The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003
As I noted, fitness is a multi-billion-dollar industry in America, a rich target for ripoff artists, and the fact that much remains to be learned about exercise physiology leaves them plenty of room to operate. Perhaps the most common pattern is to hawk a new diet supplement or training regimen for which extraordinary results are promised. Quite often, these extravagant promises include the cure of diseases like Parkinson's or ALS.
Ms. Kolata gets mountains of press releases from operations legitimate and otherwise. "Heart Waves" was one of the latter. The concept for a novel exercise program intrigued her, so she agreed to receive their kit. This had all the trappings: highly credentialed scientists from prestigious institutions, detailed papers, a marketing video... Hold on! A marketing video?
Here are some lines from that video. The speaker is Dr Irving Dardik, originator of the Heart Waves concept. I've rearranged the order of these lines. Readers of Kolata's book can judge whether this amounts to misrepresentation.
That must be why Spinning is so popular.
Practical for raking in money.
Dardik claims that his approach holds the promise of reversing chronic diseases like congestive heart failure. He explains,
How about that? Simple!
Anyone at all familiar with the language of woo would recognize it in that video and become suspicious. Ms. Kolata was suspicious, not only because of the content of the video but because of its very presence in what purported to be a scientific account. But some of the credentials of the presenter, Dr. Irving Dardik, checked out. For one thing, his claim to be founding chairman of the United States Olympic Sports Medicine Council held up. For another, he had been associated with the Olympics as a physician from 1974 to about 1984. And some of the claimed results seemed plausible.
So Kolata submitted the paper that came with the video to David Freedman, a professor at UC Berkeley who has written books on the design of clinical studies. His conclusion: "It is quite unconvincing." The main reason was that the study it described, using ten adult women, was too small for statistical significance. There were more basic methodological errors as well. Apparently the Heart Wave investigators cherry-picked favorable results. Next she submitted it to Howard Wainer, whose expertise is similar to Freedman's and who reached the same conclusion. He noted too that the Heart Wave study had no control group.
By now Kolata was like a bloodhound on the scent. "I have to unpeel this onion," she decided. There's a good deal more to her investigation. Read the book to learn those further results.1 Suffice it to say that, in its sloppy methods and extravagant claims, Heart Waves is characteristic of the health scams that continually crop up. And, like many, it is still going strong at the Dardik Institute, with videos and a book on offer. Its "medical breakthrough" is pure hype. This despite the fact that the book is touted by Dr. Michael McKubre, proponent of "cold fusion." Also going strong is LifeWaves International, with which Dardik is closely associated.
Want another dose of Dardik woo? Try one of these: http://caltek.net/dan/connectivity/phibiz/dardik/ or http://www.dardik-institute.org/doc/origin_of_deseases.pdf (a 2.5MB PDF)