Letter writer: ‘Medical Intuitives’ article needed a skeptical eye

Your paper has in recent months published a series of frankly unbelievable statements about what various people can do with various supernatural abilities — all of them presented by the reporters as simple facts, without even a hint of journalistic skepticism. I have cringed, rolled my eyes and said nothing. But the absurdity reached a pinnacle with the Feb. 11 issue, and I can no longer refrain from calling you on your apparently off-the-charts level of collective gullibility.

I refer to “Medical intuitives: Seeing the way to better health,” by Nicki Glasser [Feb. 11, Xpress]. This piece tells us about four local women who claim to be able to literally look inside other people’s bodies, by supernatural means, in order to see what is wrong with them.

Specifically, Teresa Eidt claims, “I was shown a cancerous ulcer on the internal wall of [a massage client’s] abdomen,” and “I scan the body system by system.” Kimberly Crowe is said to claim “that when she placed her hands on people, she could see things in their bodies.” Rachel Frezza claims that her ability in this regard was objectively tested: “Frezza was given no information about [10 patients] or their conditions. Only by accurately reporting the conditions did she pass the course.” Tammy Coffee is quoted as saying, “I see the physical body like an X-ray machine, like I have a camera and I am going inside the body … I will look through, for example, the entire small and large intestine.”

Ms. Glasser reports every one of these claims with no indication that she sees anything strange or suspicious here. The story contains no counterpoint by anybody with training in medical science. …

To put it most bluntly, these claims are either the most important development in the history of science or they are complete bullsh*t. Don’t you think it might be important to know which they are? Don’t you think your readers deserve to be told which they are? If they’re true, wouldn’t you want to know that for sure and get credit for being the first media outlet to announce this incredible news? And if they’re bullsh*t, wouldn’t you want to do your readers the service of running a retraction and exposing the claimants as quacks and frauds — or, at best, self-deluded fools?

Doesn’t the Mountain Xpress, as an institution of journalism, have even a tiny bit of desire to separate the most monumental scientific discovery from the most monumental bullsh*t?

— Robert J. Woolley
Asheville

Editor’s response: Mountain Xpress does not endorse therapies, and since we are not health professionals ourselves, we are not in a position to evaluate the efficacy of any healing modalities. In this case, we’d also note that medical intuitives do not diagnose illness; there is a legal restriction on their activities. Xpress does share stories about the many modalities for health that are practiced in our region, letting readers know what practitioners are doing and saying as part of covering the entire wellness scene in Asheville. The “Medical Intuitives” article is one of those stories.

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25 thoughts on “Letter writer: ‘Medical Intuitives’ article needed a skeptical eye

  1. Joan

    As you said, “medical intuitives” diagnose but do not treat. However, I’m with Mr. Woolley on this one. The article appearing in Mountain Xpress sort of implies legitimacy as there was no counter information about efficacy studies done by non-intuitives. But, I suppose, no substantive argument would change the minds of people who find medical intuitives credible.

  2. Peter Robbins

    Oh, please. The editor’s explanation is worse than the crime. One of the women interviewed in the story claimed to have X-ray vision. If the Mountain Xpress did not have enough expertise to evaluate this claim critically, it should have handed the story over to a media outlet that did. Like The Daily Planet.

  3. Sam Craig

    I agree with both Mr. Wooley and Mr. Robbins. The claims in that article were so ludicrous that any respectable organization would have made at least a minimal effort to offer some counterpoint. This type of “journalism” in your articles makes me now consider many of your articles as humor pieces more fit for News of the Weird.

    But your editorial response was even worse. If your organization knows it cannot meet the challenge of presenting quality work, then do not take on that challenge.

  4. jim willmot

    Could not agree more with the above letter writers. The Mountain Xpress needs to show a bit of skepticism when ‘healers’ make these outrageous claims of efficacy. This past week had a big article on stone healing with not a trace of critical thinking on the part of the writer. People are dying in this country from curable diseases when they choose woo treatments over proven scientific treatments. The Mountain Xpress is helping sell this snake oil when they give these deluded healers lengthy articles, then claim no responsibility for fact-finding. Paraphrasing Voltaire, fake health treatments began when the first rogue met the first fool.

  5. PJ Crepeau

    Disgraceful. This is journalism?
    Apparently, both reporters and editors at the Mountain Xpress believe that their job is to provide an unquestioning megaphone for any claim, no matter how ludicrous, as long as it comes in the guise of ‘alternative medicine.’ Basic critical thinking never plays a role, and the asking of obvious skeptical questions, or even demanding a small amount of evidence, is forbidden.
    The Mountain Xpress appears to be unable to distinguish journalism from marketing.

  6. Jeff Fobes

    The article was not meant to provide a skeptical look, but rather to be a part of ongoing coverage of different approaches to healing found in the area — some of them well within the mainstream paradigm and some on the fringes. As a result of this particular article, you are now more aware of what is being offered in the Asheville area. And through this comment thread, you are engaging in civic dialogue about your beliefs. These are both good things, in my opinion.
    If you delve into intuitive healing (or if you disbelieve, call it chicanery), you’ll find it is widespread in the world, and even licensed in some places, such as England. A fiery debate has been going on sometime between materialists and those who believe that we are more than mechanical robots. The medical intuitives quoted in this article seem to me to be sincere — even if they should be shown to be misguided. And if you have a visceral reaction of complete disbelief to their claims, I hope we can maintain a level of respect in our discussion.

