Squabbles In Class

March 25th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, brain gym | 166 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 25, 2006
The Guardian

Nothing prepared me for the outpouring of jaw-dropping stupidity that vomited forth from teachers when I wrote about Brain Gym last week. To recap: Brain Gym is an incredibly popular technique, in at least hundreds of British state schools, promoted all over government websites, and with a scientific explanatory framework that is barkingly out to lunch.

They teach that there is no water in processed food. They teach that rubbing your ribcage will stimulate the carotid arteries beneath and increase blood to the brain and “activate the brain for an increased flow of electromagnetic energy”. But let’s not leave it with a recap. They promote strange physical origami exercises called “hook-ups” where you press your fingers against each other in odd patterns, because these “connect the electrical circuits in the body, containing and thus focusing both attention and disorganised energy”, as they say in the Brain Gym teaching manual.

Article continues
They teach a funny way of wiggling your ears with your fingers that “stimulates the reticular formation of the brain to tune out distracting, irrelevant sounds and tune into language”. They teach that rocking your head back and forth will get more blood to your frontal lobes “for greater comprehension and rational thinking”. This stuff is bonkers.

I could go on. In fact, I will, because so many teachers have written in to defend it. They teach that a special theatrical yawn will lead to “increased oxidation for efficient relaxed functioning”. Oxidation is what causes rusting. It is not the same as oxygenation, which I suppose is what they’re getting at, and even if they are talking about oxygenation, you don’t need to do a funny yawn to get oxygen into your blood: like most other animals children have a perfectly adequate and utterly fascinating physiological system in place to regulate their blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and I’m sure many children would rather be taught about that, and indeed about the role of electricity in the body, or any of the other things Brain Gym confusedly jumbles up, than this transparent pseudoscientific nonsense.

Now to my mind, this is classic Bad Science, and a perfect parallel to the rubbish peddled by self-appointed “nutrition science” experts. The advice they are offering is sensible: “take an exercise break to help you concentrate” (or “eat some vegetables”, in the case of the food voodooists). But in stark contrast, the science they use to justify this so often seems to be bogus, empty PR, that promotes basic scientific misunderstandings, and most of all is completely superfluous in every sense except the commercial: because the ropey promotional “science” is the cornerstone of their commercial operation, they need it to promote themselves as experts selling a product that is unique and distinct from the obvious, sensible diet and exercise advice that you can’t copyright.

So I attacked the stupid underlying science of Brain Gym – I even said I actively agree with exercise breaks – and in return I got a whole load of angry, abusive emails from teachers defending exercise breaks. It was exactly the same when I took a pop at awful poo lady Dr Gillian McKeith PhD for saying that seeds contain all the nutritional energy necessary to make a fully grown plant, and that eating chlorophyll would oxygenate your blood. It’s simple: vegetables good, McKeith bad.

Many were “disgusted” by my attack on what they felt were helpful exercises. An assistant head, no less, asked: “From what I can gather you have visited no classrooms, interviewed no teachers nor questioned any children, let alone had a conversation with any of a number of specialists in this field?” This confusion is a not a failure of scientific understanding: this is about basic critical reading skills. If you attack bonkers PR science behind sensible advice, are you attacking sensible advice? No. Is it necessary to tell falsehoods about science to get people to follow sensible advice? No. Do I need to visit a classroom to find out if there is water in processed food? No, I don’t.

· Please send your bad science to bad.science@goldacre.net

There’s an entertaining response from a Brain Gym person at the Times Educational Supplement here:


If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

166 Responses

  1. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 25, 2006 at 11:07 am

    I am writing to support your stance on Brain Gym, etc. I am a
    secondary head teacher and have attended a number of courses run by
    companies charging high fees to promote Brain Gym or similar
    activities. My conclusion is that they are first and foremost
    organisations geared up to make money. They talk scientific nonsense
    mixed with anecdotes in the time-honoured method used by snake oil
    pedlars throughout the ages.

    One ‘scientific fact’ that was presented to a school staff was that by
    breathing in through the left nostril you would ensure that an enhanced
    supply of oxygen got to the left side of the brain.

    A second theme these presenters often use is the power of positive
    visualisation. They give anecdotal evidence from top level athlete
    training programmes where athletes work on seeing themselves win races,
    etc. This may well be true in this area but the sleight of hand that
    comes next is to suggest that visualisation of other desired outcomes
    such as passing exams, getting a job, etc. will be more likely to be
    achieved by using one of their visulalisation techniques. If you ask
    for proof then the answer is that it works for athletes.

    Do not completely about teachers, in my school we are good at spotting
    the flaws in bogus scientific claims.

    On another matter, have you looked at the work done on learning styles?
    In primary schools some children have labels saying ‘My name is James
    and I am a visual learner’ All this based on a commercially produced
    test that ‘assesses’ preferred learning styles. The unfortunate
    consequence of this is that a young child may feel that they can’t
    learn by say, listening to someone because they are visual learners and
    listening is for auditory learners.

    Perhaps though with a healthy diet of chlorophyll to oxidise their
    blood and some pressing of their brain buttons they can overcome this
    problem (sorry this ‘challenge’ -problem is a negative word that stops
    people achieving their goals! ) This must be true because a very rich
    man who runs a people motivation company told me so.

    Keep up the good work

  2. P.L.Hayes said,

    March 25, 2006 at 11:37 am

    If some of our children are being taught nonsense by a bunch of commercially motivated cranks assisted by half-witted teachers, it isn’t just classic Bad Science, it’s a scandal.

  3. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 25, 2006 at 11:43 am

    actually i feel a bit bad in case it looks like i’m being mean to teachers. i just really was angry about these foolish emails, and i dont get angry about much, what with being so sage and stuff.

  4. Tony Hatfield said,

    March 25, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    What makes my blood oxidate is that HMG is funding teachers to attend these BrianGynMastic courses.
    P.L.H is right- it’s a scandal

  5. potsy700 said,

    March 25, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Who do complain to? Does the department of education have a complaints procedure?

  6. stever said,

    March 25, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Good work Ben, but agree that it might have been good to chuck in something nice about most teachers. Still i think its pretty clear where your attack is aimed.

    I love that bit about breathing through the left nostril in that letter from the Head teacher. brilliant.

  7. Don said,

    March 25, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    We’ve had brain gym, had VAK. Next week it’s De Bono’s six boody hats. That’s another two hours I’m never getting back.

  8. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 25, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    normally i wouldnt post emails but i’m feeling so guilty i cant stop myself from posting the sane ones from sensible teachers

    Dear Ben,

    As an assistant principal and a science teacher for 25 years, the tirade you suffered from teachers defending the indefensible BrainGym saddens but does not surprise me.
    Teachers themselves can build a career by riding each new wave of bogus educational theory: the trick is to exploit insecurity by convincing others in the profession that you have some specialist knowledge that they lack. Exploring the real science behind the neurophysiology of learning would exercise young people’s brains far more effectively than BrainGym’s physical jerks.

    Keep up the good work,

    Yours sincerely,

  9. Stephen said,

    March 25, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Good work Ben

    As an experienced physics teacher I find the bogus science hard to swallow.

    So here’s another teacher who is supportive and certainly not offended by your stand on this.

    noli illegitimi carborundum!

  10. maibee said,

    March 25, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    I’m a specific learning difficulties teacher and my thing is literacy. I am professionally trained and qualified to help those, even with dyslexia labels, to learn to read. I do this by showing how the 44 (phonemes) sounds that come out of their mouths in different combinations to make words match up to the 120 (graphemes) letters and groups of letters in written English.

    However, I am told to teach in particular ways for learning styles. I just want to say, sorry – you need to hear the sounds and write down the graphemes. No, we are not going to make them out of clay (kinaesthetic learners). Nor are we going to sing the sounds (auditory learners). And so on.

    The really bonkers stuff though comes from some educational thinking (used in the losest sense) whereby if you stand on one leg a lot and do other such exercises, your literacy levels miraculously improve without specialist literacy teaching. I find this a marvel of evolution since writing hasn’t been around long, is a total human construct and therefore has no biological inate aspect. Yet all those poor dyslexics whose brains are wired up wrongly for something that didn’t exist when their forebears were still sitting in trees can summon up the gift of literacy through some physical jerks. It is obviously rubbish and whereas I prove my results, they don’t. Perhaps, to cite another perspective, ‘god’ put the dyslexic ‘gene’ in there for we are now told that ‘Dyslexia is a gift’. I personally can’t see the joy in lacking literacy skills in the 21st century. Nope, you just ain’t had reading taught properly to you. Check out ‘sounds write’ or the reading reform foundation for more info if this is making you cross. Obviously, dyslexia also mainly targets children from particular socio-economic backgrounds since those lower down the food chain are merely ‘poor readers’.

    Off to do some star jumps because I really want to learn how to play the guitar well and this has always eluded me. Not least because I don’t have a guitar or a book about learning the guitar, but I’m sure it will wire up my brain fine and I’ll be playing like Hendrix by the end of the week.

  11. AitchJay said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Don’t feel guilty – maintain the rage!
    Wait for all the supporters to come out of the woodwork again, or re-read last weeks emails..

  12. BSM said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    “Nothing prepared me for the outpouring of jaw-dropping stupidity that vomited forth from teachers when I wrote about Brain Gym last week”

    “actually i feel a bit bad in case it looks like i’m being mean to teachers. ”

    I think you should deflect the blame onto [some] sub-editor, who could have inserted a ‘some’ in between the “from” and “teachers”.

    Either that or you could say you hadn’t yawned enough in the approved manner to increase “oxidation for efficient relaxed functioning”.

    Hope that helps.

  13. Julian Fifield said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    Well as usual my saturday is enlivened , in a laugh out loud kind of way, by bad science surely the best antidote to the mad world we live in today..the Brain Gym scam which is what it is , made me roll around the kitchen with laughter..but then i thought of how much money these guys must be making along with all the other pseudo science waffle that passes for reality these days …god I must be a fool having princples – so old fashioned and last century. keep it up BTW

  14. BSM said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    More seriously, unlike a lot of woo nonsense which is effectively free-market economics separating the gullible from their money, this Brain Gym lunacy should be capable of being stopped completely if it can be ridiculed sufficently loudly and sufficiently publicly.

    How about requesting from an Education minister their views on various of the specific Bad Science claims made by Brain Gym?

  15. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    thats a bloody good idea.

  16. potsy700 said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Wouldn’t that be Ruth Kelly?

    We are up shit creek, then.

  17. potsy700 said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Of course, for amusement, we won’t have to wait long until the reaction to ‘outpouring of jaw-dropping stupidity that vomited forth from teachers’ comes crashing in.

  18. Mark said,

    March 25, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    The following may be of interest and could be pointed out to any Education Minister before they make a statement.

    “We have uncovered much faith in AL, many fictions and precious few facts. One of our most surprising findings was that, despite the popularity that AL inset/CPD products and techniques enjoy, there is as yet almost a complete lack of convincing educational evidence about the effectiveness! Given the enormous availability and visibility of AL, what we had expected to find were studies with some degree of methodological rigour (for example, recorded before and after measurements of pupils’ performance). We found many claims being made as to the ways in which pupils were benefiting from the introduction and use of AL techniques, but these typically amounted to anecdotal accounts of effectiveness.”


    “From the nature of the evidence, or rather its lack, …… it is clear that many AL claims in terms of causal links between brain physiology and brain-based approaches are at best premature, and at worst unsubstantiated. ”

    These are the views of Louise Comerford Boyes, Kevin Brain, Ivan Reid & John Wilson of the Unit for Educational Research and Evaluation at the University of Bradford who prepared a report ‘published’ by The Department of Education and Skills on the literature on aspects of ‘Accelerated Learning” including ‘BrainGym’ in 2004.( www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/giftedandtalented/downloads/word/accellearnreport.doc ). Interestingly, I found it impracticable to find the reort via the defs website itself among the plethora of links to books and case studies (carried out by teachers not researchers) promoting ‘accelerated learning, and had to resort to Google.

  19. jerry finkhausen said,

    March 25, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    One more example of “feelings” being more important than fact.



  20. Alex said,

    March 25, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Brilliant. Ben should work that word into his article next week.

  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 25, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    heh heres a good one:

    Ben—–you cannot be serious—–surely your column is a huge send-up?
    If not, the worst bad science is yours. You appear to be a result of
    Medical Model Training whereby (supposedly intelligent) people are taken
    into the
    system, have their brains remodelled, any sign of divergent and independent
    thinking sluiced away and replaced with a narrow-minded tunnel-visioned
    approach to everything. Or perhaps you were like that to start with?
    No doubt you would have dimissed Prof. Ephraim Anderson’s research findings
    in much the same manner as you dismiss anything which doesn’t fit NHS
    Glad you are not my doctor

  22. Alex said,

    March 25, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Oh no.
    Are we really reading this? It sounds like some people will come down onto this planet for only the briefest time. It should not amaze me that so many people fail to get the point, but it does.
    Hmm. Might go back to the river (with Eeyore) to contemplate the fools of this world.

  23. Becky said,

    March 25, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    Another science teacher here. Just wanted to add to the supportive remarks. I loathe and detest the fact that these Brain Gym people feel the need to make up complete rubbish that doesn’t even sound plausible in order to make more money. Because ultimately, that’s what this is about. If they gave a damn about children’s intellectual development, health or educational progress, they wouldn’t charge so much for their lies. I understood that you clearly weren’t attacking common sense advice in any way, and all the people who thought that you were ought to learn to read. I find it worrying that so many teachers lack the ability to do so.

