Respectful Insolence

Since its very inception, the Huffington Post has been a hotbed of antivaccine lunacy. Shortly after that, antivaccine woo-meisters like David Kirby, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Kimg Stagliano, and, apparently, one of the editors (Special Projects Editor Rachel Sklar) were joined by all-purpose woo-meisters like Deepak Chopra. True, for a brief period of time there appeared to be an occasional voice for vaccines on HuffPo, but they never lasted. After all, RFK, Jr.’s been there nearly four years now and David Kirby almost as long, while pro-vaccine commentary pops up briefly, gets shouted down by the woo-loving antivaccinationists who frequent the comments sections of posts, swooping down like Cyber Sisters (and Brothers) to drive them from the blog. It’s not for nothing that I have totally scoffed at the idea of a science section in the HuffPo.

Still, for all the nonsense and pseudoscience nurtured in the pages of Arianna Huffington’s little vanity project, there were some places I didn’t think even HuffPo would go. There’s some woo just so ridiculous that even HuffPo wouldn’t touch it. Or so I thought.

I was wrong. Meet Srinivasan Pillay, “certified master coach, psychiatrist, brain imaging researcher and speaker,” whatever that means (other than psychiatrist). As PalMD points out, his “brain imaging” publications in PubMed are pretty darned sparse, mostly functional MRI studies, which are very difficult to do correctly in order to obtain any correlations or useful data. If his HuffPo presence is any indication, I hate to think what he’s doing with that fMRI machine. Get aload of his post, forwarded to me by multiple readers, entitled The Science of Distant Healing.

The woo, it burns. Distantly.

Pillay purports to present the “scientific evidence” for distant healing. Distant healing, for those who may not be aware, is the magical belief that just by sending one’s “intent” or wishes to a distant person one can actually heal that person or send one’s “intent” to him or her. I say “magical” belief because there really isn’t any other word to describe it. There’s no scientific or physical mechanism by which it can occur, at least none that scientists have yet been able to find. That doesn’t stop woo-meisters from invoking–what else?–quantum theory to explain “nonlocal” effects, forgetting entirely that quantum effects such as that only apply on the subatomic scale. None of this stops Pillay from leaping right into the fray and confidently asserting:

In this column, I will present the current evidence that discusses this phenomenon and provide some explanations as to why distant healing has a place in modern scientific thinking.

A well-designed study done in 2008 examined 36 couples. In 22 of these couples, one of the two people was a cancer patient. Three groups were created: In the first group consisting of twelve couples, the healthy person was trained to direct intention toward the patient and was asked to practice this for three months prior to the experiment. This was referred to as the “trained” group. In the other 10 couples where one partner had cancer, the pair was tested before the partner was trained. They were called the “wait” group. Fourteen healthy couples received no training at all. They were called the “control” group. But what was the training?

Skin conductance was measured in both members of the couple, both of whom were asked to feel the presence of the other. Skin conductance is a measure of the ability of sweat to conduct electricity. It indicates that the autonomic nervous system has been activated. The autonomic nervous system is a part of your nervous system that maintains balance of the body and controls heart rate, respiration and many other vital functions. This is done unconsciously. So, when skin conductance was measured, the researchers were measuring whether this important part of our bodies was activated. However, rather than being next to each other while they were sending intentions, partners were relaxed in a distant shielded room for 30 minutes. The sender of intention sent intention for 10-second periods followed by breaks. Skin conductance was then measured during the periods when partners sent their intentions and during the breaks. The researchers believed that if there were a different skin conductance when partners sent their intentions, then this would prove that intention was actually impacting the nervous system.

Ugh. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the study. Fortunately, a reader of mine actually purchased it for me. I know, I know, I can afford to buy such an article myself, but I considered $10 to be too much to waste. My reader thought otherwise; so all I can do is to thank my reader, who goes under the ‘nym of “Spection” in his comments on Pillay’s article.

I think.

