According to wiki, which is always right, The Men Who Stare at Goats is a book by Jon Ronson concerning the U.S. Army‘s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The title refers to attempts to kill goats by staring at them. The book is companion to a three-part TV series broadcast in Britain on Channel 4 — Crazy Rulers of the World (2004) — the first episode of which is also entitled “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. The same title was used a third time for a loose feature film adaptation in 2009.
Yet the intersect of science and the silly continues.
Universities are supposed to lead, not accommodate.
My buddy Tim Caufield, an academic lawyer who has found fame as the author of Is Gwenyth Paltrow Wrong About Everything (we served together on a biotech advisory committee for the Canadian government back in the day) was the first to call out his own academic institution for promoting bullshit.
According to CBC, after a healthy dose of online ridicule, the University of Alberta has cancelled a workshop at which doctors were supposed to learn to bend spoons.
With their minds.
When Tim Caulfield first spotted a poster for the event, he didn’t understand what he was seeing.
“When I first saw the post I thought it might be a magic show,” said the professor of health law and science policy at U of A. “But this wasn’t being presented as that, or as satire, it was being presented as a real event where you’re supposed to use the power of your mind to bend spoons.”
The seminar, titled simply “Spoon Bending and the Power of the Mind,” was arranged by the university’s Complementary and Alternative Research and Education program or CARE, as part of the Pediatric Integrative Medicine Rounds, a series of monthly seminars presenting a specialist in the field of integrative medicine to a clinical audience.
It was to be taught by Anastasia Kutt, an Edmonton “energy healer” who specializes in reiki, a form of therapy in which the practitioner is believed to channel energy into the patient in order to encourage healing.
On her website, Kutt said she “has been studying [and] experiencing techniques such as yoga, meditation, and other energy healing techniques for over 10 years.”
Her website explains energy healing as “removing issues and stress from your energetic field, to bring it into balance and its original state of good health.”
She has taught similar seminars on spoon bending, also described as PK bending — psychokinesis bending.
Kutt is also a research assistant in the CARE program and co-ordinates the education arm of the program.
The poster boasts that at the end of the day, 75 per cent of the doctors, with guidance from Kutt, would be able to bend spoons solely with their minds.
It’s a notion that Caulfield, along with many others online, scoffed at.
“Spoon bending is kind of ironic because it’s been debunked so often,” said Caulfield.
“There is absolutely no physical way you can bend a spoon with your mind. That’s why it’s so frustrating that it’s being presented in this legitimate way at a science-based institution.”
The University of Alberta released a statement saying the workshop had “been withdrawn by the presenters.”
For Caulfield, the issue is that programs like CARE lend legitimacy to these sorts of ideas, something he doesn’t believe an institute of higher learning should do.
“That’s my sort of umbrella concern with this,” Caulfield said. “Is these kind of programs legitimize the pseudo-science. The problem is, it always sort of slides into the embrace of pseudo-science.
“It’s always presented in a legitimate fashion. You don’t have that critical component to it, you’re working arm in arm with energy healers, reiki experts and homoeopathy practitioners.”
He said he’s not sure what exact role the University of Alberta played in the organization, but it doesn’t matter anyway. The poster featured the university’s logo, which links the event directly to the institution.
“It really does seem like they are part of academia and that, to me, is problematic.”
The program echoes of the now disbanded and disgraced University of Toronto Sick Kids’ MotherRisk program.
They’re the brilliant folks who said it was OK for moms-to-be to eat deli meats and soft cheeses as long as they came from reputable sources, in the wake of the Maple Leaf Listeria outbreak that killed 23 in Canada.
Is a $5.5 billion-a-year company reputable?