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And now for a little tooth fairy science on meditation…

Back in the day, Deepak Chopra used to be a frequent topic of this blog. He still pops up from time to time, such as when irony meters everywhere immediately self-destructed after Chopra criticized Donald Trump for being insufficiently evidence-based or when, after I wrote a post asking why medical conferences keep inviting Chopra to speak, Chopra was so displeased that he actually posted a video attacking me (and other skeptics who’ve criticized his pseudoscience). Unfortunately, Chopra truly is one of the most influential people in “integrative medicine” today. To be honest, I’ve never really been able to figure out why. For the last few decades, no one has been better at using and misusing the word “quantum” than Chopra: Quantum consciousness, quantum medicine, quantum everything. His woo has been so powerful and easy to predict, that I even gave it a name, lo, these many years ago: Choprawoo. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade since I originally coined that term. It still fits.

In any case, in the wake of our little kerfuffle a few weeks ago, Chopra has (sort of) been making nice to me on Twitter. I rather suspect that he thinks he can win me over. Or maybe he thinks he can entice me into a public debate (not gonna happen—I’m not Michael Shermer—although I am always up for dialogue of Chopra’s serious). However, in exchanges on Twitter, one of his acolytes posted a link to a study that Chopra’s followers seem quite smitten with. You might remember two years ago, when I was dismayed that actual scientists took Chopra’s nonsense seriously enough to actually collaborate with him. As I put it at the time: Deepak Chopra tries his hand at a clinical trial. Woo ensues. Well, this is the woo that ensues, only it’s dressed up in fancy state-of-the-art genomics and next generation sequencing. It turns out that the link I’ve been seeing to a study appears to be one of the first publications to come out of Chopra’s wooful trial. It was published in August by Epel et al in Translational Psychiatry and entitled Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. The list of institutions is, alas, fairly impressive: UCSF, Capella Biosciences, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, UCSD, Harvard. I guess it just goes to show how deeply entrenched quackademic medicine is.

Before I discuss this study, let’s step back a minute and recall what I wrote two years ago about Chopra’s study:

This is what we in the biz call a fishing expedition. There is no real, concrete, testable hypothesis here, other than that Chopra’s woo-packed Ayurveda program is a good thing.


He doesn’t say “test the hypothesis” or “see if this program results in X and Y.” He doesn’t know what he’s looking for before he does the experiment. He only knows that it’ll be good. Rather, he says things like “prove scientifically” that his program does all sorts of wonderful things that aren’t specified in concrete, measurable ways. Instead, he’s going to shotgun measure a whole boatload of markers and endpoints, including next generation whole genome sequencing. If adjustment for multiple comparisons is not undertaken, I can virtually guarantee that this study will be “positive” in that it will find a “statistically significant” difference in at least a few markers. Because a “whole program” is being tested, it will be impossible to tell if any apparently beneficial changes observed are due to exercise (yoga), meditation, or to the special diet that participants will be consuming while at the Chopra Center.

With that assessment in mind, which proved prescient (although it wasn’t exactly difficult to predict this), now let’s look at the study. Here’s the rationale:

Ancient practices such as yoga and meditation have long been thought to combat stress and promote longevity, although empirical evidence for effects on aging processes under highly controlled experimental conditions is lacking. Further, it is inherently difficult to assess effects of meditation apart from simple relaxation. Advances in the understanding of the biological bases of aging enable better assessment of acute effects of salutary interventions on biomarkers of aging. For example, impaired regulatory systems leading to systemic inflammation, and excessive stress responsivity, are related to biological aging and may partly underlie pathogenesis of cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases (AD). More recent systems biology approaches have identified gene regulatory networks associated with a diversity of biological processes, including immune and stress responses, and objectively linked them with disease or salutary states.

Leading to:

Here we examined how exposure to a short-term intensive residential meditation retreat affected biomarkers of aging and more general regulatory networks defining a wide array of biological processes. A residential retreat provides intensive daily exposure in a controlled environment but has the added ‘vacation’ effect of taking people away from the demands of their daily lives, which alone might affect regulation of stress pathways. Therefore, it is critical to compare the effects of a meditation retreat with an active randomized control group. Because regular meditators may have differences in brain function and structure, as suggested by meta-analyses,28 and greater changes in GE than novices, after meditation, we also recruited a third comparison group of experienced meditators. Our design allowed us to study the effects of meditation independent of the vacation effect, as well as to compare the effects of acute intensive meditation in regular meditators versus those newly trained in meditation.

