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.