Space City Skeptics

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How to Design a Positive Study: Meditation for Childhood ADHD…..

with 61 comments

Several news sources and blogs have recently reported on a study looking into the benefit of transcendental meditation (TM) in children diagnosed with ADHD. A January 5th report from Reuters Health, a news service which claims to be “internationally recognized as unbiased, authoritative, timely and dependable, with the reputation for quality that one expects from a Reuters company“, actually serves as a perfect example of how not to cover science or health news. With a skeptical mindset, a few minutes of spare time and an internet connection, I was easily able to discover the dubious reality behind this “landmark” research.

The study, led by “cognitive learning specialist” Sarina J. Grosswald, involved the instruction in TM techniques of 10 students previously diagnosed with ADHD and enrolled in a private school for children with learning disabilities. These students were followed over three months, at the end of which they were evaluated for improvement in a number of areas.  According to the Reuters’ piece,

After three months, Grosswald and her colleagues found, the students reported lower stress and anxiety levels, while their ADHD symptoms also improved, based on questionnaires given to teachers and parents.”

Impressive. For those who are confused, TM is a form of meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950′s which involves the repetition of a meaningless sound, or mantra, while sitting quietly with eyes shut. This allows the practitioner to quiet the mind and discover the “source of thought”. The mind and body are then able to achieve a state of calm and, according to proponents, reap myriad medical benefits far beyond that of simply increased peace of mind. Believers in TM have also been known to claim that an extension of the technique can lead to fighting crime with their minds and flying. I’m not kidding.

This is a pilot study published in a online education journal edited by graduate students, something which does no inspire confidence in me. I do not think that a reputable peer-reviewed medical journal would have accpeted it. At least the authors do admit in the discussion section that it would be inappropriate to make claims regarding a cause and effect relationship between TM and any improvement in ADHD symptoms based on these results. That doesn’t stop them from making bold statements regarding the benefit of TM, however, as I will soon get to. 

The flaws in this study are numerous. The number of subjects is too small, there is no control group and it isn’t blinded. The study reveals that some of the children are on medication but it does not take into account the possibility of recent changes in medical therapy, or improved compliance while on the study. It is based purely on self-report and subjective questionairres and there is very high liklihood that a placebo effect could have been the sole responsible factor in the subjects’ apparent improvements. The authors then call for larger and better designed studies, something which I don’t think is justified for these reasons, but my problem with this study, and concerns regarding the credulous take by the media, go much deeper than what I’ve already explained.

What led me to dig deeper after reading the Reuters’ report was the following quote:

The effect was much greater than we expected,” lead researcher Sarina J. Grosswald, a cognitive learning specialist in Arlington, Virginia, said in a written statement.” 

I wondered why the researcher had expected an effect and hypothesized that there may be a connection between the researchers and TM more significant than academic curiosity. I was quickly able to discover that Grosswald is a hardcore believer in TM. Just read this quote by Grosswald from a website called Ask The Doctors, which provides a forum for specialists to answer questions related to TM and health:

The TM technique is the exact opposite of harmful. It reduces your risk of getting serious chronic health problems like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. In fact, research on the Transcendental Meditation program shows that people who practice it go to the doctor about 50% less than the general population. And if they are in the hospital for some reason, their hospital stay is 50% shorter, on average. For some conditions, the need for medical care is as much as 87% less for TM meditators. Practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is one of the best things you can do for your health.”

She clearly does not come across as an unbiased investigator. In reading her other responses on the “Ask The Doctors” website, and especially after listening to a 16-minute talk she gave in 2005, when this research actually took place, which is posted on a Maharishi Vedic Education Development Corporation sponsored website that focuses on “ADHD, the Mind and the Transcendental Meditation technique” called Insights in Health, it is obvious that she is a true believer. That doesn’t prove the research is bogus by itself, but it is a red flag.

A more concerning red flag, and one which was also discovered in the talk given by Grosswald, is the fact that the 10 children involved in the study may have been coached. In the last few minutes of the presentation, Grosswald presents clips of the children meeting with the TM proponents prior to the initiation of the study, where it appears that they are told what the expected outcome of the trial is, that their symptoms will improve with TM. 

Not only are these kids aged 11 to 14 being told what the expected outcome of the study is by study investigators, the headmaster of the school, Linda Handy, can be seen at the very end of the video discussing how amazing the technique is and how it will change the students’ futures for the better. I am forced to question whether the teachers, whose evaluations of the study subjects’ behavior and performance are an integral component of the study conclusions of positive effect, might have been hesitant to give a negative evaluation when their boss is clearly also a true believer.

In the acknowledgments section, The authors thank the Abramson Family Foundation for funding and the Institute for Community Enrichment for support. The Abramson Family Foundation is an organization which believes that TM can help students achieve the full potential of their brain.

The Abramson Family Foundation has been funding research on Transcendental Meditation and providing scholarships for students to learn the technique for the past 20 years. This has been a rewarding investment in the youth of our nation. Here is a common sense approach—a sound and scientific way—of fulfilling the purpose of education, which is to create intelligent, dynamic, happy, healthy and successful human beings.”

