed telephone calls. Proof positive!

Meanwhile, the ABC upholds its fine tradition of promoting any loony spruiker with a psychic tale to tell and mediumistic book to sell. Allison "World's Only Real Scientifically Proven You Better Believe It Psychic" Dubois got a run on the current affairs Breakfast program. Interviewer Fran Kelly briefly mentioned contact from the Australian Skeptics about this interview, conveniently allowing Ms Dubois to mention her scientific validation by Gary Schwartz. Sadly, neither she nor Ms Kelly discussed their recent public falling out. The interview descended quickly into farce when Ms Kelly began asking Ms Dubois questions about why the character Ms Dubois in the television show Medium did certain things.

Ms Kelly, a point to note: Medium is a drama. It is fiction. It is not a documentary. EoR expects Kieffer Sutherland will be interviewed shortly about current methods of handling terrorist activity.

Of course, if Ms Dubois really were a psychic, Ms Kelly wouldn't have had to ask any of her questions. Ms Dubois could have just rattled off the correct answsers.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Dores Of Perception

EoR has been hearing advertisements on the radio for some time promoting a miraculous cure for conditions such as ADHD, and which are 100% effective over a short space of time, and come with a money back guarantee (EoR wonders why they have to offer that if the treatment is 100% effective?). The advertisements provide no details of what the therapy actually is. Of course, EoR's scamometer started going into the danger zone when these promotions began. An article in The West Australian newspaper of 2nd August 2006 provides further details.

A controversial drug-free program aimed at treating learning problems, including ADHD, has arrived in Perth and more than 300 West Australians have signed up at a cost of almost $5000 each. The Dore Achievement Centre opened in Perth in January and already some claim the treatment, which involves a series of twice-daily exercises, has reaped remarkable results. [...] Dore Achievement Centre's medical services manager Glynis Howard said the treatment was effective for children and adults with the symptoms of dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger syndrome and attentin deficit hyperactive disorder and the program usually took at least 13 months to complete. Clients underwent intensive testing before some of the 300 exercises were prescribed, to be updated every seven weeks. The program is based on the hypothesis that dyslexia and other learning difficulties are caused by a fault in the area of the brain which controls balance and muscle movement, and that by stimulating the cerebellum new neural connections will be formed and the brain will perform better in all activities, including reading and writing.

EoR congratulates the West on at least getting the claims right: they're a hypothesis, not a theory. The West also includes a dissenting view:

But opinion is split on the science behind the treatment. Academics around the world have panned it, labelling the Dore approach unproved, unscientific and unfounded. Perth developmental paediatrician Trevor Parry said he would not recommend the treatment as an option for people with learning disabilities and there was a consensus among many paediatricians that the program did not have enough scientific backing.

The West does, however, lose points for including the obligatory testimonial from a mother, and for presenting "both sides of the story" incorrectly:

However, some unpublished research and the centre's own figures suggest it is highly effective.

EoR would have passed that last sentence if the subeditor had corrected it to "Only some unpublished research and the centre's own figures suggest it is highly effective".

Eor went along to the Dore Achievement Centre website and filled in the online form to see if the Dore treatment could help him. He randomly filled in half the answers "Yes" and half "No" and was pleased to find that the treatment would, indeed, be of great benefit to him. But what if he had none of the symptoms? He went back to the online form and answered "No" to every single question. No difficulties of any sort. No struggling with anything. No fidgeting. No learning problems. He was then informed:

We will need to carry out more test results before we could advise you fully and this can easily be arranged at one of our centres

Often it causes great frustration because those affected can't understand why many everyday things are easier for others than it is for them

Happily today we have a drug-free answer that can make wonderful improvements to the underlying cause and help overcome many of the symptoms

We measure the average improvements made by our clients in a number of other areas - these are the results

Etc etc etc. It appears the Dore Treatment Centre are quite willing to tell anyone that they can help them. Even if they have no relevant problems. He also clicked on the "How Much Does It Cost?" link but just got a page with a phone number to ring. The website claims that their method can detect cerebellar developmental delay (CDD) along with the fear inducing statement that "One in 6 people have symptoms of CDD, yet most go undiagnosed". It could be you! It could be your children! How will you know? EoR's glad you asked: "We are able to detect CDD through the various tests we run with new clients". The site claims staggering improvements, including 1700% improvement in writing. The site provides the amazing research that the paediatricians deny.

EoR, however, is extremely wary of a method that can detect some woo illness no matter what your symptoms, and then offer the cure to that imaginary illness for large sums of money.

