Although the principles have always been in use by people who see clearly, and although the Bates Method as named has stuck around for nearly a century, there has been no large "official" scientific study to support or denounce it, only small studies. Although large organizations such as those associated with conventional medicine routinely sponsor large-scale scientific studies, it isn't in their best interests to sponsor studies of alternative health practices. People don't make a ton of money teaching the Bates method, and studies take money.
With that in mind, the below is a small collection of direct and indirect evidence for the Bates Method that I've put together, from scholarly journals and other various sources. If you have or know of additional sources, please contact me so that I may include them here.
DR. BATES'S OWN PUBLISHED REPORTS
First and foremost, Dr. Bates published reports of many cases of improvement in his 1920 book. They were also often published in various medical journals of the day, including the New York Medical Journal, Medical Record, the Journal of the Allied Medical Associations of America, Virginia Medical Monthly, and the American Journal of Clinical Medicine. All of these reputable journals would have verified such extraordinary results before publishing them. Dr. Bates also published his findings and example cases in his Better Eyesight magazines and presented them publically and in meetings of his peers. His experiments and findings were often confirmed by other doctors.
CHARLES R. KELLEY'S DISSERTATION
Through the experiments and results described throughout Charles Kelley's Ph.D. dissertation, including significant success improving the vision of myopes, the following facts were proven:
1. Myopia is not a fixed structural condition, but varies through a wide range of values under different conditions.
2. Variations in myopia occur in consequence of psychological changes. Myopia is produced or made worse by fear or apprehension, and is reduced by reduced apprehension, relaxation, and pleasant visual imagery.
3. Suggestion can be used to produce psychological changes that in turn affect the degree of myopia for better or for worse. Suggestion can, when applied repeatedly, produce lasting improvement.
This study was far from obscure when it came out. Quoting from Charles Kelley's later 1971 book, New Techniques of Vision Improvement,
It was presented to the American Psychological Association convention, printed in a summary article in the Journal of the American Optometric Association, written up in Time magazine and the New York Times, recorded and broadcast over radio stations in New York and California. With that, interest died. Its effect on the vision professions has been nil.
WILLIAM H. MCCLAY'S DISSERTATION
William McClay's Ph.D. dissertation involved training by a Bates instructor in El Cajon, CA. Pre-test and post-test measurements were conducted by an optometrist. It illustrates the variety of conditions that the Bates Method is effective against.
In myopia, significant changes in visual acuity (p<.01) and corrective lens prescription (p<.05) were noted. Besides myopia, improvements in other conditions were also manifest:
The mean improvement of both presbyopia and hyperopia was highly significant (p<.01). The two conditions were not differentiated, but treated as the same, due to the characteristically poor vision at the nearpoint.
Out of five students with strabismus, the strabismus of three students, according to the examining doctor, disappeared or markedly reduced.
Astigmatism in forty percent of the cases improved or was eliminated.
One student had a partial traumatic cataract of the right eye, and while the cataract was not observed to reduce, his visual acuity improved during training from 20/40 to 20/25.
RAY GOTTLIEB'S DISSERTATION
An etiological model of myopia was developed on the basis of Bates's ideas and psychophysiological concepts which is compatible with the literature on nearsightedness. The evidence was also shown to be inconsistent with the genetic, metabolic, conditions of use, and biological variation theories of myopia.
A retrospective pilot study indicated, among other things, that myopia is a flexible condition and does reduce in magnitude. No attempt was made to actively test any methods of vision improvement.
Most importantly, the study suggests many paths of future research. Because of the lack of data about aspects of personality, life style, and other variables that might influence refractive changes, the usefulness of this study as baseline data is limited. Nevertheless, it serves a useful purpose in producing certain provocative findings as well as indicating the direction in which future investigation could proceed.
JACK FOX'S DISSERTATION
Jack Fox's study for his dissertation used 80 university students as the experimental group.
It was shown that myopes differ from emmetropes in their psychological characteristics. The findings suggest that myopia is an unhealthy psychosomatic condition. The second part of the experiment showed that the visual acuity of myopes significantly improved as a result of hypnotic suggestions. A control group and many factors were taken into account.
While this experiment was not on the Bates Method, it points to the mental aspects of myopia and shows that myopia can be improved by way of the mind.
CAROLYN A. ZEIGER'S DISSERTATION
Carolyn Zeiger obtained her Ph.D. in Psychology with the dissertation "A Psychological Approach to the Improvement of Myopia," written for the University of Colorado in 1976.
It was found that low and moderate myopes appraise the world as repugnant, reject it, and gain some distance from it through creating a conceptual buffer and by keeping to themselves. They are easily rattled, nervous, and lacking in self-confidence. High myopes, however, tested more like emmetropes, indicating a successful defense of sorts. In short, low and moderate myopes show the problems that myopes have, while high myopes show (apparent) solutions to those problems.
