MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

“energy” healing

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The orgone accumulator (ORAC) is an invention of the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich which he developed along with his ‘orgone hypothesis’ while residing in the US from 1939 on. It is a device that is used to collect the hypothetical ‘orgone energy’ from the environment and to concentrate it.

One provider of the ORAC claims he had received the exact building instructions in interviews with Wilhelm Reich. The conversation with the deceased Reich was allegedly realized with the assistance of a medium and in close cooperation with angels. Since his death, Reich allegedly has been able to vastly improve the ORAC. The correct arrangement of eight rose quartzes in every corner is said to be essential. The book “Der Engel-Energie-Akkumulator nach Wilhelm Reich” (The Angel-Energy-Accumulator by Wilhelm Reich) does not only quote the late Reich, but also Archangel Raphael and Jesus Christ have their say.

Wilhelm Reich developed the ORAC believing that the box trapped orgone energy that he could harness in groundbreaking approaches towards psychiatry, medicine, the social sciences, biology, and weather research. His discovery of orgone began with his research of a physical bio-energy basis for Sigmund Freud’s theories of neurosis in humans. Wilhelm Reich believed that traumatic experiences blocked the natural flow of life energy in the body, leading to physical and mental disease. Reich concluded that the Freudian libidinal energy was the primordial energy of life itself, connected to more than just sexuality. Orgone was everywhere and Reich measured this energy in motion over the surface of the earth and even determined that its motion affected weather formation.

In 1940, Wilhelm Reich constructed the first ORAC: a six-sided box constructed of alternating layers of organic materials (to attract the energy) and metallic materials (to radiate the energy toward the center of the box). Patients would sit inside the ORAC and absorb the energy through their skin and lungs. The accumulator allegedly had beneficial effects on blood and body tissue by improving life-energy flow and releasing energy blocks.

But Reich’s work with cancer patients and the ORAC received negative press and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) sent an agent to investigate Reich’s research center. In 1954, the FDA issued an injunction against Reich, claiming that he had violated the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by delivering misbranded and adulterated devices in interstate commerce and by making false and misleading claims. The FDA called the ORAC a sham and orgone energy non-existent. A judge ordered all accumulators rented or owned by Reich and those working with him destroyed and all labeling referring to orgone energy to be destroyed. Two years later, Reich was imprisoned for contempt of the injunction. On November 3, 1957, Wilhelm Reich died in his jail cell of heart failure. In his last will and testament, he ordered that his works be sealed for fifty years, in hopes that the world would someday be a place better to accept his work.

The FBI does have a whole section on its website dedicated to Wilhelm Reich. This is what they had to say:

This German immigrant described himself as the Associate Professor of Medical Psychology, Director of the Orgone Institute, President and research physician of the Wilhelm Reich Foundation, and discoverer of biological or life energy. A 1940 security investigation was begun to determine the extent of Reich’s communist commitments. In 1947, a security investigation concluded that neither the Orgone Project nor any of its staff were engaged in subversive activities or were in violation of any statue within the jurisdiction of the FBI. In 1954 the U.S. Attorney General filed a complaint seeking permanent injunction to prevent interstate shipment of devices and literature distributed by Dr. Reich’s group. That same year, Dr. Reich was arrested for a Contempt of Court for violation of the Attorney General’s injunction.

The Wilhelm Reich Orgon Institut Deutschland currently state that they have been able to teach some Americans the proper way to build an ORAC:

Our teacher has been Dr. Walter Hoppe, the best student of Wilhelm Reich. He had lived over 40 years in Israel, and had done there very successful work with the orgone accumulator. Since 1974 he has been teaching psychiatric orgone therapy and the construction of the orgone accumulator in Germany.

So the triumphal procession of this model was starting up there. Dr. Hoppe gave the construction of the accumulator in the hands of Joachim Trettin. He said: orgone therapy is for few people while the orgone accumulator is for everybody. Meanwhile the Americans orientate themselves by this model today. So this accumulator is the best you can get.

