Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Podcast: Hunting Humbug 101 - Tutorial 04: Misuse of Information

This podcast deals with the misuse and abuse of statistics and scientific theories and terminology. From surveys and natural health claims to new age gibberish.

Here's the link to direct download: (46 mins & 17 mb) and you subscribe here: by clicking one of the buttons below.

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Show notes and further commentary

Flyer from my letterbox for the"Health and Beauty Store". Click to see full size.

Never having come across a footbath detox before, I googled it and found I sent them the following email:

I'd like to know what colour the water in the bath turns when you run it without feet in it? I.e. with only the water in it? I just recall from my Year 10 chemistry class doing electrolysis and seeing the water change colour. For example, using salt water with copper electrodes does the following:

On passing the current through the salt water solution the ions head towards the electrode with the opposite charge (i.e. anions go to the anode and cations to the cathode). In the case of salt water (sodium chloride solution), the Na+ (sodium ion) goes to the cathode (negative electrode) and the Cl- (chloride) to the anode (positive electrode). This is the current moving through the solution.

My chemistry is pretty basic, however, I recall that at one of the copper electrodes the copper atoms are giving up electrons and becoming copper ions (Cu2+) which go into the solution, making it into a blue/green (copper) colour. The longer you run the electrolysis the more colour you get in the water. This happens with all sorts of electrolysis and various types of metal electrodes.

So again, my question is, how can you tell it’s “toxins from the body” going into the water if the water changes colour whether feet are in the bath or not?
After a few days, I received this reply:
--- On Fri, 17/10/08, …………………………………………………….. wrote:
From: ……………………………………….
Subject: RE: Footprint to Health Contact
To: ..................................
Received: Friday, 17 October, 2008, 2:43 PM

Dear Theo

My apologies for my slow reply, I have been away from my computer most of this past week. Thank you for your email, we appreciate a thorough enquiry and I will do my best to answer it!!

It is not actually possible to run our machine without feet in it so we have not been able to conduct this experiment ourselves. Our machine needs our clients to have their feet in the water, the array also needs to be in the water and the client must have the wrist strap on for it to commence a detox.

However you are correct with your understandings of basic chemistry. As the array and salt combine in the water, a light brown colour emerges. It is my understanding that this relates to the slow breakdown of the array plates.

The footbath itself has a powerful effect on the body, I know this, because I have experienced it many times myself, and seen the results with our many clients. I believe the process of electrolysis actually stimulates the blood in our bodies via the reflexology points on our feet which does the following: it restores energy and balance in our bodies and eases tension in certain areas.

So we prefer not to focus on the colours created by the array in the bath water.

We focus on sharing these wonderful results with as many people as we can, as many of our clients have reported the following: Increased energy, Improved sleep, Better circulation in the legs – it removes the build up of lactic acid I have found. Removal of headaches and improvement for migraine sufferers Great results with skin conditions such as excema and psoriasis Reduction in joint pain - esp in ankles and wrists Decrease in pain

Theo I trust I have addressed your question. Please let me know if you would like to know more.
Oh, I wanted to know more, to be sure! Now, here comes the hard sell…
Have you experienced a footbath detox yourself? If not, I highly recommend it. I know just the place you can order a great machine for home use!! Thank you again for your email.

Make today great
This part of the reply made today especially great: “…the process of electrolysis actually stimulates the blood in our bodies via the reflexology points on our feet…” I laughed and laughed and laughed…

Of course, I had to reply:
Hi ….,

Thanks for replying. I have a couple of follow up questions.

How come the machine cannot run without feet in it? Is this an instruction from the manufacturer or is there some inbuilt mechanism that will not let the machine work. This really seems strange to me? I can't think of a comparable machine that cannot be run without a person in it. E.g. CAT scans, x-rays, MRIs can all run with or without the patient and I'd suggest these are far more complex and powerful machines? Couldn't you put a "dummy" object in to test it (literally a dummy if you could find one).

As to your anecdotes of the efficacy of the machine, I'm curious to know if you've heard of the placebo effect and have attempted to test the device ruling this out? A procedure to do this could easily be set up and I'd be happy to give you advice on how this could be achieved.

Given the mechanism by which this machine is claimed to work is fairly implausible, it would be a good idea to see if it actually does work as claimed (i.e., above and beyond placebo). If there is a measurable effect, further research into the mechanism by which it works would be warranted, and once this is established, it would not be too long until the Nobel prize committee would be on the phone, for either medicine, physics, chemistry or possibly all of the above!


Still waiting for a reply... so much for wanting to answer further questions.

Back to the pamphlet and the most bogus claim of them all (an impressive feat!) - Scalar Energy Therapy

I don't even know where to begin with this BS. Ill just point out there's no evidence for scalar energy. And even if there turns out to was such a thing as scalar energy (given advocates claim it will provide "free energy"... draw your own conclusions) - that's one hell of a leap to take from theory to clinical use. I'm not too sure what the business of the "width" of the waves, measured in square centimeters has to do with anything (the hundred millionth of a square cm)? Perhaps the person who wrote this flyer is simply a clueless charlatan?

Let's see if there's any more evidence that corroborates this view. What other treatment is offered? Why none other than "Micro Wave Pulse Ion Herbal treatment" [sic]! Such blatant misuse of my beloved physics terminology just makes me want to punch them in the face, but I'm a pacifist, obviously.
In the podcast we also discuss What the Bleep do we Know? and the abuse of quantum physics. They know how to construct blatant Non-Sequiturs, that's about it though. Others have done the debunking - such as Bernie Hobbs. Here's the youtube clip I captured the audio from.

We also mention the Sokal Hoax. Here's Sokal's paper and here's Richard Dawkins' take on it (a short summary). The book by Sokal and Bricmont - Intellectual Impostures.
One final thought.

Often true believers accuse skeptics of being “close-minded” to the possibility of their particular pseudoscience being legitimate. However, I’ll Spin Another Hypothesis – feel free to use it in discussion with the credulous. Perhaps they are the close-minded ones – close-minded to the possibility that they’re full of crap.