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Quacks everywhere

David Colquhoun has posted an excellent series of posts on the Steiner Waldorf schools, 19th century crackpottery that persists even now, by hiding their fundamentally pseudoscientific basis under a fog of fancy invented terms. He discusses their goofy philosophy of anthroposophistry, their devious efforts to get state funding, and their unfortunate but unsurprising history of racism. It’s wild and crazy stuff, and it’s been sidling under the radar for a while.

What initially drew me to DC’s site was his article on quackery in retreat: the University of Westminster has discarded some of their previous offerings in naturopathy. There is still a fair amount of junk in their curriculum, but there’s hope that those are waning too.

I needed that bit of solace, because my university’s official listserve sent me a wonderful offer earlier this week.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
As part of our ongoing commitment to provide quality, integrated wellness programs, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing is pleased to offer a telephone-based version of the highly successful Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (tMBSR). The tMBSR begins with an in-person, all-day workshop. The next six sessions are conducted via a web-based conference call. The tMBSR concludes with an in-person, all-day, mostly silent retreat.
tMBSR will teach participants how to intentionally cope with pain, illness, and the stress of modern life. Participants will learn mindfulness meditation skills, and build upon their own personal strengths to offset the adverse effects of stress by responding more effectively.

The program cost of $385 (*$350 for UPlan members) includes: • Guided instruction in mindfulness mediation practices • Web-based group discussions • Gentle stretching & yoga • Daily “homework” to improve skills • Individual, tailored instruction & support • Hand-outs, CDs & Yoga DVD • All-day workshop and all-day retreat.
*UPlan Members: The tMBSR program reimbursement is available to employees who are covered by the UPlan Medical Program. You must participate in both all-day events and 4 of the 6 conference calls to qualify to be reimbursed $200.00 of the registration fees.

All-Day Workshop & Retreat
September 17th, 2011, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm in Oyate
November 19th, 2011, 9:00 to 4:30 pm in Oyate

Oh, man. Our bogus magic medicine place, the Center for Spirituality and Healing, is sponsoring this garbage — oh, wait, “sponsoring”? No, milking the faculty. They want to charge us individually $385 for a day of “mindful meditation”, for which the university may give us partial reimbursement…which just means they’ve found a way to fleece the suckers and also to get our university to endorse it.

I was cranky. I fired back on the listserve.

I am stunned that the university is subsidizing this bunkum and quackery from the Center for Spirituality and Healing. I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, the university has this New Age crapfest called the CSH in the first place.

And then, of course, I was bombarded with rotten vegetables. People were upset: I was hurtful! I was contemptuous! How dare I question the university’s efforts to help us deal with stress? One person sent me this claim that Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) fixes a long laundry list of ailments, from anxiety to fibromyalgia to chronic pain, and that it caused “increased immune system functioning”, one of those common buzz phrases that the quacks often use. So I wrote back, for the last time.

I’ve read some of these studies, and am unimpressed. Most of them assess subjective phenomena (“chronic pain” is notoriously amenable to suggestion, for instance), involve very small subject numbers and small effects, and often seize upon random phenomena as significant — one study found that retention in their program was far greater than in the controls, for instance; their DBT program was offered for free to participants, while the control was paid psychotherapy. Surprise!

I think a university sponsored program to help employees deal with stress is a great idea. However, real programs that are effective are built upon evidence-based medicine, not the frivolous and fuzzy nonsense that we get from the Center for Spirituality and Healing. When our institution endorses “mindful meditation”, a procedure that is pretty much indistinguishable from the placebo response, they are literally doing the very least they can do for us.

Mindful meditation may be relatively innocuous fluff, but where do we draw the line? The CSH also endorses reiki, reflexology, aromatherapy, craniosacral therapy, traditional chinese medicine, and unbelievably, “healing touch” — this is tantamount to peddling magic. Here’s an example of how the CSH describes the mechanism behind ‘healing touch.’

Healing Touch blends the energetic techniques of a number of practices, both ancient and contemporary. It is based on the belief that human beings are composed of fields of energy that are in constant interaction with self, others, and the environment (also see the section on Theories and Principles for more information). The Healing Touch practitioner realigns the energy flow, which reactivates the patient’s mind/body/spirit connection in order to eliminate blockages to self-healing.

The goal of Healing Touch is to restore harmony to the energy system so that the patient is in an optimal state for healing to occur. In other words, the goals are to accelerate the recipient’s own healing process and to facilitate healing at all levels of the body, mind, and spirit.

Healing Touch integrates easily with other modalities a practitioner may already be using. These modalities may include conventional medical practice in hospitals, clinics and in home care, or other body-mind oriented therapies such as massage, guided imagery, music therapy, acupressure, biofeedback, and psychotherapy.

This is pure gobbledygook. None of this makes sense. None of this has been demonstrated empirically: it can’t be, because it’s all made up.

None of these ‘therapies’ work. Every time they’ve been tested using objective, clinical outcomes, they’ve been found to be completely ineffectual. Our university is selling us New Age snake oil, and I’m deeply embarrassed to see the credulity and the wastefulness demonstrated by an institution that ought to be dedicated to rigor and reason. Can we please use our health care dollars a little more wisely?

Man, I hate the center for spirituality and healing. I’m ashamed and embarrassed every time I get ads from that place — they are trading on the educational and scientific integrity of our institution of higher learning to make money for quacks and to elevate witch doctors and shamans to the status of medical professionals. I’m hurtful? I think frauds selling overpriced stress-reduction magic to our faculty and staff is what really hurts.

No, I’m not signing up for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes. Just their existence has increased my stress, and it’s not worth $385 to show up and watch my blood pressure skyrocket.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. machintellligence says

    Indeed. The Waldorf schools are also hotbeds of antivax woo, and should be avoided like the plague (pun intentional). For more info see ORAC’s blog: Respectful Insolence.

  2. says

    It’s a shame, too; there are real-world benefits to be had from relaxation exercises, stretching and balance workouts, and careful introspection. Even simple breathing exercises have physiological changes that alter mental states; compare how you feel after a minute of slow, deep breathing with how you feel after a minute of rapid, shallow breathing — and you can benefit from considered application of breathing exercises to a targeted outcome.

    But why do they have to go so flagrantly overboard and sell this sort of thing as a cure for cancer?

    Oh, yeah…that’s right. They wouldn’t be able to fleece as many suckers if they did….

    Cheers,

    b&

  3. says

    Does the legislature control the U’s budget to the degree that it could defund it? Maybe we could lobby the legislature to eliminate it from the bugdet. The legislature is control by Republicans at the moment, but they’re reasonable people…aren’t they…oh, never mind.

  4. says

    But then where do you draw the line, indeed? MBSR sounds, well, gooey, but I can see how it might help some folk. Doing the proper tests is difficult in the matter of “stress reduction,” due to all sorts of expectations and the difficulty of doing “blind tests” where “blindness” is nearly impossible.

    Healing touch is sheer quackery, though, as it’s contrary to science.

    I think the bigger problem is the “Center for Spirituality and Healing.” One suspects that they’re going to inject woo into programs that might otherwise be uncertain as to how “scientific” they may be, yet are reasonable enough procedures that “seem to help.”

    Would PZ have objected to MBSR if it had come from something less woo-oriented? I don’t think that I would, while everything from a “Center for Spirituality and Healing” should be suspect until demonstrated to be otherwise.

    Glen Davidson

  5. Auraboy says

    Wait are they charging $385 to sit silently in a room? Surely I can make money our of this too. I will teleconference an hours silent ‘thinking’ to these bozos for a bargain $50. I win.

  6. Eric Riley says

    Did I understand correctly that you would have to pay $350 for web-based ‘silent meditation’? That is to pay money for *nothing*?

  7. Erp says

    Don’t get me started on what my own university (a top tier university whose admittance rate for undergraduates is under 10%) has for its staff/faculty to improve our health though as regular staff not tenured faculty, I haven’t yet stirred the waters too much.

    Their mission statement for the staff/faculty health program has:

    Because of HIP’s location within the School of Medicine, our health education classes and individualized behavior change programs have a strong foundation in science with an emphasis on sustainable, gradual change. In addition, our experienced staff incorporates new trends into our fitness class offerings, while never sacrificing our commitment to quality instruction.

    So the classes include

    Mindfulness-Based Stress management

    acupressure in the workplace

    Healing touch

    Harmonica for optimal breathing

    Shiatsu

    Heartmath

    I would love to see what testing they’ve done on these. At least the latest catalog didn’t have the eye exercises with thousands of years of Tibetan yogis doing it.

  8. Jake says

    I’ve posted a couple times before wishing you’d address the scientific literature on meditation, PZ. I’m an outspoken atheist, disdainful of claims about the supernatural and even of time/money/effort spent on more or less harmless supernatural bulls**t.

    BUT, modern neuroscience has shown that, surprise surprise, doing repeated tasks with your brain can alter its structure and function. Meditation comes in many forms, many of these basically constitute practicing some mental task, such as feeling compassion, or focusing attention. Just like the rest of the body (and just like with other mental tasks), we get better at stuff we practice.

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE address the neuroscience of meditation. It’s pretty misleading and/or ignorant to lump meditation in with healing touch and other snake oil. I suggest checking out the work of Dr. Richard Davidson at UW-Madison in particular. Here are two article citations, from not-exactly-woo journals PLoS One and PNAS:

    Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Johnstone, T., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: Effects of expertise. PLoS One 3(3), e1897. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897. PMCID: PMC2267490

    Brefczynski-Lewis J. A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H. S., Levinson, D. B. & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(27) 11483-11488.

  9. says

    Can you reserve a nearby room, and advertise your own “Stress Reduction Workshop” on the same day. Charge $10…to cover the snacks. Most of the day would involve watching funny movies (laughter helps reduce stress), maybe some other science based stress reduction activities and advice.

  10. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Jake, PZ doesn’t need to address anything. Link to a site for your woo, and let it go at that. Oh, and taking a short nap is as good a meditation, and what I really thinks happens.

  11. says

    Banana sandwich! Nearly $400 to have someone send you an email reminding you to sit quietly for an hour? I didn’t realize professors made that much disposable income… ;)

  12. john beall says

    It is a bit ironic that after reading PZ’s comments on the CSH (with which I agree), that it is followed by an add for Quantum Jumping or some such nonsense.

  13. For Once says

    ““mindful meditation”, a procedure that is pretty much indistinguishable from the placebo response”

    As I understand it, meditation should be useless for real physical diseases like fibromyalgia. But what if someone really is just anxious and stressed out, which is extremely subjective, and these meditation and breathing exercises help calm you down? I’m highly skeptical of any claims that breathing and meditation could help with real physical problems, but I thought it was pretty well accepted that they can help with mental problems like stress and anxiety….? (Definitely sounds overpriced though.)

  14. Matt Penfold says

    David Colquhoun’s blog is on my must read list. He is quite brilliant, and exhibits far more perserverance than I ever could. His requests under the UK Freedom of Information Act are often denied, but he persists, and appeals. It takes years in some cases but he often wins, and those seeking to hide the fact they teach anti-scientific woo are exposed for the charlatans they are, and the management are shown to be the craven cowards they are.

  15. Jake says

    Nerd of Redhead:

    I did provide two citations to journal articles in my post. Here’s a link the lab’s webpage though: http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/pubs/pubs_articles.html#2011

    I dare you to take a look at one of those articles (or any of the other several dozen on meditation and other less controversial topics) and find anything remotely ‘woo’ about it. Neither your saying so (nor PZ’s) makes it woo…let’s see reasoned argument #1…

  16. Matt Penfold says

    It is not surprising meditation may show some benefit for some conditions. It is after all nothing more than a relaxation technique, and the beneficial effects of relaxation techniques even on diseases that have solely physical causes is well documented.

    The techniques do not cure disease, but they can make it easier for sufferers deal with the symptoms.

  17. anchor says

    @chigau: ‘Modality’ is a jargon-word used in woo-composition to bring itself up in a sentence or paragraph devoted to woo-promotion to help to fulfill the appearance of technical integrity and content via the modalities of verbiage.

    It comes in vanilla and boysenberry too.

  18. says

    Jake:

    Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Johnstone, T., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: Effects of expertise. PLoS One 3(3), e1897.

    This experiment demonstrated there is a slight correlation between meditation for “compassion and loving-kindness meditation state” and empathetic response to sound during meditation. It also demonstrated that those who have practiced meditation had a greater response than those who are not as practiced.

    This does not demonstrate any lasting change in empathetic response while not meditating.

    Basically, it shows that, during meditation, there is a correlation between suggestibility and meditative state.

    So I don’t think it shows what you think it shows.

  19. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Jake, it may surprise you, but I have a book showing it can be done without the all the woo, but they call it the relaxation response. You know, without all the unnecessary gobbletygook that is added to make it “spiritual”, hence woo infested bullshit. As long as you keep yelling meditation, it is woo as far as I am concerned. Like the placebo effect, the relaxation response appears to have many causes and results.

  20. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    Wooooooow. I knew nothing about Waldorf schools; I always assumed they were like Montessori.

    From the comments of the third post, I got this link: A list of direct quotes from Steiner. They’re all in German, but the commenter translates one of them for Dr. Science & Co.:

    What is the brain? The brain is fecal matter brought to an end. Premature brain deposit goes through the bowels. The bowel content is in its processes in deed related to the brain. Speaking grotesquely, I would say an advanced heap of dung is what spreads in the brain; but as a matter of fact it is correct. The dung is what is converted by an organic process to the noble matter of the brain, where it is the basis for the Self-development.

    As the commenter says, “This man wasn’t just a racist, he was a complete nut.”

  21. says

    Nerd of Redhead:

    Jake, it may surprise you, but I have a book showing it can be done without the all the woo, but they call it the relaxation response.

    Exactly.

    Why do people have to read into these studies things that are not there? The universe is beautiful and wonderous enough without all the mystical trappings people use to decorate reality.

  22. Jake says

    Nigel the Bold: I don’t claim that this particular type of meditation is good for relaxation (such that the health center might want to employ it) but rather only that meditation has been shown to have real effects through natural mechanisms. If you take a look at some Davidson’s other papers you’ll see neuroanatomical effects (i.e. long lasting ones, not just during meditation). Look for asymmetry of, don’t quote me on this, the cingulate cortex, I believe. Some kind of frontal asymmetry anyway…

    Nerd of Redhead: a rose by any other name…if you sit down and do a mental exercise, and it changes your brain, and you call it meditation…then it’s meditation. True, SOME people in SOME contexts attach made up explanations/god/woo to it, but the concept of meditation should not be discarded entirely for that reason. It’s still meditation even when you take away the supernatural verbiage that some people surround it with.

  23. Jake says

    Nerd of Redhead: neat looking book, for what it’s worth I AM glad that productive mental exercises (aka meditation) are being marketed to the secular minded.

  24. Snowshoe the Canuck says

    Mindful meditation sounds like what I do after a stressful day. Wait, that’s mindless meditation, also called a nap. I wonder how much I could charge for that? The overhead would be low, a couple of blankies and fluffy Teddy bears and a licence to print money, I mean HELP people!

  25. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Jake, check the copyright date. I’ve had the book for years, and even tried it back in the day. Came to the conclusion it is a short shallow nap. Nothing special.

    Now, even the secular relaxation response can become woo infested if its claims are dubious, vague, and overreaching. That is my problem, and studies keep showing little or no effect when done large scale with proper controls.

  26. Matt Penfold says

    I don’t claim that this particular type of meditation is good for relaxation (such that the health center might want to employ it) but rather only that meditation has been shown to have real effects through natural mechanisms. If you take a look at some Davidson’s other papers you’ll see neuroanatomical effects (i.e. long lasting ones, not just during meditation). Look for asymmetry of, don’t quote me on this, the cingulate cortex, I believe. Some kind of frontal asymmetry anyway…

    We know that relaxation techniques can be beneficial. You need to show that meditation is anything other than a relaxation technique wrapped up in a load of pseudo-scientific baggage.

  27. Compuholic says

    Unfortunately those Waldorf schools are somewhat common here in Germany. The former secretary of education of the State of Bavaria even had her kids go to one of them.

  28. Matt Penfold says

    Nerd of Redhead: neat looking book, for what it’s worth I AM glad that productive mental exercises (aka meditation) are being marketed to the secular minded.

    And here you reveal your true colours. You are clearly not as dedicated to the scientific method as you claim, otherwise why the jibe about marketing to the secular minded ?

  29. says

    Sweet zombie Jesus. I wonder why they can’t just spend the money they’re wasting on this nonsense by hiring resident counseling psychologists. You know, so you can talk to someone who is actually scientifically trained to assist you in dealing with stress.

    I imagine UM-Morris has a psych department, yes? I would think by using these quacks instead of actually psychologists, they’re depriving their psych department of some valuable training.

  30. says

    Jake:

    Look for asymmetry of, don’t quote me on this, the cingulate cortex, I believe. Some kind of frontal asymmetry anyway…

    Hm. So far, I’ve found a paper suggesting long-term effects is summed up like this in the abstract (“EM” stands for expert meditator):

    Meditation refers to a family of mental training practices that are designed to familiarize the practitioner with specific types of mental processes. One of the most basic forms of meditation is concentration meditation, in which sustained attention is focused on an object such as a small visual stimulus or the breath. In age-matched participants, using functional MRI, we found that activation in a network of brain regions typically involved in sustained attention showed an inverted u-shaped curve in which expert meditators (EMs) with an average of 19,000 h of practice had more activation than novices, but EMs with an average of 44,000 h had less activation. In response to distracter sounds used to probe the meditation, EMs vs. novices had less brain activation in regions related to discursive thoughts and emotions and more activation in regions related to response inhibition and attention. Correlation with hours of practice suggests possible plasticity in these mechanisms.

    So, people who have had more than 19,000 hours practicing meditation had more of a response, but those with 44,000 had less. This is similar to the results from the paper to which I linked earlier.

    Those who practice paying attention are, not surprisingly, able to pay attention.

    These studies seem to have rather tepid results, suggesting that, while concentration meditation may affect possibly plastic areas of the brain, the effects are fairly hard to detect.

    19,000 hours of meditation is 791 days, or a bit over two years worth of meditation. It seems you’d have to give up a significant chunk of your life to meditation to achieve only the slightest results, assuming these possible correlations actually mean anything.

  31. Jake says

    omg.

    Matt: not a jibe. to the extent that i think the secular minded are sometimes unwilling to see the benefits of a dedicated mental training program, when that program is accompanied (in some of its contexts/manifestations) by supernatural bullshit, but even though the program itself is beneficial, i want those people reached by whatever means necessary. i happen to BE a secular minded person (again, outspoken atheist, god=invented, and either undefined or bullshit, take your pick) myself, and know that i am (much) less likely to give it a chance if i think it comes from religion. it is for precisely that reason, though, that i speak up today.

    has the relaxation response been shown to have the kinds of effects Davidson (and others) observes/describes? If so, great! It’s also possible certain specific meditative practices not focused on in, say, Nerd of Redhead’s book, provide benefits that should be explored without cringing at the originally religious origins of the practice. i think this community (MY community) has a tendency to overlook that point, as if nothing good has ever come out of religion, at all, ever.

    some facts for those who question my background…i’ve earned a masters in neuroscience and am getting a phd in statistical genetics, both at washU st louis. i get in discussions about god/religion/atheism all the time, and this is the only place where i’m actually LESS hardline atheist than everyone else around me. neuroscience is cool, there’s probably something to meditation, even though that something isn’t god or supernatural (practicing stuff with your brain improves the stuff you practice! :) this shouldn’t be news, even if the stuff is ‘concentrate’ or ‘be nicer’), and belief in god is…dumb/weak/completely unfounded. clear enough?

  32. says

    Sure, meditation works. So does taking a nap. I don’t have any doubt at all that relaxation techniques can make a person feel better, and change the brain.

    The question is whether these changes matter significantly, and whether they justify wrapping a whole lot of ritual and gobbledygook and financial investment around them.

    I also suspect that having a cup of coffee has even more profound neural and physiological effects than meditation. Changing your caffeine intake would probably be a better investment than closing your eyes and hallucinating about your body!

  33. says

    Steiner was also the quack who gave us biodynamic agriculture, the point at which organic farming leaves the realm of at least arguable claims about pesticide use and soil conservation and veers off into pure woo. Bullshit, and not in a good way.

  34. Matt Penfold says

    I once taught a group of Steiner students to kayak.

    They seemed to have a confidence in their abilities that was not matched by their actual performance.

  35. says

    PZ Myers:

    Changing your caffeine intake would probably be a better investment than closing your eyes and hallucinating about your body!

    As is good diet, regular exercise, the enjoyment of one’s vocation, and sufficient sleep.

    The effects of meditation seem to be mostly short-term and of undefined benefit, while these other factors are generally longer-lasting, and of generally greater import.

  36. DLC says

    Want to forget your troubles ? spend a couple hours working calculus problems from any decent college textbook.
    Or reading up on the latest publication from the Americana Physical Society. Or, if you’re a physicist, try some biology.
    I’m sure PZ or others could recommend any number of really good texts on the subject. My point is, stretch your brain in a direction you’re not used to. Think in patterns that aren’t familiar. You’ll be surprised at how refreshing it can be.

  37. drdraycott says

    Been reading Pharyngula for a while now, mostly with both enjoyment and agreement. However, it seems in this post we’ve lost the line between skepticism and cynicism. It’s unfortunate that things like MBSR and DBT get over-hyped and dressed up in meaningless mumbo-jumbo, because there is a developing evidence base (and yes by that I mean RCTs) for their use in a (limited) number of situations in psychological treatment. I’m speaking wearing both my hats here, as a clinical psychologist and a researcher of psychological treatment. A brief trawl of any reputable lit search engine (or even Google) will throw up the relevant references.

    DBT, for instance, has an established record of reducing self-harm amongst patients with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s the treatment of choice at the moment for that condition, and is specifically cited as something that should be provided for such patients by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK. It has elements of meditation as an essential part of its protocols. God knows where the idea of using it to treat fybromyalgia came from though.

    Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT, a sister programme to MBSR) was developed through painstaking basic experimental psychopathology with people suffering from depressed mood and anxiety, It has a two smallish RCTs indicating it *may* reduce relapse in depression amongst those with a frequently relapsing condition.

    Meditation is usually dressed up in woo-language and is often “mysticalised” with talk of “energies” and such. It is different from both relaxation and placebo, though, and can be “sterilised” from woo pretty easily. As a committed atheist and skeptic, I’m happy that this can be done with minimal effort. Basically, mindfulness meditation is about training the attention so that the individual can notice when they’re lost in their stream of thought (usually worrying about the future or ruminating on the past), and can bring themselves back to focusing on their present experience. Then they can deal with what’s in front of them more effectively. Like any training, physical or mental, it takes practice and if you have an overactive brain is much harder than it would at first seem.

    There’s a danger that in (rightly) standing up against muddled thinking and superstition that we can slip into an over-righteous cynicism. The comments, and at times the post, have a sneering quality which we should take as a warning sign that we’re no longer behaving as rationalists. That’s as much as a message for myself as for anyone else, because truth be told I enjoy a good sneer as much as the next person. We won’t drive back irrationality with caustic comments, but only with a finely honed scalpel.

  38. says

    @Snowshoe the Canuck
    I think they already invented that in Japan

    @Waldorf Schools
    They are unfortunately common in Germany but also the laughing stock of education.
    “Have you been to a Waldorf school” is a common insult for somebody who’s unable to actually grasp a concept but who is all “intuitive” about it.

    @Meditation
    Hell, nobody denies the use of relaxation and rituals,but please, just get rid of the “magic”.

  39. anchor says

    A student ‘practices’ playing the piano, ‘studies’ a math problem, and may ‘examine’, ‘contemplate’, ‘consider’, ‘ruminate-‘, ‘reflect-on’, ‘ponder-‘, ‘deliberate-‘, ‘muse-‘, ‘mull-over’, ‘inspect’, ‘exercise’, ‘meditate-on’ and otherwise ‘think about’ lots of things which do indeed produce noticeable changes in the brain and its ability to perform. No woo involved. The word ‘meditate’ – a perfectly servicable term – shouldn’t be tossed away and allowed to be monopolized by woo-meisters, even if it has the stigma of heavy usage by woosters attached to it (as in the notoriously ‘transcendental’ variety). Nothing wrong with taking it back – nay, ripping it from their grubby clutches – and freeing it. It’s our word and our language too.

    I have no problem saying that I ‘meditate’ on a problem in ordinary conversation, although I am well aware how potent that word can be in drawing the flies. And if they do show, I have an opportunity to demonstrate the fine and gentle art of fly-swatting, a skill best refined in real-world practice rather than through introspective meditation in an imaginary one.

  40. says

    drdraycott:

    There’s a danger that in (rightly) standing up against muddled thinking and superstition that we can slip into an over-righteous cynicism.

    I think you’ll find most of us react favorably to citations of decent research. For instance:

    Basically, mindfulness meditation is about training the attention so that the individual can notice when they’re lost in their stream of thought (usually worrying about the future or ruminating on the past), and can bring themselves back to focusing on their present experience.

    This is basically what the research I linked in #31 supports. There is a correlation between the practice of paying attention, and the ability to pay attention. The correlation isn’t huge (from what I can tell), but it is there.

    If this translates into a practical application as demonstrated by clinical trials, then I suspect most of us would reduce our cynicism somewhat.

  41. Audley Z. Darkheart OM (OS), purveyor of candy and lies says

    I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, the university has this New Age crapfest called the CSH in the first place.

    Hee hee hee. “Crapfest”!

    “Mindful meditation” would be harmless fluff if they weren’t charging $400 to teach you how to do it.

    Anyway, it’s time for my free mindless meditation, or rather, my nap.

  42. Valis says

    Ok, I don’t know enough about neurology to have an opinion either way, but I did find a couple of interesting links:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12295702

    “New research suggests we may be able to change the structure of our brains by taking up meditation.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12661646

    “Meditation research, particularly in the last 10 years or so, has shown to be very promising because it points to an ability of the brain to change and optimise in a way we didn’t know previously was possible.”

  43. ceekay99 says

    So much breathtaking ignorance in the post and in these comments. I had always heard of PZ Myers as a reliable source–now I will have to think twice about anything posted here.

    As @VaughnBell posted in his twitter feed:
    Mindfulness called quackery by @pzmyers http://t.co/ZCagu2i Metaanalyses? http://t.co/MBSQmZZ Still under-researched but clearly not ‘bunkum’

    There is a good-sized peer-reviewed literature on mindfulness based stress reduction. And there have been numerous high quality RCTs showing it benefits patients. See for example

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21691341

    I would think hard-core skeptics would be evidence based in their comments (ie, would perform a simple pubmed search before mouthing off). Guess I was wrong. Sorry for the negativity — I was just surprised to see all of the ideological BS on this site.

  44. Matt Penfold says

    ceekay99,

    No one has denied relaxation techniques can benefit patients.

    So why lie and claim they have ?

  45. says

    re: the discussion on Steiner education in DC’s blog.

    Did you read the comments following the articles? (Quite a task given how much it all raged on.)

    I got involved in the discussions: I won’t rehash too much of that here (you can find my two penn’orth easily enough by searching the DC blogs for my name) but I’m curious what folks here made of it? The anti-Steiner folks who actually wrote the body of those 3 posts on DC’s blog, and others who came along to the party afterwards, seemed to be quite dogmatic that there couldn’t be a scrap of good in any of it which, as I tried to say, was not my experience of it or that of my smart and sceptical 18yo ex-Steiner son or his friends (who I took the trouble to ask about it). What I have seen of it (from aforementioned 18yo alumnus and 12yo current pupil) is that despite the ludicrous Anthroposophical notions that supposedly underpin the education the actual teaching practice is generally pretty common-sensical and effective, especially the later start to more intellectual academic education, the breadth of curriculum and the practical hands-on approaches to learning.

    I think what bugs me most about the articles is that Steiner/Waldorf education certainly merits a sceptical, critical-thinking analysis and discussion: it is quite popular and influential and claims – with some justification IMHO – good results, but has this looney philosophy associated with it. Colquhoun’s blog was maybe not the place to have that discussion and I don’t think the anti-Steiner zealots he brought in to write the articles did any favours to rational appraisal of the subject, but somehow we ought to be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of SWE and attribute them to objectively-verifiable aspects of the teaching practice which can inform non-SW education, and divorce them from the mystical nonsense some of its proponents peddle.

  46. RFW says

    Where I worked, we had a “wellness” program. (Hold on while I laugh sarcastically.) As was usual whenever my employer hopped on some bandwagon, it was all talk and no action. The “wellness coordinator” was just a secretary who volunteered, with, at best, a high school education – and not a very good one at that.

    I amused myself by offering for her “wellness newsletter” recipes that, while scrumptious, were as unhealthy as possible, loaded with fats and sugars, and very little fiber.

    Example: tapioca pudding made with cream and a big blob of jam stirred into it, topped with whipped cream. Another: southern fried chicken, laden with fat.

    She never clued in – and no one else did either, though that may have been because anything saying “wellness” went into the bit bucket unread.

    The sad part is that taking the initiative on matters of health is a very good tactic, but you need to put some brains behind such programs and not let them be kidnapped by new agers and dispensers of woo, or mere ignorant enthusiasts who don’t have a clue.

  47. says

    ceekay99:

    So much breathtaking ignorance in the post and in these comments.

    “Breathtaking.” Nice.

    It appears part of the problem is with the definition of “mindfulness meditation.” That is, there isn’t one. What is studied clinically appears to be more “concentration meditation,” and not “mindfulness meditation,” as quasi-defined in the Buddhist tradition. So, you end up with things like Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (for which there is some evidence for its effectiveness in specific situations), and woo-based Buddhist-style meditation.

    I think you’ll find several posts mentioning that this stuff is effective. The question is still the extent of the effectiveness, especially vis-a-vis investment (time and money) versus things like a good nap, or regular exercise and proper diet.

  48. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Almost 400$ for one day of sitting quietly, doing some yoga and a couple of pamphlets and DVDs on relaxation and yoga?

    You can find instructions on relaxation techniques on the internet for free and pay a lot more than one day of yoga classes with that 400$.

  49. Matt Penfold says

    And even Orac, who never lets an opputunity to bash woo pass him by, has said has no objection if patients use yoga, or other relaxation techniques, to deal with cancer treatment, which can sometimes be gruelling.

  50. Foolish-Rain says

    I was involved with a Waldorf School back in the 90s (long story, now ex-spouse figures prominently). It always struck me that Waldorf schools should use the slogan “The Finest 19th-Century Education 21st-Century Money Can Buy”. Alternatively, they could always fall back on “Steiner: L. Ron Hubbard before there was an L. Ron Hubbard”

    Regardless, I can attest that pathetically misguided, arrogantly clueless and self-righteously inflexible is no way to educate children. It’s taken years to get the kids caught up with their peers…

  51. anchor says

    Taking a nap and meditating aren’t the same. Lots of people actively (‘mindfully’, oy) meditate over things. People like dancers, gymnasts and precision aerobatic team pilots rehearse (‘meditate on’) intricately choreographed routines in their heads all the time. It DOES do the trick (fortunately) supplying them with a prosthetic or substitute world to ‘practice’ in, in lieu of the real one which is substantially more difficult or costly to implement. There’s nothing mysterious or magical about it. Napping before their performances wouldn’t do squat (unless they happened to have a sleep deficit).

    The kind of ‘meditation’ – commonly associated with the WOO crap – THAT is the proper target. There’s a distinction people are trying to get across between mere napping or zoning out and active (‘mindful’, oy) in-the-head rehearsing. I can appreciate that without breaking my neck.

  52. drbunsen le savant fou says

    What is the brain? The brain is fecal matter brought to an end.

    True story: I was informed, in earnest, (by a steiner fanperson, duh) that if you read him in the original Deutsch, his words reflect your own level of ascendence. As you ascend, in your own spiritual development, through each of the chakras, the printed words on the page will literally change before your eyes. Yes, I double checked – this was literally what said fanperson was claiming.

    And xe was a native German speaker.

    Clearly, the translator in this case has yet to transcend the base chakra.

  53. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    ceekay99: Others have already addressed your misrepresentation of what is being argued here. I’d like to know why I should care what Vaughn Bell, an artist, thinks.

