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Hands Licensed to Kill PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Linda Rosa   

It's hard to keep bad ideas down.  With the recent publication of an NCCAM-funded study, Therapeutic Touch (TT) — where nurses wave their hands above their patient to manipulate their "human energy fields" — seems to be trying to revive its early glory days with a return to the petri dish. When Bernard Grad (McGill University) claimed plants fed healer-treated water produced extra chlorophyll, TT's inventor and NYU nursing professor Dolores Krieger set out to see if laying on hands could do the same to hemoglobin (1975). That launched TT's invasion into nursing as the profession's premier quackery.

TT would go on to produce over two decades of unconvincing clinical trials before young Emily Rosa dealt the practice a body blow in 1998 when she published the results of her experiment testing TT's basic tenet that TT practitioner's could detect the human energy field (now redubbed the "biofield") with their hands. (For a description of Emily's findings, see QuackWatch.

Fast forward ten years.  A team at the University of Connecticut, led by cell biologist Gloria Gronowicz, publish the results of their study that had gone fishing for any statistical evidence that TT might have an effect on human cell cultures.  The NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) dished out $250,000 of tax-payer money for a "study" with an absurd premise and without any testable hypothesis.

The results of this (pilot) study were divided up between two journals, with different author line-ups:

Gronowicz G, Jhaveri A, Clarke LW, Aronow MS, Smith TH. "Therapeutic Touch Stimulates the Proliferation of Human Cells in Culture," The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. April 1, 2008, 14(3): 233-239.

Jhaveri A, Walsh SJ, Wang Y, McCarthy M, Gronowicz G. "Therapeutic touch affects DNA synthesis and mineralization of human osteoblasts in culture." J Orthop Res. 2008 Nov;26 (11):1541-6.

To the casual reader, this may give the impression of two separate studies -- and perhaps even the impression of that all-important step of independent replication.

In this study, three registered nurses, each with more than five years experience practicing TT on patients (they also passed a "TT screening test" at UC's Health Center), treated cell cultures as they might a human, for a total of ten minutes at a time.  They "centered" themselves, and with their hands four to ten inches away from "the area of interest," did an assessment of the culture's biofield, "unruffled" that imagined field, and continued to treat the culture with "positive intentions."  In the JOR paper, the practitioners additionally reassessed the cells before ending the session.

Control cultures came out of the incubator for the same time, and "selected experiments" used placebo or sham TT treatments by people unfamiliar with TT who were taught to go through the motions of TT while counting backwards from 1000 (to keep them from accidentally intending anything positive towards the cells).  While the assessments of culture growth were blinded, there is no mention that the TT nurses were blinded to the type of cells put before them, e.g. normal vs. cancerous.

RESULTS

The JACM article concluded that "a specific pattern of TT treatments produced significant increase in proliferation" of three types of human cells in culture.  That "specific pattern" was their finding that four ten-minute sessions of TT in two weeks resulted in significantly increased growth rates.  But numerous lesser or greater doses of TT failed to produce significance (see box).

No Significance

Fibroblasts:
2, 3, 4 times in one week
6, 8, 10 times in two weeks

Tenocytes:
2,3 times in one week
6, 8 times in two weeks

Osteoblasts:
2,3,4,5 times in one week
6, 10 times in two weeks
Significance

Fibroblasts:
5 times in one week
4 times in two weeks

Tenocytes:
4 times in one week
4 times in two weeks

Osteoblasts:
no times in one week
4, 8 times in two weeks

The researchers therefore concluded that the proliferation effect of TT is likely dose related, but not in the usual way we think about dose-related treatments, where larger doses can cause more harmful effects.  With no hypothesis to test, researchers were free to cherry pick the data for desirable conclusions.

Meanwhile, to explain away some good showings for the cultures receiving sham TT, the researchers suggested that the real TT practitioners "may have conditioned the room so that the sham treatment cultures were affected." Apparently any such conditioning didn't extend to the controls - or to any other organisms in the room.  Were there bigger flies or mice around the lab? Did the research assistants need bigger shoes by the end of the study?