  24. Janet W said,

    March 25, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    “..any sign of divergent and independent
    thinking sluiced away..”
    I’ve noticed several previous posts on various threads along these lines, too. For some reason, if someone examines a piece of received wisdom and says “hang on, that can’t be right”, they are a puppet of medical orthodoxy, but if they just go along with a fashionable trend in health or education, they are adventurous and independent-minded…

  25. maibee said,

    March 25, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    In response to Ben Goldacre #3 (I think) at post 22, yes, yippee – ben has been taught to sift the real from the unlikely. And it was curious today when tuning into ‘Farming Today’ or whatever programme was on at about 6am (2 kids, little sleep), I was listening to a debate between a scientist and a campaigner about the effects of pesticides on people. It was only after a few minutes that I realised that rather than feeling cross at the scientist for not going along with the emotionally motivated campaigner who was citing one-off studies here and there and ignoring the rest, I was realising how he was thinking. And appreciating it and listening to what he had to say rather than jerking my knee into the radio. And that is due to the education I have had here. I think the best bit was when he said something like, ‘well obviously I’m concerned because I live in the world too’. I think this sums it up. Scientists are saying, ‘where is the evidence base?’ ‘how do these studies together give us a picture of possible cause and effect?’, not, ‘I don’t live in the real world and don’t give a toss if I get cancer too’. It’s just that I would rather a scientist sorted out the evidence than me believe an emotional person who offers me a simple answer because there just aren’t any. I’m someone who has had breast cancer at a ridiculously young age and I have been appalled at the stuff that is peddled about causes and reasons for illness. Extrapolate this into any arena, e.g. education and people want a quick reason and a quick answer for failure perhaps and all this tosh delivers this and apeases guilt. It comes down to the ‘we gave our kids brain gym but they still failed. They can’t have been doing it right’. So blame is shifted. Just like the people who advocate dubious cures – ‘you just ain’t done it right’. Hence there are no results that can be measured and only the recipients rather than the dispensers of this stuff are judged. I say bring on the science. And I’m a humanities graduate AND a teacher. The LOWEST of the low :)

  26. Alex said,

    March 25, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    We are having an interesting dicussion on humanities graduates (Why the demonisation of humanities graduates?) that you may want to check out. Also, this thread has several positive comments on teachers. I woudn’t teach though, you guys have to put up with far too much rubbish.

  27. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 25, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    Are you quite sure that the pro-Gym correspondents who say that they are teachers (or that they have that as job title), are?

  28. David Mingay said,

    March 25, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    There is a simple solution to all of this. Teachers’ salaries should be tripled. This would make teaching an attractive occupation for people who a) are not so stupid that they fall for pseudoscientific nonsense, and b) are interesting enough in themselves to engage pupils’ attention without having to resort to pointless exercising in their lessons to stop pupils from drifting off. The boring idiots who currently dominate the profession could then be sacked. I am a teacher, but I say this with no self-interest whatsoever, obviously.

  29. stever said,

    March 25, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    It shouldnt be difficult to get a friendly MP to table a PQ on Brain Gym which the minister is obliged to answer.

    An MP whose a medical doctor or someone on the Science and Technology select committee would be a good bet. they are a reasonably with it bunch. Brian iddon perhaps – hes a chemist. Or Paul Flynn also with a science background , who has always been very amenable to me on drug-policy questions.

    They would need some help drafting an appropriately unanswerable question along lines of (these will need a little bit of work):

    To ask the minister for education

    How much is the DoE spending on Brain Gym each year, in total and by Education Authority?

    Does the minister support the teaching to pupils of the ‘Brain Gym’ materials in the guide (whatever the quoted literature is) that contain blatant falsehood and pseudoscience (insert examples or refer to media coverage) ?

    What evidence does the DoE have that Brain Gym offers value for money or produces better educational outcomes that the entirely free guidelines regarding breaks, exercise and hydration during teaching already provide by the DoE (assuming they exist)?

  30. stever said,

    March 25, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    whose=who is

  31. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 25, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    i met brian iddon briefly the other day at this thing i spoke at, maybe i should get on to him. brain gym just feels like such a joke i can’t even picture it being mentioned in parliament.

  32. Jim said,

    March 25, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Damned pricey joke.

  33. Delster said,

    March 25, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    If there are any teachers reading this who dislike brain gym but have to go and get “trained” on it i’d advise you to take a number of cheap packets of sliced ham to pelt the trainer with, or possibly you could just stick the labels saying “not more than xx% added water” to their foreheads?

  34. mclaren said,

    March 25, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    Your attack on Brain Gym was indeed scurrilous, libidinous, scrofulous, and suggestive of barratry on the high seas. Clearly children need not only tobe taught about oxidation in the blood, but about orgone energy and therapeutic touch and the importance of ancient astronauts in world history, along with the history of Mu, Atlantis, and those pesky gray reptoids entering the White House via underground passageways where they plot to convert us all to Rosicrucianism.

    After the kids are finished learning all that, they can start learning Chinese…because that’s where al the scientists and engineers will be coming from, if America continues to slide down the tubes into this open sewer of mindless superstition.

  35. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 25, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    america? dude, where am i?

  36. Tom said,

    March 25, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    I imagine Brain Gym is bought by individual schools from their own budgets rather than centrally by DfES, so Ruth Kelly probably isn’t committing money to it directly herself – you want to avoid answers like “we haven’t spent anything at all” or “that information is not held centrally”. But she could still be asked questions about it.

    “To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she supports the use in state schools of teaching materials which claim that processed food does not contain water, and that rubbing one’s ribcage will stimulate the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, and if she will make a statement.”

    “To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what her policy is on the teaching in schools of the scientific claims made on behalf of the exercise programme promoted by the Brain Gym Educational Kinesiology (UK) Foundation, and if she will make a statement.”

    (That second one is modelled on Keith Vaz’s question on creationism here: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm060227/text/60227135.htm)

    It would be good to have something like those tabled in the Commons, but it might also be worth trying to get a starred question in the Lords – you get about fifteen minutes of debate, and you can brief a range of peers to ask different supplementary questions on the same subject. I think it would be Lord Adonis answering there.

  37. Delster said,

    March 25, 2006 at 10:02 pm

    well i did a search for brain gym trainers and it does look like america has it worse than us on this one…. mind you when they elect someone because of their “faith” then what can you expect

  38. pv said,

    March 25, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    “but if they just go along with a fashionable trend in health or education, they are adventurous and independent-minded…”

    Janet, isn’t that what we call keeping an open mind – so open that your brains fall out?
    Actually what strikes me about people who insist I keep an open mind about astrology, voodoo, Drain Gym or whatever, is they never say what I’m supposed to do afterwards with all the crap I’ve opened my mind to.

  39. Tom said,

    March 25, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    Well, at our school we had a rather open minded teacher to learning technices. he somehow loved mind maps, ect (which probably wasnt’ that bad). but had this thing for lisinging, (with eyes closed, taking up a hour long lessons) instuctions like:

    “cross your egs”, “imagin yourself in a large building // (breath in) you are on the green seven floor // (breath out) //you take the indigo elivator (american origen grrr) to the yellow six floor // (breath in) you are now on the indigo six floor. you see a round six. it is a large round six in between the two elevators (american’s grr)// (breath out//you take the red five elevator … … …

  40. ithaca said,

    March 26, 2006 at 12:23 am

    Ben, it would perhaps be an interesting (and easy) exercise to use the Freedom of Information Act to request info from Local Education Authorities about the extent to which they promote Brain Gym in their schools – more accurate than using Google!

    There aren’t that many LEAs in the UK, and a single email can be sent to multiple addresses to request information.

    By law the LEA would have to disclose any information they have – how much they’ve spend on Brain Gym, how many teachers have been trained etc – or at least point you to any documentation they’ve already published.

  41. Kimpatsu said,

    March 26, 2006 at 4:05 am

    Ben Goldacre wrote, “Actually i feel a bit bad in case it looks like i’m being mean to teachers. i just really was angry about these foolish emails, and i dont get angry about much, what with being so sage and stuff. ”
    Don’t be so parseley-monious with your wisdom, and make sure to insert the stuffing AFTER removing the giblets…

  42. Claire said,

    March 26, 2006 at 8:59 am

    am an English Teacher in a secondary school and have always
    questioned the copyrighted programme that is “Brain Gym.”
    I have attended a training session and questioned the neuroscience
    behind many of these myths and been met with incredulity by the course
    leaders (gurus!)
    I really enjoy changing the atmosphere and focus in a classroom and
    use movement and action as part of this but I DO NOT subscribe to brain
    gym as a “religion”
    As you say it has inpsired some excellent practice in the classroom
    and to this end we are grateful.
    My interest now is in marrying neuroscientific facts with education
    and really finding some facts to assist us when faced with 30 children
    and a lesson objective to achieve. The brain is fascinating and we are
    closer to understanding learning now than we have ever been but so far!
    Cambridge University has a Neuroscience and Education unit now and
    they are working on this stuff. I really look forward to science and
    education meeting and us learning from the scientists in a meaningful
    factual way.
    Please let me know if you find any useful contacts for this as it is
    definitely the way forward.

  43. Chris Tregenza said,

    March 26, 2006 at 9:46 am

    If you are interested in how movement can help learning without the more extreme stuff that Brain Gym spouts then look at “Learning with the Body and Mind” by Eric Jensen and “Making the Brain Body Connection” by Sharon Promislow.

    Both books are aimed at busy teachers and parents so are light on the science. They also occasionally head down into pseudo-science but they do provide a good introduction to the area.

    For anyone wanting more indepth, scientific coverage of how movement can effect learning in people with dyslexia and ADHD then please take a look at my blog, Myomancy [ www.Myomancy.com ].


  44. igb said,

    March 26, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Getting written questions answered by ministers is easy. I do so routinely on topics that interest me. Just ask your MP to do so. If they’re a bit wet, you might need to make it explicit that you’re asking them to put down a written parliamentary question. I have a feeling they’re not allowed (or at least supposed) to refuse. You usually get the specific minister (most of my hassling the Home Office got Bob Ainsworth or Paul Goggins, rather than Straw / Blunkett / Clarke) Oh, my MP stopped me from hassling Blunkett about the legislation surrounding satanism in the navy, but I was in a very bad mood.

    Extracting things which require the freedom of infortmation act can be a bit more tedious, and it’s sometimes worth using your MP rather than the formal process. I had a bit of a run in with the Office of the Information Commissioner, and I found that threatening them with the FoI via my MP was faster than using the FoI directly.


  45. Darth_Tater said,

    March 26, 2006 at 11:47 am

    I’m a teacher too and I’ve been on many courses where I’ve despaired at the intellect of some of my colleagues (I’d be perfect if I wasn’t so modest ha!) so it doesn’t surprise me when they fall for this stuff. The worst of it is that some of the most enthusiastic promoters of Brain Gym, VAK etc. within the profession are leabelled and paid as Advanced Skills Teachers. My daughter’s year group got taken off timetable one day to do a load of fun activities labelled “Brain-based Learning”. To this day she has no clue why she did the activities and hasn’t had any of the so-called ideas carried through into her everyday lessons. So that’s 5 hours’ learning time gone. As someone pointed out last week, my most successful students in a 20 year career have been those who completed all the work I set and could sit quietly and listen while I was explaining things.

  46. Will said,

    March 26, 2006 at 11:48 am

    Brain Gym does sound like bad science. But the article made me think of a discussion with one of my acting instructors…

    I tend to like hard science, and when an acting instructor I had once started telling me to “let my awareness fill the stage” I had a discussion with him. The debate raged for a while (after class), and the end result was a keener awareness of three things:

    i) Sometimes teachers will explain that you should do something, not because you should actually do it, but because trying to do it will cause you to act in a way that achieves the right effect. e.g. My singing teacher telling me to “breath into my kidneys” – very useful advice, and she was up front about it being pedagodically, not scientifically correct. She started by telling me to breath into the bottom of my lungs, but I couldn’t breath in the way she wanted my to until she gave me the useful, but technically incorrect advice.

    ii) Sometimes people will explain things in a way that, while sounding mystical, is actually a valid predictive model of the world. My acting teacher’s instruction telling me to “let my awareness fill the stage” fits this category. He had a specific meaning for ‘awareness’. His use of the terms was self-consistent, and consistent with how others in the community used the terms. His model of how ‘awareness’ behaved had predictive accuracy (he could describe how both the actor and audience would perceive things in different cases, and demostrated it with single-blind trials (although he didn’t call them that)). The only issue here is that he used words that were not quantitative, and which sounded mystical. Even then, you have to remember that he was using those words as terms of art in an a specific context.

    iii) The third case is blantant bad science. e.g. breathing through one nostril to oxygenate one half of the brain. It sounds like Brain Gym is of this third form. The incorrect explanations of the formations of clouds here fraser.cc/BadScience/Bad/BadClouds.html are also of this form, although they sound more ‘scientific’.

    Be well,

    Will :-}

  47. Peter D said,

    March 26, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    As a taxpayer as well as an ex-neuroscientist and ex-teacher I too am appalled at this waste of money. Can anyone enlighten me as to the extent to which it is going on in Scotland, as we here could challenge our own worthies ?

  48. amoebic vodka said,

    March 26, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Ian Gibson might be a good MP to volunteer for asking questions in parliament, being both knowledgeable about science and a former university head of department.

  49. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 26, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    if anybody knows them personally, you could email me the email addresses of these helpful MPs?

  50. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 26, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    loads of sane teachers this week. fair warms the cockles of my heart. and makes me feel a bit bad about saying horrible things about teachers.

