What is science - that the layman should respect it so much and misunderstand/misuse it so badly? This is a question that has long preoccupied us at the Forum and will continue to do so. Magnetism is a good example of this public confusion, as is illustrated by the "Wisconsin Debate" (Scott, Salt, Parejko) which we publish this month (it's a pity they seem not to have heard of "Occam's Razor") as well as the article by Liboff. Some extraordinary physicists - such as Leo Szilard, the namesake for one of our two important Forum Awards - have distinguished themselves in careers which transcend any simple notions of scientific boundaries. Others, such as Robert Park, this year's winner of the other Forum Award, have contributed to our understanding of the question by creatively illustrating public attitudes and their contrast to our usual scientific approaches.
Szilard's Roots and His Interdisciplinarity
Lecture at the American Physical Society meeting, Columbus, Ohio, 18 April 1998
Enrico Fermi was a man with outstanding talents, he had many interests outside his own particular field. He was credited with asking famous questions. There are long preambles to Fermis questions like this: "The universe is vast, containing myriads of stars, many of them not unlike our Sun. Many of these stars are likely to have planets circling around them. A fair fraction of these planets will have liquid water on their surface and a gaseous atmosphere. The energy pouring down from a star will cause the synthesis of organic compounds, turning the ocean into a thin, warm soup. These chemicals will join each other to produce a self-reproducing system. The simplest living things will multiply, evolve by natural selection and become more complicated till eventually active, thinking creatures will emerge. Civilization, science, and technology will follow. Then, yearning for fresh worlds, they will travel to neighboring planets, and later to planets of nearby stars. Eventually they should spread out all over the Galaxy. These highly exceptional and talented people could hardly overlook such a beautiful place as our Earth. And so," Fermi came to his overwhelming question, "if all this has been happening, they should have arrived here by now, so w h e r e a r e t h e y?" It was Leo Szilard, a man with an impish sense of humor, who supplied the perfect reply to Fermi's rethoric: "They are among us," - he said, "but they call themselves Hungarians."
This is how Francis Crick's book The Life Itself begins. It is not difficult to find out where the alien space ship landed: the "Martians" who influenced science and technology in the 20th century (Dennis Gabor, Andrew Grove, George de Hevesy, Theodore von K6xm6n, John G. Kemeny, Arthur Koestler, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene P. Wigner) were born within a circle of 1 km radius in the downtown of Budapest. Does anyone need any other proof or explanation?
Well, Hungary was always at the crossroads of history. This is the place where history used to happen:
The Roman legions, armies of the mongol Dzengis Khan, the Muslim invasion were stopped at the Danube.
Catholicism came from Italy, Orthodox Christianity from the Bizantium, the Reformation from Germany, the Islam from the Ottoman Empire.
Thus Hungary was a collision point of cultures. This delicious mixture was flavored, when the Jews - having been expelled from Western Europe in the l5th-l6th century, then from Russia and Russia-occupied Poland in the l8th-l9th century wandered to Hungary. Hungarians have learned weapons from the Turks, agriculture from the Slavs, alphabet from Italian priests, industry from Germans, trade from Jews. The veterans of the Roman legions planted grapes to make wine. Germans taught us how to brew beer. Russians have shown how to distill vodka. And the antialcoholic Turks made us like the Black Soup: the hot and strong black coffee, our national drink today. Now America teaches us to enjoy Marlboro.
Leo Szilard emerged from this melting pot of cultures. His great-grandfather was a shepherd, the grandfather was an agricultural enterpreneur, the father was a machine engineer. The family slowly descended from the Carpatian Mountains towards Budapest; the father's mother tongue was German, but he learned Hungarian in the school and changed his German-sounding name Spitz to the Hungarian Szilard (meaning solid). In his genetical and spiritual genes the Jewish, German, Slovakian, Hungarian, Austrian ethnical heritages produced a special mix, enriched by British and American flavors in his grownup life.
Leo Szilard was born in Budapest, on the 11th February 1898, in a city of blossoming industrial revolution. (At this time alternating current, the dynamo, electric train, and telephone central were designed by Hungarians as firsts; the first metro of the continent already operated in Budapest.) The young Leo admired the marvels of the new tech. He excelled in the high school physics competition. (This national competition is over 100 years old. The older Theodore von Karman and the younger Edward Teller were also winners at their high school graduations.)
When Leo was 16, World War 1 erupted. Leo told his friend: Don"t be anxious because of the expected army service. The Austrian, German and Russian emperors will loose soon! This was a strange prophecy because Russia was on the opposite side of the front but Leo still turned out to be right. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire declared the war and lost.
When Leo became 20, Budapest experienced the rule of the Habsburg emperor-king, then republican revolution, parliamentary democracy, followed by communist rule, ending in foreign occupation, then in a military junta and an extreme-right-wing regime, all within twelve months. Each of them offered an ultimate truth, which sharply contradicted the previous one. It is a pedagogical experience that impact-rich environments cultivate talents. Under quiet skies social adjustment leads to happiness. Under changing (ideological) climates, however, conservative traditions turn out to be useless; but by searching for new escape routes creativity leads to survival. World Wars offer excellent school years for talents.
In this region one has to learn to trespass political borderlines if wants to survive. (One might even find himself in a different country just by staying at rest. This is a place where not only people but borderlines used to move. Szilard's ancestors' birthplace is now Slovakia.) The 20th century trespassed disciplinary borderlines as well. At this exciting spot of space-time Leo crossed political and disciplinary boundaries with ease.
