SCENAR: Another dose of uncritical hype

WDDTY first pimped SCENAR in October 2008, in an article titled “Changing the body’s frequency” (by how much? From what, to what, in Hz, and to what demonstrable effect?). This issue also included credulous coverage of the Rife machine and other fraudulent devices.

The article below is the second and most recent substantial coverage of SCENAR. The first was by Lynne McTaggart, this one by Bryan Hubbard. Hubbard’s article is, if anything, even more breathlessly credulous. It obviously had the desired effect: there are 15 adverts for SCENAR in various issues of WDDTY after this article was published.

At the time of the first article there were four articles in MedLine covering SCENAR, which had risen to five by the time of the second article. None was in a mainstream journal with respectable impact, none support the extravagant claims of proponents, not one was sufficiently large to form any compelling evidence. There are by now another two, again, neither particularly compelling (Medline search).

SCENAR is sold as a TENS device, which it basically is. Probably. As Professor David Colquhoun notes, the descriptions are basically word salad.

The evidence for TENS is rather weak, but it is widely used.

The ‘Russian problem’ used to mean the spread of Communism to the West. Today, the term could just as easily be applied to a new healing modality, developed behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War and which, its advocates claim, will revolutionize Western medicine.

Oh no, not another one. The problem with Russia is that it’s a country in meltdown. Information coming out of Russia is very often not accurate or trustworthy.

The Scenar (Self-Controlled Energo-Neuro-Adaptive Regulation) device is the size of a TV remote, and runs on a single 9-V battery. Researchers and doctors in Russia claim that it can reverse most diseases without drugs or surgery. In the UK, it’s licensed as a pain-relief device.

That’s because the generic claim of TENS needs no specific proof, so all they have to do in order to sell the device is show that it’s a TENS machine. They can then rely on the quackosphere to build a buzz of unsupportable claims, and reap the rewards without having to actually break the law by making claims they cannot evidence.

It’s a sweet little scam and is endemic in the world of Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (SCAM).

The problem—like so much of alternative medicine that doesn’t enjoy the sizeable profits of the drugs industry—is the lack of ‘good’ scientific evidence from a double-blind placebo-controlled trial to support such ambitious claims.

Conspiracist nonsense. If this device genuinely worked as the proponents claim there would be nothing to stop companies like Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Baxter or any one of a hundred other multi-billion-dollar drugs and medical device companies from manufacturing a competing device, or licensing SCENAR.

There are, however, thousands of case studies gathered from the 10,000 therapists and doctors in Russia who routinely use Scenar in their practices.

The plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.

Dr Yuri Gorfinkel, who became a Scenar therapist after working in the Chernobyl clean-up operations, has collated 18,255 case studies of Scenar treatments for almost every conceivable disease—from gastritis, haemorrhoids and impotence to bronchitis, hypertension and acute heart failure. Of these patients, there was no recurrence in 88.5 per cent of cases, while 6 per cent reported “signif-icant improvement” in symptoms, with only 3 per cent reporting little or no change for the better (SCENAR Therapy, SCENAR—Medical Assessment and Expertise, 1998; 4).

Medical Assessment and Expertise is not, as far as I can tell, a journal. In fact the only references to it in a well-known search engine are a couple of pages (including WDDTY) referencing SCENAR. It may be a translation from the Russian, but if a well-known translation engine is correct then this would be “Медицинское заключение и экспертиза” (which transliterates OK), and that scores nothing either.

Lets’ just run a little thought experiment here.

A company – let’s call them PfizoBaxMerck – comes up with a new device. They don’t have any published evidence for it, and there’s no primary research showing it to be plausible, and it’s not approved for anything other than relief of self-limiting pain, but they advertise it as a cure for serious diseases, based on a bunch of case studies they and their customers compiled while using it for unapproved indications, and point people to a non-existent or at least insignificant journal for support.

How happy do you think WDDTY would be with that? Of course it’s an absurd thought experiment because these companies are all regulated, and while they may push the boundaries (a lot), they tend not to go straight in with unregulated claims.  WDDTY is forever banging on abuse of the clinical trials process: why is opting out of it altogether, acceptable?

In a later report compiled by Dr Irina Kossovski, who tracked hundreds more case reports involving a similarly wide range of diseases, Russian Scenar practitioners were said to have achieved a complete recovery rate of around 66 per cent, while the remaining third of patients reported some improvement in their condition (Kossovski I. ‘An Overview of the Basic Results of a SI Medicine Treatment Complex.’ Mediscen Inc., 2001).

