How to lie about a science paper

J. Andrew Armour is a Canadian physiologist who has published quite a few papers on the regulation of the heart — a very complex subject. There are hormonal and external neuronal controls, and a specific tracery of internal neurons and neuron-like fibers that generate patterned muscle contractions. And muscle, of course, is itself called an excitable tissue because it has electrical properties that are essential for its function. There is a lot of cool stuff going on in cardiac research.

So, in 1991, Armour published on Intrinsic Cardiac Neurons in the Journal of Cardiac Electrophysiology. It’s solid work that summarizes these complex interactions, and explains how the heart has its own independent and relatively sophisticated independent electrical properties.

Physiological evidence indicates that afferent neurons, local circuit neurons, as well as efferent sympathetic and efferent parasympathetic neurons, are located in the mammalian intrinsic cardiac nervous system. Complex interneuronal interactions can occur between these neurons, as well as between such neurons and other intrathoracic and central nervous system neurons. A variety of neurochemicals have been proposed to be involved in such interneuronal interactions. Thus the electrophysiologic properties and synaptology of intrinsic cardiac neurons may be more varied than has been appreciated accounting, at least in part, for the variety of neuronal responses that in situ intrinsic cardiac neurons are capable of displaying. The various interactions that occur between intrinsic cardiac neurons and other intrathoracic neurons, as well as between neurons in all intrathoracic ganglia and the central nervous system, will have to be characterized in order to clarify the role of the autonomic nervous system regulating the heart throughout each cardiac cycle.

This is not revolutionary. It had all been pretty well known for decades, although Armour did a fine job of synthesizing all the pieces of the story.

In 2007, he also published a review of the importance of understanding cardiac circuitry, Potential clinical relevance of the ‘little brain’ on the mammalian heart, in Experimental Physiology. Again, this is good, useful, substantive stuff.

It is hypothetized that the heart possesses a nervous system intrinsic to it that represents the final relay station for the co-ordination of regional cardiac indices. This ‘little brain’ on the heart is comprised of spatially distributed sensory (afferent), interconnecting (local circuit) and motor (adrenergic and cholinergic efferent) neurones that communicate with others in intrathoracic extracardiac ganglia, all under the tonic influence of central neuronal command and circulating catecholamines. Neurones residing from the level of the heart to the insular cortex form temporally dependent reflexes that control overlapping, spatially determined cardiac indices. The emergent properties that most of its components display depend primarily on sensory transduction of the cardiovascular milieu. It is further hypothesized that the stochastic nature of such neuronal interactions represents a stabilizing feature that matches cardiac output to normal corporal blood flow demands. Thus, with regard to cardiac disease states, one must consider not only cardiac myocyte dysfunction but also the fact that components within this neuroaxis may interact abnormally to alter myocyte function. This review emphasizes the stochastic behaviour displayed by most peripheral cardiac neurones, which appears to be a consequence of their predominant cardiac chemosensory inputs, as well as their complex functional interconnectivity. Despite our limited understanding of the whole, current data indicate that the emergent properties displayed by most neurones comprising the cardiac neuroaxis will have to be taken into consideration when contemplating the targeting of its individual components if predictable, long-term therapeutic benefits are to accrue.

Here’s a diagram from that paper that might give you a visual depiction of what he’s talking about. It will look familiar to everyone who has taken a college level physiology course.


Now just take a moment and think about this. Here’s a piece of credible, robust science. How would an ignorant wackaloon interpret the story? Just close your eyes and let your imagination run riot for a while. Maybe you’ll come up with a wacky enough story that will make you rich. Or maybe you’ll come up with what you think is a crazy idea, but someone has already beaten you to it and published it.

After you’ve thought about a minute, you can go on and read the story of Gregg Braden. If you’ve got a loonier interpretation than he does, maybe you too can make good money on the New Age circuit!

You can find out all about Braden by ordering his book, Resilience from the Heart: The Power to Thrive in Life’s Extremes on Amazon. It’s not worth the money, so don’t buy it…especially since you can get a pdf of it for free from the publisher. Even at that it’s grossly overpriced.

I downloaded it and read the first chapter before tossing it out. Here’s a little taste.

In 1991, a scientific discovery published in a peer-reviewed journal put to rest any lingering doubt regarding the heart’s multi-faceted role in the body. The name of the article gives us a clue to the discovery: “Neurocardiology.” It’s all about the intimate relationship between our hearts and brains.