After all, now I had to read the actual article. One of my favorite sayings comes from Friedrich Nietzsche and goes something like this, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” This paper put that to the test, at least as far as my neurons and critical thinking skills go, in that it was a classic example of what Harriet Hall likes to refer to as “Tooth Fairy” science, which refers to using all the trappings of science to study nonsense:

You could measure how much money the Tooth Fairy leaves under the pillow, whether she leaves more cash for the first or last tooth, whether the payoff is greater if you leave the tooth in a plastic baggie versus wrapped in Kleenex. You can get all kinds of good data that is reproducible and statistically significant. Yes, you have learned something. But you haven’t learned what you think you’ve learned, because you haven’t bothered to establish whether the Tooth Fairy really exists.

The study cited, which was by Dean Radin et al, is Tooth Fairy Science taken to a level I haven’t seen before, given all the expensive equipment used. The study was published in an article entitled Compassionate Intention As a Therapeutic Intervention by Partners of Cancer Patients: Effects of Distant Intention on the Patients’ Autonomic Nervous System in Explore Journal, a woo journal that I’ve never heard of before. If you want to get a load of the lengths to which Radin and his band of woo-meisters went, consider the following. The “receiver” was placed in a shielded, steel-lined room impervious to all but very low frequency EMF. Periods of sending “intent” were interspersed with “rest periods,” the duration of the latter being controlled by a computer using a random number algorithm. During the times the “sender” was supposed to be “sending intent” to the “receiver, a video camera broadcast an image of the “receiver” to the “sender.

One thing that stands out is the enormous amounts of–shall we say?–data massage that was applied to the raw data. There were multiple transformations applied to the data, along with complex statistical analysis. I’m not entirely knowledgeable enough to determine just how how valid all these calculations and data transformations were, but one part did stand out:

To reduce the potential biasing effects of movement artifacts, all data were visually inspected, and SCL epochs with artifacts were eliminated from further consideration (artifacts were identified by D.R., who was not blind to each epoch’s underlying condition).

OK, it wasn’t a huge number of data curves removed, but I always wonder when an investigator, who is not blinded to which group it’s in decides to remove a dataset from a subject based on “artifacts.” There are also a fair number of other things I wonder about this study. For instance, it appears that the above was not the only thing to which “D.R.” was not blinded; he was also aware of who the “control” group participants were. I also strongly question whether the assumption that measuring skin resistance is a valid measure of autonomic nervous system activation due to “distant healing,” given that so many other things can activate it and that lots of things can effect sweat production. Was the room temperature kept very constant for every single session? Were the “receivers” wearing the same sorts of clothing? I also can’t help but note the absence of at least one obvious and very important control groups, such as “receivers” who think they’re getting some “intent” sent to them but in fact are not. That’s a pretty obvious control that was not included. Finally, it is blindingly obvious that little or no effort was made to age match the controls. Autonomic nervous system function alters with age, and for this study to be valid, it would have to show that the three groups were comparable, something it does a very poor job at. Actually, it’s something this study didn’t even try to do at all. Come on, this is a physiological measurement we’re talking about, and when you measure a physiologic measurement in a study it’s important to try to make sure the participants in a study are well-matched both in terms of age and sex, and sometimes even race.

Another possibility is that there was some way that the “receiver” knew or could predict when the “sender” was “sending intent.” Does anyone see a possible way that that could happen? I do. Think about it. The video camera is one possible way, if appropriate steps weren’t taken. I doubt even Radin was careless enough not to make sure a little red light didn’t turn on when the camera was active, but there are other possible signals. To rule that out, it would have been nice to do a small trial run asking participants to tell when they are being videotaped; if they couldn’t do it any better than random chance, Radin would be home free. If they guessed at a significantly greater degree of accuracy than random chance alone would predict, it would be a problem. Of course, the most likely two explanations for Radin’s results are either that (1) there was some form of systematic bias in the study and (2) that this is just a statistical fluke. Relevant to the latter, at the 95% confidence level, there’s a minimum of a 5% chance of a positive result being due to chance alone. In fact, it’s far more likely than 5% when studying phenomena with very low prior probability, like homeopathy (or distant healing), as Dr. John Ioannidis has shown us.

