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Reflexology “science”

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Reflexology will probably get a big PR boost from this pseudoscience, already “highly accessed,” because it creates the appearance of validity where there is none. The paper has a shiny, hard protective shell of superficial legitimacy. It’s difficult to criticize specifically, because there’s nothing obviously wrong with the mechanics of the fairly complicated and technical experiment. The problems here are more basic and general: fancy brain studies purporting to show the existence of a mechanism for reflexology are more propaganda than interesting or useful science. fMRI scans are notoriously uninterpretable and prone to producing research artifacts, and the results just happen — coincidence, I’m sure! — to give a lot of comfort and aid to one of the most implausible and scientifically bankrupt treatment claims in all of alternative medicine. Dr. Christopher Moyer:

There is no good theory for reflexology. In the absence of a good theory, a single study that connects a twitch of the toe to the blink of an eye, or their neural correlates, is of very little value.

Without good replication, this one gets no more than a Spock eyebrow raise from me: it’s just another case of tooth fairy science.