Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Magic Versus Science

Score one for science. And also Australian authorities who made Power Balance, the California company behind the Power Balance bracelet, admit that there is "no credible scientific evidence" that supports their claims.

What kind of claims did the company make? That their silicone wristbands with Mylar holographic disks would "safely restore and optimize the electro-magnetic balance within the human body -- IMMEDIATELY."

And that their Mylar holographic disks contain "the same material used to keep static away from electronic components" and "has been embedded with an electrical frequency that restores your body's electrical balance, promoting free exchange of positive and negative ions that aligns your body's energy pathways."

In other words, they spoke a lot of sciency sounding mumbojumbo. My god. My body's energy pathways? I never saw that in any biology book. And why is my body's electrical balance off? Wouldn't I be short-circuiting all my electronics if I was carrying around some kind of charge? And how do you put an electrical frequency inside a silicone bracelet?

And why wouldn't any of the other trendy "wristbands for [insert cause here]" do the same job? Lucky for Power Balance most people wouldn't even know how to do a basic experiment to test that idea.

And lucky for Power Balance they had some celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal shilling for them. Of course even after these magic amulets have been debunked, people will still believe.

A friend of my sister's wears one of these things faithfully. On Thanksgiving she tried to demonstrate it to my mother. The friend removed her bracelet, lifted her arm and showed that her shoulder was stiff and could barely move backwards. "Without the bracelet, I can barely move my shoulder back." Then she put the bracelet back on. "But see! With the bracelet, I can move my arm like this!" And with a graceful and dramatic sweep, yes, she did move her arm, but only by rotating her entire torso a good 20 degrees! My mom is no science scholar, but she's not a sucker either. Also, nothing in the world would make my mom part with $29.99 for a piece of rubber jewelry.

But Power Balance seems almost defiant on their Twitter page. It's as if there is no shame in quackery. So they will probably adjust their claims, and go on with business as usual serving more and more eager customers.

The placebo effect is one hell of a fascinating aspect of human healing.

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