If–and only if–I see this experiment replicated by someone without such an obvious ideological investment in “distant healing,” I might start to take “distant healing” somewhat more seriously. Might. Incredible claims require incredible evidence; so multiple replications of this or related experiments would be necessary to make this any more than Tooth Fairy Science. If there’s one thing that is a prerequisite for scientific studies of the mechanism behind a phenomenon, it’s demonstrating first that the phenomenon even exists. Until that is demonstrated, discussions and studies of “how” it works are pointless. Neither this dubious study published in a very woo-friendly journal nor any other well-designed study looking at these questions has ever demonstrated clear, compelling, unequivocal (or even equivocal) evidence of such psi or distant healing phenomena.

None of this stops Pillay from plowing deeper into the woo:

This experiment showed that intention can affect a partner’s body across distance outside of consciousness and that if one is trained in compassionate intention, the effect is greatest. In fact, other studies have also shown that distant healing can heal small sized tumors.

Really? Which studies? I couldn’t find them, and Pillay had to be badgered by his commenters even to cough up the Radin story. Never mind, Pillay keeps digging hemself in deeper:

However, the effects of distant healing have not been uniform. Studies have failed to show that distant healing can improve chronic fatigue syndrome or clinical outcome in HIV positive patients. In fact, two studies have also shown that distant healing can have adverse effects.

Again, really? Adverse effects? Is that Black Ju-Ju putting curses on people? Should I be scared that someone out there is going to make a voodoo doll shaped like a clear box of blinking lights and start sticking it with needles? Or even just thinking bad things at me? If that were true, the bad thoughts of J.B. Handley alone would have already killed me.

Then Pillay dives into some serious pseudophysics:

Within the scientific community, there are a group of people who believe in distant healing and a group of people who do not. Those who believe in distant healing do not believe that it is just some “spooky” phenomenon. There are four principles of physics underlying intention that have been described in the literature: (1) that intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal; (2) that intention warps space-time much like gravity, creating pathways for connection; (3) that people, like particles are described in quantum physics, have instantaneous correlations across distance; (4) that intention is much like measurement in quantum physics. It organizes random possibilities much like how wave functions can be collapsed into a single function

This is nonsense on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. These aren’t principles of physics; they’re principles of magic, for one thing. For another thing, people are not described by quantum physics. Repeat after me: Quantum effects disappear at the macroscopic level. And guess what? People are macroscopic objects. As for that bit about “unknown energy” and “warping space-time,” give me a break. What does Pillay think this is, Star Trek? As for the whole bit about “organizing random possibilities much like how wave functions,” that’s just Deepak Chopra territory and makes real physicists cry. Calling Chad Orzel!

Despite all the pseudoscientific quackery regularly showing up on HuffPo, I did think that there were limits beyond which it wouldn’t go. Note the word “did.” I no longer label under any such delusion. There is no end to how low HuffPo will go into the depths of woo, and I have nothing but contempt for how Arianna Huffington and her New Age nonsense have infused such a large and popular political blog with the stench of quackery and antivaccine madness. I next expect to see homeopaths blogging there. In fact, I’m surprised that Dana Ullman hasn’t already been offered a gig there.

But could HuffPo go even lower than distant healing when it comes to pseudoscience? Do you even have to ask? It turns out that our new HuffPo blogger Dr. Pillay is very much into The Secret. In fact, he tells us it’s science.

Comments

  1. #1 qetzal
    March 27, 2009

    I almost wish my intentions could affect people at a distance. I’d definitely be sending the Black Ju-Ju to these buffoons.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    March 27, 2009

    Ach! The eigenstupid, its wavefunction burns!

  3. #3 Joseph C.
    March 27, 2009

    There are four principles of physics underlying intention that have been described in the literature: (1) that intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal; (2) that intention warps space-time much like gravity, creating pathways for connection; (3) that people, like particles are described in quantum physics, have instantaneous correlations across distance; (4) that intention is much like measurement in quantum physics. It organizes random possibilities much like how wave functions can be collapsed into a single function

    Eureka! No wonder Einstein couldn’t unify the forces. He didn’t know about the 5th force: intent. Thank Vishnu for the geniuses over at Huff Post.

  4. #4 Matt
    March 27, 2009

    Actually, there might be studies of this idea. The CIA is alleged to have wanted to conduct “psychic” assassinations as part of its remote viewing program. David Morehouse’s makes these allegations in his book Psychic Warrior. Are they true? I have no idea. My purpose here is to provide an amusing shoot down point of this nonsense. After all, friends of woo often dislike the CIA.

  5. #5 Marcus Ranum
    March 27, 2009

    “Artifact” == “the patient died anyway”

  6. #6 Michael
    March 27, 2009

    I’m a liberal democrat who reads the Huffington Post, but I’ve always been careful to avoid reading the Woo stuff. It allowed me perfect deniability to reality. My carefully built shield has been destroyed. I now need distant healing with a homeopathic potion to be cured.

  7. #7 apgaylard
    March 27, 2009

    Sounds like the HuffPo could really do with giving a regular slot to Lionel Milgrom. Now that’s good quantum woo.

  8. #8 Denice Walter
    March 27, 2009

    re: the Nietzsche quote-I’ve always felt that it should have an addendum- something like,”If it hasn’t *already* weakened us to a marginal state of existence bordering on the ‘death in life’so eloquently described by S.T.Coleridge,or renders us too incapacitated to self-evaluate our own greatly diminished state of being,or it has merely *almost* killed us and we are ‘not long for this world’at this very moment,ad infinitum…”

  9. #9 qetzal
    March 27, 2009

    @Michael:

    < ) ---> —> —>

    (That’s me shooting healing intent rays out of my eye, for you. I’ll spin all around to be sure I hit you.)

  10. #10 SiMPel MYnd
    March 27, 2009

    Yes, I could picture a Star Trek exchange (William Shatner variant) going like this:

    Kirk: “Intention warps space-time much like” *over-dramatic pause* “gravity, creating pathways for connection. Mr. Spock, analysis…”

    Spock: “That intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal.”

    Kirk: “McCoy??”

    McCoy: “Dammit, Jim. I’m not a miracle worker. I can’t heal this green woman with stone knives, bear skins, or woo!!!”

    Kirk: “Options?”

    Spock: “I suggest you mate with the green woman. The tactile sensations should have a positive restorative effect.”

    @Blake – Nice one… Coffee on my screen from the eigenstupid comment.

  11. #11 bobh
    March 27, 2009

    With you on 99% of what you said but: “Quantum effects disappear at the macroscopic level.”

    super conducting magnets and lasers

  12. #12 David
    March 27, 2009

    to me, the kicker is the unblinded guy who gets to throw out data by calling it “artifact”. Good thing for the country that the FDA won’t let pharmaceutical companies do research that way.

    I’ll add this: my review of the distant healing literature shows a small number of blinded, controlled trials (9? 10? depending on criteria). All are either negative or obviously flawed in some way. Another way of looking at it is this: all the trials, blind or not, with objective or “hard” endpoints (such as CD4 counts in HIV infection) are negative.

    My favorite (makes me grin) is this one:

    Harkness EF, Abbot NC, Ernst E.
    A randomized trial of distant healing for skin warts.
    Am J Med. 2000 v108(6):448-52.

  13. #13 Scott
    March 27, 2009

    Indeed bobh. The more precise statement would be that, when incorporated into a strongly interacting macroscopic system such as the human body, entangled states will decohere (effectively) immediately.

    And that’s entirely ignoring all the *other* problems, e.g. entanglement cannot be used to transmit information.

    But it’s close enough for a non-physicist.

  14. #14 TechSkeptic
    March 27, 2009

    “Quantum effects disappear at the macroscopic level.”

    Perhaps this should say, “macroscopic masses”

    Regardless, fMRI never means what woos think it means.

  15. #15 DLC
    March 27, 2009

    Sirinivasan Pillay in A Quantum of Stupid!