Of note, Grosswald sits on the Board of Advisors for the foundation. Joining her on the Board is none other than the  school headmaster Linda Handy. Whatever doubt I had in my lack of enthusiasm for this study fell by the wayside upon that discovery. While it may not have been intentional on the part of the study authors, the school headmaster, or the pro-TM funding organizations, this study was designed in a way that coulnd’t possibly yield anything other than a positive result. And calls for further study, especially with public funds in addition to the over twenty million already spent by the NIH on TM, are unwarranted.

It wasn’t difficult to look at this study and see that the claims being made by TM supporters aren’t valid. It wasn’t even that hard to uncover the connections between the investigators, the school where the study was conducted and pro-TM organizations. Yet I was unable to find one news report that displayed even the slightest amount of critical thinking, instead reading like press releases from TM believers. The current state of science and health reporting is rather depressing, and I don’t see things improving any time soon as more and more dedicated science writers are falling prey to the poor economy.

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Written by skepticpedi

January 7, 2009 at 1:33 pm

61 Responses

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  1. May I reproduce your article on the TM-free blog? I was going to write something similar but your article is spot on. Please feel free to email me at ruthsimplicity@yahoo.com.

    ruth

    January 9, 2009 at 11:04 am

  2. Very nicely done! You thoroughly dismantled this ridiculous claim with a bit of (skeptical) background research. It is really a shame that reporters don’t have the energy, training, or incentive (or any of these) to do even the tiniest bit of investigation before reporting these results.
    I couldn’t agree more that the call for “more studies” is completely unjustified. If they want to spend their own money researching junk science, that’s their prerogative, but I hope they don’t get any public funds.

    Steven Salzberg

    January 9, 2009 at 11:23 am

  3. Any more public funds actually Steven. They have already received around 30 million from the NIH as far as I could find.

    ruth,

    You can certainly reproduce it, just link to the post as well.

    skepticpedi

    January 9, 2009 at 12:22 pm

  4. Actually I can vouch from personal experience that everything the study found is actually true. My own stepdaughter suffered from ADHD. We had her instructed in Transcendental Meditation and gradually we saw amazing changes. Her attention span improved, as did her ability to focus and her awareness of her surroundings. Even her relationship with her peers got better and better. Six years later (se is now 9) her condition seems gone altogether. Without TM we might have had to resort to medication. Here is a source of information: Transcendental Meditation & Learning Disorders

    BlissCat

    January 9, 2009 at 3:10 pm

  5. I appreciate your comment BlissCat but I have to say that your experience in no way proves that TM is effective for ADHD. It was essentially an uncontrolled experiment with an n of 1. You don’t know what would have happened if you she had not done TM. ADHD often improves over time and, to be honest, everything you describe is normal development for a child aging from 3 to 9 years. I am highly suspicious of a diagnosis of ADHD in a 3-year-old.

    skepticpedi

    January 9, 2009 at 4:49 pm

  6. Unfortunately, the claims of this article are simply false. There is a lot more to this study. Readers, please see it for yourself before you judge it: http://www.truthabouttm.org/truth/IndividualEffects/ResultsforEducation/TMandADHD/index.cfm/. Also consider this: The National Institutes of Health have granted $24 million to study Transcendental Meditation for the prevention and treatment of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke – they wouldn’t do that for a money scam! The beneficial effects of TM have been verified by independent researchers at Harvard, Standford, Yale, UCLA Medical School, and literally hundreds of leading institutions, and published by the AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, the American Heart Association, the International Journal of Neuroscience, etc. All these researchers at all these institutions cannot be somehow biased or whatever this article claims. So don’t let this fear-based thinking get to you. See for yourself: Transcendental Meditation : Ask the Doctors.

    Kay

    January 9, 2009 at 7:42 pm

  7. Thanks for stopping by Kay. I also appreciate your contribution to the discussion but I disagree with your claim that the NIH would only grant money to studying treatments that are worthwhile. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the section of the NIH which has funded TM and a large number of other so-called alternative therapies, has spent over a billion dollars of taxpayer money on modalites with little to no prior plausibility and long track records of failing in well-designed clinical studies. It should, in fact, be done away with as its primary purpose is to promote unproven therapies and help establish a double-standard in how we decide what works, what doesn’t, what is safe and what isn’t.

    Actually Kay, all of those researchers can be biased and can be flat out wrong, although that is not what I claimed in my article. I didn’t even claim that the other research involving TM was wrong, biased or anything else. I claimed that this study is wrought with potential bias and extremely poor design. If you can counter this claim, I would be glad to entertain further discussion on the subject from you. You link from “truthabouttm” does not work. I’ve read the “Ask the Doctors” info, and even linked to it in my post. Did you read the post or just jump to conclusions?

    skepticpedi

    January 9, 2009 at 8:22 pm

  8. Kay, your argument illustrates a common logical fallacy, known as the “argument from authority.” You cite the fact that NIH supports research on TM as evidence that it must be legitimate. And you also cite other authorities (Harvard, Yale, etc). Unfortunately, none of this proves that TM is anything more than meaningless blather. You also make a false generalization when you write that “all these researchers at all these institutions cannot be somehow biased” – somehow I doubt that many researchers at Harvard or Yale are involved in TM research. Are you referring to a single study at Harvard? Two studies? More? What is the study, and what did it actually show? As skepticpedi wrote, whoever those reseachers were, they can indeed be biased – just because someone is at Harvard doesn’t mean they are unbiased. Far from it.

