Emerita Professor Makes a Case Against Distance Healing

Posted: December 16, 2009 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: December 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm

By Marjorie Musick

Mason Professor Emerita of Physics Eugenie Mielczarek currently writes and lectures on the frontiers of physics and biology.

Her research in solid state physics and biological physics conducted at Mason for 33 years has been published in prestigious journals such as the Physical Review, the Journal of Chemical Physics and the Biology of Metals.

In May 2009, she was honored with an award for distinguished research in biological physics from the Washington Academy of Sciences.

Lately, Mielczarek has focused her efforts on an issue of science policy.

Mielczarek recently wrote a report that was published by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Inquiry (CFI) titled “A Fracture in Our Health Care: Paying for Non-Evidence-Based Medicine.” The paper focuses on why federal funding should not be used to support unproven alternative therapies, such as distance healing.

Distance healing is an increasingly popular form of non-evidence-based medical therapy. Commonly known as Therapeutic Touch (TT), Reiki or Qigong, sometimes these treatments involve neither touching nor removal of clothing. In such situations,  the TT therapist moves his or her hands over the patient’s energy field, allegedly directing the flow of a purported biomagnetic energy that extends beyond the surface of the body in the form of an aura.

According to Mielczarek, she used simple physics formulas to disprove alleged claims made by distance healers that biomagnetic fields from their hands can cure diseases such as cancer. In the report, Mielczarek notes that healers’ claim of a two milligauss field strength is 18 orders of magnitude below the energy needed to affect any biochemistry.

“Part of our nation’s debate on a universal health care plan focuses on reining in costs by covering only evidence-based medicine,” says Mielczarek.

“There is pressure, however, from alternative medicine practitioners to release proposed health care reform bills from the constraint of delivering evidence-based medicine. Therapeutic touch practitioners claim that they can feel and manipulate human energy fields by making massaging movements in the air just above the surface of the patient’s body.

“But this was a no-brainer for me. When I saw these claims, I checked to see if anyone had analyzed the data to see if there was enough energy emanating from human hands to significantly alter human biochemistry. The basic laws describing electromagnetic fields and thermodynamics that run our universe show it’s just not possible.”

Mielczarek prepared the report in collaboration with Derek Araujo, general counsel of CFI; Adam Magazine, a volunteer attorney for CFI; and Lori Sommerfelt, a sociology major at American University.

She also sought guidance from Mason colleagues with expertise in biology, physics and statistics. However, Mielczarek says that the assistance she received from University Libraries proved invaluable.

“The research efforts that I got from our science librarians were incredible. They were really on the forefront of tracking down some references that the alternative therapy practitioners had cited that I believed were unsubstantiated, and [the librarians] have helped me to monitor health care reform legislation related to this issue. I couldn’t have done this without their support,” says Mielczarek.

The report is available online.

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