Quack Word #40: ‘Energy’


Or ‘How to be debunked by a nine year old schoolgirl’

In the special world of the quack, the crank and the pseudo-scientist the word ‘Energy’ holds the highest place in the league tables of misappropriated and abused language.

I often get complaints that the quackometer only spots quacks and lets cranks off the hook. That is deliberate on my part – one thing at a time. The crank is easy to tell from the quack: the crank seeks ‘free’ energy, the quack seeks ‘healing’ energy. The crank seeks an endless supply of useful energy from spinning rotors and magnets; the quack seeks an infinite source of healing energy from spinning arms and language.

Both cranks and quacks like to talk about ‘energy’ all the time. Energy has an everyday meaning that we can relate to (our ‘energy’ to do things) and a rock solid physics definition (the capacity to do work). Maybe that is why energy is such a useful pseudo-scientific concept as we have an intuitive grasp of what it means, but little idea of the scientific details. The crank/quack fills in the gaps for us with their own pseudoscience.

At least the crank has some capacity to understand what energy is – the capacity to do work – even if they have limited understanding of the laws of thermodynamics. The quack however, uses the word energy, just like any other word borrowed from the sciences, with little regard to establishing a definition or consistent meaning. Indeed, vagueness and slipperiness are essential in the quacks cause.

Quack Energy has many different forms, or manifestations, depending on the particular field of woo being considered, Quack Energy has explanatory roles in Reiki, QiGong, Touch Therapy, Biofield Therapy, Acupuncture, Homeopathy and just about any other ‘discipline’ where science suggests the technique ought to be nonsense. Quack Energy is used to corrupt and subvert logic. It is claimed that because science cannot explain the healing capacity of reiki/acupuncture/qigong then it must be due to a new universal life-force energy. It does not occur to the practitioner that there might not be anything to explain.

The names for Quack Energy are legion: Mana, Energy, Qi, Aura, Chi, Ki and so. In debating with woos, I like to lump them altogether as MEQUACK.

Although, MEQUACK has different origins within the different fake medicines, there are some common properties:

  • The Energy is ‘Subtle’. Indeed, it is often called ‘Subtle Energy’. MEQUACK has to be subtle as no-one has proposed a way of measuring it or even detecting it. So subtle indeed, that it escapes all the very sensitive scientific instruments we have at our disposal.
  • MEQUACK is a ‘life force’, or ‘biofield’. Despite is being subtle, it somehow has a very important relationship to our health. Despite no instrument being able to detect it, somehow our bodies can.
  • MEQUACK flows around our body in someway and can get blocked, or disrupted, causing illness. Sometimes the energy uses some sort of MEQUACK channel in the body, like a meridian, or is centred in special places in the body, like a Chakra. You’ve guessed it, none of these flows or centres have ever been found, detected or observed.
  • MEQUACK can get disrupted by our modern lifestyles and surroundings. The electrical and magnetic fields in our homes, somehow can also interact with our biofield MEQUACK, even when our sensitive electrical and magnetic scientific instruments cannot.

What is so galling to anyone with a scientific background is that energy, as a concept, is so well understood. Energy comes in many forms: chemical, kinetic, nuclear, thermal, potential and so on. All are convertible from one form to another. Light a firework rocket and chemical energy is quickly converted to sound energy, thermal, electromagnetic (light) and kinetic energy as the fuel burns and the rocket launches upwards. Kinetic energy, under gravity, is then transformed into potential energy and back again as it descends to earth. At the end, all that chemical energy has been converted to thermal energy. No energy was lost or created – always conserved – and all in ways that are thoroughly understood by science with lots of maths to work out what will happen. We are expected to believe that in all the years of experimentation, a form of energy exists, that is vital to our bodies, that has never shown up in our accounting for what happens.

MEQUACK has no conservation laws, no conversion mechanisms, no mathematics, no means of detection, no capacity for harnessing in an engine and doing work – its properties tend to get very vague when examined. Still, somehow, it is vital for life and health. Despite the so-called ancient origins of the knowledge of MEQUACK, no physics or biology textbook denotes a sentence to it, let alone a chapter.

So, why do quacks keep on about it? Talk of MEQUACK is often given in attempt to justify otherwise ridiculous claims. A quick example: The QLink pendant. We have seen this bauble in previous posts. The floggers of this tat invoke ‘resonating subtle energies’ as an explanation of how it works.

In this ridiculous page, Dr. William Tiller explains how:

Scientists have long puzzled over force field phenomena that do not fit the four known forces: electromagnetic, gravity, weak and strong forces. These force field that do not fall into the classical four are sometimes labeled “subtle energies.” They are called “subtle” because they cannot be observed or measured by any known instrumentation.

It’s difficult to know where to begin, but the first question would be: “What field phenomena?” Science has done an amazing job of distilling all known phenomena into four forces! Secondly I would ask: “If they cannot be observed by any instrumentation, how do you know they exist?”

