Friday, January 8, 2016

Biomagnetism Therapy: Pseudoscientific Twaddle

Voodoo Science, by Robert Park, superimposed on Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.
Voodoo Science,
by Robert Park.
Ever since Robert Park—author of Voodoo Science and the weekly column What’s New—suffered a stroke in 2013, I have been searching for another debunker of pseudoscience. Finally, I’ve found her! Harriet Hall is a retired physician and former Air Force flight surgeon. Every week she battles nonsense in the blog In her November 20 entry, she addressed “biomagnetic therapy.”
Biomagnetism Therapy: Pseudoscientific Twaddle

In a television interview, a practitioner of biomagnetic therapy claimed she had cured her own breast lump and the metastatic cancer of another person. I wonder how many viewers believed her. On the “official website” of biomagnetism therapy,, they claim it is “the answer to ALL your health problems… an all-natural, non-invasive therapy proven to prevent, diagnose and treat countless diseases, chronic illnesses and degenerative health problems.”

Sound too good to be true? Of course it does! You are already skeptical. If you read further, you will become even more skeptical….”
She concludes
…It pains me to see misinformation such as this fed to gullible patients. Using biomagnetic therapy isn’t likely to harm patients physically, but it’s likely to harm their comprehension of science. It’s likely to waste their money, and it could delay getting treatments that do work. Perhaps the worst thing is that people who practice this therapy are deceiving themselves. They don’t understand science, and they mistake testimonials for evidence of efficacy. They don’t understand the need for controlled studies. They don’t understand placebo effects, suggestion, expectation, regression to the mean, the natural course of illness, and all the other things that can lead people to believe a bogus treatment works. It is particularly tragic that anyone trained as an MD could have such poor critical thinking skills and be misled by such egregious pseudoscience.
Russ Hobbie and I have an entire chapter about biomagnetism in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. We discuss the measurement of the very small magnetic fields produced by the brain (magnetoencephalography) and the use of rapidly changing magnetic fields to stimulate neurons (transcranial magnetic stimulation). We also devote a chapter to magnetic resonance imaging. These are important topics, but they often get mixed up with phony claims about “biomagnetic therapy.”

If you doubt this is a real problem, go to Google and search for “biomagnetism” (the title of Chapter 8 in IPMB). The first site you get starts “One of the most peculiar therapy systems that FAIM [Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine] is investigating is one that uses ordinary magnets to heal. Although magnets have been used in therapies for a long time, this particular method uses pairs of magnets to neutralize disease-causing pathogens in the body...” The second site begins “Yes! It’s the answer to ALL your health problems…” The third describes “The Revolutionary Therapy based on the Biomagnetic Pairs discovered by Dr. Isaac Goiz Durán, MD in 1988...” The fourth is the “Official website for Biomagnetism classes in the USA with Dr. Isaac Goiz Durán...” Finally, the fifth site in the list is Wikipedia’s entry on biomagnetism (the measurement of weak magnetic fields produced by the body). The first four are twaddle; the fifth is reputable.

Women Aren't Supposed to Fly, by Harriet Hall, superimposed on Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.
Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly,
by Harriet Hall.
If you want to learn more about Harriet Hall, read her autobiography Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly, in which she describes her experiences in medical school and the Air Force. From the Preface:
There’s an old curse “may you live in interesting times.” I lived in an era when society was starting to allow women to enter male-dominated fields, but didn’t yet entirely approve. Someone said, “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.” Actually, it was difficult. It was frequently frustrating, sometimes painful, often ridiculously funny, and always interesting. Come with me on a ramble through my education and career and let me tell you what it was like.
What Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly does not explain is how Hall ended up a lampooner of baloney and poppycock. She needs to write a second book, telling that story. I’m sure it would be equally fascinating and amusing.

I’d have preferred another physicist pick up Bob Park’s banner, but I’ll take what I can get. Harriet Hall, keep up the good work and let’s end this “biomagnetic therapy” rubbish.


  1. It was an interesting article and i hope its very informative. I like it!

  2. I am researching the efficacy of Biomagnetic therapy, both pro and con and came across this typhoid study from NCBI, a reputable site.

  3. Here is another interesting article by Hall. Is the placebo effect legitimate medicine even if we know it is only the placebo effect?

  4. Hall has an excellent article on homeopathy: Her conclusion is:

    Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine that was conceived by a single misguided individual in a pre-scientific era. It is based on imagination, not reality; on stories, not science. It not only doesn’t work, it couldn’t possibly work. Its practices and principles are laughable. Some people have been fooled into thinking it works because of factors like suggestion, placebo effects, the influence of the doctor/patient interaction, regression to the mean, the natural course of the disease, and other sources of human error. The homeopathic remedy itself is irrelevant. After two centuries of trying, homeopaths have not been able to show any credible evidence that they are doing anything but prescribing placebos. The persistence of homeopathy in the 21st century is an anachronistic anomaly.