In Reply to Power Balance’s Statement that They’re Not Actually Frauds

Power Balance has released a statement, concerning their wristbands. Please read it in full here.

I will now proceed to tear it apart, piece by piece.

Nonsense on Wrists

  • Power Balance stands by our products

Wouldn’t be much of a business if they didn’t.

  • Millions of people around the globe are wearing Power Balance products and are thrilled with the results.

Argumentum ad populum – the fallacy appealing to numbers to justify itself. “Millions of people can’t be wrong!” seems to be the implication. But a mistake or lie doesn’t become true the more times you say it or believe it. Many believed the earth was flat. Belief does not alter the planet’s shape.

Truth is not yelled into existence, reality is not made on the hot air of stridency. All that Power Balance indicates here is the amount of people it’s duped into believing its unfounded claims.

  • Dozens of high profile professional athletes swear by the results they’ve experienced from wearing our products.

Another version of the argumentum ad populum. The Fallacy Navigator, linked above, calls this “Snob Appeal” which is “the fallacy of attempting to prove a conclusion by appealing to what an elite or a select few (but not necessarily an authority) in a society thinks or believes.” Sportspeople are not (necessarily) scientists. So what if they “swear” by it? Power Balance’s claims remain unfounded.

If “dozens of high profile professional athletes” said they could fly, had wings made of rainbows and were all from planet Zog, would we believe them?

We may be justified if they were, say, physicians or biologists who found these results after testing the wristbands. But these “high profile professional athletes” are simply the higher-paid, more famous victims duped by Power Balance.

  • CNBC recently named Power Balance as the “Sports Product of the Year for 2010.” Our bracelet was also one of Amazon’s “Top 5 Best Sellers” during the recent holiday shopping season.

Based probably on sales, since most of us sceptical of Power Balance have been seeking evidence for their claims. It is unlikely CNBC and Amazon gave it for scientific credibility and biological breakthrough – in fact, considering Power Balance’s claims, if Power Balance were serious, they would be announcing their winning the Nobel Prize for Physics not Amazon’s Top 5 best-sellers.

They’re also not saying much when Amazon also had Dan Brown and Twilight in their top products, too.

  • We are the clear leader in the market for performance technology accessories and we owe it all to our customers who wear and believe in the product.

“Technology”? No, no. This sentence is incorrect. It should say: “We are the clear leader in the market for performance placebos and we owe it all to our customers who wear and believe in the product”.

Also, either the tech works or it doesn’t. A lightbulb doesn’t work based on your or your friends’ belief. It doesn’t work even if Shaquille O’Neal told you he believes your broken, shattered lightbulb will work.

To get an understanding, imagine getting a lightbulb box that says: “Believe in our product”. Imagine “believe in our product” under any other piece of technology: iPads, computers, televisions, microwaves, etc. If you claim it’s a piece of technology, why do you need belief?

  • However, there has been some negative press about our products coming out of Australia recently. In addition, we have recently been subject to several class action lawsuits in the United States. That said, we wanted to set the record straight.

They say “negative press”, we say “asking for evidence like anything else”. Instead of writing about belief and making fallacious claims, why not give us some evidence that it works. And, no, testimony doesn’t work since anecdotal evidence is not good scientific evidence.

  • Contrary to recent assertions in the Australian press, Power Balance has not made a statement that our product is ineffective. This is simply untrue. The truth is that, apparently, some of our previous marketing claims in Australia were not up to ACCC standards – changes were made and approved, and the issues were believed to have been resolved.

“Ineffective” is not the same as “scientifically credible”, which they admitted themselves of not being. As they said “We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims”.

“Ineffective” implies it does not have an effect. There is an effect; after all, people “swear by” them. The effect in this case is the placebo effect, not being energised like a Power Ranger to perform impressive physical feats.

The problem is the mistaken connection consumers make. They, firstly, assume they are improving in their performance. They might feel they are, but objectively they might not be. And we can be our own worst assessors, as Kaye and Gruneberg highlight in their brilliant assessment of PB’s claims.