We produce this accumulator with 5, 7, 10, 15 and 20 double layers. Every accumulator has a autonomous shooter which you can take out and use separately.

We also offer the accumulator with a breast and pelvis shield. We have a special packaging and ship our accumulator to every part of the world.

The orgone accumulator with 20- double layers, inside dimensions 120 x 70 x 55 cm, is available for the price of  7,250 EUR

Bioenergy (or energy healing) therapies are among the popular alternative treatment options for many diseases, including cancer. Many studies deal with the advantages and disadvantages of bioenergy therapies as an addition to established treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation in the treatment of cancer. However, a systematic overview of this evidence is thus far lacking. For this reason, German authors reviewed and critically examined the evidence to determine what benefits the treatments have for patients.

In June 2022, a systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL and Medline) to find studies concerning the use, effectiveness, and potential harm of bioenergy therapies including the following modalities:

  • Reiki,
  • Therapeutic Touch,
  • Healing Touch,
  • Polarity Therapy.

From all 2477 search results, 21 publications with a total of 1375 patients were included in this systematic review. The patients treated with bioenergy therapies were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The main outcomes measured were:

  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • mood,
  • fatigue,
  • quality of life (QoL),
  • comfort,
  • well-being,
  • neurotoxicity,
  • pain,
  • nausea.

The studies were predominantly of moderate quality and, for the most part, found no effect. In terms of QoL, pain, and nausea, there were some positive short-term effects of the interventions, but no long-term differences were detectable. The risk of side effects from bioenergy therapies appears to be relatively small.

The authors concluded that considering the methodical limitations of the included studies, studies with high study quality could not find any difference between bioenergy therapies and active (placebo, massage, RRT, yoga, meditation, relaxation training, companionship, friendly visit) and passive control groups (usual care, resting, education). Only studies with a low study quality were able to show significant effects.

Energy healing is as popular as it is implausible. What these ‘healers’ call ‘energy’ is not how it is defined in physics. It is an undefined, imagined entity that exists only in the imagination of its proponents. So why should it have an effect on cancer or any other condition?

My team conducted 2 RCT of energy healing (pain and warts); both failed to show positive effects. And here is what I stated in my recent book about energy healing for any ailment:

Energy healing is an umbrella term for a range of paranormal healing practices. Their common denominator is the belief in a mystical ‘energy’ that can be used for therapeutic purposes.

  • Forms of energy healing have existed in many ancient cultures. The ‘New Age’ movement has brought about a revival of these ideas, and today energy healing systems are amongst the most popular alternative therapies in the US as well as in many other countries. Popular forms of energy healing include those listed above. Each of these are discussed and referenced in separate chapters of this book.
  • Energy healing relies on the esoteric belief in some form of ‘energy’ which is distinct from the concept of energy understood in physics and refers to some life force such as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or prana in Ayurvedic medicine.
  • Some proponents employ terminology from quantum physics and other ‘cutting-edge’ science to give their treatments a scientific flair which, upon closer scrutiny, turns out to be but a veneer of pseudo-science.
  • The ‘energy’ that energy healers refer to is not measurable and lacks biological plausibility.
  • Considering its implausibility, energy healing has attracted a surprisingly high level of research activity. Its findings are discussed in the respective chapters of each of the specific forms of energy healing.
  • Generally speaking, the methodologically best trials of energy healing fail to demonstrate that it generates effects beyond placebo.
  • Even though energy healing is per se harmless, it can do untold damage, not least because it significantly undermines rational thought in our societies.

As you can see, I do not entirely agree with my German friends on the issue of harm. I think energy healing is potentially dangerous and should be discouraged.

One should never assume that one has seen everything so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has to offer. New interventions pop up all the time. The ingenuity of the SCAM entrepreneur is limitless. Here is a particularly audacious innovation:

Aura sprays deliver healing gemstone energies to your body, emotions, memory, and mind via your aura.

