Reiki is practiced in an NHS breast cancer ward

Reiki is practiced in an NHS breast cancer ward


Reiki treatment involves no physical contact

In the foothills of Mount Kurama a man meditates. He has been there for 21 days. Suddenly, he has a revelation.

From this quiet beginning in 1922 the practice of reiki was born. Since then, it has evolved and found itself keeping company with treatments such as homeopathy and acupuncture in modern complementary medicine. The practice of reiki involves the practitioner transferring healing energy, or ‘ki’, to the subject through their palms. Those who support the treatments claim that this can help a wide range of conditions, including depression and anxiety as well as improving immunity. Contrary to these claims, reiki and other complementary medicines have been widely studied and the scientific consensus is that they have minimal, if any, clinical benefits. Despite this, reiki and its allied medicines are, shockingly, still afforded a place in the medical treatment establishment.

This acceptance of alternative medicine can be seen specifically at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, Essex, where they employ a “Reiki Therapist/Spiritual Healer”  in a breast cancer ward. The position is funded by an alternative medicine charity, but its location within an NHS hospital has drawn criticism. Professor Edzard Ernst, the world’s first, and only, professor of complementary medicine said, “We have published a systematic review of reiki…the evidence is simply not there. There are a number of studies, they are flimsy and the ones that are rigorous don’t generate a positive result. In my book the evidence is even negative,” he added.

The way in which this post has been advertised raises some serious questions about the medical validity of the job. The criteria state that the practitioner must “demonstrate the benefit and activity of the post”. Philippa Dooher, Lead Breast Care Specialist Nurse and supervisor of the position, outlined how this is judged: “Before and after treatment the practitioner engages in a core evaluation of how the patient is feeling. There is also the option for patient feedback.”   Considering the analysis of medical benefits of the treatment, she admitted that the success of the post is “not based on the effect on prognosis”. This stance is problematic according to Professor Ernst who described the attempts to justify the job as “ridiculously funny”.

Thankfully, it appears that this practice is not common in the NHS. Professor Ernst commented that the post seemed “exceptional”. But, he went on to add that outside of the National Health Service “…the use of alternative medicine in Britain is fairly widespread. About 20% of the general population use these treatments; with cancer patients the percentage is much higher.”   Dooher agreed with this, saying that the only alternative practitioners in the hospital were the reiki therapist, and a reflexologist on the same breast cancer ward.

The role in the hospital has been occupied for a year. The way through which patients are recruited to the scheme is another interesting addition to this tale. As well as being given forms to apply for treatment, the patients are approached in the waiting room and offered reiki by the practitioner themselves.

It seems highly illogical that an institution that should make decisions based on evidence and critical observation offers this therapy on an oncology ward. This is a view also expressed by Professor Ernst, who said that it is “Truly, truly embarrassing that an NHS trust should advertise for a reiki healer … [the position] discloses a total lack of critical regard to what they are doing, and I think it’s ridiculous, dangerous, and undermines everything that evidence based medicine and rationality stands for.”

Whilst the creation of reiki in the mountainous regions of Japan may be a nice story, it is disconcerting that almost one hundred years later “spiritual healing energy” can still be found within the NHS. 


This article was inspired by a job advertisement posted by the PAH Trust, upon discussion it was revealed that the post had been filled for a year and since my conversation with the hospital the advertisement has been removed from their website.

Lee MS, Pittler MH, & Ernst E (2008). Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. International journal of clinical practice, 62 (6), 947-54 PMID: 18410352

A new science writing adventure begins…

A new science writing adventure begins…

In a recent post I spoke about the new online collaborative science magasine, Guru. Well I’m happy to say that I am their new ‘Technology Guru’. You can check out the article about me joining the team here. I am currently working on my first article for them and whilst I will not reveal what it is about this photo from a fancy dress party a few years ago will give a little clue:

Also another bit of update info is that this site is currently undergoing a complete re-design and will soon emerge from its cocoon looking a lot prettier with more frequent posting


Viral Science: The “Most Beautiful” Science Experiment

Viral Science: The “Most Beautiful” Science Experiment

I often think that science doesn’t fully take advantage of what can be achieved with the viral video platform. However, this video by NatSciDemos has succeeded in going well and truly  viral and has achieved over 2.3 million views. Professor Richard Wiseman described it as one of “the most beautiful videos”. Check it out and prepare to be memorised:

What do you think, is there a more visually stunning experiment? If so drop me a comment below, would be cool to generate a bit of a list of beauty within science.

