This is why I love skeptic talk shows, podcasts and websites. I may be a scientist but I sure as shit don't know everything about it, and I may be a vehemently anti-woo skeptic but I don't know about all of the fraudulent crap peddled out there.
While I was listening to another episode of The Atheist Experience (or was it The Non-Prophets? I'm not sure, but I think it was Russel who mentioned it) a useful website for the combating of the "why not just let people believe what they want to believe" argument came up, called www.whatstheharm.net. Brilliant! That sounds like fun. So I clicked on it and had a little gander.
I found a lot of woo that I was very familiar with, but then I saw a subheading that stopped me in my tracks. Ear candling? Really? What is the harm in ear candling? Not that I know all that much about it, but I have seen it advertised in some waxing salons and such, I even figured I might do it sometime if I felt I had too much earwax buildup. I never saw it advertised as anything other than a way to remove excess ear wax, so it never pinged my woo-meter. The information, however, opened my eyes, and on reading further into the information linked on the page, my woo-meter went off the charts. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, these excerpts are particularly damning:
More recently, two investigators tested candles to see whether the wax accumulated after burning came entirely from the candle or included wax that came from the ear. To do this they burned candles with the tip (a) inside the ear, (b) outside the ear, so the wax dripped into a bowl of water, and (b) inside the ear but with a tube in place that would permit ear wax to move into the tube but would block candle wax from moving downward. They demonstrated that all residue originated from the candle and that no ear wax was removed from the ear.
Since wax is sticky, the negative pressure needed to pull wax from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture the eardrum in the process. However, candling produces no vacuum. Researchers who measured the pressure during candling of ear models found that no negative pressure was created. The same investigators candled eight ears and found that no ear wax was removed and candle wax was actually deposited in some of them!
Ouch! Well, color me convinced! I'm just glad I've stumbled across this juicy bit of information before shelling out any money on a useless and potentially harmful procedure!