    > I was not surprised that your Brain Gym article provoked some hostile
    > responses…after all teachers who have wasted time on the silly stuff
    > have got to get cross at someone, and it is easier to make it you
    > rather than themselves. However you need to know that there are others
    > out there whose opposite (supportive) response could perhaps afford to
    > be a bit quieter (my bemused husband had to listen to me getting
    > excited and I fear did not altogether welcome the explanation of why it
    > was such a good article).
    > As a Psychology teacher I had been asked some months ago, by the
    > (biology) teacher who was planning a presentation to other staff about
    > ‘brain gym’, what I thought. I came up with many of the same points
    > that you made and was highly delighted to find your article last week
    > organising the argument rather more systematically than I had managed.
    > I contented myself with cutting it out and giving it to the interested
    > party, who now seems to agree. I also made a note of where to find
    > your article should the idea crop up again in school. The angle that I
    > had not explored, and for which I am very grateful, is the damage that
    > we do to our credibility as knowledgeable communicators of all the
    > other material that we present in lessons, when we dabble in these
    > unsupported ideas.
    > In a typical school year I will spend 39 weeks encouraging my students
    > to be rigourous in constructing logical arguments, identifying and
    > evaluating evidence, rejecting anecdotes (or at least relegating them
    > to the very first step of a scientific enquiry; merely suggestive of a
    > possible research question). I will then be forced to spend 2 or 3
    > “training days” in the year listening to highly paid ‘experts’ peddling
    > mumbo-jumbo which they cannot begin to justify in terms that make any
    > sense to me. In the last of these the starter activity identified
    > almost every member of staff in the room as a ‘kinesthetic learner’
    > (you know…the sort of person who can’t sit still and needs physical
    > activity as part of any ‘learning’). Since most of us would not be
    > teachers unless we had been pretty successful within an education
    > system where physical activity much beyond sharpening a pencil would
    > have got us chucked out, this seemed on the face of it to be an
    > unlikely ‘fact’. Later in the same session another activity showed
    > that I, and most of those around me, were after all predominantly
    > ‘visual learners’. There was no attempt to reconcile the conflicting
    > evidence but there were plenty of pictures of brains and neurons to
    > encourage us to believe that we were in the presence of scientific
    > experts as we were made to plan for VAK learning
    > (Visual/Auditory/Kinesthetic) which now has its own section on every
    > official school lesson-plan!. I am quite happy to accept as common
    > sense that kids will be more alert, and get more out of the lesson, if
    > there’s a bit of variety of activity (equivalent to the ‘brain gym’
    > message of take an exercise break), although improving the ventilation
    > in my classroom could probably achieve the increased alertness quicker,
    > but I don’t need labels and experts and pseudo-science to tell me that.
    > I now encounter A-level students who, when asked why they have done so
    > badly in a test, will say “Ah well miss, you see I’m a kinesthetic
    > learner so this is not my sort of thing” (thinks-duh-get off my A-level
    > course then!).
    > Please keep up the good work, and don’t be put off by the outpourings
    > of those whose recent promotion was on the back of their introduction
    > of bold, new, ‘scientific’ ideas into their school. If you look at the
    > studies on ‘cognitive dissonance’ in psychology text books they will
    > explain why it was these folk who felt compelled to attack your ideas
    > very forcefully last week. I hope if I think about it I can come up
    > with some research that explains why I have spent so long writing this
    > to support you!

  51. pv said,

    March 26, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Hey Darth Tater, what is brain based learning as opposed to, say, testicle based learning? Just curious, you understand.

  52. John Hawcock said,

    March 26, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    I agree with Ithaca. We need the LEAs to tellus how much money they are wasting on brain gym and similar crap. I work in an under-resourced science department and would love to know if our shortages have been caused by the school management falling for this pseudoscientific claptrap.

    I have a step-daughter in Year 6 and would like to be assured that she is not being educated by people stupid enough to believe this rubbish

  53. Darth_Tater said,

    March 26, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    pv, my point exactly. My girl’s no slouch when it comes to actual learning, but the day meant nothing to her beyond being a day off lessons. She was a bit disappoointed that she didn’t get to do the junk banmd workshop. Another thing that I just remembered is they were given a healthy breakfast at the start of the day because it would help them learn better. If this is the case, why on Earth don’t we give every kid in the school a healthy breakfast just in case they didn’t get one at home?

  54. Coobeastie said,

    March 26, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    Peter D – I know that an education event for Highland Council a year or so back had a seminar on Brain Gym and it was the best attended of the whole thing. It’s mentioned on their website, along with a load of other things:
    How far the pseudoscience is used in schools, or just the simple activities, I don’t know.

  55. pv said,

    March 26, 2006 at 9:22 pm

    Darth Tater, I think the money would be better spent on breakfast than on Brane Jim.

  56. twilite said,

    March 26, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    As a Psychology teacher, I completely agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve sat through sessions on Brain Gym, Mind Maps, AL, NLP, etc.

    I am constantly appalled at the pseudoscience babble spouted by these so-called experts. Apparently neuroscientists know nothing about how the brain works, but these experts can tell us how to encourage the growth of new neurons in the brain, etc. What utter twaddle!

    Thank you for your excellent column! Keep it coming!

  57. Tony Jackson said,

    March 26, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Comment on Maibee (no 26).

    Yes, I also heard that discussion on Farming Today. The worst bit was when the increasingly shrill campaigner accused the poor scientist of being part of the “cancer establishment”. What the f**k? I must say he took it better than I would have done. But it shows the extent of scientific illiteracy that is increasingly setting the agenda in lots of cases (the MMR thing is another obvious example). It is essential that critical analysis and some basic good science be taught early and well if we are to avoid sinking into emotionally seductive but deeply sloppy thinking.That is why the Brain Gym scandal – and yes I do think it is a scandal – is so worrying.

  58. exo said,

    March 26, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    Rgearding Freedom of Information requests on spending on Brain Gym, sounds like a good idea. There are 150 local authorities to try. You could also try the DfES to see what they are doing centrally, though don’t hold onto your breath for them to be reply by the legal deadline, as they have just rolled out a new correspondence-handling system and, surprisingly, given the government’s track record in IT projects, it doesn’t really work.

  59. Michael Harman said,

    March 26, 2006 at 11:07 pm

    pv: “Hey Darth Tater, what is brain based learning as opposed to, say, testicle based learning? Just curious, you understand. ”

    Er, I don’t think that would be particularly effective for his daughter.

  60. Delster said,

    March 27, 2006 at 7:52 am

    well i think the good breakfast thing would be an excellent idea…. i’m formulating the plans right now with all the pseudo science you could want under the working title of “Bran Gym” :-)

  61. Hanne said,

    March 27, 2006 at 10:36 am

    It’s unlikely that the DfES would know anything about what schools are up to, and I hesitate to accept that the LEAs would know any more.

    off to find Eeyore again, it’s all rather depressing (or maybe that’s just the Monday talking)

  62. mbatey said,

    March 27, 2006 at 11:14 am

    Has there been any official comment from the Educational Kinesiology UK Foundation (I think of them as Brian and Jim) about all this? There’s nothing on ‘The Official Brain Gym® Web Site for the UK’…

  63. stan said,

    March 27, 2006 at 11:53 am

    I work as a teacher in a school based in a paediatric unit.

    If brain gym is so effective, why aren’t medical students, HOs SHOs etc taught it?

    Keep up the good work!

  64. Al said,

    March 27, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Ben said: “america? dude, where am i?”

    You’re not in Kansas anymore!

    Seriously, the debate that resulted after your article was truly dismaying. There is no way I would want such respondants to be responsible for my childs education, particularly as belief in the veracity of early-acquired information can be hard to change.

    As a psychologist myself, I often see people baffled by our experiments and what they are designed to test; the difference between us and proponents of things like “Brain Gym” is that ours is founded on peer-reviewed evidence and good experimental design. I guess some folks might look at our experiments, see our interpretations, and erroneously conclude that totally unrelated aspects of life can influence each other. In some ways I feel responsible but that’s silly. Adults choose to believe this nonsense or not.

    The saddest thing is that a genuinely scientific explanation of why taking breaks and deep breaths might be useful for concentration would be far more interesting than this pseudo-science guff. All the best.

  65. Luvaduck said,

    March 27, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    In response to David Mingay in post #29, tripling teacher’s salaries may not actually help – I have heard there is a prominent human-rights lawyer who earns 10 times more than the average teacher who believes in an awful lot of pseudoscience. God forbid that she should ever be enticed into the teaching profession!

  66. Scoob said,

    March 27, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    AL, Actually according to BrainGym, the website, 35 learned articles have been published on Brain Gym (not including blatant publicity pieces). I decided to check them out.

    30 were published in those fine publications, Brain Gym Journal and Brain Gym Magazine. One is in Verlag fuer Angewandte Kinesiologie (I guess that’s German for “Brain Gym Journal). Another one is in the Australian Journal of Remedial Education. I know some academics are desperate to publish, but that really is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    Another two papers are in a journal called Perceptual and Motor Skills to which our library curiously doesn’t subscribe. One abstract makes it onto Medline, a study by G.C.K. Khalsa and Josie M. Sifft in 1991 from …you’ll never guess… the California State Polytechnic of Pomona. They reported a “significant” increase in “performance” of 6, 3.5 and 1% on a sample size of 10 men and 10 women. Very convincing. In principle, I guess this might have been peer-reviewed, though heaven knows by whom. See the abstract for a laugh.

    That leaves one article in the Journal of Adult Development (which, like all the previous publications, doesn’t merit a mention in the science citation index) in 2002 by C. A. Wolfsont of that well known academic institution, the Cohoes City School District, Cohoes, New York. Its all about “deep understanding balance”, and has a sample size of 4. Its completely barking.

    I therefore doubt very much that any of this crap has been properly peer reviewed at all. There is therefore, officially, no scientific basis for Brain Gym.

    Now I really ought to do some work….

  67. Alex B said,

    March 27, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    “disorganised energy”…… isn’t energy by its very nature disorganised and in flux? never was a physicist but ….hmmmm

  68. stever said,

    March 27, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Good work scoob.

  69. P.L.Hayes said,

    March 27, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    “It’s unlikely that the DfES would know anything about what schools are up to…”


  70. BSM said,

    March 27, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    PL Hayes

    For what it’s worth I have sent a comment using that weblink, wearing my school governor’s hat (and very fetching I look in it, though I say so myself);

    “Quite why this pseudoscientific claptrap is being given a stamp of credibility by its appearance on a Government website, I have no idea.

    Although I do not have access to the teaching materials associated with Brain Gym, I have been reliably informed that they include the following concepts;

    “Focus is the ability to coordinate the back and front areas of the brain…Centering is the ability to coordinate the top and bottom areas of the brain… Brain Gym movements interconnect the brain in these dimensions.”

    “While holding the navel area with one hand, rub with the thumb and finger of other on hollow areas just below the collar bone on each side of the sternum.” because “buttons above carotid artery supply fresh oxygenated blood to brain, helps lung/brain function … and brings attention to gravitational centre of body.”

    “Make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefinger and place on either side of the breast bone just below the collar bone. Gently rub for 20 or 30 seconds whilst placing your other hand over your navel. Change hands and repeat. This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation.”

    “Drink a glass of water before Brain Gym activities. As it is a major component of blood, water is vital for transporting oxygen to the brain.”

    “Processed foods do not contain water.”

    “All other liquids are processed in the body as food, and do not serve the body’s water needs.”

    As a Foundation Governor of my local school, I am please to say that my school has not signed up for any of this nonsense. Unfortunately, it would seem that hundreds of schools have done so.

    Perhaps the schools’ minister would care to comment. In particular I would be fascinated to hear their views of the science behind the statements I have quoted above.

    The minister might also like to review the “controlled studies of educational kinesiology which demonstrate impact on aspects of performance such as response times and hearing”. The minister’s views on the quality of those studies would be most interesting.

    I may be contacted at;

    BSM’s lair.

  71. BSM said,

    March 27, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Following on what Scoob just said, here’s a direct link to all that high-powered research.


    Ye gods, a multimillion dollar international business has been based on this.

  72. pv said,

    March 27, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    “Ye gods, a multimillion dollar international business has been based on this.”

    Otherwise known as a scam.
    The conceited individuals who fall for this scam, people who otherwise should know much better, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. But when they’ve invested so much of their professional integrity in such a piece of mendacity are they likely to humbly admit to being conned? Not very, I think.
    The Emperor has been advised of his new suit’s lack of substance and is still stumbling about in a state of denial, completely naked.

  73. Darth_Tater said,

    March 27, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    Michael Harman (post 60) – good point, although there is a clear difference between boys’ and girls’ attainment in many subjects so maybe, just maybe…
    pv I totally agree about the breakfast and I have heard that some schools have breakfast clubs and some targetted kids do get it for free. Never seen one though.

  74. ricki said,

    March 27, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    A couple of thoughts:

    first of all, getting up for an exercise break is good for kids. The “problem” is, your typical calesthenics are free (“public domain”) so no one gets rich off of them. And they’re not very sexy, because they don’t have some crazy pseudopsychological theory attached to them. And so schools have less of a motivation to tell the kids, okay, get up and do fifteen jumping jacks. It’s so much COOLER to have some pseudoscientific dealie about “oxidation” (snerk!) and that sort of thing.

    second, when schools adopt this crazy “brain gym” scheme, probably behavior and scores improve. In part because, well, getting up and running around the room (or whatever) is a good break and cuts boredom. But also, couldn’t there be some placebo effect involved? I mean, you tell a kid “you’re pressing a brain button now and it will make you learn better” maybe some of the kids will? Not because it works but because they think it works, or because some of the kids are just basically people pleasers who will make an extra effort. Or the teachers will think they see improvement when there really isn’t any. (I’d love to see some kind of a blind study of this vs. standard calisthenics vs. a control and see how it affects test scores – my gut feeling is control

  75. ricki said,

    March 27, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    would be less than either of the exercise programs, with no difference between “brain gym” and plain old exercise.

    Finally, some teachers make a career out of this stuff because of the Emperor’s New Clothes aspect of it – they think that they have some kind of “received wisdom” that makes them special and “more sensitive” and all that crap than those boring sciency folk who question the neurobiology behind it. People go from fad to fad because fads like these make them feel good.

  76. stan said,

    March 27, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    fads like this don’t actually make me feel good at all. In fact, they rather piss me off, particularly when I realise how overpaid some/most/all of these charlatans are. And it is most certainly the emperor’s new clothes- this is how careers these days are made.

  77. Scoob said,

    March 27, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    Thanks Stever (post 69)

    And they’d have gotten away with it too, if it wasnt for us pesky kids….

  78. ACH said,

    March 27, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Somebody on an unrelated forum thread has posted this link. Amazingly, it’s a blog by a “Brain Gym instructor and consultant” so completely unbiased :)


  79. ACH said,

    March 27, 2006 at 10:20 pm

    Oops. That didn’t work. So, try www.tes.co.uk/ and just scroll down to the blogspot on Brain Gym.

  80. Katie said,

    March 27, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    I agree that Brain Gym surrounds itself in pseudo-science, that is not supported by empirical testing, and unfortunately, entices a large percentage of teachers with its technical jargon – another favourite of the education system.

    However, there is a large amount of empirical evidence that supports the role of the cerebellum in Dyslexia and obviously Dyspraxia e.g. eyeblink tests have revealed that Dyslexics have delayed learning as a result of classical conditioning. As the cerebellum is key in motor fuction, it is thought that focused exercise may benefit children with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. This said, I do not believe in Brain Gym – Sony’s Eye Toy and dance mat on the PS2 provides a more exciting opportunity for children to develop their motor skills and possibly impact on their cerebellum/ frontal lobe – cerebellum connections. A Dyslexic-Dyspraxic school in Blackpool effectively utilises skateboarding!

    The main issue is that a number of schools feel compelled to take multiple intelligences and brain gym on board because of the imminent threat of OFSTED in their schools. Teachers are not given the freedom to teach in a way that benefits the individuals in their class – instead they must teach according to the government but they are placed in the firing line when they do not achieve TARGETS.

    The focus needs to be placed on the individual – whatever ability level. Children’s strengths and weaknesses should be taken into account and teachers should have small enough classes and enough support to tailor learning to the individual, within obvious limits. No one can argue that people do not learn in different ways – I personally have to write notes, others do like hands on – but the system is taking it too far.

    I recently attended a cluster conference on learning styles, thinking skills and multiple intelligences (as a primary teacher and recent graduate of Psychology w/ specific interest in the neuroscience of learning). I was shocked and angry at the information being handed out – mostly ten year old theories that had long since been discredited, adapted or replaced. I spent a very long time gripping the chair tightly and biting my lip. The flow of information from academia to the schools needs to be much faster – the Psychology 1st year undergrad is privvy to much more info than your average Primary head. Additionally, most of teachers seem unable to evaluate and analyse information, automatically believing that anything that is presented to them by a ‘professional’ is the absolute truth. A quick glance at most educational journals will back up the lack of empirical research being conducted properly.

    Teachers, need to weigh up the evidence – they are the experts and they know what works in their own class. The DFES should not make teachers feel compelled to progress with a scheme that does not benefit their children.

    Assess the impact, gather the evidence and if it’s not working then stop.

  81. Darth_Tater said,

    March 27, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    Thanks for that link ACH I’m afraid too many teachers fall for the pragmatic fallacy and I’m glad to see now someone is trying to put them straight on that blog.
    Katie, too many of us bite our lips at these meetings. That’s why these people get away with what they do. Next time, speak out – you may be surprised at how many of oyure colleagues join in. I know though that seniority plays a part, I was at an Accelerated Learning training session a few years back and did not speak up for fear of ruining my promotion prospects. Now at least I’m in a position tyo argue against booking that kind of thing (anectodes as evidence + charming presenter) in the first place.

  82. Darth_Tater said,

    March 27, 2006 at 10:56 pm

    “No child will be able to produce the fine motor movements for writing with a pencil until he or she is able to control …….. larger movements.”

    This is from a pro(motion of)-brain gym site. Maybe Sybil Fawlty helped write it (specialist subject, the bleeding obvious). It goes on to mention that in France the PE curriculum is linked to the teaching of handwriting but fails to mention any pseudoscience attached to this in France (probably because there isn’t any).

  83. Darth_Tater said,

    March 27, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    Sorry now I’ve found this in the same article and I’m getting really pissed off. (here’s where it all is, BTW www.eltnewsletter.com/back/May2001/art612001.htm). “The Midline Movements which help to integrate binocular vision”. Bastard! I had two operations for a squint, Mrs Tater had two and Tater jnr1 had two (and there were more in the extended tater family as well as tater jnr2’s non-operative treatment to keep good vision in both eyes) so we’ve put up with all the cross-eyed jokes and taunts the world has to ofefe especially with me working in a secondary school. Anyway the surgeon who did Tater jnr1’s first operation had strong views on why he wouldn’t operate on tiny babies with a squint. He said that the squint was there because binocular vision wasn’t “wired in” (for want of a better phrase) to the brain, therefore there would be no benefit to an early operation so the operative risk on such a tiny person was unjustified. If you could do physical jerks to develop binocular vision, don’t you think guys like this at the specialist eye hospitals would be telling us? And we’d be jumping at the chance?

  84. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 27, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    thanks ACH, that’s genius.

    Someone identifying themselves as a Brain Gym person responds, at the Times Education Supplement:


  85. Jellytussle said,

    March 27, 2006 at 11:47 pm

    “If you are interested in how movement can help learning without the more extreme stuff that Brain Gym spouts then look at “Learning with the Body and Mind” by Eric Jensen and “Making the Brain Body Connection” by Sharon Promislow.”

    Alternatively get a video of The Wiggles. Could do a comaparitive study of those
    manic Australians vs. Brain Gym.

  86. Adam said,

    March 28, 2006 at 4:14 am

    Exercise breaks are a very good idea. They’re sometimes called “break time” or “recess”. Some above mentions that the Americans appear to have a worse infection of Brain Gym, I recently read an article (no link, sorry) about how some schools in parts of the US have reduced “recess” to virtually nothing. I’m sure the two aren’t (directly) related, but it’s one to ponder.

  87. Filias Cupio said,

    March 28, 2006 at 5:01 am

    This is the perfect target for a well-known put-down:

    Brain Gym is both good and original. The good bits are not original, and the original bits are not good.

  88. RS said,

    March 28, 2006 at 6:53 am

    “To imply that this invalidates the whole programme is an incorrect causal link and is itself bad science.”

    This is a classic move be the pseudo-scientist, I’ve heard it used against Richard Dawkins a lot recently so you’re in good company.

    “the fact that Brain Gym is used in over 100 countries worldwide and hundreds of schools in the UK testifies to its efficacy.”

    And of course homeopathy must also work, it is bad luck to walk underneath ladders, and the MBTI is a scientific theory of personality.

    “crossing the midline of the body to ensure that integrated hearing and vision develop well.”

    Oh Christ. You’d think those hard-wired connections were rather more important than exercises that cross the midline.

    “Certainly our understanding continues to improve as scanning techniques reveal the huge complexities of the inner workings of our brain and body.”

    Ah yes, the inevitable ‘appeal to neuroscience’. They don’t know anything about it, but surely something there will support them if they’re vague enough.

  89. pv said,

    March 28, 2006 at 10:12 am

    “the fact that Brain Gym is used in over 100 countries worldwide and hundreds of schools in the UK testifies to its efficacy.”

    Actually it testifies as to what a good scam it is. It also, rather more alarmingly, testifies to how gullible some teachers must be.

  90. guthrie said,

    March 28, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Katy, my mother has retired after 30 years teaching primary school. I know several other teachers at various levels of teaching. I entirely agree that there needs to be better flow of information as to how to teach children better according to newer scientific results on phsychology etc etc, but, the problem is quite complex.

    As for teachers
    “Additionally, most of teachers seem unable to evaluate and analyse information, automatically believing that anything that is presented to them by a ‘professional’ is the absolute truth. ”

    Is a bit broad. Many teachers are quite capable of this. Many of them attend their in service days and later try and forget everything they were taught, because it was junk. Or others are too busy, and faced with a dictat from above to teach “This way” they do so, because they have no choice.

    As far as I am aware, teachers are very busy people. This means that the best place to inject the new knowledge is at teacher training college, however I have heard that their quality varies hugely. And a lot of learner teachers dont get anywhere near enough classroom exposure and training of actual class handling.

    recently attended a cluster conference on learning styles, thinking skills and multiple intelligences (as a primary teacher and recent graduate of Psychology w/ specific interest in the neuroscience of learning). I was shocked and angry at the information being handed out – mostly ten year old theories that had long since been discredited, adapted or replaced. I spent a very long time gripping the chair tightly and biting my lip. The flow of information from academia to the schools needs to be much faster – the Psychology 1st year undergrad is privvy to much more info than your average Primary head. Additionally, most of teachers seem unable to evaluate and analyse information, automatically believing that anything that is presented to them by a ‘professional’ is the absolute truth. A quick glance at most educational journals will back up the lack of empirical research being conducted properly.

    Teachers, need to weigh up the evidence – they are the experts and they know what works in their own class. The DFES should not make teachers feel compelled to progress with a scheme that does not benefit their children.

    Assess the impact, gather the evidence and if it’s not working then stop.

  91. Fairview71 said,

    March 28, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    This article was brought to my attention yesterday, so aplogies for being a little tardy. The reason for it being highlighted to me was simple, I am in the process of training in one aspect of Kinesiology, called Touch for Health, having spent many years in the IT world. I was “introduced” to Kinesiology whilst experiencing a period of depression and, whatever my now mentor did, worked. I was cynical to start with, always have been of the whole complementary medicine world but I have personally benefited from treatment and, since starting the training in how to administer TFH I’ve seen the difference it can make to people of all shapes and sizes with a multitude of problems and issues.
    Brain Gym too appears to help as long as it’s regularly used. My youngest kids use it in class and I’m more than happy with that and their early results are testament to something making a difference to their school life. In the case of our older (teenage) kids I have seen them go from non-focused to the height of concentration after a few simple exercises, so what’s wrong with that?
    It might be as some have said a placebo effect in some cases but what if it’s not? I don’t have ANY medical knowledge so I wouldn’t dream of attacking those who feel they have the eduaction/skill and experience to question the neurological impact (or otherwise) but in my mind, anything that helps kids to make the most of their education has got to be good. As mentioned, the benefits are, in many cases reaped from a slow burn, daily exercise rather than one-off so just maybe, one or two here might see more benefit if they were to stick with it.

  92. Charlotte said,

    March 28, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Keep up the good work!!

  93. aspiring pedant said,

    March 28, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Ben claimed he attacked the stupid underlying science of Brain Gym but my understanding of both articles is that he was actually attacking the teaching of this bad science to children. He has found a lot of bad science in the “Brain Gym Teachers Edition” and highlights 2 particularly absurd examples. However, Dr. Goldacre assumes that this bad science is taught in hundreds of everyday state schools up and down the country. This assumption may not be valid and by making it he opens himself up to accusations of making “an incorrect causal link which is itself bad science”.
    He then responds by denigrating the basic critical reading skills of those who would criticise him for making this questionable assumption. Does he need to visit a classroom to find out if there is water in processed food? No, he doesn’t but a visit to a classroom might help him find out if the nonsense underlying Brain Gym is in fact being taught in schools.
    I wonder what is Ben’s motivation for writing about Brain Gym? If it’s to dissuade teachers from using this nonsense; I’m not sure he’s succeeding. If it’s just to mock teachers for being gullible; then fine but he can hardly complain if he receives a few angry emails. However, I really don’t think asking him to question his central assumption (i.e. that all the bad science contained in the Brain Gym manual is taught to children) amounts to “jaw-dropping stupidity “.

  94. RS said,

    March 28, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Quite a few people have cited the bad science as evidence that it works, so I’m pretty sure that the bad science is taught. If Ben hadn’t pointed out the more egregious examples (like water through the top of the mouth) I bet they’d have cited them too.

  95. aspiring pedant said,

    March 28, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    RS – I agree there are probably more examples of preposterous pseudoscience in the training guide and I suspect that some of this is likely to be passed on to children in the classrooms of teachers using Brain Gym. However, I don’t know this for certain and I suspect that most of the obvious stuff, like the no water in processed food thing, might very well be “filtered out” by teachers. My objection to Ben’s two recent articles is simply that he appears to be attacking teachers on the basis of an assumption; had he simply left it at ridiculing the authors of the training guide I’d be perfectly happy.

  96. igb said,

    March 28, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    Instead of gripping the chair, guthrie could have spoken out. One of my proudest achievements is being slung out of a five day course (on software requirements, not Brain Gym) on day two for being disruptive. The engineering director was in turn slung out (which translates as “the course ended”) on day four. I was just slightly quicker to spot nonsense, and had less invested in its not being nonsense. I can’t help thinkiing that keeping quiet while nonsense is promulgated, and then saying it’s nonsense afterwards, is (a) rather meek and (b) a disservice to your peers.


  97. jimmy100 said,

    March 28, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    aspiring pedant #94

    I completely disagree with your reading of the articles. In several places Ben has made it clear that he isn’t assuming that the pseudoscience is being taught, and that the criticism of teachers is conditional on whether it is. Indeed the first article, which is what prompted most of the abusive emails, finished with a question:

    Original Article (Brian Gym – Name & Shame)
    “Taking a break and doing some exercise is obviously great for improving performance. Is that all you get with Brain Gym in schools, or does it really come parcelled up with the bullshit?”

