The Mystery of “Quantum Resonance Spectroscopy”

By Neuroskeptic | April 20, 2014 5:03 am

Can quantum physics help to diagnose schizophrenia and depression?

A paper just published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease claims that a technique called ‘quantum resonance spectroscopy’ (QRS) can accurately diagnose various mental health problems. But is it quantum wizardry or magic quackery?

According to the authors of the new paper, Zhang et al from Xi’an in China, QRS was able to measure symptoms like anxiety, irritability, depression, and psychosis. In a large sample of patients, the accuracy was high: compared to psychiatrist’s ratings of the patients symptoms, QRS agreed with kappa correlation values of over 0.65.

That’s an impressive performance, given that two psychiatrists rarely agree about a patient’s diagnosis as well as that.

So what is QRS? Well, I didn’t know anything about it before I read this paper… and I still don’t. The paper provides few details. About the only thing it gives us is a picture of a QRS machine:

qrs

So that’s what it looks like, but what does it do? Zhang et al introduce the method thus:

The human body is an aggregate of cells, which continuously grow, split, regenerate, and die. In the process of cellular split-up and renewal, the charged bodies of nucleus and extranuclear electrons as the basis unit of a cell are moving and changing ceaselessly at a high speed as well, emitting electromagnetic waves… different signals of electromagnetic waves will be emitted by the conditions of goodhealth, subhealth, diseases, and others…

So electromagnetic waves emitted by cells are involved, but nowhere is it explained how the QRS machine detects these electromagnetic waves; what frequency these waves are; how sensitive the detector is; how it was calibrated; how the waves of interest are distinguished from background noise; how the signal is processed to give a final result;  etc. Here is all of the text from the Methods section dealing with QRS:

For this study, we explored and developed a biological wave sensing device, a QRS (TJQ-D; Chongqing, People’s Republic of China; Fig. 1), in psychiatric examination. It comprised a biological wave detection unit, a biological operation control unit, a power, and a follower, wherein a contact of the biological operation control unit is connected to an input end of the follower, and the other contact is connected to a cathode of the power.

The biological wave detection unit is made of conductors and connected to the cathode of the power or the input end of the follower. This system automatically recorded the special biological wave and could effectively transform message into electrical signals, which can be dealt by computers, to get resonance score.

The subject sat on a chair and was freely holding the sensor in his/her hand. The special biological wave of the subject was collected and transformed electrical signals compared with computer control data. Then, the resonance score was obtained by computer (Fig. 1). Measurement and analysis released by the brain were obtained through the size of the vibration frequency (weak magnetic field fluctuations in energy) to determine whether there are psychiatric symptoms.

Scores of -6 or less were considered as normal; -7, mildly abnormal; -8, moderately abnormal; and -9 or greater, severely abnormal; size of the vibration frequency was compared with equipment standards set by the magnetic field to distinguish between normal and abnormal on affective disorders.

The paper simply doesn’t tell us how the data were obtained. We know only that – the patients held some kind of electromagnetic sensor in their hand, and that the signal was processed somehow to give a score from -6 to -9. That’s not science.

To find out more about QRS, I did some background reading. In 2012, following the Fukushima disaster, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Japanese company claimed that QRS could detect radiation, a claim denounced as quackery. The founder of this company reportedly said that the idea behind QRS goes back over 100 years, to Albert Abrams.

If true, this is quite an admission. Abrams was an American ‘inventor’ who claimed to be able to diagnose almost any disease using radio waves. His devices sold well, but he was discredited after he was sent a blood sample from a healthy rooster and diagnosed it with syphilis and cancer. I don’t think Abrams used the word “quantum”, though. Perhaps that reflects a modern rebranding.

I also found this page discussing the potential of QRS to allow the modernization of traditional Chinese medicine. We’re told that QRS has been used to detect the electromagnetic signature of yin, yang and the various meridians (pathways of qi, life energy).

So QRS is a mystery – but there’s an even bigger one: how did this article get published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease? This is a respected psychiatry journal with a long history. The JNMD‘s author instructions are clear that articles ought to include sufficient methodological details:

Methods: A precise description of subjects, procedures, apparatus, and methods of data analysis, all sufficiently detailed to allow other competent researchers to evaluate or replicate the study.