That is not a peer-reviewed publication. Actually, it’s just a bunch of claims on the supplier’s own website – it’s self-published, not even pay-to-play bottom feeding predatory open access. As evidence, it is utterly worthless. That is not hyperbole: it would be rejected out of hand if submitted in that form to any regulator.

The sole study published in a Western medical journal pitted Scenar against TENS (transcutaneous electric-al nerve stimulation). In this trial, 24 chronic neck-pain sufferers received six months of treatment with either Scenar or TENS, or no treatment (controls). The researchers reported that the Scenar group showed “significant reduction” of neck pain and disability compared with either the TENS or control group. They also pointed out that none of those in the Scenar group reported any adverse reactions (Chiropractic & Osteopathy, 2007; 15: 9; doi: 10.1186/1746-1340-15-9).

Chiropractic & Osteopathy (now called Chiropractic and Maual Therapies) does have the distinction of being published by the groups of chiropractors who are pro-vaccine and oppose chiropractic predation on children, excessive use of X-rays and the nonsensical “chiropractic subluxation complex”, but it is still not a PubMed indexed journal. The cited paper is not PubMed indexed, it is in PMC (the open-access adjunct to which publishers submit any open-access content).

The device has also been used by athletes to speed recovery time after injury. French football star Djibril Cisse has prepared a YouTube testimonial, claiming the Scenar helped him to recover more quickly from an ankle injury. Also, SCENAR is currently being used by the Greek professional football team Panathinaikos, based in Athens.

Oh, well, that settles it then – after all, no sports person would ever endorse a bogus device.

Is there a randomised double-blinded trial comparing SCENAR with lucky underpants?

How does it work?

Scenar has been described as ‘electronic acupuncture’ and ‘space-age medicine’, the latter in reference to its use in the late 1970s as a healing aid for cosmonauts training in zero gravity.

Space age guys are all about SCENAR.
Space age guys are totally about SCENAR.

Oh, an electronic placebo. Right. I love the idea that “space age” means the 1970s.

Although Dr Alexander Karasev invented the device in 1976, it was developed by two electronics engineers, who were awarded the Order of Lenin for their work. The technology was secret and ‘classified’ until Perestroika in the mid-1980s opened up the Soviet Union. It was then that SCENAR was made available to Russian doctors.

You may not be aware that the period from the 1960s to now, has seen a serious decline in Russian healthcare. The late Soviet era was pretty abysmal, there was a small improvement  but with the descent of the Russian Federation into kleptocracy it has descended again. In particular, there was gross abuse of the psychiatric system to pursue political ends.

It was not all gloom: Svyatoslav FyodorovW invented the radial keratotomyW. And someone invented the SCENAR.

Scenar is a simple hand-held device controlled by four buttons. The practitioner brushes the device along the patient’s skin, looking for any resistance or ‘stickiness’, as Scenar therapists call it. Such ‘stickiness’ indicates disease, in-flammation or injury, while different areas of the skin correlate with different internal organs and muscle groups, similar to the acupuncture model.

Riiiight. And no doubt only the cognoscenti can feel the stickiness.  Are you getting a feeling of déjà-moo? The uncanny impression that you’ve heard this bull before?

Now here’s a list of practices that rely on  the idea of some part of the body mapping onto internal organs:

Notice something? Yes, that’s right: they are all abject nonsense.

Pro tip: If you want to invent a new and sciencey-sounding treatment, it’s best not to base it on ideas that are without any foundation in empirically established fact.

Once a problem area has been detected, the practitioner changes the Scenar frequency modulation and, using biofeedback, begins a ‘dialogue’ with the patient’s central nervous system. Eventually, Scenar is said to stimulate neuropeptides in damaged cells to speed recovery by helping cells to ‘remember’ their healthy signature state. The healing process continues long after the session ends, although it may take many sessions to achieve full health, depending on how chronic the condition is.

It’s said to do that, is it? Well let me look up the evidence in support of this bold claim.


It’s awfully reminiscent of a hundred other forms of quackery, of course, all of which claim (fortunately incorrectly) to manipulate the immune system.

However, if the problem is acute, such as a sports injury, Scenar practitioners say the device can heal the problem even before bruising appears.

If there’s one guaranteed way to generate glowing testimonials, it’s diagnosing and “curing” things people don’t even know they have.

SCENAR in the West

Scenar is becoming part of the accepted medical therapy in Russia, and is now being used in clinics and hospitals. It is also gaining a foothold in Germany, where there are around 3000 practitioners.

Russia is not a great advertisement for anything: the place is basically descending into feudalism, run by corrupt politicians and only marginally less corrupt oligarchs on one side and organised crime on… well, the same side, pretty often.

