Respectful Insolence

Time to update the Academic Woo Aggregator

My post from Monday finally goaded me to do it. Yes, it’s time to update the Academic Woo Aggregator. I’ve been far too remiss in doing so, and at least a couple of new candidates have come to my attention as I continue to keep my eye out for more.

First, from the U.S. News & World Report article, I find a “worthy” candidate for inclusion, namely Children’s Memorial Hospital, which is affiliated with Northwestern University. As evidence, I submit excerpts from its website:

  1. Energy healing: Our bodies are always trying to move toward balance and health. Energy healing encourages the flow of our natural energies. The term “energy healing” covers a wide range of styles and techniques which serve to positively affect the human energy field. Hands-on energy work assesses disturbances in the human energy field, and helps to aid the individual’s body to enhance the natural flow of healthy life force. Patients and their families report that energy healing often provides a sense of deep relaxation, and reduction in the experience of pain. Energy healing is also called “touch healing” in our studies. Research is presently being conducted to provide evidence to show how the disturbances and movement of these subtle energies may affect the physical condition of the human body.
  2. Touch healing: Megregian is also a trained touch healer. She says that touch healing is an ancient form of healing with no known adverse reactions. The technique is based on the idea that energy and consciousness underlies the physical and biochemical structure of the body. Touch healing practitioners gently place their hands on different places on the body to manipulate and/or increase the flow of the body’s own energy. The lack of flow is thought to create energy blocks which prevent the cells from getting the subtle energy they need to maintain health or return to health.
  3. Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an ancient form of treatment that has been used in China for more than 2000 years. Extremely thin needles are placed in the skin to improve energy flow along energy meridians that correspond to different body organs. Acupuncture has been reported to be effective in reducing pain, nausea and vomiting and headaches.

I’d say it’s a worthy addition, given that its text sounds more as though it came from Dr. Mercola’s website or Whale.to than from that of a serious academic medical center. I’ll add it as offering reiki or energy healing modalities.

The other addition is the Integrative Care Project of the University of Kentucky Colleges of Medicine and Health Sciences. I’m a little ambivalent about adding this one to the Woo Aggregator. After all, it does a pretty good job of talking the talk of applying science and evidence-based medicine to “integrative” medicine. Perusing the various webpages there, I see all sorts of pious prose about how the faculty there is seeking to apply only the most rigorous standards of evidence-based medicine to CAM therapies. However, it makes the grade for inclusion through its claim that “the body of scientific evidence continues to build regarding CAM therapies.” In reality, the body of scientific evidence supporting the vast majority of CAM therapies is no more convincing now than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. I also give UK props for these admissions, though:

  • “The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually, as those therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become adopted into conventional health care and as new approaches to health care emerge.”
  • “Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not been scientifically proven.”

It just goes to show, though, that even advocates of CAM realize that conventional medicine will happily appropriate formerly “alternative” therapies if sufficient scientific and clinical evidence is developed to show that they work, which is why I continue to insist that there should be no such thing as “alternative” medicine. It’s a false dichotomy. There is medicine that works, medicine that doesn’t, and medicine whose efficacy is unknown.

Another reason I decided to add it to the list is from what I found in a discussion on the Quantum Touch forums:

Here in KY, our University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center has palliative care that utilizes Reiki, Healing Touch, and Jin-Shin Jyutsu practitioners. On the other end of the spectrum, my Mom had a friend when she worked there in the early 90′s that was simply a “faith healer,” and this nurse worked in the trauma ward. While doing vital rounds, med rounds, etc., she’d give a 5 minute session to the patients that seemed open to the idea.

UK now has a quantum physics program in their Masters degree options…since that happened, the hospital has REALLY “opened up” to allowing CAM (complimentary & alternative medicine) practitioners to work within the parameters of networking with patients, primary care doctors, supporting staff (nurses, etc.), and other specialists. It’s happening here too…just maybe a bit slower than other areas of the country.

So which is correct? The expected prose about devotion to science, scientific evidence, and evidence-based medicine is there, but “on the ground” the impression seems to be much different, at least to this particular woo maven. This could indicate either that the woo maven is mistaken, or that all that lip service to evidence-based medicine is nothing but talk.

