According to her blog, Anastasia Kutt describes herself as an “energy healing therapist”, a “registered Reiki Master/Teacher”, a “certified Trilotherapist” and a “Yuen Method practitioner”. Until very recently, she was also a “workshop facilitator” associated with the University of Alberta. She appears to offer both spoon bending and tantric sex workshops, but her major focus appears to be on providing various Reiki courses to people that include topics such as “psychic surgery”, “aura cleansing”, “chakra cleaning”, “removing specific energy blockages” etc. for the cheap price of 350 USD for the first two levels and 500 USD for the final third level so that you can become a full-fledged “Reiki Master Practitioner”. If you do not mind being fooled into giving away more money, there is even a course to become a “Usui Reiki Master Teacher” for another 800 USD, making it a grand total of 1650 USD. In addition, there is a 100 USD deposit to register for the different courses.
Recently, she organized a workshop at the University of Alberta. Not any workshop, but a workshop that involved the promotion of “energy healing therapies” and spoon bending. Yes, you read that correctly. Spoon bending. A great overview of this issue can be found in this article written by Orac on Respectful Insolence. At least two articles have been published by CBC. Now, it seems that this workshop has been cancelled and that she has resigned from her position at the University of Alberta. This article looks at these recent developments.
Why does Anastasia Kutt run spoon bending workshops?
Here is how Kutt describes her entry into the world of alleged spoon bending:
In 2011, Anastasia bent a fork with her mind. Completely shocked, she carried that fork around with her as a sign of what she could do when she put her mind to it! She is honored to share the experience with others. Learn how to bend spoons and forks using “PsychoKinesis” (PK metal bending), harnessing the power of your mind. Anastasia will discuss topics such as the power of belief, manifestation, positivity, how to move and transfer energy, and bend matter with your minds during this workshop. Typically at least 50% of participants can bend the spoon in half, and approximately 10% advance to more intricate designs! Cutlery will be provided, please bring an open mind and a positive attitude.
She claims to have “bent a fork with her mind” in 2011, but she presents no scientific evidence for this. Instead, she goes around with a bent fork to enhance the impact of her anecdotes. Kutt claims that her workshop will talk about “how to move and transfer energy”, but it is probably safe to say that she will not discuss the passive transfer of heat energy to the surrounding that all humans do in environments that are colder than the human body or the transfer of energy from food to the body. If her claim that more than half of all participants can bend spoons with only their mind (without using force), then she should write it up and send in the paper to a scientific journal. Or have a camera there. Or invite a crew of skeptics. However, I doubt that Kutt has any interest in doing this.
Why was going to happen during the Spoon Bending Workshop at the University of Alberta?
The first sentence of her recent blog post makes it clear that she has now resigned her position at the University of Alberta and she aims to set the record straight and give her view of the recent events.
How does she describe the content of her spoon bending workshop?
“Spoon Bending and the Power of the Mind” was going to include a short overview of energy healing therapies, recognition that many people use them, but the evidence is scant. Then I was going to offer a shortened version of a spoon bending workshop that I offer regularly in community – which most participants find to be fun and empowering, and some members of the University community had expressed interest in to me. The workshop includes concepts related to energy healing and meditation, and the physical evidence of the bent spoon appeals to “left brain” thinkers – perfect for those in a University setting. I was not going to be paid to offer the workshop, and was planning to donate the spoons – it was my gift to the community.
One obvious question to Kutt: if the evidence for energy healing therapies is “scant”, why does she base her entire career on it? Why charge 1650 USD for a four-level “education” in an area for which the evidence is “scant”?
Bent spoons are of course not “physical evidence” of psychokinesis. They are likely physical evidence of physical bending of spoons. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “left brain” thinkers, as both parts of the brain are involved in similar aspects of behavior and cognition.
Anastasia Kutt admits that spoon bending is largely fraudulent
Kutt attempts to correct some supposed misconceptions that people have about spoon bending:
Attendees at the workshop would have learned that spoon bending is not a “magic trick”, nor is it “psychic”. Anyone can learn to do it. During a focused guided meditation, the spoon (or fork) becomes malleable and can be shaped. Most people bend the spoon in half, others can get into a zone where they can bend it in loop de loops, S-shapes, and other patterns. You do need to use your hands and apply some pressure – though I have heard it has been done without hands after a lot of practice and some natural ability.
Wait? Is Kutt saying that, in order to bend spoons, “you do need to use your hands and apply some pressure”? That literally means that spoon bending has nothing to do with psychokinesis, flatly contradicting the worldview held by Kutt! Again, this is not at all “physical evidence” for anything supernatural and certainly not psychokinesis. But wait again! She has “heard” that it has been done hands-free after practice. That’s it? She has “heard” it? Is she honestly claiming that her so-called “physical evidence” for spoon bending with telekinesis is that she has heard that it can be done? Ridiculous. Also, it completely contradicts her previous claim that she “bent a fork with her mind” in 2011.
