When a University helps promote nonsense

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Nov. 9 2010 11:10 AM

When a University helps promote nonsense

skepticalhippoHave you heard about these Power Bands, or Power Balance bracelets? The claims by the manufacturer and at countless demos are that these bands improve balance, flexibility, endurance, and strength by employing holograms which send frequencies that somehow interact with your body's frequencies or electric field or glaven or some other undefinable manifestation.

Yeah. You can imagine what I think about that. And if you can't, I'll be clear: that claim is complete nonsense. Literally, it makes no sense. Holograms don't emit anything, frequency or otherwise; there's no such thing as your body's frequency; and there's no way inside the laws of physics that a rubber band with a cheap plastic hologram in it can affect your body, unless a) you're allergic to rubber, or 2) it hits you at meteoric velocities.

We clear? OK.

So why on Earth would such a product be sold with a University logo on it? Yet, that's what's happening with the University of Colorado, among other institutions. Power Bands are being sold with the CU logo on them.

Now let me be careful here. These bands are being sold by the Power Force company online, as well as by the CU Athletic Department. The Athletic Department is separate from the University itself, and is the entity that licenses the logo used ("Ralphie" the buffalo).

Still, unsurprisingly, some local skeptics have taken exception to this, and have contacted the University about it. What did surprise me was how dismissively they were rebuffed. You can read about it at Stuart Robbins' Exposing Pseudoastronomy site (Part 1, Part 2) and by Rachael Acks (Part 1 and Part 2).

Again, the claim that the University is not actually endorsing the product may be literally true. But in practice that justification rests on a razor's edge. As you can see if you look at the product in question, it has the Buffalo and the letters "CU" on it. It doesn't say "CU Athletic Department", it just says CU. Any customer buying that product will see that logo and assume it's the University endorsing the product. If some product making medical and physical claims has a University logo on it, then what is the buyer supposed to expect?

Rachael and Stuart are hoping to drum up some attention about this. I certainly hope they can. This is embarrassing to a University that has global standing in academic, scientific, and medical research. To be honest, I'm not sure what can be done; if the Athletic Department is in charge, I'm not sure that the University itself could stop this even if they wanted to. But given the response letters written on behalf of the university, it's clear they're not even interested in trying.

I'll leave you with this: my friend and fellow skeptic Richard Saunders, who has shown quite clearly how these devices fail even the simplest tests... and just how easily the demonstrations can be faked (his debunking starts at the 2:45 mark).

 

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!