Saturday, 3 September 2011

Reiki Therapy

From What is Reiki:

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by "laying on hands" and is based on the idea that an unseen "life force energy" flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one's "life force energy" is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

I picked up a leaflet in my local florist which claimed: 'Reiki works at subtle levels to promote healing, balance and wholeness on spiritual, mental, physical & emotional levels.'

FANTASTIC - it cures everything!

Is this the answer to everyone's ills of whatever nature or is this - to borrow a phrase from professor Brian Cox - another steaming pile of new age nonsense? I strongly suspect the latter; in fact, I am sure it's the latter.

Reiki comes from the mystical orient where they know a thing or two about, well, being mystical. But in the west we assume that anything eastern is good and it's always more convincing if there are Chinese or Japanese characters associated with it which 'mean something'. One symbol (Rei) means 'universal life energy' and the other (Ki) means 'breath'. Of course, these symbols mean other things too - don't they always? So, 'spiritual conciousness' and 'life force' get thrown in for good measure.
Naturally, no rational person can take any of this seriously; energy is energy and there is only one way to look at energy whether it is of the 'life force' or not as in:
Energy is a function of mass and the velocity of light (squared); if our 'life force energy' is low - if such a thing existed - then there's damn all we can do about it.
But does reiki work?  Well, of course it does, in the same way as homeopathy and visiting your GP does (even when your GP prescribes nothing).  You feel better because you have done something or you think you've had something done to you; the notorious and highly effective placebo effect.  If you think you have life energy forces and that they are depleted and you undertake some procedure that purports to restore or realign them then you are likely to believe that this works and then you are well down the road, actually, to feeling it has worked.  However, I am guessing that the effect size for treatment of reiki - distinguishable only from the effect of other bogus treatments by how much faith the individual has in it - is very small.  Its claim to universal treatment of all ills presumably stops around the level of  'I feel a little out of sorts - I know, it must be my life force energy' and does not extend to major trauma and terminal cancer...however, I am sure there will be claims of miracle cures somewhere on the internet.
Could reiki be tested? Of course it could but I can just hear the howls of protest from the reiki community about paradigmatic fallacy - you can't test reiki using conventional methods.  Well, yes you can.  Take a group of people -  none of whom have previously been exposed to reiki (ie they must not know what is considered to be real reiki and what is just stroking various parts of the body) - the cure for whose disorder is considered to be reiki.  Randomly allocate them to a reiki therapist and a sane person and then let them both loose.  Measure the outcomes (if such can be agreed) and then see which, if any, is the more effective 'treatment'.
What's the harm?

In the field of bogus medicine  the 'what's the harm?' question is often raised.  By this, practitioners and users say that if people want to pay for this kind of treatment and they feel it works then why try to stop them?  Well, there is good reason to stop them - especially the practitioners who are, essentially, fraudsters.  Even if they truly believe in what they are doing there is no scientific evidence - theoretical or practical - to support them.  This applies whether or not they are making extravagant (I'll cure your cancer) or mild (it's only an adjuvant) claims.  If I decided to label myself and alternative mechanic and opened a garage on that basis where, when people took in their cars and I administered some hocus pocus without actually doing anything mechanical and let them drive away...I would be out of business in less than a week and probably - rightly - imprisoned.  Why, when we will not tolerate bogus mechanics, do we take such risks and part with vast amounts of money when it comes to our bodies?

Monday, 29 August 2011



Homeopathy involves two steps: one nonsense and the other complete nonsense.


Homeopathy involves treating 'like with like'—in other words, treating a disease that manifests itself through certain symptoms with substances that induce those symptoms.  In this light, homeopathy claims some similarity to the immunological principles we are familiar with as immunisation, vaccination or inoculation.  BUT—in the case of immunology the 'like' really is with 'like'—thus the induced symptoms, albeit milder, are real as immunisation involves introducing into the body an antigen that is either the real thing, albeit attenuated by heat or chemical treatment, or an analogue of the real thing eg cowpox (which stimulates the body to produce antibodies against smallpox) instead of smallpox (which could be fatal).  However, in homeopathy, the substances chosen have no biological immunological actions, they merely purport to mimic the symptoms of the disease.  This is nonsense as there is—unlike in immunology—no theoretical or demonstrable biological basis for the relationship between the disease and the purported causative agent.  This is like saying that migraines cause headaches but so does a blow with a hammer—so hit the migraine sufferer with a hammer and the headache will improve.