They give you:

  • Instant relief from negative, harmful, or unwanted energies.
  • Support that you cannot get from herbs and medicines.
  • Deep nourishment to help you overcome weakness and depletion.

And you can choose from an entire range:

7-Color-Ray Diamond Spray $34.95 – $89.95

Energy Clearing Spray $24.95 – $59.95

Electromagnetic Radiation EMR Clearing $24.95 – $59.95

Sparkler Diamond Spray $34.95

I was particularly fascinated by the EMR spray and found further relevant information about it:

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) floods our environment and is potentially harmful. GEMFormulas’ EMR Clearing spray clears this energetic toxin from the body and teaches it to become immune. This is essential if we are to thrive in a modern world.

Use this spray to help clear your body and aura of harmful electromagnetic radiation frequencies, which can weaken tissue, inhibit cellular function, and interfere with normal energy flows in the body.

**Harmful electromagnetic radiation is emitted by computers, cell phones, motors, microwave ovens, and other electrical appliances.**

Use When You Are Feeling:

  • Weakened in the vicinity of electromagnetic fields.
  • Dermatological symptoms such as redness, tingling, and burning sensations.
  • Symptoms typical of EHS (Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity) such as fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, and digestive disturbances.
  • A range of non-specific, medically unexplained symptoms.

And When You Want to:

  • Become more resilient to the effects of potentially harmful EMR.
  • Build immunity to EMR, heal from damage caused by EMR, and protect yourself from further EMR damage.
  • Clear harmful EMR residues from your body and aura.
  • Maximize your health potential.

Ideal For People Who:

  • Work with computers all day long.
  • Live near sources of high electromagnetic radiation.
  • Suspect they have Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS).
  • Plan to become pregnant.
  • Are trying to heal from another affliction.

Additional Benefits: Clear Therapeutic Gemstones and Crystals

You can also use the spray to clear electromagnetic radiation that therapeutic gemstone necklaces naturally accumulate during normal wear in areas of high electromagnetic fields, when stored too close to computers or other electronic devices, and when worn while you are holding a cell phone.

I am tempted!

Not that I plan to become pregnant but I am trying to heal from another affliction: gullibility.

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Seriously: how can anyone fall for such nonsense???

But obviously, some people do and pay good money to ruthless con artists (if you look on the Internet, there are dozens of firms offering such quackery).

Even after 30 years of research, so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has a sheer inexhaustible ability to amaze me.

It has been reported by several sources that the NHS is advertising for a Reiki healer.

The NHS stated that “the responsibilities of a reiki healer include treating clients using energy principles … and activating the healing process.” The post is paid for by the Sam Buxton Sunflower Healing Trust (SBSHT) which states on its website:

The SBSHT healing therapists, who work within the NHS and other health areas, are proud to be part of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals to provide vital support cancer patients, their relatives and staff. Since 2006, the SBSHT has funded healers to work in NHS, and other health related areas to support cancer patients and their families. A key role of the SBSHT is to increase awareness within the UK of the importance of providing healing support to cancer patients and families. Another vital role is to generate the crucial funds needed to place more healers in NHS, and other health related areas, throughout the country. Complementary therapy (CT) is increasingly demanded and expected by patients undergoing cancer treatments. An increasing amount of research clearly demonstrates that CT is important to support patients through their conventional treatments. SBSHT is committed to providing funds to NHS hospitals and cancer centers to engage the services of a Reiki practitioner or Healer for cancer patients and their families

As a charity we are or have funded healer posts within the centres below.