More interesting to skeptics are the data selected for publication in JOR, a real peer-reviewed journal.  There the researchers compared TT's effect on normal human osteoblasts (bone cells) and with cancerous bone cells.  The study concluded that by several measures that TT appears to increase human bone cell proliferation, while decreasing the growth of the cancer cells.  In other words, the "positive intentions" of the TT practitioners helped the normal ("good") cells and harmed the cancer ("bad") cells.

Aside from the serious concerns critics can have over this study's protocols and selection of appropriate measurements, and how TT proponents will doubtlessly use this much touted study to try to re-establish TT within nursing, there are at least some fun aspects for skeptics.

MUSINGS

First, TT proponents might be alarmed to realize that in studying TT's effects on cells and not whole people, they are being – gasp, gasp – evil reductionists.

Second, this study suggests that the biofield yields easily to the intentionality of TT practitioners, potentially giving them tremendous power over biological systems. Depending on the conscious or unconscious intentions of the practitioners, such powers could harm or even kill!  Any TT nurses who take this study seriously should be reminded that patients should be protected from such a force, rather than be subjected to it cavalierly for mere pain or stress relief.  The lesson here:  Don't ever annoy your nurse!   Or you may get an extra ear.

Of course, it was maddening that the TT practitioners weren't blinded and asked to "assess" what cell type they had before them, e.g. normal vs. cancer; skin vs. bone.   And it would be fascinating to learn what they thought they were doing by focusing "positive intentions" on cancer cells.  ("Positively die, bad cells!")

Gronowicz, the"principal investigator," is being characterized as an apostate CAM skeptic. The Hartford Courant wrote: "Gloria Gronowicz is about the last person you'd expect to put stock in the touchy-feely discipline of energy medicine.... [She] was in the doubting camp." In reality, however, Gronowicz is a faculty member for UC's "Programs in Complementary and Integrative Medicine," teaching medical students"evidence-based" CAM.  She is arguably among the first people NCCAM might turn to a study like this.

It is curious that Gronowicz is listed last among JOR authors.  The lead author is instead Ankur Jhaveri, her lab assistant with only a BA in marketing.  That might account for the confusing data, as well as explain why the study feels like a sales job.

— Linda Rosa, RN

References:
http://www.uchc.edu/ocomm/newsarchive/news08/jul08/healing.html
"Study Entices Thoughts Of Hands-On Healing" (Hartford Courant)

http://picim.uchc.edu/faculty/profile_gronowicz.html
Faculty bio for "Programs in Complementary and Integrative Medicine"

THE HUNT FOR SKEPTIC NURSES

Linda and Emily Rosa are trying to locate any rational
nurses who are skeptical about "complementary and
alternative medicine."

If you know of any such person, write them at: 
rosa@4dv.net.


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Comments (21)Add Comment
It just gets worse!
written by Willy K, December 23, 2008
A few years ago a co-worker told me how homeopathy helped him. I had heard about homeopathy before that but never investigated it. So I read up on it and was shocked how anyone with an ounce of sense could believe such nonsense.

Well... reading about "Therapeutic Touch" tops homeopathy for stupidity! I can't get a handle on how stupid people can be, next thing people will be telling me is that a person can be healed remotely via strangers "praying" for them!

Oh wait... that remote praying nonsense has been scientifically tested with the cooperation of some church and the results were.... NO helpful effects whatsoever!

Willy K
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The Touch?
written by Ian Mason, December 23, 2008
Personally I have felt the effect of a laying on of hands: exstacy, seeing the light etc. but as it was at the end of a one and a half hour relaxation massage and the hands were on my forehead, I presume that it was the result of a static charge running through the frontal lobes. And sod the esoteric theories, relaxation massage does work and is perfectly natural, not an alternative. This TT malarky sounds like all the other pony and trap the unhappy and desperate pay good money for to little avail. Still, Freud said that if you don't pay it don't work. smilies/tongue.gif
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written by Bruno, December 23, 2008
Are any of those journals peer-reviewed? The simple appearance of a table such as the one shown above under "results" should've set off every statistician's alarm. "Significant" is usually taken to mean p
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written by Bruno, December 23, 2008
(oops, forum software chokes on "less than" sign, moderator please delete previous post)