Complete nonsense

It gets worse.  Patently, homeopaths are not stupid (they just expect us to be) as they do not administer any harmful substances to people.  Instead, they dilute the active ingredient out of their treatments by a series of dilutions (called serial dilutions) and also some 'hocus-pocus' knocking of the containers of the solutions a certain number of times until there's nothing left in the solution.  It is customary to argue this point using Avogadro's number; but this is pointless (although I've used it in the past) as homeopaths admit that the serial dilutions lead merely to water.  However, this is not just any water; it is water containing a 'memory' of the substances that were once being diluted in it.  This is the complete nonsense of homeopathy—there is no trace of anything, real or imagined; there is absolutely nothing there.  Talk of 'memory' in the water is based on the ability of the substance to arrange the water molecules around it, thereby shaping the water and—if this were possible—that memory is the active ingredient in homeopathic remedies.  Water is highly dynamic—that is why at the temperatures we encounter it, it is a liquid.  Water molecules interact—and water remains liquid water—by means of hydrogen bonds; these are relatively weak interactions (compared with chemical covalent bonds) existing due to the uneven distribution of electrons in the bonds between hydrogen and oxygen.  Weak though they are they create the surface tension of water which is visible when water forms drops or you lightly place an object on the surface of water—the surface 'bends' up to a point.  To break the hydrogen bonds in water a temperature of 100 degrees centigrade is required.  So, how does a substance leave a trace in water that is dynamic—hydrogen bonds are continually forming and reforming between water molecules; the answer is, simply, it can't.

Does homeopathy work?

The question of whether or not homeopathy works is not a sensible question; the proper question is 'can homeopathy work?' and, of course, the answer is 'no'.  Homeopathy cannot work as there is nothing in it that can work.  But people get better using homeopathy—don't they? Yes they do but people also get better if they do not seek treatment or even if they take the wrong treatment; nature takes its course and this applies not only to homeopathy but to a great many 'conventional' treatments.  People think it works for two reasons: first, they were getting better and they used homeopathy—this is reverse causation;   second, people sought treatment from a homeopath and they got better because they believed in the treatment and enjoyed the experience—the placebo effect.  The placebo effect is not to be ignored; it is very powerful and accounts for a great deal of effect in conventional medicine.  However, the ultimate question is 'does homeopathy work better than a placebo? and the answer here is 'no'.  There are isolated reports—some in prestigious journals—of effective homeopathy; but there are also reports of no effect...or worse.  Isolated successes do not constitute proper evidence and the evidence—such as it is—needs to be studied over time, combined and evaluated to eliminate bias, poor designs and any other explanations.  One major explanation for isolated successes with homeopathy is regression towards the mean and this phenomenon will occur with any treatment, however unconventional or unlikely.  Most of the time the effects of any treatment are not that spectacular but sometimes a treatment will appear to work very well in a well designed study; however, wait long enough and another well designed study will throw up the opposite result.  It is in combining these studies that evidence is accumulated and, sadly for homeopathy, the evidence for an effect is not there.

Is homeopathy amenable to scientific study?

Homeopaths say 'no' because they claim that there is a lot more to administering a homeopathic treatment than handing over a solution (water!)—that the whole assessment process and interaction with the patient is important.  This is a smokescreen—the same applies to a GP administering antibiotics (or it should!).  On the contrary, homeopathy must be the simplest and safest therapy to investigate—provided that life-threatening diseases are not being investigated: simply take a patient through the whole routine of assessment and interaction and then hand them a purported homeopathic remedy (water!) or a remedy that is known to be water but which has not been through a series of dilutions and which has never contained the purported active substance—easy!