Stress measure pushes quack science

The ballot title for Initiative 101 in Denver claims it will “help ensure public safety by increasing peacefulness.” We’d never want to be against either public safety or peacefulness, but the claims are bogus.

If you’re tempted to vote for this measure just because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, check out the source – and the accuracy – of the claim.

Though you can’t tell from the ballot title alone, the ordinance it refers to – which initiative sponsor Jeff Peckman has made available online through a link at – makes clear that the ideas behind the initiative originated in the book Permanent Peace: How To Stop Terrorism and War – Now and Forever. Author Robert Oates was commissioned to write the book by the Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy, headed by former physicist John Hagelin, Natural Law Party candidate for president in 2000 and a leading advocate of the power of Transcendental Meditation.

According to the ordinance, the people of Denver declare that the cause of crime, accidents, warfare and terrorism is “social stress.” And it goes on to say that research “shows that meditation by large groups dissolves stress in society as a whole, and even around the world” (emphasis in original).

Specifically, it cites claims that seven Transcendental Meditation assemblies succeeded in reducing war deaths in the Middle East by 71 percent, while the three largest assemblies ever caused worldwide terrorism to decline by 72 percent.

Let’s see, was that before or after Sept. 11, 2001?

The book describes a “peace technology” called Super Radiance, which relies on the peculiar notion that “coherent brain functioning in a large group of meditation experts radiates coherence into the surrounding society” to dissolve stress “like the sun dissolves morning fog.” And it’s all explained by the “latest superunified quantum field theories.”

All of these claims are tricked out in a semblance of science, often quite persuasive to non-scientists, many of whom don’t understand scientists even when they are making sense. There’s much talk about “peer-reviewed studies” in “scientific journals.” But the fact is that any dingbat with enough money can publish journals, staff them with people as loopy as he is, get like-minded outsiders to “review” articles and claim the result as “scientifically proven.”

The test applied by the scientific community, however, is whether anybody outside the circle of true believers ever cites these studies.

As a matter of fact, scientists sometimes do, but only to debunk their pretensions. Hagelin won an “Ig Nobel” Peace Price in 1994 – that’s a satirical award “for research that cannot and should not be reproduced” – for his paper claiming that 4,000 trained meditators reduced crime in Washington, D.C. The prize was based in part on the fact that homicides during the period of meditation reached a new high.

You get the drift, no doubt. There’s no limit to the gullibility of some people, but it would be an intense embarrassment for Denver if voters were to follow Peckman down this irrational path. Unless you want Denver to win its very own Ig Nobel prize, vote no.

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Rocky Mountain News, USA
Oct. 2, 2003 Opinion

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday October 3, 2003.
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