Secondly, if their performance is improving, it is because of expectation and, therefore, as the statement indicates: belief. Remember technology does not depend on belief but efficacy and scientific credibility. A psychic’s readings are effective, as we notice with their clients’ tears; creationists’ claims might be so effective they get evolution textbooks banned. But none of these effects are good or true.

PB is confusing effect with scientific credibility, when they are two different things. Though naturally there are effects tested by science. But we don’t need to get into that discussion for now.

  • We remain committed to bringing our products to every athlete in the world, from professional to amateur to recreational.

Once again, we expect no less from a business.

  • We are also confident that the future will be even brighter for Power Balance. A preliminary study, conducted by an independent third-party, was recently commissioned to determine the different performance variables of the product and the findings have determined that wearing the product does in fact provide a “statistically significant” result on the wearer’s performance.

There is no link to this study. Consumer advocate group, CHOICE, said in October: “The band was tested at CHOICE under controlled lab conditions which showed it did little else than empty purchasers’ wallets.”

As I say, I am genuinely interested in the scientific findings. Indeed, I imagine most scientists would be. Why then are they not freely showing us these so-called findings? Naturally, we would find it doesn’t work better than a placebo, that people are paying for self-assurance and confidence – which can be obtained elsewhere like good friends, good coaching and deep-breathing.

Also, “statistically significant” doesn’t remove the placebo effect. And one test does not cut it (there are other tests from Australia that found the same).

  • We are committed to further evaluating the performance parameters of wearing the product so that we can continue to provide products that enhance the wearer’s lifestyle.

Good. Let us know when you have continued your evaluation and provide us with the results, methodology and research.

  • Power Balance will do whatever it takes to make our products available to every consumer around the world appropriately, and with honor and integrity.

And reasonable people will continue to call you out as unscientific frauds, your products as gimmicky ho-hum, based on sciency-sounding terms like energy and vibrations, and a hip-sounding Eastern mystical nonsense.

Run along now but don’t fall over.

UPDATE: This comic is just brilliant.


Homeopathy “Overdose”: Join us at the University of Cape Town

The Free Society Institute (FSI) is preparing to OD on homeopathy, at the University of Cape Town. To all those who know even a little about homeopathy, this is ludicrous.

But that’s the point, folks. Find out more here.


The best homeopathy poster ever?

It’s all in Zuma’s hands now… Why the Argus article is False, Part #1

Taking matters into their own hands finds another meaning here. We are presented with the “findings” (i.e.: arbitrary assumptions) of a palm-reader who has looked at the (photographs of) hands of Jacob Zuma and Hellen Zille. Chiromancy or palmistry is a side-show failure of extravagance because there are no crystal-balls, beautiful Tarot cards or the wonderful Norse futhark, carved into almond-branches. Instead, these “readers” use people’s hands to divine the gullible’s past, present, future problems and failures, dreams and successes. All divination has yet to prove itself as a scientific fact and is strangely resistant to normal procedural methods of deciding whether they are even 75% accurate. Now, when we are approaching a new dawn in the country’s history, we are left holding candles and making faces out of shadows. We need to turn on the light and point out the problems with reason and open eyes, not magic cards and fake readings.

Let me highlight the problems with palm-reading. I believed for two or three years that I could read palms. I sincerely believed I was able to “see” that their heart-line indicated a predilection for hard men; the head-line indicated a false belief in their own potential; their Mount of Venus showed they had a soft interior masked by a shell of quick anger. And this divination was after I had used and dealt with the Norse runes as an alternative to Tarot cards, which I thought was too complicated for me.

I remember many incidents which spurned me on. Several times, when speaking to someone who comes to you with the mindset of “This person knows a mysterious art. They can tell me something about myself” they are easily impressed. (Type “cold-reading” into Google and you should be on your way to winning people over, easily. It is not something I am particularly proud of looking back.) People would be crying on my shoulder, male and female; people would laugh easily at finding out something: “You have a wonderful sense of humour which you struggle to show and thus appears to not even be there. But it does sometimes arise.” (Notice, you say x [you have a sense of humour] and then you immediately justify it with not-x [you do not show your sense of humour]. You can’t go wrong)

People thanked me and informed me weeks later how accurate I was.

