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Alpha waves

Stephen Black sblack at HERA.UBISHOPS.CA
Mon May 12 09:54:49 EST 1997

List subscribers may recall that I've been severely chastised for my lack
of respect for grandiose claims regarding the therapeutic value of
"EEG-Driven Stimulation" and by extension, for my lack of faith in
biofeedback in general. I've been accused of "not doing my homework" and
that my comments are "a bad reflection on [me] and the field of

However, one of my critics has again written me privately to complain
about my irresponsible views, but in doing so, he provides some
interesting comments. One is that the work is so good, they "don't even
require a statistician". Dr. Ochs himself had dismissed the need for
control groups because "the body of traditional treatment serves as a
control" but then paradoxically stated that these unnecessary control
experiments would nevertheless be carried out "over the next few years" 
[i.e. we don't need 'em but we'll do them anyway], But my correspondent also 
made the following revealing comments: 

"With respect to research, most of the recent work has been done in the 
clinical setting, without funding. These studies have difficulty getting 
published [wonder why]. The clinician, moreover, wouldn't even be using a 
technique if he weren't persuaded that it works [i.e. trust him, not pesky 
data]. So the issue of efficacy usually no longer interests him [exactly 
what I've been saying, but I also say "for shame"]...the NIH stopped 
funding the epilepsy work" [wonder why. Is the NIH simply misinformed and 
not doing their homework either?]

Since this post is getting long, I'll leave a further statement of my
views to a later e-mail. However, one final point is that much of this
"therapy" is based on the debatable (but never debated) premise that if
alpha or other brain waves are associated with good things, then
increasing alpha will obviously bring on more good things for the patient.
However, brain activity may be no more than incidental electrical noise,
which indicates that the system is working but is not the cause of it.
Thus devotees of this therapy are fallaciously inferring causation from

I think the more fundamental problem is that clinicians are often not
scientists, and reject the scientific method in favour of their own
"clinical judgement". They thereby delude both themselves and others.


Stephen Black, Ph.D.                      tel: (819) 822-9600 ext 2470
Department of Psychology                  fax: (819) 822-9661
Bishop's University                    e-mail: sblack at ubishops.ca
Lennoxville, Quebec               
J1M 1Z7                    Bishop's Department of Psychology web page at:                                                      
Canada                        http://www.ubishops.ca/ccc/div/soc/psy

                        "I'm a scientist. Certainty is a big word for me."
                                 -from the movie "Volcano"                

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