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Therapeutic Touch Redux

IN 1998, 11-YEAR OLD EMILY ROSA CAUSED A NATIONAL sensation when she published the results of her 4th grade science experiment in the Journal of the American Medical Association.1 She had generated a simple but clever experiment to test the claim that the socalled “human energy field”2 (HEF: “aura”) can be detected, and she had compiled convincing evidence that individuals—specifically, Therapeutic Touch (TT) practitioners who claim to manipulate others’ energy fields for healing purposes—could not reliably detect that energy field. (You can watch Emily test her subjects in this special on her experiment featured on ABC’s 20/20 with John Stossel: As summarized by Larry Sarner, who recounted the events for Skeptic magazine in 1998, energy therapies are based on the fundamental claim that “the hands can be used to manifest a TT practitioner’s intention to heal by detecting and eliminating differences in the HEF of a patient, thereby either returning the patient directly to health or removing impediments to the healing processes of the patient’s own body.”3 Because Emily Rosa showed that self-proclaimed Therapeutic Touch practitioners could not reliably detect a human energy field, her results led to the direct conclusion that claims about Therapeutic Touch practitioners’ ability to modify human energy fields to promote healing were questionable at best and, more likely, completely mistaken.

In fact, no one has yet demonstrated the existence or reliable detection of a human energy field.

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About Skeptic

THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL AND GOD COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Laser Therapy: Hope or Hype and Hokum?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: The Sisyphean Challenges of Skepticism or, Start by Disbelieving, by Carol Tavris ARTICLES Pterosaur Thunderbird: The Origin of a Fake Native American Legend with an Anti- Evolution Agenda • Conversations with My Dead Mother: Why We See Signs and Omens in Everyday Events • Is Cousin Marriage Dangerous? • Therapeutic Touch Redux Twenty Years After the “Emily Event”: Energy Therapies Live on Through Bad Science • What Can Science Learn from Religion? Steven Pinker on Religious Beliefs and Rituals • Becoming Fantastic: Why People Embellish Already Accomplished Lives with Incredible Tales of UFOs and Other Phenomena • 1984 in 2019: The New Privacy Threat from China’s Social Credit Surveillance System SPECIAL DEBATE SECTION Michael Shermer v. Brian Huffling: Is the Reality of Evil Good Evidence Against the Christian God? REVIEW Graham Hancock’s “America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization” reviewed by Jason Colavito JUNIOR SKEPTIC The Colossal Case of the Cardiff Giant: One of America’s Greatest Hoaxes