Tech UPTechnologyThe girl who published a scientific article at the...

The girl who published a scientific article at the age of 11

Little Emily Rosa was only nine years old when, at school, she was asked to do a science project. The year was 1996, and I had seen a documentary by Professor Dolores Krieger , from the University of New York, who divulged the benefits and wonders of the so-called therapeutic touch , also called reiki by its creator, Mikao Usui.

Reiki is a technique that some describe as ancient, created in 1922 . According to its bases, the practitioner can detect the root of health problems, perceiving a kind of energy field that we all emit and heal them, by manipulating those energies, and without having the slightest contact with the patient.

Emily Rose Inspiration

Krieger’s documentary went so far as to state that the human energy field was warm, gelatinous, and taffeta-like in texture . With such specific explanations, it seemed easy to test the detection capacity of that energy field.

To pull it off, Emily tracked down 21 Reiki practitioners who volunteered to take a test. The experience of the professionals was variable, although the oldest had been practicing it for 27 years. All but two of the volunteers were women. The tests were carried out in two phases, the first, in 1996, was part of Emily’s school science project, and 15 professionals participated. The second was carried out the following year, in order to televise the results, and to expand the data for scientific publication, with 13 practitioners —7 of them, the same as in the first experiment—.

The experiment

Emily Rosa designed her own experiment to test whether Krieger’s claims were true or false. And the design was as simple as it was brilliant.

During the test, each practitioner would sit at a table and be tested 10 times. To prevent the reikiologist in question from seeing, an opaque screen would be placed , with an opening at the base through which to pass their hands, which they would leave extended and palm up on the other side of the barrier. Both the arms and the opening of the screen would be covered with a towel.

Then Emily, sitting on the other side of the screen, would flip a coin to pick a random hand. Emily would place her hand on top of one of the practitioner’s hands, based on the result of the coin . To make sure she was detecting life energy, that gelatinous, taffeta-like texture, and not just heat, the girl’s hand would stay 3 to 4 inches away. So, Emily would say “okay” .

The test was therefore simple. The practitioner only had to detect Emily’s vital energy with his hands —for which he allowed her to take as long as he considered necessary—, and say out loud which of them was the girl’s on . The success or failure would then be recorded, and the test would be repeated with a new coin toss, until 10 replicates were achieved. Thus, each participant would obtain a score between 0 and 10, depending on the number of correct answers.

All the participants agreed with the conditions , nobody put any inconvenience or specification prior to carrying out the test.

The expectations

The probability of getting at least 8 out of 10 attempts right is just under 5%, and that was the threshold they set for passing. Of course, a probability of 5% implies that, statistically, one in 20 people will pass if only by chance . Being 21 participants, it would not be strange for that to happen in at least one person, so to make sure that those who passed really had the ability they claimed to have and it was not just a matter of luck, they would repeat the entire test , although the second result would not enter. to be part of the study statistics.

In addition, with regard to the overall result, a confidence level of 90% was accepted, which meant that in order to pass the test they had to obtain, on average, a grade higher than 6.7 among all the participants . Of course, if it turned out that practitioners couldn’t sense Emily’s life energy, the expected grade would be around 5—which is the mean value attributed to chance among the eleven possible outcomes, from 0 to 10.

The results

After the test, none of the participants managed to hit 10 or 9 times, only one got an 8 . Remember that the chance of getting it was about 1 in 20, so it’s easy to assume that he just got lucky hitting . Something that was confirmed by performing a second test.

Eight of the tests gave 3 correct answers, and 7 more got a 5. In global terms, the average score was 4.4 . A fail, well below the 6.7 needed to pass, and very close to the 5 that would be expected if the results were due to chance .

Each time a test was completed, the participant received their grade and was given the opportunity to explain themselves. Some even said that the failures were due to the fact that each hand has a function, that the left is the receiver and the right is the transmitter , and that therefore, perceiving the energy with the right hand is more difficult, hence the failures. . A clear inconvenience that they could well have claimed at the beginning of the test, when they had the opportunity. However, Emily was rigorous in her annotations, and she was able to refute this fallacy with ease: of the total of 80 incorrect answers from the participants, 35 of them corresponded to the most perceptive left hand— something that is also consistent with a result dependent on the random-.

The conclusions

Emily Rosa, along with her parents Linda Rosa and Larry Sarner and psychiatrist Stephen Barrett, co-founder of the National Council Against Health Fraud in the United States, published in 1998 the article entitled A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch , in the prestigious journal American Medical Association .

Emily was 11 years old , making her the youngest person to sign a peer-reviewed scientific paper . The conclusions of their study highlight that, when tested under the proper laboratory conditions, the Reiki masters—or at least the 21 who volunteered—were unable to detect these mystical energies they speak of.

In fact, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. In 1996, the James Randy Educational Foundation offered a whopping $742000 dollars to whoever could prove to have that capacity; Of the more than 40,000 Reiki practitioners in the entire United States, only one person volunteered for the test. Obviously, it failed .

To date, there is not a single well-designed scientific publication that shows the beneficial effects of Reiki, beyond the placebo effect, in any of its many denominations. In contrast, Emily Rosa’s experiment has been replicated several times, with identical results.

The fact is that there is no scientific support to maintain the practice of this pseudotherapy which, according to the Spanish Reiki Federation, is offered in 70 centers —including hospitals or centers for the elderly— by more than 300 alleged professionals .


Rosa, L. et al. 1998. A close look at therapeutic touch. JAMA, 279(13), 1005-1010.
DOI: 10.1001/jama.279.13.1005

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