In brief, this study examined women between 30 and 60 undertaking a one week retreat offered regularly by the Chopra Center for Wellbeing at a vacation resort (OMNI La Costa Resort and Spa). Women from this group who were “non-meditators” were randomized to the vacation-only group (consisting of the resort only) or to the retreat (referred to as the novice meditation arm). These women were then compared to a group of experienced meditators. The overall idea was to try to separate the “vacation effect” (effects due solely to relaxation and being away from the cares of everyday life) from any specific effect of meditation while analyzing a boatload of biomarkers in the form of blood levels of inflammatory cytokines and the many thousands of gene expression levels measured by whole genome sequencing. Here’s the CONSORT diagram (a standardized manner of describing randomization in clinical trials):

Consort diagram

The interventions were described thusly in the supplemental information:

  • Meditation Groups program. The Seduction of Spirit Retreat, led by Dr. Deepak Chopra and colleagues, at the Chopra Center, Carlsbad, CA, over the past decade, is a meditation retreat attended by several hundred participants per event. Its goal is to promote an intensive period of learning and psychological change. The retreat provides training in meditation (primordial sound meditation, which is similar to mantra meditation), foundations of yoga, and sutra, with the aim of promoting inner calm, expanded awareness of one’s body, breath, and self, and life-transforming skills. The retreat group had lectures and activities for the full day. Over the four days, this added up to 12 hours of meditation (4 times a day), up to 9 hours of yoga (2 times a day), and several lectures and, interactive self-reflection exercises each day.
  • Vacation (Control) Group program. The Vacation Group had an afternoon lecture on health behaviors each day for 1.5 hours and an optional activity in the morning, such as a leisurely walk. While dietary intake was not strictly monitored, both groups were served the same meals at the same dining center.

Subjects were assessed by various instruments designed to examine psychological measures of well-being at day 1, day 5, and ten months later. They also had blood drawn at day 5 for various molecular measurements. One massive flaw in the study that I noticed right away is one that I almost always find in studies like this. Can you guess what it is? That’s right! There was no blinding, or, as was described in the supplemental information section, “The intervention groups were not blinded, and site investigators and study personnel knew to which group participants had been randomized.” Sorry, Deepak. That’s a big no-no, for so many reasons. Not surprisingly, meditation was associated with an increased feeling of well being.

There’s another problem here. While the first two groups represent a fairly typical randomization scheme, the third group is is not comparable. After all, there might be a number of things associated with being an “experienced meditator,” such as differences in diet, exercise, lifestyle, and the like. Minimal effort was made to control for confounders; all that could be said was that the three groups were comparable in age, racial distribution, weight, and body mass index. that’s not enough.

For all three groups, besides blood drawn was subjected to telomerase activity assays and assays for inflammatory cytokines (substances secreted that promote inflammation). Telomerase, as you might recall, is an enzyme that adds on to telomeres, which shorten with each cell division. Telomere shortening is, of course, associated with aging and death. On the other hand, elevated telomerase activity is associated with cancer. RNA was also isolated from the blood of the subjects and gene expression analyzed by RNASeq, which is also known as whole transcriptome shotgun sequencing. Basically, RNASeq uses next-generation sequencing (NGS) to reveal the presence and quantity of every RNA sequence in a biological sample at a given moment in time. That’s tens of thousands of different RNA sequences.

As you might expect the results were mixed. For instance, for telomerase activity, there was no difference between baseline (day 1) and post (day 5) readings for the vacation group or the novice meditation group. Just the experienced meditator group showed any difference, and even then there was only a 23% increase. How significant this is biologically, who knows? In fact, this is a pattern I noticed. Either there was no statistically significant difference between baseline and post, or there was only a difference observed in the regular meditators. Many of these differences were marginally statistically significant.

If you want to get an idea of what this study is about, this passage should tell you all you need to know:

The vacation group showed a statistically significant increase in circulating TNF-α compared with the regular meditators, and a marginally significant increase when compared with novice meditators. Reasons for this increase could include those in the vacation group having an acute stress-related inflammation response to the blood draw, overexposure to sun or some other exposure that can lead to acute physical stress such as exercise. All participants ate a healthy ayurvedic diet, which is thought to be anti-inflammatory.

At this point, the investigators are just pulling stuff out of their nether regions. After all, the hypothesis (at least as far as I can tell given how vague is that vacation should decrease stress and that meditation should decrease it even further. Yet here we see that a major pro-inflammatory factor, TNF-α, was increased in the vacation group. OK, I get it. This is sort of in line with the main hypothesis, even though that hypothesis was never explicitly stated.

Now here’s the thing. This study really doesn’t show all that much of anything. Those of you out there with more expertise in next generation sequencing and systems biology can confirm this for me, although I warn you: It will take some reading and time to figure this out. Most informative for this purpose are Tables S7 and S8, where Gene Ontology Tree Maps are compared. What ends up being compared is not what one would expect, and the differences found tend to be in areas whose relevance I can’t help but question. Gene Ontology Tree Maps are a system for cataloging genes according to their biological functions. For instance, it is noted that one group of genes is suppressed only in regular meditators: immune response and positive regulation of chemokine production. Other gene expression modules suppressed in the post measurements compared to baseline include oxygen transport, erythrocyte (red blood cell) differentiation, and hydrogen peroxide metabolism. In Table S8, the comparisons become even more—shall we say?—targeted.

But if you really want to to know how weak the findings of this paper are, don’t listen to me. Listen to its authors:

Our study has several limitations. The changes in biomarkers and GE patterns appear salutary; however, no studies have tracked these markers to see how well they predict disease or longevity in a healthy sample. The sample size is relatively small and powered only to detect medium-to-large effects. Replication of these findings with larger controlled studies will be necessary. In addition, comparing regular meditators to non-meditators is somewhat problematic, given regular meditators likely differ on many lifestyle factors that make such comparisons complicated. For example, diet, exercise regimen and stress-reduction activities such as meditation likely differ between these groups and may not only lead to baseline differences in molecular and higher-order systems, but may prime such systems to respond differentially to resort and meditation interventions. In addition, the meditation arm of this study was not strictly sitting meditation, but also included yoga postures and self-reflection exercises and lectures. Further, whereas our design did attempt to control for the vacation effect, we did not randomize regular meditators to the vacation and meditation arms, making it difficult to interpret the changes observed in the regular meditators, given they were compared with a control group comprising non-meditators.

In fact, even taking the most generous interpretation, as the authors do, all they could find was what they refer to as a significant “vacation effect” that benefits all groups. They could only identify anything resembling a “meditation effect” within the regular meditator group. Of course, given how short term this study is (only a week) it will aways be appropriate to question the clinical relevance of any of the findings in this study.

Basically, this is a study that purports to find differences in gene expression that might or might not be clinically relevant, with the emphasis being on “probably not.” If you look at it critically, you’ll see that basically no significant difference was found between the vacation group and the novice meditators, and that most of the effects described appear to be in the experienced meditators, who aren’t really comparable to the other two groups. In other words, this is a fancy, expensive study that didn’t find much of interest but is being sold as evidence that Chopra’s brand of meditation modulates the immune system. It is what I like to refer to, inspired by Harriet Hall, as Tooth Fairy science, a term that generally refers to studies assuming a phenomenon not in evidence, such as the tooth fairy. As Harriet Hall likes to put it, you could design your study to determine if the Tooth Fairy leaves more money for a tooth left in a plastic baggie under the pillow than for a tooth wrapped in a piece of tissue (as we used to do in our family). Or you could look at the average amount of money left behind for the first baby tooth to fall out compared to the last tooth. Or perhaps you might attempt to correlate Tooth Fairy proceeds with the income of the toothless kid’s parents.

The point, of course, is that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist. None of this is to say that meditation might not have some health benefits. It’s just to say that this study is not good evidence that it does.

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]

32 replies on “And now for a little tooth fairy science on meditation…”

For instance, it is noted that one group of genes is suppressed only in regular meditators: immune response and positive regulation of chemokine production.

In other words, regular meditators are immunosuppressed, just like patients on chemotherapy and people with AIDS.

Great! Sign me up!

Well I’d volunteer for the next study especially if is during the winter ( l’m in Canada) A free week at a California spa sounds good to me. Oh, wait I’m male. Still there should be a male and female study to pick any significant sex differences.