I felt happy to be helping people.

But of course, its all nonsense. The truth is that people want to talk about themselves, they need a neutral person to just be sensitive to their existence and acknowledge it. They need a critical eye to see that their body-language indicates they are introverted, their shifting eyes indicates their need to speak, their arms want to be held. It is very easy and all incredibly normal. There is nothing fantastical or magical about it, except that we all have a disposition to being told by someone else what to do about ourselves. We love to be told something unique about ourselves, we love to hear that we are central to some cosmic plan in which we fit like a puzzle-piece.

But palmistry, like all forms of divination, is false. It has never (and, I predict, will never) yield any positive results and there is no scientific reason at all to associate the hands and the lines with anything to do with your life. (Be worried that on this WikiHow page, it says: “Do not be fooled by people who say palm-reading is for entertainment purposes only. There is scientifically-substantiated evidence of correlation between palm features and psychological traits.” There is no link to these scientifically verifiable results)

Here are a few reasons for it being at the least unlikely and at the most incredibly stupid.

1. The Problem of Imposition/Connection

Like astrology, palm-readers can not tell you how the lines are connected to one’s life. They simply are. This is a human imposition on a neutral object in nature: it is, what we call in psychology, a false-positive. False-positives are the basis for all superstition: All us animals are programmed by evolution to be statisticians. For example, BF Skinner (a name I know most of my fellow psychologists hate given his complete dismissal of the inner workings of the mind) called the actions of responding to a false-positive “superstition”. He saw it in his pigeons, when they reacted to a random event which just happened to coincide with the falling of a food pellet. Thus, let us say the pigeon banged her wing against the glass and a food pellet fell. Perhaps the pigeon does it again and this time, by pure luck, the pellet fell again. To the pigeon, bang glass with wing results in reception of food.

But there is no causal connection between the banging of the glass and the food pellet. It is simply the pigeon imposing its own association on to neutral and unconnected objects.

Hence, the imposition of our desires on to distant planets and stars; the imposition of meaning into cards, hands, runes, books, words and rituals. Most people have a “lucky charm” or a “lucky tie”, which when they utitlise it, resulted in very good things in the past. Indeed, I still believe a certain song is my good-luck song with the full knowledge that there is no association between listening to a random song and events in my life going well. It helps us feel grounded, but it is an offshoot of our incredible brains coagulating the chaotic world around us, into a coherency from which we can comprehend our and its existence. It is how we survive. But superstition is its dark-side.

Our ancestors appear to have been the ones who held false-positive beliefs (believe there is a connection when there is no connection). They were the ones who saw lions in the shadows and snakes in the trees. Sure, there might not have been any snakes or lions, but they ran away and restricted access to such areas. The ones who had false-negative beliefs (believe no, hence negative, connection when there is a connection) ignored the rustle in the branches and the tapping of claws in the darkness and simply thought it to be nothing. Then, of course, they were killed by the mamba or mawled by the lion. Naturally, those who were more cautious – to the point where they were cautious about things that were not even there – were the ones most likely to survive, and therefore breed. And we are the progeny of such disclosure.

2. The Hands Themselves

Hands change. They get calloused, lose fingers, lines extend and change. This does not repudiate palm-readers claims. In fact, it strengthens their position. They can point to a human and say, we change all the time. So do our hands. Therefore, because they both change, we can read the latter to decide on the former.

But this is false. Firstly, as I indicated in the previous point, the connection between our hands and our lives is simply a psychological imposition we have garnered from our ancestral mindsets. How are they connected and how can we test that connection actually exists?

