Some key points for the assessment of publications on Qigong and healing: What are possible clues for the assessment of a publication? Is a scientist a Qigong expert? Is a Qigong expert who really gets into the details of the art – i.e. „researches“ as part of his work – a scientist? When is a journal a professional journal? What about the quality of conferences and institutes?
Qigong experts – Science, practical teaching and their interrelation
Medical studies about Qigong often create the problem that the scientist does not practice Qigong and thus is not able to lead the group. – The clinical study is only made possible by the work of a Qigong teacher. When this Qigong teacher (or Qigong master) is mentioned in the study as (co-)author, this does not mean that s/he is a scientist. For the execution of a study and the evaluation of the findings s/he lacks the necessary scientific training (usually a full university degree in the specific field). (Exceptions to this rule are medical/biological scientists who are also practitioners; if they received a double training – formation as a Qigong teacher plus a relevant university degree (e.g. other than history of arts or Eastern philosophy and the like), they may be experts for theory and practice of medical Qigong research.
Academic titles, Qualifications and Methods
Concerning academic titles, one always should check where they came from. Leaving out the international differences, one should simply look for the scientific field in which these qualifications where acquired. – There is not any general science or „scientific-ness“. A sinologist may be an expert on Chinese language and literature, and thus may be able to translate texts about Qigong – but because of that skill s/he neither automatically an expert for Qigong nor a Qigong researcher. This is true even if the person may be doing sinological research and even though it is a Chinese method we talk about.
It is important to note in this context that degrees in “Medical Qigong” – be it Masters or even Doctorates – are usually self-styled titles of private Qigong schools (i.e. “Institutes of Medical Qigong” and the like). It has to be strongly doubted that in these institutions an academic standard is met which comes anywhere near a classical scientific formation. The same goes for impressive titles that are acquired by taking regular courses in Western Qigong schools followed by an examination which is allegedly recognized by some “national” (Chinese) “institutes” or “universities”. However, it is hard to come to a final conclusion as the course contents of these “degrees” and the background information concerning the “professors” are regularly not accessible for independent scrutiny.
- Concerning practical instructions on Qigong, the practical qualification is the one to look to, not the academic qualification. Orientation can be found by having a look at the practitioner’s teachers, the style, the way the formal qualification has been acquired and the teaching experience. Especially as an advanced practitioner, one can even try to find some videos of the person in question and his/her teachers and have a look at the practice itself to get an idea.
- Expert interviews can be a scientific method, but not all interviews are conducted along these standards. A scientific expert interview should thus not be mixed up with simply asking practitioners questions about their personal or professional background and experiences. Also the use of a professionalized procedure – as e.g. working with questionnaires or asking every interviewee the same questions – does not automatically in produce a scientific study. The difference between a Q&A-game with professionals and a scientific data collection lies in the disclosure of the mechanism behind the identification of the relevant questions and the relevant experts. It is this development of the body of questions and the scope of the study which takes up most of the time. It provides the scientific base which allows to meaningfully discuss the produced data. The development of a study involves at least a systematic assessment of the relevant field one wants to survey, a well-grounded choice of interview partners, a targeted and analytic derivation of the questionnaire (eventually by means of a pre-study) and last but not least a (critical) reflection of the process. If these crucial points are not included in the article in question, its “science” is an empty claim, as the proof is missing. – But: An article like this could nonetheless qualify as a journalistic article.
- Journalism is the base of most of the articles about Qigong and healing. Reports of practical experiences (“After having taught for many years, my experience is…”, “A student of mine experienced…”) make up a big part of articles beyond the world of scientific journals. The work of journalists follows different criteria (accuracy, relevancy, transparency, checking of sources) than science, so that even science journalism has to be distinguished from scientific research. Journalistic articles in professional Qigong journals do not differ in kind from articles in daily or weekly newspapers or magazines. Solely critical journalism may be seen as bordering on scientific principles. Articles like “Famous Qigong master demonstrates the healing power of Qi…” or “XY, lineage holder of the 18th generation: Does he now the secret of long life?” Do not demonstrate this methodological closeness to science (and – by the way – sometimes do not even hold up the standards of journalism itself).
- Also specialized journalism is not by itself near to science. „Specialized journalist“ is no protected job title, i.e. its use is not restricted to quality journalists. If someone is a “specialist”, it generally means that s/he has worked in this area of speciality for a longer period of time. The existence of correspondent scientific fields may amount to a thematic closeness of specialist journalism and science, but they do not merge into one another.
(Professional) journals, specialized publishers, research institutes and congresses
Articles and (self-published) works from the range of practitioners are another possible source for information about Qigong and healing. A general statement on the scientific quality of such publications is hardly possible. – In this field in particular, the critical reader is asked to reach his/her own conclusions.
