Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Woo for credit, or the woo dreams are made of

One of the banes of a physician’s existence is not so much keeping up with changes in how medicine is practiced, studying new treatments, and following the medical literature. After all, that comes with the territory; it’s part of the job. Failure to keep up is to become increasingly ineffective and even to risk malpractice lawsuits. No, what’s a major bane is to document that you’ve kept up. In other words, it’s to get enough continuing medical education (CME) credits to be able to renew your medical license. In my state, I have to get 100 CME credits in two years in order to renew my medical license. Actually, how much of a bane this is depends upon a number of factors. If, like me, you’re in an academic institution, it’s usually not too hard to accumulate these credits, because there are conferences going on all the time. Heck, if I just attend the Department of Surgery Grand Rounds conference every week, that’s around 40 credits right there. But, of course, I go to meetings, too, because, like all academic surgeons I have to present my work at meetings. A couple of meetings a year are usually not too hard for me to manage, and that can pretty much put me over the top.

However, for physicians in private practice, a lot of it depends on whether (1) you have partners that will cover for you as you go to various conferences to scarf up some CME credits and (2) how lucrative your practice is. No doubt you’ve heard of the infamous doctor heading out to all sorts of exotic locations to attend conferences. However, for physicians in less lucrative practices, finding the time and the money to go to decent educational conferences can sometimes be a problem. Worse, online CME sorts of activities are a lot less fun than heading out somewhere to brush up on the latest controversies in hernia repair, for instance. They actually require you to read and work! We can’t have any of that!

Fortunately, Dr. R. W. once again has come through. This time, he’s pointed me in the direction of the ultimate conference for easy CME credits. It’s a veritable conference of the most concentrated woo out there. And it’s happening this weekend, when, for three days, Victoria, British Columbia will become the epicenter of woo in the world. After all, it’s going to be hosting the Body Heals Conference.

Holy woo, Batman!

You know this conference is going to be chock-full of amazing woo by one fact and one fact alone: Adam DreamHealer is the featured keynote speaker and biggest draw. I’ve heard of Adam before, but perhaps you haven’t. Get a load of his biographical sketch from the Body Heals website:

Adam is a gifted distant energy healer and best-selling author of three books about his work…In his books and workshops he explains how our minds, through intention, directly affect our immune systems. We each can develop skills to direct energy in re-establishing health, as we seek to achieve a higher level of consciousness. The academic theories of quantum physics come to life with his accounts of his direct experience of the interconnectedness we all share.

Adam uses energy healing in a unique way to merge the auras of all participants with healing intentions. Then he uses holographic views to energetically affect through intention those present. His full-day workshop contains two group treatments. Adam’s workshops are participatory. Through the use of visualizations he empowers individuals to use their own healing abilities.

Adam brings a diverse yet youthful perspective to health and well-being. Endorsements of Adam’s work have been received from many people including Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, rock star Ronnie Hawkins and Qigong Grandmaster Dr. Effie Chow. Dr. Mitchell has been Adam’s science mentor since their meeting four years ago. Ronnie Hawkins provides an interesting account of Adam helping him to heal from terminal pancreatic cancer, as told in the book, DreamHealer. In 2002, Adam had the honor of being presented with the “Young Visionary Award” at the World Qigong Congress. His website is full of testimonials from hundreds of people from all walks of life. His message is simple, yet his journey is one which ultimately affects us all.

This workshop that he’ll be giving is described thusly:

The main objective of this workshop is to empower individuals to use their own healing abilities. Adam will share his insights on this topic and share his own healing abilities with all attending. We would like to impress upon everyone that what Adam does is not mystical or magical. It is all based on science. It is only mystical in the sense that we do not know enough about the science behind it. Everyday there are more studies available, which help us understand this awesome power that we all possess. If there is any healing done at this workshop it is done by you. Adam guides you in the right direction and gives you some basic tools for improving and maintaining your health. Adam shows us how to take more effective control of our immune system and healing abilities through intention. The workshop treatments involves Adam’s healing intentions, your intentions and the intentions of all those around you.

