Thursday, December 21, 2006

Woo invades Music City USA

This isn’t the West coast. It’s Nashville, Tennessee, the buckle of the Bible Belt. A recent article in the Tennessean profiles the Nima Holistic Wellness clinic in Nashville and the Center for Integrative Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center just a few blocks away. Dainia Baugh, M.D., medical director of the Nima clinic, practices Reiki in order to “move energy through the body” according to the article.

What caught my eye was the picture of the pendulum used during the Reiki treatment which, according to the caption, swings in accordance with the flow of the patient’s life-force energy. Now if the body’s energy field moves a pendulum that energy can be harnessed. Use the pendulum’s motion to turn a small generator and store the electricity thus produced. We’re not talking about a large quantity of energy in one Reiki session---maybe enough to charge a patient’s hearing aid battery.

Dr. Baugh’s credentials are impressive. She’s a diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a former assistant professor of Medicine at Vandy. What do such mainstream credentials bring to the world of woo? According to Dr. Baugh “….our approach to alternative medicine is a little different because it's more scientific.”

Well, if they want to be scientific I suggest they make some controlled observations on the motion of that pendulum. They could start by suspending it over a patient from an inanimate structure rather than the hand of the practitioner. Suspend another pendulum over an unoccupied exam table to control for ambient air currents. Repeat the experiment in other settings with independent observers. It wouldn’t be rocket science. It might make a nice junior high school science project, but it this stuff really works there’s a Nobel Prize in it for someone along with a million bucks in the Randi Challenge.

It’s mysterious to how the energy works. As the Reiki practitioner’s hands move this way and that over the patient how does one keep track of where the energy goes? The Tennessean article offers us hard data on the energy flow of Dr. Baugh’s patient. She lost 20 pounds. If stored as fat that translates into 81,720 Kcal or 34,183,280 joules of energy which left her body. That’s 9.5 kilowatt-hours---not bad if you can harness it.

But I digress. I won’t be convinced until I see that pendulum experiment. I confess I’m not optimistic. I think it’s all woo. The launch of the Vanderbilt center is disturbing. Vanderbilt is on the cutting edge of science yet very traditional. I thought it would be the last bastion of scientific integrity, the last place on the planet where you’d find woo. Is there any hope?

No comments: