Monday, July 20, 2009

"Not testable by science"

It is very common for practitioners of many "alternative" healing modalities to claim that the energy, vibrations, or "auras" they manipulate cannot be detected by modern science. Statements like this show a depressingly weak understanding of what we already know and what we are capable of measuring. The electromagnetic spectrum has been well known for over a century, and there are not any gaps in our understanding of it (there is no room for new unknown wavelengths or particles in the range of energy that exists in living bodies). We know in great detail how nerves, muscles and other tissues create and utilize energy, both chemical and electric and are continuously learning more details, none of which suggest any new, unknown mysterious force.
Our ability to measure incredibly small amounts of electromagnetic energy has also improved past the point that the discovery of some new unknown energy or vibration having a physiologic effect is vanishingly small. We can detect light and other wavelengths that have traveled for billions of years across the universe. We can also detect the light emitted by chemical reactions in human bodies. To get these types of images requires cameras that can detect light one photon at a time. Very weak signals in all other wavelengths (radio through gamma) can also be detected.
This understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum combined with extremely sensitive detectors makes the likelihood of discovering some new type of energy affecting bodies vanishingly small. Claims by CAM practitioners that science cannot measure what they do reflect either a profound ignorance on their part or a criminal disdain for the intellect of their customers.
An interesting exercise when confronting quacks is to ask how whatever they do works. If you get vague answers, keep asking questions. Often you will find that their ultimate answer is that it cannot be measured by science. This is a strong indication that their claims are unsupported by the evidence, and are not worth risking your money or your health (or your animals health).

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this argument from ineffability is quite common. CAM proponents will either argue their methods are based on legitimate natural phenomena science is currently too primative to understand, or on mysterious entities science cannot by its nature understand. Here are a couple good examples from a recent discussion elsewhere:

    "Good TCVM and homeopathy both recognize that the body is energetic in nature and that healing can occur by manipulating that energy. To my knowledge we have no way to measure that energy and therefor no way to “prove” how they work .. YET.. physics will one day catch up with homeopathy and TCVM and we will be able to identify the vital force or the chi."

    "But, as modern physics shows, it is Energy that precedes chemistry; if we want to go to the source of illness and actually cure, then we need to learn to pay more attention to Energetics, try to understand what lies behind that sick tissue manifestation. If the energy is still in disharmony, then the patient is not cured, even if the tumor is removed."