Sunday, March 11, 2007

Wishful Reiki Thinking

EoR appears to have missed all this research: There are now quite a few experiments that validate the usefulness of Reiki and Reiki like healing techniques.. Perhaps EoR's readers could let him know which issue of Scientific American, New Scientist or the British Medical Journal published these findings? Though it appears these scientific proofs are "experiments", not studies as such.

Now, something like could hardly be described as independent, so EoR went looking for these studies so he could read the full report and assess the evidence himself (note to trolls: EoR is quite happy to assess the evidence and make up his own mind, rather than accuse people of being "closed minded").

This is the first study:

Wendy Wetzel, a registered nurse describes a Reiki experiment she conducted in her paper, "Reiki Healing: A Physiologic Perspective." In her study, forty-eight people made up the experimental group while 10 made up a control group. Both groups had blood samples taken at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. The experimental group received First Degree Reiki training. The control group was not involved in the Reiki training. The blood samples were measured for hemoglobin and hematocrit values. [...] The people in the experimental group who received Reiki training experienced a significant change in these values with 28 percent experiencing an increase and the remainder experiencing a decrease. The people in the control group who did not receive Reiki training experienced no significant change. It is thought that changes, whether an increase or decrease are consistent with the purpose of Reiki which is to bring balance on an individual basis. One individual experienced a 20% increase in these values. She continued to treat herself with Reiki daily and after three months, her increase had been maintained and in fact had continued to improve. This improvement was appropriate for her as she had been experiencing iron deficiency anemia.

There's no actual data there: a "significant change" is what exactly? Over what period? Eleven people experience an increase, 37 a decrease. So, any result, whether an increase or a decrease is proof? Apparently this is because the body "knows" whether an increase or a decrease is needed though there's no indication of whether the increase or decrease was appropriate in each case (note: apparently none of the experimental group were healthy enough to maintain the same values). The control group was also very small.

Nonetheless, EoR expected that all these questions would be answered in the actual published paper. And here it is:

I can't give permission to reprint my study since I don't hold the copyright... you can reference it however.... and back issues of the Journal of Holistic Nursing are available thru many libraries...The citation is Wetzel, W (1989). Reiki Healing: A Physiologic Perspective. Journal of Holistic Nursing 7(1), 47-54.

So EoR's questions apparently can't be answered. Not unless someone with access to an academic library would like to source that particular publication.

EoR was unable to locate the next study, by one Otelia Bengssten MD, but it appears to be similar to the above study. Patients self reported improvements, and there were also "significant increases in hemoglobin values". Self reporting is, of course, notoriously subjective and patients often feel a need to validate their treatment and not upset their practitioners. Such self reporting is one of the commoner forms of "proof" offered that alternative therapies work.

The next experiment:

Laying-on hands healing has been validated by experiments carried out at St. Vincent's medical Center in New York. The experiment was carried out by Janet Quinn, assistant director of nursing at the University of South Carolina.

EoR could not find a "Janet Quinn" at either St Vincent's Medical Center or the University of South Carolina. The claims and data were therefore unable to be confirmed.

The next experiment:

Daniel Wirth of Healing Sciences International in Orinda, California conducted a tightly controlled experiment involving a Reiki-like healing technique. Forty four male college students received identical minor wounds deliberately inflicted by a doctor in the right or left shoulder.

Whilst EoR rather enjoys the idea of a doctor deliberately wounding 44 people, Daniel Wirth is a familiar name. He is one of the co-authors of the infamous and fraudulent "praying to get pregnant" study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, and his claims to veracity are flimsy.

The next study involves the use of a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device to measure magnetism, conducted by a Dr. John Zimmerman of the University of Colorado. Again, Colorado University shows no trace of this person. Perhaps he's this chiropracter?

Another experiment by a disappearing scientist comes next:

Dr. Barnard Grad of McGill University in Montreal, used barley seeds to test the effect of psychic healing energies on plants.

McGill University has no record of Barnard Grad.

Frankly, EoR was getting sick of trying to confirm these claims by this stage, and couldn't be bothered looking for the published results for the final "proof". For those interested, here it is:

In another experiment involving psychic healer Olga Worrall, Dr. Robert Miller used an electromechanical transducer to measure the microscopic growth rate of rye grass. The device used has an accuracy of one thousandth of an inch per hour. Dr. Miller set-up the experiment in his laboratory and then left, locking the door behind him to eliminate any unnecessary disturbance. Olga, located over 600 miles away was asked to pray for the test plant at exactly 9 PM that evening. When Dr. Miller returned to the laboratory the next day, the test equipment had recorded normal continuous growth of 6.25 thousandths of an inch per hour up to 9 PM. At that time, the record began to deviate upward and had risen to 52.5 thousands of an inch per hour which was an increase of 840 percent! This increased growth rate remained till morning when it decreased but never to its original level.

Unless "psychic healing" has been proven this is just measuring one unknown by another, and unless plants don't normally grow at variable rates, and unless there was a control group of plants, it's probably safe to say that this is yet another case of confirmation bias. Assuming it's even been published. EoR also wonders why an electromechanical transducer was used as a recording device.

So, basically, reiki and its ilk has not been proven scientifically, no more than homeopathy. Though there are a lot of home experiments and lowgrade studies that the believers desperately cling to in order to support their claims. They could, instead, run larger studies with proper protocols and controls and, with all the money alternative therapies generate, EoR wonders why they don't.

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