Archive for category Pseudoscience

The Boy Who Might Be Magnetic (Or, More Likely, Definitely Isn’t)

Reports in multiple sources at the moment, from the Guardian to CBS, have been telling the tale of a young boy in with what’s said to be an unusual talent.

Taking up the story from CBS:

“Six-year-old Ivan Stoiljkovic appears to be able to attract metal to his chest – including silverware, coins and even a frying pan.

His family says Ivan possesses extraordinary strength and even healing powers.”

“It started as a joke,” said his grandmother. “I said, let’s try this and things just stuck to him. The heavier things actually stuck more strongly to him.”

In total, his family says Ivan can carry up to 55 pounds of metal on his torso.

His upper body appears to be more magnetic and his family says his wounds heal very quickly and leave no scars.

Family members told Reuters that Ivan also has “healing hands” with which he alleviates his grandfather’s stomach pains and has soothed the pain of a neighbor who hurt his leg in a tractor accident.”

The story comes complete with a video of Ivan demonstrating his talents:

Avid magnetic-child-watchers may have heard this tale before, and indeed this isn’t the first time a child from Eastern Europe has been heralded as possessing extraordinary magnetic powers. In fact, just this February a seven year old Serbian boy called Bogdan was filmed demonstrating his own extraordinary skills. Read the rest of this entry »

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Power Balance Admits No Reasonable Basis For Wristband Claims, Consumers Offered Refunds

Placebo bands - the skeptical alternative to Power Balance

Placebo bands - the skeptical alternative to Power Balance

Not for the first time, we at the MSS would like to offer our congratulations and our genuine awe at the work done by the Australian Skeptics. Not for their tireless work in fighting anti-vaccination in Australia, although this is indeed laudable. Not even for hosting TAM Australia, though the event sounded an overwhelming success, with precisely the kind of ethos and feel we’re trying to achieve with QED (tickets are still available, of course). No, this time our hearty congratulations are for their fight against the ludicrous nonsense that is Power Balance – the little bands of rubber, embedded with a neat little hologram and vibrating with a supposedly-ever-present-yet-oddly-undetectable energy which claims to help this, boost that and increase the other.

Or at least, they used to claim that. As of today the manufacturers will no longer be making those claims, after a ruling proved them to be unsubstantiated. What follows is a press release from the ACCC explaining further, but it’s worth pointing out that without the work of the Australian Skeptics in demonstrating the falsehood of Power Balance’s claims this ruling would never have happened. So, once again – excellent work, guys!

Power Balance Admits No Reasonable Basis For Wristband Claims, Consumers Offered Refunds

Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.

As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled.

Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd claimed the wristbands improve balance, strength and flexibility and worked positively with the body’s natural energy field. It also marketed its products with the slogan “Performance Technology”. The ACCC raised concerns that these claims were likely to mislead consumers into believing that Power Balance products have benefits that they do not have. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dowsing For Danger: ‘Grosvenor Scientific’ Raided

Last night I got a very interesting phone call, just as I was about to rush off to Manchester for the Greater Manchester Skeptics In The Pub talk with Simon ‘Quacklash’ Perry (which was, as expected, brilliant). The call was from a journalist at ITV, regarding the bomb detectors which don’t actually detect bombs, and what I knew about a company called Grosvenor Scientific. The answer, alas, was pretty much zilch, although a quick Google got me the following:

Exporters raided in bomb detector fraud inquiry

Police have raided three companies suspected of selling ineffective bomb detectors to overseas markets, in a case that raises questions of whether Britain has done all it can to curb the much-criticised trade.

City of London police said yesterday that they had raided five properties and planned to interview a number of individuals as part of an expanding investigation into the sale of the hand-held devices, which critics say have endangered lives in Iraq and elsewhere.

The police action was launched after Britain introduced a ban in January on the export of the devices, but applied it only to Iraq and Afghanistan because it said it lacked the power to extend it to countries in which UK and allied forces were not engaged.

The police said they executed five search warrants at premises in Kent, Devon and Nottingham linked to the companies Grosvenor Scientific, Scandec Inc and Global Technical, seizing a large amount of cash and several hundred explosive detection devices and their component parts – Source: Financial Times

Now, Global Technical I had heard of – in fact I wrote about their GT200 back in April. It’s great to see the police taking action, finally. Still, while we’re aware of the actions of ATSC (whose CEO Jim McCormick is still on police bail after his arrest earlier this year over the same charges these new companies now face), and both Scantec and Global Technical are well documented too, Grosvenor Scientific appear to be somewhat off the radar – with very little information to be found on them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Druid, Where’s My Car Crash?