  • University College Hospital, London
  • Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge
  • Princess Alexandra Hospital, Epping
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Welwyn Garden City
  • Derriford Hospital, Plymouth
  • Wigan NHS Trust, Wigan
  • St Josephs Hospice, London
  • Eden Valley Hospice and Jigsaw Children’s Hospice, Carlisle
  • St Mary’s Hospice, Ulverston and Barrow in Furness NHS Trust
  • St Johns Hospice, Lancaster
  • Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury
  • Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre, Bristol
  • Rowcroft Hospice, Torquay
  • The Lister Hospital, Stevenage
  • Barnstaple NHS Trust
  • Treliske Hospital, Cornwall
  • Poole NHS Trust
  • St Michaels Hospice, Herefordshire

The SBSHT was co-founded by Angie Buxton-King in memory of her son Sam, who died of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in 1998 aged 10. She is a member of the ‘College of Psychic Studies’ which is “committed to serving the evolution of consciousness”. The College website states this:

We were founded in 1884 to support and encourage empirical research into the esoteric. Our programme has since broadened and diversified to meet rising demand and increasingly global interests.

However, our core values remain the same. We continue to shine a light on key themes including consciousness, intuition, self-development and meditation. Our courses, workshops, talks and special events provide a safe and inclusive space in which to explore the full spectrum of human potential under the careful guidance of our expert tutors.

The College offers all sorts of courses; I was particularly fascinated by this one: “Alchemise Your Energy Through Dowsing“.

__________________

Now, one could easily claim that there is nothing wrong with reiki healers invading the NHS; after all, they are funded by a charitable trust at no cost to the taxpayer.

Yet, I disagree!

Reiki healing is implausible and ineffective nonsense. As such it is by no means harmless. Employing such healers in the NHS sends out a strong signal that undermines the principles of rational thinking and evidence-based medicine. If the NHS truly does not value these principles, I suggest they also fill the chronic gaps in ambulance services by flying carpets.

The ‘My Resilience in Adolescence (MYRIAD) Trial’evaluated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of SBMT compared with teaching-as-usual (TAU).

MYRIAD was a parallel group, cluster-randomised controlled trial. Eighty-five eligible schools consented and were randomized 1:1 to TAU (43 schools, 4232 students) or SBMT (42 schools, 4144 students), stratified by school size, quality, type, deprivation, and region. Schools and students (mean (SD); age range=12.2 (0.6); 11–14 years) were broadly UK population-representative. Forty-three schools (n=3678 pupils; 86.9%) delivering SBMT, and 41 schools (n=3572; 86.2%) delivering TAU, provided primary end-point data. SBMT comprised 10 lessons of psychoeducation and mindfulness practices. TAU comprised standard social-emotional teaching. Participant-level risk for depression, social-emotional-behavioural functioning and well-being at 1 year follow-up were the co-primary outcomes. Secondary and economic outcomes were included.

An analysis of the data from 84 schools (n=8376 participants) found no evidence that SBMT was superior to TAU at 1 year. Standardised mean differences (intervention minus control) were: 0.005 (95% CI −0.05 to 0.06) for risk for depression; 0.02 (−0.02 to 0.07) for social-emotional-behavioural functioning; and 0.02 (−0.03 to 0.07) for well-being. SBMT had a high probability of cost-effectiveness (83%) at a willingness-to-pay threshold of £20 000 per quality-adjusted life year. No intervention-related adverse events were observed.

The authors concluded that the findings do not support the superiority of SBMT over TAU in promoting mental health in adolescence.

Even though the results are negative, MYRIAD must be praised for its scale and rigor, and for highlighting the importance of large, well-designed studies before implementing measures of this kind on a population basis. Co-author Tim Dalgliesh, director of the Cambridge Centre for Affective Disorders, said: “For policymakers, it’s not just about coming up with a great intervention to teach young people skills to deal with their stress. You also have to think about where that stress is coming from in the first place.”

“There had been some hope for an easy solution, especially for those who might develop depression,” says Til Wykes, head of the School of Mental Health and Psychological Sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College London. “There may be lots of reasons for developing depression, and these are probably not helped by mindfulness,” she says. “We need more research on other potential factors that might be modified, and perhaps this would provide a more targeted solution to this problem.”

