Mass Media Bunk is a commentary on articles in the mass media that provide false, misleading, or deceptive information regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events.
July 27, 2005. Syracuse University (SU) has announced that Douglas Biklen, Ph.D., will now lead its School of Education. Biklen, who has a B.A. in history from Bowdoin College and a Ph.D. in social studies from Syracuse, is credited with bringing facilitated communication to the United States in 1990. He founded the Facilitated Communication Institute at SU's School of Education in 1992.* Biklen leaves his post as a professor in the school's Cultural Foundations and Teaching and Leadership programs to take over as dean of the school.
Though Biklen is not a trained medical doctor, he has become a world authority (in the eyes of some) in the field of autism. He is a member of the executive board of the Autism National Committee. In his latest book Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone (2005, NYU Press), he contests the view that people with severe autism are incapable of communicating sophisticated examples of knowledge and literacy. He defends facilitated communication as a miraculous tool for opening up the door to the mind of the autistic. Biklen co-produced "Autism is a World," written by Sue Rubin, a very bright autistic college student who was 26 years old when she wrote about her life as a autistic person. Rubin began using facilitated communication when she was 13, but she has learned to type independently without physical support.* Biklen seems to think that Rubin is the typical person with autism: The world sees her as retarded and incapable of sophisticated thought or communication, but all it takes is facilitated communication to discover the brilliance hiding in the darkness. This message is one of great hope to the parents of severely disabled children. The film was nominated for an Academy Award as a documentary.
One reader of these pages likened the appointment of Biklen to head the School of Education to putting Kevin Trudeau in charge of the medical school. That may be a bit harsh, but the appointment is something potential faculty and students should consider before heading to Syracuse University.
I haven't heard from Newsweek. If anyone from the magazine responds, I'll post it.
When I e-mailed James Randi about Trudeau's rising from the ashes once again, he replied that he was equally outraged when he went to his local Walgreen's pharmacy only to find a stack of Trudeau books for sale by the cash register. (Pause for laughter at the irony of a drug store hawking a book that tells the reader drugs are a scam pushed on the unwary by the medical/drug/government cartel.)
Despite being fined millions of dollars and having signed an agreement with the FTC not to make "disease or health benefits claims for any type of product, service, or program," Trudeau continues to make such claims in his books and on his website. His infomercials with Barefoot Bob continue to find their way onto TV. Is the FTC that powerless? Would filing a complaint with the FTC do any good? I have no idea, but for those who are so inclined to let the FTC know that you are not pleased that Trudeau continues to flout the law and flaunt his arrogance, here is a link to the FTC complaint form. Do not enter your social security number on this form unless you are complaining about a credit report. (The FTC will take complaints from anyone, anywhere on the planet. You don't have to be an American citizen or live in the US to fill out the form.)
The following information, mostly from Network Solutions, may help you with filling out the form:
The FTC will not accept the form without an entry for how the company initially contacted you. There are a number of choices you have here, including "unknown." I first saw Trudeau on an infomercial.
I would leave the next 5 items blank. For the name of the representative or salesperson, put in the name of Kevin Trudeau. In the Explain Your Problem box I put:
My hope is that they will throw the book at Mr. Trudeau, but if they do I wouldn't be surprised to find this master marketeer* catching it and throwing it back in their face.
* A marketeer is a cross between a marketing whiz and a racketeer.
update (July 28): Here is the response I received from the FTC:
For those who wish to complain to Newsweek, send to email@example.com. Here is a template you can cut and paste:
Re: the full page ad for Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures book on page 45 of the July 25, 2005, issue:
Last year, Kevin Trudeau agreed to pay the FTC $2 million to settle charges that he falsely claimed that a coral calcium product can cure cancer and other serious diseases and that a purported analgesic called Biotape can permanently cure or relieve severe pain. According to an FTC press release, Trudeau was banned "from appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public, except for truthful infomercials for informational publications. In addition, Trudeau cannot make disease or health benefits claims for any type of product, service, or program in any advertising, including print, radio, Internet, television, and direct mail solicitations, regardless of the format and duration." [emphasis added]
Why is Newsweek helping this man violate the terms of his agreement with the FTC while allowing him to promote his natural cures rubbish?