    Coming to Theaters near you this April!

  16. #16 Prometheus
    March 27, 2009

    “…all data were visually inspected, and SCL epochs with artifacts were eliminated from further consideration…”

    What the heck? Their “data” is nothing but artifact! If they eliminated all the “epochs with artifacts”, they’d have nothing left!

    Prometheus

  17. #17 Phoenix Woman
    March 27, 2009

    Eeeeeep. The woo is everywhere lately!

    Meanwhile, over at Salon, Gordy Slack tries to pin down Alva Noe, who claims that we are not just our brains, and Noe keeps on slip-slidin’ away. Fortunately, the very first letter writer delivers a smackdown that is worth slogging through the interview.

    I can only hope that the book is clearer than this interview, which I found extremely frustrating, both as a research psychologist once working in psychoneuroimmunology and on grounds of simple clarity. If you boil this discussion down to its essence, it seems to resolve to:

    1. Consciousness isn’t just the brain and neural system.

    2. What is it?

    3. It’s the brain and the neural system engaging with the world.

    4. What do we study, if not the brain?

    5. Oh, we should study the brain.

    6. So we can study the brain to discover consciousness?

    7. Oh, no, consciousness isn’t just the brain and neural system…

    More than once, Gordy Slack attempted to pin down what an actual scientific study would look like to investigate this approach to consciousness, and never really got anything more concrete than studying the brain! Saying that “it should be cross-disciplinary” is fine and dandy, but you have to measure something, and Noe never really says what that is.

    Furthermore, Noe grossly oversimplified both brain function and neuropsychology. Nearly twenty years ago, it was found that every one of the 100 splits in each of your 10 billion neurons act as a “decision gate,” in effect a tiny computer. Every one of those 200 nerve endings also has from one to three neurotransmitters — and while I’m out of date, some counts of neurotransmitters from back in the day went over 100. All these neurons interconnect in highly complex ways. In the 1980s and early 1990s it became clear that at the very least we are looking at complex, four-dimensional (including time) waveforms, not single little neurons lighting up when you read or speak or think or see. Everything takes the whole brain, to greater or lesser extents. He’s right that fMRI isn’t stop-action photography of the mind in action, but no sensible neurologist or neuropsychologist thinks that, either. That’s a straw man at best – claiming that this is a modern form of phrenology, which it decidedly is not.

    It is obvious that the brain is the platform on which consciousness rests. There is already some evidence that it sits in the neocortex (more or less), and is isolated from other brain functions. Arguing that a brain in a bottle, for example, might not have consciousness is also obvious but not helpful. Apart from some old-guard cognitive scientists who are still falsely comparing the brain to a PC (and “artificial intelligence” gurus like Marvin Minsky), no one thinks we know as much as we should about how the brain works, and how it generates thought and action. Alva Noe correctly identifies this, but fails to realize that we know that already, and also fails (at least in this interview) in indicating the way we should go. Indeed, until very recently, the only tool we had to study consciousness was on the outside — how people behaved and described their thinking. The new neuropsychologists and their tools are the biggest breakthrough we have ever had in studying the mind. I’d rather listen to a Joseph LeDoux talking about his meticulous, thoughtful, and elegant studies of the neuronal pathways of fear any day.

    As a result it feels like someone looking over my shoulder at a half-finished crossword puzzle saying “look! You’ve missed filling in half the puzzle!” Yes, thank you, we knew that. Perhaps there is a reason that psychology departed from philosophy over a century ago.
    – Steve Kelner (Ph.D)

  18. #18 Tacroy
    March 27, 2009

    There’s been an even larger, better funded study done that discovered no effect. Although in that particular case they were specifically studying prayer and not “intention” in general, it seems self-evident that praying for someone is equivalent to “transmitting good intentions” towards them.

  19. #19 D. C. Sessions
    March 27, 2009

    This is nonsense on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start.

    Orac, Orac!

    Why try to come up with the right response when the perfect response was uttered many decades ago by a great physicist?

    “That’s not right. It’s not even wrong.” — Wolfgang Pauli, on the subject of unfalsifiable claims.

