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Column on treatment lacks proof

After reading Gary Huerta's column on healing and "energy work" ("A Balcony View: Mental healing without the guilt trips," Oct. 26), I sent him an e-mail asking a simple question: What kind of energy is he talking about?

Is it thermal? Potential? Gravitational? Kinetic? Light? Sound? Electromagnetic? In a sense, my simple question about energy was rhetorical, and I got the answer I was expecting: Huerta doesn't know.

Through the tools of science, we know a lot about many different kinds of energies. They can all be measured, described mathematically, and their effects observed. If the "energy" that Huerta speaks of cannot be defined, measured, or its effects observed, then it doesn't exist. We live in a universe where observable effects result only from physical causes.

The vague discussion of "energy," "energy channels," "luminous energy fields" — and words like "quantum" used bereft of their actual meaning merely to sound mysterious and scientific — sets off my hogwash detector.

You might as well be talking about crystals and pyramids. Huerta is giving sick, injured and suffering people the false hope that alternative treatments may help them, absent any proof that that is true.

Thousands of people are injured or killed every year in this country because they decide to treat cancer or leukemia or diabetes with alternative treatments, instead of treatments that are known to be effective. In fact, the very thing that makes a medical treatment "alternative" rather than "conventional" is that (a) it has never been tested for effectiveness, or (b) it has been tested, and proven not effective above placebo level (e.g., Reiki, acupuncture, homeopathy, etc.).

If someone claims to be able to find objects buried underground by feeling the vibrations of a forked stick, that is a claim that can be tested. We don't need to take the dowser's word for it — after all, he may be wrong even if he sincerely and truly believes himself to be right. We can take him out to a football field where we've buried eight pots of gold (or water, or whatever he dowses for) in random locations, and see if he can find them.

This experiment has been performed many times, and no well-controlled study has ever shown better than chance results. We therefore know that dowsing is not effective, no matter how many dowsers and their fans sincerely believe otherwise.

To quote Richard Feynman: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

I sincerely hope that no one inspired to seek alternative treatment by Huerta's column ends up dead or injured as a result.

Bill Weisman


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