Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Is NPR a proprieter of Woo?

It was a real doozy today on NPR. First, they profile a young woman being an 'intellectual rebel' by her quest to fall for every bit of conspiracy theory there is about Global warming. And yeah, I think its great that she is challenging those around her, yeah I think teachers (and news!) should understand the concepts well enough to be able to defend against this sort of stuff and I also think if she thinks something contrarian she should question those around her. Skepticism is great, denialism....not so good.

What makes me sad is that apparently she is only willing to go as far as her preconceived notions rather than where the data actually leads her. Janet Stemwedel takes her apart pretty well here. I wrote her an email inviting her to answer my questions. We'll see if it goes anywhere.

This may be incredibly cynical of me, but this looks like a ploy to raise money for college for her. Not that this is a bad thing....

75% of all contributions will be depositied in an irrevocable trust specifically for Kristen Byrnes... Kristen Byrnes Science Foundation may use no more than 25% of contributed funds

Well at least she doesn't plan on buying drugs and beer with it. Hey, if she can get some people to give her money for being snarky, I'm all for it. It sure pays better than anything I am getting from google ads.

Anyway, shortly after this NPR descended into a dire chasm of woo. They had a short piece on the utter nonsense of Zero Balancing. Get this, the practitioner thought acupuncture was too clinical. The entire episode was so filled with every cliche and metaphor that we hear from woo meisters it was ridiculous.

Fritz and Aminah

Zero Balancing (ZB) is a hands-on bodywork system designed to align your energy body with your physical structure. Simple yet powerful, it focuses on your whole person, even when addressing specific needs. Considered at the leading edge of body/mind therapies, ZB moves beyond Western scientific approaches to body structure by incorporating Eastern concepts of energy and healing What this does is enable a practitioner to work simultaneously with your structural and energy bodies to bring balance.

What energy? Mechanical? Electrical? Acoustic? electromagnetic? What wavelength? How do you know anything about any energy if you have no way to measure it. What structure? Muscular system? Ligaments? Skeletal? The building foundation? Here is how it is performed.

How Is ZB Performed?

Zero Balancing process generally takes between 30 and 40 minutes and is performed with you fully clothed. Sessions begin with you in a seated position, moving from there to a comfortable reclining position on your back. Using touch, the ZB practitioner evaluates your energy fields and energy flow in these two positions and balances the structures as needed. He or she may focus on body, mind, spirit, or all three, depending on where the fields are disturbed or the energy is blocked. Throughout the Zero Balancing session, attention is given to the skeleton in particular because it contains the deepest and strongest currents.

Let me get this straight. You take a patient, you seat them comfortably and then let them relax lying down. You play some nice music. You talk to them and touch them here and there? Sounds like study I recently read about at Oracs and at Science Based Medicine. In other words, ZB is yet another word for PLACEBO.

It was so disappointing to hear a really lame representation of a skeptics side. I don't have the transcript (yet), but the commentator Susan Barnett (that is part two, this was in part 3 of her flab to fit series) said something like this.

Skeptics don't believe in ZB because you can't see the energy they are talking about. ZB enthusiast say that you may not be able to see the energy, but you can see its effects, like gravity.

How utterly idiotic! Its NPR's responsibility to see through this nonsense and report the actual arguments, not strawmen. ZB is placebo. That analogy is false because we can measure gravity. What measurement, besides placebo effects, can you see from this ZB stuff? Anecdotal cures? Repeat customers? Just like every other brand of woo. It was a real shame to listen to this. You know that Woo Medicine is going to be the next bingo game I make.

The part that really got to me is that I do listen to WAMC a lot (its our local NPR outlet). They have some really great programming. Its too bad they have to deal out this sort of crap. It sure wasn't the first time.

However, at the end of the day, WAMC redeemed themselves. I'll quote it here:
Stephen E. Gottlieb

April 15, 2008: Manslaughter?

Are our public officials, the ones we put in office, responsible for what they do?

The usual rule for you and me is that we are responsible to act reasonably and if we don't, we are responsible for the damage we cause. We call the failure to act reasonably negligence. It's the rule for everything from car accidents to corporate misbehavior.

When behavior gets particularly bad and results in death, we call it manslaughter. Here is a definition used in the District of Columbia, though it is typical of most jurisdictions:

The essential elements of involuntary manslaughter, each of which the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, are: 1. That the defendant caused the death of the decedent; 2. That the conduct which caused the death was a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care; and 3. That the conduct which caused the death created an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury."

Let's examine a few facts:

George Tenet told the president there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq until he was pressured to change his story. He told the Congress that the CIA never did an NIE, a National Intelligence Estimate, on Iraq, before we invaded. In fact no one wanted one because it would have aired the doubts, criticisms and contradictions that had surfaced.

