A 9-Year-Old Girl Debunked Popular Therapy Using Nothing But Cardboard And A Towel

Emily Rose, aged 11, already debunking her first therapy. Image credit: LindaRosaRN/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1996, then 9-year-old Emily Rosa managed to do what other skeptics had failed to do for many years: get practitioners of "Therapeutic Touch" to submit to scientific testing.

Rosa is the daughter of two such skeptics, and it was from them that she had heard about the therapy. She then came up with her own experiment setup, debunking the practice pretty thoroughly. For those uninitiated, "Therapeutic Touch" does not involve touching. Practitioners, or "healers" as they would like to be called, move their hands above a patient, claiming that they can heal them through manipulating the "energy field" that they say all humans have around them.

The practitioners claim that they can feel the energy field above the human skin, which became the basis of Emily's simple experiment. The test ended up being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association when she was just 11, making her the youngest person to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. 

The setup was quite simple – and cost less than $10. She would get practitioners to sit behind a cardboard screen, with a towel over their head and their arms placed through two holes. She would then flip a coin. Depending on whether the outcome was head or tails, she would place her hand a few centimeters above their left or right hand. All the practitioner had to do was identify which of their hands Emily's was hovering above – which should be easy if they can really sense "human force fields", let alone the illnesses and conditions that they also claim to be able to detect

As with other "alternative" practices, Therapeutic Touch proponents have been reluctant to submit to scientific testing. However, when approached by Emily it was different, basically because she was nine and the results would be used for a fourth-grade science fair. All in all, 21 agreed to be a part of the experiments. Fourteen practitioners were given ten chances to prove their abilities, and seven practitioners were tested 20 times each. Through random chance, you'd expect them to get the hand right 50 percent of the time.

"If they go to a clinic and they heal people, then you would expect them to feel the energy field all the time," Emily told the Washington Post.

They managed to identify which hand she had placed hers above just 44 percent of the time.

“They were correct about half the time – about what you’d expect from guessing,” Emily told the Los Angeles Times. “Of course, they came up with excuses. One said the room was too cold. Another complained that the air conditioning blew the force field away.”

At the time, Therapeutic Touch practitioners claimed that the experiment did not debunk the years of therapy they had conducted and that many patients had benefited from their work. However, the great thing about science is that if there is a benefit to the therapy, it could be proved with further scientific testing. Just as soon as they find another 9-year-old they're comfortable with taking the reigns. 

 
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