Friday, September 12, 2008

Biorhythm Theory is Essentially a Pseudoscience

Another slashing article about biorhythm theory.

Biorhythm theory is essentially a pseudoscience, purporting to deal with biological cycles ignored by those scientists who study biological rhythms, those in the field of Biochronometry, which among other things, involves the circadian rhythms that govern our sleep and wakefulness cycles. In a nutshell, regardless of the variation of the theory used, the idea is the same: to enable people to forecast whether they are going to have a good day or not. Biorhythm theory is supported primarily by numerological jiggery-pokery, media hype, anecdotal accounts, and what is known as the Forer Effect, the tendency to perceive general statements that can apply to anyone as specifically applying to oneself.

In the various mutant strains of the theory that have popped up over the years, a 38 day Intuitional cycle, a 43 day Aesthetic cycle, and a 53 day Spiritual cycle have been added. There are even variants that make use of cycles that are combinations of other cycles, such as a Passion cycle, combining the Emotional and Physical, a Wisdom cycle, mixing together the Emotional and Intellectual and a Mastery cycle, blending the Intellectual and Physical.

Supposedly, each cycle has an integral length in days, and it is assumed that the entire cycle of a rhythmogram will repeat itself after a total of 23×28x33 days, which comes out to 21,252, or about 58 years, though for strict Fliessian biorhythmists this would be calculated at 23×28=644 days, before the entire sequence begins anew. The theory claims that the more ‘positive’ at a particular time a cycle is, the more potent the ‘energy’ of that cycle is, and the greater the success of the interactions of the one the cycle pertains to.

Too bad that science has never been able to find this energy, despite having a good track record for finding other undetectable things, but once again, I digress. Biorhythmists claim that all cycles start at zero at the time of one’s birth, and at certain points on these cycles, an individual will experience great success or great failure. A cycle going through the horizontal zero line on the biorhythm chart (ahh, now we’re getting to it…) is thought to be at a ‘switchpoint‘, or ‘critical point‘ and this is held to be a time when people become accident prone, on so called ‘critical days.’

To date, there have been no scientific studies published in any accredited, peer-reviewed journal which supports biorhythm theory, and indeed it has been tested, though as of 1998 (Hines), in the then 134+ studies that were conducted, the theory has failed all attempts to validate it. The claims of critical points have been shown to be false, and in response, many ‘expert’ biorhythmists have resorted to using questionable math to support their claims. Biorhythm proponents have refused to relinquish the theory even after it has been proven false by empirical data, falling back on the invocation of special pleadings to effectively render the theory unfalsifiable, even to inventing an entire new category of people, the Arhythmic, including the claim that some are arhythmic part of or all of the time.

Also, to save their failed theory, biorhythmists have made major reinterpretations of biorhythm’s mechanisms, again, effectively making it untestable, and therefore, not science. One purportedly scientific study claimed as a finding that, and I quote, about 60% of all accidents happen on critical days, or about 22% of all days, but there is a problem with their methodology, and the reason this study is not valid: Biorhythmists also count the days immediately before and after the so-called critical day, more like 60% of all days, so the statistic would more accurately be stated as ‘60% of all accidents happen on 60% of all days’, which is what you would expect by sheer chance.

Testing biorhythm theory by keeping a journal, and charting each day is useless, as it is subject to a number of methodological problems, such as the well-known phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy, simple suggestibility, and selective validation. As convoluted as biorhythm theory is, with the need to keep track of the rise, falling, and switchpoints of at least two or three cycles, and maybe more, you don’t have to be a math major to be able to tell that its child’s play to find cases to which the theory seems to apply.


No comments: