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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Electrodiagnosis

I tend to shy away from posts dealing specifically with medical topics and quackery. I have no medical training of my own, so I have little option but to rely on the expert opinions of others when dealing with it. The only notable exception being my recent suicide attempt, which I could conduct in the safety of my own home.

But it seems that this is a side of scientific scepticism that I can't, in good conscience, continue to avoid. People in my life are being harmed, to varying degrees, by various forms of medical quackery. I, as an outspoken sceptic, can't continue to stand by and watch it happening around me.

So, in the interests of furthering this objective, I present to you what will be the first in a series of medically themed posts. I would like to stress very firmly that I am not a doctor. I have no formal medical training in anything more complicated than first aid, and you should always consult your qualified physician before taking any actions that could affect your health. All I claim to have is a wealth of knowledge that I have accumulated from various expert sources that I believe to be credible. I leave it to you to judge the reliability of those sources for yourself, but I urge you to carefully consider my arguments before disregarding them.

As the title of this post indicates, I want to start this series by discussing Electrodiagnosis.

Electrodiagnosis has more names than I could possibly list here, and there appear to be more of them popping up with increasing frequency. The name under which I first encountered it was SCIO (although SCIO seems to be an acronym, I couldn't find what it's supposed to stand for. Please let me know if you happen to have that information). But it can appear in the form of just about any random combination of pseudoscientific buzzwords you can imagine: Quantum Testing, Allergy Resistance Meter, Bio-feedback Agency Detection... you name it.

The concept is the same throughout. Electrodiagnosis practitioners employ a device called a galvanometer to measure slight variations in the electrical conductivity of the human body. A similar mechanism is employed in some lie detectors (and even by the Church of Scientology), as the galvanic response is affected by autonomic nervous system activity.

The Electrodiagnosis paradigm dictates that medical diagnoses can be made by measuring these galvanic responses. They will often refer to specific pathologies "vibrating" on particular "frequencies" which they can detect using their device. This is, of course, a meaningless statement. By saying this, they are trying to invoke the New Age definition of energy, which is inaccurate and misleading. When someone uses "energy" as a noun on its own, and not as a property of matter (in terms of E=MC2) then what they are really describing is magic.

A galvanometer can only detect galvanometric effects. It cannot detect mystical vibrations, and it certainly cannot detect magic.

After "diagnosing" your illnesses, the Electrodiagnostician will probably employ a number of other quack diagnostic techniques such as applied kinesiology, remote viewing, aura reading or waving of hands in order to "confirm" their diagnosis. They will then go about prescribing any number of interventions to treat those illnesses, such as homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, aural cleansing, ear candling, detox footpads, colonic irrigation, reflexology, dietary restrictions, happy thoughts or pixie dust.

In other words, they use a machine incorrectly to derive a bullshit diagnosis. They then treat the bullshit pathology with bullshit medicine. And who suffers? You do... because the only thing they have actually succeeded in doing is surgically removing your money from your wallet.

For the most part, this is yet another money-making scam that doesn't represent much physical danger to the victim. To some true believers who are suffering from psychogenic or psychosomatic problems, the placebo effect may be sufficient to make them feel all better. For those people's sake, this sort of thing is just fine.

But then there are the exceptions... the true believers with actual medical problems that require actual medical treatment. These are the real victims of quackery. They are the ones who delay seeking valuable (sometimes life-saving) medical intervention by seeking out these "alternatives" instead.

I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again: there is no such thing as "alternative medicine". There is medicine and everything else. If electrodiagnosis worked, it would have become part of "mainstream" medical practice ages ago. But it doesn't, so it hasn't.

Let's call Electrodiagnosis what it really is: quackery and fraud.

For more detailed information on Electrodiagnosis, take a look at Dr Stephen Barrett's treatment of it over at Quackwatch.

Have you encountered this scam before? Tell us about your experience in the comments!