Friday, January 15, 2010

101 Interesting Things, part thirty-eight: Emily Rosa

Today's interesting thing is also a person! Before I get to Emily, though, I want to talk about some really stupid bullshit. It's called Therapeutic Touch, or "TT" if you feel like making cutesy ga-ga noises. Good thing I do!

TT was invented from whole cloth by Dolores Krieger (a PhD & RN who really ought to know better) and Dora Kunz (a theosophist who apparently wouldn't know a gullibility zombie if it bit her on the face). Pro Tip: one did. My favorite part about Therapeutic "Touch" is that it's a misnomer. It's also known as "Non-Contact Therapeutic Touch," which sounds exactly as stupid as it is. That's right, kids: Therapeutic Touch does not involve any actual touching.

Because that would be icky.

Anyhow, TT is more or less the alternative (read: ineffective) medicine equivalent of prayer. You cook up a story about "energy support systems" (or "invisible sky genies," as the case may be), then you think really hard that you're engaging in some kind of action at a distance with any degree of causal efficacy. Then you wait and see: either something good happens because of whatever else was going on at the time, or nothing good happens and you blame something else. You don't even ape science by going through science-like motions (ahem, homeopaths), or use nifty rocks (crystal fuckers), or anything of the kind.

It's so stupid, even a nine-year-old could debunk it - and that's where Emily Rosa comes in!

When Emily was in the fourth grade, she decided that she wanted to see if TT was the shit, or just shit, so she decided to put it to the test at her school science fair. She got 21 bullshit-spouting blatherskites (or, as Wikipedia puts it, "TT practitioners") to participate in her experiment, which was very simply set up: picture a table with your standard science fair three-part display board, and there are two holes for hands in the bottom of the board; put an idiot on one side, and a fourth grader on the other, and have the idiot stick his or her hands through the holes. Then the fourth grader flips a coin to decide which of the idiot's hands she'll place her own hand over, and the idiot is supposed to tell the fourth grader where her hand is.

TT practitioners have described the energy field they claim to feel as having the consistency of gelatin or taffy; they say they can really feel it. Rosa's study put the lie to that, with the average idiot scoring a 4.1 out of 10 trials (chance would put them at 5). Emily's science fair project was so straightforwardly awesome (as opposed to backwards and crookedly awful) that it got published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, placing Emily in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest person to have a research study published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Some incorrigible whiners have said, more or less, "Hey, no fair! She's just a fourth grader, she can't do real science!" Of course, the great thing about science is that whining accomplishes nothing; if you think you can do better than a fourth grader, all you have to do (and the only thing you can do) is actually do better than a fourth grader. You may have to perform at that level a few times for the sake of a little something called "statistical significance," but that's really all there is to it!

...or can't they?

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