I just quickly skimmed the main body of the study as the tech details are way of my knowledge areas but it looks like a case of torturing the data in an underpowered and horribly designed study.

Anyone remember the “Chocolate is good for you” study of a couple of years ago?

Not only was the study not properly blinded, but :

“both groups were served the same meals at the same dining center.”

Did they eat at the same time? Were the two groups allowed to interact? This, if it happened, is, perhaps, as big of a no no as no blinding.

What a massive failure to isolate the independent variable with proper controls! How could they attribute the 23% increase in telomerase activity for the experienced meditator group to meditiation when Chopra was giving lectures and conducting training sessions? Obviously, the effect could have been due to Chopra himself, not meditation sui generis. His advanced mind-over-matter powers surely imparted a unique quantum spin to the wave of air molecules travelling out from his mouth, which better-aligned the qi of the adepts who had already pre-re-programmed their energy receptors to vibrate with Chopra’s signals.
Really, what result would you expect if Orac had conducted the Seduction of Spirit Retreat using exactly the same script as Chopra? Methinks the meditator’s telomerase would have jumped right out of their bloodstreams, screaming bloody hell. And what’s with checking how active the telomerase is after they draw the blood out of the body? Not only is it no longer in range of the brain’s energy waves, it could have been so worked up while the novice meditators were listening to Chopra, that by the time they assayed the blood, it had just collapsed into exhaustion from the vigorous exercise.

Also, the results statement leaves out another thing about the independent variable: What they found was “a significant ‘vacation effect’ that benefits all groups” vacationing at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing at the OMNI La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California. [Sell those vacation packages to the tech bros in Silicion Valley, Deep!] So, obviously, further research is required! Phase two: Compare results from La Costa with a one week vacation at The Bellagip in Las Vegas. Phase Three: Measure improvement in results over Phase Two after a new branch of The Chopra Center For Well Being is installed in The Bellagio.

I used to listen to the adventures of Newton Snookers the Molar Marauder, do don’t be hating on the Tooth Fairy!

I don’t understand the top boxes of the flow chart. You start with 165 assessed for eligibility, then go to 122 eligible. But 42 were noted as being ineligible, and 3 opted not to participate, which would seem to add up to 45 and leave 120 potential participants. So, okay, maybe there was overlap and 2 of the people who opted not to participate were also ineligible, but there isn’t any asterisk or note to indicate that this is the case.

We also don’t know why only 102 of the 122 willing/eligible participants were enrolled, but whatever.

Also, the “Non-mediators” error and the general sloppiness of the box arrangements don’t inspire confidence. Yes, yes, these are small points, especially compared to the substantive flaws Orac mentions, but it sure doesn’t look like a competently-done paper.

The Vacation Group had an afternoon lecture on health behaviors each day for 1.5 hours and an optional activity in the morning, such as a leisurely walk.

So, the vacation group was given 1.5 hours of significant stress in death by powerpoint or some similar presentation on how their lives sucked, they were living, breathing and eating wrong and they really should quit their jobs each day.

Yeah, 90 minutes each day of that, I’d be pretty inflamed as well.

Now, if they want *real* vacation metrics, they can try to find me in the woods while I’m on vacation and get my blood samples.
Just watch out for rattlers, cottonmouths and gators.

I guess I missed something here about the funding of this. Were these scheduled participants who thought becoming part of this study would be a dandy idea? Was this literally self-funded by participants who would have attended anyway? For a week, what a great little profit center: cook up a study with no discernible hypothesis and get your subjects to pay for their participation! Win-win. Or maybe I missed something. The eligibility requirements and composition of the final group left me a bit baffled, too. How do you define “experienced meditators” so that you distinguish them from novices? And it’s well known that educational content has significant effects in these kinds of studies. How do you control for the Charismatic/Famous Leader/Teacher effect for which these people presumably ponied up a lot of cash?

Why was this thing published? One week at a resort with some fancy techniques to examine a nonexistent hypothesis? I don’t get this at all.

This study is weak in comparison to some of the studies that have shown profound neurological benefits from long-term meditation. However, I would call your response to it Tooth Fairy Scientism. When the vast majority of studies of invasive procedures and implanted devices are done without blinding, there is no need for the world’s researchers to accept a decree that no study of a practice that requires the active participation of the subject can ever be done. That is of course the point of your rants against any study in which the individual knows what intervention he receives because it is done BY him rather than done TO him.

If it were truly not meditating, but knowing that you’re meditating, that beneficially affected the expression of some gene, so what? I don’t know how you would separate those, but the average user likely wouldn’t care. Scientism likes to tell us that we should not desire health benefits that come from mental processes – they are Only Placebo – and since meditation is an entirely mental process, it is likely to be decreed undesirable. Doctors can alter your brain with drugs; you don’t get to alter it with your own thoughts! But this is of course not science. It is a belief, and everyone who does not share that belief is welcome to use the methods of science-as-process to find out what they can about the biological effects of any practice they like.

Anyone remember the “Chocolate is good for you” study of a couple of years ago?

It’s TRUE.

Why was this thing published? One week at a resort with some fancy techniques to examine a nonexistent hypothesis? I don’t get this at all.

Because they could. My impression is that any journal with the word “translational” in its title, that doesn’t involve converting text from one language to another, is likely to be woo-friendly, as in biomedical contexts “translational” is frequently a synonym for “complementary” as typically used by practitioners of such “medicine”.

The word “translational” does have legitimate scientific uses: in physics, if an object is moved from position (x0,y0,z0) to position (x1,y1,z1), that is called a translation. And of course a document, scientific or otherwise, written in one language can be translated to another language, or speech can be translated. But outside of those contexts, seeing “translational” in a journal or article title is a yellow warning flag.

Also, Nature Publishing Group has gotten into the open access publishing game. The quality of its open access journals hasn’t lived up to the Nature name.

Ugh, I’m going to have to drive past this place tonight on my way to my Thanksgiving vacation. It will get a great big eye roll.

Why waste time and money and willing participants on a poorly designed/blinded study when you could do a *good* study and actually learn something?

(jane @9: What about CBT? That’s a validated method for using your brain to change your brain that involves no medication or physical intervention.)

@ jane

since meditation is an entirely mental process

I dunno.
Your body has to do some precise work while you are meditating. Breathing, stay still, relax muscles…
Your brain is not in jar next to your body when your meditate. Physiological exchanges are still going on, in both directions.


using your brain to change your brain

I believe you meant “using your brain to change your blood pressure”.

This study is weak in comparison to some of the studies that have shown profound neurological benefits from long-term meditation.

Brevity is of course the soul of citations.

If it were truly not meditating, but knowing that you’re meditating, that beneficially affected the expression of some gene, so what? I don’t know how you would separate those, but the average user likely wouldn’t care.

Yes, I suppose not bothering to define the term could complicate that 2-by-2 table for the experimentalist. Oh, wait:

Scientism likes to tell us that we should not desire health benefits that come from mental processes – they are Only Placebo – and since meditation is an entirely mental process, it is likely to be decreed undesirable. Doctors can alter your brain with drugs; you don’t get to alter it with your own thoughts!

What sorts of “thoughts” characterize this thing that you refer to as “meditation,” Jane? How much familiarity do you even have with different meditation practices? Is it just all a big pile of slop, as usual?

Anyone remember the “Chocolate is good for you” study of a couple of years ago?

You’ll have to be A LOT more specific than that.

a healthy ayurvedic diet, which is thought to be anti-inflammatory.

And I am thought to be Marie of Roumania.

What is “ayurvedic diet”, anyway? Is it sattvic diet, appropriated to Chopra’s Ayurveda brand? Some mixture of magical thinking, Veblen goods, and arbitrary dietary prohibitions, dreamed up the other day by Chopra and labelled as “Ayurveda” for that antique-furniture sense of exotic antiquity?

I’d forgotten that Deepak Chopra and Ayurveda had such a long and blatantly fraudulent history together.

Well there’s the marxist sociology of science definition of ‘scientism’ and the co-opted quack definition of ‘scientism’. Jane’s clearly quacking, so I’ll comment from the first perspective, since it’s the one I know I know, and it’s not a load of scam-enabling guano.