Obviously the appeal to popularity is not evidence, and the existence of practitioners is hardly relevant. There are a lot of homeopaths, after all.

However, inroads into the UK market have been more torturous. There have been several attempts to introduce it into Great Britain, but infighting and squabbles between various competing groups have impeded its progress. Today, the Scenar licence for the UK and Ireland is held by 21st Century Energy Medicine, and its CEO is former IT consultant Richard Cumbers. Scenar is officially distributed in the UK by its sister company Pain Genie.

Pain Genie. Where have we heard that name before? Oh yes: WDDTY advertiser and ASA adjudicated misleading advertiser.

Although we understood PainGenie believed the ENAR device tested in the clinical trial examining neck pain was relevant to the claims for the advertised device, we noted evidence had not been supplied to demonstrate that the devices were sufficiently similar for the results of that trial to be extrapolated. The US trial on the scenar device was based on the self-assessment of pain relief of 14 individuals who reported various types and locations of pain. The trial included a statement that the device “stimulated the nervous system” and “is able to teach the body to heal itself” but did not include further examination of these points. The trial was not supplied in full and it was therefore not possible to establish whether it was published in a peer-reviewed journal or that it had been placebo controlled, blinded (or double blinded) or carried out in such a way that demonstrated the self-reported results were statistically significant. Evidence was also not supplied to demonstrate that the tested device was the same as the device sold by PainGenie.

We considered that the claim “the most technically advanced pain relief device in existence” would be understood by consumers to mean that the PainGenie device was more effective at treating pain than other comparative products and noted no comparative evidence was supplied.

We considered the claims “The Pain Genie is the most technically advanced pain relief device in existence and represents a breakthrough in stimulating the body’s natural self healing abilities” and “It is highly effective in all forms of pain relief” had not been substantiated and therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.

ENAR is of course another name for SCENAR.

Naturally in WDDTY’s hierarchy of evidence an ASA adjudication against you is nearly as powerful as a prosecution for fraud. It means The Man needs you off the market.

Nevertheless, Cumbers has been forced to fight a constant battle against black-market versions of the device, which are often sold on the Internet by workers at the Russian factory—and at a far lower price. However, the black-market versions don’t come with any training or support.

at one point, Microsoft’s chief competitor in the market was counterfeit copies of its own software. That was an indication of predatory pricing and a market dominated by fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Cumbers sells the Pain Genie Home SCENAR for £469, which includes a training manual and DVD. Although some retailers believe that only properly trained practitioners should use it, Cumbers promotes its use among the public, although he emphasizes the importance of after-sales support.

Ah, right, predatory pricing, fear, uncertainty and doubt. After all, you wouldn’t want a fake fraudulent medical device would you?

For comparison, you can get a TENS machine for, appropriately, a tenner. No wonder quacks are desperate to recoup their cash.

In the three years that he has held the SCENAR licence, Cumbers has trained around 1200 practitioners in the UK. His efforts have interested a few doctors in the UK, including Dr Jan Beute, from the Doncaster Royal Infirmary Accident & Emergency department. Beute, who uses his own Scenar on patients, has said: “The Pain Genie will save the NHS a tremendous amount of money because it’s so easy, cheap and effective to use.”

Hurrah! A testimonial form a former medical student! Naturally, homeopathy believers also believe that homeopath will save the NHS a fortune. That’s why the opinion of believers is not accorded much weight.

There are only a handful of practitioners in the US, where it has “light touch” Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as a relaxant and “muscle re-educator”.

And once again, Bryan misses a giant, neon-lit red flag.

Why would a device that purportedly cures every ailment under the sun, be licensed under an approval that does not require it to prove anything other than that it transmits a small current?

“This carpet totally flies. Here’s the certificate proving it’s a genuine Axminster”.

SCENAR and the future

In fact, there are more case studies of Scenar effectiveness than for any other ‘alternative’ device or technology. As the technology is now more than 30 years old, this is perhaps not so surprising. Nevertheless, its success rate is impressive—and far higher than that of any single drug or conventional therapy.

Let’s go back to the published, peer-reviewed evidence in reliable journals.

As soon as there is some.

But such success arouses suspicion among doctors—it all seems too good to be true—especially as there have been little independent research and few clinical trials published in Western medical journals.

And if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

For SCENAR practitioners and advocates like Cumbers, this is frustrating, as they see the technology as an inexpensive and effective alternative within the mainstream of Western medicine, especially at a time when the National Health System and its counterparts around the world are virtually bankrupt.

