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Studying massage effects with aura photography

 •  • 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.

Today I’d like to share a particularly bizarre, amusing, and depressing example of how the profession of massage therapy still has a lot of growing up and getting with the times to do. And it’s an example of what passes for science reporting at, apparently. And it’s a really spot on example of “tooth fairy science”: the earnest study of imaginary things.

Kirlian photography of a hand: a purple, hazy outline.

An example of Kirlian photography.

I don’t recommend actually bothering to try to read that article. The premise of this “small pilot study” is so absurd that it’s hard to parse, so let me just drag the important part out into the light for you: they are talking about studying the effects of massage on auras, using “gas discharge visualization” [insert fart joke here]. GDV is a slight variant of Kirlian photography, or “aura photography” supposedly. Which is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds, and one of the easiest things to debunk in all the Land of Silly Beliefs.

Here’s a snippet of some of the thickest bafflegab from the article, with a little square-bracketed commentary from me:

The authors theorize [fancy way of saying “wildly speculate”] that the energy emitted from a person can indicate the individual’s bioenergetic field [aura]. Thus, it should be able to be measured and quantified. The theory is that the energy photons [as opposed to what other kinds of photons?] represent the dynamic bioenergy [aura!] of the person and the image represents their energy field [aura, aura, aura]. The image is capturing the displacement of gas particles emitting from the subject, either from fingertips or a full body projection. It is theorized [by fools] that the emissions represent the level and balance of energy flow in the meridians, but it is important to note that the authors state, ‘Gas discharge visualization measures are not very well defined regarding their meaning.’

GDV measures are very well defined regarding their meaning: they have none. (Nothing important anyway. It’s basically an extremely convoluted way of detecting moisture.) Planning to the interpret the effect of massage on Kirlian photography is completely pointless. This is the most blatant kind of pseudoscience: people spewing jargon to create the appearance of technical and scientific sophistication about something fanciful, like writing a paper about how many terabytes of memory God has, or the role of neutrophils in Bigfoot’s immune system. It’s absurd and pathetic. Ravensara Travillian, PhD, NA-C, LMP:

In sorrow rather than anger, I have to ask: this is the kind of Tooth-Fairy Science that we traded the credibility and plausibility of massage therapy for?

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher