Thursday October 28, 2004
Â· Generally, I don’t go for the little guys. But when the seventh copy of the Brain Respiration leaflet arrived in the Bad Science mailbag, I knew it was a serious moneyspinner: a multimillion dollar operation, in fact, with four centres in the UK, and headed by spiritual leader Dr Ilchi Lee, who runs international conferences, attended, he claims, by Al Gore. I don’t know if his doctorate is in neurosciences but he’s certainly made some breakthroughs with his “brain sensitising, brain versatilising, brain cleansing, brain re-wiring, and brain mastering”. Especially since it can “refresh the brain’s energy and help it create new brain cells for stronger brain function”, which is amazing given the conventional wisdom that you don’t make any new brain cells after you’re born. So you might want to protect the few you have left from brain respiration, especially since “this process goes beyond the anatomical layer of the neo-cortex … into the realm of the brain stem (where innate universal awareness is present)… the creativity of the neo-cortex is fully realised through an infinite current of energy”. No way is Dr Ilchi Lee putting an infinite current of energy through my neurons, but he can send me some of those cool brain-shaped gold vibrators off his website for only $90. They’re top of my Christmas list.
Â· So is there any peer-reviewed journal evidence to back up Brain Respiration? Yes! It’s from the Korea Institute of Brain Sciences (proprietor Dr Ilchi Lee), and it’s published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine. It measured the EEG of children meditating (in the special brain respiration way), and found that meditating kids had EEG findings characteristic of meditation, when compared with a bunch of kids just sitting “relaxing” with some electrodes on their heads, presumably baffled, certainly not meditating, and therefore producing EEG recordings characteristic of kids sitting around in a room. Which goes to show the importance of choosing your control group carefully. There is another paper, which claims to show the effect of brain respiration on stress hormones, but it’s only published in the Korea Institute of Brain Sciences journal, which, little surprise, isn’t carried by my usual academic libraries.
Â· Just to clarify: meditation is good, Herbert Benson’s excellent papers on the Relaxation Response, the opposite of fight-or-flight, absolutely rule, and you miss out at your peril. But trademarked pseudoscientific nonsense meditation schools are bad, just like all the other backdoors to enlightenment.
People love to write in and point out that I don’t go after Bad Science in The Guardian, as if I can somehow go over there and force them to publish whatever I want, perhaps following a brief hostage siege. And to the colossal delight of at least 50 people who emailed, Sally Weale, the editor of the Guardian health pages, published the following article a few weeks later:
Under the headline “It Works!” they gush extensively about how fabulous and scientifically well proven Brain Respiration is, and these ringing endorsements from The Guardian now prominently adorn the advertising material for Brain Respiration. The article includes the memorably untrue line: ” a number of independent studies have also been conducted on BR and the results published in peer-reviewed science journals.”
This, as many of you pointed out, is a demonstrably false fact in a newspaper (rather than, say, a matter of opinion) and deserves a simple correction. I think it’s as weird as you do, I wrote a letter to the letters page, it was ignored. What can I say?