Personally, I feel that mindfulness has been hyped in recent years. Much of the research that seemed to support it was less than rigorous. What is now needed is a realistic approach based on sound evidence and critical thinking.

Look what I found on Facebook:

Learn how to offer the healing energy of Reiki to yourself, people, and animals while enhancing your animal connection skills!

From daily support for health or challenges during times of crisis, Reiki helps restore balance on physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental levels for all living beings, enabling the body to do what it does best—heal itself. These benefits extend to other people, animals, trees/plants, and self-healing.

Reiki offers so many benefits for animals and for their human caregivers that I call it the gift that keeps on giving!

Reiki also enables students to connect and communicate more deeply with animals. If you think animals like you now, wait until they discover you’ve got Reiki—you’ll become an animal magnet!

For 25+ years Reiki has blessed me, my animal companions, students, and as a teacher I love sharing those benefits with as many people and animals as possible.

AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE

For many years I’ve taught a LIVE personally-mentored 6-week audio class where students learn all the basic skills needed by a beginning Reiki practitioner in addition to foundational principles of energy healing. And you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your home!

TAKEN REIKI BEFORE but don’t feel confident? Students who have retaken Reiki with me share that the weekly calls, opportunities to practice, online community, and opportunity to ask questions and receive guidance have helped them make Reiki a part of their daily lives and feel confident in offering it to loved ones.

REIKI LEVEL 1 CLASS SERIES

August 3 – September 7, 2022

LIVE WEEKLY CALLS and PERSONAL MENTORING

Every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. Pacific for six weeks. Each call will be recorded and available for replay for students, including those in other time zones/countries. You do not have to attend live to take this class.

In addition to the 60-90 minute weekly calls, each student receives handouts and personal guidance for practice sessions.

When the class concludes, and all requirements have been fulfilled, each student receives a Reiki Level 1 certificate.

To learn more or register:

AND NOW FOR THE IMPORTANT BIT:

Choose one payment for all six classes. Payment is available with Visa, MC, or PayPal (choose PayPal credit card option for payment with Amex or Discover). PayPal also offers a payment plan option. Confirmation will be sent after registration along with instructions on how to join the first call. If you were unable to register in time to attend the first class live you can very easily catch up with the replay. Final deadline for registration is the day of the second class.

Single Pay Plan: $249.00

____________________________

This seems like a good little earner to me!

Congratulations to whoever invented it.

Yet I do feel that something has been forgotten:

the evidence.

If you search for Reiki on Pubmed, you find a baffling array of papers many of which arrive at positive conclusions. If you then check out the primary studies, you realize that most of them are of extremely poor quality, published by members of the Reiki cult (often in 3rd class journals for the nursing professions). If you search for independent systematic reviews that adequately account for the quality of the primary studies, you discover that, in fact, the evidence does not support the notion that Reiki is effective for anything. Here are a few examples:

And what about Reiki for animals?

As far as I can see, there is no good evidence at all.

So, does this render the above and similar courses fraudulent?

I let you answer this question for yourselves.

Crystal healing is the treatment of all types of illnesses via the ‘healing energy’ of gemstones. It is as implausible as so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) gets. In my recent analysis of 150 SCAMs, I concluded that “there are no rigorous trials testing the therapeutic value of crystal healing”. This assumption is further confirmed by published papers like this one:

Recently, crystal healing and gemstone therapy, also known as litho- or gemmotherapy, is extensively promoted in the media, newspapers and the internet. There is also a growing interest of cancer patients in this unconventional treatment, resulting in the need for oncologists to give informed advice to their patients and to prevent them from wasting hope, time and money in an ineffective treatment, and at worst to postpone the necessary treatment of this life threatening disease. In the context of the currently ever-growing New-Age wave, believing in crystal healing has spread widely in the population. It is a historical belief similar to that of charmstones, rather than one based on modern scientific practices and advances. Pleasant feelings or seeming successes of crystal healing can be attributed to the strong placebo effect, or the believers wanting it to be true and seeing only things that back that up: cognitive bias. A scientific proof of any positive effect beyond a placebo effect does not exist. Even though this treatment can be generally regarded as harmless and without toxicity, it should not be recommended to cancer patients. Thereby we will help prevent our patients from wasting hope, time and money in an ineffective treatment, and at worst to postpone the necessary treatment of this life threatening disease, resulting in a worsened prognosis.