Sociologists use ‘scientism’ to refer to (duh) a category of sociological phenomena, not to make evaluations of stuff like whether and how much meditation increases the activity of your telomerase. That would be just ‘science’, which is definitely not sociology. If a bunch of scientists ganged up to dis meditation sui generis, sociologists might study their motives and rationales and conclude that ‘scientism’ was in play. If those scientists just say, well, there’s no proof whatsoever that meditiation has the physiological effects Deepak Chopra says it does, the sociologists either yawn, or cheer, “You go, science!” Sociologists wouldn’t say ‘scientism’ asks researchers “to accept a decree that no study of a practice that requires the active participation of the subject can ever be done”. because such studies are a form of sociology called ‘ethnomethodology’ or just ‘ethnography’, and the scientists aren’t picketing the sociology departments. The scientists may get scientismy and pee on the sociological studies as worthless, but that’s not the same thing. . participation of the subject can ever be done.” They don’t of course, it’s just that legit researchers engaging the active participation of subjects call it ‘ethnography;’ not ‘medical science’. At it worst, ‘scientism’ pooh-poohs ethnography for lacking objective reproducible data. It doesn’t say you can’t do qualitiative participant-observer studies. if sociologists see Jane and co. complaining about ‘scientism’ only telling people NOT to “desire health benefits that come from mental processes,” they’re just going to write papers about how the two groups are operating with different defintitions of “health” and do more research to see if the scientists are chill with the mental process benefits of meditation under some other rubric (why yes, it’s called ‘supportive care’ or sometimes just ‘fun’ and only level an assessment of ‘scientism’ if the science kill-joys assert the lack of physiological-effect benefits –> ‘don’t do this!’ sui generis, as opposed to, say, ‘don’t think doing this will make your tumors shrink’.

I could go on, but I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s how you know Jane’s a quack, not a ‘critical’ (uses some marxism) sociologist. Jane totally does not get that the sociological concept of ‘scientism’ applies to her. Scientism is an ideology that asserts, among other things, that everything not-science is guano. It’s bad ideology, since a lot of not-science stuff (like sociology, and we’ll throw in philosophy, and maybe Madonna videos) is pretty damn cool and valuable. So a paradigm case of ‘scientism’ is exactly – ta da! = pseudo-science, since it can’t justify whatever it is on it’s own subjective merits, but tries to make totally bogus claims to scientific validity. That is, pseudo-science more,/i> than real science is wedded to the proposition ‘only science is any good’. jane can’t just come in here and say “I meditate because I dig it. When I don’t meditate i get depressed, confused, and testy with my family and people at work. When I meditate, i enjoy the day so much more, get better focus on my to-do list, and have a much easier time getting along with everybody. Beyond that, I could care less.” NOOO!, she has to justify meditation via “studies that have shown profound neurological benefits from long-term meditation” and some conspiracy theory that we all want to take away her meditation pillow and ‘Sounds of Nature’ CDs.

Wise to Jane’s scientism, the sociologists would ask pose questions about the social formations and structures of power in her little group, and do various sort of not-science research in the not-scientific facts about how all that works (and who/what it works for) until they come up with some speculative-but-still-pretty-smart answers, including how the sub-culture produces and re-produces ideologies that lead all the Janes to throw enough cash at con-men like Deepak Chopfra that he can buy a luxury condo in Vegas for the three days a year he’s there to check on the operations of the The Chopra Center For Well Being at The Bellagio, and talking to management about upping his cut of the handle.

This classic 59 minute video documentary from 1974 ain’t science. It’s better.

‘I would like to bet anyone who wishes to try and make some green energy that by November 15th, the Houston Astrodome will physically separate itself from the planet which we call Earth and will fly.’
‘What a good propagandist does is establish the vision as a reality and then the the people, the masses, the present moves towards that vision, but unless you accept the vision as a reality then you can’t function.’
‘All I know is I need Knowledge now. I need this Knowledge… I’m so miserable inside…’
‘I got this letter, it said well yes Maharaji is our Lord and Master but He’s also a little kid and He’s coming to America and He really likes to watch TV and stuff so if you have any appliances you don’t need, send them in.’
‘ It’s a different kind of arrogance. It’s great to find God but Jesus to have his credit card and telex number in your pocket is very elite. If this guy is God, this is the God that the United States of America deserves.’

Ancient practices such as yoga and meditation have long been thought to combat stress and promote longevity

You have to give these bullsh1t artists credit for losing no time; they serve up the Appeal to the Timeless Wisdom of the Ancients, and the passive-voice construction for denying responsibility while making absurd claims, right in the opening words. They start the way they intend to go on.

