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That one spooky thing (continued) January 21, 2014

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Responses.
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(In this series:  Part 1   Part 3  Part 3.1 Part 3.2 Wrap-up )

Okay, more on this.  If you have deconverted from religion, and have gotten rid of most or all of your superstitions, what do you do with that one strange experience that you can’t explain?  How do you work that out?

My list of possibilities looks like this:

  • It’s a natural occurrence that’s rare or unfamiliar to you
  • It’s technological
  • It’s somebody deliberately tricking you
  • It’s a problem of faulty perception and/or faulty memory, perhaps combined with some of the above
  • It’s “supernatural”

And last time I talked about natural and technological things that might be misinterpreted.  So lets continue with

Deliberate Hoaxes

People like to think that they are hard to fool.  And often they are completely wrong about this.   As Richard Feynman so famously said:

The  first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest  person to fool.

So let’s look at an example of a time and place where people are willing to be fooled – faith healing.

(more…)

After TAM, back to the land of Woo-Woo July 19, 2013

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants.
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After a great weekend at TAM2013, my spouse and I extended our weekend with another couple of nights on the main Vegas strip, specifically the Excalibur hotel.  The first night we headed up to their steakhouse for dinner, and lo and behold, look at what was just outside the door.

Xtreme Energy Bracelet Kiosk in Vegas

Yes, its the same “energy bracelet” scam that the skeptical movement keeps fighting.  (Richard Saunders recently got these things banned in Australia.) But like a whack-a-mole game, this keeps turning back up.  The two guys in the picture are apparently Russian, and they will come right up to you as you walk by, waving a bracelet at you. They were doing the same tired old balance tricks as “evidence”, the same tricks I have been teaching my RE class for years.   This first night I showed them the bracelet I was wearing, a “Placebo” bracelet made by the same company in China that manufactures all the others.

They had no idea what “placebo” meant, and thought it might be “spaseebo”, which they said was Russian for “thank you”.  I told them that it meant that energy bracelets were fakes, including theirs.  They protested that they wanted to show me their “ion-meter” and show us their “science”.  I was tired and told them “no way” and my spouse finally had to tell them to stop following us.

Here’s  the website for their company, showing that they charge $39.00 and up for these things.     http://www.xeband.com/shopxe.php

I had  talked to a member of Granite State Skeptics earlier that weekend, who are the group responsible for having the Placebo bracelets made.  He said that the Chinese company charges in the range of $0.85 to $1.00 each for them in the small quantities that they order.  A company buying a huge order would pay rather less.  That’s quite a markup!

By the next day I was ready to pry a little more into what they were claiming, so I headed back there with my camera, and fortunately found two different salesmen on duty, again Russian.  I spoke to a very blond woman who was ready to show me just how wonderful her bracelets were.

She boasted that older hologram bracelets didn’t actually work, that it wasn’t the hologram that did anything.  (Of course, their current bracelets also have holograms, which she didn’t explain.)  But she said that their bracelets were made with Tourmaline in them, which produced negative ions, which were beneficial for your bloodflow, health and energy.

I started prodding her further:  “What kind of ions does it make?”

Negative ions,” she replies.

“Yes, but ions are atoms or groups of atoms that have lost or gained electrons. There are lots of different kinds of ions.  What kind are these?”

Negative ions produced by the tourmaline in the braceletThe Tourmaline is a mineral, and it makes negative ions.”

“Yes, but what type of negative ions are they?”

Tourmaline ions.”  Yes, she really said that.  I asked her to show me this ion meter that they had.  Here’s a photo:

"Ion Tester" vegas

She first measured what she said was a fake bracelet they had there, which appeared to be a power balance bracelet with the hologram removed.  I didn’t press her on why it was necessary to have the hologram removed, given her earlier claim that it wasn’t the hologram that did anything.  But she used her meter on it, and it registered “3”.  (She pressed the bracelet against a disc on the back of the meter, and a number read out on the front.  I didn’t have a chance to try this myself, to see how it would read some other object, or whether the pressure applied affected the readout.)

“3 what?” I asked.  “What are the units here?”  “3 ions,” she replied.  “3 IONS????”  “Yes, 3 ions.”

She measured one of their bracelets, and it measured quite a lot of “ions”, over 1700 I think.  I then produced my Placebo bracelet, and asked if she could measure it.  It read 81 “ions”.

I asked her what the benefit of wearing this bracelet is supposed to be.  She said that the negative ions increased bloodflow, and that this produced the beneficial effects.

“Really, so how do negative ions do that?”

Well, you know, a lot of people say that it makes them feel relaxed.  For instance, how do you feel when you go to the ocean or a lake?”

Wet.”

Well a lot of people say it makes them feel relaxed.  The negative ions produce relaxation.”

“Oh, you meant how I feel when I go near and ocean or lake!” (This woman was so clueless, I couldn’t help trolling her a bit.)

She also pulled up a bunch of woo-woo on the internet on the computer she had nearby, to show how true this all was.  I asked her if I could take some photos, and got this photo of the claims they are making.

Xtreme Energy Bracelet Health Claims

Later, I looked up whether Tourmaline has ever been shown to actually have any of these health benefits, and found this:

http://healthpsych.psy.vanderbilt.edu/TourmalineResearch.htm

Which concludes that there are no studies that show any benefit from this kind of stuff.

In the same shopping area as the energy bracelets we also found an “Oxygen Bar”.  And there was also one on the casino level as well.

Oxygen Bar Sign

Sigh.

More Sanity November 26, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
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Hurray!

http://tracking.si.com/2012/11/26/mark-cuban-rips-bracelets-power-balance/

I use the example of “power balance” bracelets as a critical thinking exercise for the RE class that I teach.  I show them all the balance demonstrations that the salesmen use, but using a plain-old rubber band, then let them think about it for a week.  I want them to come to their own conclusions about whether a rubber band could be having all the effects I claimed for it. (Usually some rubbish like “balance your harmonics, energize your chi, unlock your chakras, and clear up your zits.”)  The following week I teach them how to do all of those tricks themselves.  Now that they are on to the scam, they are never going to be fooled by “magic rubber bracelets” again.

Now Mark Cuban is publicly throwing these things out, and declaring them scams!  YES!  There’s somebody in the sports world who is not only thinking rationally, but is also willing to do it on YouTube!  I don’t even follow basketball, but Mark, you are one of my favorite people today.