Update: Information about the Dore Programme in its US incarnation can be found at I Speak of Dreams.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Clutching At $3000 Straws

Via Liz Ditz EoR was alerted to the Sensory Learning Program (SLP). At first viewing this appears to be a legitimate webpage, but cracks rapidly appear in the seeming semblence of truth.

The Sensory Learning Program is comprised of two 30-minute sessions each day for 12 consecutive days, including weekends and holidays. Each session is an individual sensory experience simultaneously engaging visual, auditory and vestibular systems to work in an integrated way. The repetitive sensory activation of each session builds on the session before.

Now, this may or may not work, EoR isn't qualified to say, but the first warning signs are the rapidity of the therapy and the lack of detail of just how the therapy is applied and works. This still doesn't mean SLP doesn't work, but the details are not provided in order to determine that question. The next paragraph sounds another warning bell:

After twelve days of sessions in the Sensory Learning Center International, the individual returns home with a portable light instrument to continue the program, with a 20-minute session each morning and evening for the next 18 days.

"A portable light instrument"? What, exactly is that? On the positive side, it's probably easier to take home than a non-portable light instrument.

Yet another warning sign is the vast range of conditions that this one therapy can resolve: autism, Asperger's Syndrome, acquired brain injury, developmental delays, birth trauma, behaviour problems, ADHD, and "learning enhancement". Signs of altie magic are starting to show between the cracks of logic and plausibility. Altie remedies are always so much more powerful than real remedies: they work faster, and they cure a much larger range of conditions. Then there are the extra conditions known only to altie practitioners (such as "birth trauma"):

Even in a newborn, when the nervous system experiences physical trauma the brain begins to function as if it has an acquired brain injury. The child responds to ordinary sensory information as though the sensory messages are signaling a trauma.

Another sign of altie therapies is a preference for testimonials over scientific studies of effectiveness (usually because desperate people in search of a miracle cure are primed to see any change - real or not - as caused by the therapy in question, whereas scientific studies are more objective and actually look for evidence). The SLP pages are filled to bursting with testimonials, from parents, and Dr. Bradley E. Habermehl, O.D of Michigan who writes:

I first became aware of the work of Sensory Learning Center and the Sensory Learning Program when I saw firsthand the wonderful transformation it facilitated in the child of one of my patients, a young boy diagnosed with autism. His turn-around after the 30-day intervention showed positive changes in speech, cognition, and social behaviors. His autistic behaviors that were apparent before the intervention of the Sensory Learning Program have been greatly diminished. Both toe-walking and hand-flapping are now completely absent.

There's also a page for professionals along with testimonials from people with letters after their names. Unfortunately, they're all SLP practitioners, including, again, our friend Dr Bradley E. Habermehl, O.D. More signs of altie marketing. To be fair, it appears the good ODoctor Habermehl was amazed by the miracle powers of SLP before he became a franchisee, but it is, at the very least, highly deceptive to present a testimonial on one page from him as a consumer when he is, in fact, a seller.

The FAQ page provides the details of the therapy:

The Sensory Learning Program unites three modalities working with the visual, auditory and vestibular systems that are normally administered individually---into one seamless and holistic experience.

So... Ummm... It works how, exactly?

Subtle changes are often seen immediately. Many participants experience significant results during the initial twelve days. Others see changes in cumulative skills unfolding over the following weeks or months.

How are "subtle" changes seen? If they're subtle, how is it determined that the therapy caused them (other than wishful thinking, of course)? If a further range of varying effects is seen over a varying period of time, how is it determined that the therapy caused those as well, since there seems to be no standard response? Do these children also undergo other therapies during those periods? How are those eliminated when determining which therapy caused changes?

At least, unlike the true altie therapies, SLP only needs to be undergone once for its cure to take effect.

Some more warning signs of altie therapy can be found on the page about Mary Bolles, the founder:

An expert on the effect of Ocular Light Therapy on Learning Disabilities, Mary Bolles is a pioneer in the integrated use of light, sound and motion for sensory perception problems. Like many pioneers, Ms. Bolles began her quest in response to an unmet need as she sought help for her son, Jason, who was exhibiting behaviors consistent with children on the autism spectrum. Jason was still not talking at age three. He didn't want to be held and didn't sleep well. He had a volatile temper and his coordination was poor. Despite seemingly constant trips to doctor's offices and other specialists, when Jason repeated kindergarten twice, Mary knew she had to do something. Mary researched the nature of mild brain dysfunction and its relationship to sensory processing problems in the brainstem area. She explored a variety of developmental learning approaches and became determined to find a new learning system that would dramatically change the way Jason saw the world - a method that would go beyond medication, tutoring and behavior modification. After extensive independent study and an internship with the John-David Learning Institute in Carlsbad, CA, Mary discovered that combining three individual modalities (visual, auditory and vestibular) into one multi-sensory experience was capable of providing the positive results she'd been seeking for Jason. In 1997, Mary founded the Sensory Learning Institute and began providing the Sensory Learning Program to others. Mary Bolles holds a B.A. from Bowling Green State University and is an associate member of the College of Syntonic Optometry.

