(Investigator 176, 2017 September)
Iridology, or iris diagnosis, is an alternative method by which it is
claimed the functional state of the body and ill-health can be
While its origins are lost in antiquity, like chiropractic, acupuncture
and homoeopathic medicine, it has undergone a resurgence in recent
Its modem development is attributed to Dr Ignatz von Peczely of
Hungary, who, after observing a black spot which appeared in the iris
of an owl that had been injured, published a treatise in 1866,
theorising an iris-body connection.
A latter day proponent of iridology is Bernard Jensen, whose charts in
particular have gained a reputation and are those most commonly used to
show a correlation between iris representation and the body's organs.
Briefly stated, the hypothesis posits that illness or disease alters
the topography of the iris through the neuro-optic reflex. That is, as
the organs of the body are connected by nerves to the brain and the
iris is likewise connected, there is a relationship between changes in
bodily functions and the coloured diaphragm (iris) surrounding the
black pupillary opening in the centre.
Using the above method, one iridologist tested by A. Simon et al. (An
Evaluation of Iridology. 1979), correctly diagnosed eighty-five per
cent of patients with renal disease.
There is a divergence of opinion on interpretation by some
diagnosticians however. Jensen, for example, denies the ability to
diagnose death, whereas Kriege in his Fundamental Basis of Iris
Diagnosis, gives three signs of imminent death.
J. Piesse, (1980), in the Australian
Physician states that cancer cannot be diagnosed, but Kriege and
Jensen do not agree. Jensen presents a number of cases of breast, bowel
and lung cancers diagnosed through iris manifestations.
Despite the divergence of opinion, iris diagnosis is popular with those
whom, for one reason or another, are disillusioned with science-based
medical procedures and seek the advice of alternative medicine
Iridology, like sclerology (the study of the red lines in the whites of
the eyes), dermaglyphics (the lines on the bottom of the feet),
phrenology (diagnosis using the bumps on the head) and acupuncture, all
teach that because all parts of the body are connected by nerves to the
brain, the state of one part is reflected in another. No evidence is
ever offered to support the notion and it is analogous to saying, that
because all telephones are connected to a central telephone exchange
one automatically reacts with another.
Iridologists try to give iris diagnosis some semblance of scientific
respectability by drawing as an analogy the diagnosis of systemic
disease by ophthalmoscopy, overlooking the pathological fact that the
retinal structures are directly affected by specific diseases whereas
the iris is not.
The discrediting of iris topography begins with the lack of conformity
and the anomalies and discrepancies appearing in the scores of
different diagnostic charts available. All show differences in the
location and interpretation of their iris signs. Jensen's chart, for
example, shows the heart to be represented only in the left eye. Kriege
however, finds the "right heart" represented in the right iris, while
the "left heart" appears in the left iris. Kriege also claims that his
adherents can diagnose from a photograph without even seeing the
These claims were put to the test by D.M. Cockburn (1981), at the
University of Melbourne, where iridologists were invited to evaluate
before-and-after photographs of patients who had developed an acute
disease. The only set of photographs in which they perceived a change
were those of a control subject taken two minutes apart.
Further evidence of the diagrammatical inefficacy of iris charts was
reported by Jancke in 1955 (cited by Hoebens 1983). Using the charts
developed by leading iridologists Vida and Deck, Jancke examined the
medical records of 150 patients and then compared them with the
iridological diagnoses. Several "hits" were established. The chart was
then turned 90 degrees in such a way that the part of the iris
associated with one part of the body was now represented by
The number of hits was found to be the same as when the chart was held
in its iridologically proper position.
The iridologist who correctly diagnosed eighty-five per cent of the
patients who had renal disease also diagnosed eighty-five per cent of
the healthy patients as also having renal disease.
Studies spanning several decades and involving hundreds of patients are
even more revealing. In 1927, Frese (cited by Hoebens 1983), examined
762 patients whose conditions were known, looking for the appropriate
'markings' in the irises. The results were disastrous for the
iridological claims. The irises revealed diseases from which the
patients were not suffering and failed to reveal actual illnesses.
Another carried out in the Netherlands (Knipschild 1988), sought to
determine the ability of five "leading" iridologists to observe the
presence of inflamed gall bladder disease in thirty-nine patients vs
thirty-nine controls of the same sex and age. Stereo colour slides of
the right eye were presented and presented in random order. The
iridologists were unable to perform any better than chance in their
ability to recognise those diseases, and exhibited an inter performer
agreement consistency of sixty per cent (a test of reliability) which
is only slightly higher than chance.
There appears to be no scientific evidence that confirms either the
theory of iridology or the ability of iridologists to practice in a
Cockburn, D. 1981. A Study of the Validity of Iris Diagnosis. Australian Journal of Optometry.
Fitzgerald, F.T. 1983. "Science and Scam: Alternative Thought Patterns
in Alternative Health Care." New
England Journal of Medicine. 309, 1066-1067.
Hoebens, Piet Hein. 1983. Iridology Critiques in Germany. Skeptical Inquirer. 8:188-190.
Jensen, B. 1952. The Science and
Practice of Iridology. CA. (Pub).
Knipschild, P. 1988. British Medical
Nolen, W.A. 1974. Healing: A Doctor
in Search of a Miracle. Random House. New York.
Simon, A., Worthen, D. and Mitas, J. 1979. "An Evaluation of
Journal of the American Medical
Association. 242, 1385-1389.
Stark, D.J. 1982. "Look Into My Eyes. Iridology Exposed." the Skeptic. 2(1).
Worrell, R. 1978. "Iridology: Diagnosis or Delusion?" Skeptical Inquirer. 7(3):23-35
________ 1984. "Pseudoscience: A Critical Look at Iridology." Journal of the American Optometric
Young, J.H. 1967. The Medical
Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth Century
America. Princeton University Press. NJ.