Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Midweek Cuckoo: George Goodheart and the Applied Kinesiologists

Dr. George J. Goodheart, Jr. DC (that's Doctor of Chiropractic) invented the practice of Applied Kinesiology in 1964. AK posits that diseases of the organs may be detected through changes in the strength of the muscles, detectable through muscle-testing procedures. It flows naturally from chiropractic because all that's been replaced in that last sentence is 'muscles' for 'bones'. That was Goodheart's big contribution to medicine. Both 'disciplines' believe in the existence of a life force that flows through channels or meridians of energy that more or less reflect the body's nervous system. Disease in one organ can, through affecting the complex structure of energy pathways, affect other areas of the body like the spine, or the muscles of the arm. Conversely, manipulation of the spine or the muscles of the arm may in turn either cure the disease or help doctors diagnose the disease.

If you think what i just wrote seems plausible, or if you think it doesn't matter that chiropractors and applied kinesiologists believe in magic and not medicine as long as it makes you feel better, you need to stop reading right now. As far as anyone with an iota of knowledge about biochemistry, anatomy or medicine is concerned, it's a load of bull. AK supporters often truck out all sorts of examples to 'prove' that it works - the achilles reflex test for thyroid gland disease is a common one - but fail to mention that for those tests used by real medical practitioners, there is a well documented anatomical reason for the seemingly unrelated chain of cause and effect. In applied kinesiology, there is no anatomical, biological or chemical connection made between cause and effect, except for these mysterious 'energy channels'. Nor is there any actual evidence that it works.

If the theory alone is not enough to warn you away from AK, then the methods used by the practitioners should be. The primary test used in AK is to have the patient hold a substance in their hand, over the organ in question, or place it under their tongue. The patient must then extend their left arm out to the left, parallel with the floor, and the practitioner then attempts to push the arm towards the ground. This is also done in a prone position, with the arm extended vertically upward and pushed down to a horizontal position. If the practitioner succeeds in pushing your arm down, the subtance you are holding or tasting is bad for your body. If you resist, the substance is good and is then prescribed. There are varying degrees between these two states, as there are varying degrees of 'goodness' and 'badness'. Applied kinesiology is so good at detecting what you need that you can even hold a piece of paper with the substance merely written on it, or your arm strength can be used to test the needs of your child who sits on your lap during the test. Seriously. They believe this.

Perhaps it would all be much more mysterious if it weren't for two things: firstly, the arm pushing technique is a trick, of the kind children learn at school and use to freak out their friends. Peter Bowditch of the Millenium Project has said:

"The parlour trick of pretending to test muscle strength by pushing against some muscle group and then doing it again under supposedly different circumstances is well known. I demonstrate it as a part of talks I give on quackery, where I ask for a volunteer from the audience and test how hard it is to push down an extended arm while they are holding something in the other hand. The test is then performed again with them holding something else and this time I can push the arm down easily. If the talk is being given in a dining room or in a convention hotel it is usually very easy to get packets of both sugar and an artificial sweetener, and I can show how sugar does not affect strength but aspartame makes you weak. If I ever have to demonstrate at a meeting of diet soft drink makers I will of course prove the opposite. It took very little time for me to learn how to do this, and I know of at least three methods of doing the trick."

Secondly, even if the practitioner is not a fraud and does not realise what he is doing, the principle of Ideomotor Action - the ability for the subconscious mind to move the body without the participation or even realisation of the conscious mind - is well known. Because the practitioner and the patient both have certain expectations as to what is good and bad for them, they will unwittingly conspire to obtain the desired outcome. In double blind tests, where neither the patient nor the practitioner know what the substance is, the results are utterly random. Dr. Ray Hyman describes one experiment he was involved in:

"The chiropractors presented as their major example a demonstration they believed showed that the human body could respond to the difference between glucose (a "bad" sugar) and fructose (a "good" sugar). The differential sensitivity was a truism among "alternative healers," though there was no scientific warrant for it. The chiropractors had volunteers lie on their backs and raise one arm vertically. They then would put a drop of glucose (in a solution of water) on the volunteer's tongue. The chiropractor then tried to push the volunteer's upraised arm down to a horizontal position while the volunteer tried to resist. In almost every case, the volunteer could not resist. The chiropractors stated the volunteer's body recognized glucose as a "bad" sugar. After the volunteer's mouth was rinsed out and a drop of fructose was placed on the tongue, the volunteer, in just about every test, resisted movement to the horizontal position. The body had recognized fructose as a "good" sugar.

"After lunch a nurse brought us a large number of test tubes, each one coded with a secret number so that we could not tell from the tubes which contained fructose and which contained glucose. The nurse then left the room so that no one in the room during the subsequent testing would consciously know which tubes contained glucose and which fructose. The arm tests were repeated, but this time they were double-blind -- neither the volunteer, the chiropractors, nor the onlookers was aware of whether the solution being applied to the volunteer's tongue was glucose or fructose. As in the morning session, sometimes the volunteers were able to resist and other times they were not. We recorded the code number of the solution on each trial. Then the nurse returned with the key to the code. When we determined which trials involved glucose and which involved fructose, there was no connection between ability to resist and whether the volunteer was given the "good" or the "bad" sugar.

"When these results were announced, the head chiropractor turned to me and said, "You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore. It never works!" At first I thought he was joking. It turned it out he was quite serious. Since he "knew" that applied kinesiology works, and the best scientific method shows that it does not work, then -- in his mind -- there must be something wrong with the scientific method. This is both a form of loopholism as well as an illustration of what I call the plea for special dispensation. Many pseudo- and fringe-scientists often react to the failure of science to confirm their prized beliefs, not by gracefully accepting the possibility that they were wrong, but by arguing that science is defective."

Applied Kinesiology is a load of bollocks, and anyone who can come up with this nonsense is a quack of note. As an aside, one of the great sadnesses about this proliferation of woowoo is that actual kinesiology - the study of the biology, anatomy and chemistry of human motion - is besmirched by this pathetic hanger-on.


Blogger Mr Angry said...

A Favourite trick of quacks, take a reasonably scientific idea and twist it. Then add some cheap parlour tricks for the rubes. *sigh* it must suck to be a doctor and have to explain to gullible patients why this stuff is crap.

May 03, 2006 3:20 PM  
Blogger moonflake said...

what amazes me is that some quacks manage to obfuscate their motives so well that they become almost accepted. for eg, i had no idea until recently that chiropractic wasn't just physiotherapy with another name. In physiotherapy, the doctor makes adjustments to your spine because the swelling from your wiplash is causing pain in your neck. In Chiropractic, they adjust your spine because it's the center of your energy system and the energy channels are blocked, which is what is causing pain in your neck. Just because they both make you feel better doesn't mean you should trust the guy who is just guessing and gets it right, but when they don't get lucky things can go horribly wrong.

May 03, 2006 3:39 PM  

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