  54. says

    What the fuck? I’ve tried to post this twice now. Let me try once more, without the link.

    Okay. Let’s try this again:

    Matt Penfold:

    And even Orac, who never lets an opputunity to bash woo pass him by, has said has no objection if patients use yoga, or other relaxation techniques, to deal with cancer treatment, which can sometimes be gruelling.

    It appears that’s what the fibromyalgia claim is all about, too. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy seems to have a significant affect on the general well-being of people who suffer from chronic disease. This includes, as drdraycott mentioned, a significant reduction in relapse among people who suffer from chronic depression.

    At least, that’s what a meta-study has suggested. (A study I’ve tried to link to twice now, just to have my comment eaten. Fuck!)

  55. Niblick says

    Folks are basically commenting without the faintest clue what they’re talking about. Yes, I’m sure the “Center for Spirituality & Healing” is full of religulous morons, and yes I’m sure that most of their “quality, integrated wellness programs” are nothing but woo-based bullshit. This particular program, however, is not woo-based–despite the fact that Jon Kabat-Zinn, its inventor, is indeed a buddhist.

    Most importantly, it is the subject of actual empirical study, which is exactly what you want if there are any useful psychological insights hiding in the 2,600-year-old pile of bullshit that is buddhism generally. Contrary to several persons’ claims, the MBSR program does not consist in sitting around meditating; nor is the meditation component in any way a “nap,” whether short, or long, shallow or deep. The program is just a particular form of cognitive therapy. In broad terms, “mindfulness of the present” summarizes several cognitive schemata that are opposed to the incorrect schemata typically present with stress or depression.

    Terminal cancer patients, for example (the original subjects of MBSR in 1979) are faced with the fact that they are going to die, probably soon, of cancer. They often exaggerate this fact into a clear falsehood: “My life is over.” This falsehood is then used as a lens to view everything else–what behavioral therapists call a “schema”–so that, for example, they will decline enjoyable activities and avoid new experiences because “It doesn’t matter; nothing matters. My life is over.” Calling their attention to “the present” offers the very basic empirical counter-observation that their lives are not, in fact, over. They are in fact still alive. That situation may be subject to change–abruptly, without notice, and soon–but in the present they are not yet dead. The same general pattern is applicable to most any impending disaster such as layoff, foreclosure, or divorce. The counter-schema is the viewpoint based on recognizing that whatever disaster you anticipate in the future, has not happened yet. It may be possible to avoid the disaster by acting now; conversely, if the disaster is unavoidable, there is no benefit in sacrificing all other aspects of your life on the altar of fear or dread.

    A second schema is that even when the disaster is upon you, it probably isn’t everything your fear and dread make it out to be. If you are now experiencing divorce, or layoff, or eviction, or the death of a loved one, or the start of chemotherapy, these disasters can be coped with, and are probably not as bad as you feared beforehand, nor as bad as they seem when viewed presently through the lens of self-pity. “Mindfulness of the present,” in this context, means recognizing your catastrophe for precisely what it is… and isn’t. People who succumb to depression, anxiety, helplessness, etc., generally do so because they view a catastrophe (assumedly genuine, but in practice quite possibly imaginary) in terms of their fears and other emotional reactions, rather than in strictly reality-based terms.

    There’s more going on than that, but that should give the general idea. If that all sounds like “woo” to you, then most likely the entire discipline of psychology also sounds like “woo,” and you view a psychotherapist in the same way that you would view a witch doctor rattling chicken bones.

  56. Dr. Manhattan says

    *snort! PZ, I’m sure, you’re famous at your school for your wisdom in picking your battles.

  57. says

    Niblick:

    Folks are basically commenting without the faintest clue what they’re talking about

    Fuck you.

    drdraycott already pointed that out, including mentioning a few studies (though not referencing them directly).

  58. ceekay99 says

    Is this a pro-science, evidence-based blog? In evaluating MBSR (and its cousin, MBCT), it’s weird that there is little discussion of evidence — instead there seems to be a lot of opinion.

    Evidence summary:

    in-person Mindfulness-based therapies appear to be helpful with several challenging conditions associated with large economic costs: eg., IBS [1] and preventing recurrence of depression in high risk patients (as per high quality RCTs) [2].

    Mechanistically this 8-week therapy is associated (in randomized controlled studies) with changes in hippocampal brain structure [3] and increased control over basic cortical attentional dynamics [4].

    As for remote (telephone or on-line) MBSR, there is preliminary evidence that this form of therapy is helpfu [5]l although the effectiveness is less well established than in-person MBSR.

    Admittedly, there are weaknesses in the MBSR literature (not all RCTs use active control groups) — but these weaknesses are no greater than those found in any other behavioral intervention, or in tests of surgery (such as knee osteoarthritis [6]) for that matter.

    1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21691341
    2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802618
    3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071182
    4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21501665
    5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21473754
    6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12110735

  59. Niblick says

    Fuck you.

    I clearly specified which comments were incorrect, such as those likening meditation to a “shallow nap”–and that comment was by Nerd of a Redhead, not you. I didn’t allude to anything you said, particularly, and in fact your post #56 was good. So I can’t imagine what provoked your hostile reaction and abandonment of rational discourse.

  60. Niblick says

    Fuck you.

    drdraycott already pointed that out, including mentioning a few studies

    Yes, I read that. I also read your post #56, which was good. Apparently when you read “folks are…” you misread that to mean, “Everyone posting here (except me) is…” That’s funny, since you appear to have reasonable reading comprehension generally; I’m not sure why you would suddenly have difficulty in that area. Here “folks” means “some folks,” not “all the folks”; if I’d meant “all the folks” I would have instead said “everyone.”

    It’s interesting that your reading comprehension issues so quickly lead to eruptions of anger, though. You might want to do something about that.

  61. Niblick says

    Admittedly, there are weaknesses in the MBSR literature (not all RCTs use active control groups) — but these weaknesses are no greater than those found in any other behavioral intervention…

    Speaking personally and as a mathematician, not as an expert in the relevant fields, it seems to me that almost every study in the social sciences, and at least half in psychology, are complete crap. Nevertheless we must soldier on and do the best with what we have.

  62. says

    Niblick:

    Yes, I read that. I also read your post #56, which was good. Apparently when you read “folks are…” you misread that to mean, “Everyone posting here (except me) is…”

    Sorry. You are correct. I retract my “fuck you,” and apologize for the conclusions to which I jumped.

  63. says

    I’ve read many of those studies purporting to show the significance of meditation. What they all seem to have in common is very small ns (on the order of tens of subjects), and self-reports of subjective phenomena. That’s not at all convincing.

    It’s very nice that people feel better about themselves after meditation, and that we have studies that show that people feel better. I just don’t care.

  64. ceekay99 says

    #63 Niblick “Speaking personally and as a mathematician, not as an expert in the relevant fields, it seems to me that almost every study in the social sciences, and at least half in psychology, are complete crap. Nevertheless we must soldier on and do the best with what we have.”

    I agree completely — we are social and psychological (and not just biological) creatures… so we have no choice but to soldier on in the behavioral/social sciences …. Neuroscientific studies may appear to be an advance on this problem but I’m pretty confident they have many of the same flaws as some of the “woo” studies that people regularly denounce (eg., subjectivity and bias in selecting outcomes posthoc, no blinding etc)…. There is no exit from these scientific dilemmas and singling out mindfulness based stress reduction as a target really misses this larger point

    Also — my bad — on factchecking my own citations in my post above [#60] I found an error:

    cite 5 (on the effectiveness of telephone or online MBSR) should have cited http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20851055

  65. drbunsen le savant fou says

    I dunno, I always found unbiased and focused attention to the sensory input of the present moment to be eminently reality based.

    YMMV, of course.

  66. Paul says

    Would be good to find out a little about something before rubbishing it. If only to rubbish it more effectively.

    MBSR is a meditation technique with the mysticism *taken out*. The fact people are charging large fees for something doesn’t mean it’s bad in itself.

    It isn’t anything like closing ones eyes and imagining that you’re somewhere else. There is a plausible mechanism for it to work unlike certain alternative medicines so perhaps we should talk about needing more evidence rather than reflexively labelling things as woo. CBT could easily have been attacked in the same way. Perhaps it’s a `not invented here` reaction..

  67. For Once says

    I’m on board with being cynical about the price, especially for something done over the web. That seems ridiculous.

    But I don’t quite get why you’re being SO cynical about the idea of meditation in general. I agree that its ridiculous when people start talking about getting in touch with the streams of all living things, or whatever, but there are plenty of yoga and meditation classes that don’t mention that stuff at all – they just teach stretches and breathing and relaxation techniques.

    You say that you can relax the same way by taking a nap – well sure, but what if you’re so stressed out that you can’t get to sleep? Sometimes relaxing is easier said than done, and at those times it can be useful to have specific techniques to help yourself calm down and feel better.

    It’s very nice that people feel better about themselves after meditation, and that we have studies that show that people feel better. I just don’t care.

    Hmm, well fair enough. But that’s different than saying that your school shouldn’t offer (reasonably priced) meditation classes to make other people feel better.

  68. ceekay99 says

    re PZ Myers #66:” I’ve read many of those studies purporting to show the significance of meditation. What they all seem to have in common is very small ns (on the order of tens of subjects), and self-reports of subjective phenomena. That’s not at all convincing.

    It’s very nice that people feel better about themselves after meditation, and that we have studies that show that people feel better. I just don’t care.”

    Are there smaller Ns here than in studies of surgery or deep brain stimulation? The MBCT studies have been carried out on hundreds of patients (see citation 2 in #60 for example)…. It’s fine for you to have an opinion (“I just don’t care”) as long as your opinion is not mistaken for an unbiased, scientific take on the literature.

  69. Sheesh (as seen on Sadly, No!) says

    #38 drdraycott:

    We won’t drive back irrationality with caustic comments, but only with a finely honed scalpel.

    Hey, the rest of that post was pretty reasonable and would have perhaps earned some friends and admiration; it went straight to shit in this last sentence.

    Care to back up that final assertion? In my experience ridicule works.

  70. drbunsen le savant fou says

    It’s very nice that people feel better about themselves after meditation, and that we have studies that show that people feel better. I just don’t care.

    Oh dear, PZ. Promising results in “preventing recurrence of depression in high risk patients” [ceekay99 #60 above] is surely an example of people feeling better about themselves that merits a little care, neh?

  71. For Once says

    MBSR is a meditation technique with the mysticism *taken out*.

    Exactly, I thought that was the whole point. Some of us are scientific and secular minded and can’t stand listening to people talk about mysticism, but still feel anxious and stressed out and would like a calm environment and some practice with relaxation techniques. I actually have been meaning to try some of that mindfulness stuff myself – I know its nothing more than a relaxation technique but sometimes that’s exactly what college students need. (I would expect it to be offered as a free or cheap class to college students, though, not an overpriced workshop.)

  72. says

    #67 JHS
    If I’d read anything about Anthroposophy before my older son started with the local school I, too, would have run a mile. Fortunately (at our school, at least) the practice seems to have none of that mystical bollocks (or at least no more than you’d find in any other walk of life (us rational scientific sceptical types excepted, natch ;-)). YMMV, and no doubt does depending on what school or even teachers you have experience of.

    Point being S-W education *can* have merits. Slagging it all off as the ferocious antis on Colquhoun’s blog do is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  73. Sheesh (as seen on Sadly, No!) says

    @71 No one is denying that relaxation techniques can help you relax. /facepalm.

  74. frustum says

    John Stumbles @46 —

    My experience is like yours. I have no idea what is is like at other waldorf schools, just the one my daughter attends.

    My daughter is about to turn 12 and has gone to a Waldorf school since kindergarten. My wife made the choice and I didn’t know much about it at the start.

    I agree that Steiner was a mystic and crackpot and his theories are nutty. Nevertheless, in many areas he somehow came to a right conclusion. Although the teachers learn about Anthroposophy, this stuff doesn’t get taught to the students, and the great majority of parents simply ignore it. Steiner says that in the first seven years, the child is still part of a dream world or some crap, and rather than beating it out of them, take advantage of their innate creativity. Rather than telling them that mixing red with blue makes purple and having them memorize a color wheel, just give them water colors and they’ll figure it out soon enough. No, they aren’t part of some dream world, but I just view it as a metaphor meaning the children aren’t fully rational yet; it will come soon enough, so don’t beat the innocence out of them too quickly. Early learning has an emphasis on discovery, not dictation.

    There is a policy that kids don’t watch TV, go to the movies, have CD players, video games, cell phones, etc, until at least junior high. I have no regrets that my daughter doesn’t know who won American Idol, or who Justin Beiber is. Instead all the kids sing a lot, and learn simple flutes in kindergarten, then recorder, and pick an instrument in third grade. I have no problem with this. It does mean, however, that my daughters friend all come from her school because kids from public school play in a very different way than Waldorf-educated kids.

    The main thing which is not just harmless woo is the emphasis on natural remedies. This isn’t something kids are taught about in the schools; it is something ‘in the air’ in the waldorf community and endorsed by the Waldorf leaders. That is simple to deal with: my daughter has always been vaccinated on schedule, and when she has a medical problem, she sees a proper doctor.

    The school isn’t good for the personality of some kids, and it isn’t for parents who obsess whether Johnny is doing everything right to get into Harvard law school.

  75. says

    Paul:

    MBSR is a meditation technique with the mysticism *taken out*.

    I think the problem is that MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) is different from MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) which is different from mindfulness-based meditation (in the classic Buddhist sense). This is quite confusing when you’re first looking into it.

    MBSR has a minimal amount of research, most of which is quite poorly done. MBCT has a bit more of better-controlled clinical trials, though there’s still some question on long-term benefits (from what I can tell). As Niblick pointed out, it’s not nearly the same as “meditation,” in the most commonly-used sense of the word.

    There is little-to-no good clinical evidence that the standard form of Buddhist-style meditation is beneficial outside the benefits short-term relaxation, from what I can tell.

    So it seems there’s a huge confusion about mindfulness-based techniques. Those with the best clinical support seem to be those least like meditation.

    At least, from what I can tell from a bit of education at Google U.

  76. Niblick says

    It’s very nice that people feel better about themselves after meditation, and that we have studies that show that people feel better. I just don’t care.

    Um, “people feeling better” is basically what psychotherapy IS. Would it be reading too much into your remark to conclude that you “just don’t care” about psychotherapy either? If so, that’s fair enough–but it doesn’t make psychology not a science, let alone make it a branch of religion.

    Small N’s and other design flaws are fair game for criticism. These sciences are already plagued enough by the vagaries people are subject to. If even physicists reproducing Miliken’s oil-drop experiment were guilty of cargo-cult science, the social sciences must be downright perilous. But it seems as if you don’t distinguish between legitimate science that you “just don’t care” about, and that which isn’t science at all. You seem to conflate that with the question whether the science is done well or poorly, and also with the question whether a given hypothesis is true.

    If that’s so, then MBSR seems to represent the perfect storm for you: legitimate science you don’t care about; some of which is clearly done poorly; studying an hypothesis you doubt; which hypothesis happens to have elements in common with buddhism. The net result seems to be that you rage against a bit of science as if your university were adopting buddhism, rather than distinguishing the two and engaging the science on its own ground. Or, if you truly “just don’t care,” you could ignore the whole thing.

  77. Sheesh (as seen on Sadly, No!) says

    @80 Wasn’t PZ’s raging about healing touch? It seems to me PZ thinks it’s very nice that relaxation makes people feel better.

  78. ThetisMercurio says

    It’s fun to be called an (anti-Steiner) zealot and a ‘ferocious anti’ in the comments at Pharyngula even BEFORE making any kind of comment here. It can only get better.

    The comments after the Steiner posts on David’s blog are worth reading, especially after the third post which addresses (after a great deal of collaborative research) the most serious aspect of anthroposophy and Steiner Waldorf ed. John Stumbles, the Steiner parent who dismisses us here as zealots (@46) might like to re-read. Or perhaps he’d just like to repeat that we’re zealots.

    John, you must admit you didn’t ‘win’ at DC’s, which seemed to be what you wanted, perhaps that’s why you’re here defending your position. You’d rather not admit that your school is just the same as other Steiner Waldorf schools, but it is.
    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3853#comment-8878

    I’m glad that PZ has brought the posts here – there are so many Waldorf schools in the US, including Charters. The subject needs greater exposure.