Can anyone claim that this paper meets that standard? The peer reviewers and the editor seem to have thought so, but how can they say that with a straight face?

Do any readers have any idea what the story here might be?

ResearchBlogging.orgZhang Y, Liu F, Shi J, Yue X, Zhang H, Du X, Sun L, & Yuan J (2014). Exploratory quantum resonance spectrometer as a discriminator for psychiatric affective disorders. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 202 (4), 287-91 PMID: 24647211

  • Thom Baguley

    This looks scary … and there is a similar article – a published abstract – in European Psychiatry.

    http://www.europsy-journal.com/article/S0924-9338(12)75546-3/abstract

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Indeed. The abstract, however, is not especially bad by itself, because abstracts by their nature tend to omit methodological details.

      It’s the total lack of them in the full-length paper that’s so scary.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Rolf-Degen/e/B001K1NBP4/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2 Rolf Degen

    The editors who let slip this through should be carefully examined with that quantum resonance spectroscopy machine. This is embarrassing.

  • templeruins

    You’re right – it sounds very similar to acupuncture. Which also seems to work and test well, but you’d maybe say that method ‘isn’t science’ either. Doesn’t mean it can’t get results above placebo.

    I’m guessing here there’s lots of money involved so they don’t want to give away frequencies measured etc because that would give the game away, open the market up to others to replicate their machine quite easily.

    • facefault

      >it sounds very similar to acupuncture.

      No one on this page said it sounded similar to acupuncture, and it doesn’t.

      I’m guessing here there’s lots of money involved so they don’t want to give away frequencies measured etc because that would give the game away, open the market up to others to replicate their machine quite easily.

      That’s what patent laws are for.

      • Thom Baguley

        It is nevertheless inexcusable to publish a paper in a scholarly journal that doesn’t explain the method at a level of detail that permits a reasonable level of review.

        If you want to reap the benefits of publication you need to have a degree of openness that goes with publication in the literature.

        This is why genuinely secret stuff doesn’t get published*, other stuff gets published after the patents are pending/awarded and so forth.

        * Take a look at public key encryption as an example (British researchers at GCHQ got there first but didn’t publish because of National security issues).

        • facefault

          Oh, it’s absolutely inexcusable. And in this case, they clearly did it because their method is a scam, rather than to hide trade secrets.

  • practiCalfMRI

    Please let me know when they get their Kickstarter campaign off the ground so I can send them some money. I made out like a bandit with a cold fusion device a while back.

    • drwhatson

      Quick Google image search on the image shows it to be manufactured in China by the tjqq.com and translation of their product line shows it to be all pseudo-science devices (including the infamous magnetic water filter/softer, but all driven by QRS.

      There’s a remote terminal for the QRS which has anti-static wrist straps are probes which can “carry out a full range of cancer and other chronic health screening
      services, providing expert consultation, expert advice (including
      psychological counseling), medical treatment guidelines, Medication
      Guide, diet guide, sub-health care guide”

      It all smells like the Iraq fake bomb detectors with the telescopic aerials and plastic cards.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

        Good find with the Google image search!

        • drwhatson

          My original thought was that it was some other sort of kit that was being passed off as this Quantum Resonance Spectrometer and the image search would find it. I was surprised when it came up with as QRS. Even more surprised when I read the copy.

  • Bernard Carroll

    This special issue of JNMD was apparently coordinated by Robert M.A. Hirschfeld, M.D. Why are we not surprised?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Heh. Are you referring to the fact that Hirschfeld created the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ)…?

      • Bernard Carroll

        Let’s just say nobody would say he’s the sharpest tack in the box.

  • Stuart Ritchie

    This isn’t the first time this particular journal has published a shockingly bad paper. Recent standards seem to be pretty low.

    https://sites.google.com/site/lakens2/blog/howatwitterhibarendsupasapublishedlettertotheeditor

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Oh wow, I forgot that was in the JNMD. Maybe we should write another Letter to the Editor? I was thinking about writing one myself but it would have more weight coming from multiple people.

      • Stuart Ritchie

        Sure, happy to help! firstname.lastname@ed.ac.uk

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

          Nice – I’ll draft a statement. If anyone else wants to put their name to this, just let me know.