The ideal Spooky Background Music would be a rāga played on a theremin.

different meditation practices
The paper is sadly unspecific on crucial details like that. Is Chopra still pimping TM, or has his grift progressed?

Subsequent investigation showed [Chopra et al.] were intimately involved with the complex network of organizations that promote and sell the products and services about which they wrote. They misrepresented Maharishi Ayur-Veda as India’s ancient system of healing, rather than what it is, a trademark line of “alternative health” products and services marketed since 1985 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Hindu swami who founded the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement.

‘Veblen goods’ <– "conspicuous consumption": ' acquiring luxury goods and services to publicly display social status, and power derived from wealth.'

'A Veblen good is a good with "snob value" status (or "showing off" status). Demand for Veblen goods increases when the price rises: behavior that goes against the flow of common sense and common buying behavior. '

I didn’t know Chopra came out of TM. Figures. The TM’s always promised their followers magic powers, specifically that with proper meditation technique they would levitate. When I was in grad school at Iowa, circa 1987, one of my flatmates shared a TA office with a guy who gotten his undergrad degree at Maharisi International U., and kept a meditation pillow on the floor. Cathy asked him, ‘What’s the pillow for?” and he replied in dead earnest “So I don’t injure myself when I come down.” From that point on, she only referred to him as ‘Mark Who Flies’.

The Divine Light scam was ‘Mahara Ji is God. Give us money to receive his Knowledge.’ Chopra has a much better, more American scam: ‘YOU are God. You just don’t understand how to tap your powers. Give me money and I will teach you how.’

Let me summarize. Despite having prestigious institutions associated with this study, no real science was attempted. However, Chopra and the OMNI did manage to make money. No tests were done to correlate payments extracted with any actual improvements to participants, but Chopra’s wallet is now thicker. No wild ideas or misconceptions about quantum woo were hurt during this procedure.

@ Sadmar
Scientism means “excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques”. What is scientism here is the belief that anything published in scientific journals by reputable institutions using up-to-date technology deserves interest and is true, except if you quibble over p values. Fortunately, obvious quackery helps to unmask scientism, but science workers are not ready yet to accept the idea that scientism affect all the domains of biomedical science and undermine the scientific process.

Guys like Chopra give meditation (and chocolate) a bad name. One could do a reasonable study of health outcomes for experienced meditators by hooking up with Buddhist centers in major cities, following the members over time, and comparing with otherwise-matched groups of non-meditators in terms of other health-related lifestyle issues (diet, exercise, substance usage). For groups with similar other lifestyle measures, is there a difference between those who meditate and those who don’t?

But that’s not what he does: instead he uses this as cover to promote his own special Branded Meditation (acronym is wholly coincidental) perhaps in the hope that he can subsequently cite his own study to promote his own brand.

How utterly archetypally ouroboric.


Of course chocolate is good for you. Eating it produces pleasure, pleasure improves your attitude, and a better attitude is generally more conducive to good outcomes than a crappy attitude.

Meditation is also good for you Practicing at many types of cognitive skills improves performance in the use of those skills over time. Practicing at concentration (concentrative meditation) improves the ability to concentrate (focus attention on a desired task). Mindfulness meditation, that consists of practicing at naming the types of distractions that occur (e.g. sensory, emotional, memories, etc.) improves the ability to spot unhelpful types of cognitive activity (such as emotional reactions to provocations) and intervene or stop them.

Those types of benefits should be more than sufficient to justify anyone charging a fee to teach the techniques, though I’ll happily spell them out in a blog comment for free;-)

The scam arises where Chopra and others try to associate meditation with a variety of quacky non-evidence for health benefits, be they vague (your energy field (whatever that is) will manifest greater health) or specific (your telomeres will dance like angels on the head of a pin and you will live to 110).

At that point it’s not just something that will help you relax and become a bit mentally quicker on your feet. It’s transformed (translationally, no less!) into something that can be used to coax money (or was that “green energy”?) from insurance companies. Yes, and be recommended by doctors with straight faces, whether or not they know any better. Sheesh-a-roo!

We have Orac to thank for “Choprawoo”, but we also need a word for unquestioningly swallowing that material.
The word I suggest is “Choprophagy”.

There mus be some reason that every time I hear “Deepak Chopra,” and often when I read it, it becomes transformed into “Deep Copro.”

the Dorothy Parker reference.
It is good to see that someone else appreciates the classics.

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