Note the plethora of warning signs there: an expert in a self-created field, a "pioneer" who found the answer doctors and researchers were too incompetent to provide, "dramatic change", "beyond medication", founded her own institute. Of course, there are and have been pioneers who have gone against the current of scientific belief, and won. There have also been thousands of others who were just pulling off a quick scam.

If SLP were so effective and dramatic surely, EoR reasoned, it would be accepted by mainstream practitioners, and used widely. There wouldn't just be this one woman and her "institute", and its self-created adherents, practising it. EoR went looking...

That "College of Syntonic Optometry" certainly sounded impressive. The site for the CSO claims

eighty percent of learning occurs by way of the eyes

Unfortunately, EoR always thought learning occurred by way of the brain. Perhaps the professionals would like to demonstrate learning in a braindead individual, but whose eyes were still functioning? It is possible that 80% of sensory input is via the eyes, but EoR would query even that figure. How is the 80% determined? Under what circumstances (certainly, 80% of EoR's sensory stimuli are not via the eyes at night, for example). And how come visually impaired people can still learn?

The college provides references to three papers claiming its phototherapy methods are effective (but provides no statement as to actual improvement, preferring instead comparatives such as "significantly superior"):

All three studies found profound improvements in the children who used syntonic phototherapy compared with subjects matched for age and academic success who did not. The non syntonics students either looked at white light (Kaplan), had optometric vision therapy (Liberman) or had optometric vision therapy and academic tutoring (Ingersol). The control students showed no or significantly less improvement in their peripheral vision, symptoms or performance than the phototherapy treated children. Ingersol found the experimental group receiving academic tutoring, vision therapy and syntonics had significantly superior outcomes than students given tutoring and vision therapy but no syntonics.

Luckily, the CSO provides a page of scientific evidence, tellingly entitled An Introduction to Syntonics as Energy Medicine (are all those altie bells ringing at once now? "Energy" medicine is one of the deepest, most impenetrable realms of the magic altie world).

The page begins by criticising "allopathic medicine" (that term alone is shouting "Altie! Altie! Get yer altie cures here!") for being rooted in the 19th century, and then goes on to relate various mad ideas in support of "light" from the early 20th century and earlier. Why do alties never see the contradictions in their own beliefs?

Apparently, the human body is a giant battery:

The photoreceptor and brain are positively charged and the choroid and liver are negative. The brain and liver have the greatest polarity and, according to Spitler, compose the animal's 'battery.' If the brain-liver polarity runs down, the animal weakens and at zero charge, the animal dies.

Of course, the only way light energy gets into the body is via the eyes (actually, it also enters via the skin, but let's not complicate the discussion with facts). This example from 1877 clearly demonstrates the altie "it works even though there are different effects every time" belief that pervades, particularly, homeopathy:

A proper dose for one often proves insufficient for a second and an overdose for a third, even where the symptoms are identical.

Or this piece of scientific wisdom:

Just as the sun is the primary generator of energy via electromagnetic radiation for Earth, Crile postulated that billions of tiny suns in the nucleus of each cell radiate light and that this light is the source of bioelectricity. Radiogen is Crile's descriptive term to denote the theoretical units of protoplasm in which oxidation occurs and from which radiation is emitted.

And the requisite quantum woo:

The body of life is an energy form. What seems to be solid structure is in constant flux. The atoms, molecules and cells of our body are short lived, yet we look, feel and act as if nothing has changed. What remains are the fields of energy that hold and guide life's developmental process.