    Steven Salzberg

    January 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

  9. Skepticpedi, I really enjoyed reading your article. Not only did I learn about an alternative medicine that I personally wasn’t aware of, but I learned more about how to think critically.

    Seems in my life, when I see claims about things like this and show it to others, I sometimes run up against two extremes.

    1) People who are believers

    2) People who shrug it off as “stupid” without really explaining why they think it’s stupid. Generally, just because it doesn’t fit into what they already believe to be true about the world.

    I think both blindly believing that something is true and blindly believing that something is false, without really examining, can be dangerous. It’s nice to see someone present a valid explanation of what could be wrong here.

    I consider myself a newb to the skeptical community and enjoy seeing examples like this. I like to learn from these kinds of articles to teach myself not to fall into the trap of being one of those people who just shrug off all seemingly wild claims as “stupid”.

    LadyMitris

    January 11, 2009 at 12:10 am

  10. Welcome to the skeptical community LadyMitris. I highly recommend anything and everything written by Steven Novella (Neurologica, science-based medicine, SGU, etc).

    skepticpedi

    January 11, 2009 at 12:57 am

  11. My Enquiring Mind wants to know: How did they get kids with ADHD to sit still long enough to learn how to meditate? =^..^=

    Mad Hussein LOLScientist, FCD

    January 11, 2009 at 4:03 pm

  12. That was part of their big selling point, that even kids with ADHD could learn it. But they only did it for ten minutes twice a day, and the kids probably were too worried about upseting their headmaster to not do it right.

    skepticpedi

    January 11, 2009 at 11:40 pm

  13. When I read comments that say “but it worked for my cousin” I want to pull out my T-shirt that says:

    “Anecdote does not equal evidence”

    GeekGoddess

    January 13, 2009 at 8:17 am

  14. Or even better, “The plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not evidence”

    skepticpedi

    January 13, 2009 at 9:53 am

  15. Note that NCCAM isn’t the only NIH body that has funded research on Transcendental Meditation and cardiovascular disease. Surprising how often this assumption has been made.

    I’m glad you point out that the researchers themselves characterize this as a pilot study. I do hope that people don’t somehow generalize this study to all research on Transcendental Meditation, particularly the randomized controlled trials. Studies have been published in top medical journals, including a journal published by the American Medical Association. And an independent metaanlaysis by Anderson that looked the most rigorous studies found that Transcendental Meditation does seem to produce a modest reduction in hypertension — about the equivalent of taking a second medication.

    Regarding this particular study, one can only speculate why it’s gotten so much attention. My guess is that people are getting wary of drugging increasing numbers of children. A pilot study is anecdotal evidence, but such anecdote often leads the way to better controlled studies. My personal hope is that a non-pharmaceutical approach can be found some day. I know there are some neuroscientists who are concerned that the medications are interfering with normal brain development.

    I agree with your overall point that the media could have done a much better job of putting this study in perspective. And that it’s unfortunate that they didn’t.

    Tim Guy

    January 13, 2009 at 10:46 am

  16. Tim Guy, do you know how much money NIH has provided to fund TM research, but not through NCCAM?

    Do you know what press releases were sent to whom by the TMO regarding the ADHD study?

    Regarding your reference to the meta-analysis: is this a reference to the Kentucky study? If so, the statistician was affiliated with the TMO.

    ruth

    January 13, 2009 at 11:51 am

  17. I don’t know other than a number of grants are from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

    The statistician for the Kentucky study was Chunxu Liu2. What’s his affiliation? I’ve never heard of him? He’s with the University of Kentucky. Maxwell Rainforth is the statistician at Maharishi University of Management.

    Tim Guy

    January 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm

  18. The meta-analysis was conducted by researchers at the NIH-funded Institute of Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management and the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Rainforth was the bio statistician. It is a push to call the study independent just because Anderson is at the University of Kentucky.

    ruth

    January 13, 2009 at 3:11 pm

  19. Posted too soon! Robert Schneider, director of the Institute of Natural Medicine and Prevention is the co-author of the Kentucky meta-analysis. The Institute of Natural Medicine and Prevention is affiliated with M.U.M., the TM university. From the TMO’s press release quoting Schnieder:

    “For those 100 million Americans with elevated blood pressure, here is a scientifically documented, yet simple and easy way to lower blood pressure without drugs and harmful side effects. In addition, related studies show an integrated set of positive ‘side benefits,’ such as reduced stress, reduced heart disease levels and longer lifespan with this technique to restore balance in the cardiovascular system, mind and body,”

    Schnieder sounds like he has a bit of a bias issue.

    ruth

    January 13, 2009 at 3:16 pm

  20. The authors of the Kentucky meta-analysis were James W. Anderson, Chunxu Liu, and Richard J. Kryscio, all with the University of Kentucky.