Electricity was the great news in Budapest in early 20th century. When his sister became ill of diphtheria and was isolated, the two children communicated by home-made telegraph. Leo began studying engineering, but during the political revolutions he elaborated plans for a socialist tax reform.-to save Hungary. With his brother he joined the socialist youth organizations and distributed his pamphlets. After the fall of the revolution, he was beaten by conservative students at the Budapest Institute of Technology, so in December 1919 he boarded a ship towards the West - never to return.
In Berlin he became interested in the molecular structure of matter, asking: can intelligence fight the increasing molecular chaos? He has shown that even thinking happens with friction, and calculated the (entropy) price to be paid for 1 bit of information: k ln 2. (A side product of this interest was the Einstein-Szilard refrigerator, to make cold out of electric energy.) This problem made him interested in living cells, which are able to create organization out of food.
After World War 2, Leo tried simultaneously to save the world and to understand life. He studied biological evolution, the survival of the fittest in a test tube. He described aging as gradual loss of inherited genetic information. And when he was attacked by cancer, he elaborated the radiotherapy and won. In California, he was instrumental in the creation of the Salk Institute for biological-social studies.
In the fiction Voice of the Dolphins he described his dream, how the world community of scientists can save the world, camouflaging themselves as dolphins. In 1960, he accepted the proposal to create such a real biophysical institute in Vienna but his illnes prevented him from achieving a final victory.His earthly remains took rest in Hungarian soil on the 11th February 1998, his 100th birthday.
Was all this a senseless random walk on the map? Was Leo Szilard a madman mixing physics and engineering with medicine and politics? Or following the straightforward lead of his science and conscience, did Leo cross senseless disciplinary borderlines without inhibitions? The fin de siecle science and history has shown: Leo has been right! In our present view, information, life, telecommunication, intelligence and democracy are closely interconnected.
Other "mad Hungarians" , listed previously, also radiated out from Budapest, sailing westwards thanks to the strong wind blowing from the east, and surviving because of crossing disciplinary boundaries. The compressed historical experiences/adventures have made these people, having lived in the Central-Europe of the 1910s (or the 1940s), able to tell the future. Leo Szilard especially excelled: You don't have to be cleverer than the others. You just have to be one day ahead of them.
In Budapest Leo turned from Jew to Calvinist one month before the rightwing takeover.
He left Berlin by train one day before Hitler closed the borders for Jews.
He left Vienna before Hitler annexed Austria.- I'll leave Europe one year before Hitler goes to war ---- and sailed to New York in 1938.
He wrote a letter to Stalin, forecasting war in Yugoslavia, and the U.S. involvement in it.
At all the times there were two suitcases packed in his hotel room, with keys in them, ready to leave immediately at a feeling of approaching danger. He even left New York, rushing to Switzerland, at the peak of the Cuban missile crisis. People were smiling at him. Now we understand from the declassified documents how near the world came to a nuclear war in 1962. In the same way he was willing all the times to enter a new field of research, in order to save humankind. The Martians made world history and the Hungarian history had made them.
Leo Szilard was a Central-European among the whites.
The Martians, conference proceedings, Etvos University, Budapest 1996
George Marx: The Voice of the Martians, Hungarian Academy Press 1997
Leo Szildrd Centenary Volume, Etvos Physical Society, Budapest 1998
George Marx is president of the Hungarian Physical Society and an APS Fellow
Department of Atomic Physics, Puskin 5, Budapest H 1088,
Voodoo Science: Perpetuum Mobile
Adapted from the Joseph Burton-Forum Award Address
at the American Physical Society meeting, Columbus, Ohio, 18 April 1998
Robert L. Park
"What's the answer to the energy crisis?," Dan Rather was asking on the CBS Evening News, "Suppose a fellow told you the answer was in a machine he has developed? Before you scoff, take a look with Bruce Hall." It was January 11, 1984; CBS reporter Bruce Hall had traveled to the tiny rural hamlet of Lucedale, Mississippi to interview inventor Joseph Wesley Newman. A mile down a dirt road, past the "Keep Out" and "No Trespassing" signs, Hall stood with the inventor in front of his garage workshop. He described Newman as "a brilliant self-educated inventor." Dressed in work clothes, Newman declared that his "Energy Machine" could produce ten times the electrical energy it took to run it. "Put one in your home," he said, "and you'll never have to pay another electric bill."
It's the sort of story Americans love. A backwoods wizard who never finished high school makes a revolutionary scientific discovery. He is denied the fruits of his genius by a pompous scientific establishment, and a patent examiner who rejects his application for a patent on "an unlimited source of energy" without even examining it, on the grounds that "all alleged inventions of perpetual motion machines are refused patents." Joseph Newman takes on the United States Government, filing suit in federal court against the Patent Office. It's the little man battling a gigantic, impersonal system. There was no one on the CBS Evening News to challenge Newman's claim. On the contrary, the report included an endorsement from Roger Hastings, a Ph.D. physicist who declared that, "It's possible his theory could be correct and that this could revolutionize society".
Rule 1: There is no claim so preposterous that a PhD physicist cannot be found to vouch for it.
Most viewers must have been left wondering how the Patent Office could be so certain Joe Newman was wrong. The Patent Office based its judgement on the long and colorful history of failed attempts to build perpetual motion machines, going back at least to the Seventeenth Century. Water wheels had been used for centuries to grind flour, but many areas lacked suitable streams for a mill. In 1618 an English physician named Robert Fludd proposed a solution: Why not have the water wheel drive a pump, as well as grind flour? The water that had turned the wheel would be pumped back up into the mill race. A reservoir of water could be used to run the mill indefinitely. The concept of energy or "work" as a measurable quantity did not exist in the seventeenth century. Dr. Fludd's idea failed, but its failure led others to the First Law of Thermodynamics.
