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Your Friday Dose of Woo: It’s a marvelous night for a moondance…


I have to confess, the ol’ Folder of Woo was looking a little thin this week.

No, it’s not that I’m running out of topics (a.k.a. targets) for my usual Friday jaunt into the wacky world of woo. Far from it. It’s just that, in the run-up to writing this, perusing the odd stuff therein just wasn’t getting me fired up to do the feature the way that it usually does. There just wasn’t anything there that was grabbing my attention and refusing to let it go, as has happened so often in weeks past. I began to worry whether Your Friday Dose of Woo has been going on too long (it’s approaching a year and a half of existence) and maybe I was running out of original woo to have some fun with. After all, how many times could I do posts on colon cleansing or various quantum bastardizations of homeopathy without boring you or, even worse, boring myself? I began to fear that I might have to take a week off to recharge and look around for the inspirational woo that I need to soldier on.

And then, Skeptico, bless his godless skeptical little heart, sent me this gem. I have no idea why he didn’t use it for his own blog, as it’s right up his alley too, but he didn’t.

There would be a Your Friday Dose of Woo installment this week after all.


What’s so awesome about this woo? Easy. Before we delve into the wonder that is the Interstellar Light Collector, let’s take a look at a media report from a mere 10 days ago:

THREE POINTS, Arizona (Reuters) – Financial advisor Jaron Ness stands in the cool desert air waiting for the clouds to clear and the moon to rise.

As the conditions come into alignment, he steps into the path of a cool blaze of blue-white light bounced off a wall of highly polished parabolic mirrors five stories high.

“It feels magnetic,” he says, turning his hands slowly in the reflected glow of the light from the almost full moon.

The young professional from Colorado is among a growing number of curious people beating a path to this patch of scrub-strewn land out in the Arizona desert to bask in light from the world’s first moonbeam collector.

A Tucson-based inventor and businessman Richard Chapin and his wife Monica are behind the giant device, which gathers up and focuses the light of the moon.

The effect of the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth’s tides and other natural phenomena has been studied for millennia. Less attention has focused on the sunlight reflected from its surface.

The Chapins built the large, one-of-a-kind contraption that stands in the desert some 15 miles west of Tucson, Arizona, in the belief that moonlight might have applications for medicine, industry and agriculture.

“So much work has focused on the sun. We have just forgotten about this great object that has been here for billions of years, has affected us in all forms of our evolution,” said Chapin, who paid for the project with his own money.

“If it could affect plants and animals … I thought, ‘what could the amplification of that light do?”

I don’t know. Give you a moontan? Provide enough light to read by in the middle of the night? Fry an insect with a magnifying glass? What good would magnifying moonlight do? Certainly nothing worth spending $2 million on. But that’s just my opinion, an opinion that apparently isn’t shared by Richard and Monica Chapin, the couple who built this thing. Apparently, for them, this woo is attractive enough to be worth some serious green stuff:

It consists of a large frame sunk into a 45-foot-deep (14-meter) crater, on private land in sparse desert, in an area known for its dark skies a few miles from the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The device is five stories tall and weighs 25 tons, and is covered with 84 mirrored panels set on a hydraulic mount that, the Chapins say, can focus the light of the moon with “the precision of a Swiss watch.”

There is no charge to use the facility, although the couple accept donations of $10 from people who use it to defray some of the operating costs.

Apparently over 1,000 visitors have come thus far bask in the concentrated, woo-ified moonglow, dressed in either robes or their underwear. Reading this report, I just had to visit the website set up to describe this device, Interstellar Light Applications, LLC. There, I found this rationale:

Light cast by the moon is 500,000 times less bright than the sun. This light, reflected from the sun, presents a distinctive spectrum composed of more reds and yellows, and possesses a different frequency than sunlight. This specific light spectrum has never been artificially duplicated.

Reflected light from the moon is critical to a variety of life-processes on Earth. Peer-reviewed studies, scientific publications and anecdotal evidence provoke fascinating questions about the positive effects of exposure to moonlight.

Studies reveal that certain single-celled bacteria can be revived from dormant or “dead” states by a measured exposure to moonlight. Ayurvedic healing therapies rely on coral calcium that has been treated by exposure to moonlight for 15 days. Terrestrial and aquatic plants and other species have long been studied for their distinctive responses to moonlight.

Wow, I’d really like to see the peer-reviewed research that shows that reflected light from the moon is so essential to life-processes on earth. Aside from that, what’s perhaps the most more convincing to me is the use of moonlight in Ayurvedic healing, because nothing says evidence-based medicine like Ayurvedic healing, if you know what I mean. But, then, what do I know? Apparently nothing, if we’re to believe these woo-meisters:

The possibilities for this area of terrestrially-based moonlight research are untapped. Among the stars could lie the cure for a rare disease, the potential for enhanced healing treatments, the power to revolutionize agriculture growth patterns or the prospect for creation of innovative commercial materials. There is broad potential for the uses of captured moonlight spanning medical, agricultural and industrial fields.