    Tim Guy

    January 13, 2009 at 3:23 pm

  21. Tim Guy, here is the announcement from the U of K: http://news.uky.edu/news/display_article.php?artid=2963

    Are we talking about two different studies?

    ruth

    January 13, 2009 at 4:09 pm

  22. Sorry skeptics, for hogging your site. :) Tim Guy, it looks like you are looking at a subsequent study also by Anderson, found here: http://www.tmcentrum.cz/image/metaanalysis_anderson.pdf

    The study, and Mr. Anderson, were partially funded by the Settle family, a family of TM believers that provide considerable funds to TM organizations. This is disclosed.

    ruth

    January 13, 2009 at 4:18 pm

  23. It should be noted that TM research has been conducted in over 200 independent research institutions and universities and published in over 160 reputable scientific journals and edited books. This means that the research has been scrutinized by strict peer-review standards. Some of the research has been conducted by scientists who do not practice TM. Much of the recent research is a collaboration between meditating and non-meditating scientists.

    Damru-10

    January 14, 2009 at 8:09 pm

  24. Thay may be true but that is a non sequitur in regards to the validity of this particular study. I’d love to see some citations however.

    skepticpedi

    January 14, 2009 at 11:01 pm

  25. It’s not only a non sequitur – there’s another problem with this argument: some TM research has produced negative results. So the mere fact that “TM research has been published” doesn’t mean that TM is valid – in fact, quite the opposite could easily be true! And there is another problem with Damru-10′s argument: even the best journals sometimes publish poorly-designed studies. You have to look at the actual studies and see what they claim, and how they support their claims.

    Steven Salzberg

    January 15, 2009 at 8:13 am

  26. Are there even 160 reputable scientific journals out there?

    skepticpedi

    January 15, 2009 at 8:31 am

  27. I’d be interested in seeing a well-designed study in just one to be honest.

    skepticpedi

    January 15, 2009 at 8:32 am

  28. Perhaps look at one of the three highest scoring studies in the Kentucky meta-analysis. Maybe the one by Paul-Labrador published in Archives of Internal Medicine, a journal put out by the AMA.

    Tim Guy

    January 15, 2009 at 10:48 am

  29. [...] Aust has an update on the Simon Singh Case, and Space City Skeptics explain how to design your woo study to get the proper false positive [...]

  30. The number of subjects is too small, there is no control group and it isn’t blinded.

    Ah.. yo umean the media is reporting on a grade C or worse study? No Way! I can’t believe it!

    /snark

    Techskeptic

    January 16, 2009 at 4:46 pm

  31. It should be noted that TM research has been conducted in over 200 independent research institutions and universities and published in over 160 reputable scientific journals and edited books

    And that is a yet another why CAM ‘research’ is such bunk. Its always pilot studies. Even when proper studies (with blinding and control groups) are done and almost always provide negative results (i’m being kind with the ‘almost’), then they go off and do more pilot studies, because the low populations and nonremoval of biases provide opportunities of positive results.

    Worse, we keep funding the damn pilot studies.

    Techskeptic

    January 16, 2009 at 4:59 pm

  32. I agree that there isn’t any incentive for them to do better studies. Why do studies that aren’t going to go the way you want them? What is funny to me is that studies aren’t even necessary as the believers will always believe regardless of the outcome of any study. But it sure is nice to be able to claim to a credulous public that you’ve got the science.

    skepticpedi

    January 16, 2009 at 8:28 pm

  33. Speaking of studies, some of us are trying to convince the Obama administration to stop funding NCCAM, the source of much of the funding for these poorly designed pilot studies – and others. It’s a waste of funds, and it’s time we scientists told the government that we don’t agree. The proposal is here:
    http://citizensbriefingbook.change.gov/ideas/viewIdea.apexp?id=087800000004y2f&srPos=0&srKp=087#comments
    and you can read comments on it at my blog, at Pharyngula, Science-based Medicine, and others:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/01/how_to_save_225_million_dollar.php
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=342
    So please go and vote ‘up’ the proposal to take away NCCAM’s funding.

    Steven Salzberg

    January 17, 2009 at 4:04 pm

  34. A poster on my blog just pointed to another study that she claims supports using meditation to treat ADHD. It appears to be almost as badly done as this one. A (credulous, positive) review is here:
    http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/05/22/mindfulness-meditation-for-adults-teens-with-adhd/

    Just thought you might want to dissect this one in a future post.
    -Steven

    Steven Salzberg

    February 9, 2009 at 6:59 am

  35. I’m surprised at the claim in a post above that NCCAM funds pilot studies like the one on ADHD. They don’t. They typically fund randomized controlled trials. And regarding the claim that the controlled studies almost always get negative results, that’s not the case of the TM studies. And it’s a mistake to assume that all of the studies have been done by “believers.”

    Tim Guy

    February 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

  36. Thanks for the excellent dissection of common TM “research” foibles.

    There have been a number of excellent debunkings of TM research praxis. An early one was the paper “Meditation: In Search of an Unique Effect” in the textbook Consciousness and Self Regulation 3. This metastudy was actually co-authored by Neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin and it debunks many early TM claims.

