Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Latest TM Research Joke

Veteran TM writer Mike Doughney's at it again skewering the latest Transcendental Meditation marketing scheme in the, uh, heart over at TM-Free blog.

As before (the most recent attempt being TM and Breast cancer in a typical, poorly controlled study) this is being pushed to all the blogs and media outlets, but it doesn't sound like anyone has actually read the paper in question! Indeed unlike actual cutting edge science, where you can read the latest and greatest paper in PDF format and decide for yourself, in TM research it is increasingly hard to find the actual paper behind the press releases! Obviously they don't want all of us sciencey-types actually reading the papers.

It's no surprise why.

This latest round of meditational masturbation is actually done by Dr. Robert Schneider, the same bozo who stared into the camera on the BBC meditation special, glassy-eyed (they had to awaken him from his meditation, apparently he had forgotten about the appointment) and told us that TM--which mostly involves nap-like, descending sleep stages--is actually a form of "deep rest".

My grandmother will be happy to hear this.

Mike nails it quite well:

The title, "Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?" is one of those leading questions that snake-oil salesmen love, since they can then respond with the answer they've already prepared. In fact, that's the strategy of the TM sales pitch for decades, as founding TM salesman Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once stated during a TM teacher training course: "Every question is a perfect opportunity for the answer we have already prepared." The New York Times has set the stage, creating a vacuum into which the following stage-managed presentation perfectly fits. A better title might have been, "Vedic theocrats claim introductory technique of their faith curbs heart attacks." It would have from the beginning clarified who's making the claim, and the nature of the organization that's making the claim. Unfortunately my expectations of New York Times reporters aren't likely to be fulfilled in my lifetime; this is a sad benchmark of how poor the reporting is in one of the nation's leading newspapers today.

But wait, there's more! Featured at the top of this slightly rewritten press release masquerading as a New York Times story is an account of a 70 year old woman with high blood pressure who meditates. Clearly, meditating isn't the only thing she's been doing about her high blood pressure. See, it says so right there in the article:

Could the mental relaxation have real physiological benefits? For Mrs. Banks, the study suggests, it may have. She has gotten her blood pressure under control, though she still takes medication for it...

I think the cause of her blood pressure being under control is rather obvious, and it isn't the practice of TM. But that didn't stop the TM salesmen from putting one over on this reporter, claiming that instead of the scientifically proven benefits of those nasty nasty "pills" from "allopathic" doctors (the words that some TM devotees use for scientifically-validated medications and medicine), the magic words in somebody's head were the real cause of their lowered blood pressure. The best they can come up with, as a clear statement of TM's efficacy, is "could have;" those of us familiar with the ineffectiveness of the whole "health" regimen sold by the Transcendental Meditation organization would say, "probably not." The rest is just a tornado of blowing smoke, leaving the reader with an illusion that TM is proven to be something of value when the evidence, after decades of trying, is just not there.

Mentioned nowhere in this story is a connection, obvious to knowledgeable observers, that takes the sheen off this glowing report alleging TM effectiveness: the lead researcher, and the primary person quoted in this article, works for the same organization that sells the TM program. The reader can certainly tease it out if so motivated, since the researcher, Robert Schneider, is a medical doctor who's identified as a director of a "research institute" based at Maharishi Institute of Management. But not everybody knows that "Maharishi" is the founder of the organization that sells the TM program, and that should have been made clear to readers. Also evident is another of the TM movement's habits, of giving grandiose institutional names to various elements of TM promotions and assigning "directors" to them. While its name may create the impression that the "Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention" is a large imposing white-columned building full of top-notch scientists working on the latest cutting-edge discoveries in their fields, the fact is that this "Institute" is probably just Schneider and a few associates, and the only means of "prevention" they're researching, or even the least bit interested in, are those things that are part of the faith-based, allegedly "Vedic" stable of "Maharishi" branded products and services.

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