Investigating Woo: Spring Forest Qigong “research”

By on October 29, 2011 | Discuss

This is a follow-up to my previous post investigating a study from the Mayo Clinic in collaboration with the University of Minnesota claiming that external qigong, a form of ancient Chinese medicine, is an effective treatment for chronic pain.  My critique apparently got on the nerves of at least one person, Drew Hempel, qigong enthusiast and woo extraordinaire, who offered his assurance regarding the validity of the study and its methodology.  Sadly, it’s not assurance that I am after—it’s evidence.  However, maybe I was wrong; maybe the study was academically rigorous and its conclusions actually sound.  After all, I am only an undergraduate (despite the fact that, in a recent blog post, Hempel incorrectly described me as a “university senior biologist”), and I admittedly only read the abstract.

Mr. Hempel has posted on internet blogs and forums statements such as the following:

Last fall there was a new study done by doctors from one of the top rated hospitals in the world — the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The study proved the existence and the efficacy of external qi (paranormal energy) healing transmission. . .  O.K. I want to emphasize the implications of this study. This is ground-breaking official proof of something that undermines the very foundation of science.

Such extraordinary claims require even more extraordinary evidence, and Hempel believes, along with many, many others, that this evidence exists in a study performed at the Spring Forest Qigong center in Minnesota, published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine.

After Hempel’s criticisms of my post and his request that I not “give up so easily” in my search for truth (I suggest Hempel do the same), I decided to check whether or not my university subscribed to the specific journal in order to obtain the full text of External Qigong for Chronic Pain (2010), the study that had supposedly demonstrated the efficacy of qigong.  Much to my surprise, they do, and I found it.  While reading the study, my initial criticisms based on the abstract alone became more and more cemented.  I am now–more than ever–convinced that the study is absolutely bunk from the top down.  The flaws are numerous, and I have included them below in point form, followed by a more in-depth criticism regarding the methodology behind each.

1.  Flawed sampling method.

2.  Lack of adequate controls.

3.  Subjectivity in data collection.

4.  Reliance on anecdotal evidence.

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Investigating Woo: Qigong

By on October 19, 2011 | Discuss

There is probably not a single phrase that is a more accurate  prelude to bullshit than “such-and-such is based on ancient Chinese wisdom.”  The idea that credibility is gained the older and more distant a practice becomes is nonsense.  It is similar to the common arguments one often hears when debating Christians:  “Well, people wouldn’t have believed in this for two-thousand years if it were false.”  For some reason there is an allure for practices surviving to modern times from a distant and tumultuous past.  A difficult notion for some people to accept is that modern man knows more than any primitive culture, and the allure should be reversed, favoring the advice of modern doctors or scientist over the scribblings of some ancient shaman from the Bronze Age.

This fascination with ancient teachings is interesting, and the direct proportionality of the age of an idea to the fervency with which it is believed is even more curious and nonsensical.  This is known as the logical fallacy of antiquity/tradition, or argumentum ad antiquitum: Because something is old, or has been done in the past, it should be valued.

I got to thinking about this while watching a Fox News story about some third-grade kid who espouses to have “healed his friend with Qigong,” an ancient Chinese practice.  See it for yourself.

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Why is religion considered philosophy?

By on October 7, 2011 | Discuss

I have always found it strange that people with a doctorate relating to religion get the designation Ph.D.  It’s the “Ph” that really gets me.  Why, I ask, is theology (with the exception of historical fields) considered a form of philosophy?  The way I understand it, philosophy is a way of critically thinking about some aspect of the universe.  Moral philosophy deals with explaining our moral impulses and creating coherent systems for real-world application.  Natural philosophy attempts to describe the natural world and come to logical conclusions about the state of nature.  And metaphysical philosophy attempts to construct and determine first principles that flow from the universal to the particular.  What do all of these philosophical systems have in common?  They all involve heavy discourse founded in an ultimate goal to describe the way things are, or aid in understanding.  They are built upon, changed, and are adjusted based on new facts and insights—their aim is to discover truth.  The same cannot be said of theology.

Theology represents stagnance.  Views and ideas are set down and are never changed (at least that’s the goal).  Theological systems claim that truth in its most pure form is already known through scriptures and supposedly “Holy” books.  Any new thought, any amount of mulling things over or adjustments are forbidden, since that would be seen as a desecration of what is already true and pure.  Truth is assumed a priori; no further investigations are deployed or are even seen to be needed.

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The arrogant atheist

By on September 28, 2011 | Discuss

“Atheists are so arrogant!”

This phrase can frequently be heard on the lips of religious people.  What this accusation really boils down to is the fact that atheists, when speaking on various topics, either claim to know something based on evidence, or remain hesitant to make affirmative claims until they have amassed sufficient knowledge or evidence.  In other words, atheists don’t just make things up.  This should leave one asking themselves, “Well, what’s so arrogant about that?”  To which they should immediately realize and answer, “Nothing.”  In fact, what religious people call arrogance is really just intellectual honesty driven by curiosity, and placing importance on what is demonstrably true, or at least what can be inferred.  Religious people, on the other hand, tend not to be as intellectually rigorous in this sense.  They do just make stuff up.  Let’s look at an example regarding both an atheist’s and theist’s answer to the question, “What happens when you die?”

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Creation “Museum” opens in San Diego County

By on September 26, 2011 | Discuss

Creation “Museums” are popping up like toadstools all over the country, the latest of which has sprouted in San Diego County, California, and appears to be wasting no time in its effort to lower the nation’s collective IQ through its administering of antiquated blarney, despite the fact that their ideas have been old hat for well over a century.

Religious beliefs tend to not be very concerned with whether or not ideas are true, but rather how tenacious they are.  One comes to this realization while reviewing the current religious explanations for myriad phenomena only to discover that, despite having been completely and utterly refuted for decades or even centuries, they remain completely unchanged or merely redressed in freshly creased slacks, hoping you won’t discover that they’re still wearing the same skidmarked undies beneath a new fashionable pretence.

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