    A popular claim of TM researchers is that EEG alpha-coherence is produced by TM and the TM-Sidhi Program and when done with many people, this coherence spreads to the surrounding area, making people more peaceful and that it has the potential to lead to world peace. This claim is debunked in the recent neuroscience textbook, The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness, which includes a detailed paper on meditation research in general. The paper is entitled “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness” and can be found in pre-press PDF format on the web. The paper rather succinctly points out that the type of alpha coherence found in TM meditators is really no different than the ranges normally found in humans. So therefore any claims about the uniqueness of the TM and “the claim that alpha oscillations and alpha coherence are desirable or are linked to an original and higher state of consciousness seem quite premature.”

    Even more recently another metastudy done at the University of Alberta showed most TM research to be quite exaggerated or simply clinically insignificant. It is also widely available in PDF format on the web.

    A nice review of meditation research in general was recently broadcast on the BBC and included an interesting section of TM research claims, esp. their specious claims on cardiac benefits. I can provide a link to the video if anyone is interested. The special was done by physicist Kathy Sykes.

    The overall impression I’m left with in regards to TM research is one a of pseudoscience “marketing cult” where “sciencey” sounding claims are used to foster a false sense of product superiority.

    Vajranatha

    February 11, 2009 at 10:16 am

  37. The claim of cardiac effects isn’t specious. It’s documented. See the published randomized controlled trials and the several meta-anlayses, especially Anderson’s. Just because a physicist says something on TV doesn’t somehow invalidate this research. That’s not how science works. The Alberta study showed that TM has an effect on hypertension — about the same effect as noted by Anderson. In the end, who knows what the consensus will be? Science is a dialectic. But you can’t just say, “This person said this on TV, therefore it’s all been debunked.”

    Also, you seem to be confusing the admittedly controversial hypothesis regarding the Maharishi Effect with the hypotheses relating to brain wave coherence.

    Regarding Lutz/Davidson, they cite Pagano’s 1976 study, but Pagano himself later said that those results were atypical. Oddly, they also cite the very review in which Pagano makes this admission, so somehow they missed it. They also make the same mischaracterization of Wallace’s hypothesis as Pagano did– “a unique state of consciousness.” Similarly, it’s not clear that they’re accurately characterizing Travis’s hypothesis. In any case, their review confirms that TM produces a state of relaxation as indicated by alpha activity.

    It’s odd that they only cite a single study by Travis, even though he’s now done much of the research in this area. In fact, this is the only study that they cite that was done in the past 20 years. They apparently ignored all the rest.

    In short, I don’t know that I’d consider this review to be definitive, and it may be too strong to say that it “debunks” an entire area of research. I doubt that Lutz/Davidson would themselves make such a claim.

    Tim Guy

    February 11, 2009 at 12:52 pm

  38. Tim, regarding Lutz/Davidson, I do not believe that you can draw the conclusion that they ignored certain research. They do state that they reviewed the research and discuss some why they chose certain studies to discuss. You are making an unwarranted assumption.

    I do not believe the prior poster was confusing Alpha coherence research with ME research.

    As far as the bp research, reducing bp by 3 to 4 points is significant but not earth shattering and there are many things a person can do to which may reduce bp by 10 to 12 points. Exercise. Eat less.

    ruth

    February 11, 2009 at 1:27 pm

  39. What do they state? What were their criteria for research relevant to their review?

    If you believe that the hypothesis is correctly characterized, perhaps you could point to the EEG studies that make this hypothesis.

    Your characterization of “up to 3 to 4 points” may not be entirely accurate, if you’re referring to the Anderson meta-analysis (who, by the way, said the effect is about the same as adding a second medication). The control groups in most of the TM BP studies used health education — diet and exercise.

    Can you point to a meta-analysis that shows the effect of diet and exercise that you state?

    Tim Guy

    February 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm

  40. Tim Guy, the comments of the physicist on the BBC special on meditation were not based on her being a physicist, but as a scientist reviewing data from actual reviews of the research! As the Collier Chair For Public Engagement in Science and Engineering, Prof. Sykes has much experience in how science is applied and how to present those explanations to lay people. As she concludes in the review of BP and TM, “there’s just not much to hold onto”.

    One thing she fails to mention is the dubious use of controls–and a popular one in TM “research”: “health education”. This is a perfect way to show some kind of difference between the two groups of course. If they really wanted to know if TM reduced BP, they should have compared TM to other controls who were sitting 2 times a day with their eyes closed, and they should also have positive reinforcements since TM initiates are indoctrinated as they are instructed in the the TM technique. Then, if there was a difference, it might be worth reporting.

    I don’t believe it’s surprising at all that people who rest 2 times a day have a minor, probably insignificant drop in BP. In the past one of the ways TM claims were easily refuted was to simply use good controls. If we did that with BP, I have no doubt it would be insignificant or actually slightly higher since TM involves structured mental mental activity: thinking the seed mantra of a Hindu Goddess.