Finally, there’s the Department of Integrative Medicine at Hartford Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Connecticut. Here’s what its website says about reiki:

The technique is based on the idea that everything in the universe is made up of energy and this life force energy flows around us and through us nourishing our cells, organs, and glands. When one’s energy is low, imbalanced, or restricted by stress, injury, or illness, we are more susceptible to discomfort, further illness and disease. When one’s energy is high or balanced, one is more likely to feel relaxed and the body’s own innate healing abilities are awakened and utilized for healing. Reiki has also been called hands-on healing and energy work…Research on various types of energy work has shown that, in addition to deep relaxation, Reiki can promote a reduction in anxiety, muscle tension, and pain, can promote accelerated wound healing, and can promote wellness and a greater sense of well-being. It is useful during illness, after injuries, pre- and post-op, as well as for health promotion.

Nope, not a single word about evidence, science, or that there is no evidence that reiki does any of the things claimed for it better than placebo. Here’s what the website says about therapeutic touch:

It is an intentionally directed process of energy exchange during which the practitioner uses his hands as a focus to facilitate the healing process. TT re-patterns the body’s energy field so that one can use the body’s own natural healing potential. There have been over 33 doctoral thesis and many research studies compiled to attest to its benefits. Some of the research was funded by the National Institute of Health.

What are the Benefits of TT?

  • Induces a relaxation response
  • Alleviates tension and anxiety
  • Alters the perception of pain
  • Noticeably enhances the body’s natural healing process

No, therapeutic touch most certainly does not enhance the body’s natural healing process; at least no well-designed study has shown that it can. It may induce a relaxation response, but that’s because of the manner in which it is given, which is designed to try to get the patient to relax. In any case, therapeutic touch is so ludicrous that even a 9-year-old girl was able devise a blinded study that showed that therapeutic touch practitioners are completely unable to detect “life energy” better than random chance alone. Therapeutic touch is no better than reiki and is nothing more than rank quackery. Yet, developed by a nurse at NYU, it is being taught in nursing schools and offered in academic medical centers all over the world.

Yes, I think that Hartford Hospital richly deserves to be added to the Woo Aggregator. It just occurred to me that, at this rate, I’ll soon alienate pretty much every academic medical center in the country, and then I’ll be screwed if I ever need to find a new job. Be that as it may, I plan to soldier on for now. So please check out the updated Academic Woo Aggregator. If there’s an academic CAM or integrative medicine program that you know about and that I haven’t included on the list, by all means let me know about it! I want to keep this list as up-to-date as possible with regular updates.

Comments

  1. #1 PalMD
    January 24, 2008

    I weep for the children! And Children’s is building such a nice, big, pretty new hospital downtown. I hope they don’t fill it with woo.

  2. #2 S. K. Sutton
    January 24, 2008

    I’d commented (with glee) on the original post about the woo from my in-state rivals at U of KY, but this info is even better. Thank You and thank you University of Louisville for not jumping on this bandwagon.

  3. #3 Bryn
    January 24, 2008

    Another for your consideration–Seattle Cancer Treatment & Wellness Center. I’m a Washingtonian and we’re pretty darned proud of Fred Hutch (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center), but we’ve also got this place. “Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center’s providers include Board-certified medical oncologists, Board-certified naturopathic oncologists, and other natural cancer care and complementary cancer care practitioners.”

    Under “Therapies We Offer” you can find:

    Medical Oncology Treatments (good stuff)
    Naturopathic Oncology (say what?)
    Natural Medicines Dispensery (you wouldn’t want Unnatural Medicines, now would you?)
    Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture (otherwise known as “Worthless Medicine”)
    Mind-Body Medicine (which I’m a little afraid to look at)

    You can see their website here: http://www.seattlecancerwellness.com/

  4. #4 Orac
    January 24, 2008

    Is the Seattle Cancer Treatment & Wellness Center affiliated with a medical school? That’s the basic criterion that I use for the Academic Woo Aggregator.

  5. #5 Orac
    January 24, 2008

    I weep for the children! And Children’s is building such a nice, big, pretty new hospital downtown.

    But what about the lovely old hospital in Lincoln Park? I used to live mere blocks from it. My fantasy, if I were a pediatrician or pediatric surgeon, would have been to get a job at Children’s Memorial in Lincoln Park and then live within walking distance of it. Lincoln Park is a fabulous neighborhood.

  6. #6 Dangerous Bacon
    January 24, 2008

    “I’d commented (with glee) on the original post about the woo from my in-state rivals at U of KY, but this info is even better. Thank You and thank you University of Louisville for not jumping on this bandwagon.”

    If U. of Louisville has not already joined the woo brigade, it’s only a matter of time.