No, this seems to be incorrect. I cited the article published by Armour in 1991 above; he did write an articled titled Neurocardiology…in 2016. That abstract begins like so:

Cardiac control is mediated via a series of reflex control networks involving somata in the (i) intrinsic cardiac ganglia (heart), (ii) intrathoracic extracardiac ganglia (stellate, middle cervical), (iii) superior cervical ganglia, (iv) spinal cord, (v) brainstem, and (vi) higher centers. Each of these processing centers contains afferent, efferent, and local circuit neurons, which interact locally and in an interdependent fashion with the other levels to coordinate regional cardiac electrical and mechanical indices on a beat-to-beat basis. This control system is optimized to respond to normal physiological stressors (standing, exercise, and temperature); however, it can be catastrophically disrupted by pathological events such as myocardial ischemia.

Keep that in mind, that he’s discussing “reflex control networks” that maintain and adjust the heartbeat. But Braden continues:

The discovery described this powerful relationship that had been unrecognized in the past.

This is simply not true. Otto Loewi. 1921. They teach his experiment in high school, even. You’ve probably heard of it: Put a frog heart in a dish, stimulate the vagus nerve, and you get a change in the heart rate; take fluid from the dish and put it on a different heart in a different dish, and you get the same response. We’ve had both external electrical regulation and neurohormonal regulation all in the same experiment. We now have more specific detail, but let’s not pretend this stuff was “unrecognized”.

Dig yourself a deeper hole, Gregg!

A team of scientists, led by Dr. J. Andrew Armour of the University of Montreal, discovered that about 40,000 specialized neurons, called sensory neurites, form a communication network within the heart itself.

Now that makes me wonder where he’s getting his information, since that certainly is not anywhere in the paper…or any other paper Armour has written, I suspect. “Sensory neurites” aren’t what he thinks they are. “Neurite” is a general term that refers to any fine process emerging from a neuron, whether it is a dendrite or an axon. This is rather like being unfamiliar with what the term “digits” mean, so you refer to any group of people as a network of fingers. It’s a big red flag that declares that hey, this person knows nothing, not even the basic vocabulary, of the subject he’s just written a book about.

But wait! So far this is just fluff and nonsense, written by someone ten zillion miles out of his depth. It’s the kind of stuff I’ve seen from first year college students. It’s just stupid.

Most naive young students are not going to turn their misconceptions into a 295 page book, though. That takes real ambition and is going to require that you pad the story out a hell of a lot with garbage. Gregg Braden has risen to that challenge and takes a little misunderstood, out-of-context information and inflates it with chutzpah and bullshit and churns out a fat pile of lucrative baloney. You haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

Here’s what Braden infers from the fact that there is neural tissue imbedded in the heart.

Since the little brain in the heart has been recognized, its role in a number of functions not so readily acknowledged in the past have also come to light.
These functions include:

  • Providing the heart-based wisdom known as “heart intelligence”
  • Promoting intentional states of deep intuition
  • Allowing for intentional precognitive abilities
  • Directing the heart’s communication with sensory neurites in other organs in the body

    I have to intrude on this little festival of New Age enthusiasm to say that none of those points is at all true, except the last one, which is basically trivially true for all the cells in a multicellular organism, except that it’s marred by his incomprehension of what the term “neurite” actually means.

    The heart’s little brain has been found to function in two distinct yet related ways. It can act…

    1. …independently of the cranial brain to think, learn, remember, and even sense our inner and outer worlds on its own.
    2. …in harmony with the cranial brain to give us the benefit of a single, potent neural network shared by the two separate organs.

    Sorry to intrude again, but any time Braden throws out a list, it’s more like a series of brain farts that have no logical connection to any fact or any of the real science he has set up as the implied context for his assertions. These are not true, either.

    Dr. Armour’s discovery has forever changed the way we’ve been taught to think of ourselves. It gives new meaning to what’s possible and what we’re capable of when it comes to the roles played by the heart and the brain in the body. In Dr. Armour’s own words, “It has become clear in recent years that a sophisticated two-way communication occurs between the heart and the brain, with each influencing the other’s function.”

    That last quote? True. Perfectly reasonable. Accepted by all biologists. Important, but not in the way Braden thinks. That the heart rate is regulated and that we can be consciously aware of our heart’s activity does not imply that the heart “thinks” (look back to that quote from Armour’s abstract: it’s a “reflex control network”), or that it drives “intuition”, or that we have precognitive abilities.

    You also have a “little brain” in your gut; it’s called the enteric nervous system. It drives behaviors like peristalsis and controls reflexes like emesis and defecation. It’s primitive — cockroaches have a quite nice enteric nervous system, and ours isn’t much more complex, but is definitely larger. We do not generally regard our guts as conscious or thinking for us or giving us special psychic powers.

    Except for one. Apparently, the colonic nerve net is quite capable of churning out New Age pseudoscience books.