Professional journals and specialized publishers
Beginning in the 70s, Qigong and Taijiquan spread significantly in the so-called „West“. The first generation of practitioners in the West did not find any literature in their native language. Moreover, even Chinese literature was difficult to get for those who would have been able to read the original sources. Thanks to some pioneers, magazines and associations evolved which had the aim to make knowledge about Qigong, Taijiquan and their techniques and methods, but also about the health aspects of the exercises accessible to a wider public.
While some publishers and authors continue their dedicated work until today, some of them have evolved into important players in the market. As such, they influence the development of Qigong and – sometimes knowingly – further a distinct way of practice, or specific styles and forms. Naturally, this does also influence their selection policy concerning the publication of articles.
(Professional) Associations and (Research) Institutes
The publications mentioned above are nowadays complimented by a wealth of (professional) associations and (research) institutes which publish their own magazines and organize their own congresses.
The different associations’ structures and also the interrelation between different organizations are hard to analyze – even for interested parties. In some countries there are umbrella organizations which are subject to public regulations, i.e. where membership is a mandatory requirement by the state if one wants to open a school. In other countries, private organizations organized along their different lines of tradition and independent, i.e. mixed-style, professional associations are prevalent. Some of these organizations claim the leading role – nationally or even internationally – and with it sovereignty of interpretation as to which kind of Qigong is “right”, “traditional” or “effective”. This position is then regularly underlined by the organizations’ publications.
At this point, one has to look very closely: Not every „Institute“ or „Research Institute“ by name is a place of scientific standards. It can simply be a Qigong school’s name (while on the other hand a simple „study group“ can unite acknowledged scientific experts from different countries.)
Congresses and conference transcripts
A similar caution goes for congresses or conferences and their related publications. In some organizations, these events are meetings of practitioners or internal seminars for advanced training, in other organizations they are simply meetings of officials. Some associations – especially in those from the Eastern hemisphere and their Western branches – attendance is de facto compulsory.
It is also not unusual to style a meeting like a scientific congress by means of formal decoration of the venue. In this context, functionaries or teachers (“world renowned masters”) quickly become scientific experts; and a talk about the functionary’s own teaching experience or a formal address to the assembled association quickly becomes a scientific overview about the healing effects of Qigong.
This is not to say, however, that publications of this kind – member journals or conference transcripts – are generally of a low quality. But the articles will have to be assessed individually – i.e. read critically – before one trusts them enough to build further argumentation upon them.
Some examples for critical reading and a list of scientific studies can be found in the following part of this series about Qigong and healing – will be published next week!
Qigong Healing Series
Qigong and healing Qigong, working with the Qi (life energy), is commonly known as furthering overall health. – However, its underlying idea of Yangsheng – nurturing of life force or short: care for life – does not automatically distinguish it from other systems of caring for health, movement methods or other forms of (therapeutic) breathing techniques…
Qigong Scientific Studies Scientific studies about the efficiency of Qigong face a double challenge. For one thing, the cultural background of Qigong leads to a specific view of the human condition, which in part conflicts with the Western view on the human body, which lies at the foundation of “modern” medical research. An additional problem is that scientific standard methods of medical research, which determine today’s Qigong research, are to some extent unsuitable to capture typical aspects of Qigong, due to the Western image of medicine and its rootedness in a distinct research tradition.
Qigong studies – background and significance This part explains how Qigong studies refer to their subject Qigong (What is Qigong?). The most common kind of study is explained and its background and significance is explored…
Qigong and healing part 4 – Qigong research – meta-studies Apart from single test series (randomized controlled trials) Qigong research mainly consists of meta-studies and reviews. This text deals with their function and their typical findings. Contrary to what its name may indicate, meta-studies are not per se “better” studies than trial studies. The method behind meta-studies is to search data bases and …
Qigong and healing part 5 – The landscape of Qigong research The strictly practice-related approach of this kind of Wellness-Qigong research eclipses the theoretical problems; the contradictions mentioned above seem to be solved. – Regrettably, the opposite is true: The evidence produced in such a “practice-led” research cover the scientific dilemma, but do not contribute to its solution. Actually, with this research approach it does not matter at all, if one researches about Qigong or other methods (Yoga, Pilates, Zumba,…). The decision about the focus of the studies is neither related to a certain cognitive interest attached to the health method in question nor to the experimental design as such, but it is solely a question of taste or fashion…
Sources of medical research about Qigong and Healing The difficulty for all people interested in Qigong research is that with Qigong being a exercise system aimed at overall health the articles are scattered over different research areas. The question thus is: Where to start? Research conducted at university institutes is regularly published in respective scientific or professional journals, which differ in scope and importance from country to country…
Assessment of Publications on Qigong and Healing Some key points for the assessment of publications on Qigong and healing: What are possible clues for the assessment of a publication? Is a scientist a Qigong expert? Is a Qigong expert who really gets into the details of the art – i.e. „researches“ as part of his work – a scientist?
Author: Taiji Forum
Images: Taiji Forum