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.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Wand waving and hand waving

Consider four general truths about your average human.

First, people are attracted to novelty.  Look at how often "New and Improved!" shows up on product labels -- although I've always wondered how something can be "new" and "improved" simultaneously.

Second, the idea of curing chronic pain is a pretty attractive proposition to a lot of us.  Many people deal with pain sufficient to change our lifestyles, and in some cases bad enough to trigger thoughts of suicide.  All of us know someone whose life has been plagued with chronic pain.  Because of this, tremendous amount of (legitimate) medical research goes into developing therapies to manage, treat, or mitigate pain.

Third, we have the sad fact that most folks don't have much background in real science, so anything with science-y words is going to sound impressive, even if on analysis those words don't turn out to mean much.

And fourth, it's pretty obvious that money is a powerful motivator.

Add these four things together, and you have the makings of a scam of mammoth proportions.

Meet the Amega Amwand -- a device that uses "minerals and crystals" that have been treated with an "amized fusion process" (the details of which are, of course, a proprietary secret) to treat pain.  The minerals and crystals are encased in a steel sleeve the size of a ballpoint pen.  To treat the pain, all you basically do is to wave the wand around over the painful area, and the pain miraculously goes away.

How can this possibly work, you may be asking?  They say that the wand accesses "zero-point energy" and then uses that to stimulate your body's "bioelectric fields" and it promotes healing.  Of course, we also have the disclaimer that the wand "is not intended to treat, prevent, cure, or diagnose any medical condition," which makes me wonder what exactly "Improves body’s ability to self-regulate – more harmonized bodily functions like never before!" means.

Oh, and a video interview with a guy who sells the things says it'll also make your wine taste better.  Your food, too.  Why?  Because it "oxidizes" it.  Now, in case you're curious, burning something is also oxidation.  And my general experience with burnt food is that it doesn't, in fact, make it taste better.  But maybe that's just me.  (You should definitely watch this video, which ends with an interview with a physicist that debunks the whole claim.)

I haven't told you yet how much these things cost.  The website I linked above has wands priced at $370 each -- $704 for one that has "activated rubies" in it.

Add this to the fact that the Amega brand is a multi-level marketing (pyramid) scheme -- and this explains why Sam Adams, who is identified in the video as being one of the top "generations" of the company, is allegedly making $3,600 a day from this stuff.

So, here's the central point: could this thing actually work?

The simple answer is: no.  There's no way that a magic wand filled with minerals can have any effect on your body.  It's not "shooting out energy" (as the site claims); it's not "inducing homeostasis" any more than your body's systems already were; and it's not stimulating anything in you except the placebo effect.  The whole hand-waving "explanation" given on their website basically amounts to throwing out some technical-sounding jargon and making extravagant promises, including the inadvertently humorous statement that "this Zero Point Energy Field, gives a ginormous amount of Life Giving Energy to the body and reminds it’s [sic] cells where they came from."

Oh, and by the way: the idea of "accessing the zero-point energy" is bullshit.  Zero-point energy is a real thing, defined as the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical system could have.  If you could "extract energy" from it, then it wouldn't be the lowest possible energy, you know?  To quote the Wikipedia article directly:
As a scientific concept, the existence of zero-point energy is not controversial although the ability to harness it is.  Over the years, there have been claims of devices capable of extracting usable zero-point energy.

In quantum theory, zero-point energy is a minimum energy below which a thermodynamic system can never go.  Thus, none of this energy can be withdrawn without altering the system to a different form in which the system has a lower zero-point energy.

Current claims to zero-point-energy-based power generation systems are in contradiction with known physics laws and have the status of pseudoscience.
So there you go, then.

I live in perpetual amazement that people fall for something like this, especially given how pricey these things are.  I mean, if I were in chronic pain, I might risk twenty bucks on something that was a little sketchy -- but $370?  $704 for the special, ruby-enhanced version?  I suppose pain could motivate people to try something out of desperation -- which makes what these hucksters are doing even more reprehensible.  Because getting rich by selling a steel sleeve full of snake oil is also, for the unethical, a strong motivator.

After all, it's no new thing that a fool and his money are soon parted -- nor that there's a sucker born every minute.

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