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More Mumbo Jumbo

Entry 1250, on 2010-12-06 at 14:10:25 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

A friend of mine has a few medical issues which cannot be easily improved except through surgery. Naturally she is quite enthusiastic to find a less invasive solution so who could blame her for trying a few different possible remedies? In fact, there are many people in similar situations and it's an area where the market naturally provides many alternatives.

Except, of course, it doesn't. As you will know if you read this blog much, I have little faith in the market and again it has failed. The person I mentioned above heard about a new product which uses medical grade silicone wristbands (or pendant necklaces) embedded with a "treated hologram". This is supposed to cure almost anything that's wrong with you: hip problems, back and neck pain, etc; as well as just generally increasing energy and performance in sport.

The radio advertisement and web site provide several testimonials from people who said they noticed real improvements and immediately felt less energy as soon as the bracelet was removed. So if people said it worked for them then it must really work, mustn't it? I mean, you're not allowed to lie in advertising, are you?

Well there's lies and then there's lies. By the strictest standards almost all advertising is a lie, I guess. And this is certainly no exception. Maybe some of these people really do think this product works. Maybe some of them actually got better as a result of using it. But I can be almost 100% certain that it doesn't really "work", at least no better than a random chunk of plastic which the user thinks is imbued with some sort of magical, remedial power.

There are a couple of interesting psychological effects at work here. First there is the well-know placebo effect where, for many problems, people will feel better if they think they should feel better (real scientific studies indicate placebo works in 30 to 60 percent of cases for certain ailments). Then there's good old cognitive dissonance. The more people spend on a useless hunk of plastic the more likely they are to think it works because they subconsciously don't want to admit they have been sucked into paying a lot for something with no real value.

There is absolutely no credible mode of action through which this device could work. Here's the explanation from the web site: "The bands help you maintain peak performance by keeping your energies in balance. The special hologram on the bracelet helps to balance your energies. The people at power balance claim that almost everything has an energy field and that you and I are no different. They say that the hologram on the bracelet interacts with your energy fields to harmonise your field and ensure that you can give your maximum. The hologram is from the same material that is used to keep static electricity from damaging electrical components and is embedded with a special frequency to balance your body."

What complete and total drivel. The whole paragraph means nothing. It's just a meaningless pseudo-scientific jumble of fancy sounding words. There's no doubt at all that none of what is described there has any relevance in the real world. It's pure nonsense.

But, that aside, is it worth using something which doesn't really work if it actually does provide some effect even if it is only through the placebo effect? I don't know. If it helps my friend I suppose I'll be happy but I think it's far more likely that she will have spent NZ$90 (yes 90 dollars for a hunk of plastic probably worth a dollar or two) for nothing.

But what about all the testimonials? Quite simply, they're useless. Why do real medical researchers spend millions on real scientific studies instead of just going out and asking people about their experiences? Because personal stories and anecdotes are worse than useless, they are actually misleading. I can find people who can give personal anecdotes supporting anything. Yes, absolutely anything, including: alien abductions, reincarnation, flat Earth, ghosts, goblins, leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster, the list could go on for pages and would include stuff which is even less likely than what I have mentioned here.

Whether the company making this device have deluded themselves into thinking it actually works or whether they are just totally dishonest and are prepared to exploit unfortunate people with medical problems I'm not sure. Maybe they know it doesn't work but think the placebo effect justifies its use.

The web site says this: "Many people claim its [sic] merely the Placebo [sic] affect [sic] at full force. In my opinion whether its [sic] placebo or they [sic] actually work anything that gives you the edge is worthwhile". By making the price $90 it makes the placebo stronger of course because if it was only $5 no one would take it seriously! It's a tricky moral situation.

So (like almost every alternative remedy) this doesn't work but it might help through placebo and other effects, it's dishonestly marketed, it's overpriced, and it's potentially hazardous if people reject real interventions in favour of this. But it might still be worth a try! It's a strange old world, isn't it?


Comment 1 (2847) by OJB on 2010-12-12 at 16:21:20:

Update: Since I posted this I listened to a "Skeptics Guide to the Universe" podcast which discussed this exact product. It has generally been recognised as one of the biggest rip-offs around the world at the moment. The person mentioned above has just sent it back asking for a refund!


Comment 2 (2858) by OJB on 2011-02-04 at 20:36:10:

And now the PM of New Zealand has one. As if he wasn't embarrassing enough already!


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