The modern world has given us all manner of road safety initiatives, from speed cameras to road bumps, all the way down to that 70s Green Cross Code advert where Alvin Stardust told some girls they’re out of their tiny minds. Look it up on youtube, I’m not even kidding.

Still, having 70s glam rockers with chipmunk names yelling patronising insults at children isn’t the stupidest method employed in an attempt to promote road safety, given that reports from Austria this week suggested that druids have been working with local road safety authorities in an attempt to mitigate the dangers of accident blackspots.

As the Metro explains:

“Austrian authorities say druids have been so successful in dealing with motorway accident blackspots in one area that they plan to extend the project nationwide.  As well as using quartz standing stones to restore the area’s ‘natural energy’, the druids have come up with a cheaper modern-day option – burying plastic slates with magnets in the ground.

Arch druid Ilmar Tessmann was called in as a last resort after a high number of fatal accidents were reported on a straight stretch of motorway near Salzburg.  He said the crashes were caused by radiation from a nearby mobile phone mast disrupting the area’s normal ‘terrestrial’ radiation.  Installing the monoliths has successfully counteracted that, he claimed.”

The Metro reports that the rate of accidents has decreased from 6 per year, to zero in the 2 years since the druids have been applying their magic. Scientists, surprisingly enough, are somewhat skeptical, with a range of questions springing to mind. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dowsing For Danger: Is The ADE651 Still On The Market?

A little while ago, our good friend and past guest speaker Trystan Swale covered the ADE651 – the so-called bomb detector that didn’t, well, detect bombs. The story had been widely reported, with prominent skeptic Bruce Hood working with the BBC to expose the inefficacy of the devices, culminating in the arrest of ATSC CEO Jim McCormick. James Randi, of course, had long since identified the ADE651 as little more than a dowsing device, having slapped the $1million challenge on the table if McCormick were able to prove him wrong – an offer which was, unsurprisingly, refused.

All this is well-known, and can be found in greater detail elsewhere on the web, so I won’t bore you by re-hashing the details. However, there is something I can add to the story – we here at the MSS were recently contacted by a journalist wanting to know a little more about the device, specifically if it’s still on sale. Always happy to oblige, I got to doing a bit of digging, and having found – unsurprisingly – the ATSC’s website down ‘for repair’ (I can only assume it’s the company’s morals that are undergoing repair), I was kindly pointed in the direction of the online trade outlet ecplaza, and specifically the page for the ATSC ADE 651.

Well, what better way to find out if this disgraced and disproven device is still on sale, than to call up the manufacturers directly? Luckily enough, ecplaza lists the phone number for the sales department of WooBombDetectorsRUs as +44 207 681 2036… which is a number out of service. Presumably, the phone lines are also down for repair. Still, on the page there’s this lovely, shiny, inviting orange box titled ‘Inquire Now’… so I did. Presumably, I thought, if the website is down and the CEO under investigation for fraud, then the email enquiries would either bounce back an auto-reply saying ‘this device is no longer on sale’ (or word to that effect), or it would simply disappear into a black hole.

As it turns out, I was wrong Read the rest of this entry »

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Tarots And Tattoos In Tijuana

Last week, CBS News posted the following report, which can be filed firmly in the THAT’s The Harm box:

“Police running scared from drug gangs in one of Mexico’s deadliest cities are using bizarre rituals involving animal sacrifice and spirit tattoos to seek protection from raging violence on the U.S. border” – Source: CBS

As the story continues (and it’s worth reading the whole thing), an increasing litany of pseudoscience emerges as being relied-upon by police involved in one of the most dangerous drug wars on the planet, including:

  • Tarot card symbols
  • Magical protective tattoos
  • Animal sacrifices – chicken
  • Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria, Mexican Witchcraft
  • Priests
  • Patron saints (including Jesus Malverde, patron saint of drug traffickers)
  • Statues and skulls
  • Ritualistic behaviour
  • Spirits
  • Full moons

What strikes me most about the story is the extremity of the situation – given the grip drug gangs have on the region, and the inevitable supply of funds this affords criminals in their war with the police, the local authorities are understandably up against the wall. Many are forced (often at gunpoint) to switch sides and work for the gangs. Clearly, the honest police are fighting a losing battle, and one with deadly consequences… and so they turn to whichever belief system might offer them a chink of hope.

Psychologists often talk about the habit of the human mind to delve into unscientific, ritualistic behaviour at times of great stress or anxiety. Rarely have I ever seen a case so illustrative of that simple fact. We truly are just pattern-seeking pigeons, it seems.

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