  79. Niblick says

    Also, as an addendum to #79, it seems there are a lot of places that have taken MBSR and put the mysticism back in, further confusing the issue.

    I believe that’s probably true. It’s probably true of PZ’s “Center for Spirituality & Healing,” too. The trouble is that MBSR seems to appeal to people (and departments) that already have a high “woo” factor. And after all of Kabat-Zinn’s efforts to separate the buddhist from the therapeutic, these woo-meisters go and put it back in, and combine the curriculum with whatever flavor of buddhism (or generic new-agey crap) floats their particular boat.

  80. says

    Niblick:

    The trouble is that MBSR seems to appeal to people (and departments) that already have a high “woo” factor.

    It sure seems to be true. When I first starting looking into this at the beginning of the thread, that’s about all I could really find — a ton of links to mindfulness-based stress reduction tied directly to Buddhist tradition, which has accreted a lot of woo over the years.

    I know that certainly made me more cynical about it.

  81. says

    I’d also like to express how glad I am to see the waldorf/Steiner posts getting this attention — thanks PZ. (And thanks also to ThetisMercurio and Lovelyhorse_ — their Twitter-names — who researched and wrote them.)

    Thetis (#83)

    ‘Or perhaps he’d just like to repeat that we’re zealots.’

    I think he would like to keep doing that, actually.

  82. Daniel Schealler says

    Meditation is good – and if you do it well, a damn sight better than just taking a nap. It’s a useful and valuable tool.

    But no way in hell is it actually worth $385.

  83. Matt Penfold says

    Meditation is good – and if you do it well, a damn sight better than just taking a nap. It’s a useful and valuable tool.

    I suspect any difference is simply quantitative rather than qualitative.

  84. Toiletman says

    As somebody who lives in Germany and who is therefore exposed to anthroposophy much more than people in the anglophone sphere, I think I should add some things. It’s not 19th century education but nearly everything in the esoteric worldview of Steiner is very typical for the life in Vienna at the end of the Austrian Empire, which was already in the early 20st century. His ideas and especially the grewing popularity of them has much to do with the fin de ciecle in especially Vienna but also other German metropoles, where “intellectuals” often feared the future of their empires in decline and looked for alternatives. They were often disillusioned with the religions of their time and feared the growing popularity of more scientific thinking in society.

    Here in Germany, we have more than 200 of these Steiner schools and they are actually popular by parents with degrees in social sciences because the Steiner schools that are here exclusively called Waldorf schools have a very clever PR section that tries to avoid to directly link these schools with the cult of anthroposophy and sell it as something alternative, where every child is treated according to its own talents. They receive financial support from the state and are recognised aswell but fortunately, their graduation degrees are not recognised so after completing those schools, they need to take the regular abitur (graduation exams) somewhere else. The number of students failing it are extraordinarily high and statistics have shown that the teaching materials at Steiner schools do in no way fulfill the requirements of private schools that are written down in Germany’s quasi-constitution. However, German controllers turn a blind eye on those problems.

  85. Horse-Pheathers says

    PZ — Speaking as someone who has tried meditation, I can say that it can be quite relaxing and help improve concentration. That said, I actually get better (subjective) results from a half hour playing video games than I ever did from meditation. ;)

    Got to admit, it would be interesting to do a study on meditation and other relaxation techniques and their effects on objective performance (like ability to complete a scorable memory or cognitive task) with sufficient depth to actually mean something — maybe take a few thousand college students, subject them to a battery of tests, have some of them take naps, others play video games, others meditate, and still others just veg in front of the TV for an hour, then test them again and compare relative performance on the tests.

    Got a couple thousand test subjects you can lend me?

  86. Tethys says

    Hmmm, my chronic pain is not amenable to suggestion, but yoga does actually help.

    I’ve always figured its due to increased oxygen/blood flow from gentle stretching and movement.

  87. says

    I asked @ThetisMercurio and colleague to write the three guest posts on dcscience.net because they are exceedingly well-informed. Far from being zealots, they have written three scholarly and meticulously referenced articles. Any contemplating Steiner Waldorf education should certainly read them.

    There is, I must agree, less information than one would wish about what actually gets taught in Steiner school classrooms. Partly that is because of their obsessive secretiveness, a common characteristic of cult-like organisations. We certainly know in some cases that they favour homeopathic treatment of sick children, and that they oppose vaccination.

    Nobody is proposing to make Steiner Waldorf schools illegal, but they are certainly pretty bizarre, and they should not in my opinion get a penny of taxpayers’ money. If you want a different sort of school, perhaps try Montessori. Be very very careful before opting for Steiner.

  88. Matt Penfold says

    I now have meditation ads.

    They sound painful. Have you put some cream on them ?

  89. chigau () says

    I now have meditation ads.

    They sound painful. Have you put some cream on them ?

    I was thinking of praying.

  90. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Hmmm, my chronic pain is not amenable to suggestion, but yoga does actually help.

    I’ve always figured its due to increased oxygen/blood flow from gentle stretching and movement.

    If you ignore the mumbo jumbo spiritual sideshow of Yoga, it is a very effective exercise. And any exercise, especially one with that much stretching, is going to be a positive health activity. (IANAMD)

    My problem is I refuse to go to any Yoga studios because they are so drenched in the mumbo jumbo side of it.

  91. Matt Penfold says

    Here in the UK we had an Anglican vicar refuse the use of a church hall for a yoga class for the over 60s on the grounds it was endorsing a non-Christian faith. Since the class was aimed at older people with less active lifestyles with the intention of getting them doing some gentle exercise the vicar got ridiculed.

  92. For Once says

    If you ignore the mumbo jumbo spiritual sideshow of Yoga, it is a very effective exercise. And any exercise, especially one with that much stretching, is going to be a positive health activity. (IANAMD)

    My problem is I refuse to go to any Yoga studios because they are so drenched in the mumbo jumbo side of it.

    Around here, I go to yoga and pilates classes at a chain gym, and there is absolutely no mumbo jumbo or anything. Its pure exercise, and its really hard. There’s no meditation or bowing or whatever, just intensive exercise and stretching and some comments about breathing (mostly reminding you to do it while in a difficult position).

    Years ago I quit a yoga class because it was all candles and talk about mystic energy or whatever, but I do like the exercise side of it.

  93. says

    One problem with "wellness", at least in the UK. is that it’s something that usually comes from HR. And HR departments maintain their ever-expanding influence largely by use of meaningless words.

    UCL is a pretty good university. I’ve worked there most of my life and I love its history and ethos. Yet it’s not long ago that research staff were circulated with and advertisement for a course to teach them the principles of NLP and Brain Gym. That caused me to say (in print) that this nonsense was being “peddled to your researchers by your credulous and moronic HR department."

    When writing The A to Z of Wellbeing for the British Medical Journal, I found that, In June 2010, Northamptonshire NHS Foundation Trust sponsored a “Festival of Wellbeing” that included a complementary therapy taster day. In a BBC interview one practitioner used the advertising opportunity, paid for by the NHS, to say

    “I’m an angelic reiki master teacher and also an angel therapist.” “Angels are just flying spirits, 100 percent just pure light from heaven. They are all around us. Everybody has a guardian angel.”

    This is the fruitcake end of the wellbeing industry. I expect that it’s stuff like this that causes most hard-pressed academics to hit the trash button when email arrives with wellness in the title (much as they do when they get research strategy documents from policy wonks who don’t do research.

    One gets the impression that the financial crisis that’s hit universities in both the USA and the UK could me helped if we fired a lot of the people who do neither teaching nor research, but do contribute rather a lot to the stress of the people who do.

  94. says

    One problem with "wellness", at least in the UK. is that it’s something that usually comes from HR. And HR departments maintain their ever-expanding influence largely by use of meaningless words.

    UCL is a pretty good university. I’ve worked there most of my life and I love its history and ethos. Yet it’s not long ago that research staff were circulated with and advertisement for a course to teach them the principles of NLP and Brain Gym. That caused me to say (in print) that this nonsense was being “peddled to your researchers by your credulous and moronic HR department."
    When writing The A to Z of Wellbeing for the British Medical Journal, I found that, In June 2010, Northamptonshire NHS Foundation Trust sponsored a “Festival of Wellbeing” that included a complementary therapy taster day. In a BBC interview one practitioner used the advertising opportunity, paid for by the NHS, to say

    “I’m an angelic reiki master teacher and also an angel therapist.” “Angels are just flying spirits, 100 percent just pure light from heaven. They are all around us. Everybody has a guardian angel.”

    This is the fruitcake end of the wellbeing industry. I expect that it’s stuff like this that causes most hard-pressed academics to hit the trash button when email arrives with wellness in the title (much as they do when they get research strategy documents from policy wonks who don’t do research.

    One gets the impression that the financial crisis that’s hit universities in both the USA and the UK could me helped if we fired a lot of the people who do neither teaching nor research, but do contribute rather a lot to the stress of the people who do.

  95. It'spiningforthefyords says

    Again, as with any sort of pholosophy, the generally likeable mob here – which I feel quite correct in getting out my own torch and pitchfork when there actually IS a monster roaming the coutryside – feels the need to paint the worrld in black and white.

    Cuz it’s, as the Xians and all others have found, easier.

    I’ve had cousins go through the Waldolf system and attended child education seminars. And even read a fair amount of Steiner’s very, very German 19th C-style work.
    Yes, there was and is a LOT of woo (the anti-vax stuff is harmful bullshit but was never promoted directly, at least in the 80s and 90s in California and the rest was typical New Age junk) but the kids got a creative and surprisingly intensive course of education that beat any other school I’ve heard of hands down. My cousins and the other Waldof kids I knew were creative and as skeptical as anyone – products of very Liberal and non-religious households, generally.

    Stener’s racism is absolutely a product of his times, while his humanism is unusual. He was an odd duck in lots of ways, but despite the poison pen site you’ve linked, you’d have an easier time proving Lincoln worked against humanist ideas and ideals.

    Cheeses! If people here simply want to jump on the More-Unbeliever-than-Thou Bandwagon, taking the enemy-of-the-day Faux News approach… Well, it’s a free country (until a “Republican” gets elected pResident), but you’ve betrayed yourself for the sake of purity.

    And any obcession with purity, as opposed to simply adhering to the truth as best as you can grasp it – mold- and slime- and dirt-covered as anything done by mere human beings will be, is the path to the worst tendancies built within our brains.

    How about some actual cool rational though here? (There is some, of course, in such a fine group, but not very darn much.)

    And PZ equating taking a nap to meditation is like someone equating walking the dog once a week instead of having the kids do it to someone who does marathons. It’s flatly and truly ignorant, and I was not simply disappointed but ashamed of hin when I read that comment.

    I’ll join the discussioon again when it’s about something that matters.

  96. Kagehi says

    “Meditation research, particularly in the last 10 years or so, has shown to be very promising because it points to an ability of the brain to change and optimise in a way we didn’t know previously was possible.”

    The problem is, of course, that it can be “optimized” into making it easier to believe that you have the mental power, while meditating, to move objects, or “become one with the universe”, or at least your chair, couch, etc. This later effect is purely a case of triggering a set of conditions that disconnect the mind from physical input, resulting in a mis-placement of ones sense of self into other objects. But, there are a number of methods to do it, some even more freaky than meditation (one involved mirrors facing each other, with you between, and a displacement condition that makes you imagine that you just traded physical places with one of the reflections).

    The danger is charging someone $400+ for the experience, telling them that any part of the screwball shit they experience is real, instead of what is really going on and why, and encouraging them to a) keep coming back to learn more (at $400+ a session), and b) wrapping the whole thing up in complete nonsense, which encourages people to either reject other medical treatment, or imagine they have somehow gained super powers, the later of which might actually be likely, if they have underlying mental conditions, which do not involve stress related problems, and for which meditation is **not** a could candidate (in that it might amplify the problems, instead of controlling them).

    So, yeah, there is a damn good reason to not like an otherwise useful technique, buried under nonsense.

    Hmmm, my chronic pain is not amenable to suggestion, but yoga does actually help.

    I’ve always figured its due to increased oxygen/blood flow from gentle stretching and movement.

    Possibly, but Yoga also also some effects similar to meditation, and well.. Some people can flat out completely block, mentally, their pain. My Grandmother was such a person. Think of it sort of like flipping off the switches to the areas of the brain that translate pain nerve impulses into responses. Everyone, to an extent, can do it, though most need “external” distractions to do it, if at all. Some people manage to learn to do it quite effectively, without such distractions. Others.. can learn it, to varying degrees. You can manage to do just about anything to yourself, if you can convince yourself mentally that their is sufficient cause (or you suffer enough of a trauma), even render yourself functionally blind, despite all of the wiring still operating, and being undamaged.

    Most people just can’t do those sorts of things “consciously”. Things like Yoga, and meditation, in various forms, which can even include walking along spirals, garden paths, etc., not just sitting in a quiet room, are all developed to induce some limited sort of conscious change in how the brain is operating. I.e., its getting at, the hard way, things your brain can, in principle, already do to itself, but doesn’t when awake, but maybe does at night (some people have different threshold, or even failures of such processes at night, resulting in things like night terrors, sleep paralysis, which is literally waking up before you regain control of the body, and so on), when shutting down outside inputs, muscle control, pain, etc., during sleep cycles.

  97. says

    You know, I was always skeptical of Yoga as a serious form of exercise, until I tried it. Fuck, man, despite five years of Army Physical Fitness training I was hurting after 30 minutes of tree poses and downward-facing dogs.

  98. Arjan says

    I really hate when people hijack techniques like these and start claiming all sorts of benefits it was never intended for.
    I’m a psychologist and have read up on mindfulness based psycho-therapeutic techniques. They can have beneficial effects when it comes to focusing your attention and not letting intrusive thoughts bother you. When you worry excessively mindfulness can help you focus your attention away from your thoughts so you can look at the problem later again with a fresh pair of eyes. Also when you have intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety, you can learn to accept them and let them be instead of being scared by them.
    Mindfulness is a tool in a wider treatment program. It can be helpful, even if you want to reduce stress. But be realistic about what you want and what you can expect. It’s not a wonder drug. As for curing physical illnesses with it, that’s BS.

  99. Tolpuddle Martyr says

    I worked for a government school in inner city Melbourne that offered “Steiner” classes to parents willing to pay a “voluntary” fee every year. The result, unnofficial economic apartheid with the Steiner kids in smaller classrooms getting their “spiritual” new age mumblefuck while the poorer kids from public housing got overcrowded classes down the hall and teachers struggling to cope. Of course the “Steiner” program had government sponsorship, and now they have a fucking state-funded Chaplin too!

  100. earlycuyler says

    High priced Meditation and psychobabble woo? I achieve the same results with 6 doses of Dr. Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager–all for under $10.00. For extra stressful days, add chips and “Blazing Saddles” on DVD.

  101. says

    You know, this claim that I’m just making a kneejerk skeptical reaction is annoying. As someone with an interest in neuroscience, I’ve followed the general literature on this subject for some time; when this subject came up on my listserve I looked up and read papers on this specific topic; when I was sent claims that it was backed up by the research, I read papers that were cited; I looked up some of the papers that were mentioned in this thread.

    I am unmoved. The literature is plagued with exaggerated claims of concrete effects based on tiny experiments with entirely subjective criteria, often self-reported. Like I said, placebo response: I have no doubt that there are consistent perceptions of help, but a noticeable lack of objective data.

    If all you care about is feeling better, sure, go ahead and believe. I’ll demand a little more rigor.

  102. Standard Curve says

    Thanks for posting on this. My wife and I checked out a “Waldorf inspired” school not knowing really anything about what that meant, or what they want people to believe it means.

    It felt too ritualized, and there was too much emphasis on not letting kids feel frustration caused by trying something they won’t be able to do “right” the first time.

    There were of course the faceless dolls, and the student artwork consisted of watercolors done on wet paper with a single color choice. There is no way the child can possibly try to represent anything. It will always be a full panel of varying shades of a color.

    One of the activities they said they spent a lot of time on was playing out long narratives with the dolls, gradually adding more and more of the script to it over time. I’m thinking: is this much different than memorizing bible verses?

