I have great news of another big skeptic victory: Power Balance, a company that makes magic rubber wristbands, has been cited with making misleading claims about the bands.
<Nelson Muntz>HA HA!</Nelson Muntz>
Like many of the skeptic victories this year, this one comes from Australia, specifically the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a government watchdog group that has legal authority over businesses. And they've exercised that authority: according to the Australian Skeptics (linked above), the ACCC has ordered Power Balance to
• remove misleading claims from their website and packaging
• publish advertising informing consumers that they made claims that could not be substantiated
• offer refunds to all consumers who feel they may have been misled and
• remove the words “performance technology” from the band itself. Sweet.
I've written about similar bands before; basically, these are silicone wristbands, sometimes marketed with a hologram inserted into them which are "tuned to your body's frequency", that manufacturers claim will help you in all sorts of manners including athletic performance, balance, stamina, and so on. Now, far be it from me to say that a product cannot possibly do what the manufacturers claims lest we need to erase everything we have learned about science, physics, and the Universe itself for the past three centuries, but I suspect these bracelets' abilities to do anything beyond the placebo effect may be slightly exaggerated. And I'm glad the ACCC agrees.
I can't help but think that a lot of this is due to the efforts of my friend Richard Saunders, an Aussie skeptic who is apparently everywhere Down Under where nonsense is promulgated. He has written about these wristbands, appeared on TV to give demos on how easy it is to fool people into believing something they hold in their hands can affect their balance and strength -- the demo is straight charlatanism and trickery -- and simply told everyone about these bands. You can read more about how he's done this at Sceptic's Book, which also has videos of Richard talking to wristband salesmen and giving the demo.
The media have taken notice of this, too, with articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Cliffview Pilot, and The Age. That makes me happy, as we skeptics can talk about this a lot and still only reach a fraction of the people who really need to hear it.
Of course, it helps that the ACCC forced Power Balance to publish this lovely humiliating advertisement:
"No credible scientific evidence." Heh.
Now, I am no fool; I know that people will still buy these products, and I know the company has made millions selling them. But those of us in the reality-based community can still take a bite out of them. If you bought one of these bands (or know someone who did) please take a look at the retraction, and if you are unsatisfied in any way with the product, demand a refund. The instructions for how to do so are on the Power Balance site itself.
Congrats to all the skeptics in Australia for showing that it doesn't matter how big a company is or how much cash they make; if they make misleading or false claims, they'll have to pay for them.