This is typical of the garbled quack nonsense speak. Dr Teller goes on to explain that:

Electromagnetic fields are composed of two basic types of energy wave packets:
electrons and photons.

The high school physicists amongst you will be able to spot the simple error in this statement. This is not even wrong, it is just nonsense.

If this example is typical, then we can see that talk of MEQUACK is not meant to explain anything – it is designed to deflect enquiry and bamboozle. It deflects enquiry by quickly getting into technical jargon that most people will not, or cannot, explore further. For those, with a slightly less credulous bent, it deflects enquiry by essentially postulating that all attempts to detect or measure MEQUACK are futile as it is too ‘subtle’ to be detected by clumsy, reductionist, non-holistic, closed-minded, arrogant scientists and their instruments. Invoking MEQUACK is an act of fraud and deception. My guess is though, that many of the practitioners and exponents of the many forms of MEQUACK have first utterly deceived themselves.

So, to summarise so far:

  • MEQUACK is a supposed life force energy;
  • it has never been detected;
  • it has no theory to explain it;
  • MEQUACK has conflicting explanations across quack disciplines;
  • is supposedly under attack from modern lifestyles to give rise to illnesses that are not recognised, or have very poor evidence bases, such EMF-stress
  • MEQUACK can be manipulated by ‘healers’ by shamanically waving their arms above you (reiki), sticking pins in you (acupuncture, voodoo), wearing the right colours (chakras), giving you ‘energetically charged’ pills (homeopathy), or wearing a christmas cracker trinket (the QLink).

With so little going for it, it is amazing that so many people believe so passionately in it. Maybe it is because there are consistent reports of people feeling warmth and tingling when undergoing some sort of MEQUACK non-touch ‘healing’ ritual, such as QiGong, Reiki or (the modern favourite) Bi-Aura. That is pretty powerful evidence! Being able to detect the warmth and tingling in your nerves! Wow!

So, if you can really feel MEQUACK, then maybe science ought to sit up and take notice. Indeed, such a simple demonstration ought to be easy and it would convince me straight away. Show me you can feel this ‘energy’ and the world will listen. It ought to be so easy, in fact, that a nine year old could do it.

In fact, a nine year old has done it.

The youngest person ever to publish a scientific, peer-reviewed paper in a prestigious medical journal was Emily Rosa. Emily wanted to test if energy therapists could really sense MEQUACK. Twenty-one therapists agreed to takes part; how could they refuse a sweet little nine year old doing a school project?

In the test, the therapist would put both their hands through a screen. Unseen, Emily would place one of her own hands over one the practitioners hands and the ‘therapist’ was asked to say which hand it was. All therapists claimed that they could perform this test – the results though showed that their guesses were no better than chance (they got 123 out of 280 trials right). Emily’s parents helped her with the stats and the experiment was publised in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The editors described the study as ‘solid gold’.

Her conclusoins were;

Twenty-one experienced TT [Theraputic Touch] practitioners were unable to detect the investigator’s “energy field.” Their failure to substantiate TT’s most fundamental claim is unrefuted evidence that the claims of TT are groundless and that further professional use is unjustified.

Naturally, many ‘energy therapists’ have cried fowl. A full list of rebuttals can be found on the quackwatch site. What is amazing is this study cost about $10 for the screen. Any ‘therapist’ could do this test themselves as long as they were intellectually honest enough to properly blind themselves and remove obvious sources of bias. I think this shows how little the advocates of strange bio-energy are interested in the truth. Only their comforting delusions are important, and in some case, their fraudulent money-making practices.

So what is going on with the therapists? Why do they really believe they can feel MEQUACK. Well, self-deception can be very powerful. Expectations can make you feel things that aren’t really there. Now the little black duck is quite ticklish. Even the thought of being tickled can make me tingle. Maybe the MEQUACKists are feeling something similar: anticipation, expectation and wishful thinking? What is for sure, as Emily (aged 9) has shown, they do not feel a bio-energy.

11 comments for “Quack Word #40: ‘Energy’

  1. Bronze Dog
    October 13, 2006 at 9:17 pm
  2. Cornealius
    November 26, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    I have just written a piece about alternative healing and psychic reading and would be interested in your opion of it

    it’s at
    http://cornealius.blogspot.com

  3. Anonymous
    February 2, 2007 at 4:23 am

    Interesting perspective on the qlink stuff, I have a friend that is very much a believer…she pointed me to some of the research studies relating to the “live blood analysis”, which is the most interesting of the studies that they have published IMHO.

  4. Anonymous
    February 14, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Dear friend:

    You sure have made a big old difference in my life. Yessir, one year ago my marriage was going down the terlit, so to speak. My pretty little Bobbi Sue, 15 years younger than me, has always liked messing around, if you get my drift.

