The Scientific Activist

DC Celebrates Pseudoscience

From The Washington Post:

The D.C. Council, in a flourish of whereases, proclaimed March 16 Brain Education Day, responding to a nationwide call from a brain-wave guru in Sedona, Ariz. (The Montgomery County Council was set to make the same proclamation Tuesday but canceled at the last minute. And supporters in Fairfax County missed the submission deadline.)

The council’s formal resolution says brain education helps “create physical, emotional and social well-being, as well as higher achievement.” The proclamation closes by praising its “potential to improve the human condition.”

So what is brain education?

If a recent class at a Dahn Yoga Center in Alexandria is any guide, it’s a whole lot of shaking. Students wear matching white uniforms, stand in a circle and, after vigorously and rhythmically pounding their bellies, shake. Their heads, their shoulders. Their hips, their knees. The shaking, practitioners say, vibrates the brain, calms brain waves and helps clear the mind.

“It’s so much less weird than it sounds,” practitioner Joanne Steller said after class. “It refreshes your mind.”

Practitioners follow a five-step training system — such as “brain versatilizing” — to achieve better HSP, or “health, happiness and peace.” The method was developed by Ilchi Lee, originally from South Korea, who oversees an international brain education organization headquartered in Sedona, otherwise known as the “New Age Capital” of the world.

Fortunately, not everyone is buying this nonsense:

A similar proclamation in Montgomery was ready to go when staffers who vet ceremonial proclamations — there are about two each week — went to the brain education Web site to check the group out. “When we checked, we decided it was not appropriate,” said council spokesman Neil Greenberger. “We like to use our good judgment to make sure something is appropriate for Montgomery County.”

Ignoring for the moment how bizarre the actual methods are and the fact that their developer, Ilchi Lee, is a longstanding purveyor of pseudoscience, what did Montgomery County staffers find when they visited the Brain Education website? The website makes various claims about improving mental performance, and it even cites two published studies. Unfortunately, neither is published in a mainstream or widely-available journal (a major red flag). The first was published in the Korean Journal of Educational Research, which is not available in English and not subscribed to by my university (and I couldn’t find any more information about this journal on the web). The second study was published in the Journal of Brain Education. This one is also not available in English, but, better yet, it’s published by the “University of Brain Education“. Guess who the president of this “university” is? Ilchi Lee, of course.

The Brain Sciences website does include a couple of charts from this latter publication, which you can take a look at for yourself here. They show a marginal improvement in a few different intelligence tests (no details on how these were conducted), but these results are meaningless without any error bars (my guess is that none of these improvements are statistically significant given the small sample sizes used). They also adjusted the graph axes in a way to make the data appear as favorable as possible. If this is representative of what’s in these two studies, then it’s no surprise they couldn’t publish any of this in a more respected and widely available journals.

If a quick examination of the Brain Education website is all it takes–as Montgomery County staffers found–to discover that the claims about Ilchi’s curriculum are groundless, then why is DC recognizing this pseudoscientific nonsense?


  1. #1 Fer
    March 21, 2009

    It could be taught with creationism, it is just as scientific. Dahn is clearly pseudoscience and should not be legitimized in this way.

  2. #2 ArchAsa
    March 22, 2009

    Versions of this bogus method has actually permeated several British Scools – I think Ben Goldacre wrote about it a while back.
    It’s the same thing as the common sense advice that if you have been seated still for a long time it helps to stand up and stretch a bit. What you do exactly makes no matter, just as long as you move your body and muscles for a bit. Take that very basic notion and then dress it upp in fancy-schmancy jargon, and describe exactly what kind of movements you should do and presto! A New Brain Method!!!

    Elected officials who waste money on these things should be prosecuted for criminal stupidity.

  3. #3 Meredith M. Clancy
    March 22, 2009

    Let’s hear it for Mo-Co, the county that refuses to be had by pseudo-science!
    I always knew their elaborate bureaucratic red tape and overly-complicated local government had some merit.

  4. #4 Neuroskepitc
    March 24, 2009

    ArchAsa: Yeah, it’s called Brain Gym. I don’t know if it’s related to this kind of brain nonsense, but it sounds very similar.

  5. #5 anti-dahnyoga
    June 20, 2009

    Getting mayors to issue proclamations in honor of their “god” Ilchi Lee (including New York City’s Bloomberg) is just one of their methods to appear credible.

    Lee opened his own universities (IGUP, now UBE) and brain research and education institutes (like KIBS and IBREA), and publishes his own research journals. His followers call him “doctor” and “professor” with just a BA degree (if that is real). And so, now they say he is a world renowned brain scientist.

    They convinced the United Nations to grant roster Consultative status to their Korea Institute of Brain Science (KIBS) and to co-sponsor public “Brain Education” events (they trademarked the term) with them at the United Nations – and so now they can say they’re endorsed and working closely with the United Nations.

    “Brain Education” is being “studied” and taught in many public schools. Somebody didn’t do their homework.

    Can you or someone analyze the various claims of their Brain Wave Vibration and write it up in language that non-scientists would understand? Maybe it will help some potential recruits to realize that it’s just pseudoscience. You can find these claims on their YouTube video called Secrets of Brain Wave here: Vibration

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