Secondly, just because x changes and y changes too, doesn’t mean that they can say anything about the other. That is a false connection. That is simply using the word “change” loosely. Hands change physically; whereas people change psychologically, physically, emotionally, etc. Palm-readers will smile and nod and say: “Yes, but all those emotional changes become physical changes on the palm. They are like diary-entries: they indicate the change and we can read it as such.”

The problem with this explanation is that it is unfalsifiable. This is the most terrible of all positions to be in, since, according to scientific methodology, we must be able to postulate what position, idea, opinion or action needs to arise to refute the claim. Popper said: “A theory that explains everything, explains nothing” – which is why Intelligent Design creationism can not be a science. To many people, it shows that it is a good thing that a position is unfalsifiable, since you can not show it to be wrong. But one can create all manner of unfalsifiable claims which are blatantly not true. For example, as you are reading this there is a little purple man standing on your left – who only appears to you. If you look he will appear on your right. If you look there he will be back on your left, etc. It is impossible to see him. I have just made this up, but it is unfalsifiable. You can not postulate recording since he does not appear in cameras, other people can’t see him… One can see how ridiculous this is and similarly, it is ridiculous for all such positions which are unfalsifiable. Hence, why we do not include it as a position viable in philosophy and science.

Palm-readers can create all manner of reasons and no two palm-readers will give you the same in-depth result. No doubt many palm-readers will all agree in saying general things about you: “You are sensitive, you are kind, you are nice, etc.” but that is something nearly anyone can discern with proper body-language and attention skills. When they come down to the finger details, we can almost guarantee that no two palm-readers will agree. There is a reason why no large group of astrologers, when they are tested, have ever agreed that the blank profile matches the same Zodiac sign. Whilst the profile belongs to a Gemini, for example, all the astrologers will see the profile as something different.

Why? Because it is a human interpretation, much like their judgments of music (I do not think that we should lessen the aesthetic appreciation for beauty to the banal notions of subjectivity. For a beautiful discussion on beauty, see Roger Scruton’s Beauty). The major difference is that they could be wrong, since the specific profile matches a specific person who was born in early June, and is therefore – according the astrologers’ own charts – a Gemini. Similarly, with palm-reading. One palm-reader might call you an “air” hand – meaning light, sensitive and warm – whilst another might call you an “earth” hand – hard, deep, pragmatic. Complete opposites according to the “lore” of palm-readings.

3. Why Palm Reading is Specifically Different from Other Divinations

A major reason why palm-reading is a bit more effective is the human touch. Unlike Tarot cards or astrology, palm-reading actually invites the reader to physically touch the person. The body-part is itself the object of divination, rather than a card or ball. Our brains ignite in a maelstrom of connections when we are touched by someone. Consider how we react when someone who we might be interested in, a beautiful woman for example, touches us. However, consider our reaction to that same person if they have betrayed us, in a deeply scarring way. We feel revolted or uncomfortable – yet that same person’s touch bathed us in a glow of wonder not so long before.

When it comes to palm-reading, both sides are at an advantage for the palm-reader. For himself, he is able to feel tiny movements in the person’s hands. Do they immediately hold his hand? Do they flinch? The touch also allows the person to be more open to the palm-reader, especially when they begin to relax their hands in the other person’s. The human touch, the acquiescence to touch, is an acknowledgement of trust. Thus, we allow all manner of private thoughts to drip out in bright clarity for sensitive readers. You can see it when you grab hold of your lover’s hand – watch how their voice changes slightly when they speak to you, watch how they calm down, if they are angry about someone or something. Or, if you try and touch them, they might recoil which also indicates something. The human touch is very powerful and is a gateway to understanding other people. There is a reason we shake hands – notice, next time you shake someone’s hand, whether their grip is firm or loose, and how they engage with you following their strength.

For this reason, palm-reading is deceptively good at opening the closed gates of other people. The human touch, like a key, opens those gates – whether to reveal acquiescence or to allow immediate recoil. Both reactions however are tell-tale signs which are easily discernible.

To get to the in-depth analysis of the Argus article, itself, however, will have to wait till next time. That should be fun…