Our Methods

The data you are seeing on the Archive of Healing™ has gone through a thorough process of review to determine what information is appropriate to be shared. The data has been reviewed multiple times by different groups of people including several offerings of a class entitled “Healing, Ritual, and Transformation” at the University of California, Los Angeles. The students worked on the archive every week, reviewing the data and determining how the information should be used, and who should see which search results. The data was also processed through "machine learning," which coded data based on pre-figured standards. Please keep in mind that no coding process is perfect. We fully know that some data may appear in search results that should be coded differently at closer inspection. We, as a community, including you, can do this work together.

Let's review Our classes were made up of students from various departments at UCLA, who had a wide range of relationships and experiences with different forms of healing. We studied modes of healing that have been used in the past and are currently used in the world that are different from the kind of allopathic medicine that is dominant in the United States. We discussed whether or not and in what circumstances these other forms of healing were valid and how they could be used in unison with allopathic medicine. We also discussed the implications that alternative forms of healing could have on social, political, and economic structures. We collectively wrote this description of our methods. 

We studied traditional Native American healers via biographies and ethnographies. We read about currently practicing healers in North and South America, as well as practicing energy healers in the United States who use energetic healing such as Reiki, Pranic Healing, and Crystal Healing. We had healers visit the classroom and talked with them about their practices. We also reviewed peer-reviewed studies about energetic healing that looked at the effects that energetic healing can have on the healing process.

Using the information that we learned in class, we reviewed the data that was previously in the “Archive of Traditional Medicine” and we decided on what information was appropriate to be provided as a healing method. We were challenged to look at the data and put aside internal biases to code the data based on what would be the most helpful for the visitors of the site. Many of the remedies in the archive depend on “spiritual” and energetic forms of healing that would not be accepted by allopathic medicine; but they could be helpful to people, maybe not as an alternative but in addition to other forms of healing. Our class focused on removing or editing data that was dangerous or violent as well as inappropriate or offensive.

Much of the data was recorded many years ago and contained language and beliefs about people that is no longer acceptable. The previous researchers were interested in medicinal folklore, sayings about health and healing; and we saw some fairly dated phrases. We have no doubt much of these still appear in search results because they accurately depict a way of thinking or talking that researchers or scholars might find interesting. As with all folklore, sayings and urban legends carry with them social biases. We did not see the need in continuing some of those, at least for the purposes of this archive. If you are interested in that previous body of data, please reach out. If you see data still in search results that you find offensive, simply flag as such and our advisory board will take a look.

We are not experts; nor do we believe any group could be “experts” over such a broad, indeed global, collection of healing approaches. However, over the years, we were exposed to different points of view about healing. We did our best to ensure that we are giving the visitors of the site the opportunity to see methods of healing from various sources. The visitor to the site must use their own judgement on whether or not the method is something they want to factor into their own healing process. And as we must repeat emphatically, the warning on the home page could not be clearer: “this site is not giving medical advice.”


What Did We Do? We Coded the Data.

Any data that has been coded “1” is available to all users who enter the Archive of Healing™. By coding an entry 1, it has been marked a viable healing modality and oftentimes is seen many times in the archive across different cultures and time periods. Those healing modalities coded 1 are deemed appropriate for everyone, whether or not you are a certified healer. The entries coded 1 most often are healing modalities commonly known, as seen here in File 1 row 898:

Entries example -- code 1

Tobacco on stings was seen many times throughout the Archive of Healing™ as well as a common use for stings still today. Oftentimes coding 1 was difficult because the remedy was not something one may think would be a healing modality with any efficacy, however upon researching it further, a simple Google search would attest to its effectiveness and its prevalent use today. An example of this was seen in File 3 row 24191: 

Entries example -- Healing effectiveness

Comfrey is a plant that has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, as noted here it was used by soldiers during Medieval times. However, as comfrey is not commonly known any longer, it may have been dismissed as an unreliable source of healing for something as serious as broken bones. Looking further into it, comfrey proves to still be used today and should be included for all to see as a reliable healing technique. Another example of this was seen in File 3 row 24231:

Entries example -- Healing effectiveness

The use of molasses and soda on burns could be seen as harmful to the burn, however upon a simple search, we found that molasses has many healing properties, especially for aiding in healing skin that has been burned. 

We also can offer an example of when our review went in the other direction, to remove the data from regular users’ views. Such was the case of certain healing modalities that appear to be helpful, when in actuality they are no longer deemed appropriate for use and should be coded 5. This was seen in File 3 row 24224:

Entries example -- code 5

The card noted that flour was a viable option for burn victims, that it had effectively been used during a fire in 1870. However, upon researching this as a reliable source, we found that flour can actually be harmful to the skin. By coding it 5, we are making it available to archivists, librarians, and researchers who might benefit from the knowledge that flour was once suggested in a particular historical moment (such as during war time and limited resources). Acting responsibly, for us, meant not providing harmful data to someone who may have logged onto the site because they need help with an actual burn (as opposed to someone researching home remedies of the early 20th century).

Process of Coding for Data Value 2

This data has been restricted to those who have self-identified as healers or health practitioners when accessing the archive. This includes, but is not limited to, allopathic doctors, herbalists, homeopaths, energy healers, shamans, midwives, nurses, witches, acupuncturists, crystal healers, Pranic healers, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, indigenous healers, and all traditional cultural healers. This data will not be visible in general user search (1) because it has been deemed more advanced or potentially harmful without a higher level of expertise around healing than the average individual would possess. These more advanced methods may include: difficult to source ingredients or objects, plants or medicines that may have negative effects if used improperly, the use of animals or animal parts, the necessity of a power individual such as a priest or shaman, the necessity of more advanced techniques such as inhalation, insertion, extraction, etc. Using this piece of data for example,

Entries example -- code 3

we cannot be sure that the cobwebs will be sterile, so we believed this information would be best left to those who have experience with wound care.

We considered that this “healer” status was self-reported and not verified, so anything deemed incredibly risky was coded to a higher level (3) in order to be reviewed by the advisory board. From there, if they deem it safe, they could change code to 1 or 2 accordingly. If it was deemed incredibly dangerous or outdated, it would have been placed in the level 5 bracket. This level 5 data being visible to researchers, scholars, educators, and advanced healers who have been granted access. In this case, we expect that the data will also be used primarily for scholarly work. The main difference being that the level 2 data has been made accessible to healers with the expectation that they may incorporate this information into their own healing practices. And because of the historical exclusion of women from the healing and medical fields, we aim to have a minimum of eighty percent of the advisory board as identifying women.  

Because of the large variety of modalities that healers utilize, not all of the data will be within their realm of expertise or experience, which is why we encourage you to proceed at your own discretion and with caution. We also encourage you to use your knowledge to flag the information as safe for general users (1) or to report it as unsafe, bumping it to a level 5, again making it only accessible for historical and scholarly purposes. This being said, you should take into consideration that the purpose of this archive is to showcase healing modalities with as minimal cultural bias as possible. This means that the knowledge available here may be unacceptable or contrary to your own cultural perspective. We encourage you to acknowledge these differences without judgement and focus more on the safety of the information when flagging it. 

The flagging function will be important for the site’s continued value over time. If a person flags a search result as being inappropriate or dangerous, and then the advisory board deems it safe, the flag will change to green, meaning that the data has passed formal review.  That being said, we would like to reiterate the importance of this flagging process, this project is a decolonial effort and its success depends on our ability to work collectively, with our individual and communal knowledge, in order to safely advance healing and accessibility. This section should not contain any racist, sexist, transphobic, or homophobic language, if you come across it, please flag it. While some of this language may appear in other sections (5) for educational and historical purposes only, it has no place in this section dedicated to furthering healing for general visitors. If you see data that our coding missed, data that seems to belong to a particular community, then please flag it and say why. We intend to present information from a variety of cultural perspectives and knowledge systems and aim to make sure it is not harmful to any of the visitors. We also aim to consult with the original data bearers whenever that relationship is evident. 

Process of Coding for Data Value 3

In our decision making process we applied our healing knowledge that we have gained inside and outside of the classroom to deem whether the information was to be coded a 1 for all common users to have access to, a 2 for healers and practitioners to expand their practice, a 4 for review by the Archive’s Director, or a 5 for historical or research purposes. The few that were left as 3 were not evident at first review and needed a closer examination. These may the cases that were on the borderline of cultural appropriation, which we were actively trying to avoid in the data that we have presented on the website. If there are instances in which the modalities seem to be appropriating a culture’s practices that is not their own, we ask that you flag this information so that we can examine its significance for presentation on the website. Users should remain aware that this data has been compiled from a multitude of cultures that extend throughout a long period of time. That being said, some of the verbiage may be hard to understand and even inappropriate, even to the extent of being racist. On our end, we approached those instances with caution to eliminate any offensive and confusing language without eliminating the actual healing modality that was being offered because we found that despite the vocabulary, the data being presented was still valuable. We had to be very conscious in our decision making process. We acknowledge the responsibility that comes with healing and the consequences that can arise if not used with the proper intentions. 

Process of Coding for Data Value 4

Another point important to touch upon is that healing approaches may move across cultures and therefore the terminology for these resources may vary based on culture, which is why additional research into the specifics of these healing modalities may be necessary. For example, we often found remedies with names of plants that we did not recognize. After some research, we would learn of the plants’ other names. Many of these had serious consequences: abortion, fertility, anti-bacterial, etc. We did not want to empower any site visitor to create a proprietary tincture that could be developed globally without any benefit reaching the community from where the recipe was originally “developed.” Our intentions are not to hinder this valuable information to be shared and deny its healing power potential. Rather, we entrust the Director and Advisory Board to build those relationships in multiple directions.