    Well, truth be told, she got mighty peeved for a spell when I couldn’t get the old pecker up. Old girl even threatened to find another feller to tend to her needs. At first, I tried all sorts of them drug store remedies like Veegra and Cylus, and I even went so far as to hike on down the road a piece to find me a sex counselor. Glory be, nothing worked. Truth be told, things only got worst.

    Then, glory be, I came acrost this here Q-link thingamabob. I read everything I could about how it works, and then it dawned on me that the old pecker was probably tired out by some of them bad energy waves floating around amonst us from the electric wires and such. So, one night, I just went ahead and hung my Q-link on my pecker for ten minutes before snuggling on up to Bobbi Sue in bed.

    Well, glory be, it was as if someone put a spell on me and made me 30 years younger. I’m telling you that I went from a limp piece of spaghetti to a randy stallion, in no time a tall. Old Bobbi Sue could hardly believe it. Now, she like to rip off my skivvies soon as I come on in from checking out the back forty.

    There’s something else, too. I’ve learnt that the benefits of one 10 minute Q-link dingle dangle last me a full month. Lord, have mercy!

    While I was reading up on this here Q-link thing, I learnt that it’s good for animals too. So, I got me to thinking that if the Q-link has such good results for folks and their pets, why wouldn’t it be good for plants, too. So, when the spring planting season gets here in the spring, I’m going to do me an experiment right here on my farm where I plant corn. I got me 200 acres and I’ll be setting one aside for my Q-link experiment. Yessir, what I’m going to do is set one Q-link at each of the four corners of the acre and one in the exact center. Then, at harvest time It will be easy for me to compare how many bushels I get from the Q-link acre to all of them others. Who knows, we may have a device that will be useful in fighting hunger acrost the world, particular in them poor countries like Africa and Asier.

    One last question before I clam up. I been noticing that my hens ain’t laying near as many eggs as they used to. Do you think muscle testing (y’know, like trying to pull down one of their wings might help me figure out what’s wrong? Of course, I’m not exactly sure where them acupuncture meridians are on a chicken, so I’m hoping you know.

    Yours in peace,

    Homer Pumphrey

  5. Le Canard Noir
    February 14, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    What wierd manner of blog spam was that?

  6. Anonymous
    February 21, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Dear Canard,

    I reckon I don’t rightly know the true meaning of what you call weird blog spam, so maybe I better hurry on up and explain what all I’m getting at about this here Q-link thingamabob. Besides making dear old Bobbi Sue happy again and growing more corn out in the back forty, I’m here to tell you ever since I got me one of them devices the hair on my head started growing back. Alls I do is hold it over my dome 30 seconds twice a day, and I’m telling you I went from balder than an eight ball to fuzzy as a bear. Except, once I made the mistake of holding the durn thing too close to my dear sweet Bobbi Sue, and now the poor thing
    is sprouting big black hairs right on out of her bosums. And, to make matters worst, they grow right on back jest as soon as I can pluck em out. Well. like my good oldpappy used to say, “You got to take the good with the bad.”

  7. antares42
    November 22, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Marvellous. Q-Link cure-all. I'd sure like to meet the old chap and treat him a coffee. (Unless that will upset his resonances and let Mr Pecker go limp again…)

    Most amused,
    Daniel

  8. MB
    August 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    “the quack seeks an infinite source of healing energy from spinning arms and language.”
    :-) well, actually there is something true there; only it’s not that simple.

    Therapeutic touch is real, as any good doctor will tell you, only it won’t be beams out of hands. Holistic – as in looking at your fingernails, hairs or skin peculiarities, not in using some mysterious life energies.

    “So, why do quacks keep on about it?”
    because people forget what they studied in high school, or never took the effort to understand in those times (yep, poor teachers), because they are fed up with doctors that don’t look at/ touch them, that give them always the quick, standard fix, since they are always in a hurry to finish in time (at least a quack takes care into personalizing advices). Because the mighty logical people, which understand, only have the smart smug for the poor “sheep”, without caring to explaining in simple words the alien , scientific concepts, and many more .
    Ah, not to forget, these quacks seem to take more care into the looks & they always seem happy (I know, advertising, and it works)

    There.

  9. Badly Shaved Monkey
    August 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    What?

  10. Mojo
    August 27, 2011 at 12:24 am

    Or indeed, where?

  11. Jmed
    January 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    A lot of drug therapy and surgical intervention is quackery, too. Just take a good look at the number of falsified studies that have lead to dangerous interventions widely supported by the medical community at large. Many of these have even resulted in unnecessary deaths. I’m not saying that there is no quackery in alternative medicine, only that there is an equal amount if not more in traditionally accepted medicine and, throughout history, always has been. By your definition, pilates, yoga, massage therapy, meditation, nutritional therapy, and even exercise in general would be quackery, so what would you have us all do, instead? Should we all just sit on our recliners watching diabetes 2 queen, Paula Dean on television teach us how to end up just like her, so we all can partake of the traditional medications she also exalts for paid compensation?

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