Encouraging News on Placebos

In one of the most encouraging articles I’ve read for a long time[1], 97% of a sample of 783 UK family doctors reported in a study carried out by the Universities of Oxford and Southampton that they had given a placebo to at least one of their patients. Some said they do so on a regular basis. Half had told their patients that the remedies had helped other patients, without specifically telling them they were prescribing a placebo.

This is a huge step forward towards general recognition of the role of the mind in health, ill-health and healing, and acceptance of the potential of informational remedies. Apparently even the UK Royal College of General Practitioners now acknowledges that there is a place for placebos in medicine.

A co-author of the study, Dr Jeremy Howick, was quoted as saying, ‘This is not about doctors deceiving patients,’ (which is how Big Pharma has often characterised the use of placebos) but that ‘doctors clearly believe that placebos can help patients’.

Evenso, the BBC report still refers to ‘sham’ treatments’ and ‘unproven treatments’ as if the author, Michelle Roberts, is still not really convinced.  She writes that three quarters of doctors claimed to offer ‘unproven treatments’ such as complementary therapies on a daily or weekly basis, and even refers to ‘fake’ acupuncture (which has been used successfully for over five thousand years)  in such terms. She misses the point – in most cases it is not the medicine that brings about healing, but the patient’s own healing abilities restoring equilibrium and removing the resistance to full health.

Research shows that placebos are most effective a relieving subjective conditions such as pain, and their effect is based on cultivating the patient’s expectations of a cure. Hence the size, colour and packaging of placebos all play a role, as does the presentation and manner of the practitioner who prescribes them.

There are still those who consider the use of placebos as ‘fooling’ patients by giving them ‘useless’ pills and potions, even if they help bring about a cure. Some consider them dangerous because they deny the patient ‘effective’ treatment (by which they mean bio-chemical intervention), and others that they damage to doctor-patient relationship. Others claim that some ‘placebo’ treatments, such as prescribing vitamin supplements, are not inert, in that taking too much of some vitamins is harmful.

Then there are those who dismiss phenomena such as ‘spontaneous remission’ as pure chance and unworthy of investigation when in fact they could throw invaluable light on the healing process.

But in the longer term there is much more at stake here than whether placebos are unethical or ineffective, or whether this person or that person gets better and stays well. Our view of mind-body and informational medicine is related to our understanding of what human beings actually are and how we function. This is the greater prize.

©David Lawrence Preston, 18.10.2018

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[1] BBC website 21st March 2013, also widely reported on radio and TV.

Placebos – the Best Medicine

It is well known that pills and potions with no active ingredients can be just as effective as pharmaceutical/chemical medicines. Sometimes they are more effective, depending on how they are administered. They can cure illnesses for no other reason than the patient trusts the doctor and believes they can.  Despite the research evidence, placebos are still treated as a bit of a joke, as if patients are ‘fooled’ into getting well.

Of course, the pharmaceutical industry hates them – where’s the profit in simple, unbranded sugar pill? Or the credit? So the medical establishment – bankrolled by big pharma – considers them unethical. They say that giving patients pills with no active ingredients while pretending they are something else is deliberate deception. They dismiss them as useless and – worse – dishonest. Of course whether they are dishonest is a moot point, but useless they most certainly aren’t.

Placebos utilise the power of suggestion. Suggestion is a major influence on all our lives. Advertisers and politicians know this perfectly well, of course, and so do parents. When you were a child, did your mother ever ‘kiss it better’ when you hurt yourself? And it did feel better, didn’t it, even though there was no logical reason why it should? Doctors’ waiting rooms, white coats, stethoscopes and prescription pads are all loaded with suggestion. So are crystals, incenses, relaxation CDs, coloured lights and massage oils.

Research has shown over and over again that the effectiveness of placebos can be enhanced by skilfully enhancing their suggestive power. The colour of the pill, its name and packaging, the practitioner’s manner, the layout of the consulting room and waiting room, the language used and so on can all be manipulated to increase its healing power.