    He’s asked the same question in several comments in the thread for the first article:

    Comment 27:
    “brain gym is certainly sold on the bonkers pseudoscientific explanations, but i want to know if that is what is peddled to children in schools. it seems to be a mix so far…”

    Comment 66:
    “…if they are teaching those pseudoscientific explanations to children…”

    Comment 125 (in response to a student with a negative opinion on Brain Gym):
    “do they explain how it works?”


  98. aspiring pedant said,

    March 28, 2006 at 3:28 pm


    Right at the top of the page Ben states: “They teach that there is no water in processed food. They teach that rubbing your ribcage will stimulate the carotid arteries beneath and increase blood to the brain and “activate the brain for an increased flow of electromagnetic energy”. The “they” can only apply to teachers since there is no other plural article preceding it. If he means Brain Gym instructors he hasn’t made that clear. I’d be interested in hearing about any other interpretation of those first two paragraphs.
    I agree that Ben has stated often that he’s only criticising the theory but his big problem is with the pseudoscience being taught to children and he states that often enough too.
    So, we have this slightly bizarre situation where Ben is very critical of teachers using Brain Gym and then when they react as I expect most people will when criticised, he responds by saying he was only criticising the underlying theories. He even does this in his second article despite the fact that earlier in the article he has explicitly attacked teachers. He compounds this by telling his accusers that they lack the basic reading skills to understand his articles. This isn’t doing much to develop the debate.
    I’d just like to reiterate that I think Brain Gym is nonsense too but Ben is being a bit harsh on teachers.

  99. RS said,

    March 28, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    He’s also having a go at the McKeithesque corporate machine:

    “But in stark contrast, the science they use to justify this so often seems to be bogus, empty PR, that promotes basic scientific misunderstandings, and most of all is completely superfluous in every sense except the commercial: because the ropey promotional “science” is the cornerstone of their commercial operation, they need it to promote themselves as experts selling a product that is unique and distinct from the obvious, sensible diet and exercise advice that you can’t copyright.”

  100. stever said,

    March 28, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    Fairview 71 – you really must re-read the article and perhaps this and the other thread on Brain Gym. For the perhaps 100th time., Noone is suggesting that Brain Gym doesnt work (although the research is at best patchy). The problem is the pseudoscientific guff that is used to explain it and taught with it.

    Im amazed people are still posting that ‘Brain Gym works’, which was never disputed.

  101. Jimmy said,

    March 28, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Aspiring Pedant has a fair point. I know of a GP who has undertaken training acupuncture would it fair to say that any GP using acupuncture is telling her patients that she is unblocking the chi in that patient’s meridians. I think not; I believe the GP in question is just trying to deliver what she thinks the market wants. It is possible to argue that Ben is simply attacking the theory and at the end of the first of his recent articles he states that “If you are a teacher who manages to do the exercises without the pseudoscience, then well done to you (although I’m puzzled as to why you’d bother with Brain Gym instead of any other kind of exercise break).” However, both articles give the general impression of an attack on teachers for teaching pseudoscience.

    Stever – we don’t know for sure that very much pseudoscience is taught with the Brain Gym – I’m certain that teaching nonsense is not a necesary part of the process.

  102. ACH said,

    March 28, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Aspiring pedant: “Right at the top of the page Ben states: “They teach that there is no water in processed food. They teach that rubbing your ribcage will stimulate the carotid arteries beneath and increase blood to the brain and “activate the brain for an increased flow of electromagnetic energy”. The “they” can only apply to teachers since there is no other plural article preceding it.”

    Actually, the sentence immediately preceding that is :|”To recap: Brain Gym is an incredibly popular technique, in at least hundreds of British state schools, promoted all over government websites, and with a scientific explanatory framework that is barkingly out to lunch.”

    And following it is: “as they say in the Brain Gym teaching manual.”

    So, I read it as a government initiative foisted onto teachers, and the ire being directed towards the Brain Gym company and its plethora of consultants and trainers WHO ARE PEDDLING PSEUDOSCIENCE. I can’t help thinking you’ve been very selective in the sentence you’ve quoted there. There seem to be a lot of Brain Gym “consultants” earning a very good living out of this, and schools spending too much of their resources sending people off on training courses to promulgate this bad science, when all they really need to do is say “Have a drink and take some exercise”. – but as has been said here before, nobody can charge a few hundred pounds a day to tell people that.

    Maybe the people who are obfuscating the main point of this article are brain gym consultants with a financial interest?

  103. BenRoome said,

    March 28, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    Aspiring Pedant – The additional point is that the pseudoscience of Brain Gym is used to justify buying this special “research” and “knowledge” that the expensive course is based on.

    I can’t see how you leapt to your conclusions either. You’re not even aspiring as a pedant.

  104. BSM said,

    March 28, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    “They teach that there is no water …”

    I also think the “they” was the instigators and promoters of Brain Gym. One of the unanswered questions remains whether the nonsensical explanations are just being given TO teachers or whether they are also being given BY teachers to pupils.

  105. Katie said,

    March 28, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    Darth_Tater, totally agree that people need to speak out more and I am probably a culprit of this!

    Guthrie, I was perhaps a little harsh by applying such a general statement about teachers being ‘unable to evaluate and analyse information, automatically believing that anything that is presented to them by a ‘professional’ is the absolute truth’ I can only speak based on my limited experience, but the majority of people that I spoke to after the conference had been fully taken in by the consultant and I seemed to be one of the only people asking any questions about his theories.Could it be that some (note that I am not trying to make a sweeping statement) teachers have become resigned to the fact they have no choice? My bank have decided that teachers are no longer professionals, have we as well?

    Additionally, it is true that teachers are very busy people (that is why you will notice all of my posts are after 10pm, when I have finally finished working) and that they are ‘faced with a dictat from above to teach “This way” they do so, because they have no choice.’ As I mentioned, I am currently a teacher and know this all too well. But if more people spoke out against these unsubstantiated theories would we be in this situation?

    Furthermore, I am an NQT, having completed my PGCE at a leading university that is rated the top Initial Teacher Training institution in the country. I fully agree ‘that the best place to inject the new knowledge is at teacher training college, however I have heard that their quality varies hugely.’ I found the whole course expected you to be spoon fed ideas, theories and research without any opportunity or encouragement to critically evaluate it. After my first degree, I found this incredibly frustrating as I was often classed as the ‘naughty’ child because I questioned concepts.

    The idea that ‘a lot of learner teachers dont get anywhere near enough classroom exposure and training of actual class handling’ is another topic completely. I also think that a major factor is the quality of their mentor and school placement. I had exposure to one fantastic mentor in my final placement, but my first two were not such shining examples. The main skill that a student teacher needs is to be able to REFLECT upon observations of other teachers and their own experiences, whether good or bad, in order to become the best teacher that they can. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to pick up bad habits if you are only exposed to poor examples.

    Sorry, I know that this is very off the topic of Brain Gym but I felt I must reply. I realise that I have made sweeping statements (and lots of typos), but please do take the hour into consideration!

  106. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 28, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    since you ask, here is precisely how i rank the crimes involved here. like top of the pops we’ll count down to number one.

    6. the people who peddle proprietary brain gym exercises without the pseudoscience

    5. the people who peddle brain gym pseudoscience to teachers

    4. the people who make the decision to pay government money for brain gym pseudoscience to be promoted and taught to teachers

    3. the people who force teachers to attend the teaching of brain gym pseudoscience

    2. the teachers who accept the brain gym pseudoscience uncritically themselves.

    1. any teacher who teaches brain gym pseudoscience to kids.

    for those occupying the top spot on the chart alone i am offering a service where i will personally, and with a heavy heart, knowing my duty is to the children of tomorrow, pull the trigger if required. the rest of the top 5 have only my contempt.

  107. Jimmy said,

    March 29, 2006 at 12:16 am

    ACH – Do you think “they” refers to government websites? The second sentence of paragraph seems to me to be referring to the previous sentence and the subject is without doubt teachers.


    That’s what I now know as “trolling” – isn’t it?

    You’ve assigned the 2 worst crimes to teachers – whereas the others are people. Have you got a problem with teachers? (I should probably add a wee yellow smiley face but I’m sure you get the point).

    To me the people who are most likely to be guilty of using Brain Gym at numer one in your hit parade are little more than daft wee lassies. If you gun down the wee lassies (I’m thinking of people, if cast in Hollywood movies, likely to be played by Reece Witherspoon or Piper Perabo) – I’ll take out the people at no 4 on your chart whom I consider more culpable (to be played in Hollywood movies by some nasty English chap – Alan Rickman usually) . The rest are probably redeemable – nah, let’s just kill the lot of them. I need to add a wee yellow smiley face winking but I’m used to hoping people can understand the written word.

  108. John Hawcock said,

    March 29, 2006 at 9:09 am

    I’m coming to the conclusion that this whole Brain Gym nonsense is merely a symptom of the way education is run these days ie schools are required to produce ever more improvements with ever decreasing resources. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they fall for claptrap that promises to deliver the goods. I could go on at great length about Cognitive Advancement through Science Education as well. This is quite popular where I work but is there any evidence that it fulfils its claims?

  109. guthrie said,

    March 29, 2006 at 10:05 am

    Nice reply Katie. I’m afraid I missed the bit where you said you were a teacher. education is just one of those topics I am somewhat opinionated on.

    Could it be that some (note that I am not trying to make a sweeping statement) teachers have become resigned to the fact they have no choice? My bank have decided that teachers are no longer professionals, have we as well?

    I’m beggining to think that is the case. Especially with the use of management speak and importation of commercialism and stuff into the classroom. If you treat teachers as machines whose job it is to pass on recieved wisdom in the prescribed manner, then yes, teachers are no longer professionals. Though I suppose that is another rant.
    Perhaps teachers, being normal people, are just as gullible as the rest of us, and without any social pressure/ movement/ whatever towards being inquisitive and critical, will just swallow the pseudoscience like a lot of others do. This website has lots of such situations documented.

  110. Geoff Roberts said,

    March 29, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Ben says in post 107 “…i will personally, and with a heavy heart, knowing my duty is to the children of tomorrow, pull the trigger if required.”

    I have supported Ben in a couple of posts on the other thread. However, I cannot and will not support anyone who even implies that a suitable response to dealing with teachers (or anyone) peddling pseudo-science is to ‘pull the trigger’ on them. What can you possibly mean by this Ben? That death (what else might the average and non-linguistically pedantic reader imply from your phrase – yes, I know that I am running up the ladder of inference and translating the phrase; I also believe that ‘we’ have a respons-ability to recognise how our words might be interpreted and work with that likely interpretation) is a suitable penalty for teaching pseudo-science?

    I don’t want pseudo-science taught to children (or teachers!), yet even this would be preferable to teaching them that ‘pulling the trigger’ is a suitable response to something I did not agree with!

    Please Ben, withdraw this.

  111. aspiring pedant said,

    March 29, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Ben Roome – to what conclusion are you claiming I have leapt? How would you know whether or not I aspire to be a pedant?
    ACH – The sentence immediately preceding the “they” in question is an aside; the subject of that paragraph is teachers. The second paragraph begins “They teach” – scroll to the top of this page to check if you don’t believe me. There is no “As they say”.
    To state that Brain Gym is a Government Initiative is just nonsense – yes Brain Gym is referenced on web sites with a “gov.uk” domain name but the DFES website, for example, really only states what Brain Gym is. That might give Brain Gym an appearance of respectability that it doesn’t deserve but it’s a long way from being a Government Initiative. We might as well claim that the NHS is promoting acupuncture with this – www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/en.aspx?printPage=1&articleId=6
    There seems to be an assumption that Brain Gym is a thriving business making huge amounts of money but what on facts is this assumption based? From a quick web search and what Delster has discovered (comment 237 on the Name & Shame thread) it appears that Brain Gym training costs around £100/day. I won’t deny that this is a waste of money but typical management training courses, covering subjects such as time management (how to use a diary), assertiveness training etc., are around £300 a day. Also, it seems that some of the Brain Gym courses are delivered in private residences – not what I’d expect of a succesful commercial organisation. However, there is a great deal of information available freely on the internet e.g. via this link
    So, it may well be that teachers are using brain gym techniques without very much money being spent.
    There are a great many metaphysical and pseudoscientific beliefs and these irritate on an almost daily basis but giving ill informed opinions and insulting their believers will get us nowhere. A rational debate where we try to understand other people’s points of view might help rid the world of bad science; threatening to kill its followers, even in jest, will not.

  112. Dingthing said,

    March 29, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    It’s a metaphor. Lighten up

  113. pv said,

    March 29, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Let me guess, Geoff Roberts, are you an American? Or are you taking the piss?

  114. Delster said,

    March 29, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    Fairview71… the whole thrust of the arguments presented is that the exercise and ensuring children are hydrated is good but that the science that brain gym presents as to why it works is bad.

    Guthrie… i have one thing to say to you… next time for god’s sake say something!

    As for the whole pulling the trigger thing…. possibly a little extreme…. how about running them down to their own schools biology class for the human A&P section…. although if they are the biology teacher then can i recommend you get them to dig a nice deep hole before you pull the trigger…. save you the work.

    At the end of the day teachers are there to educate children. This is a very responsible role and i have a great deal of respect for those who have the patience to do this.

    However as part of their duties they should be questioning new techniques and teaching ideas. Some ideas, such as a quick break and a drink and back to work, are good whilest others, such as the brain gym pseudo science, are obviously not.

