All The Woo That’s Fit To Print: An Open Letter To The New York Times Public Editor

Dear Public Editor,

Why does the New York Times continue to allow fashion and style reporters to write stories that contain preposterous scientific and medical statements without providing any outside perspective from, say, real scientists or doctors?

A recent and egregious case is “Sound Baths Move From Metaphysical to Mainstream” by Sophia Kercher  (August 15, 2015), which repeats a string of ridiculous claims by sound bath “healers,” including:

“Sound healers… say the vibrations can relax brain-wave patterns, lower heart rate, reduce stress and pain, relieve anxiety and sometimes help with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.”

“‘Basically, what I do is have a sun gong and an earth gong in the room,’ he said. ‘The earth gong is vibrating at 432 hertz, and the sun gong is 439 hertz, and I have everyone face their head towards the sun gong and their feet at the earth.’ This creates an intensive envelope of sound where bathers feel as if they are inside the vibrations.”

“One of the pregnant bathers, who identified herself as… a ‘seeker,’ said she heard that the sonic vibrations are a good way to connect to her baby on a cellular level.”

Kercher reports that celebrities like Robert Downey Jr and Charlize Theron have plunged into the sound bath, and that one venue for sound baths, the Integratron near Joshua Tree, California, has been covered by the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain. Does the New York Times really need to be reminded that none of these people have any special qualifications to evaluate or recommend health therapies or scientific claims?

Why does the New York Times permit these statements and claims to be made, without seeking outside or critical perspective? The only remotely critical or skeptical perspective is provided by a psychiatry professor who is also “a Kundalini yoga instructor” and “has practiced sound meditation for 11 years.” After extolling the virtues of sound baths she offers the only single warning about the practice in the entire story: “prolonged loud sounds could result in temporary or chronic ringing in the ears (tinnitus), even hearing loss.”

It is of course quite true that the style and fashion worlds often seek to appropriate the authority and language of the health and science worlds. Coverage of this phenomenon in the New York Times is warranted, but this coverage must include careful and critical scrutiny by reporters. Quite simply, health and science topics should not be covered like fashion shows.


Larry Husten





  1. Excellent letter, but the advertisement between the body and signature robs it of full impact.

    Without skeptical inquiry and reporting, stories on these ‘medical’ practices are little better than endorsements or ads. Whether or not any benefits are placebo, there are risks in alternative medicine including the risk of not treating a genuine medical condition with proven methods. By supporting and promoting unproven methods, the Times is actively harming its readers.

  2. I don’t come from the medical world, but as a former small-town reporter I would guess that neither the editors, the lifestyle/features reporters, nor the advertising and subscriptions departments, want these entertainment pieces to contain the cold-water splash of skepticism or serious research. Perhaps they fear that readers don’t like or want that, or that, if they do, they will seek it out in sources other than lifestyle sections. Perhaps it’s not a case of “allowing” stories that lack any skeptical/expert perspective, but rather of case of the reporters being DIRECTED to produce the sort of pieces they do. I agree with you that “Quite simply, health and science topics should not be covered like fashion shows.”

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