    I’m not always as quick to evaluate things skeptically as I’d like to be, so for a while I have just been saying, “something didn’t feel right,” about that school. Now I see it more clearly.

  103. Arjan says

    I get the feeling some people aren’t making the distinction between therapeutic application of mindfulness within treatment of a psychological disorder and physical effects of meditation and the subjective well being of the people doing it. I believe these are distinct subjects and should be seen as such. Mindfulness based therapies are up and coming and are being studied right now. Scientists are working hard to separate the woo from the effective techniques. There are of course woo practitioners who put the woo back in. But do not let this distract you from the promising results some studies have had when it comes to the woo-less tested techniques.
    When it comes to the effects of meditation on subjective well being I would agree it’s more a placebo, but when it comes to psychological disorders there are more scientifically valid and reliable methods of measuring effects which give positive results.

  104. Niblick says

    The danger is charging someone $400+ for the experience, telling them that any part of the screwball shit they experience is real, instead of what is really going on and why…

    You’re now the poster child for what I described above as, “commenting without the faintest clue what they’re talking about.” None of the things you describe have anything whatsoever to do with MBSR. Sounds like you’re describing some sort of Deepak Chopra retreat and simply assuming that, since the word “meditation” is used in both places, they must be identical.

  105. says

    We are talking about an event sponsored by the Center for Spirituality and Healing, which yes indeed, is a Deepak Chopra haven — they sponsored a visit by the Quantum Wackaloon last year.

  106. The Lone Coyote says

    What is the brain? The brain is fecal matter brought to an end. Premature brain deposit goes through the bowels. The bowel content is in its processes in deed related to the brain. Speaking grotesquely, I would say an advanced heap of dung is what spreads in the brain; but as a matter of fact it is correct. The dung is what is converted by an organic process to the noble matter of the brain, where it is the basis for the Self-development.

    I guess this makes him a……..

    Shithead?

  107. Arjan says

    PZ, I’m a little confused on your point of view. Do you reject the whole of mindfulness as woo? Or do you see potential in the therapeutic techniques developed in the form of MBCT or ACT?

  108. Niblick says

    You know, this claim that I’m just making a kneejerk skeptical reaction is annoying… I read papers that were cited… I am unmoved.

    Though others might have said “knee-jerk,” I didn’t; what I did say was that you appear to be conflating psychology with woo, seemingly on the grounds that the sponsors in this case are woo-sters. Or something.

    The literature is plagued with exaggerated claims of concrete effects based on tiny experiments with entirely subjective criteria, often self-reported.

    Welcome to the social sciences. Are you familiar with many counter-examples that don’t fit this description of yours perfectly? Pretty much every idea out there in psychotherapy fits that description: samples are small; results are self-reported; claims are exaggerated; criteria are subjective. I’d be fascinated to see you construct a “science of making people feel better” that wasn’t bursting at the seams with subjectivity and self-reporting. After you do, I’ll be doubly fascinated to take your objective measurements of “feeling betterness” and apply them to you, so I can tell you how you’re feeling instead of accepting your self-reported, subjective views on the matter.

    Nevertheless, you probably believe as I do that the scientific method is the right tool for investigating things like depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses. What’s unclear is how much of your rant is targeted at the woolly state of the discipline, with a view to encouraging bigger experiments and attempts at getting as rigorous as possible about a question that is inherently subjective (“How do you feel today, Mr. Blue?”), how much is a simple denial of the validity of the discipline itself, and how much is conflation of all that with the woo of your campus woo-sters.

    If all you care about is feeling better, sure, go ahead and believe. I’ll demand a little more rigor.

    I believe nothing; I merely notice a confusing aspect to your rant. It’s not clear to me how your rant would differ if your campus kooks were sponsoring talk therapy, or cognitive therapy, or behavioral therapy. All of your complaints about MBSR apply equally to those: none of them is attested with anything approaching the rigor of a cancer drug, or even an analgesic–where “pain” is often subjective and self-reported.

    My original question was whether you perceive your criticism as applicable to all of psychotherapy or not. The answer is still not clear to me. Is it clear to you? If so, what is it?

  109. Niblick says

    We are talking about an event sponsored by the Center for Spirituality and Healing, which yes indeed, is a Deepak Chopra haven — they sponsored a visit by the Quantum Wackaloon last year.

    I stipulated right up front that your “Center for Spirituality & Healing” is surely a bunch of whackaloons. This observation of yours tends to reinforce my initial impression that you are judging a particular psychotherapy based on who happens to be sponsoring it. If the same group began handing out condoms for spring break, would you suddenly doubt their usefulness for preventing pregnancy and disease?

    We can also take it as given that they will, with each condom, offer a benediction of the goddess against illness and pregnancy, so you can take that into account. Would you argue that condoms don’t work because they’re given out by whackos? Or that blessed condoms magically develop holes? Or that it’s better to have unprotected sex than to accept a condom tainted with their woo?

    And no, I’m not equating the effectiveness of MBSR with the effectiveness of condoms; MBSR is weakly supported by empirical evidence of a weak benefit–which puts it in the same basket as most psychotherapies. There is no psychotherapeutic equivalent of the condom. The question isn’t about its effectiveness at all. The question is whether you are able to distinguish between the issue of effectiveness, and your issues with the whackos who happen to be sponsoring it.

  110. ceekay99 says

    Thanks Niblick for your clarity–what PZ is offering here is a “guilt by association” analysis that is not evidence-based but is based on opinion.

    He really doesn’t get how the problems identified in studies of MBSR (small N, single-blinding, few objective physiological measures) are equally true of any social/behavioral intervention study including psychotherapy.

    He also doesn’t get that behavioral therapies like MBSR that succeed in “making people feel better” (especially people with IBS, at high risk of depression relapse etc) have the potential to save billions of dollars in medical costs + days of work lost.

    And, he doesn’t get that there is not a single brain imaging study of a behavioral therapy (including psychotherapy or MBSR) that meets his high bar — especially the demand for large numbers of subjects since almost all fMRI studies have fewer than 50 subjects.

    It may just be enough to say that although he has strong opinions, he is simply ignorant about where the science is right now.

  111. says

    Quoting some comments above:

    despite the ludicrous Anthroposophical notions that supposedly underpin the [Steiner] education the actual teaching practice is generally pretty common-sensical and effective

    I agree that Steiner was a mystic and crackpot and his theories are nutty. Nevertheless, in many areas he somehow came to a right conclusion

    If you ignore the mumbo jumbo spiritual sideshow of Yoga, it is a very effective exercise

    Meditation is usually dressed up in woo-language and is often “mysticalised” with talk of “energies” and such. It is different from both relaxation and placebo, though, and can be “sterilised” from woo pretty easily

    The common thread here is:
    Whatever successes these methodologies might have, they occur despite the core practices, not because of them.

    Yoga is not “stretching and breathing exercises”, it’s a spiritual belief system. You can pluck out just the exercise part of it, and some of it will be of benefit, just as any sort of physical movement is going to be of benefit… but if you only want to isolate the proven healthy exercise component, you shouldn’t call it yoga, because that’s not what it is any more.

    Not that the physical component is all good, either — there are several health risks associated with yoga. It’s not a collection of demonstrably effective exercises, it’s all traditional, and there’s not much analysis to show which moves are beneficial and which are just unnecessary (and potentially dangerous).

    The word ‘meditate’ – a perfectly servicable term – shouldn’t be tossed away [...] even if it has the stigma of heavy usage by woosters attached to it [...] Nothing wrong with taking it back

    Really, even if?
    And there’s no “taking it back”; the word was never “ours”. Meditation has always been intimately tied to all manner of wooish practices. We shouldn’t be “taking back” spirituality, or soul, or divine either — a case can be made for secular usage, but that’s not what the words really mean, and they’ll retain their woo meanings for the foreseeable future. Why deliberately seek out that sort of baggage?
    Let them keep their crackpot red-flag terminology, it makes identification simpler. The last thing we need to do is offer them an avenue of legitimacy.

  112. lordsetar says

    The word ‘meditate’ – a perfectly servicable term – shouldn’t be tossed away [...] even if it has the stigma of heavy usage by woosters attached to it [...] Nothing wrong with taking it back

    Umm. Perfectly serviceable? I’m sorry, but when you take ‘meditation’ and throw out the woo you’re left with, umm…nothing much different from sitting around, smoking a bowl, putting some music on and just thinking.

  113. says

    Those of you who follow ORAC will know that one of the ways that woo works is to take credit for all sorts of sensible things – like diet and exercise. Kind of the opposite of well-poisoning. That looks like what’s happening here.

    Mindfulness meditation is deliberate mental exercise. It’s not simple relaxing or letting your thoughts wander, there’s focus on some aspect of reality. Your breathing, your steps, a sound, your physical body, your emotions, the flow of your thoughts. (One of these at a time.) There’s nothing woo about it unless someone’s nicked it from the psychologists and shoved traditional meditation back in. (Which I guess would only be fair since they nicked it from the Buddhists and tossed the woo out.)

    Kagato, yoga *is* a set of stretching and flexibility exercises, and a bit of relaxation, in the way it’s done in the English-speaking world. Various studios have more or less woo; I prefer the low-woo variety. You’re way, way too late to rename it to something else.

    Anyway, why bother? I’m not going to insist on not singing, or renaming the Beethoven Missa Solemnis just because ooh err it contains religious words. Yes, it came from a religious tradition, but it’s a worthwhile human creation despite that.

    When all of society has been woo- and religion-laden for millennia, you’ll be in big trouble if you insist on dropping everything that’s ever been associated with woo and religion. Of COURSE we cherry pick the best parts. We have to. I pick yoga, choral music, mindfulness meditation, Xmas feasting, and a limited selection of herbal medicine.

  114. says

    Cath@122:

    Kagato, yoga *is* a set of stretching and flexibility exercises, and a bit of relaxation, in the way it’s done in the English-speaking world.

    I should probably be clearer:
    Yoga is not synonymous with breathing & stretching exercises. Doing those things doesn’t mean you’re doing “a form of yoga”.

    Likewise, practicing yoga doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing good or useful exercise, because it has such a heavily traditional (rather than evidence-based) system.

    (Same goes for chiropractors. The basis for the system is complete crap; but there’s probably quite a few who do a reasonable job with massage etc. at relieving some generalised back pain. That doesn’t mean chiropractic should be considered synonymous with “back and spine therapy” — nor should it even have any broad legitimacy.)

    Various studios have more or less woo; I prefer the low-woo variety.

    That’s good. And I won’t deny doing yoga can be relaxing or fun; but from a fitness & health point of view, it seems a bit of a crapshoot. (As is going to a chiropractor for back pain; going to one for anything else is of course straight woo.)

    You’re way, way too late to rename it to something else.

    I don’t want to rename yoga or meditation, I’m suggesting the opposite: if you’re trying to establish evidence-based exercise, or concentration/relaxation techniques, don’t try and co-opt the existing woo terminology. You’re shooting yourself in the foot by associating with the woo, and conversely you’re giving them legitimacy.

    Don’t let acknowledgement of isolated evidence-supported claims (eg. specific herbal remedies, such as willow bark tea) become support for a broadly unreasonable practice (eg. naturopathy based on “vitalism”).

  115. Djiril says

    I see your problem with the program in question, but I strongly object to the claim that meditation is either just a lesser version of sleep, or that the relaxing effect is similar to watching a funny movie.

    I often get so stressed out that I have a very hard time either getting to sleep or enjoying a movie. I have, however, found that I am more likely to be able to do either of those things if I do a mental exercise focused on clearing my mind for fifteen or twenty minutes sometime beforehand. It is a valuable practice for me and I have never found a substitute. Any time that I “lose” to meditation is more than made up for by the amount of time I don’t waste fretting about the fact that I can’t do everything at once.

  116. The Lone Coyote says

    I taught myself to meditate long ago. I don’t know what makes it special at all, there’s not a whit of ‘spirituality’ to it unless it’s just some vague feeling of ‘being connected to all life.’ It ‘works’ for me, the way I do it, but I never paid some asshole 400 bucks for the privilege. Isn’t that kinda like selling chipped ice to the Inuit?

    The way I do it, I could never do it in some crowded center permeated with the stink of feet and sweat and yoga-farts, with someone telling me how to pose and what to ‘meditate’ on anyways. Those gross sticky mats… eugh. That’s not conducive to a higher transcendent state of being.

  117. anuran says

    “Mindfulness Meditation” sounds a lot like warmed-over Buddhism. There’s nothing wrong with Buddhist meditation. It does have demonstrable benefits, not for everyone, but over the population of practitioners. Nothing woo-woo about it.

    If you want those possible benefits and are willing to put in the time there’s no reason to go to a four hundred dollar seminar. The local Zendo or Tibetan Buddhist church will do it better and cheaper because that’s its specialty.

  118. says

    There’s nothing wrong with Buddhist meditation. [...] Nothing woo-woo about it.

    Nothing at all?

    So there’s nothing in the Buddhist literature about meditation regarding, say, spirits, or the granting of magical powers?

  119. nene says

    One of my class mates in High School came from a Waldorf school, they are very popular here in Germany, and he was seriously challenged when having to participate in a normal school day. Though he was fantastic at dancing his own name and being a tree.

    I think there are major problems with these schools:

    a) they are considers “reform” school, that do not follow the strict Prussian model, although they have little in common with the real reformed schools, like Montessori etc.

    b) because of their anti-authoritarian teaching methods they have become quite popular with certain parts of the more-educated public, especially those that also cluster towards alt med

    c) most parents do not know that there is an ideology attached to the whole system, which I would describe as very dangerous

    d) the education of the Waldorf teachers is horrendous, I know from an insider that most schools recruit their teachers from the Steiner community and the only requirements are 4 weekend classes, mostly filled with singing and dancing.

  120. alan says

    pz,you missed the boat of this on. MBSR IS evidenced based and has been at use at the U of Ma Hospital since 1979. There is plenty of science too back it up and it is use all over the county. check it out. seems you tarred it with he same brush as some other programs offered at this center. MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-
    Zinn Ph.D and much clinical work and many studies have shown is usefullness. I use his techniques myself. You do your readers a disservice with this uninformed hatchet job.Please inform yourself and correct your post.
    Big fan,
    Alan Church Ph.D, Clin. Psychology

  121. says

    #83 Thetis

    You’re quite right: I didn’t ‘win’ on the discussions on DC’s blog last year. ‘Victory’ for me would have been to have a discussion in which a person might disagree with you on the basis of their own experience and intelligence and be respected for that rather than being labelled either a mindless dupe of, or shill for, the Evil Global Steiner Conspiracy Cult. And I lost: completely, utterly, ignominiously and horribly, shot down in flames, crashed and burned.

    #93 David

    You’ll gather I disagree with you about the quality of Thetis & LovelyHorse’s pieces.

    I have a question for you – you say:

    There is, I must agree, less information than one would wish about what actually gets taught in Steiner school classrooms. Partly that is because of their obsessive secretiveness, a common characteristic of cult-like organisations.

    I have been to about half of the termly parents’ evenings at my sons’ school and their teachers have generally gone into great detail about the work they’ve been doing and the curriculum to come, answered questions and engaged in discussion about it, encouraged us to look at our children’s lesson work books, there’s usually stuff from their current lessons on the blackboards in the classrooms where we have the meetings … so I’ve always had a pretty good idea of what actually gets taught in my son’s classrooms at our Steiner school, at least; certainly a lot better idea than I got of what the older son was doing at secondary school when I went to parents’ evenings there.

    So my question is where do you get your impression of this “obsessive secretiveness”?

    For that matter where do you get the idea of Steiner education as a cult? I’m sure I’m not alone amongst those with experience of Steiner schools in finding this laughable: the idea of them organising a pissup in a brewery stretches credulity, forget organising a cult!

  122. Niblick says

    I’m sorry, but when you take ‘meditation’ and throw out the woo you’re left with, umm…nothing much different from sitting around, smoking a bowl, putting some music on and just thinking.

    Perhaps this comment of yours illustrates the problem with an overloaded term like “meditate”: it means so many things that a person can’t seem to help equivocating. No, mindfulness meditation has nothing whatsoever in common with “sitting around, smoking a bowl, putting some music on and just thinking.” Not even the sitting part: about half the time it’s done walking.

    It does have much in common with a skill like shooting, or golfing, in which you concentrate on a single action to the exclusion of any distractions. In shooting, if you fail to concentrate, or concentrate on the wrong thing, or allow distractions, your score will reflect it. What people describe as “the zone” is more or less the same state of attention brought to any random activity. So-called “flow” is essentially the same thing. Mindfulness meditation attempts to recreate that mental state while doing a trivial activity, often observing one’s own breath. The activity itself is clearly pointless, on the order of “smoking a bowl, putting on some music,” but the exercise is about developing the ability to “get into the zone” itself.

    You might regard this as a pointless skill to develop. Or you might believe that the skill can’t be developed. Or you might argue that “being in the zone” is nothing but hype invented to sell books. But mis-characterizing the activity as “taking a shallow nap” or “sitting around smoking a bowl” is rather pointless. If you’re going to converse on that level, you’re not doing rational discourse; you’re just bantering about shit you made up–sorta like the conversation that happens when you’re just sitting around, smoking a bowl, listening to some music with some friends.

  123. Ocean says

    Kagato@127 et. al.,

    So there’s nothing in the Buddhist literature about meditation regarding, say, spirits, or the granting of magical powers?

    Questions like that are like saying Tolstoy’s literature is a about trains because there are trains in the novel “Anna Karenina”. Just really stupid.

    On the other hand, one could argue that trains, for Tolstoy, were metaphorically potent as evidenced by how they were utilized in Anna Karenina as conveyors of anxiety, despair and death. That might be something worth talking about. Because at the very least there’s context.

    Just so, talking about the putative role of putative spirits (and I say putative because I, an MA in religious studies with emphasis in Indo-Tibetan Buddhsim, have no idea what you mean by that – and I doubt you do either) or ‘magical powers’ might also be interesting. But such a discussion would not be possible unless it were properly contextualized.

    And until you do provide some authentic context then you don’t come across as someone who knows what she/he is talking about.

  124. For Once says

    if you only want to isolate the proven healthy exercise component, you shouldn’t call it yoga, because that’s not what it is any more.

    Fair enough, but that’s what the people teaching the exercise classes call it, so its hard to just make up another name and have anyone understand you. Actually, don’t they usually call it something like “Yoga Hatha” which refers to just the exercise part of it? I looked at one of those Yoganada books once and noticed that they have yoga this and yoga that and they are all different things, and only one of them is the stuff they do in the exercise classes.

    (To be honest, I prefer pilates.)

  125. says

    This is what the CSH sent us about their mindfulness meditation program:

    tMBSR will teach participants how to intentionally cope with pain, illness, and the stress of modern life. Participants will learn mindfulness meditation skills, and build upon their own personal strengths to offset the adverse effects of stress by responding more effectively to challenges such as:
    • Chronic Pain
    • Depression
    • Blood Pressure 

    • Headaches
    • Cancer
    • Asthma

    • Heart Disease
    • Fibromyalgia
    • Crohn’s Disease 

    • Job and School Stress
    • Family
    • Fear/Anxiety
• Diabetes
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Sleep Disorders

    Now you want to tell me it’s all about dealing with depression and that this is a perfectly harmless and perhaps even helpful technique. So, has it shown any clinical validity in dealing with heart disease, cancer, or HIV?

  126. says

    @135: Well, the way I read that (granting that there’s an annoying vagueness about the verbiage), it’s claiming to help people cope with the psychological stress produced by having a serious illness, not to cure the cancer or whatever. Which if it works is a good thing (and I’m not claiming that either their version, or anyone else’s, does).

  127. Niblick says

    So, has it shown any clinical validity in dealing with heart disease, cancer, or HIV?

    Now you’re really reaching, PZ! Nowhere in the bit you quoted, nor anywhere else for that matter, is any claim made to the effect that MBSR shrinks tumors or reduces viral loads. Reread it for yourself: “tMBSR will teach participants how to intentionally COPE WITH pain, illness, and the stress of modern life…”

    Three guesses what “cope with” means: it’s clearly all about depression.

  128. says

    Weasel words. The intent is clear, to imply that this therapy will help with that laundry list of real maladies. If they really wanted to restrict the claim to just depression and stress, why did they list cancer, heart disease, and HIV?

  129. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Yoga is not “stretching and breathing exercises”, it’s a spiritual belief system. You can pluck out just the exercise part of it, and some of it will be of benefit, just as any sort of physical movement is going to be of benefit… but if you only want to isolate the proven healthy exercise component, you shouldn’t call it yoga, because that’s not what it is any more.

    um ok.

    I’ll be sure to remember that when I’m not giving a shit about what it’s called.

    How about “Notyoga because someone is being pedantic”.

    Honey what’s going on down there?

    Not much I’m just doing some “Notyoga because someone is being pedantic”.

    Huh? What? Who’s down there with you?

    no one.

    What?

  130. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Not that the physical component is all good, either — there are several health risks associated with yoga.

    Listen I’m no Notyoga guru. I do it once a week as part of a larger exercise program. Frankly I don’t really even like it that much because I’m not very flexible and never have been.

    however

    You are aware there are health risks with any exercise, right?

  131. 5Raphaels says

    @ john Stumbles 131

    It’s hard to resist watching you trip your self up in your matey and breathtakingly simplistic posts; please save yourself, and us, the agony.

    I quote you here
    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3595

    “the esoteric theories (Anthroposophy etc) behind it are total barmpotty bollocks”

    “I have no wish to familiarise myself with anthroposophy or to comment about Steiner and anthroposophy.”

    “I think it’s very useful to have critics outside the Steiner movement who are as well-read on the subject as Thetis.”

    While you’re reading up on the stuff you’re attempting to write about, the rest of us will contemplate our dystopian futures without Steiner schools.

  132. ceekay99 says

    People …. it’s called PUBMED … use it! Seriously PZ. Why do you ask a question when you can answer yourself in pretty quick fashion.

    ***”PZ: So, has it shown any clinical validity in dealing with heart disease, cancer, or HIV?”

    The answer: there is preliminary evidence for efficacy in two of these conditions

    HIV: small study shows some evidence for immune sparing efficacy in HIV

    “mindfulness meditation training effects on CD4+ T lymphocytes in HIV-1 infected adults: A small randomized controlled trial”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2725018/

    Cancer: some evidence, although the studies are weak, for positive effects on natural killer cell activity and other parameters in post-chemo patients

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2586059/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14749092

    Heart Disease — GOT BORED — SOMEONE ELSE CAN LOOK THIS UP

    GEEZ YOU GUYS — LOTS OF OPINION — NOT ENOUGH FACT!!!

  133. 5Raphaels says

    @John Stumbles

    “I’m writing about the stuff I have experience of.”

    It’s your children who are experiencing it.

    You are permitting us a glimpse of the paucity of your bookshelf.

    Frankly, you owe it to them to find out why they are being exposed to occult nonsense rather than publicly coax your head into a huge corner in the sand which cannot end entirely happily.

  134. says

    #144 5Raphaels

    Do you realise that you sound like a Fundamentalist Godbotherer warning me that my precious children’s souls are in mortal danger?

    If my (now 18yo) son didn’t have better things to do right now I’d get him to tell you himself how much bollocks you’re talking.

  135. says

    I’d be more impressed by a demonstration that you know what you’re talking about than an assertion that you do. Which since you’re claiming to know more about what my children are experiencing than I do is why I think you’re talking out of your arse, but I’m open to persuasion otherwise.

  136. says

    Usually waldorf students have a very scant idea about why certain things are done in certain ways in waldorf schools or how and why waldorf education came into existance, what its foundations are and so forth. Usually, too, waldorf students don’t realize how much their school differs from other schools — in short, they’re usually inexperienced, but have been indoctrinated to believe that waldorf is the best thing on earth and that other people in other schools are less privileged. I’ve been told by former waldorf students that eurythmy is not spiritual. That the morning prayer (‘verse’) is not spiritual. They have been told so, and they believe it. Or if they haven’t been told straight lies, they have been told nothing at all– they have not been informed about eurythmy. They have just practiced it — for years. Without explanations.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that John Stumbles’ son would tell 5Raphaels that she’s talking bollocks (and, the kid being a waldorf student, I think it might sound worse than that). The question though is if what he would say is true. Or if he just doesn’t know better — if he, like other waldorf students (and parents), has remained ignorant of the spiritual underpinnings that guide waldorf education.

  137. says

    The son I refer to was in Steiner school until age 12 (that’s as far as the class ran) and state secondary school since. He’s 18 now, about to go to Uni, he’s a smart, rational, well-informed young man and he and his friends from the school are quite capable of making their own appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of their education there. Which is neither starry-eyed nor dismissive of it.

    As to whether eurythmy is ‘spiritual’ or not: it’s not. That sky-fairy your-mortal-soul-in-danger stuff is just superstitious nonsense. Don’t worry about it.

  138. says

    Why is it we can’t get our woo-that-works separated from the woo-that-doesn’t?

    Meditation and mindfulness do work – it’s like talk therapy, one of those things which is really simple, yet requires practice to work. And I don’t mind the woo talk with it, since we’re not entirely sure if it’s just soothing words or not, and therefore something in the tone of voice.

    But sheesh, why do they have to turn it into something about bilking people? That peeves me. $380 dollars for two day sessions in a class? How many instructors? That’s like two hours with my psychiatrist!

  139. ThetisMercurio says

    @John Stumbles – So many Steiner proponents, faced with parents, ex-teachers or students who don’t agree with them, and who often know far more about Steiner ed than they do themselves, resort to insults, as you did here even before David or I commented.

    If you want to criticise our posts at DC’s, anecdotal evidence from personal experience is not enough, especially as we’re dealing with an esoteric movement which isn’t honest about its activities. Saying ‘it works for me!’ is just what any homeopath says.

    Yet again it strikes me that you really don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know what eurythmy is, or what the pedagogy is based on, or what you’re defending. You can’t accept that others (like Alicia) know more than you. They must all be wrong. Zealots. Talking out of their arses. Fundies. It’s a conspiracy of anti-Steiner, a hate-group. Anthroposophy can be flicked away with one hand, it’s irrelevant! At this point it seems no amount of evidence would convince you that this isn’t the case.

    Your son left at 12 (lucky boy) I suspect he has less invested in protecting Alder Bridge Steiner school than you do. Steiner school is often more about the parents than the children.

  140. says

    PS with regard to “Steiner” v. “Waldorf” I suspect the difference is more than nominative: AIUI (from comments on Colquhoun’s blog) in the USA all Waldorf teaching and teacher training (basically use of the “Waldorf” trademark) is regulated by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America; whereas in the UK there is no such control (the UK’s Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship is a representative rather than regulatory body of UK Steiner Schools). And I get the impression the AWSNA exerts a tight control and imposes a rather dogmatic interpretation of Steiner’s ideas over schools there – maybe some US readers can comment on that?

    From the little I hear of other schools in the UK I think there may be a lot more variability in approach here, with leeway for more pragmatic approaches. Which might go some way to explaining why folks seem to have such different experiences of S-W schools.

  141. says

    Ocean @133

    Questions like that are like saying Tolstoy’s literature is a about trains because there are trains in the novel “Anna Karenina”. Just really stupid.

    See, I wasn’t claiming Buddhist meditation was entirely woo, or even mostly woo; it was a response to the claim that Buddhist meditation was “totally non-woo”. 30 seconds with Google & Wikipedia reveals texts regarding communicating with spirits, and gaining psychic & physical powers. No doubt these are minor esoteric points, but they belie the claim of being totally non-woo. (like claiming Tolstoy never wrote about trains.)

    RBDC @140

    Listen I’m no Notyoga guru. I do it once a week as part of a larger exercise program. Frankly I don’t really even like it that much because I’m not very flexible and never have been.
    however
    You are aware there are health risks with any exercise, right?

    I’m not actually anti-yoga, despite the impression I’m no doubt giving. I expect yoga is mostly good exercise, and if that’s the sort of workout you want yoga and pilates are pretty much you’re only choices anyway.

    My point is, yoga is not evidence based. To the best of my knowledge, no-one’s done a study on the individual yoga positions to assess health benefits or risks; just “is doing this whole collection of traditional moves a net positive”.But they remain a collection for traditional reasons.

    But then, I suspect that’s the case for many exercise regimes. Someone at some point declares “doing this is good for you”, and builds a whole edifice of rules around it, some of which turn out to actually do some good. You end up stuck with the whole lump anyway, even if the original idea was crap.

  142. says

    #151 ThetisMercurio

    … anecdotal evidence from personal experience is not enough…
    Saying ‘it works for me!’ is just what any homeopath says.

    Homoeopathy ‘works’ by the placebo effect. Are you saying there’s a placebo effect in education whereby a child can learn, say, arithmetic or geography or juggling or French or playing the violin by suggestion?

    Steiner school is often more about the parents than the children.

    That could equally apply to the anti-Steiner folks, most, if not all of whom, seem to be disaffected ex-parents.

    Personally I’ve quite frequently weighed up the pros and cons of my sons’ Steiner education in deciding whether to keep them on there, and will continue to do so.

    As for the esoteric stuff, I really don’t bother with that superstitious nonsense. I don’t care if Anthroposophists think that eurythmy involves the child communing with Higher Worlds or some such claptrap: really it’s just music and movement. And I don’t care if they think the child is in the Second or Third Age Of Man, as long as they’re getting taught well.

    If I ruled the world and were making educational policy for others then of course it would be wrong to base that on anecdotal evidence from personal experience, but when I’m deciding for *my* kids then it would be wrong to base my decisions on what you or anyone else says about SWE over and above evidence of how their education is actually occuring.

    I do appreciate the information you and others have provided about SWE, but not the way you seem to be insisting that unless someone agrees with you 100% they’re either a Steiner dupe or shill.

    And you and Alicia and others may know more about Steiner pedagogy and the writings of Rudolf Steiner, and you’re welcome to that knowledge, but you don’t know my kids and their teachers and can only guess from your own limited experience what they and their educational relationship might be like. And if that sounds prickly of me just imagine how you would feel if I suggested that I knew more about what’s good for your kids than you do!

  143. Niblick says

    Weasel words. The intent is clear, to imply that this therapy will help with that laundry list of real maladies. If they really wanted to restrict the claim to just depression and stress, why did they list cancer, heart disease, and HIV?

    Um, because helping terminal cancer patients cope with the stress and depression of knowing they’re about to die unpleasantly, is what MBSR was actually invented for? As you should already know, since you claim to have read the linked papers? And cancer, heart disease and HIV are much more significant sources of stress and depression than hangnails and the cancellation of Caprica?

    I said you were reaching before. Now you’re crossing the rubicon into simple dishonesty: inventing a claim nobody ever made to shore up your original hasty judgment and continued refusal to recognize the distinction between a particular therapeutic intervention that has been empirically studied, and the whackos who happen to be supporting it.

    Note that if the Center for Spirituality & Healing put out an advertisement that said, “Mindfulness-based stress reduction will cure your cancer and resurrect your grandma,” that has no bearing on whether MBSR is a genuine therapeutic intervention, nor on whether the empirical studies were sound, nor on whether the results of those studies supported its efficacy, so if they were making the (actionable!) claims you accuse them of, it would not retroactively justify your conclusion that MBSR is “bunkum and quackery.” Whether or not it’s “bunkum and quackery” is unrelated to whether whackos claim that it’s the magic secret of immortality–just as the efficacy of condoms is unrelated to whether someone builds a cult around condom worship.

    You’re digging yourself in deeper, PZ. You need to stick to empirically supportable facts, or else turn in your atheist rationalist card. Facts like:

    1) MBSR is a therapeutic intervention supported by some empirical evidence, but the studies to date have been limited in scope to the point that caution is called for,

    2) The case can be made that, if it is efficacious, it is also frequently applied incorrectly by religious practitioners lacking credentials in psychotherapy,

    3) In particular, the Center for Spirituality & Healing is the poster child for “religious whackos lacking credentials in psychotherapy” (better double-check this claim; a quick look suggests that most of them are nurses–at least, I see 15 RNs on their faculty list),

    4) Studies of MBSR were done in a group therapy setting; a telephone-based version seems to be an innovation of the Center for Spirituality & Healing and is not supported by empirical evidence,

    5) That, together with the lack of credentialed psychotherapists at the Center for Spirituality & Healing, suggests serious malpractice for this center to be offering psychotherapy, and

    6) University funding should not be used in any way to support unqualified practitioners (CSH) offering psychotherapy (MBSR) of unproven value (telephone-based).