Yet, it seems that we were not entirely correct. Recently, I came across an article that mentions such a study:

A study conducted in 2001 by British psychologist Christopher French challenged 80 volunteers to differentiate between real and fake crystals after holding them in their hands for five minutes and meditating. Six people felt nothing at all, and the rest reported feeling some energy, whether in the form of tingling in the body or an improved sense of wellbeing. Both groups, though—whether holding the fake crystals or the real ones—reported similar impressions, suggesting the placebo effect could be at play.

“When scientists conduct robust clinical trials, they want to strip the intervention of these placebo effects to figure out if it has a specific benefit,” Jarry explains. “Alternative medicine’s reputation benefits strongly from these non-specific placebo effects. Enough people will start to feel better after using crystals (because of regression to the mean, self-limiting illness, misremembering, etc.), and they will publicly testify to their improvement, giving the illusion that crystals work. What they don’t know is what would have happened had they not used the crystals.”

So, if you want to keep a hunk of amethyst at your desk to alleviate your grief, or a Tiger’s Eye stone to clear the mind, go ahead: they may not be manipulating a sacred energy field around your body to heal you, but they can certainly manipulate your mind.

Unfortunately, the link provided does not lead directly to the study but to the publication list of Chris French. This in turn leads us to the reference in question:

French, C. C., O’Donnell, H., & Williams, L. (2001). Hypnotic susceptibility, paranormal belief and reports of ‘crystal power’. British Psychological Society Centenary Annual Conference, Glasgow, 28-31 March 2001. (Abstract published in Proceedings of the British Psychological Society, 9(2), 186).

Sadly, I cannot find the paper online and I suspect it exists only as an abstract in a conference book (I have emailed Chris and asked him). In any case, his study did not test the therapeutic value; so, my above statement is not entirely false.

This story made the social media recently:

Yes, I can well believe that many chiros are daft enough to interpret the incident in this way. Yet I think it’s a lovely story, not least because it reminds me of one of my own experiences:

I was on a plane to Toronto and had fallen asleep after a good meal and a few glasses of wine when a stewardess woke me saying: “We think you are a doctor!?”

“That’s right, I am a professor of alternative medicine”, I said trying to wake up.

“We have someone on board who seems to be dying. Would you come and have a look? We moved him into 1st class.”

Arrived in 1st class, she showed me the patient and a stethoscope. The patient was unconscious and slightly blue in the face. I opened his shirt and used the stethoscope only to find that this device is utterly useless on a plane; the sound of the engine by far overwhelms anything else. With my free hand, I tried to find a pulse – without success! Meanwhile, I had seen a fresh scar on the patient’s chest with something round implanted underneath. I concluded that the patient had recently had a pacemaker implant. Evidently, the electronic device had malfunctioned.

At this stage, two stewardesses were pressing me: “The captain needs to know now whether to prepare for an emergency stop in Newfoundland or to fly on. It is your decision.”

I had problems thinking clearly. What was best? The patient was clearly dying and there was nothing I could do about it. I replied by asking them to give me 5 minutes while I tried my best. But what could I do? I decided that I could do nothing but hold the patient’s hand and let him die in peace.

The Stewardesses watched me doing this and must have thought that I was trying some sort of energy healing, perhaps Reiki. This awkward situation continued for several minutes until – out of the blue – I felt a regular, strong pulse. Evidently, the pacemaker had started functioning again. It did not last long until the patient’s color turned pink and he began to talk. I instructed the pilot to continue our path to Toronto.