In the nearly four hundred years since, hundreds of inventors have tried to beat the laws of thermodynamics. The laws of thermodynamics always won. In frustration, and perhaps embarrassment, many inventors ended up resorting to fraud, constructing complex devices with cleverly concealed energy sources. Each failure, each fraud exposed, established the laws of thermodynamics more firmly. By 1911, the U.S. Patent Commissioner ruled that a patent application for a perpetual motion machine could not be submitted until one year after an operating model of the machine was left with the Patent Office. If the machine was still running at the end of a year, the application would be accepted. That seemed to bring an end to patent applications for perpetual motion devices.
Newman insisted that his invention was not a perpetual motion machine, and therefore, should not be subject to the 1911 rule. He claimed that the energy to run his machine came from the conversion of mass into energy according to Einstein's E = mc2. Slowly, he argued, his machine was devouring its own copper wires and iron magnets.
Viewers with no knowledge of the conservation of energy or the theory of relativity had no reason to scoff at Joe Newman. Dan Rather, a trusted guest in millions of homes, had invited people to take the story seriously -- and tens of thousands did. Joe Newman was transformed into a celebrity. He appeared on the Johnny Carson Show and rented the Superdome in New Orleans for a week, where thousands of fans paid a dollar to watch him demonstrate his energy machine. The crude 500 lb device with huge armatures that he and his wife had laboriously wound by hand in their kitchen, was now tucked out of sight under the hood of a sleek red Sterling sports car. Newman would drive the Sterling around the floor of the Superdome at a stately 4 miles per hour with the crowd applauding. "Do y'all believe this car was running on the current of a single transistor battery?" he shouts, holding a tiny battery above his head. The cheers are mixed with whistles and rebel yells. He challenges any Ph.D. physicist in the crowd to come down and debate him. The audience begins to titter as Newman shades his eyes, pretending to look in vain for some physicist coming out of the stands.
In his suit against the Patent Office, a federal judge, ordered Newman to turn his energy machine over to the National Bureau of Standards for testing. Newman and his lawyers bitterly protested the order. Nor was the Bureau of Standards eager to take the assignment. NBS scientists were keenly aware of the long history of perpetual motion hoaxes. Moreover, it seems Joe Newman was well known to the laboratory. He had shown up unannounced at NBS in 1982, with his Energy Machine in tow, pleading with NBS to test it. NBS declined, stating that Newman's claims "ran contrary to well-established scientific principles." Why was Joe Newman now opposing the very tests he had begged for four years earlier? If we can answer that, we will have gone a long way toward understanding voodoo science.
Few scientists or inventors set out to commit fraud; at least in the beginning, most believe they have made a profound discovery. As the first doubts creep in they may find reasons to delay critical experiments, or concoct elaborate explanations as to why contrary results cannot be trusted. But as evidence accumulates that things are not as they believed, they face a painful choice: the humiliation of public confession, or a lifetime of pretense. The longer they delay, and the more publicly and forcefully they have pressed their claim, the less likely it becomes that they will admit their mistake. Many, however, seem to leave the road entirely, becoming completely detached from reality. Sometime between 1982 and 1986, Joe Newman must have reached his crossroad.
Meanwhile, The federal judge in Newman's suit against the Patent Office, ordered him to deliver his machine to the National Bureau of Standards for testing. NBS found the machine to be nothing more than a crude motor-generator of a design inferior to devices readily available on the market. The bill for the tests was $150,000 -- paid by the taxpayers. Newman then filed suit against NBS.
So here we are, an inventor with no scientific credentials, claims without proof to have invented a machine that violates the most firmly established law of physics. He achieves a level of media exposure few of us will ever match, attracts investors, ties up the federal courts, wastes the time of the National Bureau of Standards, gets a Senate hearing -- all with an idea that we would expect a first year physics major to debunk routinely.
The Tethered Satellite
Lest you imagine that only a backwoods mechanic with a grade school education would try to beat the laws of thermodynamics, in 1992, NASA attempted to deploy a small satellite from the shuttle Atlantis tethered by a 20-km wire. The plan was that the conductor moving through Earth's magnetic field would generate electric power for the spacecraft. The mission manager described this as "a free lunch." That was the same mistake Joe Newman made. By Lenz's law, any attempt to extract electrical power would create magnetic drag. To maintain its orbit the spacecraft would have to fire its rockets. In effect, the electricity would be generated by the rockets -- and not very efficiently. In any case, the reel jammed at only 256 meter. Incredibly, NASA tried to refly the $1B mission four years later. This time the tether broke. Fortunately, NASA seems to have given up.
Rule 3: A PhD is not an innoculation against foolishness.
The Hydrogen Futures Act
In the spring of 1995, Rep. Bob Walker, chair of the House Science Committee, introduced The Hydrogen Futures Act. Its stated purpose was to promote the development of hydrogen, obtained from the decomposition of water, as a "new energy source." Walker's bill, as originally introduced, listed electric power generation as one of the potential uses of hydrogen, and pointed out that, with most of the planet covered by ocean, the supply is inexhaustible. In fact, since the product of hydrogen combustion is water, all that would be needed is an initial reservoir -- it was Robert Fludd's water mill in a different guise. It is doubtful if more than two members of Congress understood that they must first repeal the laws of thermodynamics.