Wow. No wonder he’s so popular. (His workshop is sold out.)

Even if he’s full of crap (actually, there’s no “if” about it), Adam clealry knows the first rule of the carny psychic or con man: Always flatter your marks and tell them that they’re doing it (whatever “it” is.) Of course, you nasty skeptics out there should realize that this is not woo. Oh, no. It’s real science, maaaannn! At least that’s what Adam tells us. And, hey, he mentioned physics and quantum theory; so it must be science, right? Of course it is. And like all good woo, “intent” appears to be everything. In other words, if you want it badly enough it will happen. It would appear that the wishful thinking that is the very essence The Secret has nothing on Adam.

It turns out that Adam made his name in woo by claiming all sorts of distant healing powers. In particular, he is known for supposedly having “cured” rock legend Ronnie Hawkins of terminal pancreatic cancer. More on that later. But before we get back to Adam and his Technicolor Woo, more on the other sorts of woo that you–yes, you!–could experience at the Body Heals conference and get CME credit to learn about it, to boot. Adam is merely the pièce de résistance of woo. You could look at him as the The Who or Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock of Woo or perhaps as the Ozzy Osbourne at the Ozzfest of Woo. In other words, there’s lots of warm-up woo to be sat through before the headliner shows up. But even the warm-up woo is entertaining. For example, I particularly like this conference by Dr. Norman Shealy, who tells us:

Forty percent of Americans are clinically depressed and another 40% have a subclinical depressive miasma. Even though average life expectancy is 78 years, average American life expectancy is decreased 22 years by smoking, obesity, Medical Care and harmful habits. We can treat depression 85% successfully without drugs. Those with the essential healthy attitude and lifestyle will live an average of 100 years, and the wisest will choose habits to add another 40 years.

It’d be a real hoot if Dr. Shealy drops dead before age 70. Not that I’m wishing an earlier death on him, but, given his claims any his dying decades before reaching the century mark would lead one to wonder whether he really knew what he was talking about when he laid down this woo in the first place. But if Dr. Shealy’s life extension woo is not up your alley, you can try some self-actualization woo from Dr. Penny J. Whillans:

Dr. Whillans describes how we can use our struggles or postures to recognize our ‘holes’ and to re-awaken to our awareness of wholeness, thereby deepening our wisdom, increasing well-being and reducing violence. Our bodies are guides in this integration. With examples and simple exercises we will explore how our bodies can help us to deepen our connection with the source of who we are, with our hearts’ desires, and with our minds’ space. While compassionately listening to the physical body is important in this journey, so too is knowledge of the ‘energetic holistic’ body. This holistic body is explored as an alive vibrating whole from which wisdom can be known.

All I could think was “whole-y” shit, that’s some fine woo! So is this:

Traditionally, the apothecary has been thought of as a medical practitioner, a sage and healer who amalgamates wisdom to create just the right formula to soothe what has ailed us. Today, in fields and stables across the country, we find ourselves in the company of a modern day healer. One, who like her human counterparts, is able to assess the needs of each visitor, and create an experience or remedy to precisely match their unique set of conditions. My horse Grace is such a healer.

I have watched as she dispenses her gifts with mastery, carrying a child with autism to a place of calm interconnection, teaching a bruised woman how to create and maintain respectful boundaries, evoking soothing tears after the death of a loved one, walking backwards until a memory was healthfully reclaimed, and breathing deeply into the recently diagnosed cancer.

The classic definition of healing is to make whole. The people I work with tell me they have never felt more whole, more connected, more balanced or more alive than when they are in the presence of a horse. In order to create this level of wholeness, horses utilize techniques that not only resonate with the soul and spirit, but with the heart, and body, and mind.

