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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Aqua metal jewelry, and the lure of vague claims

One of the most common ploys by companies advertising sham health products is making claims that seem on the surface to be scientific, but upon scrutiny turn out to be (1) vague, and (2) present no plausible mechanism by which they could work.

Consider Phiten jewelry, the newest thing in useless sports enhancers (now that PowerBalance bracelets have lost some of their luster given that they don't work).  This company, brought to my attention by an alert student of mine, sells "aqua titanium-infused" necklaces, bracelets, joint braces, and sports tape.  Also "aqua gold-infused."  Because, you know, titanium is strong, and gold is handsome, and, um, we'd all like to be handsome and strong, right?  Of course right.  So there you are.

Once again we have the endorsement of various sports figures, including Carmelo Anthony, Justin Verlander, C. J. Wilson, Kara Goucher, and Curtis Granderson, all of whom have photographs on the website wearing these various pieces of useless costume jewelry, but looking tough and athletic.  The implication being that the costume jewelry is why they're tough and athletic.  There's a lot of exciting-sounding hype, too:
The core of Phiten technology is in our Aqua Metals – metals that are broken down into microscopic particles dispersed in water. Every product features Phiten technology: from our signature necklaces, performance apparel, to our sports care items like body supports, tape and lotion. We tailor our products for everyone, from hardcore athletes to weekend warriors, to get them through the daily grind and to support a healthy and active lifestyle.
We are then told how "Aqua Titanium" is made -- apparently by taking pure water and titanium (correctly identified as an "insoluble metal") and dissolving said insoluble metal in the water via the "Aqua Titanium manufacturing process."

Ah.  It all becomes clear now.

As far as Aqua Gold, we're given a bit more information:
Gold tends to be the most effective metal in a variety of practical applications. For example, gold makes up the more sensitive components in computers because of its non-corrosive properties and excellent conductivity. Sound systems use gold in their connective wiring to insure the most faithful sound reproduction in the timeliest manner. Even in medicine, gold is used in its colloidal state as a vehicle for absorbing and transporting proteins and antibodies respectively in a nanoparticle form. 
Righty-o.  Because gold is used in stereo components, it obviously will help you to pitch a baseball faster.  I get it.

The overall characteristic of this website, and others like it, is a pervasive vagueness.  Nowhere are you told how on earth this is supposed to work.  I went to their FAQ page, thinking, "Well, the most FAQ I would have is, 'how the hell does wearing a necklace make you better at baseball?'"  But of course, that Q must not be A'd quite as F as I expected, because nothing nearly that specific shows up on the page.  Instead, we're told how to order, what forms of payment they accept, how to care for your Aqua Titanium Necklace once you've been suckered into buying one, and what their returns and exchanges policy is.  They do have a link with a list of some published papers, but an exposé in Wired found that only one of the papers listed was peer-reviewed, and that one showed completely equivocal results -- and the rest were sponsored by the "Society of Aqua Metal Research," a group that is employed and sponsored...

... by Phiten, Inc.

So, the whole thing is, once again, a great big scam, just like Power Balance bracelets, and copper jewelry for relieving arthritis, and magnet therapy, and so on and so forth.  None of it has the least basis in actual science.  So my advice: buy one of their necklaces if you think it looks nice.  But don't count on it boosting your performance, athletic or otherwise.

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