Process of Coding for Data Value 5

Data coded 5 is restricted exclusively to those who have identified themselves as scholars, advanced healers, or archivists when accessing the Archive of Healing™. This set of data contains the most sensitive material that we deemed vulnerable to potential misuse. Data 5’s contents were deemed entirely implausible as a means of healing; its contents were deemed significantly more harmful than helpful and thus to be used only extremely cautiously; its contents were racist, sexist, transphobic, or homophobic; or the content was a story, tall tale, or saying that might be useful for research but not necessarily as a piece of efficacious healing advice. In other words, we do not intend this material be used or attempted for healing. We believe it should be made available because it could be useful for someone who is researching the history of medicine, sayings, beliefs, healing in a particular region etc.

 For example, the below data row was coded 5 because the cure – ramming a hot iron coated with sulfur down the throat – was deemed both unlikely to cure the ailment – typhoid fever – and also extremely dangerous and likely fatal. We did not believe it is something that should be presented as a viable healing method to be attempted.  However, it might be a very useful piece of information for a historian studying, say, cures for typhoid over time.

Entries example -- code 5

Another example of something coded 5 is the following, which recommends using leeches to get rid of varicose veins. Though placing leeches on the body is not necessarily harmful, it was not believed to be particularly effective. More significantly than the viability of the cure, the content of the data implies that the cause of varicose veins is “poison blood” which is not true and might therefore spread mis-information about people who have varicose veins. However, it was deemed useful information for a historian, or otherwise a highly advanced healer who may have more knowledge about the efficacy of leeches and therefore could use with discretion.

Entries example -- code 5


Finally, there is data coded 5 that simply contains information such as sayings that are not necessarily harmful, but do not provide any particular useful healing information. See below:

Entries example -- code 5

As with all the sections, our choices were biased and each of us may have had a slightly different gauge when identifying something as probable or improbable. We ask that you flag potentially harmful material in other sections to be re-coded 5, we also invite advanced healers in particular to flag information coded 5 that you know to be effective, or at the very least not harmful.

Changes Made to Data

In addition to organizing we also made changes to the language of much of the data coded 1- 4, as to make its content more legible and useful for a contemporary audience. This included, but was not limited to, changing the word or phrase used to describe a disease or ailment; changing data that included offensive, derogatory language; and swapping out outdated phrases and sentence structures. For example, the below data originally read, “Pansy tea will relieve female trouble.” Because that is a relatively outdated phrase, it was changed to “Pansy tea will relieve menstruation pains.” Another change that might be made is switching out “dropsy” for “edema” for example. These changes do not alter the underlying method being proposed but were changes that hopefully make the material easier to read, understand, and use.

Entries example

Data coded 1- 4 that was not changed already used clear and current language, or data that included prayers or chants where the language itself is what was proposed to be efficacious. For data coded 5, language was largely left unchanged. This is especially true for data that included sayings, stories, interviews, prayers, and chants where we felt that the language itself might be helpful for historians and archivists. For example, the following data is from an interview where the interviewee discusses a method for ensuring men’s fidelity.

Entries example

Here the content seemed particularly useful as a potential piece of historical information. Because it is an interview, we chose to leave the language as is to ensure that its documentation was accurate.

Because data was changed (to varying degrees) we recommend that if you are an archivist or historian interested in the material’s specific language that you cross check the information in the Archive of Healing™ with the sources from which they were derived. And if there is language in any of the material coded 1- 4 that, while being a useful piece of information, contains offensive, derogatory, or outdated language that we may have missed, please flag it so that we can be sure to update the content. 

As a final but important note, we must add that we went through tens of thousands of data points. The Archive of Healing™ has hundreds of thousands. After creating a set of standards used in our evaluation, we then processed the remaining data through a machine learning program that coded the remaining rows. A cursory review has shown that the machine learning process was generally more conservative than the human process. The result is that the database is actually much larger than what will be accessible at first. Not including the data that subscribers submit themselves, the data base will constantly grow as users flag cards, the advisory board reviews previously flagged and coded cards, and as the Director moves data from the “hidden” to “visible” categories. Moreover, the site is being designed to build community: you are responsible as a user to flag cards and to comment on them. Advisory Board members have the extra responsibility to review flagged cards. And one can also submit new data. We feel this method has provided the best possible path forward to achieve an archive that respects community concerns, shares healing practices across cultures, and democratizes the ways that people can work together toward healthier lives and relationships.