Talking warts away

I was reading here a couple days ago and ran across a reference to this Randi guy that offers a million bucks for proof of the paranormal, mystical, etc. I checked out a bunch of stuff I found about him and was contemplating the whole idea and then, I remembered something while I was just now crawling into bed.

When I was a child, I had warts on my knee. First one, then two, then ten, then too many to count in a cluster. Without going into all the pains of a grade schooler with warts, I’ll just cut to the chase. Someone refered my mom to a man who could “talk” warts off. She took me, he looked at them, rubbed them a bit, whispered a little something over them and told me they would be gone before school started in the fall. And they were.

I have also known “fire talkers” though I never experienced that. They could supposedly talk the “fire” out of a burn and render it painless and scarless. Both of these secrets are supposed to be passed from male to female or vice versa, and a non family member in order to preserve the remedy or whatever the heck it is. I don’t know what it is, I am not a person of great faith nor was I asked or instructed to pray or be of any kind of faith when the warts were removed. I was just told not to think about them. And they went away in a matter of weeks. Actually, I don’t recall them shrinking or anyhting, just woke up one day and they were gone.

Has anyone else ever experienced this kind of thing ? What is it ? It seems to be exactly paranormal, being that I can think of no scientific explanation of it. But I know it happened.

Warts go away after a while on their own, although if you don’t treat them with medicine they may return later. “Fire talking” sounds like total BS.


Emphasis added.

I had a rather annoying plantar wart on my foot for a while. Then it went. I had one on my finger, now it’s gone. They just go. Generally they take a while. It sounds like the wart talker just took a gamble: warts may or may not go in the fairly vague period he predicts, but of course people only remember things when they “miraculously” work.

This is what I was getting from reading other sources. Most all who have observed or experienced the effect agree it works although no one can exactly explain how. It is usually explained in terms of suggestive thought, placebo effect or faith. I don’t buy the idea that the wart guy takes a gamble on the warts going away in a couple weeks when people have had them for years. I think it would be an extroidinary example of beating the odds for a person to be able to win this gamble often enough to not be completely discredited as a fraud, considering the relatively small window he has to work with in the long life cycle of warts.


Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy?

This eagerness to jump to “paranormal” to explain something beyond one’s personal suite of scientific explanations is what keeps these sorts of charlatans in business.

Warts disappear when the immune system decides it’s time for them to go. Manipulation of any kind has been thought to possibly stimulate an immune response. It’s very common for them to disappear “spontaneously.” Lghting a candle and chanting is likely to be a successful stratagem as is Wart Whispering. The gullible will continue to ascribe the fact of resolution to the antecedent event, falling into the logical fallacy referenced above.

“Hypnosis has also been tried as a means of activating the immune system. When studied scientifically, hypnotic suggestion has proven to be as powerful as many conventional medical treatments at getting rid of warts. ‘Charming warts’ is particularly effective with children, and is discussed in leading medical textbooks I’ve had success with dabbing warts with paint and letting children watch them glow under a black light! For added impact, I’ve sometimes pressed a painted wart onto a piece of filter paper to make a spot, and then burned the paper. I tell the child it will fall off in two weeks - and it does!”

“Imagine them gone. Warts can be “visualized” away, according to studies by Nicholas Spanos, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. “We tell patients to imagine that their warts are shrinking, that they can feel the tingling as their warts dissolve and their skin becomes clear,” he says. “Initially we give them about two minutes of this type of imagery, then we have them practice on their own at home for five minutes a day.” Results: Warts disappear in about one of three people this way.”

“To this day, nobody can explain the wart charming phenomenon except to say that in many cases it works.”

Published, controlled studies of the use of hypnosis to cure warts are confined to using direct suggestion in hypnosis (DSIH), with cure rates of 27% to 55%. Prepubertal children respond to DSIH almost without exception, but adults often do not. Clinically, many adults who fail to respond to DSIH will heal with individual hypnoanalytic techniques that cannot be tested against controls. By using hypnoanalysis on those who failed to respond to DSIH, 33 of 41 (80%) consecutive patients were cured, two were lost to follow-up, and six did not respond to treatment. Self-hypnosis was not used. Several illustrative cases are presented.

Business ? You understand that wart charmers charge nothing ?

And contrary to your assertion, I am never eager to jump to paranormal. However, as defined in terms of something that can not be explained by science, the word itself confirms that somethings have yet to be explained by science.

To follow up on the part of your post about Randi, while this does seem like it would qualify as a paranormal ability, it might be hard to fit it into a test protocol for the purposes of the million dollar challenge.

Note that I have nothing to do with Randi or his organization, so if you were thinking of pursuing the challenge, obviously you’d have to contact them and see what they thought, and if a test protocol could be agreed upon. I also understand it wasn’t you doing the wart talking, so my comment would apply to one of the people doing this.

I can see problems creating a test. As has been stated, warts go away on their own sometimes. I had some warts as a child (also on my knees, I wonder if that’s a common place?), and they would come and go. So testing this would likely involve several rounds, with control groups and the whole works in order to come up with results that could be considered reliable. Also, each round of testing could not be done under controlled observation in a day or two. It would takes weeks at a minimum, and except for unusual circumstances, the subjects would be away from observation for most of that time.

Also, what kind of placebo do you use to test against? If there is a curative effect here and it is the placebo effect, that could make it tricky. My belief is that Randi is looking for people who have special powers (as hard as that is to define), not just someone who demonstrates the fact that people respond in different ways if you tell them strange things.