July 15. 2005. The Lancet has published the results of the second part of a study on healing prayer by Dr. Mitch Krucoff et al. The first part was published in 2001 in the American Heart Journal and is usually referred to as the MANTRA study. The new study is being called MANTRA II. The first part of Krucoff's research was called "Integrative Noetic Therapies as Adjuncts to Percutaneous Intervention During Unstable Coronary Syndromes: The Monitoring & Actualization of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA). The new study is called "Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study." The grand conclusion? "Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterisation or percutaneous coronary intervention." What a shock!
Noetic intervention is a bit of jargon that means just about any intervention except surgery, drugs, or any recognizable medical device. Therapeutic touch, wearing a pyramid hat or foil-lined beanie to ward off evil rays, chanting, meditating, and praying would be examples of noetic interventions. Of course this bit of jargon is deceiving because it assumes that these activities are really interventions, rather than idle and irrelevant behaviors.
The first study involved 750 angioplasty patients in nine hospitals who were randomly divided into two groups of 375. Both groups were given normal medical treatment. One of the groups was prayed for by 12 groups who followed various religions: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. These noetic interveners were alerted by E-mail as soon as possible after the patient was enrolled in the trial. This was a double blind study: none of the hospital staff, the patients, or the patients' relatives were aware of which 375 patients were receiving prayer (i.e., the noetic intervention). The patients were studied for six months to see how they progressed. The data showed no difference in outcome between the two groups. Prayer neither helped nor hindered their recovery. (See BBC News and Religious Tolerance.org for more details of the MANTRA study.)
The new study was very similar to the first and produced identical results: prayer neither helped nor hindered anything of interest. However, the new study added a couple of interesting (to somebody) noetic interventions: The 748 angioplasy patients were divided into four groups: 192 received the standard care, 182 were assigned prayer, 185 got bedside music, imagery and touch therapy (MIT therapy), and 189 got both prayer and MIT therapy. Patients receiving MIT therapy were taught how to relax their breathing and told to imagine a beautiful, peaceful place while listening to either classical, easy listening, or country music. The therapist then applied 21 "healing touch" hand positions, each for 45 seconds. The patient then wore headphones with musical background during the heart procedure.
During the first two years of the study, the name, age and illness of each patient assigned prayer therapy was given to each of 12 prayer groups. The prayer groups chose their own prayers, and prayed for their assigned patients for 5 days to 30 days. Patients were not told that people were praying for them. In the third and final year of the study, an additional 12 prayer groups were added and asked to pray for the prayers [i.e., the noetic interveners] of the original 12 groups, which researchers described in the study as "high-dose" praying. Skeptics might describe it as high-dose magical thinking. In any case, there was no significant effect when a new batch of noetic interveners intervened with the first batch of noetic interveners. In short, intervening on behalf of the interveners did not produce any interesting statistical data that could be mined.
Carey Sargent of Bloomberg reports that Krucoff claims that the MIT therapy appeared to cut the rate of death six months after the procedure, whatever that means. MIT therapy was also associated with significantly less "pre-procedural distress," the authors said. Having undergone a couple of surgical procedures myself, I could have told them that it would be beneficial to help the patient relax before doing the procedure. I can also assure you that listening to country music or having some New Age shaman dressed as a nurse waving her hands in the air would have increased my pre-procedural distress. Some people might find it comforting to have a stranger waving her hands in the air and uttering gibberish while about to be probed or have an organ removed. I wouldn't. Krucoff is said to be unsure whether MIT lessened pre-procedural distress because of something in the healing hands magic or the music, or whether it was the "presence of a compassionate human being at the bedside." Another alternative is that the statistic might be a fluke.
In its report on the MANTRA II study, Sargent writes:
That study has been totally discredited, yet Sargent makes no mention of this fact.
In an editorial accompanying Krucoff's study, The Lancet said: "The contribution that hope and belief make to a personal understanding of illness cannot be dismissed so lightly. They are proper subjects for science, even while transcending its known bounds." Maybe so, but these sentiments have nothing to do with the healing prayer study, since the sick people didn't know they were being prayed for. The only hopes and beliefs that might be affected by healing prayer are the hopes and beliefs of the ones doing the study and perhaps the hopes of The Lancet editorial board that publishing this kind of nonsense might attract more subscribers.