Sometime in the 1970s I saw a TV report on how colors could change your strength and balance. It was just, to use the word without permission, "amazing." The subjects would have their strength tested by holding out their arms and resisting as best they could the downward pressure exerted by the color therapy "expert." When a blue colored card was placed in front of the subjects, it was found they could resist the pressure quite well. However when a pink colored card was used, their strength seemed to abandon them. The same effect was found when their balance was tested. It was all so convincing. But who was going to make money out of something anyone could make for themselves at home?
Fast-forward about thirty years or so and the color cards, as far as I know, are long gone. But the same tests are still being used, only now they are employed sell a vast panopoly of products that use E.U.T.S. (Energies Unknown to Science)
We have such wonderful devices as:
EFX Embedded Wearable Holographic Technology “...is energetic technology designed to instantly increse power, balance and flexibility by stabilizing and harmonizing the body's bioelectric current.” (Demo Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDSwLYEr7Mk)
EQ “When an EQUILIBRIUM hologram sits within your aura its coded frequencies clear the electrical pathways of negative energy. Your performance will be closer to fulfilling its highest potential.” (Demo Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkfeLITVUMY)
EKEN Powerbands “nFIT (nano Frequency Infusion Technology) is our proprietary system for programming the EKEN holograms. This method ensures that each hologram receives a highly concentrated dose of the frequencies required to produce the highest potency and longest lasting product on the market.” (Demo Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_ahBmzA75g)
Bionic Band “...which use[s] Proton Alignment Resonance Technology (P.A.R.T.™) to counteract the effects of EMF pollution and allow the body’s cells to “resonate” on the same frequency at once.” (Demo Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u683lcoeCBY)
iRenew “iRenew® Energy Balance System™ products with BioField Technology™ harness the natural frequencies which are everpresent in our environment and use them to tune and rebalance your biofield back to a more natural, coherent state.” (Demo Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4O0gNlZFymM)
Phiten “Phiten Technology is based around the different applications of our high-intensity Phild Process. Titanium has been found by our scientists to be particularly responsive to the Phild Process; meaning, it is consistently effective in emitting, or "passing on" the stabilizing effect of the Phild Process.” (Demo Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CeQVKNR7no)
Power Balance “The hologram in Power Balance is designed to respond to the natural energy field of the body. The Mylar material at the core of Power Balance has been treated with energy waves at specific frequencies. The resulting Mylar is believed to resonate and work with your body's natural energy flow to help enable you to perform at the best of your ability.” (Demo Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8e6DnNARz60)
What a pity that science has not yet caught up with all these "bio-energy fields!"
As you can see from the linked videos, all these companies use the same balance, flexibility and strength “tests” to convince their customers of the instant and profound effects of their products.
My first encounter with these body “tests,” in the flesh, was at a Mind Body Spirit (or “Mind Body Wallet” as we call it) festival in Sydney, 2008. A group of us came across the stand of FusionExcel as they demonstrated the Quantum Pendant. Not one to be shy, I offered one of the representatives the chance to be tested by Australian Skeptics for our $100,000 prize – much the same thing as the JREF $1,000,000. To this day I have not heard back. But what made the Quantum Pendant stand out were the supplementary claims given by the FusionExcel representatives. The pendant could also turn tap water into sun block. It might take a moment for the gravity of this claim to sink in. A plastic pendant, if placed under a bottle of tap water for 15 minutes, will give that water the power of a sunblock if rubbed on the skin. Indeed, one of the representatives told us she used it on her grandchildren, as she does not trust the chemicals in real sun block.
But I digress. Let’s take a closer look at the so-called “tests” that help sell all of these magical products. What is going on? To put it simply, the person carrying out the “tests” slightly changes the direction of applied force so as to either tip the subject off balance or to reinforce the subject’s own balance. Look again at some of the videos and you’ll see that is exactly what is going on. In order to illustrate this point, I produced this video to clearly demonstrate the tricks. It also show how you too can invent your own science.
Apart from these body tricks, (and don’t think for a moment that they aren't convincing) once someone has it in their head that X, Y or Z product can improve their strength or performance on the sporting field, there is virtually nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. I met an ex-footballer who told me that he didn’t care what I did or said, he knew from personal experience that Power Balance worked. There are also the seemingly endless financial possibilities that may just sway some to jump on the bandwagon. A Power Balance band alone costs about $65 in Australia.
My own efforts in trying to enlighten people as to just how these tricks are done seem to be paying off. In December 2009 I was asked by a national TV news show to test Power Balance with the Australian distributor, Tom O'Dowd. He failed 5 out of 5 tests with his own product. This seemed to come as a complete surprise to him, as I suspect he has never before been put to a double blind test. Whenever he or anyone he knew “tested” the product, it was always an unblinded test - meaning that it was fully known by the tester when a Power Balance was being used and when it wasn't. Needless to say it did not take him long to come up with an "out" that to him explained the Power Balance's sudden failure. The TV test can been seen here.
Despite this bad publicity on national TV, the Sydney Morning Herald dated 8 September 8, 2010 reported that ”Many roll their eyes at the thought of forking out $60 for a wristband that aims to improve balance and flexibility. But not two Melbourne businessmen, whose Power Band importing business is turning over millions of dollars.”
However, due to this extra attention, the product came to the notice of CHOICE Magazine, an independent Australian organisation dedicated to consumer protection. After a series of tests with the Power Balance band, unknown to skeptics and Power Balance alike, CHOICE concluded that "This so-called exercise-assisting 'hologram' is nothing more than a pricey placebo" and went even further in a report in the Sunday Telegraph, calling it a “$2 shop scam.”
As Skeptics we can do much to draw attention to such things as magical bands that claim to improve well-being. But as CHOICE points out, it is up to our governments to act on these products and do what they were elected to do and protect their citizens.
Richard Saunders is a Vice President of Australian Skeptics and producer of The Skeptic Zone podcast.