    One of U. of Louisville’s graduates (Sharon Willingham M.D.) is a staff member at Asheville (N.C.) Integrative Medicine, a group whose practice is seeped in woo-ism, to say the least. Among other things, they warn against the perils of amalgam fillings, offer therapy to fix your Toxic Metal Exposures and to treat the autistic:

    “The most successful and scientifically-supported nutritional intervention involves the use of high doses of Vitamin B6 with magnesium…A growing group of physicians treating autism believe that mercury toxicity is a cause of autism. Many of the behavioral and biochemical features of autism are also found in mercury toxicity. It’s hypothesized that the mercury used as a preservative in vaccines is the primary source of poisoning. The marked increase in the number of vaccines given to children over the past 20 years has significantly increased the amount of mercury injected into children. When autistic children are treated with agents to remove mercury, significant improvements are seen, supporting the mercury-toxicity theory.”

    http;//www.docbiddle.com

    Nice.

    By the way, the University of Kentucky would deserve inclusion on the Academic Woo Aggregator just for its association with Boyd Haley, the UK chemistry professor who is beloved by the Mercury Militia for his strident and unsupported claims about mercury poisoning.

  7. #7 Dr Aust
    January 24, 2008

    I know it’s puerile, but whenever I see this kind of ludicrous Energy-claptrap I am tempted to re-write it:

    “[She says that] touch healing is an ancient form of healing with no known real effects at all. The technique is based on the idea, for which there is not one bit of scientific evidence, that energy and consciousness underlies the physical and biochemical structure of the body. Touch healing practitioners gently place their hands on different places on the body to purportedly manipulate and/or increase the flow of the body’s own energy, though as science cannot find any evidence for this “energy” you might wonder what the “practitioners” are burbling about. The practitioners’ explanation, which is 100% magical thinking and about on a par with believing in the healing power of prayer, is that the lack of flow is thought to create energy blocks which prevent the cells from getting the subtle energy they need to maintain health or return to health.

    I know, it’s a waste of time, but I feel a bit better now.

  8. #8 rochester
    January 24, 2008

    I would be worried about taking my child to a hospital that offered these services. If they aren’t smart enough to know what’s medicine and what’s crap, they’re not smart enough to make treatment recommendations for my child.

  9. #9 HCN
    January 24, 2008

    rochester, fortunately even the hospitals that offer the silliness are full of competent employees who think it is all a bunch nonsense. Usually they are included as a form of marketing.

    I am surrounded by woo where I live, and the university I live by is included in Orac’s list. But I know from experience that most of the medical professionals do not practice the silly stuff. Which is good because if I went by your criteria I’d have to travel across a couple of states for medical care.

  10. #10 Bryn
    January 25, 2008

    Is the Seattle Cancer Treatment & Wellness Center affiliated with a medical school? That’s the basic criterion that I use for the Academic Woo Aggregator.

    Alas, no. Actually, that should probably be, “Huzzah! No!!” They seem to belong to a string of facilities all under the banner of, “Cancer Treatment Centers of America.” After looking at the “Eastern Regional Medical Center” site (another of their facilities), I am relieved that at least the local version doesn’t offer aromatherapy, herbal medicine, homeopathy, detoxification, hypnotherapy, massage, Reiki massage and spiritual support and care like the eastern version does.

  11. #11 Dr. Wes
    January 25, 2008

    But what about the lovely old hospital in Lincoln Park? I used to live mere blocks from it. My fantasy, if I were a pediatrician or pediatric surgeon, would have been to get a job at Children’s Memorial in Lincoln Park and then live within walking distance of it. Lincoln Park is a fabulous neighborhood.
    Orac, they’re moving to high-rent district (Streeterville) near the Golden Mile of Michigan Avenue – the older building is being razed (DePaul U to buy?), building a (are you ready for this?) one billion-dollar facility – no doubt full of plenty of woo with the waterfalls, pianos, Starbucks, restaurants, and spas.

  12. #12 Nana
    January 25, 2008

    Thanks for the Woo Aggravator…er..Woo Aggregator. I’m writing my local hospital encouraging them to Get the Woo Out!!
    I’ll look forward to reading your blog when you announce the removal of an academic woo from your list.

  13. #13 wanderingprimate
    January 28, 2008

    Hope you don’t mind I expanded this idea into my area of medicine(veterinary). Sadly, though just a cursory scan- the woo is alive and well in vet academia:

    http://www.wanderingprimate.blogspot.com/2008/01/complementary-and-alternative.html

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