Are any of those journals peer-reviewed? The simple appearance of a table such as the one shown above under "results" should've set off every statistician's alarm. "Significant" is usually taken to mean p less than 5%. If you do two tests, the probability of one of them hitting p less than 5% is... 10% (approximately). This table lists FOUR test rounds for each test object. Significant... NOT!
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written by BillyJoe, December 24, 2008
I wouldn't mind being therapeutically touched by a nurse, except that it's just a tease because they don't actually touch you.

smilies/angry.gif
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written by TDjazz, December 24, 2008
When I was freelancing a few years ago, I copyedited and proofread nursing manuals for a major publisher. When the writers and editors decided on putting in sections on TT and alternative medicine, I had to keep my opinions to myself--I needed the work. It was disheartening to see chapters on woo woo alongside legitimate nursing methods and procedures.

I got the feeling that the publisher and editors didn't really want to include TT material, but they had to pander to the small faction in the medical community that was embracing this nonsense.
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 24, 2008
I'd like to say what a wonderful idea it is to have an RN 'on staff' and I very much hope to hear more from Ms. Rosa on skeptical treatment (pun intended) of medical and therapeutic issues. As she is no doubt well aware, TT is far from the only example of woo in nursing and other medical disciplines.
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written by Roadtoad, December 25, 2008
As the cost of health care increases, in part due to the continued advance of actual knowledge, it becomes more than a little depressing to read that this kind of pseudoscience continues. With resources squeezed tighter, particularly in a recession, the waste that this represents is embarassing and disgraceful. I can only wish that it were possible rescind the credentials of people who substituted this drivel for actual science. Unfortunately, that won't happen until it winds up killing someone.
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 25, 2008
People have been killed, directly and indirectly, and it hasn't affected anything.
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written by BillyJoe, December 25, 2008
I see I have 7 negative votes.
Am I right in deducing from this that at least 7 readers here support the advertising of Acupuncture, Natural Therapy and Energy Therapy?
Just a means to an end?

smilies/sad.gif
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 26, 2008
No, Billy, it means 7 people didn't like your post. You may draw what inferences you want from it.

Remember when I asked you if you'd been a voluntary hall monitor in high school? That was a sarcastic reference to your habit of somehow assuming Swift and its comment sections are all about you, as evidenced by your self-appointed policing of the comments sections. In another comments section you take a poster to task for not posting as you feel he should (it's all about Billy Joe!). You tell him where he should take his posts, what questions he should ask, how and when he should hypothesize and theorize, all sorts of directives for which you are neither qualified nor empowered to offer.

So, to answer your question, it may well be people voting negative on your posts because you are becoming an increasingly annoying poster, self-absorbed, and self-assigned as some sort of Comment Section Hall Monitor.

Most people understand that when a website accepts advertising - often an economic necessity for a nonprofit - they don't get to control what sort of ads appear. Most people understand that the appreance of those ads doesn't mean endorsement of the products. I suspect most posters, like me, simply ignore them.

But, by all means, keep trying to get Swift, the comments section, and Mr. Randi all arranged precisely as you think they should be and then maybe you will be at peace.
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written by Roadtoad, December 26, 2008
@Cuddy Joe: Noted, Amigo. I should have been better aware of the deaths that have occurred indirectly.
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written by sfdyoung, December 26, 2008
Now that (cough cough) highly respected researchers are conducting these (cough cough)rigorous and controlled experiments, we should start referring to the field as Scientific Complementary and Alternative Medicine - or SCAM.
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written by sfdyoung, December 26, 2008
Willy K, homeopathy DOES help someone - the homeopath.
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written by BillyJoe, December 26, 2008
Cuddy Joe,

Thanks for saying exactly what is on your mind. smilies/smiley.gif

But you wouldn't be trying to control what I can and cannot say in the commentary section would you? smilies/wink.gif

Hey look, I don't mind if someone doesn't like my post, but I would like to know why. Otherwise, how can I improve (or defend myself).