Naturally, the light from moonlight and “interstellar light” is different from artificially produced light, because, well, just because it is:

Laser light is manmade, while moonlight is pure and used directly from the source. Moonlight is therapeutic in its original state and one only needs to be exposed to its reflection off the interstellar light applicator in order to benefit from its therapeutic effects. Lasers and LED’s (light emitting diodes) are no more than convenient devices for producing electromagnetic radiation at specific wavelengths. One of the main differences between moonlight and laser light is especially notable when used for therapy: laser light itself only becomes therapeutic at specific wavelengths and is then applied using the machine that produces it, but it is not the machine itself that is therapeutic.

This is just downright silly. Moonlight nothing but light, and there’s nothing special about it. It’s just light from the sun reflected off of the rocky, sandy surface of the moon. Do these people think that sunlight reflected off of the Arizona desert has any sort of special properties? In any case, just because it’s “natural” doesn’t imbue it with some mystical properties. However, so as not to be accused of the worst crime possible to a woo, I’ll try to be–shall we say?–open-minded about this whole thing, and, since I’m a doctor, I thought I’d take a look at the proposed medical applications. It’s pretty hilarious actually. Indeed, it’s a perfect example of taking a fact, making an unjustified conclusion from that fact, and then running wild with it. For example, did you know that moonlight can make you live longer? I didn’t either. But apparently these woomeisters believe it can:

Research has indicated a correlation between lunar cycles and both overall mortality and cardiovascular mortality in humans. A Romanian study has shown a significant increase in both kinds of mortality two days before the first lunar quarter and two days before the last lunar quarter. Further research has shown a correlation between moon phases and the risk of hemorrhage during surgery. These findings beg for further research to be conducted into this fascinating correlation with potentially huge implications for bioscience and medicine.

Damn. How is it that I’m unaware of this research? I must not read the right journals. I wonder if these studies controlled for the confirmation bias that leads to fallacious beliefs, such as the one that says that there is more trauma during nights of the full moon (although that folk belief would lead one to believe that perhaps moonlight isn’t so beneficical–consistency never was an important consideration among woomeisters). But, wait, there’s more:

Extensive research has shown that different wavelengths of light have beneficial therapeutic effects at the cellular level. Different tissue and cell types in the body each have their own particular light absorption dispositions (they will only absorb light of a specific wavelength); therefore different frequencies of light have distinct benefits and applications. These applications extend from treating problems such as wounds, scars and infections to arthritis to acupuncture and much more.

Even if true, all of this has application only to a person’s exterior, you know, the part that can actually be exposed to the light. What worries me about this bit is that it makes me wonder whether the Chapins, who built this über-woo machine are thinking of somehow extending their device to get the light inside of you, if you know what I mean. In any case, the website claims that moonlight is good for clinical depression, altering Circadian rhythms, helping aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer:

Early research into photodynamic therapy (PDT) proves promising. In this type of therapy, a photosensitizing agent is introduced into the body either via the bloodstream or topically (depending on the location of the cancer). Once the agent is absorbed, a light is applied to the area. The light activates the photosensitizing agent, causing it to react with oxygen and produce a chemical which kills the cancer cells. Though not a viable treatment for all types of cancer, this exciting new therapy has several advantages over traditional radiation treatments and surgery in that it is less invasive/scarring, can be applied more than once to the same area and can be focused on a very specific area.

What the heck are they talking about here? What does photodynamic therapy have to do with bathing in moonlight? Absolutely nothing, unless you’re going to use moonlight as the source of the light used to activate the photosensitizing agent. The above paragraph is a classic non sequitur. Besides, photodynamic therapy is used for relatively few cancers, cancers like esophageal cancer or non-small-cell lung cancer. It’s also not curative, either. It’s used primarily palliation.

Of course, the problem with this particular device is that it’s basically immobile. It’s also incredibly expensive; not too many places have a spare $2 million to lay down to build one of these puppies. There’s also the problem of location. This machine’s out in the middle of a desert for a reason. Building one of these near a large city would almost certainly result in a serious problem keeping the precious moonlight from being contaminated by light pollution from the nearby city. That just wouldn’t do. The device would be wasted amplifying light from headlights, streetlights, and buildings. Fortunately, Richard and Monica Chapin can help you. They don’t want those of us who can’t make it to Tucson to be deprived of the glory that is their moonlight cure. They will happily sell you the power of concentrated moonlight in the form of one of a variety of pendants.

Yes, they’re exactly what you think they are. They’re pendants that have apparently been placed under the concentrated moonlight to “infuse” them with the power of the moon. And, generous woomeisters that they are, the Chapins even provide them at various price points from $12 to hundreds of dollars. Of course, these pendants and stones do bring up a question to me: How do they keep the power of the moonlight in the stones?

Never mind.

Naturally, as all excellent woo, there are many testimonials:

I never want to leave this place.”
– Dr. Masaru Emoto (April 2007)

Yes, that Dr. Masuru Emoto.

After that, the rest of the testimonials seem superfluous, don’t you think? I mean, what are a few typical testimonials about decreased carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, improvement of asthma, or alleviation of arthritis pain compared to a testimonial from the King of Water Woo himself?

Nothing at all.

My only hope is that Dr. Emoto will be as good as his word and stay at the Interstellar Light Collector. At least that way he’d have a hard time continuing to push his water woo on an unsuspecting, credulous public. After all, there isn’t much water in the desert to work with. On the other hand, imagine the fantastic woo he could come up with by bathing his water in the magical concentrated moonlight? It’d keep Your Friday Dose of Woo going for a long time to come.

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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