We may congratulate ourselves that this is a recent discovery, but it’s actually as old as our ability to smelt iron and build pyramids. We’ve always known that there’s a close connection between body and mind. Anxious thoughts can give rise to headaches, an upset stomach and so on. We tremble with fear and feel excitement at the sight of a lover.

So why did the Western medical establishment ignore the mind-body connection for so long? Put simply, you can’t see thoughts and you can’t measure their progress through the body. Then in the nineteen seventies and eighties, mainstream scientists  discovered the physical processes by which thoughts and emotions manifested as physical changes in the body.

Today, most doctors have made the connection. They understand that many illnesses have a psycho-somatic component, but there’s still much work to be done before it is fully understood, and we’re a long way off finding effective treatments for many psycho-somatic conditions.

It’s all a matter of belief. Most treatments only get optimum results if the patient believes in them. On the other hand, some beliefs are toxic. People who believe that illness is a sign of failure on their part, a punishment for wrongdoings and errors they have made heal slowly, if at all. And research shows that those who believe their illness is related to something that happened in a past life heal the slowest of all.

I used to know a lady who read palms, tarot cards and a crystal ball. Her readings were widely known in the area for their accuracy. I asked her what she actually saw in the crystal ball. She said nothing at all – it was just a ‘prop’ to add a touch of mystique to the proceedings. Smiling, she told me, ‘The information comes to me directly, as thought-impressions, words, mental images and sometimes physical sensations. The crystal ball is just there to impress the clients and make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth.’

I know some complementary practitioners who get excellent results with their clients by intuition. They quickly sense where the problem lies by observing and asking questions, and whatever tools and techniques they use – crystals, reiki, flower essences and so on, even homeopathy – are less important than whether the client thinks they work.

Some very sophisticated appliances – including computerised scanning devices with impressive graphics that utilise the language of energetic medicine and quantum physics – are little more than random number generators. Readings are hit and miss, cannot be verified nor replicated. Some of the ‘remedies’ connected to these devices have no demonstrable effect yet are sold at great expense; they are nothing but placebos. Sure, some clients get well, and that can’t be a bad thing, but many feel no benefit. It all depends on the confidence projected by the practitioner’s ‘performance’ (for this is what it is). If the client is unwilling to suspend disbelief, they get little or no benefit while paying through the nose for the experience.

However, just because there are some sharp operators in the market does not mean that we should dismiss placebos in general. The fact that they can work tells us something very important about illness and recovery. It actually tells us more about the way humans heal than any number of double-blind trials. They are the proof that, given the right circumstances, the belief in our ability to heal and that healing is taking place is all that is necessary.

Rather than polluting our bodies with chemicals and suffering their nasty side effects, wouldn’t it be better for the medical profession to investigate placebos more fully, and find better ways of using them? A medical version of the crystal ball – one that helps people to get well without causing them harm – would surely be a major advance!

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 18.5.2018

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The Jury Is Out

The debate over homeopathy continues and the jury is out. On the one hand, homeopaths point to their success in curing a wide range of conditions for millions of people and cite studies that have demonstrated that homeopathy can have a positive effect – including conditions where conventional medicine has failed.

But is homeopathy placebo, as is often claimed? A 1997 conducted a meta-analysis examined 105 clinical trials on homeopathic therapies. 81 presented positive results. The authors concluded that, ‘the results of this meta-analysis are incompatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are due exclusively to a placebo effect.’ [1]

In truth, no amount of negative research could topple the profession’s belief in homeopathy, and no amount of positive research would change the minds of those set against it. However, many researchers accept that the randomised controlled trial – comparing placebos with test remedies – favoured by the pharmaceutical industry is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy.[2]

Chemistry and biology say that homeopathy can’t work, but homeopathy is a vibrational medicine which works through the body’s energy fields, not its biochemistry. It works with the body, not against it (as with most drugs), and is tailor-made to the individual. It uses very dilute substances to trigger the body to heal itself.

Is homeopathy humbug? Does it deserve the scorn to which it is subjected?