Check it out here

Scientists show the evolution of the Amphitheatre

Scientists show the evolution of the Amphitheatre

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

Back before the internet, twitter and megaphones it was a great deal more difficult to get your voice heard. However, those clever Greeks and Romans had a way of using the science of acoustics to get their message out.

They constructed great amphitheatres which seated thousands. An example of which is the image below I took when exploring an ancient Roman site in rural Turkey.

Click for High Def version

Scientists have continued to do research the way the acoustics worked to propel the voice of those ‘on stage’. A study by K. Chourmouziadou & J. Kang, published in the Journal of Applied Acoustics showed that amphitheatres evolved and changes in materials as well as design resulted in acoustic improvements. They simulated 6 different theatre types: Minoan, Pre-Aeschylean, Early Classic, Classic, Hellenistic and Roman.  Each of these had different characteristics (figure 1)

Figure 1: A breakdown of the different theatre types

Figure 2: Over time the amount of reverberation in an occupied theatre is seen to increase

The researchers then used acoustic simulation software to examine the theaters. They monitored the absorption and scattering conditions in each incarnation of the theatre. Their results indicated that there was increased reverberation time as the theatres evolved (figure 2) and the speech transmission increased in occupied theatres. They concluded that overall the evolution of the theatres brought about an improved listening experience.
CHOURMOUZIADOU, K., & KANG, J. (2008). Acoustic evolution of ancient Greek and Roman theatres Applied Acoustics, 69 (6), 514-529 DOI: 10.1016/j.apacoust.2006.12.009

Viral Science: Slow Motion Bouncing Water Droplet

Viral Science: Slow Motion Bouncing Water Droplet

Some things when you drop them you expect them to bounce. A water droplet is not one of them. The following video however, shows just what does happen if a drop of water falls on a hydrophobic surface.

The following video is pretty amazing, it is shot at about 5400 frames per second and was taken in the Nanotechnology lab of the University of Missouri. Enjoy 🙂

New Research Idicates How OCD Behaviours Are Formed

New Research Idicates How OCD Behaviours Are Formed

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a debilitating condition affecting millions everyday. It is estimated that, in the UK, 2% of people aged between 18 and 56 suffer from some form of obsessive compulsive behaviour. Despite this widespread occurrence, however, there is much we do not know about the condition.

Historically, OCD has been dismissed as having no physiological cause, but scientists have shown that there are underlying biological factors in the condition. Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, normally responsible for goal-based decisions, is implicated in the condition. Neurologists have also suggested several other areas play a role.

But how these physiological deficits manifest themselves is only just beginning to be understood. A recent study carried out in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge University indicates that the compulsions are due to overactive habit forming mechanisms.

Clair Gillan, a lead researcher in the study, said: ‘The goal was to look at the habit hypothesis of OCD, to see if [sufferers] had a greater predisposition to habit formation than control subjects’. The researchers were able to analyse this by comparing the abilities of control and OCD participants. Each subject was trained to use a computer programme to gain points by clicking on the correct boxes of fruit that appeared on screen. The fruits that gained the participants points were then changed. The OCD patients showed they were significantly less able than the controls to change the habit they had learned. They did not achieve their goals as successfully and thus gained fewer points. One participant, ‘Mr J’ (a severe OCD sufferer), commented that when he saw the fruits it was as if his ‘hands knew what to do’ and followed the earlier training goals, not the newer goals.

There are several different techniques currently used to treat OCD. These include the drastic (such as surgery), the experimental (such as psychedelic drugs) and the psychological (such as behavioural therapy). ‘I think it’s a very important validation of cognitive behavioural therapy’ said Gillan commenting on her study. She highlighted in particular the ‘exposure and response prevention technique’, also known as Pavlovian extinction. Patients undergoing this therapy are exposed to their feared situation.