Why, according to Anastasia Kutt, was the workshop withdrawn?
The real reason the workshop was withdrawn was that it was based on pseudoscience and woo. What alternative explanation does Kutt present for the reason that the workshop was cancelled?
After the poster for the workshop was sent out in a newsletter, almost immediately a lawyer with a chip on his shoulder against integrative medicine tweeted about it, mocking it and tagging a bunch of skeptics who started a furious online assault. CBC picked up the story and published a very one sided article about it, using inflammatory quotes from the skeptics to highlight it. And it exploded in the media. The workshop was withdrawn by our team. There were many inaccuracies and speculations in the articles published, people making assumptions about the workshop and blowing it completely out of proportion.
In other words, she blames a skeptical lawyer (actually, a law professor) who supposedly has a “chip on his shoulder against integrative medicine”, but she does not bother to reiterate her previous confession that the evidence for “energy healing therapies” was scant. Why did Kutt not consider that this lawyer objected precisely because of this reason? Kutt also appeals to false balance, when she claims that the CBC wrote an article (see link at the end of the post) about the issue that has “very one-sided”. But presenting the scientific stance on spoon bending is not one-sided, but a sign of objectivity. Kutt claims the article was flawed, but does not list any examples or arguments for why those examples are inaccurate.
To sum up, she blames the withdrawal of the workshop on a lawyer, instead of the scientific failings of her workshop and the fact that the University of Alberta probably do not want to be associated with such extreme nonsense.
What does Anastasia Kutt think about skeptics?
Kutt seems to have a very negative view of skeptics, going so far as to put the word itself in scare-quotes:
From here, the “skeptics” started attacking integrative health as a whole, saying it has no place in a University setting. Integrative health includes many therapies that help many people and have a lot of evidence – such as meditation, acupuncture, meditation, yoga and chiropractic care. Health Canada estimates that over 70% of Canadians use these therapies! Shouldn’t doctors be able to have educated conversations about them and some kind of understanding? Why can’t doctors have new experiences? Why are skeptics trying to keep these doctors closed-minded?
That’s right, pseudoscience and fake therapies have no place being taught as facts at universities. It is not enough to claim that fake therapies help people, because it should be demonstrated to be superior to placebo in well-designed clinical trials. Kutt claims there is evidence for efficacy, but she presents none. How convenient! She also appeals to popularity by insinuating that because fake therapies are used by a large proportion of the population, there must be something legitimate with it. But this is wrong. Many people believe many very wrong things. Doctors are educated about quack treatments. It is called scientific research, for which fake treatments have consistently failed in large, well-designed trials. Rejecting quackery due to scientific evidence is not “close-minded”, but the exact opposite. Perhaps a better rhetorical question should be: “Why are Kutt trying to spread nonsense that she admits is based on scant evidence in order to influence doctors?”.
And shouldn’t clinician scientists be allowed to learn some fresh ideas and think outside the box a little? The “skeptics” criticize many of these therapies for having no evidence, but when they are being explored in a university setting, they are bullied out. In this day and age where the healthcare system is screaming for innovation and cost relief, new ideas are chased away before they can be experienced by clinician scientists who might want to study them, or at least be exposed to them and discuss them! Does this make any sense to you? I thought a University setting is where new ideas are supposed to be explored and discussed, and a diversity of opinion and beliefs helps us grow.
Just because an idea is fresh does not make it correct. This also contradicts the common belief that alternative medicine is based on ancient wisdom. So which is it? Some fake therapies have never been tested, but a lot of them have, and so there it is not a matter of “no evidence”, but a matter of “opposing evidence”. Opposing evidence that is consistently being ignored by Kutt. Cost relief is good, but only if quality is maintained. There is no cost-effectiveness with out effectiveness. For instance, a recent study by Ostermann et al. (2015) showed that “additional homeopathic treatment was associated with significantly higher costs”.
Universities are supposed to educate future workers in science and medicine. It is not an open smorgasbord for quackery. Integrating quackery with medicine does not help us grow, but rather makes us bogged down by nonsense.
Had the workshop proceeded – what’s the worst that could happen? Nobody bends a spoon? Or everyone bends a spoon, has an amazing experience, and it challenges beliefs that energy is real? Or minds are opened and novel healing ways are explored? Or were they just looking for an excuse to launch a huge attack on the field of integrative health? I don’t know, but if you don’t believe it – don’t come! Or come and challenge in an intelligent manner!
The worst thing that could happen when people start “integrating” quackery into modern medicine is that people die, get harmed and have their critical facilities undermined by pseudoscientific beliefs. Also, Kutt seem to subscribe to a form of physics woo that is based on the notion that energy is only “real” in “energy healing therapies”, but it is the other way around. Energy is real in physics, but the way the term is thrown around by quacks has no resembles to anything real.