The jury is out and the lines are drawn between (1) those who mistrust allopathic medicine and who believe that our bodies, when susceptible to illness, react to a homeopathic remedy as if it were causing a similar problem, and to recognise that the body cures itself by this reaction, because the remedy it has been given is similar to the disease, and (2) medical scientists searching in vain with the limited tools available to them from Newtonian chemistry and biology for an explanation of how it works.  If homeopathy is indeed an energy and informational medicine they won’t find one there.

Pharmaceutical medicines have too many drawbacks to rely on them entirely. Isn’t it time for a more enlightened approach?

©FGATT, 8.3.2017

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[1] K. Linde and W. Jonas, Alternative Medicine Evaluation Department, US National Institute of Health.

[2] Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4183916.stm

Traditional Bioenergetic Healing Methods

Bioenergetic medicine stands at the frontiers of science. It encapsulates biology (the study of life) and physics (as in energy, the underlying animating force of life). It explains how these two disciplines interact. It is concerned with the flow and interaction of information fields within and between living organisms and their environment. This is quantum biology, a developing science which is moving in exciting new directions.

An Illustrative Selection of Traditional Healing Methods

Crystal healing

Crystals (or gemstones) have been used to help clear, infuse and balance the chakras for thousands of years. Every stone vibrates at a different frequency, so there are ideal crystals for use with each chakra. In addition, they can be ‘programmed’ by holding it in one’s hands and meditating or visualising an intention, although there is no widely accepted scientific evidence to verify this.

Dowsing

The most common form of dowsing employed by energy healers uses a pendulum. When held and allowed to swing freely, a pendulum will respond to the electro-magnetic frequency of a chakra. In skilled hands, it may be used to diagnose energy weaknesses and distortions.

Flower essences

The best known flower essence remedies are those developed by Dr Edward Bach in the 1920s. Bach ‘attuned’ himself to the subtle vibrations of plants, picking up on their unique characteristics, which he then used for healing. Many have found plant remedies to be effective.

Bach’s flower remedies are bio-information medicines par excellence, but they do not enjoy universal approval. This is because they include no part of the plant, but simply what Bach claimed to be the pattern of energy/vibrational essence of the flower. He wrote, ‘The action of the flower essences raises the vibration of the being…. They cure by flooding the body with the beautiful vibrations of the highest nature – in whose presence there is the opportunity for disease to melt away like snow in sunshine’.

Hands-on healing

The laying on of hands has been used throughout recorded history. In recent years a variety of forms, such as ‘Therapeutic Touch[1]’ and ‘Quantum Touch[2]’ have been developed and used for many purposes.

Reiki

A popular form of hands-on healing is Reiki. Reiki is an energy healing system which involves the channelling and delivery of ‘universal life energy’ through the practitioner into the body of the patient. It works at the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels, and claims to release energy blockages and suppressed emotions, strengthen the immune system, clear toxins and release pain.

In Reiki – crucially – the energy doesn’t come from the healer, but passes through him or her. Reiki can be used for self-healing or treating others, and also claims to work with animals.

Homeopathy

Although reviled by the allopathic community, homeopathy has a solid track record. Its remedies are prescribed according to the classical Greek Law of Similars, namely ‘that which makes sick shall heal.’ This means that the symptoms caused by an overabundance of a substance can be cured with a small dose of that substance as the body is able to make a ‘match’ between the two pieces of Information.

Homeopathic remedies are so greatly diluted that only the energetic imprint — the information — of the healing agent is left behind, and this is partly why the conventional medical establishment is so hostile. To a biochemist, the chemical composition of a medicine is what counts; in bioenergetic healing what matters is the correction of energy and information deficiencies and distortions.

Kinesiology

Kinesiology is an energy-based healing system. The practitioner tests the strength in various muscles to identify problem areas, then restores balance within the body, relieves energy blockages and helps the body to cleanse itself of toxins and heal naturally.

Healing with light and colour

We are literally beings of light. Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi concluded that light striking the body alters the basic biological functions involved in digestive processing, enzymatic and hormonal interactions. Dr Jacob Liberman, a pioneer in the use of colour and light, says we are living photocells. The body gives off light of all colours, takes it in through our physical being and emits and receives light through the subtle energy bodies. He also believes that colours present in the body indicate our state of consciousness.