    The real shame here, though, is that Braden has basically hijacked Armour’s legitimate work and misused it to claim his nonsense is based on “peer-reviewed literature”. Read any of those papers, I assure you, and you’ll discover that none of them have any relationship to the tortured fantasies of Gregg Braden.


    1. Nullifidian says

      You also have a “little brain” in your gut; it’s called the enteric nervous system.

      So that’s how I know if I’ve not had enough beer, eh.

      But seriously, can Dr Armour sue Braden? Can he do anything to make the idiot withdraw his book?

    2. says

      I never encourage lawsuits.

      I think it would be tough to make a case against Braden as a serious threat to one’s reputation — he’s an idiot.

    3. skeptico says

      OMG not Gregg Braden again. A complete charlatan. As I wrote over 10 years ago in my review of his book Zero Point (a well named book, if there ever was one), Braden’s technique is to start with some real scientific information, take it out of context, mix in some made up “facts”, add some science that is simply wrong, and rename all the scientific terms so they fit his invented story. Looks like he’s continuing his proven formula for selling books to the gullible.

      Read the above link to see what I mean. Braden starts with the Schumann Resonance, a low frequency radio signal caused by lightning strikes in the upper atmosphere. Braden says the Schumann Resonance is increasing. To justify this he quotes a range of Schumann harmonic frequencies: 14, 20, 26, 33, 39. Braden then introduces Fibonacci numbers: 8, 13, 21, 34, 55. Braden hopes you will think Fibonacci numbers and Schumann frequencies are the same (although they are different if superficially similar), because for no reason at all, he then states the Schumann Resonance is about to change from 7.8 Hz to the next Fibonacci number of 13 (Hz). Braden then says this means the Earth’s magnetic field is about to flip.

      It’s such obvious convoluted nonsense that in my opinion Braden knows exactly what he is doing.

    4. says

      This guy is actually a multifaceted nut. He’s best known for the claim that the magnetic polarity of the earth was about to reverse; he was also a big promoter of the apocalypse that was supposed to happen on Dec. 21, 2012 when supposedly the Mayan calendar expired. He also claims that human emotions affect DNA. He’s just a wack job.

    5. komarov says

      If you’ve got a loonier interpretation than he does, maybe you too can make good money on the New Age circuit!

      I’ll take that challenge, got to pay rent and all that.
      Clearly the heart is a foreign organism that has invaded the human body and is using it as a host. Why else would it have its own independent brain? Make no mistake, this is a major crisis. Practically every human alive has become infected with one of these insidious parasites. They control us, both on an individual level and on the scale of nations, even our entire civilisation! Their loyal servants are everywhere, from the medic who administers CPR to the cardiac specialists at major hospitals, who do everything in their power to put the invader back in control when the host body finally manages to fight him off.

      Due to this subversive organism, science has made little progress and invested even less effort to combat this most dire threat to human health. Unfortunately the parasite bonds so intimately with its host that separating the two is typically fatal for both.

      Over thousands of years repeated studies have shown time and again that it is not enough to simply remove the organism or inflict sufficient trauma to kill whilst inside the host; it its death throes it invariably inflicts lethal damage to its human host as well. (See, among others, a study by Caesar, G. J., Brutus, M. J. et al. published in 44 BC) Unfortunately we have learnt little more in the intervening time, other than confirming, ad nauseam, that a simplistic approach will simply not work.

      Instead medical science now supports the parasitic organism out of self-preservation. As the parasite ages and dies, the host invariably expires along with it. Thus it would seem in our best interest to maintain the creature in the best of health. Mainstream science staunchly refuses to acknowledge this problem, and to investigate a modern, holistic yet nature-bound approach to tackle our common enemy.

      Fortunately for you, you have found this book. We are not enslaved by orthodoxy and shall, in this text, give an in-depth description of the parasite, it’s life-cycle and physiology as well as its impact on the human host. Furthermore, we will discuss the different techniques employed throughout history to fight the disease. In the final few chapters we will share with you the latest, state of the art methods to weaken and overcome this blight on humanity, mobilising every bit of quackery we could muster, from chi to quantum. Brace yourself, dear reader.

      DISCLAIMER: Seek medical advice before applying any of the treatments described here to yourself or others. This book expressly does not recommend any form of treatment but merely discusses them in intricate detail using suggestive terms while subtly marketing products by the authors and their sponsors. Some treatments in this book may conflict with local laws.

      That’s the foreword done. Now I just need… another 294 pages?! I guess I’m not that desperate or greedy. If someone nicks my idea I still expect royalties, though.

    6. unclefrogy says

      I have to intrude on this little festival of New Age enthusiasm

      when I first read that I saw it as Middle Ages, the idea still sticks in my head
      uncle frogy

    7. wzrd1 says

      @mykroft, you are quite correct.