The Patterson Cell
ABC's Morning News on February 6, 1996 carried a story about another inventor, James Patterson, and another inexhaustible source of energy. Once again, a trusted network news show was inviting people to take an infinite energy device seriously. Michael Guillen, the ABC science correspondent, who is himself a PhD physicist, delicately refrained from using the by now discredited term "cold fusion." The taped segment began with inventor James Patterson, in his cluttered garage workshop, talking with correspondent Michael Guillen. He tells Guillen his cell produces 200 times as much energy as he puts in. How does it work? He says he has no idea.
So what do the experts say? Identified only as belonging to "John Huizenga, nuclear scientist,"the first talking head says: "I would be willing to bet there's nothing to it." A second gray head, identified as Quentin Bowles, a professor at the University of Missouri, disagrees: "It works, but we don't know why it works. That's the bottom line." The entire exchange took under seven seconds.
Quentin Bowles, is in fact not a scientist, but an engineer at the Kansas City campus of the University of Missouri. He had been recommended by James Patterson. John Huizenga, on the other hand, is a distinguished professor of nuclear chemistry from the University of Rochester, member of the National Academy, head of a government panel that was convened to investigate the "cold fusion" claims of Fleischmann and Pons seven years earlier. But the viewers, of course, knew nothing of either man.
This creates what has been called "pseudosymmetry" -- the impression that scientists are about equally divided on claims that may have little or no scientific support.
Rule 4: The truth does not lie halfway between science and non-science.
Pseudosymmetry creates a troubling dilemma for scientists. Joe Newman's challenge to physicists to debate him may have been rhetorical, but had some prominent physicist taken up the challenge it would almost certainly have worked to Newman's advantage. Simplistic arguments and homespun humor tend to be more effective in such a debate than citing the laws of thermodynamics. It is an arena made for voodoo science. Creationists in particular are constantly trying to taunt prominent scientists into public debate. It has a way of seeming to elevate the controversy into an argument between scientists.
I called Joe Newman at his home in Lucedale recently to ask one question. He still demonstrates his Energy Machine, and appears from time to time on radio talk shows. But interest in the Energy Machine has faded. He says they like him on talk radio, not because they believe him, but because he's good for ratings. "Creative people,"Joe sighed, "die poor." I could not bring myself to ask my question. Besides, I already knew the answer -- the power lines still run to Joe Newman's house.
Robert L. Park is a professor at the
Dept. of Physics,University of Maryland
and APS Director of Public Information
There's a lot of media coverage these days concerning "magnet therapy". For good reason. Annual worldwide sales of such magnets are now reckoned in the billions of dollars. Many everyday folks, (and some physicians) swear by them. They are sold in a wide array of geometries, innersole inserts, flexible pads, small flat buttons, sleeping pads, folding seats, and even stylish bracelets. Most of the claims concerning these magnets refer to their effectiveness in obtaining relief from pain. Rumor has it that President Clinton made use of magnets to help him recover from his leg injury.
The increase in marketability of permanent magnets for pain relief is largely due to the discovery of new, high coercive force materials. Because the larger Hc found in NdFeB and in SmCo allows one to fabricate magnets having less self-demagnetization, very thin geometries are now capable of producing fields of about 0.1 T within a few mm of the pole faces. This means that thinner magnets can be taped to the skin more unobtrusively. Even before the discovery of NdFeB, therapeutic claims were being made for ferrite impregnated plastics, like those used to hold messages on refrigerators. It is a matter of faith and good advertising that the stronger NdFeB magnets are today preferred over ferrites, whose pole strengths are only hundreds of gauss instead of thousands.
New Age Physics
It is difficult for the physics community to deal with things like magnet therapy. Not only are the medical claims somewhat vague, but they are often accompanied by statements about magnetism that are totally wrong. Viewed in context, the magnet craze is really part of our contemporary culture. We may not like it, but a lot of New Age pseudo-science is hyped in mainstream America. Books with strange titles, (some written by respected colleagues), fill the shelves at Border's and Barnes and Noble, each purporting to explain all that quantum stuff, missing cosmological mass, multiple universes, and other assorted mysteries, up to and including God. A thriving pseudo-science subculture has blossomed on the Internet. New Age solutions to pain, disease, personal problems, even investments are explained away in terms of tetrahedral crystals, vortices, potentials, complexity, chaos, simultaneity, and more spins than in Washington politics. Magnets fit beautifully into all of this.
The public apparently likes science, but not at so great a price that one has to be precise. Physics terms take on new meanings, especially some we hold dear to our heart, words like force, energy, and charge. Energy medicine is a good example, encompassing among other things chi, acupuncture, auras, electromagnetism and any other field that happens to be invisible and was hard to understand in college. The physics used in this area is so bad, that paraphrasing Pauli, it's not even wrong. Part of the problem is that healing gurus practicing Energy Medicine feel compelled to reinvent the truth to explain their results. They justify their procedures by masquerading as scientists, borrowing terms willy nilly from physics as needed. They write paperbacks that are found in health-food stores. Many in the energy medicine area add nicely to their income selling such books. Sorry to say, people in pain are more in tune with clinicians who promise to help rather than scientists who tell them why they cannot be helped.
