Noel Edmonds has been all over the UK media in the last few days — not because of his quiz show, but because he thoughtlessly ventured into the realm of alternative medicine. It seems he has long been a fan of an odd little machine called the ‘EMPpad’. He got carried away and tweeted: ‘A simple box that slows ageing, reduces pain, lifts depression and stress and tackles cancer. Yep tackles cancer!’ (The manufacturers of the box quickly covered their backs, stating: ‘The opinions of Mr Noel Edmonds are his alone and do not reflect in any way the opinions of us at EMPpad. We had no discussion, input or prior knowledge of the content of Mr Edmonds’ statement and we do not agree with it in any way, shape or form’).
Has Mr Edmonds lost his marbles? Is he hallucinating? Far from it! He has merely made the mistake of believing the mumbo-jumbo that some alternative practitioners have been spouting for decades.
The device is one of many known to connoisseurs of quackery as bioresonance machines. Bioresonance? Sounds scientific! Yes, the name is meant to impress the gullible. Even in the realm of alternative medicine, it is hard to find an area where more pseudo-scientific language is used for confusing the public. But the idea is neither innovative nor scientific. In fact, it is not even very original; the Germans have been using it for ages.
Bioresonance therapy was invented about 40 years ago by the Germans Franz Morell and Erich Rasche. Initially they marketed it as ‘MORA therapy’ (MOrell + RAsche). The concept of bioresonance is that the machine’s electromagnetic waves create a resonance in our body’s cells which, in turn, brings about the desired effects. The device seems to be modelled on the E-meter used by Scientologists and chiropractors, which the bioresonance creators sought to improve. Franz Morell, it has been reported, had links with Scientology; it would be interesting to know whether this is also true for Noel Edmonds.
The proponents of bioresonance are keen to advertise what they believe is the huge potential of their machines: not only can they accurately detect a wide variety of conditions, they can even treat them. No drugs, no side effects, no worries! And all that simply by stimulating a change of ‘resonance’ in the cells, and reversing the abnormality caused by the disease.
There is just one little snag: none of this is true.
The claims made for bioresonance fly in the face of science. In other words, the plausibility of the whole thing is close to zero. To which the bioresonance fans, of course, say that scientists do not know everything; science is not yet quite advanced enough to explain their ground-breaking innovations; one day soon the explanations will be found in quantum mechanics, etc — the usual spiel.
They seem to forget that any scientific explanation for any effect is entirely unnecessary. Why? For the simple reason that there is no effect. There is absolutely no proof that bioresonance affects our body in any meaningful way, and there certainly is no evidence that any condition, disease or symptom can be diagnosed or cured with it.
It may do nothing to the body, but it surely does a lot to your wallet. The EMPpad apparently costs £2,315. And there is an even more important downside: if you believe the enthusiasts and think that bioresonance cures your cancer, you are likely to forfeit conventional treatments — and that, as sure as hell, would hasten your demise.
Back to poor old Noel Edmonds. Poor? No, not exactly. If he can afford an EMPpad, he must be quite well off. But he is clearly ignorant in matters about health. His tweet was daft and the whole thing should really be too trivial for words.
But sadly it isn’t. Whenever celebs open their mouths about this or that alternative treatment – and, by Jove, they do this often — the impact is significant. We live in a world where the word of a VIP seems to count more than that of an expert. This is sad, depressing and lamentable. But it is not the fault of the celebs. It is clearly our own mistake, and it is high time that we correct it.
The next time a quiz master, film star, pop musician or Royal comes out with an obvious triviality about health, we ought to do just two simple things: first we should laugh at them a bit, and then we must ignore them.
Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter, is the author of A Scientist in Wonderland and the awardee of the John Maddox Prize 2015 for standing up for science. He blogs at edzardernst.com.