But again, I’m not Randi or any part of his organization. It’s possible that if you contact them and submit a valid application (after qualifying under their new rules) that a test protocol could be worked out that would satisfy you both, and be a proof that the healing came from the power of the healer, and wasn’t just a statistical anomaly or a standard immune system response to some ordinary stimulus.

However, if you could work out such a test protocol, and then pass the test, you’d be not only rich, but likely famous at some level.

Actually, here I disagree with you. I think this is exactly the kind of think a scammer might do.

He knows that out of all the people he sees, some will get better and will be perfectly happy. Some may get a little better, or not get better, but won’t be ticked off enough to come back and complain.

Some will come back, but remember that the people who went in the first place are very likely to be predisposed to believe. So when they come back, he tells them some BS story (you didn’t have enough faith, you got infected again, you didn’t tell me you had green car, etc.) and “treats” them again. And again, if needed. And with every round of treatment, the odds are that more and more of the cases get completely better on their own, get a little better or no better but give up and don’t come back.

For the rest of the cases, he tries to convince them that they are a “hard” case and refers them to someone else. After all, does your doctor give you your money back or quit seeing people because they can’t cure the pain in your feet? No, they send you to a specialist.

So whether they make money by actual charging or by “spontaneous” donations from happy customers, or are just in it for the fun, or are themselves fooled and think they’re helping, it fairly easy to see how this could be kept up as an ongoing process.

I won’t be applying to the Randi test. I have no paranormal powers and I don’t subscribe to them, in general. However, the wart thing came to mind and from there I began to think of the placebo effect. The power of suggestion, faith healing, whatever you wish to call it, is not only widely publicized but widely accepted by science as being a real phenomenon although there is no explanation of it other than “if you believe it, it can happen”. Give people sugar pills and tell them they are drugs and all kinds of things have been healed. Is it paranormal ? Can it be explained by science in certain terms ?

Doctors in one study successfully eliminated warts by painting them with a brightly colored, inert dye and promising patients the warts would be gone when the color wore off. In a study of asthmatics, researchers found that they could produce dilation of the airways by simply telling people they were inhaling a bronchiodilator, even when they weren’t. Patients suffering pain after wisdom-tooth extraction got just as much relief from a fake application of ultrasound as from a real one, so long as both patient and therapist thought the machine was on. Fifty-two percent of the colitis patients treated with placebo in 11 different trials reported feeling better – and 50 percent of the inflamed intestines actually looked better when assessed with a sigmoidoscope (“The Placebo Prescription” by Margaret Talbot, New York Times Magazine, January 9, 2000).*

The core issue is whether or not those things which science can’t explain are more likely to be violations of physical law or more likely to be things which science “can’t explain” but for which the reasons are absolute expressions of physical law.

The answer is: things which science cannot currently explain still take place within the limits of physical law. “Science” today explains things which were magic a few hundred years ago. What is poorly understood today is not paranormal. It’s simply poorly understood. Whether a wart charmer’s business model is less extractive than Benny Hinn’s or not does not increase the wart charmer’s chances of performing miracles.

Paranormal is defined as “not scientifically explainable”. If you can not explain, scientifically, how wart charming works, it is, by definition, paranormal. The argument that things science can not explain are not paranormal, is simply not valid. That is the meaning of the word. If you choose to believe that a scientific explanation exist although it has yet to be discovered, then you too are a person who believes in the unproveable, a person of faith. Poor understanding is simply a phrase for “something we are unsure of”. It happens, science can’t explain it = paranormal.

Chose another word and perhaps you have an argument.

No. “not scientifically explainable” and “not scientifically explained” are not the same. If I put a piece of paper on the ground in a light rain, science can’t predict exactly how many drops of water will hit it; that’s a far cry from claiming it’s paranormal.

I don’t like your second sentance, either. I can’t explain how to hit Mars with a lander in such a way that the lander remains intact, but nevertheless it appears SOMEONE can.

Paranormal means science can’t explain it, not that it hasn’t yet. Further, several posters in this thread have explained it, and with the usual “alternative medicine” explaination, to boot: the condition went away on its own (as many conditions, especially warts) are wont to do, and whatever whacky thing you tried last gets the credit. Want to impress me? Get the wart charmer to tell you that the wart will disappear in an HOUR, not some number of weeks. That I’ll accept as paranormal, assuming it works more often than chance.

OK, so you believe science can explain this although you have no proof. Or you predict that science will explain it. In either case, you represent the paranormal: Belief in the unproved or the abiltity to predict the future.

ETA deletd.

Not at all. Let me make my specific, scientific claim: Given a large group of randomly selected subjects with warts, I claim that if you “wart charm” one group, and perform the same physical actions on the other group without intent to charm, that the pattern of wart disappearance will be statistically identical between the two groups.

I further predict that when that turns out to be the case, the “paranormal” advocates will spend inordinate amounts of time explaining why a controlled, double-blinded clinical trial is a completely unfair test of their paranormal ability, and, by the way, if you cherry-pick the data in exactly the right way, it did work!

No, paranormal means “not scientifically proveable”.

If it has not been proved yet, it is still in that category until it is proved, no ? We can’t assume, scientifically, that it is proveable scientifically, until it is actually proved right ? You wouldn’t cast your intellect to beleive in something that does not yet exist would you ? Or rely on faith that one day your predictions of scientific proof will become reality ?