          • Thom Baguley

            Happy to …

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            Great! Drop me an email: neuroskeptic at google mail

  • Sciencegrrl Jones

    “The paper simply doesn’t tell us how the data were obtained” is all I need to hear.

  • unity_ministry

    Okay, so in the picture I can see a fancy moulded plastic laptop trolley, a laptop and a Hewlett Packard printer, which together would make this a “machine that goes ping.”

    Otherwise, everything else described looks very much like quantum flapdoodle.

    On that basis, it’s obviously a walletectomy system.

  • Armin Ariamajd

    i agree that the article itself is too badly written to be published in a science journal, but maybe that’s only because it’s a very recent and in-progress invention based on our just-recently forming new understanding of the whole universe based on quantum mechanics!
    You did some background reading and have traced the idea to 100 years ago, but what astonishes me is how you missed a simple Google search, to see dozens of scholarly articles mentioning the subject, and to find out that it is actually called Quantum Orbital Resonance Spectroscopy, and not even it is not magic quackery as you’ve too quickly concluded, but actually it is one of the big projects of DARPA!

    http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Quantum_Orbital_Resonance_Spectroscopy_(QORS).aspx

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      No, I’ll take it from here, thanks!

      Of course I did see that page on QORS. I didn’t mention it because I do not think it is the same technology.

      It’s hard to tell because there is very little information about QORS – there are not “dozens of scholarly articles” about it. On Google Scholar there are two that mention it, and they only do so in passing (http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=%22Quantum+Orbital+Resonance%22).

      However from what I can tell, QORS is a project to develop a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) without the need for a superconducting magnet (see http://www.pnnl.gov/nano/pdf/nni2013_budget.pdf page 41).

      In 2011 DARPA said that they were hoping to “obtain hydrogen and carbon-13 spectra from biologically relevant liquid sample” using QORS. Given that a conventional MRI scanner can already obtain those spectra (it’s called MR spectroscopy, MRS, and is some 20 years old), this is consistent with QORS being a variant of MRI.

      Yet QORS cannot be the same technology as “Quantum Resonance Spectrometry” because there are papers on the latter’s use in diagnosing cancer from 2006: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1615369 and earlier. So unless DARPA are five years behind the times, they are talking about a different technology.

      Further, the spectra obtained by MRS (and thus QORS) reflect the resonance of protons in the nucleus of atoms. This is not how Zhang et al describe their technique. They say that:

      “the charged bodies of nucleus and extranuclear electrons as the basis unit of a cell are moving and changing ceaselessly at a high speed as well, emitting electromagnetic waves”

      This is not a description of the basis of the MR signal, which comes from the protons in the nucleus only, not the electrons, and is not emitted ‘ceaselessly’ but only in response to an input pulse from the MR scanner. And it is nothing to do with the fact that the protons are ‘moving or changing': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physics_of_magnetic_resonance_imaging

      Finally, even assuming that you’re right and that QRS is in fact QORS, that would mean that QRS is MRS. The data from MRS are – as the name suggests – spectra reflecting the concentration of various molecules in the sample. Molecules like water, creatine, choline, glucose. Yet Zhang et al report that their QRS machine gave them a value reflecting a symptom. Their lack of any description as to how they analyzed the data to do this, even granting that they were using a bona fide technology, is amazing.

      In summary, hard as it may be to believe, this paper really is as bad as I said.

      • waltinseattle

        damn, my brain trying to figure out a suitcase fMRI system, and now you tell me its coming….but DARPA owns it!! curses! think they would fund me to study violent criminals with it? develope a “predictive” profile? they already have that “agnostic” ptogram to see how mind happens, i presume that “agnostic” meant a pseudo-random drunk beyes walk about….

      • practiCalfMRI

        I can’t find much on QORS beyond the apparent fact that DARPA put $250K into a group at Caltech a couple of years back. I agree that QORS sounds very different to the QRS of the paper, but both of these methods seem to be of the smoke and mirrors variety. If anyone can find any actual physical descriptions of the supposed mechanisms I would be interested to see them.