It may be some small consolation to realize that we in the physics community do not come off as the bad guys. Instead, modern medicine is almost universally the villain. According to the New Agers, doctors should know more than they do about the origin and treatment of pain. They contend that the billions spent on research on cancer have not resulted in a cure. There is also profound antagonism against the pharmaceutical industry. This was amply in evidence at a recent meeting I attended featuring a new and promising approach to fight cancer, ECT (for Electrochemical Treatment) where speaker after speaker spoke bitterly about the hazards of chemo- and radiotherapy, each decrying the reluctance of the medical "industry" to seek alternative therapies.
I sometimes think that physics has been so successful in explaining the non-biological world that the public, making the comparison, is asking the medical community: Why can't you be more like them? Even though they don't know much physics, the New Age people want to bring more of it into medicine. In a certain sense, this argument may strike a resonant chord. Medical educators in this country continue to ignore the additional second year of physics that should be required of anyone seeking to enter medical school. None of us should be surprised at how ignorant physicians are about the electromagnetic field.
But on the whole, there is no question about the tawdry history involving the clinical use of magnetism. The most infamous example was that of August Mesmer, immortalized (for the wrong reason) in the transitive verb mesmerize. In fact, today's claims for the healing benefits of simple magnets pale by comparison with those of Mesmer, who "magnetized" not only trees but also young women, usually without the benefit of sources such as currents or other magnets. Two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin sat on a scientific commission that first examined, and then repudiated Mesmer's claims. This failed to stop the increasingly improper use of electricity and magnetism in medicine in the years that followed.
At the turn of the century, the misuse of electromagnetics in medicine had reached the intolerable point where Abraham Flexner, in his seminal Carnegie Foundation report, recommended against any further clinical training based on electricity and magnetism. This antagonism is still around today. Only recently have therapeutic practices based on the use of electricity and magnetism begun to reappear in clinical settings. (The same is not true for non-therapeutic work, where physics has revolutionized diagnostic medicine with devices such as the EEG, EKG, EMG, MRI, and SQUID). The alternative medicine crowd seems to be asking: why does current medical practice depend so heavily on administering pills and drugs? Is there no place for physics in the treatment of the sick?
Lack of Research
My first interaction with the magnet therapy business occurred in the mid-eighties, while attending an APS meeting in Baltimore. A Japanese colleague mentioned that a mattress company was successfully marketing sleeping pads with magnetic inserts to help elderly sufferers from rheumatism and other joint pains sleep more comfortably. He asked how this product could be made acceptable to the US Food and Drug Administration. I outlined the problem to an orthopedic surgeon friend at Harvard, who came up with a proposal to do a double-blind study on the efficacy of these pads. However it soon became apparent that the mattress company was not interested in anyone doing independent research, only in having their own internal reports disseminated. Just a few years years later, I was again approached, this time by a Swiss firm dispensing various ferrite sheets for different types of aches and pains, with no hard evidence, merely testimonials by satisfied users. Similar to my first experience these people were also turned off by any thought of research.
However bad this history, things have improved recently. Some magnet companies have initiated intra- and extramural research projects, partly motivated by criticism of their clinical claims, but also because of competition among these firms. In addition, they probably realized that it is inevitable that the sales of permanent magnets for therapeutic purposes will eventually come under the eyes of the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. Whatever the reason, research projects are now underway in a number of universities, hospitals, and other clinical settings that will hopefully follow prescribed protocols and lead to publications assessing the potential benefits.
Comparison to ELF Studies
One difference between ELF magnetic field claims and permanent magnet claims is that the public regards the former fields as bad for your health while imagining the latter fields as beneficial. Contrary to this media-driven view, many recognize that ELF magnetic fields have potentially important medical applications. For example, weak ELF fields are routinely involved in treating certain bone disorders under approved FDA protocols.
But there are key physical differences, as well. The one involves very weak intensities, the other is substantially greater. In the ELF case, one deals with time-varying fields, in the other, a magnetostatic field. And, usually the ELF applications do not involve the large gradients that are found in permanent magnets.
Is There a Credible Physical Interaction?
Despite these differences, there is one thing common to both cases, namely the need to establish physical credibilty. One has to separate out the likelihood of physical interaction for ELF effects from physiological interactions. Unlike the uncertainties connected to merely giving pills or practicing surgery, physics has a well-honed understanding of how Maxwell's Equations work, even in tissue. Robert Adair, Emeritus Professor at Yale has strenuously argued that there cannot be any weak ELF biological effects whatsoever, hazardous or non-hazardous, if the applied magnetic signals are so small as to be lost in the thermal noise. A similar consideration must hold forth as a prerequisite for any putative therapeutic effect due to permanent magnets. We are therefore justified in asking, even before considering the possibility of a physiological effect, whether there is there any conceivable physical interaction that may underly the claims that are being made.
The physical interaction underlying most "successful" ELF experiments, (i.e., those not dealing with questions of hazard, but rather seeking any physiological change) mostly fall into two empirical frameworks. The first is similar to ion cyclotron resonance (ICR), where one applies parallel sinusoidal and static fields with the frequency-to-intensity ratio adjusted to equal the charge-to-mass ratio of biological ions such as Ca2+, Mg2+, and K+. It seems very unlikely that such a mechanism could play a role in permanent magnet interactions.
Physiological changes due to ELF magnetic fields have also been observed that are connected to Faraday induction of weak currents. Faraday induction in the field of a permanent magnet requires motion of conductive tissue relative to the magnet. For a magnet placed directly on the skin, the most promising configuration occurs when tissue moves with velocity v in the direction of the gradient, such that dB/dt = v (dB/dz). Detailed calculation reveals that for red blood cells in motion, such induced currents can amount, at most, to merely a few electrons per second.