    Since they state they did review all the relevant research, I have no reason to believe that leading neuroscientists in meditation research would be unfamiliar with them or that they would lie. I do also suspect since so much of TM research is sub par, there’s a good number of studies that really do not even bear mentioning, esp. if they’d been previously debunked using good science. I would hope a good review would not include any of the known TM junk science.

    Regarding your later post on TM and alpha coherence. It was already known in the 80′s that when using good controls, EEG alpha coherence actually decreases in TM meditators. Without good controls it only increases within the range seen normally in humans. See:

    http://www.box.net/shared/static/8r6lzbrgfb.jpg

    This shows the findings presented in the aforementioned “Meditation: In Search of a Unique Effect” paper and how when using good controls, EEG coherence actually drops during TM.

    I also believe it’s already been established that the Anderson reviews are biased and probably really just represent TM Org sponsored apologism.

    Vajranatha

    February 11, 2009 at 3:36 pm

  41. Vajranatha much of what you say is speculation. You speculate that using a different control group would make a difference. (In general, as far as I understand, randomized controlled trials are expected to use as a control an intervention that has shown to be effective. I’m not convinced that your speculation about a proper control group would be considered an adequate methodology.) Also, the designs in the TM RCTs try to make the experimental and control groups equivalent n terms of positive reinforcement. I believe that’s standard.

    You speculate that simple rest would have the same effect. You’re welcome to speculate. Your characterization of mental activity in TM is factually inaccurate.

    You speculate that Lutz/Davidson reviewed the relevant research. Fine. We don’t know, do we, since they don’t say why they didn’t look at the research done in the past 25 years, except for a single study.

    You speculate that the research is sub par. There are literally hundreds of peer reviewers that have disagreed with you. (There are over 350 peer reviewed studies.) Fine if you want to term the pilot studies junk science. We can discount those and still have a substantial body of work that’s accepted in the scientific community by standards of that community.

    Pagano’s review was done in 1983. There’s been a lot of peer-reviewed research since then. And I’d have to look at it to see whether you’re accurately characterizing it.

    Regarding Sykes, since it’s not a published review, we have no idea what studies she looked at or how she came to her conclusion. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is a standard of evidence in the scientific community.We simply don’t know what her opinion is based on.

    It’s not been established that Anderson’s review is biased, except in the mind of Ruth, as far as I know. Again, more speculation.

    I don’t see any point in continuing this. It could go on forever, as it apparently is in FairfieldLife. But basically much of what you say is speculative, and you don’t seem familiar with the research, as evidenced by your odd characterization of the EEG research as claiming that alpha coherence spread to the surrounding area.

    Tim Guy

    February 12, 2009 at 6:11 am

  42. Hi Tim Guy:

    No I was not referring to anything speculative. I was pointing to the fact that TM has been consistently, since the earliest studies and up to the present has shown a long history of methodological errors, deception, bias, funding by TM adherents or the TM org itself, exaggeration of findings, bad study design, pushing marginal pilot studies to the media as something much more significant, etc. ,etc.

    These are not good patterns for establishing trust in a legitimate scientific enquiry. But the fact is, if you repeat a lie enough times, people will believe it. Despite many low quality studies, TM adherents and marketers continue to refer to hundreds of studies in promoting their expensive meditation technique as if this shear number of (mostly poor) studies somehow validated it! You can fool some of the people, some of the time.

    Regarding use of good controls. When TM was compared using good controls as early as the 80′s by independent researchers, it was already known to be statistically not different from people who napped. This is hardly surprising from a psychophysiological standpoint. A lack of good controls and the continued use of pilot studies after decades of so-called research should be seen as a warning sign rather than ‘how great it is that we’re doing so many studies’.

    Just saying is study is “peer reviewed” does not mean the study is a good study, esp. when we’re talking about studies that appear in obscure journals. I guess one of the interesting things about a pseudoscience cult is that you can have groups of people who rally their devotion to their guru by barraging journals with junk science until someone bites. Then when they do get published: flood the media with press releases. This is an old pattern for these folks.

    It is somewhat amusing and somewhat disturbing at the same time, that an org known for it’s questionable research would try to hurry to press competing reviews of government research that found out what independent researchers already knew a long time ago: it’s greatly exaggerating TM benefits. And to have these reviews done, the org that got caught, pushes for them, pays for them or uses their own scientists!

    There’s not need to continue, as I suspect, based on your comments, you’re a biased member and may even practice TM yourself. You’ll just continue to try to obfuscate. What I DO hope continues, is skeptical reviews like the one here in Space City Skeptics, as new TM “research” is pushed to the media by the TM Org. Perhaps SCS or a quorum of concerned scientists should start releasing their own press releases .

