The invasion of Haiti by well-intentioned but useless woo continues apace

Pity the poor Haitians.

Not only is their nation dirt poor, but to kick off 2010, they suffered an earthquake that killed approximately a quarter of a million people, left at least 300,000 injured, and resulted in 1,000,000 homeless. Huge swaths of its capital of Port au Prince and Léogâne, among other cities, had been leveled. The devastation was (and remains) almost beyond comprehension, and it will be years, if not decades, before Haiti can recover. Disease and hunger are rampant. In the immediate aftermath, looting and violence were common.

Unfortunately, disaster seems to attract quacks as nectar attracts hummingbirds or, more appropriately, as the rotting corpses of the unfortunate victims of disasters like the Haitian earthquake attract flies and rats. First it was Scientologists showing up to do the Scientology version of faith healing and doing it so badly that Haiti would have been better off if they had stayed home. Assisting with this was John Travolta, flying in planeloads of medical supplies and doctors (for which he should be praised) and Scientology ministers to do “assist,” which allegedly “reconnects” nervous systems shaken by trauma. In reality, it is nothing more than the Scientology version of faith healing, just as reiki is faith healing based on Eastern mysticism. Indeed, I was watching David Letterman the other night, and Travolta was on. I was profoundly irritated at how Letterman obsequiously fawned over how “humanitarian” Travolta was, while neglecting to mention the Scientology quacks that Travolta also flew in with the real medicine, real doctors, and real nurses. I know, I know, it’s a talk show, and Letterman wasn’t going to criticize Travolta, but there was a huge gorilla in the room that no one was acknowledging.

Then there was Homeopaths Without Borders bringing their special ultradiluted quackery to the Haitians, leading wags to point out that Haiti really needed clean water and, given that homeopathy is water, maybe Homeopaths Without Borders could help there. Too bad they also put their remedies in sugar pills. Not to be outdone, there was a clueless trauma surgeon bringing acupuncture to Haiti use for anesthesia for amputations. After this invasion of woo-meisters into Haiti, I have to ask: Haven’t the Haitians suffered enough?

Apparently not, as another wave of woo-meisters is washing over Haiti, bringing more useless magical “remedies” to leave the Haitians just as bad off as they were before.

The Energy Meridian Tapping woos are coming to Port au Prince. They also have an amazing claim:

As nearly half the Haitian population has already or will be subject to life-saving amputations, tapping will be useful in helping these people on several fronts: helping them to cope with the emotional issues associated with losing a limb, alleviating the pain of suffering through amputations (in hundreds of cases) without anesthesia, to deal with the psychological adjustment to being an amputee, and relieving the symptoms of phantom pain.

Nearly half the Haitian population has had or needs an amputation? Are these guys for real? What is their source for this rather difficult to believe–to say the least–factoid. After all, the population of Haiti was on the order of 9 million people before the earthquake. Half of that would be 4.5 million people needing amputations. Where’s the evidence that the above claim is true? Nowhere. In fact, the number is orders of magnitude lower. That’s plenty horrible, but not even close to the claims of these EMT advocates. (As an aside, when I hear EMT, I can’t help but think “epithelial-mesenchymal transition,” but then I’m a cancer researcher.)

What is EMT? According to the press release, it’s this:

Energy Meridian Tapping (EMT) is a user-friendly version of the long established meridian tapping modality called TFT (Thought Field Therapy). Energy tapping therapies have been well documented as significantly improving pain, impaired range of motion, stress, anxiety, phobias, physical symptoms and other health conditions. EMT’s basic premise is that the underlying cause of every negative emotion and almost every physical symptom is a disruption of the body’s energy flow along the same meridians that were mapped over 4,000 years ago by Chinese physicians.

“Acupuncturists use needles to stimulate key points along the meridians. But in EMT, people tap on those points with their fingertips,” says Gibson. “Acupuncturists use needles to stimulate key points along the meridians. But in EMT, people tap on those points with their fingertips,” says Gibson. “Tapping requires less precision, is easy to do and simple to learn, so it’s possible for everyone, including children, to get good results.”

Oh, I think I get it. EMT is acupuncture without the needles. Instead of the magic requiring needles inserted in the skin, the sorcery that is EMT only requires tapping. But it’s more than that. TFT is serious, serious woo. In essence, the claim is that tapping acupressure points will relieve blockags in the flow of that magical, mystical life energy (qi) that woo-meisters can never define and scientists have never been able to detect, much less show that anyone can manipulate it. In fact, TFT, EMT, or whatever it’s called, is a hodge-podge of a whole bunch of woo:

TFT also borrows techniques from a procedure known as Applied Kinesiology that is used to test muscles for “weaknesses” caused by certain food or chemical pathogens (Sampson and Beyerstein 1996). Applied Kinesiology is a scientifically discredited procedure. For example, Kenny, Clemens, and Forsythe (1988) found that those using the techniques did no better than chance in determining nutritional status using muscle testing. Finally, TFT even borrows some of its concepts from quantum physics. For instance, the idea of active information, in which small amounts of energy can affect large systems, is used to support the existence of perturbations (Bohm and Hiley 1993). There are obvious problems with the theoretical basis for TFT, not the least of which is the complete lack of scientific evidence for the existence of “thought fields.”

Quantum. Only the finest woo abuses quantum theory. Where’s Lionel Milgrom when you need him?

On the other hand, who needs Milgrom when you can have “tappers” like Janice L. Gibson, who bills herself as the “EMT Empress.” She also bills herself as a “wholistic’ healer who “combines tapping with hypnosis and other holistic modalities in my healing arsenal, including my intuitive abilities.”

Just what the Haitians need. If you have any doubt, check out this video:

Is it just me, or does that one woman’s cackle after she jokes about a cat who has diabetes because he’s fat creep you out? Whether she does or not, Gibson desperately wants to bring her woo to the suffering Haitian people:

Tapping reduces pain and suffering, but only when it is utilized. We just have to spread the word about this simple, effective, self-administered healing process. We believe that introducing it to emergency personnel is the key to spreading the word about EMT’s efficacy. It is our hope (and a given) that once emergency personnel personally witness the ease, simplicity, effectiveness and spontaneous relief of EMT, they will begin to share Energy Meridian Tapping with the people who’s lives have been turned upside-down by disaster.

To help, Gibson wants to distribute these cards. Some of what’s on these cards is truly hilarious. Or it would be, if it weren’t so depressing to think that she is actually seriously proposing using this on highly traumatized people who may have serious injuries. For example, the card instructs the user to repeat three times while tapping: “Even though I ‘m stressed-out due to the disaster (state your frustrations in great detail) I accept myself completely.”

I’m sure it’s a good thing to accept oneself, but I can’t help but get the image of Stuart Smalley saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me.”

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Disasters are hard, cold reality. They cause human suffering through death, injury, disease, and starvation. That is what the people of Haiti are experiencing right now. They do not need a religion made up by a clever but washed up science fiction writer or its adherents engaging in a grotesque form of faith healing. They do not need acupuncturists coming into their country claiming that they can provide anesthesia for amputations by sticking little needles into the ears. They do not need homeopaths bringing their sympathetic magic placebos consisting of substances diluted to the point where not a single molecule is left. They do not need woo-meisters cmoing in to tell them that all their emotional trauma can be alleviated if they’d just tap, tap, tap their heads.

No, they need clean water, real food, real medicines, and real shelter. Magical thinking won’t help them. The resources to provide real, science-based medicine will.