Sunday, February 21, 2010

Critiquing Transcendental Meditation's "scientific research"

Question: How valid is TM's scientific research?
Answer: Not very.

A Brief Overview of TM Research:
According to the Transcendental Meditation organization (TMO), "...More than 600 scientific studies have been conducted at more than 250 universities and research institutes in 33 countries. These studies have been published in over 100 leading scientific journals worldwide, and they objectively document the profound physiological, psychological, and sociological benefits of Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Programme in every area of life...." (1)

What the TM organization does not publicize, however, is:
(1) that a high percentage of these studies are suspect. The research is specifically designed so that TM will come out looking good. (See

In addition, the quote above from the TMO website does not mention that:

(2) a lot of the research is done by TMers or funded by TMers, and is therefore inherently biased; and
(3) when non-TM scientists do research, they compare various types of meditations, and the results have been that each meditation has its own strengths and weaknesses. TM does not stand out as best. These studies are ignored by the TMO. For information, google "Google -- Scholar" and type in something like "comparision meditation techniques research results." Also, see
(4) Research has shown that TM can sometimes be harmful. These studies are never quoted by the TMO. (See

So where do we come in?
While most TMFree readers are not professional researchers, I think we can contribute something useful to the research, specifically to the bias problem mentioned in item (1) above. Critics of the research papers have done a good job in critiquing what has been published. But what if something questionable was done that was not reported in the final paper?

So that's where we come in.

Many of us have "insider" experiences with the TMO. During our time in the TMO, we may have accidentally stumbled upon a small piece of the research that was unscientific. So I invite readers to search their memories. Do you recall incidents which at the time seemed simply quirky or isolated, but in retrospect, were examples of a violation of the scientific method? You may have to think outside the box or reframe the incident to see how it is related to the scientific method. You may have to consider not what was done, but what was not done; not what you saw, but what you didn't see....

Our stories will only be anecdotes, and anecdotal evidence is not scientific proof. However, these anecdotes provide glimpses which may inspire researchers to dig deeper into questionable practices.

So, to get the ball rolling, I will share my own memories that relate to the biased quality of TM research. In addition, I will relate a few anecdotes from old TMFree posts and comments. Unfortunately I have neither the time nor the inclination to dig up all the original posts and comments, so I apologize in advance for any errors in my memory or interpretation.

So here goes. To reiterate, the question for the day is:

Did you ever personally see evidence of violation of the scientific method in TM studies?

1. The year was 1980, I think. I lived on the MIU campus in Fairfield, Iowa, USA. I did the TM and TM-Sidhis program in the meditation hall from 2 to 4 times a day with up to 700 other women. One day, after everyone was seated on the mattresses, the leader announced that we were all going to add something to our program. She had something like an electric meter in her hand. She spoke a phrase that went something like: "Turn back the meter." She instructed us to think this phrase in the same manner as we thought the "sutras" in our TM-Sidhis program (the technique in which the phrase we thought was supposed to manifest in the world.) We were to think the above phrase 2 or 4 times (I can't remember which), after we finished TM but before we started the TM-Sidhis. She didn't tell us who had ordered this change, or who had designed it, or why we were doing it. The only additional thing she said was, "Do not say a word about this to anybody!"

We did this practice for about a week, and then we were told to stop doing it. We weren't told why we were now stopping. We were reminded, "Do not mention this to anyone!" And we never heard another word about it.

What was this all about?

Today, I believe we were guinea pigs in an experiment to prove that the TM-Sidhis actually produced effects in the physical world. (An illegal experiment, I might add, since we had not volunteered, and we had not been warned about possible harmful effects.) If 700 sidhas had actually succeeded in causing the meter's hand to move even a millimeter, I think they would have published that. I think we failed to produce the result they wanted, so the experiment was scrapped, we were warned against spilling the secret, and the failure was never reported.

2. A few years ago, one of our TMFree regulars (possibly Sudarsha) wrote that he once saw Maharishi sit with someone and review a line graph illustrating the results of a study showing the benefits of TM. Maharishi asked, "Couldn't you draw the line 'this' way instead of 'that' way, in order to make the results look better?" The other person agreed to make the change.

3. About a year ago, one of our readers shared that she had chatted with a researcher at MIU who was studying the "Maharishi Effect." (The ME states that when a certain percentage of the population practices TM, quality of life improves, as shown by crime statistics, pollution, unemployment rate, etc.) The research compared cities that had comparable demographics but a different percentage of TMers. The researcher told her, "In some cases, the city with the higher percentage of TMers did not show an improved quality of life. So we deleted those groups of cities from our final study."

4. A few months ago, contributor Gina wrote that when TM researchers in Fairfield were studying TMers to prove TM's benefits, they first eliminated "heavy unstressers" from their sample.

5. An old TMFree post is a reprint of a public letter from Earl Kaplan, a TMer who together with his brother David had donated over $100 million dollars (U.S.) to the TMO. He writes that "Mahesh for years had been raising hundreds of millions of dollars for his world peace groups...." (World peace groups were the gatherings of thousands of pundits to one location to chant together, thus assuring world peace forever.) According to Earl's letter, Earl said to Maharishi, "Maharishi, since you have the money and supposedly you have enough pundits, why don't you create a 10,000 group in India and the world will experience peace?..." (Several years previously, his brother David had obtained U.S. governmental approval to bring one or two thousand pundits to the USA. before this could happen, he got word that Maharishi had changed his mind and felt it was not a good time to send them.) Mahesh looked at Earl like he was crazy and said, "Earl, if we created the group then we don't know if it would create world peace or not. We would have to have the group and then see what the effect it has." Earl and David have since left the TMO.

Aside from the contempt and deceit Maharishi exhibited, I believe Maharishi was also saying that he did not want an experiment to be performed if the results would not make TM look good, i.e. if the results disproved the "Maharishi Effect."

OK, those are my offerings. Anyone else have memories about TMO's corruption of the scientific method in TM studies?


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