    Vajranatha

    February 12, 2009 at 7:23 am

  43. vajranatha – based on the arguments that you make, you don’t seem to know the science very well (but then, maybe your background and training isn’t in science) – in fact there are close to 400 peer reviewed research papers published which document the broad (and in some cases unique, as far as has been studied) beneficial physiological effects resulting from the practice of TM meditation – the vast majority of these studies having been done at many top research institutions throughout the US and world over the last 40+ years

    whereas you yourself seem to have a vested financial interest and agenda in soliciting your own spiritual practice and promotions:
    http://www.vajranatha.com/schedule.htm

    as well as a seemingly obsessive critical interest in TM (with almost 5000 posts in just this one forum):
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FairfieldLife/msearch?query=vajradhatu108&submit=Search&charset=ISO-8859-1

    just to allow for a fuller perspective

    wahwahpeddle

    February 12, 2009 at 5:28 pm

  44. Tim, one last comment. You said: “You speculate that Lutz/Davidson reviewed the relevant research. Fine. We don’t know, do we, since they don’t say why they didn’t look at the research done in the past 25 years, except for a single study.”

    I must note again that they did in fact state that they reviewed the relevant research.

    As far as the most recent Anderson meta-analysis, I would like to point out that only nine studies were determined to of sufficient quality to be included but only three were determined to be of high quality. Hardly earth shattering. I am disturbed by you and other proponents of TM that repeatedly refer to the meta-analysis as independent. This is highly inappropriate considering the prior research Anderson conducted with the TMO and considering the funding. I have no idea as to whether there was actual bias, there is no way to tell, but I do know it is not independent and you folks should quit saying that it is.

    ruth

    February 12, 2009 at 7:02 pm

  45. Ruth, a randomized controlled trial typically costs about $2 million and takes about 4 years. “Only nine studies” represents about $18 million. Three high-quality RCTs is significant. Can you name another behavioral intervention that has as many RCTs at this level? Anderson did not conduct prior research with MUM. He did a meta-analysis in 2007, which was published in 2008. Maxwell did his meta-anlaysis in 2007 AFTER Anderson did his, but he had a short deadline for publication, so his was published first. And since Anderson had already done a meta-analysis, Maxwell sought advice from him. And in regard to funding, your view is idiosyncratic and not at all representative of the attitude of the scientific community.

    But I didn’t show up to say that. Vaj gave a link to a graphic related to EEG alpha amplitude and said that it shows that coherence decreases during TM. Note that this is a graph of the amplitude of alpha frequency, which is very different from measures of coherence, which are both frequency- and amplitude-independent.

    Tim Guy

    February 13, 2009 at 11:36 am

  46. Tim, you are wrong. Anderson co-authored a meta-analysis with a biostatistician from MUM. http://news.uky.edu/news/display_article.php?artid=2963T

    It is also inappropriate to say a study is independent when it is funded by a promoter of a technique.

    ruth

    February 13, 2009 at 12:35 pm

  47. Tim, one other comment. There have been hundreds of randomized control group studies on lifestyle changes and blood pressure. Some of the studies have had hundreds of participants. The quality is much better than the mediation research on BP. And meditation BP research is the best mediation research.

    ruth

    February 13, 2009 at 12:54 pm

  48. vajranatha – based on the arguments that you make, you don’t seem to know the science very well (but then, maybe your background and training isn’t in science) – in fact there are close to 400 peer reviewed research papers published which document the broad (and in some cases unique, as far as has been studied) beneficial physiological effects resulting from the practice of TM meditation – the vast majority of these studies having been done at many top research institutions throughout the US and world over the last 40+ years

    whereas you yourself seem to have a vested financial interest and agenda in soliciting your own spiritual practice and promotions:
    http://www.vajranatha.com/schedule.htm

    as well as a seemingly obsessive critical interest in TM (with almost 5000 posts in just this one forum):
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FairfieldLife/msearch?query=vajradhatu108&submit=Search&charset=ISO-8859-1

    just to allow for a fuller perspective

    wahwahpeddle

    February 13, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  49. Ruth, what’s wrong about what I said? I know that Anderson is listed as a coauthor. As I said, Maxwell asked him for advice. And he listed him as a coauthor. (Maxwell, as first author, did the literature review and the meta-analysis. It’s possible that Anderson also gave him feedback on a draft of his paper.) You referred to Anderson having done prior research on TM. It wasn’t prior, as I explained.

    Do you have a source for your claim of hundreds of RCTs? And that the quality is much better? I’d be curious to see a citation to published research — perhaps a review or meta-analysis.

    Tim Guy

    February 13, 2009 at 2:30 pm

  50. Tim Guy, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out the following picture from the “Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research” prepared by the independent University of Alberta, specifically regard BP. It might be hard for you to understand, but the TM org is not known for it’s honesty. It should be regarded, at very least, as highly suspicious, that a TM sponsored review would come out in soon after the U. of Alb. review and just happen to refute the years of research that went into the U. of Alb. materials.

    The picture really, in a many ways, speaks for itself: TM is one of the worst ways to naturally lower your BP. Hopefully this will help clarify your confusion:

    http://www.box.net/shared/static/eycqy25sh2.jpg

    (from “Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research” University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)

    Vajranatha

    February 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

  51. Tim, all I know is that Anderson is listed as co-author and in fact most of the promotional information for the work refers to a University of Kentucky Study and makes little mention of MUM or its institute. This is enough, plus the Settle funding for Anderson’s own study, for me to question exactly what is the relationship between the various TM organizations and Anderson. Do you know, is he a meditator? Is he “true believer” in the parlance of meditators? You do seem to know a lot about the inner circle.