  20. #20 D. C. Sessions
    March 27, 2009

    bobh:

    super conducting magnets and lasers

    And all of semiconductor physics, notably including the Hall effect. Well, that and optics — partial reflection doesn’t work very well in classical mechanics. Then there’s the photoelectric effect, and …

    Oh, never mind.

  21. #21 MissyMiss
    March 27, 2009

    Nietzsche did say “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

    It was shortly before he died of syphilis…

  22. #22 Dr. P
    March 27, 2009

    Crap! I actually like an occasional political report that I’ve read there from time to time; I never noticed any science articles, pseudo or otherwise.But if this is correct I can’t oblige the pure unabiding arrogance and stupidity of the antivax crowd. They’re lucky there’s nothing to the whole negative intent thing. I’m seeing me getting all ‘Carrie’ on someone.

  23. #23 Spection
    March 28, 2009

    Blake Stacey writes: “Ach! The eigenstupid, its wavefunction burns!”

    And, like napalm, it’s difficult to wash away no matter how many showers you take. As I wrote in the ancient satirical site I put up years ago to mock “journals” like “Explore” (where Radin’s laughable “research” was published for Pillay to regurgitate (where’s the sawdust when you need it?) and a similare “journal” of clueless woo woo (The Society for Scientific Exploitation):

    “We have learned from extensive and painfully embarrassing experience that the participation or mere presence of qualified skeptics or skeptical magicians in scientific investigations of the paranormal invariably suppresses positive results! The reasons for this are as yet unknown. Many postulate that skeptics emit Gaussian- asymmetric psycho-temporal resonant interference patterns which inevitably collapse the phenomena’s wave packets while their eigenvalues are still just short of unity….”

  24. #24 Pete
    March 28, 2009

    Unless I could see it replicated by someone without such an obvious ideological investment in “distant healing,” I might start to take it seriously.

    I think you mean “If I could see it…” or “…I can’t take it seriously.” I love your articles, but you’re so prolific I think you skimp on checking you’re actually making sense sometimes.

  25. #25 Spection
    March 28, 2009

    Matt wrote: “Actually, there might be studies of this idea. The CIA is alleged to have wanted to conduct “psychic” assassinations as part of its remote viewing program. David Morehouse’s makes these allegations in his book Psychic Warrior. Are they true? I have no idea. My purpose here is to provide an amusing shoot down point of this nonsense. After all, friends of woo often dislike the CIA.”

    Not in the case you’re referring to, though. It was called “Project Stargate” and it was and is still being promoted by the credulous friends of woo as “proof positive” that psi / the paranormal is real.

    You can read rational psychologist and CSI (formerly CSICOP) fellow and CSI Executive Council member Ray Hyman’s discussions of their errors here: The Evidence for Psychic Functioning: Claims vs. Reality. Note the amusing fact that woo-woo statistician Jessica Utts was the primary cheerleader for the StarGate claims, and was also the statistician on Radin’s team who are responsible for the silly paper that Pillay’s promoting on HuffPost!

  26. #26 Orac
    March 28, 2009

    Apparently no one told Pete just how much I detest pedantic nitpicky comments that don’t address any substance and instead only pick at typos or grammatical mishaps that result from my tendency to be composing these rather late at night and not having time to go back and edit them as though I were writing a paper or a grant. Normally, it is my habit to delete such comments with extreme prejudice (and no comment) or to ignore them utterly, because they contribute nothing to the conversation other than demonstrating that I sometimes make typos and the occasional strange grammatical constructions.

    However, Pete wins; I changed it a bit. I hope he’s happy now. Are there any other mistakes he wants me to correct?

    Or does he have something of actual substance to say related to the post or to the other comments?