    • Peter Robbins

      Everyone can see the article was not intended to be a skeptical look. That’s why it stinks. What newspaper takes pride in its child-like incredulity?

      • Peter robbins

        Opps. Make that “child-like credulity.” (At least one of us can admit a mistake.)

    • So in other words, this isn’t actually a news organization, and you’re not actually an editor. Why the pretense?

      Also, by the way, it should be noted that the writer of the piece, Nicki Glasser, apparently doesn’t pretend to be a reporter, but refers to herself as a “healer with vibrational medicine.” https://twitter.com/nicki_glasser

      I wonder what your editorial staffers think about the fact that they work not for a journalist, but for a snake-oil promoter.

    • S. Keptic

      “If you delve into intuitive healing (or if you disbelieve, call it chicanery), you’ll find it is widespread in the world, and even licensed in some places, such as England. ”

      That is simply not true, but even if it were (and it really, really isn’t) it would be utterly irrelevant.

      • Peter Robbins

        In response to my e-mail inquiry, the General Medical Council of Great Britain informed me that “medical intuitives” are not licensed in England.

    • Icabod

      Jeff, you assume that all claims are equal in value. That’s, the email from the Nigerian prince offering me millions should be considered that same as what my financial adviser of 10 years says. If you believe that, have a wonderful deal for you. Cash and small bills only.
      The Xpress can easily correct this. There is the famous “One Million Dollar Challenge” offered for scientific proof of paranormal abilities. Certainly the “X-Ray eyes” would qualify (link below). Just to note: this has been offered since the 1980s but no challenger has gotten past the preliminary. Yes, all parties must agreed on mutually decided upon rules.
      So, accept the challenge!
      http://web.randi.org/the-million-dollar-challenge.html

  7. Robert Woolley

    Mr. Fobes:

    Thanks for joining the conversation. I hope you can answer this as editor and publisher of the Mountain Xpress: How outlandish does a claim have to be before MX will decide that it either isn’t worthy of being treated as a news story, or should at least have a skeptical counterpoint added?

    For example, if somebody comes to town selling an elixir that he claims will cure any and all diseases, will MX write up a story about him and his tales of the people who have been cured with his snake oil, with not a single word from either the reporter or a doctor or scientist expressing skepticism about his claims?

    If you wouldn’t do that, why not? How is that any different than the women who claim to have x-ray vision into people’s bodies? You seem to justify a lack of reportorial skepticism with the observation that claims such as theirs are made by many people around the world. True enough. But it’s also true that lots of people around the world sell cure-alls. So, again, would you give free publicity to somebody selling such a product? And if so, would you do it without a skeptical counterpoint?

    If you would indulge me a bit further: If you develop a serious headache, and your doctor recommends a CT scan to be sure you don’t have a brain tumor, will you instead go to one of these four women to “scan” you? After all, if their claims are true, they can get you the same information as the CT scan, but at lower cost and with no exposure to radiation, right? If you wouldn’t do that, why not? It seems to me that the answer can only be that you don’t really believe that they can do what they claim to do. But if that is so, why did you run a story that treated their claims as simply true, as unchallenged, unquestioned facts?

    Leaving the medical sphere, if a conservative local politician claimed that climate change was a complete hoax, would you publish his claims as if they were simple facts to be reported, with no opposing point of view from scientists?

    Again, thanks for joining the chat rather than just watching from the sidelines. I hope to engage you further, because I think it’s important to clarify MX’s institutional decision (whether made consciously or not) on how credulous to be about incredible things.

    • Jeff Fobes

      Mr. Woolley:
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Here are my responses.

      It is my opinion that there is ample scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of healing techniques that include prayer and intention. What’s more, the pervasive placebo effect confounds scientific explanations at this time and suggests the possibility of unknown connections between our stories and our health.

      While I applaud our current mainstream medical practices and technologies for their often impressive solutions, I believe it is well worth our time to explore other approaches as well.

      I believe most people turn first to modern, Western treatments, particularly for acute problems. For some, there may come a time when their family doctor or specialist says they have no more solutions to offer. Some of those doctors, then, will even suggest the patient try other techniques outside of generally recognized practices. Today’s chronic conditions can be candidates for such strategies.

      While I agree that the last couple Xpress articles have failed the skeptical test, our reporters approached the practitioners with respect and gave them a seldom-offered podium. In today’s world, Americans have access to many points of view, the mainstream ones being prevalent. Xpress has chosen to offer a range of alternative news, which we believe are worth discussing.

