Monday, December 08, 2008

Touch Assists and Logic Traps

Following a recent posting to ARS by the infamous Barbara Schwarz I took a deeper look into the "Touch Assist" as owned by the Church of Scientology. I find the alternative medicine side of Scientology quite interesting, and to some extent it was the medical claims the Church makes that led to my sustained writing about the organisation. The liberal in me insists that Scientologists can believe in whatever they like, but when they start trading in treatments, and this includes auditing, then they need some pretty robust proof to back up their behaviour. CoS, however, treats proof, and the need for proof, with suspicion; proof, they will tell you (in more words than necessary) is suppressive; by saying that there is no evidence for leukaemia being cured by auditing you are attacking the beliefs of those who say auditing can indeed drive out cancer.

The irony of this should not be lost on you. In their ongoing battle against the imagined psychiatric conspiracy, CoS will often complain that psychiatrists do not make it clear to their patients of the potential side effects the drugs they adminster might have. The flipside of that, though, is information about the likely efficacy of the treatment. If you are offered a drug that has a 99% chance of making your schizophrenia manageable, but a 1% chance of inducing a mild heart attack, you are going to treat that decision differently than one about a drug offering only a 10% chance of success. Where is the information about the efficacy of the tech? Right from the start, back in the days of the Dianetics Research Foundation Hubbard showed little or no interest in doing anything approaching clinical research; that was the main reason why Dr Winter resigned. Hubbard was instead only interested in disseminating his techniques and selling his wares.

Often CoS spokespeople will explain, when pressed for evidence that the tech really works (and hey! Ensuring the tech works is part of KSW, people, so get your ethics in!), that no trials have been carried out because their simply hasn't been the time time. Usually this is in reference to techniques and treatments that have been around for 30-50 years. For a multimillion dollar multinational corporation such as the Church of Scientology there can really be no excuse. This would be akin to Glaxo Smith Kline having a drug on the market for half a century without ever getting round to providing any evidence for it.

So anyhew. Touch Assists. Here is a case in point of a tech that is supposed to have clear medical benefits, has been around for about fifty years but has yet to be put through any kind of robust clinical trials by its main sponsor. The WIS page holds some interesting statements. Possible uses include "the banged hand ... burned wrist ... a dull pain in the back, a constant earache, an infected boil, an upset stomach. In fact, the number of things this simple but powerful process can be applied to is unlimited!" Everything, then! Well, as long as you're not overselling it.

It has more to say on the nature of physical injury. "Every single physical illness stems from a failure of the being to communicate with the thing or area that is ill. Prolongation of a chronic injury occurs in the absence of physical communication with the affected area or with the location of the spot of injury in the physical universe." Bang goes germ theory...

So, having established the cause of all physical illness, and that the touch assist can be applied to them, what does the process actually entail? Well you can read through for yourself, but it primarily involves getting the subject to lie down and make themselves comfy, then prodding the gently with your finger, each time stating "feel my finger". The prodding approaches the injured part. "You try to follow the nerve channels of the body, which include the spine, the limbs and the various relay points like the elbows, the wrists, the back sides of the knees and the fingertips. These are the points you head for. These are all points in which the shock wave can get locked up. What you are trying to do is get a communication wave flowing again through the body, because the shock of injury stopped it." This is close to the gate control theory of pain, although seemingly reversed, and is further confused on learning that the "touching must be balanced to both left and right sides of the body. When you have touched the person’s right big toe, you next touch the left big toe; when you have touched a point a few inches to one side of the person’s spine, you next touch the spot the same distance from the spine on the opposite side." Thus not following the nerve channel of the illness or injury at all.

But such musings on the possible theory at work behind the touch assist is rendered useless by the next step; continue the assist until the person feels better. Continue the assist until the person feels better! This seemingly innocuous instruction is a devastating boobytrap. Were we to construct ourselves a clinical trial, where a randomised group of recently injured people (perhaps as part of aftercare in an A&E ward) were either told to lie down, or told to lie down and get prodded by a Volunteer Minister, we would be no nearer to establishing scientifically whether touch assists worked because an integral part of the touch assist is that you do them until they work. There is nothing in the description of the touch assist explaining what to do when you get no positive indications; you simply keep going. If you break off the touch assist before you get a positive indication, then the touch assist wasn't complete. The reason for breaking off the assist is because it wasn't working, but in the topsy-turvy world of Scientology, the reason the assist didn't work was because the assist was broken off.

Regular readers ought to recognise the shape behind this. The tech is presented. The tech Works. The tech is tried out. If the tech fails, it is not the tech, but the practitioner; a logical trap that lies at the heart of so much of Scientology's scripture, where Hubbard's writing is never brought into question, but his followers are.

In the interests of transparency, both mine and CoS's, I should point out that all assists are treatments for shock and shock alone. If you were brave enough to read all of the Touch Assist description, you would have discovered this: "If the body has been very badly damaged, the person may still be in agony after your assist, but you will have gotten some of the shock off. At this point a medical doctor could administer a painkiller and repair the physical damage." So the assist doesn't treat pain, or the injury itself. Instead it treats the only thing left which is shock. This makes me wonder if the lying down and getting comfy part is actually the active ingredient, and that "poking on a gradient" is just a bit of the old witch doctor.

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