New Age energy workers insist that the cause of all of mankind’s ills are related to imbalances in an alleged universal life force energy known as chi, qi, prana, vital force, etc. Thanks to the sophistication of modern science, it was easy to prove that this energy doesn’t exist, so easy, in fact, that a nine-year-old girl thoroughly debunked the claims of these “energy workers” in a fourth-grade science fair project!
In 1996, a fourth-grader from Loveland, Colorado named Emily Rosa became fascinated when she heard the co-inventor of Therapeutic Touch (TT), Dolores Krieger, claim that people are able to feel the human energy field (HEF) and that they could be taught to manipulate this to bring about healing. Nurses described how HEF felt, calling it hot, sticky, tingling, and/or throbbing. Being the daughter of a nurse and a scientist, her interest was piqued. “I wanted to see if they could really feel something,” the girl said.
With the help of her parents, she constructed a study involving 21 TT practitioners in which each therapist sat across from Emily at a table with their arms out flat, the palms facing upward. A cardboard partition placed over their forearms blocked any view of their hands or Emily.
“The test consisted of Emily placing one of her hands a few inches above a therapist’s right or left hand, as determined by the flip of a coin. If the therapist could sense which hand better than 50 percent of the time, that would support the theory. Fourteen practitioners got 10 tries each, while seven got 20 tries,” said a report in the Bangor Daily News. The results were only 44 percent who could “feel” Emily’s hand, a figure that is actually less than what would be expected by chance alone.
“They were correct about half the time — about what you’d expect from guessing,” Emily said. “Of course, they came up with excuses. One said the room was too cold. Another complained that the air conditioning blew the force field away.”
Her science fair experiment was a success. Because her mother was a practicing nurse working in a hospital where, much to her displeasure, Therapeutic Touch was being offered, she felt obliged to report the outcome of this simple test.
One thing led to the other and before long, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) wanted to know more about the study. Aided by her father, a scientist, Emily wrote up the study and submitted it. Much to everyone’s surprise, a panel of 15 JAMA editors approved the paper for publication. This made Emily Rosa the youngest scientist ever to publish an article in one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world.
Because Therapeutic Touch was all the rage at the time, and this discrediting study received broad publicity, attacks on Emily Rosa came fast and furious.
For example, because both of her parents were opponents of TT, the study was declared biased. While it is necessary to control for bias in scientific studies, this doesn’t explain why the study passed muster with 15 JAMA editors who were well aware of her parents disapproval of energy medicine but still regarded the results as significant.
Others claimed that some of the TT providers included in the study were not representative of the field. However, as this article points out, “There is no ‘certification’ process for TT practitioners, so it is not possible in testing to do anything but take their statement about their abilities at face value.”
Because of the damage this publication did to New Age energy work, providers pivoted to a new explanation – that one didn’t have to “feel” the HEF in order for it to work, thereby rendering the results of this test irrelevant. Unfortunately, “for 25 years TT practitioners undeniably have claimed to feel the HEF and to assess and manipulate it. It is the raison d’être of TT (as applied energy work). A quarter-century of conducting clinical studies and book-writing by TT advocates makes it clear that (until this experiment came along) detecting the energy field was an indispensable part of TT practice,” wrote Emily’s father, Larry Sarner.
Some went so far as to claim that Emily’s energy field was all wrong; her hands were too cold or bioenergetically dead; she had a “wild pubescent field” or a “too perfect field” meaning she was too healthy; or she deliberately oppressed or misdirected her energy field to fool the practitioners.
The criticism went on and on, and still does to this day. As difficult as it is to believe, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, Healing Touch, Hands of Light, and other similar energy based “massage” therapies are being offered in hospitals today by healthcare practitioners, even though there is no evidence that any of them work.
“This raises an interesting question,” writes Dr. Edzard Ernst in his book, Trick or Treatment. “Why is it that a nine-year-old child was capable of testing and disproving the claims of therapeutic touch, while grown adults are completely fooled by these healers?”
Over the years, there have been many studies looking at the effectiveness of energy based massage therapies, but the quality of the evidence in favor of these practices is rated as “low” or “very low” as of 2018.
In the meantime, 22 years later, the findings of this young girl who is now a psychologist and scientist herself, have yet to be overturned.
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