    The TMO has not exactly been clear about relationships in the past. For example, when Haglin promoted the Maharishi Effect research in Washington DC he talked about how certain “independent scientists” reviewed the research. When quizzed, all those independent scientist he pointed to were meditators.

    You have, however, inspired me to read the underlying nine studies in the Anderson meta-analysis.

    Tim, a quick google search will find you numerous studies on lifestyle modifications and reduction of blood pressure if you are interested.

    ruth

    February 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm

  52. Ruth, I don’t know. Here’s what Anderson says in the study:

    “This research was funded, in part, by the HCF Nutrition Foundation
    and by an unrestricted gift from Howard Settle. During a 1-year study period
    J.W.A. received partial salary support from Mr Settle. Mr Settle had no input on any aspect of the study and received a draft copy as a courtesy but had no
    input on the content of this manuscript. J.W.A. has no other connections to
    groups related to Transcendental Meditation and declares no other financial
    interests or conflicts related to the subject of this manuscript.”

    Tim Guy

    February 14, 2009 at 4:01 pm

  53. Thank you Tim. I do know that it is unlikely being a meditator would show up in the conflict of interest statement.

    I think that at this point we have to agree to disagree. I know that you are impressed with the research. When I actually began reading the studies I became less and less impressed. Because of the strong marketing of the TM organizations you cannot trust what they have to say about research but actually have to go read it.

    ruth

    February 14, 2009 at 5:24 pm

  54. If the studies aren’t impressive, how is it that they were published in top medical journals? Including journals put out by the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association? I’m glad you’re looking at the actual studies. You’re the only skeptic I’ve encountered who has done so. Anyway, I’m outta here. It’s just too weird carrying on this extended discussion on this dude’s blog. But you do seem like a nice person. And I’m so grateful to Vaj for alerting me to the Pagano 1983 and Lutz reviews.

    Tim Guy

    February 15, 2009 at 6:11 am

  55. I agree Tim, it is weird carrying on here. If you ever want to continue off the blog, feel free to email me at ruthsimplicity@yahoo.com.

    ruth

    February 15, 2009 at 8:28 am

  56. To criticise Tm and its practises without to experiment it is just foolish or have something negative in their minds. For suchs critics i say that.
    Wolrd is to process and withour inner treatment it is impossible to remove the evil, which comes in many forms.
    for the man of mustach which seems to me an alineated people, and a pseudo inteelctual I say that such evil might be with much force inside him. he has prompt terms to sink other opinions and it seems his opinions has to prevail as supreme orders. he looks like a dictator without any humanisme inside.
    Mt is as much effective as other benefic pratices to remove stress and unbalance in humain mind, without simple minds and spiritual progress maybe humanity will perish one of this days.
    To transform man to higher leves of awareness( because it is possible9 is a task and a duty of the best and responsable humans.
    Dr. Pereira
    (social sciences/Social psicholog )

    Dr Jacinto Pereira

    October 29, 2009 at 8:22 am

  57. Pereira:

    The point is, that TM *has* been studied over and over again, and it doesn’t work, except perhaps like any other stress-reducing technique would. But there is nothing ‘special’ about TM, and the metaphysical stuff is just bullshit. Proponents of any pseudoscience always cry ‘more research, more research!’ but then will never accept the results that that research when it, once again, verifies that their snake oil is just that.

    GeekGoddess

    November 4, 2009 at 10:26 am

  58. It’s hard to know what more could be done to demonstrate scientifically that it has effects. Dozens of randomized controlled trials have been done. Several meta-analyses of these show that it does indeed have an effect, including the AHRQ report. And what makes it pseudoscience? Why would the American Medical Association publish a study that’s pseudoscience. (See the 2006 study in their journal Archives of Internal Medicine.)

    Tim Guy

    November 4, 2009 at 10:37 am

  59. The basis of chiropractic is a ‘energy’ that flows through the nervous system, the blockage of which causes all diesases. It can’t be measured, seen, felt, photographed, or sensed by any method. That’s almost the definition of pseudoscience.

    GeekGoddess

    November 9, 2009 at 9:14 am

  60. Transcendental Meditation isn’t related to chiropractic.

    Tim Guy

    November 9, 2009 at 9:51 am

  61. This type of research that the TMO does drives me nuts. I’m a Governor, was on Purusha, lived in Fairfield…you know the whole nine yards. I also have been doing TM for 39 years and the TM sidhi Program for decades and I love it. I think its great. But I’m also an intelligent guy who happens to be a clinical psychologist who knows how to read research. (And my doctorate is not from MERU!) When I see pilot studies like this presented as “proof” of a causal relationship between TM and shiny bright teeth or whatever it makes me furious. You idiots, do serious research. In this case, ten subjects without a control group? Are you guys nuts? This doesn’t mean anything except some sort of weak correlation. I actually use this study in my psychology classes to show what crappy research is. If you believe TM is so robust and has a positive effect on everything, then do good research not this silly pilot study nonsense.

    drpetersutphen

    May 6, 2011 at 7:55 am


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