After I had remained with the patient for another 10 minutes or so, the Stewardesses came and announced: “We have moved your things into 1st class; like this, you can keep an eye on him.” The rest of the journey was uneventful – except the Stewardesses came repeatedly giving me bottles of champagne and fine wine to take with me into Toronto. And each time they politely asked whether my healing method would not also work for the various ailments they happened to suffer from – varicose veins, headache, PMS, fatigue …

So, here is my message to all the fellow energy healers out there:

We honor the creator’s design.

We know of the potential of the body is limitless.

Remember, you did not choose energy healing.

Energy healing chose you.

You were called for a time like this.

In case you are beginning to wonder whether I have gone round the bend, the answer is NO! I am not an energy healer. In fact, I am as much NOT an energy healer, as the chiropractor in the above story has NOT saved the life of his patient. Chiropractors and stewardesses, it seems to me, have one thing in common: they do not understand much about medicine.

 

PS

On arrival in Toronto, the patient was met by a team of fully equipped medics. I explained what had happened and they took him off to the hospital. As far as I know, he made a full recovery after the faulty pacemaker had been replaced. After my return to the UK, British Airways sent me a huge hamper to thank me.

The associations between so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and negative attitudes to vaccinations are, as discussed repeatedly on this blog, strong and undeniable. A new paper sheds more light on these issues.

By far the most common strategy used in the attempt to modify negative attitudes toward vaccination is to appeal to evidence-based reasoning. However, focusing on science comprehension is inconsistent with one of the key facts of cognitive psychology: Humans are biased information processors and often engage in motivated reasoning. On this basis, it is hypothesized that negative attitudes can be explained primarily by factors unrelated to the empirical evidence for vaccination; including some shared attitudes that also attract people to SCAM.

This study tested psychosocial factors associated with SCAM endorsement in past research; including aspects of spirituality, intuitive (vs analytic) thinking styles, and the personality trait of openness to experience. These relationships were tested in a cross-sectional, stratified CATI survey (N = 1256, 624 Females).

Questions regarding SCAM were derived from a previously validated instrument, designed to standardize the measurement of SCAM utilization, and distinguish between those that use a particular SCAM from those that do not. Each SCAM item provided an indication of whether the respondent had utilized each of the following therapeutic or self-treatment activities within the last 12 months:

  • herbal and homeopathic remedies,
  • energy-based and body therapies (including therapeutic massage),
  • vitamins, yoga, meditation, prayer, body therapies, hypnosis, spiritual healing,
  • and chiropractic or osteopathic treatments.

The results show that educational level and thinking style did not predict vaccination rejection. Psychosocial factors such as

  • preferring SCAM to conventional medicine (OR .49, 95% CI .36-.66),
  • endorsement of spirituality as a source of knowledge (OR .83, 95% CI .71-.96),
  • openness (OR .86, 95% CI .74-.99),

all predicted negative attitudes to vaccination. Furthermore, for 9 of the 12 SCAMs surveyed, utilisation in the last 12 months was associated with lower levels of vaccination endorsement. Additionally, the rank-order correlation between the number of different alternative therapies used in the last 12 months and vaccination attitude score was significant. Finally, analytical thinking style was negatively related to all forms of CAM, with this relationship significant in three cases:

  • herbal remedies ρ = −.08, p = .0014,
  • homeopathy, ρ = −.06, p = .0236,
  • prayer for the purpose of healing, ρ = −.15, p < .0001.

The authors concluded that vaccination scepticism appears to be the outcome of a particular cultural and psychological orientation leading to unwillingness to engage with the scientific evidence. Vaccination compliance might be increased either by building general confidence and understanding of evidence-based medicine, or by appealing to features usually associated with SCAM, e.g. ‘strengthening your natural resistance to disease’.