Whilst our knowledge of OCD has no doubt improved, there is still much to discover.
Gillan CM, Papmeyer M, Morein-Zamir S, Sahakian BJ, Fineberg NA, Robbins TW, & de Wit S (2011). Disruption in the Balance Between Goal-Directed Behavior and Habit Learning in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The American journal of psychiatry PMID: 21572165

EU clamps down on dangerous herbal treatments

EU clamps down on dangerous herbal treatments

A recent ruling by the European Union prohibiting the sale of potentially dangerous herbal medicines has come into effect.

The new criteria state that producers of herbal treatments must provide documentation proving the product is not harmful. They must also give evidence to show that it has been used safely for a minimum of 30 years, with 15 of those being within the boundaries of the EU.

This has been lauded as an important step forward by many scientists and doctors with Richard Woodfield of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) saying “…the registration scheme puts consumers in the driving seat so they can identify that a product meets assured standards on safety, quality and information about safe use.”

However, some feel as though it does not go far enough as it does not impose any regulation or sanctions on homeopathy. Others are critical of different elements of the ruling. Sir David King , chief science adviser to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said, “They certainly haven’t been tested on the same basis as a conventional medicine and some of these compounds are very potent…we’re very concerned that patients appreciate they must be very careful when they take these medicines.” 

Many herbal practitioners have complained about these rules. However, the transition period has been 7 years (described as ‘exceptionally long’ by the European Regulatory Agency), meaning that practitioners and patients have had plenty of time to investigate and plan for alternatives should their choice herbal products not make the cut.

This is a vital development in drug regulation. As although there are traditional medicines which have led to successful treatments, such as the anti-malarial drug Quinine, there have also been several documented cases of contaminated and misused herbal medicine causing fatalities.  

New Multimedia Science Blog Launches

New Multimedia Science Blog Launches

Today sees the launch of a new multimedia blog on the PLoS Blogs network.  Called ‘Inside Knowledge’, it is produced by Lizzie Crouch, David Robertson, Anna Perman and myself. Over its 12 week duration we will be embedding with, and reporting on, the Imperial College Blast Lab.

Every week we will release a post looking to shine a light on the craft of science. We aim to use as much multimedia as possible, so as to really bring the lab to life.

Our first post is a trailer, it explores the lab and gives hints at the themes of the research we are aiming to explore over the next 12 weeks. To check it out click here.

For more information you can check out the about page of our blog and to stay updated with our developments you can follow us on Twitter here.

I,Science Podcast: The Expectations of Science

I,Science Podcast: The Expectations of Science

This week saw the release of the second episode of the I,Science Podcast. It looks at the topic of science’s predictions. It features:

  • Camila Ruz interviewing kids about what they think science will bring in the future
  • Andy Bailey and Rosie Waldron discussing the science of expectations
  • Tom Welch interviewing me about the technological singularity.
Yes I am in it, but I would highly recommend giving it a listen!
The podcast was produced by Thea Cunningham, Camila Ruz and Tom Welch
Just a little bit of H-T-M-L…..

Just a little bit of H-T-M-L…..

Some things are just more important than work...

Today, Dave, Andrew, Lizzie and myself had a bit of geeky fun after our web design module this week.

The HTML Song

By the Web Design Quartet

Website, there’s no need to shut down 
I said, website, pick your code off the ground
I said, website, ’cause you’re in a new town
There’s no need to be on Wordpress 

Website, there’s something you should know
I said, website, when you’re writing your code
You can work hard, and your content will shine 
It will be like drinking fine wine

It’s fun to code with the H-T-M-L
It’s fun to code with the H-T-M-L

It has everything, that you need to deploy
With it the internet’s your toy

It’s fun to code with the H-T-M-L
It’s fun to code with the H-T-M-L

You can get yourself wrapped, you can have CSS,
Without it the net would be a mess…

Website, are you listening to me?
I said, website, what do you want to be?
I said, website, you can weave up your dreams
But you got to know a few things!

No man does it all by himself.
I said, website, put your code on the shelf,
And just go there, to the H.T.M.L. 
Or just make it from a free shell. 

It’s fun to code with the H-T-M-L
It’s fun to code with the H-T-M-L

This also features on my website development blog in which I am designing a new layout and design for this site.

Some fun with photoshop