Cracked Science: #SpoonGate | The Body of Evidence

Cracked Science: #SpoonGate

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Every month, the podcast will conclude with a segment entitled Cracked Science in which I criticize bad science and talk pseudoscience. Here's the transcript from the latest segment:

A workshop entitled "Spoon Bending and the Power of the Mind" was to be given at the University of Alberta on June 28 before it was cancelled, presumably due to media coverage. This seminar was neither a prank nor an initiation to sleight of hand, but rather a dead-serious presentation aimed at "an academic/clinical audience" in the context of Paediatric Integrative Medicine Rounds. The presenter, a Reiki master who coordinates education for a program at the university, was to teach meditation, energy healing, and how to bend spoons using psychokinesis. The poster boasted that "typically 75% or more of workshop participants can bend the spoon."

How did something out of a Stephen King novel, psychokinesis, formally enter the domain of medicine? It did so because of a concept called "integrative medicine", which is embraced by major universities in North America, including the University of Alberta with its own Integrative Health Institute of more than 100 associated researchers and scholars and a scientific advisory board that includes 2 co-chairs and 11 members. Or, I should say, 10 members, as virologist Dr. Lorne Tyrrell recently resigned in light of what is being called SpoonGate. Dr. Tyrrell deplored the lack of critical scientific evaluation among the institute.

And he should.

The integration of alternative medicine to actual medicine in universities is usually said to be dependent on evidence. Andrew Weil, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, told magazine The Scientist, "That's exactly the mission of the program in integrative medicine here. We are trying to go through this and sort it all out, and separate what is nonsensical and what is possibly harmful from what is potentially useful." An Inside Toronto interview with Lynda Balneaves, inaugural director of the Scarborough Hospital's Centre for Integrative Medicine, reads as such: 'The centre will be looking at therapies with a record of empirical testing. For some which don't have that, Balneaves said, "we will do research to provide that evidence'." In Policy Options, Sunita Vohra wrote in defence of integrative medicine, "Only if scholarship is vigorously pursued will we realize our goal of patient-centred, evidence-based health care."

Dr. Sunita Vohra is the founder of the Paediatric Integrative Medicine clinic that was to host the spoon-bending workshop. To the website, she said, "We certainly prefer high-quality evidence (such as randomized controlled trials or systematic reviews) but do not limit ourselves to this."


Pointing out a potential slippery slope is often denounced as a logical fallacy, but some slippery slopes are real. Integrative medicine is not interested in rigorous evidence. It is an open door through which fantastical nonsense can easily walk, unquestioned by the Kool-Aid drinkers. Uncritically open minds let the brains fall out. Luckily, Dr. Vohra's people will have spoons to pick up the pieces.