      I don’t think that Xpress has the responsibility to offer skeptical counterpoints in every story, particularly when the reader is capable of maintaining his or her own skepticism — as you have so ably done. The practitioners covered in the last couple articles are clearly operating outside mainstream belief systems and are sure to raise skeptical responses. What these articles have done is let readers know about unusual options and practitioners available locally. When we run articles about a new technology at Mission, we are unlikely to run counterpoints from people who say the technology is ineffectual.

      If you want to read about the pros and cons of unusual treatments, these points of view are readily available on the Internet. What isn’t as available is information about what’s going on in Asheville, which is Xpress’ job to describe.

      I hope this helps explain the basis of our coverage.

      • Daniel Henson

        If you “believe” that prayer and whatever “intention” is have any medical or scientifically proven effect on the body, then literally nothing you say should be taken seriously.

        I mean, come on. “When we run articles about new technology at Mission, we are unlikely to run counterpoints from people who say the technology is ineffectual.” You know why? Because PET scanners are real, and are based on real scientific principles, work, and evidence. You know what isn’t real, isn’t based on science, and has no evidence? “X-ray vision” healers.

        Your responses show clearly that you’re a firm believer in nonsense. You’re wrong, and nothing you say in trying to appear “accepting” or whatever will make you any less wrong.

      • Tyler Traeger

        Mr. Fobes,

        Thank you for including this statement at the top of your response:

        “It is my opinion that there is ample scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of healing techniques that include prayer and intention.”

        By making it abundantly clear off the hop that you don’t actually understand the words “science” or “evidence” or how to evaluate those things, you saved me the time of having to read the rest of your nonsense. Spreading misinformation like this directly harms your community and readers and by choosing to promote it, you personally could potentially be indirectly responsible for preventable deaths. I am sure you will see this as harsh, rude, or even hyperbolic of me to say, but it is a simple statement of fact. It is my strong opinion that ridiculous things deserve to be ridiculed and it has been a long time since I read anything quite this absurd.

        For shame.

        Tyler Traeger

        (For the record, despite the joke that I led off with in this reply, I did read the entirety of your response. Every word of it is just as intellectually dishonest, as logically fallacious, and as factually wrong as the passage I cited. I consider it one of the greatest flaws in our society that people with your mindset are allowed to influence public opinion. I guess it’s just the “take the bad with the good” part of free speech.)

  8. Peter Robbins

    The Mountain Xpress could answer its critics by promising to do a searching and skeptical follow-up. You know, as part of its ongoing coverage of the local healing scene.

    • Blair Houghton

      I think they should follow the journalistic principal of proportional representation of the facts. If this series of articles represents interviews of 5% of the mystics in the region, they should do a series of articles interviewing 5% of the real doctors and scientists in the region. I look forward to this 9500-part series on traditional medicine.

    • Daniel Henson

      I’ve long since given up on this rag. Only reason I even hear about their idiotic tripe anymore is when it pops up in r/asheville.

      There’s very little local journalism, and even less that’s worth reading.

  9. Phillip Shaffer

    Mr. Fobes – you dodge the question of whether these people’s claims are real or not with a dexterity usually found only in Washington. These claims would be easily proven or disproven. Present them with 10 people, five of whom are ill, 5 of whom are well. Let them tell you who is who and what the diseases are. Simple, Easy. I would hope your newspaper would place some value on publishing the truth. Another questions comes up: do you use the same criteria for publishing sports or political stories? If someone tells you that the governor is sleeping with his aid, do you publish that based on one persons’ presentation? Can we believe anything in your newspaper. If so, what? Perhaps you need to place some sort of marker in the story – “this we checked and is real” – “this we didn’t bother to check.”

    By the way -I DO see through people. I DO diagnose diseases from outside the patient every day. And I can prove it. I do use some machines to do this, though. You see, I am a radiologist. It’s amusing that these people what claim to do by some mysterious, unproven means. I and my colleagues do all day every day.

  10. Thad Eckard

    Thank you, Robert J. Woolley, for taking time to write this. Mountain Xpress writers should try harder. And this obvious pseudoscience nonsense has no place in the “news,” and its believers need to be openly ridiculed.

  11. Wes Barnes

    I have always loved the Mountain Xpress… but…
    It seems to me that the Xpress is not in print to present unbiased news (free of charge) to their readers, but to provide advertisement to local small businesses. If that is the case, then why bother with the semblance of journalistic integrity when your sole purpose is to “report” the virtues of any and all potential investors in your weekly publication? Does the Xpress even bother to present themselves as a local news provider? If so, then they should take the time to explain where the journalism ends and the advertisement begins.

    I’m just concerned is all.

    • Peter Robbins

      Finally! After all this carping, a constructive suggestion. Yes, they could go to an all-ads format and call it “The Shamanic Shopper.” Or if that’s too long for the masthead, they could always shorten it to, well, I’m sure they’d think of something.

  12. Also, Mr. Fobes and others: Y’all would do well to research theories about prayer and placebo effects at the Skeptical Inquirer website. You can find it at: http://www.csicop.org/si/
    In fact, most of Asheville could probably use a subscription to this magazine. It would definitely make it harder for the “enlightened” flakes in the town to peddle their spiritual garbage. They might even have to find real jobs.

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