  27. #27 Spection
    March 28, 2009

    Speaking of nostril-expelled liquids, reading SiMPel MYnd’s comments yielded another screen-splattering mess with his Star Trek script. I remember sitting in the theater watching the unintentionally hilarious Star Trek: The Motion Picture on its opening weekend. When it got to the point where Spock reports that his instruments have detected “a form of energy never before encountered”, I laughed so hard that the person seated in front of me was quite annoyed by the sudden addition of Coca-Cola to his hair mousse…

    Picture the scene at Star Fleet engineering headquarters:

    Admiral: “You haven’t got that “never-before-encountered energy detector” working yet?! Get crackin’ mister, or you’ll be space-mopping the space-floors for the rest of your career in Star Fleet!”

  28. #28 Spection
    March 28, 2009

    Before retiring for the night, I just wanted to commend Orac for all his hard work and clear thinking on this particular issue as well as his whole magnificent history of battling the dragons of pseudo-scientific ignorance and delusion.

    Orac, you have my thanks…

  29. #29 DLC
    March 28, 2009

    Right. Huff-Puff. Huffington Puff-Pastry.
    sweet creamy nothingness.
    dangerous in that too much of it can cause damage to the thinking process.

  30. #30 ImperfectlyInformed
    March 28, 2009

    If distance healing could cause adverse effects, then poor Orac would probably be dead about now. This seems easy to resolve experimentally. Of course, it probably won’t matter, and the experimental group would have to be trained by a professional distance healer, but this is no more implausible than homeopathy, which has been heavily researched. It’s worth a lark.

  31. #31 Marilyn Mann
    March 28, 2009

    Orac,

    You should put up a notice that you don’t want people to point out typos, extra words, left-out words, etc. I totally see your point of view, but I would not have known you felt that way if you hadn’t said it. Most bloggers and journalists want to know these things. When I send corrections to other bloggers (either by email or in a comment) they usually make the change and thank me. I do try to be a little selective, though. I usually only do it if the error is such that it would not be obvious to other readers.

    I assume you wouldn’t mind if the correction was more substantive, such as if you misspelled someone’s name, had a link that didn’t work, or had a factual error (not that that would ever happen, of course!). Recently, a blogger I am friendly with was discussing a particular drug and substituted the name of another drug that began with the same letter. I gently mentioned this to her in an email and she made the change immediately and was very grateful that I had told her about her mistake.

  32. #32 Orac
    March 28, 2009

    I have pointed this out time and time again. This is nothing new.

    You have to distinguish between substantive corrections and simple pedantry “gotcha” type comments that have zero substantive value. I don’t mind the former. I detest the latter. Typo, spelling, and grammar flames are the lamest of the lame and always have been. (I should know; I’ve been on Usenet and various discussion forums since the mid-1990s.)

    If all you’re going to do is to correct a typo or a tortured sentence construction that slipped past the admittedly porous editing process, just e-mail me; don’t clog up the comments with pedantry and grammar Nazi comments. This is blogging, and I don’t have an editor. Moreover, given the amount of verbiage I produce, my error rate is actually pretty darned low.

  33. #33 samuel black
    March 28, 2009

    I also agree with your basic thesis, but the generalization that “quantum effects disappear at the macroscopic level” is difficult to defend. Quantum effects on the atomic level are manifest in many macroscopic phenomena, from looking at your fluorescent light bulb through a simple diffraction grating, to all of solid state electronics, particularly tunnel diodes and LEDs, and (as previously mentioned) lasers. I was particularly struck as an undergraduate by the Franck-Hertz experiment, in which energy levels in Hg atoms caused our very macroscopic chart recorder to oscillate full scale as the voltage passed through a resonance.

    To be relevant to the subject, quantum cryptography in fact makes use of quantum entanglement in a macroscopic sort of way.

    This is not to say that any magical phenomenon that someone would like to be true can be explained by vague reference to a theory their audience is almost guaranteed not to understand. (Feynman would argue that no one understands it.)

    As you say, the relevant question is whether the magic works or not, and that’s manifestly easy to check, even if it’s almost as easy to fake for willing believers.

  34. #34 Orac
    March 28, 2009

    Come on, dudes, cut me a break; remember that I’m not a physicist and haven’t studied quantum physics since college. Perhaps I oversimplified and I should have said that quantum effects don’t work on a macroscopic level the way the woo-meisters claim that they do: For instance, quantum coupling, which is the entire “model” of homeopathy that, for instance, Lionel Milgrom postulates.