Light has used for healing for several thousand years, e.g. the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians were well acquainted with it. Recent research has demonstrated the power of light for healing, for example, sunlight has been shown to stimulate the pineal gland (which acts as the body’s light filter) to produce melatonin, which promotes sleep, rest and happiness. Light is known to stimulate a number of brain centres, such as the cerebral cortex, limbic system and hypothalamus.

In recent times, light therapy has proved effective for conditions such as SAD – seasonal affective disorder – a form of depression sometimes referred to as the ‘winter blues’.

Colour therapy has also been used for several thousand years. Colours have different wavelengths, e.g. red light helps wounds heal more quickly, blue light can kill bacteria and ultraviolet light can sterilise air and water. Richard Gerber (a pioneer in this field) concludes, ‘Colour healing may ultimately prove to be of great benefit in treating a wide variety of physical, psychological and spiritual problems.’

Magnets

Magnets[3] were used in healing by the Ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks. The great physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) was one of the first to suggest that the Earth itself is a giant magnet. Later, Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), best known as a hypnotist, used magnetic passes over his patients to correct imbalances in the body’s ‘magnetic fluids’. Samuel Hahnemann and Louis Pasteur also experimented with them, and in the mid 19th century Dr C.J. Thacher claimed that magneto-therapy could cure virtually all chronic diseases. However, none of this was taken seriously by the medical establishment at the time.

In the modern era, research continues. There has been a resurgence in the use of magnetic therapies in recent years in the West, but far more promising is the use of Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Fields which deliver a low intensity, variable, carefully tunes magnetic pulse to facilitate health and healing. AcuPearl is the leading example (www.AcuPearl.co.uk).

Reflexology

Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific zones on the feet, hands, scalp or ears to influence the various organs and systems of the body through the meridians. It has been used for several thousand years in Africa and the East. Increasingly practitioners are using ‘colourpuncture’ (concentrated coloured light) and laser pens applied to the reflexology points.

Sound therapy

Sound waves are ever present in the universe. Every movement produces sound waves, some detectable to humans, some not; human hearing can detect frequencies from 20-20,000 Hz, some animals much more.

The science behind sound therapy is well established. Sound delivers vibrations faster than many other methods and is frequently used alongside other modalities. There are many form of sound therapy – music, toning, mantric chanting, tuning forks applied directly or indirectly to the patient’s body, vibro-acoustic beds and chairs, and so on.

Every individual generates his or her own personal harmonic (vibratory range). People respond to vibrations within their own personal range and resist those that do not. If a stronger vibration overrules the personal one, such as a pathogen or negative opinion from someone else, disease can set in.

Some notes or tones can be harmful, while others can heal. For example, low infrasonic frequencies can collapse internal organs, and ultrasonic energy can decalcify and soften bones. On the other hand, sounding a tuning fork has been shown to dissolve cancer cells.

Placebo?

Critics often claim that nothing happens with bioenergetic healing beyond the placebo effect, but experiments with plants and animals (which are not influenced by the power of belief) suggest that the effect is real.

Research is ongoing and opening up new frontiers of knowledge which build on what has been practised down the centuries to develop effective new methods. This will have a revolutionary effect in the coming decades.

©AcuPearl.co.uk, 20.2.2017

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[1] Therapeutic Touch is an energy therapy in which practitioners place their hands on, or near, a patient in order to detect and manipulate the patient’s energy field.

[2] Quantum-Touch is a method of natural healing teaches how to focus, amplify, and direct qi by combining breathing and body awareness exercises.

[3] There’s an excellent discussion on magnet therapy by Dr Roger Macklis entitled ‘Magnetic Healing, Quackery, and the Debate about the Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields’ at  http://www.annals.org/content/118/5/376.full.pdf

Is religion just a form of placebo?

Our beliefs rule our lives and help to create our experience of life. They influence us whether we are paying attention to them or not and it doesn’t matter if they are true – the effect is the same. An untrue belief has just as powerful an effect as a true belief. The world we see is the sum total of our perceptions filtered through our beliefs.