Unlikely as Faraday induction may be, there are magneto-mechanical forces that could play a role. Biological tissues are for the most part diamagnetic, and there are measurable forces on diamagnetic materials in large gradient fields. This force is proportional to the product B (dB/dz). Ueno  has demonstrated that water can be visibly parted (the "Moses effect") in superconducting field gradient products of ~400 T^2/m. For a typical high Hc-magnet the corresponding value for this product is one hundred times smaller. Calculation reveals that the force on a unit mass of tissue due to a high-Hc magnet is orders of magnitude smaller than that exerted on a single myosin muscle fiber (3 pN) resulting from the energy transformation of a single ATP molecule7.
Nonetheless there is a mechanism that could conceivably provide a measurable interactive basis between magnet and tissue. Many biomolecules exhibit diamagnetic properties that are tensorial, with the diamagnetic susceptibility in one direction very different from that in other directions. This diamagnetic anisotropy can result in a torque, the size of which varies not only with the field strength but also with the number of adjacent, aligned molecular repeats. For biopolymers this number can be as high as 108 ~10l0, the latter occuring, for example, in the retina. For such arrays the orientational energy can be equal to or greater than kT in fields of 1-10 T. Further there are many reports9 indicating that biomolecular arrays such as collagen, lipids, and DNA undergo substantial orientation in fields only 10-100 times greater than that found within a few mm of a NdFeB magnet surface.
Diamagnetic Anisotropy and MRI Fields
It is reasonable to ask why no such effects have been reported for the hundreds of thousands of patients who are subjected each year to MRI examinations. Perhaps the MRI investigators  were only seeking hazardous consequences, and avoided more subtle effects not included among the stark toxicity requirements of the FDA. (Actually, there is one reliably documented high-field effect. As first reported a century ago by d'Arsonval, placing one's head into an intense field results in flashes of light (magnetophosphenes), presumably initiated directly in the retina.) In any event, despite the outlandish claims and hoopla attached to magnet therapy, there may indeed be reason to ask whether magnets can interact with tissue. Nevertheless, it is best to remember that the presence of an interactive mechanism does not, by itself, mean that there has to be a therapeutic outcome. It just makes the whole thing more reasonable.
1. C. K. Chou, "Electrochemical treatment of tumor". and following articles in
Bioelectromagnetics 18: 1 (1997)
2. A. R. Liboff and M. Chopp, "Should the premed requirements in physics
be changed?", Am. J. Phys. 47., 331-336 ((1979).
3. The Bakken Library and Museum in Minneapolis has a collection of
devices on display, as well as books and articles ,dealing with
elect romagnetics in medicine, both fraudulent and useful.
4. R. K. Adair, "Constraints on biological effects of weak ext remely-lowfrequency electromagnetic fields". Phys. Rev. A 43: 1039-1048, (1991).
5. A. R. Liboff "Geomagnetic cyclotron resonance in living cells" J. Biol.
Physics 13: 99-102 (1985).
6. S Ueno and M. Iwasaka, "Properties of diamagnetic fluid in high
gradient magnetic fields." J. Applied Phys. 75. 7177-7179 (1994).
7. J. T. Finer, R. M. Simmons, and J. A. Spudich, "Single myosin molecule
mechanics: piconewton forces and nanometre steps." Nature 368: 113-119,
8. F. T. Hong, D. Mauzerall, and A. Mauro, "Magnetic anisotropy and the
orientation of retinal rods in a homogeneous magnetic field". Proc. Acad, Sci.
USA 68: 1283-1285 (1971).
9. J. Torbet, J-M. Freyssinet, and G. Hudry-Clergeon, "Oriented fibrin gels
formed by polymerization in strong magnetic fields". Nature 289: 91-93
10. R. B. Frankel and R. P. Liburdy, Biological effects of static magnetic
fields, Chapter 3 in C. Polk and E. Postow (editors) Handbook of Biological
Effects of Electromagnetic Fields , 2cd edition, CRC Press, New York (1996).
Department of Physics
Rochester, MI 48309
A Public Debate on Science, Pseudo-science, and Spiritualism From the Perspectives of a Physicist, Sociologist, and Biologist
Alan Scott, Bob Salt, Ken Parejko
(The following articles are shown in order of appearance in the Dunn County News -
a local Menomonie, Wisconsin newspaper.)
Alan Scott - Physicist
I just finished reading an article in the Dunn County News (September 14, '97). The newspaper quotes an individual talking about the healing value of magnets. He states "...football player who broke his ankle whose doctor declared it would take eight weeks for recovery. After using magnets and bioceramics for two weeks the break couldn't even be found". He also states "...child who fell hand first on burning charcoal at a picnic. Her mother picked her up, put a magnet on the child's hand, and 20 minutes later the burn was gone...".
After reading this article, I found myself shouting "Show me the evidence!" I challenge this person to support these claims with an article from a reputable magazine.
I could go into a long discussion on how magnetic fields influence simple objects, but for the best of me, I cannot see how magnetic fields would help as opposed to hinder the healing process. I would argue the predominant influence these magnets have on injuries is to absorb heat energy away from the injury - which can be done much more efficiently with cold packs.
This is symptomatic of the overall poor state of science literacy in this country. A lot of people believe in weird things that are simply not true or are unsubstantiated.
Why is this? I believe the answer lies in our culture and education.
