Wednesday, September 26, 2018

#2075: James L. Oschman

Ah, yes: energy medicine. James L. Oschman, who does possess a PhD in the biological sciences from back in the days, is currently one of the grand old men of woo, and author of the 2000 book Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis, apparently something of a go-to item among defenders of New Age woo. The scientific basis for energy medicine is, shall we say, pretty clear on the score: energy medicine is bullshit. Of course, if you are sufficiently selective with regard to what evidence you choose to use, it is possible to make a case for almost anything, and the case for energy medicine is unsurprisingly made by relying on placebo effects and things like “spontaneous improvement, fluctuation of symptoms, regression to the mean, additional treatment, conditional switching of placebo treatment, scaling bias, irrelevant response variables, answers of politeness, experimental subordination, conditioned answers, neurotic or psychotic misjudgment, psychosomatic phenomena, misquotation,” factors that good studies seek to control for and bad studies and books written by pseudoscientists instead claim give them proof positive of whatever bullshit they would have chosen to believe in regardless. 

Now, Oschman does believe that energy medicine can be studied and explained by science without invoking mysterious life forces, subtle energies or suchlike (an effort somewhat belied by the foreword to his book, written by one Candace Pert, whose body is apparently “a liquid crystal under tension capable of vibrating at a number of frequencies, some in the range of visible light”). Instead, Oschman invokes the idea of healer-sourced electromagnetic fields that ostensibly change in frequency, where “healing energy” derives from electromagnetic frequencies generated by a medical device, projected from the hands of the healer, or by electrons acting as antioxidants. Those who suspect misuse of scientific-sounding terminology to sway the uninformed are of course correct, and Oschman has set the bar strikingly low. He also defends homeopathy (including the Benveniste water memory nonsense). There is a thorough review of his book here. Despite its, shall we say, flaws it remains a relatively commonly cited source in altmed circles (example), which at least serves to show the rest of us that these people have not the faintest clue about how evidence or science works. 

Of course, given electromagnetic fields’ ostensible healing powers, they can also harm, and Oschman believes that electromagnetic “allergies are widespread and under-diagnosed: “Virtually every disease and disorder has been linked by one investigator or another to electromagnetic pollution,” says Oschman, which is probably literally true if you define “investigator” sufficiently loosely. There is also a defense of dowsing in there, and later in his career Oschman has been caught defending earthing.

Oh, and there is quantum. Of course there is quantum.

Diagnosis: Utter nonsense, but at least Oschman’s effort epitomizes the standard delusions, errors, selective thinking and misunderstandings of low-grade pseudoscience. He’s had some influence, though.

Hat-tip: Harriet Hall


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