Spoon Bending and Higher Learning
The University of Alberta’s Pediatric Integrative Medicine Rounds had scheduled a session entitled “Spoon Bending and the Power of the Mind” for June 28th but soon cancelled it after Timothy Caulfield, a professor of health law and science policy at the University, called them out by tweeting an image of the poster advertising the event. After the tweet was widely circulated, garnering ridicule and disbelief, the presenters withdrew the session. Billed as an “experimental workshop” teaching “a guided meditation/energy transfer technique which will have most participants bending cutlery using the power of their minds”, Caulfield at first thought it was a magic show. He soon realized it was no joke and saw that other topics such as “the power of positivity, manifesting, and some quantum physics experiments” were to be included. An odd disclaimer also stated that the workshop was “experimental” and “will not be a scientific evaluation of the process”. Unscientific it certainly would have been, as any skeptic knows.
Spoon bending, popularized in the 70s by Uri Geller and famously debunked by James Randi on live TV over 40 years ago, is easy for anyone but it’s not done with the mind. Several ways to perform this trick are easily found online. Since spoon bending is almost a poster-child for the skeptical movement, being so easy to explain and so widely understood, the incident must have been deeply embarrassing for the University of Alberta.
The presenter was to be Anastasia Kutt, an Edmonton “energy healer” and an education coordinator and for the CARE (Complementary and Alternative Research and Education) programme. Her website describes her as a “reiki specialist” who is capable of “removing issues and stress from your energetic field, to bring it into balance and its original state of good health.” Reiki is another pseudoscience in which “energy fields are manipulated”. For these reasons the CARE programme deserves scrutiny and serious debate about its place in academia.
Caulfield is not alone in being concerned that “these kinds of programs legitimize the pseudo-science.” They also waste money on “therapies” that have failed the evidence test and have no place in university. In an alarming trend, however, several medical schools have been being infiltrated by “alternative medicine” institutes and schools masquerading as science. The University of Toronto has a Center for Integrative Medicine and there are many more in the US. It must be getting more and more difficult for medical students to tell the difference between evidence-based medicine and quackery when they are peddled snake oil by their own institution.