Far too much pseudo-science and useless or harmful health 'interventions' huddle under the umbrella of 'alternative' medicine or 'alternative' healing. These 'alternatives' thrive in 'alternative' places (such as dubious 'societies' of homeopaths), and with 'alternative' people (exploitative weasels who market their products as 'nutritional supplements' precisely to avoid the standards applied to licensed medication).
Occasionally, though, the nonsense secures some kind of status at a formal research institution - one where proper science normally goes on. This status makes matters worse: it gives a veneer of respectability to dangerous rubbish, when alternative medicine should be robustly criticised and scientifically tested. When this happens, people who care about evidence and effectiveness should kick up a stink.
David Colquhoun has written several fine articles on this phenomenon in the press, and on his blog DC Science, where he also criticises the running (all too often the wronging) of universities. I've included links to a selection of his pieces on this topic near the end of this article.
Here at Intrepid Aardvark, we're going to keep an eye on instances of this in South Africa at least, and to the extent we can, in Africa at large. Here's the first installment.
A recent issue of UKZNOnline (an electronic brag-mag at the University of KwaZulu-Natal) includes an article enthusiastically reporting on a talk on 'body alignment as a healing strategy' presented to the university department of Physiotherapy.
The speaker was Mr Jeff Levin. Looking at his website I see no evidence of any scientific training, but rather a worryingly long list of fields ("architect, nutripath, author, healer and pioneer in the world of energy medicine"). The webpage as a whole gives no indication of the existence of any rigorous trials, or peer-reviewed research. There's a typical list of testimonials and anecdotes but no sign of a randomised double-blind trial with a placebo condition. So no indication of meaningul evidence.
Jeff waffles; mostly about 'energy' including 'vibrational energy' and 'fields'. There's a description here.
The article in UKZN on-line burbles on enthusiastically about the waffle and the waffler. Levin, we are told, is "internationally renowned for his healing work." Levin, "demonstrated how electromagnetic influences caused by cell phones, electric devices such as tooth brushes, geopathic stress from earth grid lines and negative emotions, can shrink an individual’s energy field. In the same way, positive emotions and the creation of healing vortices can expand energy fields and promote healing."
Here's most of the rest of the article, with quotations from Levin:
"To maintain health the body must maintain optimal vibrational frequency. Any change in the ordered frequency of the body manifests as disease."It makes sense that Levin doesn't have much to say about evidence, because there's little if any evidence for anything he says, significant evidence against much of it, and the general framework is sharply at odds with some of the best established science from over 100 years ago. Among other things, it's quite clear that:
"The human energy system is powerfully affected by emotions and the level of spiritual balance. Negative emotional experiences become subconsciously locked into the body at a cellular level and contribute to the disease."
"Body alignment technique lifts the body’s vibrational frequency to its optimal level thereby relieving bodily manifestations of pain, fatigue, chronic and acute conditions and structural imbalance, as well as learning difficulties," said Mr Levin.
During his introductory talk, Mr Levin demonstrated the effectiveness of this modality in relieving pain using some volunteers. The responses were almost immediate to the astonishment of those involved.
- There's no good evidence at all of health disruptions from power grids. (And see this related article on 'magnet therapy' .
- On alternative Chinese medicine, much of it also regularly talked about in terms of energy, Chi and other flim flam, see this piece.
- There's a substantial body of science stretching well over 100 years on the conservation of energy, and the fact that the same small set of fundamental [note 1] forms of it are to be found in all systems whether living or not. There's no evidence for the kinds of gaps that would be needed for the woo-energy to fit in. For a recent short review, see here.
[note 1] That is, if you take 'fundamental' to mean strictly fundamental physics, then the number might be very small, even one, depending on how the unification of fundamental forces plays out.
Relevant articles in DC Science:
Quackery at Leicester (with a little help from Human Resources)
The Salford 'MSc' in complementary meds, now dropped.
General problems with alternative medicine.
Westminister University (quackery central?).
Amethysts and 'yin energy' (with specific remarks on vibrations).