We humans can convince ourselves of anything if we really want to. When we do our minds close, then we seek and find ‘evidence’ to support our views. That’s when beliefs run the risk of turning into prejudices. We even seek out people who agree with us and turn away from people who do not.

The Placebo Effect demonstrates how powerful beliefs can be. When people believe strongly enough that something is right, wise and useful then it usually has a positive effect on them. So if they believe that a personal G_d is watching over them, supporting and comforting, then they feel supported and comforted. It’s a nice feeling.

Similarly, when people believe that they are riddled with sin and that if they don’t reform a nasty fate awaits them after death, then their psychological (and in all probability their physical) welfare is negatively affected. Guilt, regret and despair are never healthy when carried to extremes. This is the Nocebo Effect.

Placebo and nocebo have been demonstrated time and time again in the medical world. In experiments, inert substances can heal or cause harm simply because the recipient believes they can. Coupled with the power of suggestion, placebos can give miraculous results.

So what about religion? Religion is all about belief, whether or not substantiated by factual evidence. Karl Marx famously referred to religion as the ‘opium of the masses.’ Perhaps ‘placebo’ or ‘nocebo of the masses’ would have been more appropriate.

 

Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 22.8.2016

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365 Spirituality book

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The Only Difference is the Dose

Humans have always ingested substances they believe to bring health. E.g. many foods are believed to heal, such as prunes for constipation, honey and lemon for colds, garlic as an antiseptic, and so on. Then there are herbs, valued for their efficacious effects everywhere. In some cultures, they even eat soil for its healing properties.

What do all these substances have in common?  They all change the body’s chemistry, and we know how powerful changes in our biochemistry can be. Even procedures that appear as mechanical as an organ transplant have biochemical components, hence the need for transplant recipients to take anti-rejection drugs.

Is illness primarily a change in our biochemistry? Is there nothing more to healing than of finding where the body’s chemistry is out of kilter and correcting it? That’s what many people believe.

Salad

 

Healing substances traditionally came from nature

Take herbs for example – they can be taken in their natural state, or made into tinctures and tablets, or smoked. Water’s healing properties have also long been recognised, and dietary therapy is a major plank of traditional Chinese medicine.  The Greek physician Hippocrates advised two thousand years ago to let our food be our medicine and our medicine be our food.

However, we now take our healing doses in stronger form. Originally most drugs were simply highly concentrated forms of plant and other natural essences, but nowadays most drugs are developed from chemical concoctions in laboratories. Biochemists try to isolate the active chemical ingredients in substances known to have healing properties and turn them into pills, powders and liquids etc. So pervasive is this approach that drugs have become synonymous with mainstream medicine.  And they do work – to some degree, at least!

How drugs are developed

But few people realise how new drugs are ‘invented’. Mostly it’s a trial and error process, and some, like Viagra, are discovered by accident. Viagra was intended as a treatment for angina, but researchers noticed a strange side effect (!!). Marketing people quickly realised they had a profitable product on their hands. It’s not unusual for manufacturers to discover what a drug will do only when they trial it, and side effects may not come to notice until the drug is launched onto the market.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a totally safe drug. By their very nature they are designed to alter a biological process. The question is – what risks are we willing to take in our pursuit of a ‘cure’?

Shortcomings of drugs

If the Hippocratic Oath – to do no harm – were taken seriously, many pharmaceutical medicines would never be prescribed, because they are unpredictable and often highly toxic. Most doctors are aware of their shortcomings. One told me that the only difference between most drugs and poisons is the dose!