Popular culture has been deluging us with stories of the supernatural. TV has the "X-Files" with genetically engineered alien DNA running amok. The movies have John Travolta who can toss objects with his mind and predict earthquakes. In many bookstores, you'll find more books on clairvoyants, faith healers, astrologers, occults and other pseudo-scientific notions than on physics, chemistry, biology, etc.
James Garland, president of Miami University in Ohio, has written an excellent essay on this subject entitled "An Alien Ate My Laundry: The Decline of Reason in the Age of Science." He states, "...our culture is turning to magic and superstition as a way of bringing order into a world that seems increasingly mysterious. I further believe that this embrace of the irrational is not a harmless indulgence of the imagination, but a growing deterioration in the ability of the general populace to think critically and to distinguish between fantasy and reality."
Our country's education system has not sufficiently acquainted students with the methods of science. Upon graduation, many have not gained the critical thinking ability to strain out the bogus science from the real science. To what degree is this occurring? A 1990 Gallup poll of 1,236 adult Americans show that 60 percent believe in astrology, 46 percent indicate that extra-sensory perception (ESP) is possible, 42 percent believe we can communicate with the dead, 67 percent have had a psychic experience. And if these numbers aren't disturbing enough, let us not forget that President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan scheduled presidential meetings and speeches on days selected by their astrologer in California! In Ronald Reagan's autobiography entitled "Where's the Rest of Me?," there is an entire chapter on astrology.
I just read in Scientific American (October '97) that Brian Alters and educational psychologist William Michael have found that about 45 percent (surveying 1,200 college freshman at 10 different schools) of incoming freshman reject the theory of evolution. These students tended to believe in misconceptions of evolutionary science. Two such misconceptions are "mutations are never beneficial to animals" and "methods used to determine the age of fossils and rocks are not accurate". Even the Pope in Rome has recognized evolution to be "more than just an hypothesis." Some religious groups consider the theory of evolution as entirely false and believe the earth to be only about 10,000 years old (in fact, it is about 4.6 billion years old). To reject evolution in its entirety, one must disregard many fundamental principles in physics, biology, geology, archeology, paleontology, and in some respects astronomy.
I make an attempt to combat science illiteracy in my introductory physics courses at UW-Stout. I require students to read an insightful and colorful essay written by Richard Feynman. The essay, called "Cargo Cult Science," examines the meaning of science and pseudo-science. In one part of the essay he contrasts "doing credible science" and the world of advertising. He states, "Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will --including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with."
In this age of exponentially expanding information, it is hard to keep pace with all the new processes and novelties. This might be one reason people turn to mysticism and magic - to simplify and make order out of disorder.
We need to equip students to manage this new era with wisdom and understanding. They must resist the lure of pseudo-science, which promises easy solutions to complex problems. This country cannot be truly free if it allows itself to be complacent about the pervasiveness of pseudo-science in its culture!
Bob Salt - Sociologist
I feel the need to respond to Dr. Alan Scott's guest editorial where he claimed that belief in the healing value of magnets and belief in astrology, psychic ability, contact with the dead, etc., were signs of science illiteracy.
Unfortunately, Dr. Scott gives no evidence that people who believe in these things are poorly educated in science. He also provides no evidence that he has studied these phenomena or that they are in any way false. His entire argument is based on underlying assumptions that he fails to elaborate. In his judgment, these beliefs are wrong.
I am prepared to articulate a response to Dr. Scott that takes an opposing point of view on these issues. I will address the underlying assumptions he seems to be making and provide evidence that his conclusions are not justified.
Since Dr. Scott does not give any evidence to claim that beliefs in transpersonal or paranormal phenomena are false, I am uncertain why he draws his conclusions. I am going to guess that he starts with a prior assumption that they are invalid without even investigating these subjects. The basis for this assumption is likely to be the common tradition in modern science and philosophy to treat the material world and spiritual/metaphysical world as separate entities with science dealing only with the material world/universe and religion dealing with the spiritual and metaphysical.
This division goes back to the 13th Century in Europe and in more modern times was articulated by Descartes and Kant. Descartes' view, which has come to dominate western society and science, is that the universe is like a big machine.A later school of thought, known as materialism, believed that all that was knowable was matter and that there wasn't any spiritual dimension to the universe. This point of view seems to underly the position that Dr. Scott takes.
In opposition to this position is the view that there is a spiritual/nonphysical dimension to the universe and that it is knowable. This belief has existed for thousands of years in both Eastern and Western variations. In the West, a primary proponent of this view was Plato, but there have been many other scholars to take the same position.
While it is true today that Dr. Scott is in the majority in his view, there are many scholars even in his own discipline of physics who have believed or argued that there is a metaphysical or spiritual dimension to the universe. A few such physicists are Albert Einstein, Fred Alan Wolf, Gary Zukov, Frietjof Capra and David Darling.
Outside of physics, there are many scholars who demonstrate that there is indeed a spiritual dimension to the universe. These scholars include Deepak Chopra, Bernie Siegel, Elizabeth Kubler Ross and many others. In the social and behavioral sciences, many scholars have studied transpersonal and/or paranormal phenomena. They have established much scientific evidence for things like psychic abilities and communication with the dead. This is not to claim that there aren't people who defraud others in these fields, but that there are many verified cases.
My guess is that Dr. Scott is unaware of this research. I would hope that rather than make critical statements about other's beliefs without any investigation, that as a scientist he would study these topics.
I am reminded of a comment made by Andrew Weil, M.D., a Harvard-trained physician who also investigates the value of so-called alternative medicine. He said that there are two kinds of skeptics, open minded and closed minded. Open-minded skeptics are willing to consider new ideas but want to see the evidence, whereas close-minded skeptics have decided in advance what they believe and are not willing to consider alternative views of reality.
