Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's all in the wrist

In what I consider a nice bit of good news, PowerBalance has finally admitted that their bracelets are useless.

For those of you who haven't run into this particular piece of woo-woo nonsense, PowerBalance is an American-based company that came out a few years ago with a selection of brightly-colored plastic bracelets, with a holographic logo imprinted on them, and claimed that wearing them would somehow improve your health.  Users swore by them; for a time I used to see them regularly at the gym I belong to.  Supposedly, these things improved your lifting ability, flexibility, and reduced your likelihood of sore joints and muscles afterwards.  For an explanation of how a plastic bracelet could do all of that, the company had to resort to pseudoscience of the most egregious sort; the claim was that their "holographic technology" made the bracelet "resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body."

One of my pet peeves (okay, admittedly I have quite a few) is people who use scientific terms in a non-scientific way.  A favorite term for these folks is "field," which to a physicist means something specific, measurable, and quantifiable, but in the hands of these charlatans it becomes something mysterious -- an aura that surrounds your body and interacts with the world (and the fields of other people, presumably) in magical ways.  And somehow, this little strip of plastic was supposed to "resonate with your field" and improve your ability to bench press.

Well, finally, someone has forced them to admit that it's all a bunch of crap, and high time.  Apparently, PowerBalance has been under attack from consumer organizations all over Europe, but it was in Australia that they were forced to print a public notice that they'd hoodwinked the people who had purchased their products:

In our advertising we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility.
We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
If you feel you have been misled by our promotions, we wish to unreservedly apologise and offer a full refund.
To obtain a refund please visit our website or contact us toll-free on 1 800 733 436.
This offer will be available until 30th June 2011. To be eligible for a refund, together with return postage, you will need to return a genuine Power Balance product along with proof of purchase (including credit card records, store barcodes and receipts) from an authorised reseller in Australia.
This Corrective Notice has been paid for by Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd and placed pursuant to an undertaking to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission given under section 87B of the Trade Practices Act, 1974.
My general response was: hallelujah.  It's about time that one of these ripoff artists gets called on their fraudulent claims.  I'm saddened (but not surprised) that it hasn't happened in the US yet; at the risk of overgeneralization, I think Americans tend as a whole to be more superstitious (and therefore more easily suckered) than are citizens of most other industrialized countries.  Worthless quack cures (such as homeopathy) still are multi-million dollar business here, and (to my knowledge) there has been no concerted effort on the part of consumer organizations to try to stop them.  The only consistent push in that direction has come from skeptics, notably James Randi.

But this is a start.  One can only hope that it'll spread.  I'd like to live to see the day that psychics have to put disclaimers saying "Any Predictions I Make Are Probably Going To Be Wrong" underneath their sandwich boards, astrology columns come with a header saying "Warning: The Contents Of This Column Are Fiction" -- and the homeopaths are simply out of a job.


  1. I believe its a placebo effect for many who wear them. And I will continue to wear mine for style :)

  2. While I have no desire to discuss politics, I believe that the reason for a lack of accountability towards snake-oil companies is the diminishing consumer protections that used to be the cornerstone of American justice.

    Free market. Expensive Power Balance. Apparently we, as a nation, can't "afford" this type of justice anymore. The irony of not being able to "afford" the justice that prevents us from wasting our money on bogus products is not lost on me.

    ...and it's one thing if the product is a bit woo-woo to begin with. What becomes scary is when the consumer protection vacuum allows companies to use substandard ingredients, methods, etc, for products we consume.

    Big High Five for Australia!

  3. Yes, there's a study I've heard about that found that people perform better athletically after looking at a picture of a sports drink[1]. So I can believe this might have some similar effect.


    [1] Friedman, R., & Eliot, A. J. (2008, November). Exploring the influence of sports drink exposure on physical endurance. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 9(6).