I’m sure they do. The route to achieving their goals is:

  1. Conduct well-designed trials and get them published in reputable journals.
  2. Include enough detail to allow independent replication of your results.
  3. Conduct a large multi-centre trial with rigorous methodology and ethical oversight.
  4. Publish full results.
  5. Retire on the immense fortune that rolls in.

You sort of wonder why the originators haven’t done this, really. Unless, of course, it doesn’t actually work, which is very likely indeed given the implausible purported mechanism.

However, the issue runs far deeper than just proving that the modality works through the ‘gold-standard’ clinical trials. Scenar attacks the very heart of medicine—its protocols and theories—which is avidly guarded directly by the pharmaceutical industry, and indirectly by medical schools and government-approved bodies, and even the mainstream media.

That is just an escape hatch argument, semantically  indistinguishable from the homeopath who asserts that while positive trials are entirely valid, negative trials cannot be considered because homeopathy cannot be studied with reductionist science.

What actually happens when people turn existing medical knowledge on its head, is they win the Nobel Prize. The thing to remember here is that the scientific establishment is not like a gentleman’s club. It is anarchic, and incredibly competitive. The best way to become famous is to successfully challenge established opinion. This applies whether you’re an obscure Austrian patent clerk or a collaborator with the most evil regime in history. Science has a long history of not giving a damn about anything but truth.

Undaunted, Cumbers and others nevertheless believe that the time is now right for making a serious pitch to governments, which are looking to cut costs wherever they can, and whose allegiances may lean more towards the public purse and less towards protecting the conventional medical paradigm. They also point to the Russian health system, where there is already wide acceptance of Scenar.

Well, they might be onto something: politics has sustained pseudoscience before. However, science has a nasty habit of going on being right however passionately people believe otherwise.

For Prime Minister Cameron, President Obama and other world leaders, it could be the start of the Russian problem all over again.

Why would it be? Why would Cameron be unhappy at something that slashed NHS spending? why would Obama be unhappy at something that pulled the rug out from under the HMOs that lobbied against Obamacare, something that would dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare for the underprivileged, an issue to which he is passionately committed? Maybe Bryan is confusing Obama with Mitt Romney? Oh, wait, no: Romney’s health policy is not much different to Obama’s.

2 thoughts on “SCENAR: Another dose of uncritical hype”

  1. The ‘stickiness’ produced by a SCENAR device is not at all subjective, but is a genuine phenomenon. I could demonstrate that to you in a few minutes.

    Moreover, when you refer to ENAR, I assume you mean ENART which is actually a range of devices produced by the company INVET.

    I was first trained in the use of SCENAR devices by a British surgeon about 15 years ago. I naively assumed at the time that there would be a cheap version in every household by now. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of fragmentation and in-fighting between small companies, and consequently the technology has never received the recognition it deserves.

    In my experience, most variants of the devices are pretty impressive in terms of their effectiveness, especially with acute pain, but often with much more complex and intractable conditions as well. TENS machines work primarily on power, in that they are blocking the pain signal. SCENAR works more on an exchange of information with the nervous system, using the C nerve fibres and neuropeptides. My understanding of TENS devices is that they only have a temporary pain-blocking effect, whereas with SCENAR the effect tends to be that the pain is considerably lessened and recovery usually takes place more rapidly than would be the case without it.

    If you are in the UK and can get to London I will happily give you a demonstration. It might be better to have some personal experience of the devices so that you can comment on them with greater insight.

    If you want to read more on the science behind it, there is a book on it here, written by a neurophysiologist: The Science of SCENAR: Self Controlled Energic Neuroadaptive Regulator: Using Modern Electromedicine to Stop Pain, Repair Injuries, and Regenerate Spinal Cords [Ed: URL removed – no advertising, please]

    The table of contents in the See Inside section of the Print Book version gives you a good idea of the scope and focus of the content.

    Best wishes

    1. Amusingly, the book you so earnestly recommend has very bad reviews on Amazon – from people who bought into the SCENAR quackery and also purchased the machine. The author, Lathrop, is apparently a neurologist, not neurophysiologist, though I see he practises as a chiropractor. That is not something that would influence anyone here in his favour.

      As for the machine being “FDA approved”, it appears this claim is questionable, to put it mildly: Quackwatch: Index of Questionable Devices.

      Simply put: if this machine were as good as you claim, then yes, you would see it everywhere. That the inverse is true suggests that it is, indeed, a load of hokem. Phrases such as “exchange of information with the nervous system, using the C nerve fibres and neuropeptides” confirm this. You need to demonstrate that this happens (scientific research, please, not “come up and see me sometime”) and produce a plausible mechanism for it. I think you’ll find medical science isn’t holding its breath.

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