Sometimes the authorities are reluctant to take a product off the market even after it has been suspected of being dangerous. For example, a drug claimed to relieve diabetes, Avandia, was still on the market three years after it was shown to kill 19% of those who took it![1]

Shortcomings include:

  1. Cost. Most of the world’s population can’t afford them; some countries, like Hungary and Cuba, fund research into alternatives simply because they don’t want to be held hostage by the multinational drug companies.
  2. Tolerance – with any drug, you build up tolerance. The more you take, the more you need to get the same effect/‘benefits’.
  3. Side effects. Read the information leaflet that comes with any prescribed drug, and you will find a long (and sometime shocking) list of its possible side effects. For example, Seroxat (Paroxetine) has been blamed for causing chronic hepatitis, seizures, suicidal tendencies and abnormal bleeding and is also believed to raise the suicide rate by a factor of eight!!!
  4. Modern medicine assumes that we all function the same, hence individual differences are not taken into account. No-one knows for sure what a drug will do to an individual until they take it.
  5. Addiction. There is no difference in effect between addiction to street drugs like heroin and addiction to, say, painkillers, the only difference is that the latter are easily available.
  6. Suppressing short-term symptoms using drugs can cause long-term illness.
  7. Drugs also distort diagnoses. When a new drug is announced to address a particular condition, suddenly more people seek treatment claiming to have that condition.

Antidepressants

Over 80% of prescriptions for anti-depressants are for SSRI’s – Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors, the best known of which are Paroxetine and Fluoxetine (Prozac).

They are based on a theory first proposed in 1967, that people become depressed because they are low in serotonin, a neurotransmitter which acts on the peripheral and central nervous system. However, this theory has never been proved. One expert, Dr Jeffrey Lacasse from Florida State University[2], states ‘There is not a single peer-reviewed article that can be accurately cited to support claims of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder.’

Until the 1990s, research (mostly financed by the pharmaceutical companies) showed that antidepressants helped about three quarters of people with depression, which reinforced the belief that they were safe and effective. But then a seminal study in 1998[3] showed that, yes, they lift depression in most patients, but are no more than effective than placebos.

There are alternatives. Psychotherapy works well for moderate and severe depression, and  a combination of psychotherapy and a short course of antidepressants works even better. But except in cases of very severe chronic depression, the largest part of the drugs’ effect comes from the fact that patients expect to be helped by them, and not from any direct chemical action on the brain.

The debate continues, and sadly in the public consciousness, the pharmaceutical companies with their huge advertising and public relations budgets are probably winning.

Modern medicine

Preventative drugs

It is in the drug companies’ interests to make us dependent on them, which is why a new generation of drugs don’t just treat the problems we have, but are marketed as preventatives for illnesses we may have one day. Statins, for example, reduce cholesterol in the blood, thus – it is claimed – reducing the risk of heart attacks, angina and strokes. These claims are based on the premise that high cholesterol is a major factor in heart attacks – yet 75% of heart attack victims have been shown to have normal levels of cholesterol!

The pharmaceutical companies recommend that statins be given to people with ‘normal’ levels of cholesterol as a preventative – hence ‘normal’ is now perceived as ‘risky.’  They want us all to take drugs as preventatives, not just those who are ill. The public increasingly accept this, believing they can have a longer, healthier life the easy way.

It seems the pharmaceutical industry has us under mass hypnosis. It dominates the medical journals and reigns unchallenged in medical schools. It spends a fortune on sales promotion and successfully challenges any approach to healing that does not serve its interests (including most forms of natural medicine).

Do drugs have their place?

Despite all this, drugs do have their place. They can bring quick relief; sometimes they are essential because they are all we have, such as anti-rejection drugs which can bring transplant patients a reasonable quality of life, and drugs for mental health conditions such as bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia which enable sufferers to live a relatively normal life.

I believe that one day most pharmaceuticals will be as redundant as leeches are today. As a society we are still to tap the full potential of the mind’s capacity to heal or take energy and informational medicine seriously. The new AcuPearl range, for instance, has shown remarkable effects for pain relief, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Can you imagine Dr Crusher using pharmaceuticals on the Starship Enterprise? I think not!

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 8.5.2016

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[1] Source: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, e-bulletin, 2nd March 2010, www.wddty.com

[2] Co author of the essay, ‘Serotonin and Depression: A Disconnect Between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature,’ PLoS Med, 2005; 12: 1211-6

[3] Whose findings were reinforced by landmark research in The Journal of the American Medical Association conducted by Irving Kirsch and Guy Sapirstein of the University of Connecticut.