The Administration accepted the word of a captive about the Iraqi-al Qaeda connection even though the man he said had met with Iraqis had actually been in the hands of the FBI in Florida at the time.

Before the invasion, the State Department was trying to figure out what would be necessary to secure the peace. The rest of the Administration was uninterested. In fact, the President wouldn't meet with the Secretary of State unless the National Security Advisor arranged the meeting. The top staff of the Army told the Administration before the invasion that it was not providing the force needed to secure the peace.

Everyone except the Administration knew that invading Iraq was far worse than a can of worms. But some in the Administration decided that no information could be relied on, so no reliable information was necessary.

So the Administration set in motion the deaths of more than 4,000 Americans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, tied our military down, crumpled our reserves, crippled the officer corps, neglected to take care of the veterans and mortgaged our future to the Chinese.

So was the carelessness of the Administration or anyone in it negligence? Manslaughter? You decide.

Steve Gottlieb is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He is also a member of the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union and served in the US Peace Corps in Iran.

And I couldn't agree more. I would have added that this is what happens when you choose to make decisions that are not based on data and evidence. In fact its worse. It's making decisions and executing actions contrary to available data.


On 6/19/08, 6:20 PM , Skeptico said...

You have to admit though that "zero balancing" is well named. Since they are, actually, balancing precisely zero.

On 12/22/08, 3:35 PM , Anonymous said...

Since you've never experienced the bodywork, how can you actually comment on what it's effects are or are not? If you've never experienced the wind blowing in your face or over your body, how do you describe that to someone who has never felt the sensation? My guess is you've never received any kind of bodywork and are a perpetual skeptic(your identity says it all!!)....dare I say, find a local practitioner and experience it for yourself before you state an opinion based on "zero".

On 12/22/08, 4:18 PM , Techskeptic said...

Hello anonymous,

Well, it seems to me you didnt even bother to read the links I posted, since you didnt make a substantive comment. But I will answer it nonetheless.

1) I have had "bodywork" done. Acupuncture and reiki. Neither did anything. The benefits I got from acupuncture (it was the electrical type, both on my foot and ear) can be solely attributed to the orthotics i got and exercises I did to deal with my back problems.

The reiki was just laughable. It was as if whoever made that up was a 10 year old pretending he had magic powers (like therapeutic touch and tong ren).

2) your responses to #1 will likely be that I didnt see the right people. To that I say 1) Dr. Bachrach in NYC was highly respected within the CAM community at the time (this was over 20 years ago) and 2) the reiki practitioner provided the perfect reiki atmosphere, calm, relaxing, and so forth. Her hands were startlingly warm. Im not sure what else there is to define a good one from a bad one besides results. Of which there were none.

3) You may appeal to ancient ways now. Something along the lines of "they've been doing this in china for 2000 years, they must know something. Which makes no sense. Its a common canard.

4) then you may similarly appeal to other ways of knowing.

5) finally, I dont have to experience bodywork to know it doesnt have any use. Do you have to go to Japan to know it exists? Do you have to experience torture to know it is bad? Of course not, the reason you know this is that there is reliable data that shows you the truth of the existence Japan (as opposed to Atlantis). That is why we do studies. That is why double blind studies are better than gathering anecdotal evidence (its also why CAM folks endlessly do 'pilot studies' rather than using some of those billions of dollars to actually advance science and do a few blind and double blind studies).

Thanks for visiting. I hope you will return with some actual blind or double blind studies that show that people dont actually waste their money on this stuff. Until then, I'll refer you to this page which has a good list of why we should not be continuing to waste money on this stuff.

we are better of as a species and society if we constantly question our assumptions, check if things really work as we think they do. we went to war based on bad assumptions, hundreds of thousands of people died due to that sort of thinking. think its not the same thing? How do all these people get harmed by unregulated, unverified "medicine"?

p.s. My pseudonym arose from questioning the validity of some claims of technology companies, not the automatic superiority of science or technology. Its funny, because sometimes when I talk on science blogs, people assume my handle delineates that I am skeptical of technology, not the other way around like you did.

On 3/17/10, 8:25 PM , dev said...

My favorite part about the comment by Anonymous is the trite little comment about the wind.

First, the analogy has absolutely no connection whatsoever. None! It's like saying "I've never seen a turtle, but I know they have shells because my dog barks at strangers."

Second, I love the whiff of foul religious stench comments like that contain. They are the same rhetorical tactic. It's an appeal to emotion of sorts. They deploy decorative language to create imagery around something lofty, divine, or spiritual. It makes the reader go "ooooh! How beautiful and deep and complex is the wind in all it's majestic power! Alternative medicine must be true!" This is all said in a wispy voice of course.

It reminds me of the divination teacher from Harry Potter. In fact, now that I think about it, those books did a damn good job at profiling these yahoos.