    I have to assume that the groups of teachers who are being taught these things are not all from one discipline, for example not all in a group will be english teachers. So why do those whose area of expertise covers these things not stand up and say “bullshit” when the trainers come out with this stuff? I’d have said that was part of their duties, something they owe to the kids they teach and to their colleagues.

  115. aspiring pedant said,

    March 29, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Dingthing – That’s a fair point and I apologise if I’m taking things too seriously. I’m happy to see Ben’s last comment as a joke. I think he was trying to wind up teachers and/or their defenders and I actually found it quite funny. However, it doesn’t add anything useful to the discussion. Maybe we can be content just to mock pseudoscience, and I find it rather enjoyable, but it would be more worthwhile to try to win some converts from amongst the credophile masses. It’s possibly rather self-contradictory to use the term “credophile” here but I find it a useful label.

    P.S. Does Ben’s keyboard not have a shift key or is he typing one-handed for some reason?

  116. Stever said,

    March 29, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Geoff – I strongly suspect Ben was kidding about gunning down teachers. Just a hunch.

  117. Dingthing said,

    March 29, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    Not you pedant old boy, twas Geoff I was calming. Sorry if misunderstood.

  118. Melissa said,

    March 29, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    pv– Hey, not all Americans lack a sense of humor! Just… most of us. 😉

  119. avenger said,

    March 29, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Look! This starts to explain the braingym(R) obsession with water:


    scroll down.

    “Amazingly, water crystals also show a responsiveness to music and to human thoughts.”

    “a lack of water in the body can be the root cause of many painful degenerative diseases”

    Far as I can tell, the braingym(R) people are in the business of selling certifications. What you get from them is a stew of yoga, special-ed techniques, movement training and miscellaneous woo-woo, tied up with a pseudoscientific patter. They *need* the patter, the idea they’ve tapped into secrets of the universe, because otherwise it would be obvious that they’re just selling repackaged common sense.

    What makes these things work, like any scam, is that you just have to find the most gullible 10% of the population. The fact that braingym(R)’s defenders seem peculiarly bad at reasoning is hardly a coincidence.

  120. Jimmy said,

    March 29, 2006 at 8:02 pm


    That’s outstanding – I would not have believed such rank absurdity could exist. That said, the Brain Body book sounds just what I need:
    “Making the Brain Body Connection synthesizes elements from the most up-to-date learning, brain, and stress theories, with Specialized Kinesiology, into a user -friendly model for effective personal change and state management. Discover how you can be more effective, learn more easily, and feel better.”

    I’m in dire need of some state management.

  121. P.L.Hayes said,

    March 29, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    I have seen miraculous improvement in both children and adults who have used Brain Gym. In fact, three children with whom I’ve worked have gone from blindness to sight. One child began to walk independently at age five and, now seven and a half, has never returned to his wheelchair. A nine year old boy diagnosed as autistic who previously used two words to express himself began using functional speech after just three months of using Brain Gym. One five-year-old boy who was having intense and frequent seizures (about three times a week) decreased his seizure activity to twice a month, and the intensity was also significantly diminished.

    There are two books I suggest you begin to explore: I Am the Child: Using Brain Gym® With Children Who Have Special Needs by Cecilia Koester Freeman and Brain Gym®, Teacher’s Edition by Dennison & Dennison. You can order these books directly from the author of this article (contact info at end of article) or by calling Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc. at 1-888-388-9898.


  122. Geoff Roberts said,

    March 30, 2006 at 7:46 am

    I do hope, as suggested by Dingthing (113) or Aspriing Pedant/Stever (116,117) that Ben was either offering a metaphor (perhaps an unfortunate one, nonetheless!) or was ‘joking’. Of course if I go to the airline checkin and ‘joke’ that I will ‘pull the trigger’ on anyoikne who opens my bags then I am very likely to be arrested – even if I did just mean the comment as a joke/metaphor.

    You might have picked up my concern with language in my various posts – the language we use reveals lots about our underlying thoughts and I guess that my concern is that the prevalence of ‘unhelpful’ and highly emotive language (be that challening metaphors, misinterpretable jokes or vituperative attacks…) in this thread does not, to me, reflect very well on the thinking of those who wish to support Ben’s legitimate attack on pseudo-science. Nor do the aparrent lack of critical reading skills in some respondents (hopefully not teachers!) offer much hope – when I was at school we might have been given the original article for a comprehension test and be expected to differentiate the distinction between the attack on pseudo-science and the acknowledgement that water/exercise has benefits.

    OH, and finally pv (114) – no I am not American (nor am I short of a sense of humour or in need of ‘calming’, to respond to other posts). As an insight into thinking processes (nothing to do with Brain Gym!)I would love to understand the thought processes/ladder of inference that led you to make suggestions about my nationality on the basis if what I have written. And anyway, what does it matter what my nationality is? Or perhaps there are some stereotypes out there that apply to ‘all Americans’, just like there may be stereotypes that apply to ‘all users/teachers of Brain Gym’.

  123. John Hawcock said,

    March 30, 2006 at 8:39 am

    Thanks for posting 120, Avenger.

    I should have known “crystals” would appear sooner or later. The New Age types seem very fond of them.

    Has anyone told the BrainGym(TM) crowd that water is only crystalline when it is frozen? Or are we meant to make children eat ice before lessons? And exactly how did they measure its response to human thought and music? In which journal was this little gem published?

  124. conejo said,

    March 30, 2006 at 8:49 am

    Avenger (post 120) – 1/2 way down the page is the book:

    “The Brain Train by Frances Meiser with Susan Lee and Nina Anderson

    Discover which foods are good for the brain, how to make new brain cell connections, why water is so important, how to make your Brain Train “engine” run in top shape. The Brain Train includes an interactive progress chart. A book for all ages. Easy to read for school age children.”

    Obviously Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc. wants to teach the pseudoscience to kids. I wonder how many copies of this are floating around the UK? Dare I ask if any teachers are using this book with children?

    P L Hayes (post 122)

    – I followed the link to “I am the child”. I tried the “Thinking cap” exercise (just less than 1/2 way down the page, after the table) to see if unrolling my ears would indeed support the claim: “You’ve just relaxed your mind/body system so that you are better able to organize yourself as witnessed by your body’s ability to subconsciously organize itself so that turning your head is easier.”

    (Not least because turning my head is an impressive measure of my body’s power of self-organisation :-) ).

    And yes! Like 98% of people (apparently) it worked!!

    EXCEPT, golly gosh – I forgot to unroll my ears in the middle and I just moved my head from side to side a few times. Surprise, surprise moving my head from side to side made it easier to … move my head from side to side.

    This is supposed to convince me?

    I don’t recall seeing the following point about the BS and pseudoscience earlier in the threads (apologies if it’s there somewhere). Some defenders of the Brain Gym are saying that getting the science correct is not as important as using something that works, the implication being that bad science doesn’t matter. Let us suppose that the claims made by P L Hayes in the first paragraph are true: this means that there would be a truly wonderful therapy that could benefit untold numbers of people. BUT, by peddling the bad science, the proponents of Brain Gym make it a laughing stock and more or less rule it out for serious attention and study. By peddling the bad science they are *obstructing* the development and growth of something really useful (if it were true). If they were truly trying to help they would say “Here’s a system of exercise that appears to work but we don’t know why. Let’s support independent testing and study and find out what’s really going on”. But they don’t.

  125. P.L.Hayes said,

    March 30, 2006 at 9:19 am

    Uhh… Sorry – I forgot the quotation marks – they’re not my claims but the claims of one of the Brain Gym® luminaries. The entire content of my post is copied from the web page I linked to and they are the words of Cecilia Koester Freeman, who clearly doesn’t want anyone to think that a course of Brain Gym® is any less effective than any other miracle cures.

  126. conejo said,

    March 30, 2006 at 9:41 am

    Ah yes: now I see from your earlier posts in this thread that you are not on a different planet after all :-) My comments were in effect directed at the luminaries anyway.

  127. coracle said,

    March 30, 2006 at 9:42 am

    John Hawcock,

    Has anyone told the BrainGym(TM) crowd that water is only crystalline when it is frozen? Or are we meant to make children eat ice before lessons? And exactly how did they measure its response to human thought and music? In which journal was this little gem published?

    This one’s a classic, I didn’t think that even brain gym would stoop to this. Wow, plumbing new depths.

    It’s an old piece of bad science popularised in a film, read all about it here. Or do a google search for “music water crystals”, follow any of the arising links for a good laugh.

  128. Janet W said,

    March 30, 2006 at 10:37 am

    I think water-drinking deserves a BS article all of its own.

    For example, do we actually need to take action to “ensure children are hydrated”? Unlike begonias, say, can’t we expect them to look after this for themselves?

  129. ithaca said,

    March 30, 2006 at 10:56 am

    Janet – the younger children I’ve worked with don’t know their own bodies well enough to keep optimally hydrated for learning.

    They’ll not die of thirst, but like anything else they need to be taught how much to drink and when to drink it.

    I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here!

  130. pv said,

    March 30, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Geoff Roberts, in the place and time in England where I come from, almost anything is ripe for humour. However I asked if you were an American and you can infer whatever pleases you. Do you feel insulted? I also asked f you were “taking the piss”, of which your post does some hallmarks! But I can find no record of my use of the “calming” word.
    However, irrespective of your nationality, cultural background or sexual preferences, I find it slightly disturbing that in your last post you seem to make no distinction between a Bad Science forum and an airport check-in desk, with regard to where it might be appropriate or otherwise to indulge in a bit of sarcasm.
    I don’t suppose, by any chance, you had yourself in mind when you wrote, “the language we use reveals lots about our underlying thoughts”?

    Regarding the thought process that inspired me to inquire if you might have some cultural/ancestral affiliation to the United States of America, I’m sure Melissa might be happy to enlighten you, if she feels so inclined. :)

    PS. You wouldn’t be anywhere near the vicinity of Sheffield University, I suppose?

  131. Chris Vaughan said,

    March 30, 2006 at 11:00 am

    Hi Ben,

    yes, keep up the good work.
    Doesn’t it worry you, shouldn’t it worry us all, that we seem to be spiralling headlong into a society where the dictum is based on falsehoods, snake oil, and parapsycoscience where once respected educators seem to lack basic understanding of scientific methods? These people and the children they are in charge of represent our future. I applaud those brave souls of teachers emerging to point out the insanity of following new, untested, methods or blindly accepting the latest “good thing”, but surely the Department of Education should have some control over the adoption of Brain Gym, or have they been hoodwinked as well?

  132. aspiring pedant said,

    March 30, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    Janet W.

    Whilst there are a few questionable benefits given by various parties to encourage people to drink more water I don’t think you can call water drinking bad science.
    If I drink more than a pint & a half of beer that’s a binge, carbonated drinks, sports drinks & fruit juices rot my teeth, tea & coffee have caffeine in them which keeps me awake at night. So, I’ll carry on drinking as much water as I want thanks very much.
    Bottled water is another matter but it’s better than water plus sugar, carbon dioxide, phosphoric acid and vegetable extract. (I suppose an exception would be if you were in danger of starving to death.)

    I think Ithaca is right regarding school children; if water is not easily available they’re not going to drink enough.

    However, I read James Fixx’s Complete book of Running at an impressionable age and accepted as truth that if your urine is any darker than a pale straw colour you’re dehydrated. Is that bad science? How about sports drinks bottles which often advise that even dehydration equivalent to the loss of 1% by body weight would have an adverse affect on thermoregulation and capacity to do physical work. Is that Bad Science? It is often stated that thirst is an unreliable indicator of dehydration – is that bad science?

    I suspect that advice to drink water, eat fruit & vegetables and take some exercise is the very antithesis of bad science but I’d be interested in contrary opinions.

  133. le canard noir said,

    March 30, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Janet W – absolutely with you on the water thing. Even Ms Canard Noir is constantly ‘making sure’ I am drinking enough of the stuff. Fortunatelty, it is just water off a ducks back to me. Ms Noir is, of course, constantly reading how important ‘optimal hydration’ is in every paper, sunday supllement, women’ s magazine and so it is unsurprising that she sees it as important. However, I am quite convincedthat this is just one lazy journalist copying another without any of them seeking primary references or even caring of it is true.

    In such an atmosphere, it is no wonder that teachers take in the BG BS because it is so plausable, isn’t it? Excercise, water – everyone knows that – these people must be speaking wisdom.

    Ms Noir thinks I’m a freak for doubting… Sick to death of the water thing. Thank god ducks can fly too.

  134. Janet W said,

    March 30, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I agree with a.p. that water (in countries with a readily-available clean supply) is probably the safest thing to drink. but if people are not keen on it, I don’t see why they can’t get their fluids from tea, coffee and so on.

    a.p., I’m certainly not setting myself up as an expert in this subject. I just read the article linked somewhere in the thread above, which said there was no grounds for a minimum requirement for 6 glasses a day except possibly when ill or in hot weather, and also that the fluid could be taken in any form.

  135. Melissa said,

    March 30, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    In America, where there are soda machines in nearly every school, indeed it is important to teach children to drink water.

    Geoff Roberts said:
    “I have supported Ben in a couple of posts on the other thread. However, I cannot and will not support anyone who even implies that a suitable response to dealing with teachers (or anyone) peddling pseudo-science is to ‘pull the trigger’ on them. What can you possibly mean by this Ben? That death (what else might the average and non-linguistically pedantic reader imply from your phrase – yes, I know that I am running up the ladder of inference and translating the phrase; I also believe that ‘we’ have a respons-ability to recognise how our words might be interpreted and work with that likely interpretation) is a suitable penalty for teaching pseudo-science?
    I don’t want pseudo-science taught to children (or teachers!), yet even this would be preferable to teaching them that ‘pulling the trigger’ is a suitable response to something I did not agree with! Please Ben, withdraw this.”