Away from all the spruikers of their own miracle cures, what evidence is there for the magic effects of light, particularly in relation to learning disabilities? Sadly, very little. The Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine states

In syntonic optometry, the patient is exposed to one or more colors of light for a fixed period of time. This is done in a darkened room, with colors generated by a machine known as a syntonizer. In a typical session, a patient might absorb one color for 10 minutes, then another for an additional 10 minutes. Alternatively, just one color might be absorbed for 20 minutes. Treatment typically could involve between three and five sessions a week, for a period of four to eight weeks. In most cases, syntonics is used in conjunction with other therapeutic procedures. [...] The usefulness of syntonic optometry is a contentious issue, and a medical opinion should be sought in all cases of serious illness. The application of syntonic optometry to treating behavioral and learning disorders is especially controversial. [...] American Academy of Ophthalmology, an association of medical eye specialists, states that "as with other forms of vision therapy, there is no scientifically verified evidence to support claims for syntonic optometry."

Back to our friend, ODoctor Habermehl, who gets around:

Habermehl, astonished, looked over at Eric's mom, Rene Callahan of Howell. There were tears in her eyes.

"What," Habermehl asked, "did they do to him?"

"They" referred to the Sensory Learning Institute in Boulder, Colo., where Callahan took her son in the spring of 2003 for an "intervention" regimen developed by a researcher named Mary Bolles, whose son was autistic.

Habermehl, whom Callahan had consulted about vision therapy for Eric, says he lost no time. He wanted to know more about Bolles' sensory learning program right away.

"I called Mary that day. I said, 'I'm coming out to Boulder, and I'm bringing two staff members with me,' " he remembers.

Within six months, Habermehl opened the Flint Sensory Learning Center at his optometry practice on Richfield Road. Since August, people have come from all over the United States and Canada, bringing 170 children and adults suffering from autism, Asperger's syndrome, brain injuries, attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity for treatment that some parents say is positive and dramatic, but that critics complain is expensive and scientifically unproved. The cost of the regimen is about $3,000.

More signs of altie miracle cures: $3000 for 12 days (the other 18 days, remember, you do yourself at home). And then there's the classic altie statement that this is not, in fact, a cure:

"It's not a cure, but it was quite dramatic," says Rene Callahan, who now works for Habermehl as a "parent advocate," telling inquiring parents about the sensory learning program and Eric's experience.

Note also, yet again, the person who experienced the miracle cure also now has a financial interest in promoting the cure. Sorry, non-cure. At least this article gives a clearer idea of what is actually involved:

In [Mary Bolles'] "sensory learning" treatment, a child lays on a table in total darkness, typically holding the hand of a parent for comfort, since the experience is initially difficult for many kids. This table slowly moves in a gentle, rotating motion, sometimes from left to right and other times from "head to toe." At the same time, headphones placed over the child's ears play music, but with the input going in the right ear twice that of the left. According to some theory, this "right ear dominance" stimulates the left side of the brain, where the language and communication centers are located. The only thing the child sees during this process is a circle of light shining directly overhead, with the color of the light changing over the course of the sessions. This light stimulation comes from a kind of vision therapy. According to Bolles' theory, a child who undergoes these sessions is subconsciously re-learning, or re-programming, the way he senses motion, balance, light and sound, opening the way for them to better perceive and understand the world.

Of course, all EoR's readers can confirm the scientific accuracy of part of this, at least. Put your hand over your right ear. Have someone talk to you. Strangely enough, you will still be able to understand what they are saying, even though the information is coming to you from the "wrong" ear. The article also includes a dissenting view:

But medical science says there is no serious evidence this works. A school psychologist who wrote about related "sensory integration" therapies in the fall of 2002 said that the available studies so far showed that these have not worked. "I've had patients who've been in sensory learning who didn't make progress, but they're not telling you about them," UM's Solomon says.

Well, they wouldn't, would they? Especially since the whole enterprise is geared towards selling the therapy. One mother sums up quite succintly how these things prosper, after putting her son through SLP as well as numerous other therapies:

"Vince is doing better, but can we say why? No, it's impossible." she says. "We grasp at straws; we try anything that we've heard about that we think might help."

Habermehl, on the other hand, quite clearly shows that, regardless of any qualifications he might have, he chooses to ignore the scientific method in favour of the money-making method:

"I'm a clinician, I'm not a Ph.D," he says. "What I see means more to me than a study."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Loco About Herbs

The latest issue of hoofbeats is as full of woo as ever ("Natural Organic Minerals for Horses"; herbal tranquilisers - which only require application for three months before they work, but are "permanent", and which require you to determine your horse's 'type' ie does he "hold all his anxiety and tension in his muscles" or does he "process it through his digestive system" etc etc; lots of apparently undeclared advertorials; and so on) but EoR wants to look at its "Growing Equine Herbs" column. Interestingly, this is a couple of pages after the "Weed Watch" column, and EoR wonders in passing what criteria are used to determine in which column to put individual plants. Maybe they take it turn about?

[Astragalus] dates back to about 200BC and its warming properties have been used as an energy tonic to improve the immune system, physical endurance and to encourage the body to balance its systems.

Which really is all pretty meaningless woo-speak. "Energy" tonic? Would that be microwave energy? Nuclear energy? No, it's qi energy. Or Universal Life Force energy. Or Homeopathic Water Memory energy. Or something else equally nebulous, indeterminate, unmeasurable and impossible. Since all altie therapies "improve the immune system" and "balance the body's systems" (homeostasis is such a fickle mechanism when left to itself) EoR wonders why there are still any creatures left with under-functioning immune systems or out of balance body systems.

Having got the woo out of the way, readers can feel all touchy-feely about the real science that proves all the foregoing misinformation.

There have been studies confirming Astragalus' benefits to the immune system, especially in cancer patients where it helps with the restoration of immune cells after chemotherapy. Other studies have shown benefits to the liver and heart.

The myriad uses continue:

An antioxidant, its support in anti-ageing, as a diuretic, tonic for the lungs, spleen and kidneys. It has been used for oedema, uterine prolapses, uterine bleeding and wound healing. It promotes metabolism of proteins, stimulates the pituitary-adrenal cortisol activity and restoration of depleted red blood cell formation in the bone marrow.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center

In the United States, astragalus has been investigated as a possible treatment for patients whose immune systems have been compromised by chemotherapy or radiation. Astragalus supplements have been shown to speed recovery and extend life expectancy in these patients. Research regarding the use of astragalus in people with AIDS has produced intriguing but inconclusive results.

Recent research in China indicates that astragalus may offer antioxidant benefits in people with severe forms of heart disease, relieving symptoms and improving heart function. Because astragalus has many potential applications and few, if any, side effects, it holds promise as an alternative treatment option.

Notice how the hoofbeats article takes research that states Astragalus is a "possible treatment... intriguing but inconclusive... may offer..." and takes away all shadow of doubt to claim it as a known miracle treatment for a vast range of symptoms, diseases and conditions. EoR also wonders how many horses have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

InteliHealth is even more cautionary in describing the scientific studies.

Better studies are needed in this area before firm conclusions can be reached [cancer]... Further research is needed in this area [immune system stimulant]... However, larger studies are needed to determine the exact benefit and safety of astragalus for these conditions [cardiovascular disease]... Larger, better-quality studies are needed to provide clear answers [myocarditis and endocarditis]... More research is needed in these areas before a recommendation can be made [other].

The list of unproven uses is much, much longer. InteliHealth also goes on to list possible side effects and interactions with other drugs or supplements (in a herbal supplement! the horror!). Strangely, animal studies indicate Astragalus may lower blood pressure, even though "traditional" wisdom has it that the herb raises blood pressure. InteliHealth concludes:

Although astragalus has been suggested for many uses, it has not been scientifically proven for the treatment of any condition. It is often used as a part of multiherb combination therapies. Astragalus has not been shown safe for pregnant or breast-feeding women. Individuals with autoimmune diseases or organ transplants should consult a health care professional before taking astragalus. If you are taking drugs, other herbs or supplements, consult a pharmacist or health care professional before starting therapy. Consult a health care professional immediately if you experience side effects.

MedlinePlus points out the poor quality of studies of Astragalus.

The use of astragalus became popular in the 1980s based on theories about anti-cancer properties, although these proposed effects have not been clearly demonstrated in reliable human studies. Some medicinal uses of astragalus are based on its proposed immune stimulatory properties, reported in preliminary laboratory and animal experiments, but not conclusively demonstrated in humans. Most astragalus research has been conducted in China, and has not been well designed or reported.

So, an apparently reputable magazine (though its reputation is fast declining) promotes a herb as proven, safe and efficacious, when it is none of those. Certainly, further studies may indeed indicate some positive uses of Astragalus, but that evidence does not currently exist, and to blatantly claim so without any provisos is fraudulent and deceptive. Of course, it may just be because the author of the column was, herself, imbibing Astragalus or, to give it a more common name, locoweed. This use of it in animals, as a poison, is certainly well documented.

The third type of poisoning and probably the most severe, called "locoweed poisoning" or "locoism", is caused by several species of Astragalus and a few species of Oxytropis which synthesize the alkaloid swainsonine.

