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Pseudoscience: Magnetic Therapy

Essay by   •  February 4, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,038 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,219 Views

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Pseudoscience refers to research that appears to be science but that lacks some of the underlying key aspects. Often, these include components such as submitting publications for peer review, performing research studies to gather results, and repeating these studies to find similar results. The problem of separating science from pseudoscience generally a difficult one because of the difficulty of defining science. Most scientists would agree that in order for a hypothesis to be scientific, it must be refutable. A theory or hypothesis which cannot be refuted is not science3.

Magnetic therapy is a method of applying magnetic fields to the body for therapeutic purposes. Using magnets for healing pain is becoming increasingly popular. However, despite the popularity, there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove magnets have any therapeutic benefit. The article I choose is "Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction?" by James D. Livingston. James D. Livingston, a former specialist in magnetic research for General Electric, claims to have the answers people need on the technological marvels performed by the power of magnets. The goal of this paper is to take the "answers" that James D. Livingston presents in his article and classify each under one of the 10 marks of pseudoscience. By doing this, I aim to show that magnetic therapy, while interesting and believable, should be classified as a pseudoscience.

The article begins with Livingston describing the history of magnetic therapy. By beginning the article this way, Livingston is attempting to Appeal to Myths to build a foundation for his claim. Livingston gives the impression that this argument has been ongoing for thousands of years,1 and that Paracelsus, a physician who lived from 1493-1543 reasoned that since magnets have the power to attract iron, perhaps they can also attract diseases and leach them from the body. Livingston also adds that Franz Anton Mesmer who lived from 1734-1815 had a theory called "animal magnetism" which became so successful that in 1784 King Louis XVI established a Royal Commission to evaluate the claims of animal magnetism. In using historical records to build his case, Livingston has presented information that the reader can use. Unfortunately, the data he is using is incomplete and is presented in a way that benefits his claim. Although Paracelsus saw a possibility for magnetic therapy, he was also very aware of the power of the mind in the process of healing. Research by Exegesis is the practice used by pseudoscientists to employ literary interpretation of what is written and not the underlying facts and reasoning. Unlike Paracelsus who acknowledges that his claim may not be true, Livingston does not account for the power of placebo when making his claim.

After laying the groundwork by describing the past, Livingston goes on to use the names of many modern-day doctors to explain how magnet therapy works. Lacking clear evidence, Livingston states that the mechanism most commonly offered for various therapeutic effects of magnets is improved blood circulation.1 This is a false claim because there is no scientific evidence that magnets do anything to the blood. If it were true, placing a magnet on the skin would make the area under the magnet become red, which it does not. Even still, Livingston's defense is that "most components of the human body have been shown to contain small amounts of strongly magnetic materials, usually magnetite. It seems unlikely that there is enough magnetite within the human body to provide a possible mechanism to explain magnetic therapy. However, if magnetite particles were located at strategic places, they could locally amplify the effects of low magnetic fields and, for example, modify ion flow across cell membranes, of the type involved with electrical transmission in nerve cells." This Refusal to Revise in Light of Criticism is another example of why Livingston can be categorized as a pseudoscientist.

Even though the evidence is lacking that magnets have anything other than a placebo effect, there are many theories

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