    Geoff, pv’s confusion as to your nationality might have arisen from this classically American overreaction to Ben’s “pull the trigger” comment, which *of course* he didn’t mean literally. Americans these days, as a whole, are hypersensitive to the use of language (and hypersusceptible to it, as well)– as if grown adults need to be protected from suggestions of violence, even when they’re flagrantly not serious! Life is not an airport terminal, and I don’t believe it reflects poorly on anyone in this thread that they are able to sort word choice from intentions.

  136. Adam said,

    March 30, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Forget Brain Gym, give the kids gum. From The Guardian:

    “In the UK psychologists at the University of Northumbria found that chewing gum improved memory. In his experiments Andrew Scholey found that people who chewed gum recalled words better than people who did not chew anything at all. He speculated that because chewing increased heart rate, it would increase oxygen supply to the brain, enhancing cognition.”

    Okay, so this is along the lines of exercise breaks – except it supposedly keeps the blood moving whitout a break. I don’t know whether this has been covered on this site, but by just how much does chewing increase heart-rate? Could many other activities work as well that don’t involve the production of copious amounts of gum? Why don’t we see Brain Gym Gum marketed?

  137. Alan Harrison said,

    March 31, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    122. From that link:
    “For example, in Brain Gym we have a movement called the “calf pump.” It is similar to the “runners’ stretch.” Extend your right leg behind you and as the heel is touching the floor, hold it down for approximately 8 seconds and release. Repeat 7-8 times and then repeat with the other leg. This should take about one minute on each leg. This movement stimulates the brain by using the body and subsequently the neurological flow increases and we are able to comprehend our task with greater ease.”

    neurological flow? increases?

    What’s “neurological flow”? How is this increase measured, PL Hayes?
    The improvements in those children you mention, can you assert that they were due to Brain Gym, that they would not have improved naturally, or through more conventional treatments just as well?

    Again, I must make the point that Ben is not suggesting that some or all of Brain Gym is ineffective, but that the pseudoscience behind it is unsupportable, and also that it seems largely to be common sense repackaged as a clever new programme.

  138. aspiring pedant said,

    March 31, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    Janet W. – I agree that tea & coffee can be a useful source of water. The advice I’ve often been given is that you need to drink about 2 litres of water a day and that caffeinated beverages don’t count. Tea & coffee are supposed to be diuretic and so dehydrate you but I’m pretty sure if your only source of food or drink was tea you’d survive a lot longer than with nothing at all.

    Delster – try this: – weigh yourself, exercise hard for an hour, weigh yourself again. I often lose more than 1kg in weight. Also, if I’m playing sport I don’t really feel thirsty whilst playing. You’re absolutely right regarding food colouring – there’s a brand of banana milk shake that has a very alarming effect – your urine can be practically fluorescent.

    I’m quite convinced by the argument that thirst is a poor indicator of dehydration and that once you’re dehydrated it’s not that easy to regain proper hydration; marathon runners are told to drink early in the race when they may not feel thirsty. Of course, you can drink too much (hyponatraemia?) but Idon’t think it’s easy to do. However, water requirements must vary a lot from person to person, there’s a lot of water in most foods ( especially fruit & vegetables) and I think tea & coffee and even beer can contribute to your need for water. So, while the case for drinking 2 litres of water a day may be overstating things a bit it doesn’t count as bad science in my book. Plus, if someone is telling me to drink a few glasses of tap water a day there’s hardly likely to be a commercial motive for doing so.

  139. raygirvan said,

    March 31, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    anybody remember how to make it turn blue?

    Methylene blue.

  140. CB said,

    March 31, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Whenever I’ve been revising for exams and trying to remember stuff I’ve always found myself starting to pace up and down the room or picking up a tennis ball and chucking it against a wall or something, and it seems to help – god knows why – I could probably come up with some bullshit science to explain it though and make a fortune selling special ‘kinesology wall and tennis ball kits’ at an exorbitant fee.

  141. eml said,

    March 31, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    To maibee:

    Please don’t be tempted to get a better paid job. Someone needs to teach children how to read properly by associating phonemes with letters, not any other way, at least to start with.
    I am glad you pointed out that this is the best way to ensure sight-sound association / coordination.

    To all:

    Instead of taking this to parliament, science teachers which have already attended ‘training sessions’ on brain gym could possible get together to run a series of scientific experiments. The hypothesis could be that any form of break / excercise / mouvement / game every 45mins (or whatever you decide the maximum attention span of a child may be) is benefitial. Those benefits should be described and measured using good old scientific methods rather than pure observation.

    To Janet W:

    I think the obsession with hydration possibly originates from claims made by mineral water and energy drink companies stating that athletes require constant watering in order to keep going whilst exercising and that their performance declines significantly when they are dehydrated.
    I personally think it’s a good idea to tell children to drink a little water, not soft drinks, on a regular basis. However, it is unlikely that overwatering of a child will improve its development. More likely, it will make it want to go to the toilet in the middle of a very important science lesson looking at the heart, digestion and how water absorbsion in the body doesn’t occurr in the same way rising damp does in a house!

  142. Adam said,

    March 31, 2006 at 1:06 pm


    Yes the Guardian article was on the same thing. I’m not sure how much Wrigleys had to do with the research quoted as the article doesn’t say, but it implies that that research was independently carried out, but cited by Wrigleys to justify their marketing exer…er, research funding.

  143. John Hawcock said,

    March 31, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    To aspiring pedant

    The advice I have been given is that as a rule of thumb you need 1millilitre of water per calorie of food consumed. So if you consume 2000 calories of food per day you need 2 litres of water – but the water content of your food counts towards this!

    Just as well too. If it didn’t, I would have died decades ago.

  144. Delster said,

    March 31, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    the whole thing with athlete’s performance declining when they are dehydrated is correct but then again after i’d been excercising for long enough to become dehydrated i’d be a bit on the knackered side myself…. with or without any extra drinks along the way.

  145. stever said,

    March 31, 2006 at 5:23 pm


    this link – Brain Gym defending itself, and the discussion that follows is a Hoot.

    our friend Barry Parvier crops up, and amazingly still doesnt seem to get it ATALL, despite the fact that every single post is slating the BG. unbelievable.

  146. Toren Atkinson said,

    March 31, 2006 at 6:15 pm


    NEW YORK (AP) — In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.

  147. Adam said,

    March 31, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    “In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.”

    I guess the pressure of expectation isn’t the best thing to load on someone with a dodgy heart.

  148. carl said,

    April 2, 2006 at 7:00 am

    It seems listening to special music can make you a genius.

  149. P.L.Hayes said,

    April 2, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    Although it doesn’t really bother me if one more person thinks I’m nuts, please read comment #126 Alan Harrison 😉

  150. Alex said,

    April 3, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    I didn’t realise they’d gone as far as claiming to make the blind see, but when you don’t have to worry about getting it wrong…I propose we have a British Bloggers’ Brain Gym Bullshit Bash, when everyone takes a post out of their usual daily blogging to assail this (inevitably) American-inspired insanity.

    Does anyone else have the feeling Carole Caplin had something to do with this?

  151. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    CB I’d say it is quite common to perform some repetitive physical activity when trying to figure out a problem. Some people pace, some throw a tennis ball against the wall, others play with their pens, etc.

  152. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    Heavy metal and punk made me a genius. Then I got hooked on easy listening and it has been downhill from there.

  153. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Children don’t need to be told to drink fluids. They’ll do just fine having a drink only during the official breaks. If you’re worried they might need something to drink before the next official break you can keep a jug of water on hand and let them know it is there if they require it, but you still do not have to instruct them when to drink for fear they might dry out and blow away.

    A pint and a half of beer is not a binge. Drinking until you are physically incapable of ingesting any further alcohol, now that is a binge. A drinking binge has been conveniently defined in such a way as to turn almost every alcohol user into a binge drinker and fabricate an epidemic.

    Sports drinks and fruit juices are not going to rot your teeth. Unless you don’t swallow. Children’s teeth might be slightly more susceptible, but when it comes to baby teeth they’re hardly worth fussing about, and protecting their permanent teeth requires nothing more than having them brush their teeth before going to bed.

    I’ve read conflicting things about the dehydrating properties of caffeine. I

    You don’t notice your thirst while playing a sport because you’re focussed on the activity at hand. You’ll certainly notice it at half-time. When running I actively suppress it until I reach a refreshment point.

  154. Melissa said,

    April 4, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    “Sports drinks and fruit juices are not going to rot your teeth. Unless you don’t swallow. Children’s teeth might be slightly more susceptible”

    Personally I’m more worried about childhood obesity than tooth decay.

  155. AJH said,

    April 4, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    “Although it doesn’t really bother me if one more person thinks I’m nuts, please read comment #126 Alan Harrison ”

    noted. And I’ve now read more of your posts both here and in another place (TES) and you must be careful to quote your quotes. Regards.

    Still, “neurological flow” anyone?

  156. BT said,

    April 5, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    Re thirst and overhydrating (following on from what Hatter said in 156):
    There’s an Australian pseudo-science-buster called Karl Kruszelnicki (aka Dr Karl). (Among other things, he’s a regular guest on the national youth broadcaster, JJJ, so you can read more about him here: www.abc.net.au/triplej/people/dr_karl.htm. You can also listen from wherever you are, as they stream live AND provide timeshiftable downloads/streams of a lot of their programs, including his guest slot. People call up and he tries to answer their questions – this sometimes actually results in a little not-quite-right-science, but he always says if he isn’t sure, and asks for contributions – and/or does some research in the following week himself.)
    Over the past couple of years, he’s done some investigation into overhydrating. It’s actually quite easy to do. The usual suggestion of “8 glasses a day” is really something of a maximum – if you simply drink when you’re thirsty, you’re generally going to be ok.
    It should also be noted that there was a very famous ecstasy death in Australia back in 1994 – a 16 yr old girl (Anna Wood) died because she drank too much water. I was just a bit younger at the time, and it was one of those big “this could happen to you stories”, so I remember it pretty well! Apparently, she’d been told that you had to make sure you drank lots of water when on ecstasy, and she overhydrated and died. Yes, your thirst reflex is a little wonky on ecstasy, this is why most people will pipe up with the advice given to Anna Wood (especially if you’re going to be sweating a lot!), but it can work both ways (unfortunately). I think there was a similar case in the UK a couple of years ago.
    Finally (I think this is from Dr Karl originally, but apologies if it’s not) – in recent years, there have apparently been more long-distance runners collapsing during/after races as a result of over-hydration than with dehydration. This is precisely because everyone is oh-so-aware of the potential problems with dehydration, and there is a lot of overcompensation going on (especially among the ranks of fun-runners – ie those without proper coaches etc – not sure if the same applies to the pros).

  157. JQH said,

    April 10, 2006 at 10:10 am

    stever (posting 148)

    Thanks for that link. Heath is unbelievable – he is now admitting that there are a “few minor errors” in the Brain Gym teachers’ manual but fails to explain why they were put there in the first place or why BG trainers make such use of these errors in their sales patter.

    He hides behind vague references to neuroscience research but fails to say which research shows that BrainGym produces better results than ordinary exercise breaks. I even left a posting requesting this info last week but it hasn’t appeared yet. You’d think he would have it to hand wouldn’t you?

    Incidently, have you noticed how huffy he gets about criticism? As one of the other posters said, it looks like he wants believers not enquirers. That, and BrainGym’s claims to secret knowledge that only their approved instructors can pass on makes it seem more like a cult.



  158. JQH said,

    May 8, 2006 at 9:20 am

    Just had another look at the TES website. Heath still hasn’t come up with the evidence that Brain Gym works any better than ordinary excercise.

    We can draw our own conclusions from this.

  159. barb said,

    July 27, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    Consider, once again, the following paragraph written by a “luminary” of Brain Gym and appearing in post 122:

    “I have seen miraculous improvement in both children and adults who have used Brain Gym. In fact, three children with whom I’ve worked have gone from blindness to sight. One child began to walk independently at age five and, now seven and a half, has never returned to his wheelchair. A nine year old boy diagnosed as autistic who previously used two words to express himself began using functional speech after just three months of using Brain Gym. One five-year-old boy who was having intense and frequent seizures (about three times a week) decreased his seizure activity to twice a month, and the intensity was also significantly diminished.”

    So what we have from a licensed Brain Gym Instructor, someone who advertises herself as an international authority and world-wide consultant, is the claim that Brain Gym exercises help blind children see, crippled children walk, and autistic children speak. Of course, when asked to supply scientific documentation for these incredible claims, she has nothing to offer beyond her own observation and anecdotes. In short, she says these things happens; therefore, we are supposed to believe her. So too are the parents of blind, crippled, and autistic children. As one who counsels parents of children with disabilities, I am hard-pressed to think of anything more unprofessional, ill-advised, and potentially destructive.

    Readers should also know that the same Brain Gym luminary referred to above is also a practitioner and advocate of the Gentle Winds Project, a group in Maine who advocate wearing healing devices to cure a wide range of human ailments. They tell us that these devices (charts one hangs on the wall and objects that resemble hockey pucks) have been received from the spirit world and therefore exactly how they work cannot be understood by anyone currently on earth. The State of Maine has sued them, and one can only hope they will be put out of business.

    Those who wish to extol the benefits of Brain Gym are certainly free to continue doing so. One would hope, however, that sometime, during a lucid moment, they would recognize the possibility of looking like, sounding like, and walking like a duck.

  160. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 17, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    lots of people have asked about DDAT and DORE, here is a useful article I was sent:

    If you trawl around the Dore sites you will find some appalling stuff
    written by that potential Nobel prizewinner, Toyah Wilcox. There is also
    guff about Leo Sayer. Here is a 2004 article from the Times Ed. How are you
    getting on?
    A remedy without rigour?

