James Nathan Post
It wasn't long ago we were burning people as witches whose only claim to that title was believing in strange notions other than those taught in Sunday school. In recent years, however, we have enjoyed a widespread revolution of consciousness. It has been marked by political movements dedicated to liberty, tolerance, and social conscience; people have turned to the spiritual, but away from the contentious elitism of the establishment churches; science is making objective studies in fields formerly visited only by wizards, priests, and fantasists. The revolution in communication has created an active living public mind, and within it an incredible profusion of strange notions has flourished -- science, science fiction, new religions, new lifestyles, new moralities, and new cults whose believers feel the reality is seen only by those who are filled with their own brand of the Holy Spirit, whether that be LSD, Jesus, quarks and quasars, Scientology, or socialism. Even witchcraft itself is permitted to thrive, and covens advertise in the newspapers for converts.
Some of these ideas have proved to be great discoveries. Scientists have astounded us all by their mastery of the physical world. The psychics are a way behind in development, but reports from the fuzzy areas where natural laws begin to seem arbitrary throw more and more weight behind ESP notions like psychometry, dowsing, and clairvoyance. Others, like therapeutic bleeding (it killed George Washington as treatment for laryngitis) and radiesthesia have been discredited by new discoveries.
This expansion of awareness has created a new class of researchers and experimenters, people who seek out these strange notions and examine them closely, gleaning from them the bits of information which will be the keys to the future. One such researcher is Alex St. Luc. In recent years he has lived a reclusive life in the southwest, studying many new forms of communication, healing, and spiritual development. He has recently turned his critical but open eye on Iridology.
This fledgling science claims that any body illness will leave a telltake mark upon the iris of the eye, and that a trained practitioner can read those marks and thereby diagnose illness. It began about one hundred years ago when a medical student named Ignatz von Peczely noticed that a black spot appeared in the iris of his pet owl when the bird broke its leg. He began a life study which resulted in a chart of the iris showing where the telltale spot should appear for each organ in the body. Similar notions occur in reflexology, whose adherents agree there is a location on the sole of the foot corresponding to each organ in the body. Acupuncture and other Chinese forms of medicine contend that a network of "meridians", lines of energy, can be drawn upon the body, and that there is a point on the lines corresponding to each organ of the body. Medical science has shown that such a pattern exists on the cortex of the brain, called the motor homunculus. Palmists and phrenologists make similar claims for the hands and the head; they differ from the others, however, in their opinion that the significant points on their charts correspond not to body parts but to abstract qualities of personality.
Medical science acknowledges that several diseases are known to produce conditions in the eye by which the disease can be recognized. Such diseases include primary syphilis, tuberculosis, diabetes mellitus, and artherosclerosis. Nevertheless, the medical establishment has yet to substantiate any of the claims made by Iridology's several thousand practitioners and proponents. Among the foremost of these is Dr. Bernard Jensen, DC, a naturopathic physician. His book The Science and Practice of Iridology, is considered the definitive book in the field, and his iris chart is the standard. The textbook lists many marks and conditions by which diagnoses may be made, including fiber density, pigmentation, holes in the fibers (called crypts), and a dark "scurf rim" around the edge. The list of illnesses and malfunctions he claims the science can
diagnose reads like the index of a pathological encyclopaedia, and the pages of the book ring with testimony from patients who attribute to Iridology the life-saving diagnosis which succeeded where the establishment had not.
"I'm very open to new ideas," says Alex St. Luc, "and as a researcher of unproven possibilities, I'm very wary of entrenched establishment organizations like the AMA. They tend to give one specialty group the weight of being the official truth, then use the power of the law to stamp out unsanctioned competition. That kind of thinking is hell on progress. The only thing stupider than the government declaring what spiritual views are true is the government declaring what scientific views are true. In general, I think lawyers and power-mongers make the poorest scientists, since their professions demand that they be more concerned with what authorities say than with what is true. On the other hand, since prophets and geniuses operate in areas of opinion that are unprovable at the time, it is easy for the unscrupulous to intice or frighten the gullible into buying their particular hype. There are plenty of ripoff cults and quacks around to prove that."