In the discussion section of their paper, the authors argue that these results describe a vaccine sceptic as viewing themselves as anti-authoritarian and unconventional, with a preference for unorthodox treatments with spiritual or ‘life-affirming’ features. The significant effect for personality, but not for cognitive style, is congruent with the notion that it is a reluctance to engage with the evidence, rather than a lack of capacity to appropriately process the evidence, that predicts vaccination scepticism…

SCAM endorsement and vaccination scepticism are components of a common attitudinal stance, with some shared psychosocial determinants. The results of the present study indicate that vaccination rejection is related to psychosocial factors: a general preference for complementary over conventional medicines, valuing diverse and unconventional alternatives, and a spiritual orientation to attitude formation. The null findings with regard to cognitive style and educational level suggest that factors unrelated to the actual empirical evidence for vaccination – i.e. a particular personality and attitudinal mindset are most instrumental in determining vaccination attitudes. Efforts to counter vaccination concerns should be mindful that negative vaccination views appear to form part of a broader attitudinal system that does not necessarily trust empirical or positivist evidence from authoritative sources. Vaccination promotion efforts may benefit from targeting groups associated with SCAM and building general confidence in scientific medicine, rather than targeting specific misunderstandings regarding vaccination.

I rarely follow up announcements of new studies of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). But this one is different. It was so spectacular that almost precisely two years ago I reported about it. Here is what I wrote:

Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, a cardiologist at the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute in the US, has started a trial of prayer for corona-virus infection. The study will involve  1000 patients with COVID-19 infections severe enough to require intensive care. The four-month study will investigate “the role of remote intercessory multi-denominational prayer on clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients,” according to a description provided to the National Institutes of Health.

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Male or female greater than 18 years of age
  • Confirmed positive for COVID-19
  • Patient admitted to Intensive Care Unit

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Patients admitted to ICU for diagnosis that is not COVID-19 positive

(Not giving informed consent is not listed as an exclusion criterion!)

Half of the patients, randomly chosen, will receive a “universal” prayer offered in five denominational forms, via:

  • Buddhism,
  • Christianity,
  • Hinduism,
  • Islam,
  • Judaism.

The other 500 patients in the control group will not be prayed for by the prayer group. All the patients will receive the standard care prescribed by their medical providers. “We all believe in science, and we also believe in faith,” Lakkireddy claims. “If there is a supernatural power, which a lot of us believe, would that power of prayer and divine intervention change the outcomes in a concerted fashion? That was our question.”

The outcome measures in the trial are

  • the time patients remain on ventilators,
  • the number of patients who suffer from organ failure,
  • the time patients have to stay in intensive care,
  • the mortality rate.

________________________________________

For months, I have now been looking out for the results of this study. It must long be finished now. The results cannot be difficult to analyze. The publication of such a sensational trial should not be a problem. If the findings are positive, even top journals would be keen to publish them. If they are negative, they would still be worth reporting.

So, where are they?

I could not find a trace of them!

Why not?

I was puzzled and became more and more frustrated.

Until I had the obvious idea of looking at the website that reported the above details two years ago. There was the answer to my questions:

“Recruitment Status: Terminated (Due to the low enrollment, this study is closed. Analysis of data is not performed.)”

 But how can this be?

What can possibly be the reason for an enrollment that was too low to properly conclude this trial?

  • There were certainly enough COVID patients (contrary to what was claimed earlier, the sample size is now given at merely 200).
  • Many of these US patients would, of course, be religious and thus welcome some divine intervention.

So, why might such a trial fail? I can only think of two reasons:

  • The execution of the trial was sloppy and half-hearted.
  • The research question was too daft for participants to consent.

Whatever the reason, I find it sad, possibly even unethical that research funds are being wasted on such nonsense.

 

PS

The sponsor of this study was the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute. The director of the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute is Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, the principal investigator of this trial.

PPS

When the study was first announced in 2020, it received huge publicity. I, therefore, think that the investigators should have had the decency to also publicly announce that they failed to conclude it.

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