    Karen Gold
    Published: 02 July 2004

    A new approach to dyslexia is gaining credibility worldwide, but some
    academics believe it is based on false premises. Karen Gold reports
    Here is a paper that is just about to be given to the British Dyslexia
    Association,” said an email sent to the TES news desk. The message, from
    David Reynolds, Exeter university professor and author of the paper,
    continued: “It suggests that a cure for dyslexia may have been found, and I
    am absolutely certain of my data.”

    That paper and others by Professor Reynolds have helped to boost a
    multi-million pound expansion of a new treatment for dyslexia. It is an
    approach that was unheard of five years ago but is now sweeping across
    Britain, the United States and Australia. But it is also being pursued by
    academics who question what, if any, curative effect it has.

    The expansion of dyslexia, dyspraxia attention deficit treatment (DDAT)
    dates from its appraisal by broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald on prime-time
    ITV1 in 2002. Sir Trevor called it a “revolutionary breakthrough in the
    treatment of dyslexia”.

    But that view was not shared by the Independent Television Commission, which
    said the claims were “not sustainable”, a judgment it repeated about a later
    item on DDAT on Channel 4’s Richard and Judy.

    Some 275,000 viewers asked for more details about DDAT after the ITV1
    broadcast. DDAT websites claim it was a turning point in the treatment’s
    reputation. They also emphasise and reproduce Professor Reynolds’

    “independent studiesI (which) show remarkable progress in reading,
    comprehension, writing, social skills, self-esteem and co-ordination”.

    DDAT is based on the hypothesis that the cause of dyslexia is a fault in the
    area of the brain which controls balance and muscle movement: the
    cerebellum. It suggests that by stimulating the cerebellum with exercises,
    new neural connections will be formed and the brain will perform better in
    all activities, including reading and writing.

    The theoretical jump from deficit to treatment is a controversial one and
    the only way to test it is on those with dyslexia. But it is not a new jump:
    other exercise-based programmes have claimed success for some years in the
    UK, the US and Sweden.

    Professor Reynolds claims to have proven DDAT’s success in a single
    experiment, described in four papers spread over two years.

    The experiment took place at Balsall Common primary school in Solihull in
    2001. The school’s weakest readers – 35 pupils from Years 3, 4 and 5 – were
    given a well-known dyslexia “risk test” designed by Rod Nicolson, professor
    of psychology at Sheffield university.

    Professor Nicolson, who for several years has been a paid consultant for
    DDAT’s founder, the millionaire Wynford Dore, worked with Professor Reynolds
    on the analysis of the Balsall Common results. Professor Reynolds, formerly
    a paid director of another Dore company, told The TES that he now has “no
    financial connection of any kind with Wynford Dore”.

    Initially, half of the 35 Balsall Common pupils received the DDAT treatment,
    in which exercises are done at home in twice-daily, 10-minute sessions using
    equipment that includes a balance board and beanbags.

    Six months later, the other half of the pupils did the same. The risk rating
    for each child was retested every six months over the following 18 months.
    Reading and annual national curriculum test results were also compared.

    Professors Reynolds and Nicolson say the results were very encouraging. Not
    only did children’s bead-threading and balance skills improve (not
    surprising, since they had practised those skills) but their literacy
    skills, which were not being directly exercised, also improved.

    The papers said children’s dyslexia risk fell substantially, particularly
    for those whose risk was higher originally. They also claimed that pupils’

    reading skills improved in the dyslexia test, that their reading progress
    accelerated to near-normal and that their standardised and national
    curriculum tests in reading, writing and comprehension showed big

    Professor Nicolson called the results “highly encouraging”. They might, said
    Professor Reynolds, “bring us very close to a cure”.

    But critics challenge the experimental basis of DDAT and say it is flawed.

    In an acrimonious exchange of papers, mostly published in the British
    Dyslexia Association’s journal Dyslexia, most of Britain’s foremost
    academics have argued that the Balsall Common results prove nothing at all.

    They argue that the design and analysis of the experiment were so
    unscientific that the findings are unreliable.

    Professor John Rack, head of research and assessment at the Dyslexia
    Institute, says: “I don’t think they are seeking to disprove a hypothesis.

    They seem to me to be just seeking further evidence to prove what they
    already believe.”

    DDAT’s critics make the following points:

    * The Balsall Common children were not dyslexic. Their scores on the
    Nicolson “risk test” ranged from “mild” and “moderate” to “severe”. Some
    lagged only a few months behind their expected reading ages; some were even
    ahead of them. In this case, some academics argue that these pupils cannot
    reliably be used to test a treatment for dyslexia.

    * The experiment was not a “fair test”. No one checked whether all the
    children did the exercises in the same way. There was no control group being
    given an alternative or placebo treatment to make sure that improvements in
    the treated group were not simply due to maturation, getting extra help at
    school or being given special attention and encouragement.

    * While 35 pupils began the experiment, as children left the school the
    number fell to 29. By the time of the final test results on which claims of
    success hang, the number of pupils had dropped to 22. Even 35 would not be a
    reliable number, says Carol Fitz-gibbon, emeritus professor at Durham
    university. She says the sample group was “disgracefully small”.

    * For such robust claims to be justified, children would need to be tested
    before and after the experiment – with the same test and by a tester unknown
    to them. Teachers are notorious for giving pupils the benefit of the doubt.

    Most of the “proof” of pupils’ improvement in the Reynolds papers is based
    on standardised reading-test scores marked and administered by Balsall
    Common teachers. The scores were taken from what the papers called Sats but
    which were in fact optional tests published by the Qualifications and
    Curriculum Authority and which inevitably varied from year to year.

    But Professor Nicolson argues that these criticisms are unfair. He says:

    “People have misinterpreted what was said. They were saying it should have
    been a clinical-type trial, whereas we were clear it wasn’t a clinical-type
    trial. It was a value-added study.”

    Professor Reynolds believes the dyslexia establishment has ignored real
    results. “All treatments involve some kind of expectancy effect,” he says.

    “But if you look at the Balsall Common Sats results and the reading test,
    the treatment seems to offer more.

    “Even in 2002/3, where no treatment is happening, these children still carry
    on improving more than their peers.”

    Other academics argue that strict laws control the testing of any drug
    claiming to be a cure before it is allowed on the market. That protocol
    includes replication: one experiment with one set of results is not enough.

    Several bodies, including the Dyslexia Institute, have recommended that the
    exercises in DDAT be shared so that they can be tested objectively in a
    clinical-type trial with proper sample quality and control groups.

    Professor Rack says: “What we need is a controlled study, then we could give
    some sensible advice to teachers and parents,” He and others say that when
    they have asked for details of its exercises, DDAT has refused to release
    them on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality”.

    Meanwhile more and more parents are lobbying local education authorities to
    pay for DDAT treatment, says Professor Margaret Snowling of York university.

    She believes that many parents are desperate and are being offered false

    “Dyslexia is hard to treat,” she says. “It’s a real struggle. I find it
    unbelievable that anyone thinks this is something which can be generalised
    to children who have very serious disorders.”


    Since the first DDAT clinic opened in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, in 2000,
    seven more have been launched in the UK – in Fulham, Cardiff, Southampton,
    Edinburgh, Sheffield, Manchester and Bedford.

    There are five centres in the US and two in Australia, and more are expected
    to follow in Canada and New Zealand this year.

    Some 17,000 adults and children have been treated so far, 90 per cent of
    them successfully, according to DDAT. Each pays fees of around £1,500.

    DDAT’s founder is Wynford Dore, a millionaire businessman who left school at
    14 and whose dyslexic daughter attempted suicide. None of the companies –
    British, American or Australian – has made a profit, says Mr Dore. He adds:
    “I have poured millions into this. This is not a money-making business. I am
    desperate to stop another generation suffering as my daughter did.”

    Mr Dore refused to provide details of his firms’ turnover to The TES. Proof
    of DDAT’s efficacy comes not only from the Reynolds and Nicolson research,
    which he says is “totally independent”, but also from “lots of studies”.

    He adds: “Many confidential, independent studies by local education
    authorities are going on. We have an army of wonderful medical researchers
    working on this.”

    He believes pique is behind the dyslexia establishment’s criticism. “The
    fact that some professors don’t like this research doesn’t make it
    unscientific,” he says. “I have pleaded with the Dyslexia Institute and the
    British Dyslexia Association to do research. I have never put restrictions
    on them. We are getting amazing results that will stand up to any scrutiny.”

  161. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 30, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    they just keep coming:

    Hi Ben

    Unbelievable – I was made to do brain gym!

    I went to a Yr 2 parents evening last week at my daughter’s school and the teachers made us all to stand up and do some brain gym!

    Apparently, if you put your fingers on your jawbones and open them really wide, it makes your brain more ready to learn!

    Then, we had to point our hands right in front of us, and move our arms across to the other side of our body – this, apparently, helps to connect the two parts of your brain together and make you more able to concentrate and learn better.

    I can’t believe the school is peddling this sort of dodgy stuff. The head is even a science graduate. When I took your original article to the deputy head last March, she said: “Well.. he’s not exactly disagreeing with it!” and simply filed it away. What more can I do to stop my daughter being brain-washed like this? Is there anything you can do to put this into the news pages so it will be seen more? I’m a parent governor and should be able to do something but I know I am up against a load of alternative health anti-MMR Gillian McKeith-loving Daily Mail-reading parents and staff!

    As much as I would love to name and shame the school, I better not. But I will tell you that it’s in South-East London.

    Keep up the good work.

  162. Isla said,

    October 17, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    I’ve just been to a session at my local primary school entitled ‘Helping Your Children Learn’. Lets learn about this fantastic new tool in schools – Brain Gym… a session of touching your nose and ears and the same time then took place which then followed by the Durham fish oils ‘trial’ . Oh, and lots of Powerpoint pictures of ‘a brain cell’.

    Waste of time! Never mind the tea and biscuit was nice.

  163. loki said,

    December 26, 2006 at 2:28 am

    Hi everyone. Discovered the conversations regarding Brain Gym today.

    I’m a Science teacher in Australia and I use Brain Gym in my classes.

    Now, now……before you all get overly excited, you need to remember that, first and foremost, Brain Gym claims to be “Edu-K” or kinesiology applied to education.

    And that’s exactly what it is! K-I-N-E-S-I-O-L-O-G-Y. Kinesiologists claim that their interest is in the scientific study of human movement. I don’t think there is anything really scientific about it. Alot of the Brain Gym babble refers to strange little snippets of information that do not seem to be backed up by any research, as you’ve all been pointing out.

    I use brain gym with my students because I have found that it:
    * allows them to settle at the start of the lesson (3 minutes of PACE)
    * gives them something to do in the transition between activities
    * provides students with a focus point before having to listen for an extended period of time (attention spans being what they are these days)
    * does seem to shift kids to the “learning time” mindset, rather than “play time” mindset.

    I don’t go into any real discussion of the purpose of the activities or how they are purported to work. If students ask, I tell them that “some people think………but I haven’t seen any real evidence of that.”

    Most students enjoy the movements, especially 12, 13 and 14 year olds. Older kids often refuse to participate – and that’s fine too.

    It is absolutely insane to present the Brain Gym movements as gospel or well-researched whole-brain learning truth. Unfortunately, this is what’s happening. Teachers are attending courses (between 1 and 4 days), being blown away by what they learn and taking this information back to schools, acting as though they are now learning and neuroscience experts.

    I was impressed with my brain gym course facilitator. She presented none of the nonsense that I’ve heard others have been saying. It was just straight down the line.

    What I have found is that my students are better able to focus on the learning experiences I have prepared for them AFTER engaging in the brain gym movements and/or pace. And if that helps them with their learning, I don’t really care about the lack of information coming from Brain Gym. The reason they can’t pass it on is obvious – they don’t really have it.

    Don’t take it for more than it is (even though it claims to be more). It’s a series of movements which will help some individuals, at some stages in their lives, to focus their minds on some things that others feel are important.

    Nothing more. Nothing less.

  164. Calibre said,

    February 15, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    “a lack of water in the body can be the root cause of many painful degenerative diseases”

    Human body – about seventy percent water, no?

    Human body, lacking water… pile of dust, bone, &c, no?

    Gotta be painful. Should be a charity for that. Help the Dusties.

  165. Subaru said,

    July 14, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    Does anyone know anything about the Arrowsmith program developed by Barbara Arrowsmith Young? It’s supposed to be based on the theory of neuroplasticity to retrain the brain and get rid of learning disabilities. Anyone want to get their “science” teeth into it?

  166. mpn said,

    October 5, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Spot on about brain gym, just one of the plethora of ridiculous initiatives we teachers have to put up with. Unfortunately brain gym is a product of an educational system driven by short term political goals that prioritises the delivery of initiatives and the meeting of targets over the development of open and enquiring minds, and is consequently in thrall to miracle cures and faddish quick fix solutions.
    It should come as no surprise that such a system can only operate effectively through the devaluation of teaching as a profession. The current system has bullied and disrespected teachers into becoming deliverers of whatever initiative is flavour of the month and is openly hostile towards the idea that qualities such as independence of mind and healthy scepticism are desirable in teachers. Who are we to hold an opinion on any of the initiatives we have to implement, we’re only teachers? The government/OFSTED/academics who haven’t been near a classroom in years obviously know far better than us.
    My point is that the system creates the environment whereby shady practices such as brain gym can flourish and remain unquestioned. Even more widespread and pernicious than brain gym is the proliferation of the theory that children learn according to seemingly “genetically” pre-determined learning styles. That’s everywhere in education at the moment and is in desperate need of some bad science treatment.