  144. says

    John Stumbles:

    ‘He’s 18 now, about to go to Uni, he’s a smart, rational, well-informed young man and he and his friends from the school are quite capable of making their own appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of their education there.’

    I didn’t say anything about that. I said that unless your son informs himself about the background of waldorf education and the anthroposophical doctrines that underpin it, he won’t be able to make a correct appraisal of the influence of anthroposophy on his waldorf school years.

    (I also left waldorf school when I was twelve, for what it’s worth. It has taken a lot of reading to find out exactly what lies behind the methods and ways of waldorf. Because, as you know and waldorf proponents constantly insist, anthroposophy is not — *directly* — taught to the children.)

    ‘As for the esoteric stuff, I really don’t bother with that superstitious nonsense. I don’t care if Anthroposophists think that eurythmy involves the child communing with Higher Worlds or some such claptrap: really it’s just music and movement. And I don’t care if they think the child is in the Second or Third Age Of Man, as long as they’re getting taught well.’

    You have a problem then. Because these beliefs actually prevent the children from getting taught well. The stuff you call ‘superstitious nonsense’ and ‘claptrap’ is actually the foundation of waldorf education — it informs how, when and what the children are taught.

    So you really sort of agree with us. You just refuse to inform yourself about the influence of ‘superstitious nonsense’ and ‘claptrap’ on waldorf education. How unfortunate.

    ‘you don’t know my kids and their teachers’

    No, we don’t. And we don’t pretend to. Your kids and their teachers may be exceptions, for all we know. Not that I think this very likely, but that’s perhaps another story.

    I’m talking about it generally — former waldorf students know next to nothing about the beliefs that underlie their education and to what an extent their education has been influenced by these beliefs. Your son may be the exception — but I somehow doubt it.

    ‘I do appreciate the information you and others have provided about SWE, but not the way you seem to be insisting that unless someone agrees with you 100% they’re either a Steiner dupe or shill.’

    Of course, this is not what I am insisting. What I am saying, though, is that too many people know way too little about waldorf — and that, before choosing it, they should inform themselves much better. And I’m also saying — insisting might actually be the right word — that waldorf schools, their proponents and anthroposophists need to be more upfront about what they are offering.

  145. says

    #156 alice h

    … I said that unless your son informs himself about the background of waldorf education and the anthroposophical doctrines that underpin it, he won’t be able to make a correct appraisal of the influence of anthroposophy on his waldorf school years.

    Why would he want to make make any sort of appraisal of the influence of anthroposophy on his Steiner school years? Why did you want to do so in your case? I had a conventional state school education: I haven’t felt the need to read up on the theories my teachers might have been employing in teaching me. I got taught, to a better or worse degree according to the abilities of the teachers and the resources of the school and curriculum and I’ve moved on.

    [I said] I don’t care if Anthroposophists think that eurythmy involves the child communing with Higher Worlds or some such claptrap …

    You have a problem then. Because these beliefs actually prevent the children from getting taught well.

    I have a problem /if/ my children aren’t getting taught well, whether it’s because of Anthroposophical beliefs or because their teacher’s incompetent or for whatever other reason. /Why/ they’re not getting taught well (if that were the case) would be the school’s problem because I’d take my child out if that happened.

    So you really sort of agree with us. You just refuse to inform yourself about the influence of ‘superstitious nonsense’ and ‘claptrap’ on waldorf education. How unfortunate.

    I’m sure there are dedicated Anthroposophists who think I’m missing out on some fortune by not poring over Steiner’s thinking. What do you think I’m missing?

  146. ThetisMercuro says

    @John Stumbles – #154 – it is rather more that a fan of homeopathy can ignore any amount of evidence because ‘it works for me’ – even though homeopathy is based on ludicrous pseudoscience.

    No one is suggesting, or has ever suggested, that your sons didn’t benefit in any way from their Steiner school. Nor do I suggest they’re being harmed – although there are children who have not come out of it so well. Steiner teachers (many of whom believe that anthroposophy is not ludicrous pseudoscience) might imagine amongst a great deal of other nonsense that your skepticism has got in the way of your children’s ‘spiritual’ education. Hopefully it has.

    You must admit, you once told us you’d prefer a more rational education.. well, yes. You’ll have to forgive us for arguing that an irrational education shouldn’t be funded by the taxpayer. Admittedly, they do nice things in Steiner schools but of course music, art, outdoor play, gardening (even maypole dancing) and so on exists in lots of English primaries – Steiner doesn’t hold the patent on creativity or fun. What Waldorf schools have that other schools don’t – is anthroposophy.

    I’m sure you realise that claiming international criticism, concern and historical analysis of Steiner Waldorf education is largely the product of ‘disaffected’ parents is an old standard which hardly requires a reply.

  147. ThetisMercurio says

    ‘What do you think I’m missing?’

    Oh, you’re just missing the whole point, John. All of it. I don’t know how you’ve managed to do it, it’s truly incredible…

  148. Nakarti says

    MBSR looks to me like just what its name suggests: general stress reduction technique.
    I see the section that has PZ huffing:
    The MBSR will help participants cope and live more fully with such challenges as:
    Chronic Pain Depression
    High Blood Headaches
    Pressure Asthma
    Cancer Crohn’s
    Heart Disease Job
    Fibromyalgia Family
    Diabetes Anxiety
    Sleep Disorders HIV/AIDS
    Fear School

    So here it presents as a coping mechanism. But…

    It’s peddled along with woo such as “Unwind Your Mind with Mind-Body Skills, Meditation, and Light Stretching.” by the same woo-meister Erik Storlie: “Instructor, Meditation: Integrating Body and Mind and MBSR Academic Courses”

    Meditation and stretching? Ok. Mind-Body Skills? Woo! Where do I get some!

    And that’s the problem. We don’t need the woo to get the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, but the woo-meisters will take credit for it if you let them.

  149. says

    John S:

    ‘Why would he want to make make any sort of appraisal of the influence of anthroposophy on his Steiner school years?’

    If he’s going to tell us we’re talking bollocks — which you indicated he would do, if he was asked –, he would have to know what he’s talking about. How can he tell us what we say is bollocks if he hasn’t got the first clue on what anthroposophy is?

    ‘Why did you want to do so in your case?’

    Because I needed to know what had been going on. I had to know what I’d been subjected to. Maybe your son doesn’t have the need to find out — but I did. On the other hand, if he doesn’t make an effort to find out, he’s not in the position to say we don’t know what we’re talking about. Get it?

    ‘I haven’t felt the need to read up on the theories my teachers might have been employing in teaching me.’

    Anthroposophy is a spiritual worldview. That is the difference. I have no huge interest in finding out about pedagogical methods used in schools — I’m interested in how this particular brand of spirituality influenced those years I was in waldorf. That’s the difference. Waldorf is not just a pedagogy — waldorf is anthroposophy.

    ‘What do you think I’m missing?’

    The point of this discussion: Anthroposophy’s role in waldorf education. You won’t understand what that role is, unless you familiarize yourself with anthroposophy and the teachings of Steiner.

  150. says

    @ThetisMercuro #160

    No one is suggesting, or has ever suggested, that your sons didn’t benefit in any way from their Steiner school. Nor do I suggest they’re being harmed – although there are children who have not come out of it so well.

    And vice versa: I know several children who have come to our school from mainstream schools where they’ve been unhappy, and who have blossomed here.

    You’ll have to forgive us for arguing that an irrational education shouldn’t be funded by the taxpayer.

    I totally agree that taxpayers shouldn’t fund education that inculcates irrational beliefs in children, and I would love to see state funding of faith schools abolished. (Actually I would like to see faith schools abolished: I’m with Dawkins and the Humanists on the immorality verging on abusiveness of imposing religious beliefs on children). But I’m not for thought-policing teachers for irrational beliefs as long as their teaching measures up: I don’t care if they believe in Gaia, Odin, Vishnu, Yahweh, Human Wisdom or the Flying Spaghetti Monster as long as they keep it to themselves: “Religion is like a penis: It’s OK to have one (plenty of people do) as long as you don’t wave it around in public or try to force it down my children’s throats.

    Admittedly, they do nice things in Steiner schools but of course music, art, outdoor play, gardening (even maypole dancing) and so on exists in lots of English primaries – Steiner doesn’t hold the patent on creativity or fun. What Waldorf schools have that other schools don’t – is anthroposophy.

    The differences you list above are superficial: I suggest that the main differences between Steiner schools and mainstream schools are freedom from the National Curriculum which allows Steiner schools to start formal schooling later and to offer a broader curriculum, the structure of the day into initial ‘main lesson’ and later subject lessons, having teachers stay with their class as their principal teacher for the first 8 years, and of course generally small class sizes. I think the emphasis on developing the class as a social group and elegantly resolving conflicts, and practical, often playful, energetic and hands-on rather than intellectual theoretical approaches to subjects are probably also important.

    I’m sure you realise that claiming international criticism, concern and historical analysis of Steiner Waldorf education is largely the product of ‘disaffected’ parents is an old standard which hardly requires a reply.

    I don’t know if it’s an old standard but isn’t it true?

    ‘What do you think I’m missing?’

    Oh, you’re just missing the whole point, John. All of it. I don’t know how you’ve managed to do it, it’s truly incredible…

    I asked because I was genuinely interested to be know if there *was* a point I was missing. From your dismissive response I suspect that actually there isn’t one.

  151. Kagehi says

    I suggest that the main differences between Steiner schools and mainstream schools are freedom from the National Curriculum which allows Steiner schools to start formal schooling later and to offer a broader curriculum, the structure of the day into initial ‘main lesson’ and later subject lessons, having teachers stay with their class as their principal teacher for the first 8 years, and of course generally small class sizes. …

    Not sure later schooling is necessarily a good idea, simply because its hard enough to keep up with what needs to be taught as it is (and, frankly, its much better to get kids interested in learning earlier, not later). That said, the rest is definitely both a strength, and weakness, of non-state schools. In my own experience, the best systems in state schools are often the “special education” branch. Unshackled from the huge class sizes, able to work more directly with students, and possessing the capacity to truly assess a student, instead of just making them follow along with the rest, a smart student is, in a good program, probably better off than if they where not mis-diagnosed as a problem, and shuffled into special ed.

    But, the results vary. For some schools, the special ed classes are little better than make work, and not designed to really help at all. There are a few, sadly which tend to cost a bit more, and get funding gutted…, which are careful to actually test what a student can do, and why, and cater the program to the best for them. The result can be to add motivation to those without it, recognize when they actually exceed their peers, by such a degree that simple boredom is undermining their education, etc.

    The problem, however, and thus the weakness of such systems, is that because their isn’t a central concept of what *should* be done, its all too easy to either do nothing, do the wrong thing, or wander off into la la land, instead of actually providing an education.

    This is a flaw in both the public systems definition of what needs to be taught, and its failure to accept that you can’t pigeon hole students, by age, into some category (or, just as bad, skip them grades, or the like, so that other aspects of their maturity or education are behind/beyond what they should be, when they are taking higher classes, or retaking others). In short, the attempt to make students all be the same is the problem, not the idea that someone some place should set a standard that schools have to follow. When the throw out the later, you end up with things all over the spectrum, from those that try to do what the public system is screwing up, i.e., treating each child based on who they are, and how fast they learn, to teaching them almost nothing at all, along with a whole lot of complete idiocy, depending on the “philosophy” of the people running the system, or even, sometimes, the people running a specific school in that system.

  152. says

    @alicia h – #163

    ‘Why would he want to make make any sort of appraisal of the influence of anthroposophy on his Steiner school years?’

    If he’s going to tell us we’re talking bollocks — which you indicated he would do, if he was asked –, he would have to know what he’s talking about. How can he tell us what we say is bollocks if he hasn’t got the first clue on what anthroposophy is?

    I offered that my son might describe 5Raphaels’ suggestion (#144) that he had been “exposed to occult nonsense” as bollocks.

    If you told me someone had made a voodoo doll of me and stuck pins in it I’d describe that occult nonsense as bollocks. I wouldn’t have to study voodoo to do so.

    ‘Why did you want to do so in your case?’

    Because I needed to know what had been going on. I had to know what I’d been subjected to. Maybe your son doesn’t have the need to find out — but I did. On the other hand, if he doesn’t make an effort to find out, he’s not in the position to say we don’t know what we’re talking about. Get it?

    You were subjected to whatever you experienced: anything else – all the ethereal, karmic whatever – was in your teachers’ heads. For all you or I know they might have had a voodoo doll of you with pins in it: it doesn’t matter, it’s all imaginary nonsense.

    Of course if you had a bad experience with a teacher and knowing what nonsense was going on in their head helps you get closure then fine, go for it.

    And if they put some of their imaginary nonsense into *your* head when you were at school then that was abuse (I posted a link to an article on this subject in my last comment). But I thought Steiner-Waldorf teachers kept that stuff to themselves.

  153. ThetisMercurio says

    ‘The differences you list above are superficial:’

    they weren’t differences, they were similarities. The difference is that only Steiner Waldorf schools are informed by anthroposophy. That isn’t superficial, but you don’t know what it is, nor do you want to do the work of finding out. This makes it very hard to take your observations seriously.

    ‘I think the emphasis on developing the class as a social group and elegantly resolving conflicts, and practical, often playful, energetic and hands-on rather than intellectual theoretical approaches to subjects are probably also important.’

    John, do you think that no ‘playful, energetic and hands-on’ activity happens in primary schools? It does. Do you think that ‘developing the class as a social group and (elegantly?) resolving conflicts,’ is something that only happens in Steiner Waldorf schools? That would not be true. I would question a teacher staying with a class for eight years, especially if that teacher is inadequately trained. On that note I recommend this highly readable post by primary school teacher Esther Fidler on UK Anthroposophy – she analyses a proposed Steiner ‘ecology’ Free School – http://ukanthroposophy.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/steinerflavasoup/

    ‘But isn’t it true’? That’s a question, which is a start. No, it isn’t true. Some critics of Steiner ed are very happy parents. Some are not parents at all. Many who are critical are… skeptics.

  154. ThetisMercurio says

    @Kagehi – yes, it’s very difficult to know how to get education right for such large numbers of students, and I’m not sure anyone has the answers.

    I’m interested in democratic education, though it’s interesting to note how differently this concept manifests in various democratic schools. Have you come across democratic ed ? In regular schools I do think that a strong student voice is important, and it’s something that’s lacking in otherwise successful academic settings here in England. Some of their discipline issues are as a result of imposing silly rules on intelligent students – but I’m told by our school that parents want things to stay as they are. When I ask what the students want they look at me as if I’m a … socialist or something.

    Steiner schools are not, by the way, democratic.

  155. says

    While there are most certainly a number of decent and well-intentioned Waldorf/Steiner schools and teachers, there is no denying the secrecy behind this anthroposophical initiative. While researching the movement for my recent novel I was astounded to learn of its covert occult roots. One need only look at school websites to compare information therein with that which informs and inspires teachers during training. Hint: Anthroposophy – aka Spiritual Science has nothing to do with what most people think of as “science.”

    Unfortunately, parents learn on a need-to-know basis. Strange MO – especially from a movement ostensibly concerned with education.

    Thus the ongoing controversy and the “impulse” for my novel.

    Tony Norse

  156. Margaret Sachs says

    John Stumbles, you said to Alicia:
    “You were subjected to whatever you experienced: anything else – all the ethereal, karmic whatever – was in your teachers’ heads. For all you or I know they might have had a voodoo doll of you with pins in it: it doesn’t matter, it’s all imaginary nonsense.” (#167)

    Anthroposophy is not just in the teachers’ heads. It is inflicted on the children in a variety of ways on a regular basis. The intention appears to be to soften up their minds for eventual acceptance of Anthroposophy.