      Seriously, what would he actually try to turn the enteric nervous system into, a parallel processor for the brain?
      For that matter, what would he turn the endocrine functions of myocytes into?

    8. Ed Seedhouse says

      The Hindus located one of their “chakra’s” near the solar plexus, and this kind of thing was widely believed in ancient times. In Japanese Zen Buddhist monasteries monks practicing meditation are instructed to focus their attentions on the “Hara” which is pretty much in the same place as the Hindu chakra.

      Naturally, followers of these traditions when they become aware of research showing complex neural networks in these areas tend to say “Aha! You see? Science backs our religion!” (but of course the other religions that believe the same thing are wrong because they aren’t “our” way, which is of course the only right way).

      And naturally Western charlatans repeat the “Ancient Wisdom of the East” and point to these studies as Support From Science.

      I don’t remember where *all* the Hindu chakras were believe to be but I am pretty sure that the genitals and the heart were included as well as the front of the head above the eyes. I think there were seven in all. There is a whole school of Yoga devoted to activating one’s chakras. You can find reams of nonsense on the Web about them.

    9. says

      Greetings from Boulder Creek Ca., home for almost 25 years to the HeartMath Institute, the largest employer in town, which makes a business teaching;
      “We observed that the heart was acting as though it had a mind of its own and was profoundly influencing the way we perceive and respond to the world. In essence, it appeared that the heart was affecting intelligence and awareness.
      The answers to many of our original questions now provide a scientific basis to explain how and why the heart affects mental clarity, creativity, emotional balance and personal effectiveness. Our research and that of others indicate that the heart is far more than a simple pump. The heart is, in fact, a highly complex, self-organized information processing center with its own functional “brain” that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways.”

      and they’re “scientific”:

      “The mission and vision of the scientifically based Global Coherence Initiative is to unite millions of people, whatever their belief systems or cultures, to shift global consciousness from instability and chaos to balance and cooperation. This can be accomplished by increasing the potency of people’s positive heart-directed intentions and by deploying a Global Coherence Monitoring System (GCMS) to scientifically measure the effects.

      A key component of Global Coherence Initiative is the Global Coherence Monitoring System, developed in partnership with internationally renowned astrophysicist and nuclear scientist Elizabeth Rauscher and Institute of HeartMath researchers. In effect, the GCMS will be measuring the “brain waves and heart rhythm” of the planet in real time. It will explore whether the earth’s magnetic field is influenced by collective human emotional resonance resulting from heart-directed intention, or in response to major events, and whether the emotional energy generated by the collective intuition about major future events is measurable in this field.

      Research has shown that 0.1Hz is the human resonant frequency—the frequency at which spirit, heart, mind, emotions, and body are in resonant alignment with the planet. The term for this is heart coherence. The more heart coherent we are, the greater the resonant energetic connection we have with people, within ourselves, and with nature. This enhances individual and collective intuitive discernment for solving social, environmental and global problems.”

      Believe it or not, they have many corporate and governmental training contracts, their 2015 revenue was $2.66 million and they have a 160 acre “research and training facility” up the road from my house. A piece of personal tech they sell (for around $200 ) is a emWave® heart-rhythm coherence feedback device. One of my tenants was testing the first batch of their portable device and was annoyed when I scoffed, and even more annoyed when I pegged it in the green zone in a few minutes. Apparently I’m quite coherent.

    10. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

      Research has shown that 0.1Hz is the human resonant frequency—the frequency at which spirit, heart, mind, emotions, and body are in resonant alignment with the planet.

      Citation needed. Non-scientific citations need not apply.

    11. says

      There’s even a graph, it’s GOTTA be science. Additionally, their heart-rhythm coherence feedback device show I’m highly coherent so I can intuitively sense the truthiness of these beliefs.

      “The figure below shows an example of these field line resonances, recorded at the GCI magnetometer site in Boulder Creek, Calif. Important note: The frequencies of these field line resonances are in the same range as many of the rhythms found in human and animal cardiovascular and autonomic nervous-system functions.”

      “Geomagnetic field line resonance data recorded from the GCI sensor site in Boulder Creek, Calif. Note that all the resonant frequencies overlap human autonomic and cardiovascular system frequencies. In this example, there is a clear standing wave frequency at 0.1 hertz, which is the same frequency of our heart rhythms when we are in a coherent state.”

      We all know that the first rule of science (as formulated by /insert famous name here/) is that “Correlation proves causation.”

    12. Richard Smith says

      Just like people, while the enteric nervous system can do shit, that doesn’t mean it knows shit.