St. Luc pulled a folder from an overstuffed file. "But this time I think the AMA may be right. This is from the Journal of the American Medical Association, September 1979. Check it out." The article described a controlled test made by a trio of medical researchers, University of California faculty member David M. Worthen, MD, US medical student Allie Simon, who had taken one of Dr. Jensen's courses on iridology, and Lt. John Milas, MC, USN, ophthalmologist from the V.A. Medical Center in San Diego. The examiners selected kidney disease as the target factor for the test. Both iridologists and medical doctors assert that they can make certain diagnoses of kidney disease by examination of the eye. A group of three leading iridologists and three ophthalmologists were given a set of 143 slides of eyes to examine for signs of kidney disease. Unknown to the test group, there were 95 healthy patients and 48 with severe kidney pathology represented in the set of slides. The results were dismal. One of the three iridologists correctly identified over 85% of the patients with kidney disease; however, he also diagnosed kidney disease in over 85% of the healthy patients. The second iridologist was correct about 50% in identifying both the healthy and diseased -- about what one should expect from flipping a coin. The third did even worse, with results below 40%. The ophthalmologists did no better. By looking for lenticular opacities, edema of the conjunctiva, and hypertension in the conjunctival vasculature, they sought to isolate the diseased test subjects. The best produced results below 55%. The test examiners concluded none of the six had produced positive results of the least clinical significance, and that the high incidence of failure to detect the disease where present, and diagnosis of disease where none was present could indicate very significant danger to the patient trusting in Iridology for diagnosis of kidney disease.
"When the study was published, the iridologists objected, claiming the examiners were biased, the test group was not given enough time, and the photographs were of low quality," said St.Luc. He dug deeper into his file. "Ah. Here it is. For rebuttal, the iridologists cite a report in The National Enquirer, May 1978."
In the article, Drs. Evgeni Velkover and Fyodor Romashov, of the Department of Neurology at Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University in Moscow, roport that they examined 1876 patients during the course of their study. They further report that without exception, they correctly identified the confirmed diseases of 1273, and correctly isolated the 603 helathy patients.
"That is to say," continued Alex St.Luc, "they claim to have the single most effective diagnostic tool in the known world. Do you suppose they really know something over there we don't?
"I guess the one conclusion we can make about Iridology is that we don't know enough about it yet to be making conclusions. I think the biggest problem is the lack of constructive discourse between the iridologists and the medical scientists. The iridologists base their science on the existence of a homunculus -- a pattern of the whole person -- in the nerve endings of the iris. Microsurgery and the electron microscope enable us to map the nervous system almost molecule by molecule. If there is a physiological pattern of neurons present to account for this homunculus, it should be readily discernable.
The modern medical establishment has access to the computerized case histories of millions of people. Photographs of the irises of these patients could easily be analyzed by computer scanning techniques and the results compiled in a relatively short time. It seems to me this kind of simple study could produce conclusive evidence. But the establishment doesn't make the studies -- it's not their axe to grind. They say let the iridologists prove their own case. Unfortunately, when the iridologists do make a study, the establishment physicians may then claim they did not submit to the rigorous standards demanded by the discipline of science, so their results may be discounted. The iridologists then cling to the unproven proclamations of their discipline's founders and challenge the skeptic to make the scientific studies. Do you suppose they would rather not find out if they've hitched their wagon to a star or a streetlamp?"
Your reporter left Alex St.Luc eye-to-eye with his mirror. He stuck out his tongue and prodded his stomach with a thumb. "According to this book," we heard him mutter as we left, "I've got male pattern baldness, tennis elbow, cephaloproctosis, tired blood, and a broken leg. I'd better lay off the chile sauce and get some rest."
Neither side of this controversy has produced conclusive results. Is it a bogus, the lunatic dogma of some kind of pseudomedical cultism, or is it a significant diagnostic tool which is being wrongfully discredited by the medical establishment as an encroachment upon their privileged turf? Iridology has been the subject of this difference of opinion for about 100 years. If there is truly anything of merit in Iridology, it will likely be unknown to the world at large for some time yet to come if these factions do not put the best of each other's methods to use in a cooperative effort to find the truth. The truth is better than faith in untested new visions. The truth is better than fidelity to shortsighted tradition. The truth is good science, and it is good medicine, and the most valuable tool of all to the person who would be a healer.