  35. #35 D. C. Sessions
    March 28, 2009

    If distance healing could cause adverse effects, then poor Orac would probably be dead about now.

    That was last year:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNoX0XKUZlk
    is Part One. Then the rematch happened later that night, for what I heard was the highest viewership EVAH!

  36. #36 D. C. Sessions
    March 28, 2009

    Come on, dudes, cut me a break; remember that I’m not a physicist and haven’t studied quantum physics since college.

    Hey, we’re laughing with you, not at you — your call of “Bullshit!” was smack-on, and we’re just doing the whole geek thing. Like the scorpion, it’s our nature.

    The fact is that the kind of “quantum woo” that these bozos use to scam their marks contradicts the same Real Quantum Mechanics™ that we’re discussing. Much as, for instance, the “extreme dilutions” predictions of homeopathy predict vastly different effects than the ones that our computers depend on.

    If the “Quantum woo” worked as advertised, your fluorescent lights wouldn’t.

  37. #37 Pareidolius
    March 28, 2009

    Dear Miss Mann
    How long have you been living with the heartbreak of CGCS (Compulsive Grammar Corrective Syndrome)? I too was once afflicted with this terrible syndrome. While the pharmaceutical industry has made great headway in dealing with all manner of brain related maladies, the pharmacalogical solution to CGCS has proved elusive. Fortunately, there is a reading cure: Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies” and its companion tome “Mortal Syntax” by June Casagrande. These two volumes proved to be both hilarious and humbling. Through reading these books, I realized that my compulsion to correct others on their use of grammar (and pretty much everything else), was, to put it bluntly, rather ass-holy. Unless you have also been diagnosed as Humor Impaired, I think you’ll find these books quite curative. Yes, it’s wonderful being smart, but not if it renders you friendless. Something to ponder.

  38. #38 samuel black
    March 28, 2009

    It seems Casagrande has found a way to replace CGCS with CGCCS (Compulsive Grammar Corrector Corrective Syndrome). This may be incurable.

    It strikes me that Orac’s pride in his low error rate invites correction of errors that do creep in. In any case, if he is open to new readers, he can’t expect all contributers to have read his admonitions of the practice.

  39. #39 krypton86
    March 29, 2009

    I would like to point out that Spection, myself, Skeptico and a few others have done our damnedest to smack down Pillay’s remarkably weak article. Personally, I feel like we thoroughly flayed Mr. Pillay (especially Spection and Skeptico). If I wandered onto his article and knew nothing of Radin or research standards, I feel that the comments would definitely prevent a wholesale purchase of teh “science” of distant healin’. This is especially true once Skeptico pointed out that the study actually had no control group whatsoever (check out Skeptico’s blog).

    As I said in the comments on HuffPo, this fact alone makes the pages of this study barely worthy of use in the smallest room of my house, if you know what I mean.

  40. #40 Orac
    March 30, 2009

    Uh, actually, I did mention that there was no real control group. It just wasn’t the centerpiece of my post.

  41. #41 Tracy W
    March 30, 2009

    (1) that intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal;

    If they don’t know what the signal is, how do they know it uses energy?
    The definition of energy is the capacity to do work in the physics sense of the word. You can use electromagnetic energy, or any type of energy, to move things. Indeed, this is how electromagnetic energy is used to transmit radio/TV/cellphone/etc signals – the energy in the signal moves the electrons in the receiver in meaningful ways. If the intention hasn’t been shown to do work, I don’t see the basis for assuming that it is an energy signal.

    And if you can move things with intentions, this is far more important than just healing, valuable as healing is.

  42. #42 Christophe Thill
    March 30, 2009

    So, all they claim, all they think they have proved, is that “healing intent” can make you sweat distantly? And it’s supposed to heal what exactly?

  43. #43 JKW
    March 30, 2009

    This HuffPo article belongs in the same light as the now defunct PEAR:

    http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/