All of which is nothing more than a woo-ey way of saying that animals can make people feel better when they’re sick. Heck, my dog lifts my spirits when she comes up to me, tale wagging, but I wouldn’t rely on her if I were to come down with a serious disease. I’d really hate to see the levels of woo that could be used to describe therapy dogs. Nor would I rely on any doctor who took this anatomy lesson seriously:

The heart is the main organ which controls the flow of the spirit and is known as its residence. The heart is associated with one of the Five Element/Phases of TCM, namely, Fire, which moves the spirit and is associated with happiness. Therefore, if the heart and associated organs and meridians are imbalanced due to external or internal pathogenic factors, then the patient’s spirit suffers and generates various physical and mental disorders. In Western medicine, this is known as psychosomatic illness.

The Gallbladder connects the interior and exterior spirit, which helps to keep a person stable, concentrated and courageous. The Urinary Bladder is the emotional door of the spirit, The Kidney contains the essence of the spirit and controls fear. In the TCM system, then, it is vitally important to keep these organs/meridians harmonious for optimum health–body, mind and spirit. This can be achieved through self cultivation and personal development as well as the various TCM therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, which complement each other as well as other complementary therapeutic modalities and also biomedicine.

Funny, I always thought that the function of the gallbladder was to concentrate and excrete bile and that the function of the urinary bladder was to be a reservoir for your piss so that you aren’t dripping pee everywhere continually, but that’s just my nasty materialistic side talking. Remember, too, that you can get CME credit for this.

But back to Adam DreamHealer. (What a fantastic name for a woo-meister by the way. I tip my hat to him.) If you head to his website, you can get an idea of just how much of a master of woo he is. After all, who but a woo-fu master could come up with the concept of the Quantum Hologram? Check it out:

What is a quantum hologram?
A quantum hologram is what Adam sees when he connects to an individual’s energetic system. It can consist of many different layers such as skeletal-muscular view; the body’s organs; nervous system and different magnifications on these views.

Why is it some people can heal and others can‘t?
No matter what modality you use for your illness the main factor for healing is your subconscious drive. Many people have the drive to explore different types of healing modalities. However not everyone has the drive to truly get better. You can fool others about your intentions but you cannot fool your body.

How is it done?
Every living thing on this planet has its own Quantum Hologram (QH). Every QH is connected, therefore we are all connected. The QH holds every bit of information about you. Some individuals are able to access this information. The QH theory states that a change to local matter instantaneously affects the same change to an identical non-local object. So when Adam connects to someone’s hologram he is connecting to the energy information for that person’s body. It can be done over long distance with the use of an image of the person.

Ah, yes, quantum woo, just like quantum homeopathy, except with holograms!

Adam DreamHealer is, in actuality, as bad or worse than The Secret. With extravagant, woo-filled claims of his ability to “visualize” people at a distance and thus heal him through the wonders of “quantum holograms,” his claims are less believable than homeopathy, if that’s possible. Despite the utter ridiculousness of his claims and his dodging and weaving whenever he is challenged to test his abilities under controlled circumstances, he has accumulated a veritable army of sycophants, toadies, and lackeys who believe in him, almost Messiah-like, and are sometimes wont to descend upon bloggers who are skeptical of his abilities, usually either ignoring them or tap-dancing around their inconvenient questions.

Apparently, Adam’s journey into woo began when he was around 15, when, he claims, he started to experience telekinetic incidents, in which pencils flew out of his hands. He also claims to have cured his mother of multiple sclerosis. From then on, he became known as a distance healer who could allegedly diagnose people’s problems over long distances and then heal them. Or, at least, so he claimed and so his believers claim. As mentioned before, he really made his name when he allegedly “cured’ rock legend Ronnie Hawkins of “inoperable pancreatic cancer” with his “powers” without ever actually having met him:

On Sept. 27, Adam says he visually compared his father’s healthy pancreas to Hawkins’ diseased one.

“I noticed that Ronnie’s pancreas was blocked and my dad’s had a constant drip flowing out of it,” he writes. “I manipulated the energy and got Ronnie’s pancreatic juices flowing. It actually started with a gushing flow.”

Indeed, if you read Adam’s account or other breathless, credulous accounts of Ronnie Hawkins, Adam does seem to have miraculous powers. Here’s the problem with the Ronnie Hawkins story, which to me sounds like one of those “they sent me home to die but ‘alternative therapy X’ cured me” kind of stories. There was never biopsy confirmation that Hawkins ever actually had pancreatic cancer, despite three biopsy attempts.