As Dr. Raymond Moody said in a speech this spring, scientists are supposed to be open to new theories and evidence. However, as Kuhn pointed out almost three decades ago, science is usually conducted by people trying to find support for and working within the established world view, what he called a paradigm. Kuhn demonstrated that scientists rarely reject their paradigm even in the face of contradictory evidence.
On a more personal note, I was in Dr. Scott's camp on this issue until a few years ago when I was sent a book on past life regression. I read it and was forced to consider that it might be valid due to the overwhelming evidence in the book "Many Lives, Many Masters" by Brian Weiss. As a scholarly person I needed more evidence, so I went to the Stout Library and read seven books on the topic of reincarnation. The evidence forced me to conclude that my prior view was wrong.
Indeed there is much scientific evidence for this position (see the research of Ian
Stevenson, for example). It also leads to the conclusion that we have a soul and that there is a God and spiritual realm in the universe.
I have experienced some rejection from my religious and scientific communities over my changed beliefs, but the evidence is too convincing to go back. I believe that if you review not just the scientific evidence, but even your own life experience, you will see evidence of psychic and spiritual phenomena.
My Story: While in Pennsylvania on a trip, I dreamed three straight nights that I was in a fire. When I returned home that first day back, my housemate put what he thought were dead coals in a plastic bag in the garage. Seven hours later, they created a fire that caused thousands of dollars in damage and required the fire department to put out the blaze.Was this pure coincidence that I had these three prior dreams or did I experience precognition in the dream state? I do not claim to have highly developed psychic ability, but that is only one of a number of personal stories of myself or family members or acquaintances that are not explainable in Dr. Scott's view of life.
I encourage all readers to look at the possibility of a spiritual/metaphysical realm in life, to know that they are spiritual beings with a soul and to open mindedly search for ways to grow spiritually. And, oh yes, it's good to know science, too, but don't let the scientists cover their eyes to truths that challenge their assumptions.
Ken Parejko - Biologist
As a scientist (biologist) and I believe, a very spiritual person, I think we have something to gain from the views of both Dr. Scott and Dr. Salt.It is clear to me in my classes that students do not have a firm grasp on what science really is. It is not a hard set of facts as presented in textbooks.Science is a process by which we come to understand the natural world and ourselves. It is not the only avenue to such an understanding, but it is a powerfully accurate and reliable way.
Walk into a room and flip on a light switch. A whole series of events occurs that depend on our understanding of metals, electricity, dynamos and so on.This understanding did not come through metaphysics. It came through physics. Asking a shaman to magically create lights is much less reliable.
Once students come to understand that scientific knowledge is always tenuous and subject to change, then science becomes much more interesting and exciting. What science does offer us is a way to judge claims about the natural world.What is the evidence for the claim, we must ask? Does the claim go beyond the evidence?
And as Carl Sagan and Bill Nye so often put it, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Claims of the influence of stars on human or earthly events, or the efficacy of numerology, of alien abductions, of the healing power of magnets or of clairvoyance require good, strong evidence.
Our minds are rather like winnowing screens, with which we winnow the daily harvest of our lives. It is important for us to separate the grain from the chaff and weeds that might contaminate the grain.If the screen of our minds is too fine and doesn't allow even the good grain to pass through, then we may end up starving. If the screen is too coarse and allows both weed seeds and the grain through, then the harvest of tomorrow, may be choked with trouble.
When does open mindedness become gullibility? Was it open minded for the members of Heaven's Gate to believe that a spaceship was shadowing the comet Hale-Bopp and that their destiny was to climb aboard? Is it open mindedness for participants in the Flame Foundation to pay $800 apiece to hear a lecture on why they, like the two founders of the foundation, are in fact immortal? Not in the spiritual sense, but in actual physicality. All they have to do is believe that they will never die and they won't, they are told.Several years ago in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, a strange-looking crystal skull was found in the desert. The local newspaper reported how people felt strange vibrations coming out of the skull, weird things began to happen to its finders and a psychic recommended that the owners keep a good distance from it. It was claimed the skull came from Atlantis, or was an alien artifact with supernatural powers. Were these people being open minded? The owners of the property adjacent to where the skull was found read about it in the paper and called in to point out that their son was a glass-blower who made crystal glass skulls and he had discarded that particular skull exactly where it had been found. When Colin Andrews, who publicized the crop circles of England, was shown a certain crop circle, he pointed out how it was too intricate to possibly have been made by humans. There was no sign of footsteps. Yes, he said, obviously created by extraterrestrials. Even after the reporters who had made that crop circle the night before showed him a videotape of them making it, he insisted it was not made by humans. It is not only scientists who become close minded and refuse to face the evidence.
The line between open mindedness and gullibility is sometimes a fine one. Intellect and the scientific method help us to not fall, or jump, over it. If we are to learn from human history, which is full of the terrible consequences of uncritical gullibility, then we should pause along with Dr. Scott and be concerned for the future.
Unfortunately, TV programs like "Dark Skies" and "X-Files" confuse the scientifically naive. One professor at the University of California recently complained that as evidence for the reality of alien abductions, college students in an astronomy class were citing episodes of the "X-Files." In modern America, the boundary between fiction and fact has become dangerously blurred.
Most of us have had experiences that science cannot explain. As Dr. Salt points out, to deny the spiritual aspect of life is to deny an important, fundament