You tell him where he should take his posts, what questions he should ask, how and when he should hypothesize and theorize, all sorts of directives for which you are neither qualified nor empowered to offer.

Actually I was trying to be helpful here.
Do you really think that James Randi was going to engage him in converstation on that topic? Or any one else? In fact, everyone else completely ignored his post. I suggested - I thought helpfully - that he would be better off going to the forums in search of his answers. Also, knowing what hard task masters some forumites are, I helpfully suggested he read extensively about his subject first. I also cautioned him against advancing theories in an area where he has limited knowledge - because forumites can be absolutely ruthless with crackpot ideas!

Most people understand that when a website accepts advertising - often an economic necessity for a nonprofit - they don't get to control what sort of ads appear. Most people understand that the appreance of those ads doesn't mean endorsement of the products. I suspect most posters, like me, simply ignore them.

But I think they also understood that it would attract ads like these. I'm glad you can ignore them though, but there is a reason why those ads are placed here - people click on them! And this site is sending them there!

BJ
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written by Cuddy Joe, December 26, 2008
Billy, your safety sash is crooked.
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written by BillyJoe, December 26, 2008
Cuddly, I'm not good at riddicules. smilies/grin.gif
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Letter to AARP Magazine Re Alternative Chronic Pain Treatments
written by mc.deaver@gmail.com, December 26, 2008
The Jan/Feb 2009 issue of AARP Magazine published "Drug-Free Remedies for Chronic Pain". Overall a good article, however on page 30 of the magazine, in a table of various drug-free remedies, they present several pseudo-scientific claims as known facts. For example, Reiki (a.k.a. Therapeutic Touch) and its pseudo-science is mentioned.

The article is on-line here: http://www.aarpmagazine.org/he..._pain.html

My rebuttal email to the magazine's editor is below. We'll see if anything comes of my attempt at setting the record straight.

--------------------

Dear Editor:

Re: "Drug-Free Remedies for Chronic Pain", Jan/Feb 2009 AARP Magazine issue:

Page 30 lists many drug-free pain remedies. The wording in the table
would indicate that these are all legitimate therapies; however, some
as presented have no basis in science for their claims. A few of them
will give relief due to the placebo effect, a few others will give
relief but don't rely on the pseudo-science their backers claim is
necessary.

Two examples known to me:

1. Acupuncture: From your page 30, "... insertion of hair-thin
needles into points along the body's meridians ... stimulate the flow
of energy [Qi] throughout the body ...". But Qi energy and meridians
have no basis in reality and have never been supported scientifically.

Study after study has found that insertion of acupuncture needles in
the Chinese traditional pressure points has no more effect than random
needling. And so while acupuncture is known to provide pain relief in
some patients, the pseudo-science behind this therapy is pure bunk.

(Source: dcscience.net/open-letter-eslea.pdf, Mike Eslea, University
of Central Lancashire).

2. Reiki: From your page 30, "... Moving ... hands over the energy
fields of the ... body to increase energy flow and restore balance."
There is absolutely no science that supports this statement. Reiki
does nothing but induce the placebo effect in patients who believe it
will work.

The placebo effect should not be cavalierly dismissed, as it can
induce relief, but you should not promote the pseudo-science behind
Reiki as if it were proven fact.

(Source: www.randi.org/site/index.php/s...7.html#i7,
page from the web site of the James Randi Educational Foundation).

In summary, your article is on the whole a good one, offering patients
with chronic pain alternatives to drugs to consider. But please don't
present pseudo-science claims as if they were facts in your articles.
Please do the necessary research in the future before articles such as
this go to print.

--------------------
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written by BillyJoe, December 26, 2008
The problem with the placebo effect is that it works only if you believe the original claim.
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I've never paid any attention to any of the ads on the JREF home page
written by Trish, December 30, 2008
If it's legally permissible to advertise hogwash, specifically medical-flavored hogwash, the audience least likely to fall for it would be the readers of the JREF website. I find it ironic, humorous & counter-productive for the sellers of such trash to waste their money advertising to the likes of us. Plus, it's that much advertising that isn't going to be targeted to more vulnerable persons.
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