    For example, there seems to be an attempt to undermine the children’s trust in the mainstream world of science and technology, while the existence of a supernatural world is shoved down their throats with activities involving supernatural beings such as gnomes, angels, gods, and demons. For example, one of my children came home from Waldorf school one day and told me you can’t trust modern science, which goes right along with Steiner’s teachings. Not long after that, I learned of Steiner’s pseudoscience that some teachers were promoting. Another example is the topics of the plays my children were in: the sinking of the Titanic; demons; a waiting room for the newly dead, all emphasizing Anthroposophical themes.

    While children in history classes in mainstream schools are learning about history in the real world, the emphasis in Steiner schools is on mythology, with particular focus on Nordic myths.

    Every morning at Waldorf schools, the elementary school children say a prayer to the sun, which represents Anthroposophy’s sun god, one of many gods Steiner peddled to his followers.

    These are just a few examples of a program that sets the stage for believing the real world isn’t real but the so-called “spiritual” world as seen “clairvoyantly” by Steiner in the “Akashic Record” is real. When children have been inculcated with ideas about Atlantis, Norse gods, nature spirits, archangels, spiritually superior and inferior races, and so on, the next step–swallowing the whole kit and caboodle as the truth–isn’t so hard.

    When your child does not use standard textbooks and you see only what their teachers want you to see in their lesson books and staged demonstrations and you hear only what they tell parents about in meetings, you really don’t know what is happening in the classroom out of your view. And the children cannot tell their parents if they are being taught woo because they do not simultaneously have a mainstream classroom experience to measure it against.

  157. says

    #172 Margaret Sachs says:

    For example, there seems to be an attempt to undermine the children’s trust in the mainstream world of science and technology, while the existence of a supernatural world is shoved down their throats with activities involving supernatural beings such as gnomes, angels, gods, and demons. For example, one of my children came home from Waldorf school one day and told me you can’t trust modern science,

    If anything remotely like that were happening in the school I’m familiar with I’d be up in arms about it. I don’t know if US ‘Waldorf’ schools are a lot different from UK ‘Steiner’ schools – I gather the Waldorf Schools of America (or whatever-it-is organisation) exerts tight control (via the ‘Waldorf’ trademark) on who can teach in US schools and how they are trained), or maybe we just hear more bad things about Waldorf schools because this is a US blog (and of course because people generally report bad things rather than good things).

    While children in history classes in mainstream schools are learning about history in the real world, the emphasis in Steiner schools is on mythology, with particular focus on Nordic myths.

    I *like* that they go through Nordic, Egyptian, Indian and Greek mythology: I think it puts the Abrahamic religions in context and helps children to see that they’re all mythological.

    Every morning at Waldorf schools, the elementary school children say a prayer to the sun, which represents Anthroposophy’s sun god, one of many gods Steiner peddled to his followers.

    What was the prayer?

    At my sons’ kindergarten they would say a blessing on meals thanking the earth and the sun for providing their food. You can interpret that as anthropomorphisation of our planet and its star as supernatural beings, regard it as pagan, or as acknowledgement of the scientific reality of how life on Earth exists.

    And the children cannot tell their parents if they are being taught woo because they do not simultaneously have a mainstream classroom experience to measure it against.

    No but as parents we talk to our children about what they’re learning and I had no particular concerns that they were being fitted up to believe in a load of supernatural woo. And I’m pretty touchy about such things. But YMMV: it sounds as if your kids’ experience at your school was a lot different. Which is why (as I’ve said elsewhere) the best thing would be for mainstream education to be learning from and taking on the better aspects of Steiner education.

    Maybe we need a New School of the Humanities [ducks and runs]

  158. ThetisMercurio says

    Anthroposophy is esoteric – the ‘knowledge’ is hidden. That means that parents frequently don’t understand what’s informing the teaching at their children’s schools. The above is a good example of a parent in that particular position. Sometimes people realise years later that they were not fully informed – I’ve seen this several times on forums like mumsnet. I don’t believe that the indoctrination – if we want to call it that – is very efficient, so many ex-students are as oblivious of anthroposophy as John is. They just think they had a slightly woolly (or for some, appallingly bad) education. However – it’s surprising how many teenagers do know about it, even though it’s supposedly not taught in the classrooms. A read of the teaching materials from any Steiner training course, including the (now closing) Steiner BA at the University of Plymouth (Devon, UK) clearly demonstrates that anthroposophy is at the heart of teaching practice. We discuss this in our posts at DC’s. We’re also aware that teachers’ understanding varies, which is not any kind of recommendation.

    There are no exceptional Steiner Waldorf schools which are not based on anthroposophy, even Alder Bridge Steiner Waldorf School, John Stumbles’ school. Otherwise why is it here?
    http://anthroposophy.org.uk/index.php?id=47

    Spookily, in that last link the Invisible Community has disappeared, or at least those of us who are not clairvoyant – including PZ – can’t see it.

    Every school carrying the name Steiner Waldorf in England has to be part of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. This organisation is presently plotting free schools with a spiritual ethos, according to the Times Ed:
    http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6109281

    The comments after that article are a delight.

    You can’t just call yourself a Steiner Waldorf school, in Britain or the US or anywhere else, and be something other. All schools (US, British, European etc) lead back to the Goetheanum.
    http://www.webcitation.org/5vMgPg6Ux

  159. alan says

    pz meyers says:
    “Weasel words. The intent is clear, to imply that this therapy will help with that laundry list of real maladies. If they really wanted to restrict the claim to just depression and stress, why did they list cancer, heart disease, and HIV?”

    PZ, actually what the CSH says, according to you is this:
    “Participants will…respond[ing] more effectively to challenges such as:
    • Chronic Pain
    • Depression
    • Blood Pressure 

    • Headaches
    • Cancer
    and,etc.
    Nowhere do they say anything about treating cancer. On Kabat-Zinn’s MINDFULNESS MEDITATION FOR PAIN RELIEF program, which I have been using for 7 years, he talks about mindfulness meditation as a way to deal with pain rather than just living with it as many people have been told they must do by their doctors. He makes no claim about treating cancer (just one’s response to it) though we have evidence as mentioned above that it can help with stress-related illnessness like IBS.

    The arguments and citations given by others here should be sufficient to convince anyone that mindfulness training can be useful. Clinical experience (read his books!) and the studies clearly show that. But PZ seems dug in. Why else would he fail to understand the quote above?
    In my own experience, mindfulness meditation, learned from Kabat-Zinn’s books, tapes,CDs, and downloads (on sale 1/2 price now at soundstrue.com) , has been enormously helpful with my chronic low back pain. No woo, just amazing relief,time after time,and continuously, and a marked increase in the quality of life.
    Alan Church

  160. Margaret Sachs says

    John says (#172):
    “No but as parents we talk to our children about what they’re learning and I had no particular concerns that they were being fitted up to believe in a load of supernatural woo. And I’m pretty touchy about such things.”

    Those would have been my exact words during the first 11 years of my family’s involvement in Waldorf because the deception is so effectively carried out. Before enrolling our first child, I did ask what role Anthroposophy played in the education because I wanted to know what religious beliefs our children might be exposed to, if any. I got what I now know is the standard line about Anthroposophy not being a religion and not being in the classroom. Then, all the way through, we were given reasonable sounding answers to our questions, which I now know did not represent the full truth. It is only in retrospect that the source and context of certain things I saw and heard becomes obvious. For example, when my child said, “You can’t trust modern science,” I assumed he was referring to the fact that modern science is not always 100 percent accurate and that new discoveries or tests sometimes change established theories. I did not interpret it as the sweeping indictment of modern science that I now know it was intended to be.

    John also said: “I *like* that they go through Nordic, Egyptian, Indian and Greek mythology: I think it puts the Abrahamic religions in context…”

    Yes, I too liked that. But now I understand it in the context of Waldorf focusing their history curriculum on the history of what people believed about the supernatural rather than on the history of what people thought and believed and did about what was going on in the nonsupernatural world. I use the clumsy word “nonsupernatural” here because to Anthroposophists “the real world” is Steiner’s supernatural fantasy. All that time on Steiner woo takes away from time spent on learning that will benefit the children in the mainstream world.

    John said: “…and helps children to see that they’re all mythological.”

    Since they are not all mythological to Anthroposophists and play an important role in their spiritual beliefs, you may find that Anthroposophist teachers are not exactly debunking these myths as nonsense when they teach them during their history classes. You have to remember that Anthroposophists are following Steiner’s instructions to teach Anthroposophy by stealth. As the revered guru said to his Waldorf school faculty members: “[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck.” Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner, pg.705

    As ThetisMercurio said in #173, “Sometimes people realize years later that they were not fully informed.” Even after our disillusionment with Waldorf education, it took two or three years of research for me to accept fully what others had told me, even while we were still involved in Waldorf: Anthroposophy is a cult, one that I now believe to be worse than Scientology because it targets defenseless children and does so behind their parents’ backs. Steiner repeatedly instructed his followers to deceive parents and others in the mainstream world. Looking back, I can see how that was done, but it’s not obvious while it’s happening unless you already have extensive knowledge of Anthroposophy’s role in Waldorf schools.

  161. says

    #177 Margaret Sachs

    OK, so am I understanding correctly that you’re telling me Steiner-Waldorf schools are brainwashing children into believing that science is defective as a way of understanding the world and believing in Anthroposophy?

    I assuming you’re not asking me to take this on faith, so let’s test your hypothesis. I know of a dozen or more ex-Steiner school pupils, in their late teens/early 20s, who I could contact via email or facebook; and some current pre-teen pupils. What can I do, e.g. what questions can I ask them, to verify what you’re saying?

  162. says

    John,

    Ask them what they think about the future of technology. Do they think the technology and science of the 21st century will bring fantastic breakthroughs and discoveries that will benefit all mankind? Or do they, instead, believe that the technology of the future will be more Orwellian… Big Brother invading our privacy, challenging our freedoms… stuff like that? Test their personal relationship to technology.

  163. says

    Ah, PeteK! Wondered where you’d got to ; – )

    Are you claiming that a pessimistic view of the way science and technology will be exploited by society is a characteristic of Anthroposophically educated people and that everyone else is optimistic about it? Was Eric Blair a Steiner pupil?!

    I’m trying to find questions that will elicit characteristic *differences* between Steiner and non-Steiner-educated pupils that would test Margaret Sachs’ hypothesis. I’ve been trying to think of some, and I do have some ideas, though obvious ones like beliefs in supernatural are complicated by parents’ beliefs, so one would probably want to query parents too (which I can do in many cases). But even if you have generally woo-ey but not specifically Anthroposophical parents (I know some) there should be some markers of the specifically Anthroposophical brainwashing Sachs is claiming.

  164. John Morales says

    alan (and

    PZ, actually what the CSH says, according to you is this:
    “Participants will…respond[ing] more effectively to challenges such as:
    • Chronic Pain
    • Depression
    • Blood Pressure 

    • Headaches
    • Cancer
    and,etc.
    Nowhere do they say anything about treating cancer. On Kabat-Zinn’s MINDFULNESS MEDITATION FOR PAIN RELIEF program, which I have been using for 7 years, he talks about mindfulness meditation as a way to deal with pain rather than just living with it as many people have been told they must do by their doctors.

    Yeah, and what PZ actually said is ignored by you, as if you were either natively or purposely obtuse.

    If such things as it ameliorates for cancer are depression and pain, they are already listed — so why is cancer listed specifically in the list of things it treats unless it is in addition to those already listed?

  165. John Morales says

    John Stumbles @181:

    I’m trying to find questions that will elicit characteristic *differences* between Steiner and non-Steiner-educated pupils that would test Margaret Sachs’ hypothesis.

    Care to either quote, cite or paraphrase the specific hypothesis to which you refer?

    (Because I can see more than one, depending on your definition of such)

  166. Bernard Bumner says

    This study:
    Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness
    Meditation
    reports a larger increase in flu antibody titers post vaccination in a randomized meditating vs. non-meditating group.
    There are several limitations to the study, to be sure, but you can’t say that they are using a subjective, self-reported measurement.

    Whilst there may be a statistically significant difference in the log transformed rise in antibodies between the contol and test group (notably, absolute antibody titres are not given), it isn’t clear to me whether there is any physiological significance to those data, or even whether the study has sufficient power to demonstrate anything like a causal relationship.

    A health statistician could usefully comment.

    I wonder whether this study has been replicated, given that it is almost ten years old?

  167. says

    #184 John Morales

    Care to either quote, cite or paraphrase the specific hypothesis to which you refer?
    (Because I can see more than one, depending on your definition of such)

    I was referring to #172

    Anthroposophy is not just in the teachers’ heads. It is inflicted on the children in a variety of ways on a regular basis. The intention appears to be to soften up their minds for eventual acceptance of Anthroposophy.

    For example, there seems to be an attempt to undermine the children’s trust in the mainstream world of science and technology, while the existence of a supernatural world is shoved down their throats with activities involving supernatural beings such as gnomes, angels, gods, and demons. For example, one of my children came home from Waldorf school one day and told me you can’t trust modern science, which goes right along with Steiner’s teachings. Not long after that, I learned of Steiner’s pseudoscience that some teachers were promoting. Another example is the topics of the plays my children were in: the sinking of the Titanic; demons; a waiting room for the newly dead, all emphasizing Anthroposophical themes.

    Putting these together I infer that Maragaret’s thesis is that Steiner schools attempt to undermine the children’s trust in science and technology and to inculcate belief in a supernatural world of gnomes, angels, gods, demons, the sinking of the Titanic and a waiting room for the newly dead, and that such children should have a ready tendency to embrace Anthroposophy themselves.

    Hang on, *I* believe in the sinking of the Titanic … OMG, they’ve got to me, I’ve already been brainwashed by the Anthroposophists!!!

    So what I’m proposing is that we find some set of questions we can ask current and former Steiner pupils that would indicate such beliefs. We should test their parents’ beliefs too. If we find that Steiner-educated children tend to have such beliefs when their parents do not, that would tend to confirm Margaret’s hypothesis. In particular we could look at how many Steiner-educated children go on to embrace Anthroposophy whilst their parents did not: that would be a very strong indicator of the validity of the thesis.

  168. John Morales says

    John Stumbles, thanks for the clarification.

    Re:

    So what I’m proposing is that we find some set of questions we can ask current and former Steiner pupils that would indicate such beliefs. We should test their parents’ beliefs too.

  169. John Morales says

    John Stumbles, thanks for the clarification.

    Re:

    So what I’m proposing is that we find some set of questions we can ask current and former Steiner pupils that would indicate such beliefs. We should test their parents’ beliefs too.

    Well, that would be one way of doing it, I suppose — but surely what such questions might be is rather obvious.

    For example,
    Q: Do you think Anthroposophy has merit?
    Q: Do you trust science to provide a true picture of the world?
    and so forth.

  170. says

    #181- John Stumbles said: “Are you claiming that a pessimistic view of the way science and technology will be exploited by society is a characteristic of Anthroposophically educated people”

    YES – Waldorf people have an expressed disdain for technology. Read any Waldorf website.

    “and that everyone else is optimistic about it?”

    NO, but let’s see if you can find a Waldorf grad who is optimistic about it. ;)

    I think it’s a good question to ask Waldorf grads… not just you John, but anyone who wants to see what is being expressed to the students. Technology is “evil” in Waldorf… and that comes through in their science classes.

  171. alan says

    re #182- John Morales
    “Yeah, and what PZ actually said is ignored by you, as if you were either natively or purposely obtuse.
    If such things as it ameliorates for cancer are depression and pain, they are already listed — so why is cancer listed specifically in the list of things it treats unless it is in addition to those already listed?”

    Fair point, though this may be a criticism of the marketing by CSH rather than of MBSR.
    Don’t see the need for name-calling here. And there are other possibilities for missing a point besides being natively or willfully obtuse.

  172. says

    #188 John Morales

    Well, that would be one way of doing it, I suppose…

    Care to suggest some others?

    … surely what such questions might be is rather obvious.

    For example,
    Q: Do you think Anthroposophy has merit?
    Q: Do you trust science to provide a true picture of the world?
    and so forth.

    Margaret Sachs is saying that Steiner schools are softening up children’s minds for eventual acceptance of Anthroposophy, so your first question would not necessarily detect such a softening-up before the person had eventually accepted Anthroposophy.

    And your second question would elicit a person’s conscious statement of their faith in science but not the degree to which they implicitly trust it, or their understanding of it, which I think would also be useful to test.

  173. says

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