This helps show that myopia is a psychological problem and also points to what Dr. Bates wrote about degrees of strain: "...the sensations of the eye and mind supply very little information as to the strain to which both are being subjected, those who strain most often suffering the least discomfort." (my emphasis)
CASES OF JANET GOODRICH RECORDED
The following evidence was presented by Janet Goodrich in her book Natural Vision Improvement, published by Creative Arts in 1985. See the back of her book for details.
In 1977, an optometrist in the Los Angeles area recorded the acuities of twelve myopic students attending classes taught by Janet Goodrich. Most students were recorded as having improved acuities after a variable training time ranging between six weeks and fifteen months.
From 1980 to 1984, the progress of eighteen students attending an eight to twelve week course taught by Janet Goodrich or one of her instructors was recorded by ophthalmologist J. Soorani of Los Angeles. The full-strength prescriptions of all of the students was able to be reduced significantly, yielding estimated objective improvements of 15 to 60 percent by the end of the course. (many students, armed with what they learned in such a course, go on to continue their progress by themselves)
In 1984, a set of data for nine people about to become students of a natural vision improvement course was recorded by optometrist Hans H. Friend of Australia. Most of the students were myopic and astigmatic. The students were immediately given reduced prescription lenses that would afford them 6/12 (20/40) acuity. They were then given a course in natural vision improvement. They returned to the optometrist when they individually chose, ranging from a week to four months. They were all able to obtain a further reduced prescription that afforded them at least 6/12 (20/40) acuity, with the exception of two students who were able to both completely discard their glasses and see better than 6/12 (20/40).
EXPERIMENT INVOLVING ELECTRICAL SIMULATION
In a 1969 study involving five cats and two humans, electrical stimulation of the muscles surrounding the eyes produced a 1 to 2 diopter change towards farsightedness in all cases. This provides evidence that chronic tension of these muscles, contrary to conventional wisdom, can affect the focus of the eye.
THE STRESS-DISEASE CONNECTION
Since the 1970s, recognition has steadily grown that mental stress is a major cause of a variety of physical diseases. There has been an enormous amount of research in this field, and it is now well-known that areas in which diseases and conditions occur due to stress-related causes include the circulatory, digestive, respiratory, nervous, and muscular systems of the body. It's only reasonable to propose that the eye, one of the most complex organs of the body, and one which arguably is our major sense and tied closely to our thoughts, is not exempt from being affected by our reactions to stress that wreak havoc throughout the rest of our body.
ACCEPTED BY SOME EYE DOCTORS
A number of peers of Dr. Bates learned his methods and implemented them successfully on their own. These doctors were referenced in various issues of Better Eyesight magazine.
Some optometrists and ophthalmologists today teach the Bates Method and are listed in the directories at the Association of Vision Educators and Bates Association for Vision Education websites. Many other optometrists, ophthalmologists, and medical doctors who are not members of these associations actively promote the Bates Method. References to this professional support of the Bates Method are scattered throughout the body of literature on this subject, which includes approximately 100 books and countless articles.
STUDENTS LICENSED TO DRIVE WITHOUT GLASSES
Tom Quackenbush, a Bates teacher, has on his website photocopies of driver's licenses (afforded by a few of his students) with and without the restriction of corrective lenses, before and after Bates training, respectively. http://www.naturalvisioncenter.com/success.html
VISUAL CHANGES IN MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER (MPD)
The visual changes in MPD illustrate the fact that many conditions of the eye that are conventionally conceived to be permanent conditions are merely functional disorders. Optometrists Birnbaum and Thomann cite several observations and studies and conclude:
Among the most intriguing characteristics of MPD patients are the physiologic differences demonstrated in different personality states. Differences in ocular visual status in alter personality states have been reported with respect to visual acuity, manifest refration, pupil size, corneal curvature, intraocular pressure, binocular alignment, visual fields, and color vision. The most dramatic findings include the existence of personality-specific strabismus, and in the case reported in this paper, personality -specific hemianopsia and refractive differences in alter personalities of suffient magnitude to require the use of different glasses.
The existence of personality-specific physiologic differences, including differences in visual and ocular status, offers a unique and intriguing potential for better understanding of the manner in which personality and mental state may influence physiology and be factors in vision disorder and disease.
VISION IMPROVEMENT UNDER HYPNOSIS
Hypnotists discovered by accident that a patient's vision improved remarkably under hypnosis. The lenses of the eye, which are conventionally accepted as the sole focusing mechanism, were paralyzed by drugs, yet the patient's acuity improved. This suggests that psychological changes were responsible for the clarity of vision.
Hypnotists Graham and Leibowitz found that hypnotic suggestion led to a significant improvement of the vision of the myopes it was used on. Subjects also had flashes of crystal clear vision, which is a common occurance with people improving their vision with the Bates Method. They note that this phenomenon has been reported elsewhere in the literature.
ACCOMMODATION IN THE LENSLESS EYE
A. Edward Davis, M.D., goes over cases where patients were able to focus for various distances after their lenses (which are conventionally accepted as the sole mechanism of focusing) were removed, and offers a reminder that these types of cases have been occasionally reported by eminent eye doctors.
This suggests that certain limits which are conventionally imposed on the idea of vision improvement are based on false assumptions.