Tuesday, May 4, 2010
AFL "Aussie rules" Football "stars", highly regarded for their penetrating insight and discerning mental acuity seem to be the latest unwitting promoters of this Power Balance (PB) scam.
I've come across way too many people and too many news reports recently discussing this subject credulously. I had to have my say.
If you don't know what PB is, it's basically a "magic bracelet", a lot of places discuss PB, for and against, but I feel a lot of the information is still misunderstood by most people. Even in the places which expose the scam, a lot of people keep commenting: "but I've seen it work!" and my favourite: "I don't care if it is a placebo, it still works". This I'll address at the end of this post.
The Power Balance bracelet is far from unique, it's one of a class of products called "Ionized bracelets". There have been more then a few different ones marketed around the world over the years and they all make various claims, but you can tell them by their Modus Operandi, which they all share: Magic frequencies embedded in something like holograms or magnets interacting with body energy fields. And of course, promise of some sort of real physical enhancement; some claim pain reduction, management of inflammation, arthritis, circulation, coordination; PB specifically claims increased power (strength) and, wait for it: balance! (Genius!). Some promotional material claims an increase of 500%! Whatever that means.
One of the most famous, or infamous, "Ionizing Bracelets" is the Q-Ray bracelet. The Q-ray made claims about improving sports performance and also about helping with conditions like arthritis and other kinds of pain. A study by the Mayo clinic in America, a very prestigious non profit research organization, found in 2002 that there was absolutely no basis for the claims made by the manufacturers of Q-ray (QT.inc) and subsequently led to a high profile court injunction against them in 2006 by the American Federal Trades Commission (FTC). Further, a federal judge ordered QT Inc. to pay back $22.5 million "in ill-gotten gains" and ruled that the whole premise of the bracelet was invented, I quote: "to defraud consumers". Astonishingly, Q-ray bracelets are still on sale and still going strong, only minus the bogus health benefit claims, of course. Now they're just "wellness - lifestyle bracelets". Unfortunately it seems like their past promotion and the seemingly endless "testimonials", which are unregulated by the FTC, are more then enough of a wave to perpetuate the sale of US$60 - $200 daggy looking bangles that do NOTHING. Land of the free? Sounds more like land of the "free to rip people off".
For people at this point who wonder "if they really didn't work, why do people still buy them after this many years?" All I can say to that is a fool and his money are easily parted. I think it's obvious not everyone who bought a PB is a fool (well, the footy players excluded). So I imagine it must be hard to reconcile this if you bought one but don't actually consider yourself a fool, which very few, if ANY fools... I mean PEOPLE, actually admit.
So let me qualify: You do NOT have to be a fool to be fooled!
This seems to be an extremely difficult concept for a lot of people to understand: Perfectly normal, intelligent, perceptive and discerning people can be fooled, if they are not very familiar with the subject under consideration, or sometimes even if they are! In fact, magicians and con artists partly rely on the fact that most people don't think they are fools, because it means most people are far less likely to believe they are being fooled, even when it's happening right in front of their eyes!
You could argue and I'm sure the makers of PB actually do, that Q-Ray and PB are "not the same thing". On the face of it this is true, but the important fundamentals are the same. I could tomorrow invent the "BS Bracelet" TM. It increases your Brains and Sex drive by tuning into the frequency of your chakras; the icing is different, but the cake is the same.
DISCLAIMER: If you steal my idea, i want a cut!
So how can I be sure the PB, or the Q-Ray or the BS bracelet don't actually do anything? There are people going around “proving” that they work with some simple tests that can be repeated, these tests are very convincing because they are performed by YOU, the person they are trying to convince, if YOU notice the effect, that's what counts right?
The problem is that most people don't realize what's happening, they think there are only two possible scenarios: Either there is an effect or there isn't. They think the test is trying to fool them into thinking there's an effect, but they feel an effect so they think the effect must be REAL. Even if the source of that effect is fake, like a placebo, it doesn't matter to them, they can really FEEL the effect, therefore to them it is as good as real.
But this is actually NOT the case. There is a 3rd possible scenario most people don't consider: It is the EFFECT that is faked, not your perception of it.
The difference here might seem slight, but it is critical, you “THINK” you are balancing better with the bracelet, but you are actually not. The test is "rigged", it's designed to make you THINK you are experiencing an effect which is not real. The effect that you “THINK” you are experiencing is actually an illusion, it's a trick. It feels very real when you are doing it, but doing a simple double blind study reveals it as a trick. If you are actually interested in the phenomenon, it is related to Applied Kinesiology, look it up, I won't go into it here.
Importantly, this does not mean that having a PB is an effective "placebo" that makes you balance better using the power of your mind. It means a TRICK can be used to make you THINK you are balancing better when you have the PB. This is the vital part: The same trick could be used to make you THINK you are balancing better when you take the mobile phone out of your pocket, or when you wear a tin foil hat, or anything else you chose. It's a TRICK. It's not the effect that is in your mind, which might be attributed to a placebo effect, it is the ILLUSION of the effect that's in your mind, which can only be attributed to a trick.
At this point, people who have experienced the “test” will still probably say: “I wasn't being fooled, the test was objective and fair. I was stronger/ better balanced /whatever”.
At which point I would argue that the test was NOT objective, you might think it was but it wasn't. The OBJECTIVE test is the blinded test Richard Saunders performed with the promoter of PB on Today Tonight. The test which was utterly and miserably FAILED by the promoter, because as soon as THE PROMOTER didn't actually KNOW who had the bracelet, the effect miraculously vanished.
Even the TT team make the mistake of attributing this "trick" to mind over matter, that's NOT it at all. There is NO effect, the effect is purely a "trick" demonstrated by the person doing the testing, in this case the promoter. The fantastic part is that the promoter himself is not necessarily at all devious and consciously trying to trick people! He is likely falling for the same trick because he has no idea how it works either.
This brings up the last point I would like to make. The vast majority of people are NOT aware of how subtle and intricate bias, deception and maybe most importantly: SELF deception can be. The promoter seemingly willingly participates in the test on Today Tonight, it's hard to believe he would if he knew he was going to fail so miserably. I actually think it's very likely the promoter really believes in PB and “thinks” that his tests are objective and fair too. I hazard a guess that failing the tests hasn't deterred his belief or made him skeptical, since he has so much personal stake and reputation riding on it. How does he justify it? I bet he just thinks he was having an off day or the forces weren't aligned for him at the time, or the cameras, lights, or skeptics were interfering with the test, or some other such similar excuse. I also bet he still happily promotes and sells PB to the masses, who like him, can't imagine that they are being fooled.