    • waltinseattle

      and inside that desk…the supercomputer? if i could do that, id crunch that thought and capitalize on it ,asap!

      you know flim flam, like all big lies always starts from a truth? i certainly hope i’m not divulging trade secrets by saying that!!!!! gracious me!!!

  • DS

    It was published in April. April 1st by any chance?

  • waltinseattle

    dianetics , tin can , new improved with a computer on a a a ah, scanner printer? and wrapped in oriental inscrutability! nice gig if you can bottle it and sell it off the wagon.

  • practiCalfMRI
  • Scott Myers

    I thought use of the word quantum eliminated the need for methodological details.

  • Woody Eadie

    This: “The subject sat on a chair and was freely holding the sensor in his/her hand.” I immediately thought, “e-meter.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-meter

  • EmmittBrownBTTF1

    Well, can’t say for sure but … Wait, who left the baloney out of the fridge?

  • Keitumetse Mafojane 14003156

    I must say that I agree with the fact that this article is not suitable to be posted in a scholarly article as I’m a first year student and find myself asking a lot of questions which this article does not answer. Read the article as I was keen on finding new ways of diagnosing psychological disorders.
    Does anyone know of any other innovations that have actually worked and helped to improve the diagnosis of psychological disorders?

    KM Mafojane
    14003156

  • Bronwen Edwards

    After reading up on the Quantum Orbital Resonance Spectroscopy (QORS), the treatment or rather diagnostics that this technology supposedly offers seems very plausible, especially in this day and age. The neurodiagnostics offered are also apparently less harmful than MRI’s because of the large magnet being removed, and radio waves being used instead. As Neuroskeptic said, it is possible that it might not be the same technology as QRS, but I do believe it is definitely in the same genre. However, on the question this article poses, I cannot understand why that article would have been accepted by such a profound journal, when methodology incorporates the reasoning behind science as a whole – for instance, how would you know that bread can be carbonized by heat without knowing that you should toast the bread to get those results in the first place? In other words, results mean nothing without a method and therefore I highly question the truth in this paper as a whole. Somewhere along the line, Science was lost.

    • practiCalfMRI

      Could you post links to references on QORS? I can’t find any.

      Re. making anything less harmful than MRI, MRI uses radio waves. There are few safer regions of the electromagnetic spectrum that will also pass through the skin/blood/skull and allow one to make an image from the tissues beneath. The amount of interaction is relatively small, but just sufficient to permit radiological scanning. Any technology that claims to offer greater or deeper or more specific information than MRI has to pass some rather stringent safety criteria that can be easily understood in terms of the frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum being used. Put simply, if the frequency is higher than typically used in MRI then the chances are very high the method is less safe – more heating, possibly ionizing – than MRI.

      • Bronwen Edwards 14185378

        http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/Quantum_Orbital_Resonance_Spectroscopy_(QORS).aspx this is the link. It’s not much, but it provides a small overview. That is very interesting, I would have never thought about it in that way, but now that you mention the electromagnetic spectrum it really does make a lot more sense,and gives me more insight on the matter. Perhaps I should then research the respective frequencies of the two to see if the claim of it being safer is true.

        • practiCalfMRI

          Right, I found that page but it doesn’t contain anything I can interpret. I could guess, though, that if they are using electrons – the orbital part – then the frequencies (hence energy deposition) will be quite high. There is also the related problem of depth penetration which is non-trivial, especially for a brain encased in a skull.

          So far, I have seen only one reasonable demonstration of a combined electron-MR method, from Matt Rosen’s group:

          http://www.martinos.org/lfi/research.php

          http://wms.andrew.cmu.edu:81/nmvideo/Bio/9_Rosen.mov

          They use a very low field MRI – millitesla – at which field strength the electron resonance is in the MHz range, comparable to a typical MRI frequency. They use polarization transfer from a free radical (the electron) to nuclear spin. It’s an intriguing approach, with just one practical hurdle that I can see right now: it’s hard (and/or dangerous) to generate a high concentration of free radicals in a biological system. They hope to detect the intrinsic radicals generated during injury (NO radicals). Maybe, maybe not. The sensitivity will be very low. But at least the physics is genuine, no smoke and mirrors!

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    Falun Gong.

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No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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