Hoofbeats. Going loco about herbs.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Unintelligent Design: Why God Isn't As Smart As She Thinks She Is

Robyn Williams, National Living Treasure and longtime science broadcaster has a new book out, dealing with the mythology that calls itself "intelligent design". If the write up on the ABC Shop site is anything to go by, Mr Williams does not pull any punches. Which is as it should be.

Intelligent Design has found its way into the headlines, has been spruiked in the Parliament and is now trying to slink into our schools. So where did this wilfully ignorant sibling of creationism and its anti-scientific arguments spring from? And why is it refusing to go away? Using all the richness of the scientific and natural worlds, Robyn Williams takes on the stalking monster in a short, wicked and witty debunk of ID. Why make the earth, the solar system, our galaxy and all the rest, he asks, when the Garden of Eden was all that was needed? And then there's lifespan. During long periods of human history, the life expectancy of men was a mere 22 years and children were lucky to toddle, let alone grow up. Why the waste? And shouldn't we sue God for sinus blockages, hernias, appendix flare-ups and piles, not to mention bad backs? This is a book to infuriate the forces of darkness, and anger and amuse the rest of us.

Which at least shows that the ABC doesn't always go for the easy moneymaking woo end of the market.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Alternative Therapies Ineffective. Alties Remain Silent

EoR wonders why the "evidence based" alties who so much enjoy touting any poorly designed statistically indeterminate trial that their favourite "natural" (and therefore "safe") product works wonders, but remain staunchly silent when studies show no effect?

A review of Complementary and Alternative Therapies for the Management of Menopause-Related Symptoms reports

Nearly half of adults in the United States use complementary and alternative therapies each year for a variety of reasons. These therapies are increasingly popular among women seeking alternatives to treatment with estrogen for managing menopausal symptoms. The objective of this review was to assess the effectiveness of complementary and alternative therapies in the management of menopausal symptoms. [...] Although individual trials suggest benefits from certain therapies, data are insufficient to support the effectiveness of any complementary and alternative therapy in this review for the management of menopausal symptoms. Many of these potential therapies warrant further study in trials with rigorous scientific designs to determine benefit and safety.

Meanwhile, Australian Doctor (28th July 2006) reports on a study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

There is no evidence that dietary supplementation and modification alters the clinical course of cancer or precancer, according to a study that may dash the hopes of many patients seeking a dietary cure. The analysis of 25 randomised controlled trials in patients with cancer and 34 in patients with preinvasive lesions, such as colorectal and oesophageal, found no evidence that dietary changes altered the course of the disease of improved survival. [...] The analysis of various diets and supplements, including vitamins, antioxidants, retinol and garlic, found most trials had methodological weaknesses. A healthy diet alone or in combination with dietary supplements, weight loss of exercise had no effect on all-cause mortality. [...] Professor Ian Olver, CEO of the Cancer Council Australia, said the study was important because it underlined that just because something like diet sounded helpful, that did not make it so.

Elsewhere in the same issue, studied a concern dear to alties' hearts: Big Pharma's twisting of drug trial results (reported in BJU International 2006; 98:377-80):

Clinical trials of new drugs are expensive and difficult to organise, so most are funded by the pharmaceutical industry, raising concerns about their credibility. But analysis of 24 different studies of oxybutynin and tolterodine for overactive bladder found industry-sponsored trials were no more likely to produce positive results. All the studies, whether industry-sponsored or not, would have benefitted from closer adherence to current standards for randomised trials.

Friday, August 11, 2006

More On The Towers Of Terror

In May 2006 news reports carried items about a cluster of brain tumours at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

The building concerned has now been cleared of causing brain tumours, but staff are still unwilling to return to it, since the OH&S report only looked at brain tumours, while the staff apparently had a variety of cancers, both malignant and benign. Twelve cases of cancer were reported, of ten different types. While the ABC's report doesn't go into the details any further, the cases investigated show no signs of being linked, or being statistically different from the general population.

Matthew McGowan, Victorian Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, states

Well we are concerned that staff, within hours of the release of the report, are feeling pressured and are having putting pressure put on them, to move back to level 16 and 17 before they have had a chance to either digest the report, to understand the report, or for their to be any discussion about what else needs to happen.

A worker at RMIT started a blog on the subject, stating seven staff members had brain tumours. Unfortunately, after the first post, there have been no further posts made, without explanation.

It appears the union, workers and the media are no longer blaming telephone towers, but the two floors of the university involved for the cancers.

RMIT is also the home of the Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research, the Chinese Medicine Research Group, as well as providing courses on Osteopathy, Chiropractic and Chinese Medicine.