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Pseudoscience Without the Science

I was at the pharmacy the other day when I happened to notice this little accessory, which boasts on the package that it “may help to promote BALANCE, STRENGTH & ENDURANCE” (and which carries a disclaimer about not being evaluated by the FDA – always a good sign):

I have to admit, I get weirdly enthusiastic whenever I see a new brand of snake oil on the shelves. I always want to see what kind of pseudoscientific claim the manufacturer has come up with to support their wildly improbable claims this time. What would it be, I wondered: magnets? Crystals? Embedded holograms? Homeopathic water memory? Thought waves from Planet X? Powdered unicorn horn?

I turned the package over, and found…


I’m not kidding! You can see for yourself that the back of the package has no text other than an explanation of how to put it on. There’s literally no explanation of how or why it should work. Frankly, I’m disappointed. If I’m going to spend $19.99 for a useless piece of silicone rubber, I expect to at least be entertained by some creatively implausible pseudoscientific gibberish.

My only remaining question is why they stopped at saying this bracelet may help to promote balance, strength and endurance. If the only standard governing here is the merely possible, why not also say that it “may” make the wearer invisible, regrow lost limbs, or make them sexually irresistible to every healthy adult within fifty meters? I mean, really – what do you have to lose?

Even the manufacturer’s website disappointed me. There was some promising drivel about “Selective Frequency Resonance technology”, but when I clicked on the “Research” link – wouldn’t you know it? – all it says is, “More information coming soon”. (Their shopping-cart page, of course, is fully functional.)

I despair of product manufacturers’ laziness in inventing new forms of pseudoscience. Are American consumers so apathetic that fly-by-night companies don’t even have to try to come up with a ridiculous and scientifically unsupported explanation of how their latest gadget works?

Fortunately, there’s Gaiam Living. We had some sheets from this company on our wedding registry, and they’ve been sending us catalogues ever since. Their latest issue had this listed:

This body wrap, in a classic bit of pseudoscience, promises “the unmatched benefits of infrared” without “harmful electromagnetic frequencies”. Infrared radiation is, of course, a band of the electromagnetic spectrum, so this makes about as much sense as promising to deliver water without the wetness:

I suppose you could read this as saying that it’s delivering only harmless infrared, without other kinds of EMF that are harmful – but really, how many brands of electric heating pad are emitting X-rays or gamma rays?

Post image public domain, via Wikipedia; image of EM spectrum by Inductiveload and released under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Other photos by author.


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