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Looking at Iridology

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, a young Hungarian boy, Ignatz Pecely was attacked by an owl.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, a young Hungarian boy, Ignatz Pecely was attacked by an owl. A fight ensued and as Ignatz managed not only to fend off the attacker but to break its leg. Probably feeling somewhat remorseful, he took the bird home so that it could be restored to health. When he looked into the eye of his captive he noted something that apparently surprised him. He saw a dark stripe in the colored part of the bird's eye that surrounds the pupil, and somehow from this surmised that it was a consequence of the broken leg. As the leg healed, Ignatz claimed the black stripe eventually became a tiny black spot, surrounded by white lines. The iris, he suggested, was therefore a window into health of the body. Sounds like a pretty good fairy tale, doesn't it. Except for the fact that this tale has given rise to the bizarre practice of iridology, or iris diagnosis.

Pecely went on to become a physician and based upon his experience with the owl specialized in looking into the eyes of his patients. He produced numerous charts linking the properties of the iris to various organs and claimed that patterns in the iris mirrored "imbalances" in those organs. This puffery was popularized in the U.S. by Bernard Jensen, a chiropractor. No surprise there. He produced books and charts of all kinds to diagnose medical conditions. But he never produced any proof that this silliness had any merit. Neither has anyone else come up with any supporting data. And they have tried. In a classic case, Jensen and two other iridologists were given photographs of 143 people, 48 of who had been diagnosed with kidney ailments to see whether they could identify the patients with kidney problems. The experiment was chosen because iridologists routinely claim to be able to do this. All three failed miserably. Numerous other such studies have had the same outcome.

In a study at the University of California at Berkley, 3 iridologists and 10 optometry students who had been instructed in the techniques of iridology were shown color slides of the iris of 30 patients who had some sort of orthopedic trauma to the leg or arm along with pictures of the eyes of 30 matched subjects with no history of such trauma. Although many iridologists were asked to take part in the study, only three volunteered. Again, no surprise here. By not taking part they avoided the embarrassment that the three volunteers experienced. They were totally unable to match the irises to the broken bones. Just how many failed experiments do we need before we can pile iridology on the medical junk heap? Also, you should understand that this is not only benign nonsense. A clean bill of health from an iridologist may prevent diagnosis of an existing ailment and some sort of false diagnosis can scare people unnecessarily. But what can you expect from a practice based on a young boy looking into the eyes of an injured owl. Iridology is for the birds!


@JoeSchwarcz

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