Here’s the background one needs to know in considering the Ronnie Hawkins story. Because it is so deadly, pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers where surgeons will attempt a big operation (removal of the head of the pancreas, or the Whipple operation) even without a biopsy-proven diagnosis of cancer. It should also be noted that chronic pancreatitis can sometimes mimic pancreatic cancer, up to and including encasing arteries in a hard inflammatory mass that can look all the world like a cancer on CT scan, MRI, or gross examination at the time of surgery. Even very experienced surgeons can sometimes be fooled. Given that, if a patient presents with an apparent mass at the head of the pancreas and a tissue diagnosis cannot be established, a not-too-uncommon scenario, given that it is difficult to biopsy the pancreas due to its anatomic location without opening a patient up, surgeons will still often operate to remove the head of the pancreas, because the consequences of not doing so are so dire that they outweigh considerable chance of complications due to this very large operation. Consequently, just because Hawkins had an apparent pancreatic mass that a surgeon diagnosed as cancer does not necessarily mean that Hawkins, in fact, ever actually had pancreatic cancer. Indeed, given that he is still alive, the overwhelmingly more likely possibility is that Hawkins was misdiagnosed and, in fact, did not have pancreatic cancer. Sure, it’s possible that Hawkins really did have pancreatic cancer and that Adam “healed” him (the failure of three biopsies to prove pancreatic cancer doesn’t completely rule out cancer, the very reason that surgeons will not uncommonly do a huge operation like a Whipple for a pancreatic mass even in the absence of biopsy proof of pancreatic cancer) , but that is a far less likely scenario, particularly in the absence of any controlled evidence that Adam can replicate this alleged healing. After all, even if Hawkins’ story, as told by Adam, were 100% accurate, a single, one-off miracle wouldn’t do much good for anyone other than Ronnie Hawkins.

But what do I know? I’m one of those skeptics who’s very much in favor of evidence-based medicine, and this is what Adam thinks of pesky rationalists (parroted here by one of his sycophants, toadies, and lackeys):

Over the last 4 years Adam has shared his experiences and abilities with thousands of people. His teachings of healing techniques have helped many around the world as is evidenced by the hundreds of testimonials posted on his website. Adam has also sparked the interest of a few skeptics. Some of these skeptics are set on discrediting anyone who exhibits special abilities, such as Adam. Up until this point Adam has resisted countering their attacks, however as Adam’s popularity continues to increase, so will their uninformed voices. These skeptics are attempting to discourage people from exploring all alternative healing possibilities, including Adam’s method of energy healing. This is doing a major disservice by discouraging those who may otherwise be ready to consider this type of healing. The skeptics target many successful and well-known people who have made significant strides in helping others. Adam’s main objective is to help as many people as possible and he will continue on this path regardless of the skeptics’ persistent negative attacks. In contrast to the skeptic’s statements, Adam’s honesty and integrity always shows through in everything that he says and does.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to identify just how many bits of doggerel are included in this bit of woo. It’s particularly amusing to note that the reason skepticism so infuriates Adam and his “admirers” is that it deprives them of marks–I mean, patients or customers–from whom they can extract cash–I mean whom they can “heal,” which is probably why he dodges and weaves to avoid any attempt to subject his alleged powers to any real scientific testing.

Yes, indeed, that’s why what we nasty and vicious skeptics do so infuriates woos like Adam: Apply critical thinking to extraordinary claims, you know, claims like saying that it’s possible to cure people that you’ve never met of cancer using “quantum holograms” at a distance. We’re funny that way, and I’m guessing that the reason Adam reacts so poorly to skepticism is because it jeopardizes his gravy train.

Sadly, however, the organizers of the Body Heals conference do not appear to be so funny that way, leading to a situation where physicians can get CME credit for listening to woo as sadly ridiculous as that of Adam DreamHealer.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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