Dr Jorgen Bernard Jensen (1908 – 2001)
To illustrate the fact that the era of quackery has not gone we turn our microscope on to the Californian born iridologist, Bernard Jensen. He graduated from the West Coast Chiropractic College and whilst he made started off as a chiropractor he found fame and fortune in advancing and popularising the so-called science of iridology.
The theory behind iridology is that you can diagnose disease by studying the iris, the coloured part of the eye. Jensen believed that different parts of the iris corresponded to different parts of the body and, indeed, rather fancy charts have been developed showing which part of the iris foreshadows what is going on with each part of the body.
Jensen didn’t invent iridology. The first detailed explanation of the principles behind the methodology are to be found in Chromatica Medica by Philippus Meyeus, which first saw the light of day in 1665. The term Augendiagnostik was propounded by the 19th century Hungarian physician, Ignaz von Peczely, who has legitimate claims to the title of founding gather. There is an apocryphal story that Peczely developed the theory on noticing that the streaks in the eyes of a patient who he was treating for a broken leg were identical to those in an owl who had suffered a similar fate. More substance was added to the theory by the Swede, Nils Liljequist, who, suffering from enlarged lymph nodes, noticed changes in the colouration of his irises after taking various medicines. He published an atlas in 1893, known as the Diagnosis of the Eye.
But Jensen really put iridology on the map, particularly in the United States in the 1950s when he started giving classes in his techniques. So phenomenal was his success that he was showered with awards, honoraria, degrees and was even knighted.
Notwithstanding his success, there were some doubting Thomases. In 1979 Jensen and two other proponents of iridology were put to the test by being asked to look at photographs of the eyes of 143 patients and to identify the 48 who had been diagnosed with some form of kidney disorder. Needless to say, they failed the test. And that is the nub of the problem with iridology. To date, there has been no reliable clinical data to support the contention of a link between illness and observable changes in the iris. Indeed, when put to the test adherents of iridology have performed statistically no better in determining the presence of disease and identifying the type of disease than would have been the case had they been randomly selecting potential cases.
The fundamental problem with iridology is that the iris doesn’t change substantially during a person’s life. The texture of the iris develops during the gestation of the foetus and remains unchanged after birth. There is no substantive evidence of changes in iris pattern other than variations in pigmentation in the first year of life and caused by glaucoma in later life. Indeed, the new biometric technology which underpins the more recent developments in security surveillance is based on the premise of the stability of iris structures.
Notwithstanding all of this, there are still practising iridologists who owe their existence in large measure to the pioneering work of Bernard Jensen. At least he didn’t kill anybody!