Nothing New Under The Sun: Powerbalance, QLink, Shuzi and Franz Anton Mesmer

With the current money-making quack fads of Power Balance, Hotband, QLink and Shuzi, it may pay to get some historic perspective coupled with basic scientific work.

In 1778, Franz Anton Mesmer, pictured above, moved to Paris and began a successful and highly lucrative career using his "Animal Magnestism". Paris Society flocked to Mesmer's baquet, from where he would produce a "magnetic fluid", imbued with near miraculous powers. Mesmer and his devotees were convinced they'd found a force of great import, and lobbied for scientific academies to give animal magnetism their stamp of approval. When the academies declined, Mesmerism continued apace, leaving a trail of swooning women and insensible men in its wake, all convinced of the clear benefits of Animal Magnetism

In 1784, King Louis XVI, rightly concerned about the craze, appointed a Royal Commission to investigate the claims of Mesmer and his following.

This Royal Commission could with some justification be called a true precursor to CSICOP and allied organisations, though with, dare I say it, even greater luminaries - including Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph-Ignace Guiloutin and then-ambassador Benjamin Franklin.

The commission proceeded, in blueprint scientific fashion, to tease apart the threads of Animal Magnetism, separating the power of suggestion from the claimed powers of the mesmeric effect in a series of classic experiments. They blinded subjects and mesmerisers, separating them, producing mesmeric effects when no "magnetism" was present, and producing no effect where "magnetism" was. The protests of the mesmerists were for naught, as the commission addressed their objections systematically, demolishing the so called "mesmeric effect" and conclusively demonstrating it to be nothing more than a shared delusion passed between operator and subject.

Which brings me to the present day and the fads of "resonance' bracelets and jewellery. Seemingly harmless, these products nevertheless provide a distressing demonstration of shared delusion. Salesmen apply simple kinesiology tricks to demonstrate to credulous customers, who recommend this new "technology" to their friends, who are then taken in by still more salesmen, and the whole industry becomes ripe to the point that skeptics questioning these so-called effects are given the funny look and raised eyebrow even as they demonstrate and debunk the fakery.

The Applied Kinesiology trick used to demonstrate these "energy bands" is not just open to operator bias, it is based in it. Subject expectations and operator bias are the entire effect, as is demonstrated amply by the Skeptic Zone team in their series of YouTube Videos. I would call Applied Kinesiology a cheap magic trick, but magic is entertainment and I can't think of a decent entertainment angle for it at all. It's merely a con trick.

The SZ videos have been embedded to death, so instead allow me to present Travis Roy of Granite State Skeptics demonstrating Power Balance before a live audience, with bonus activism talk.


I must repeat. There is no "PowerBalance" effect beyond a simple trick. If a salesman asks you to stand on one foot and stretch out your arms, give him the look, show him the effect is nonsense, call him an idiot and leave. If a friend tries to convince you their magic bracelet works, show them the trick, disprove it, call her an idiot and leave. If you see someone selling this nonsense, complain. As Chrys Stevenson outlines here, this is about more than a simple piece of plastic used to rip off the gullible.


More background on the mesmerism fad and the Royal Commission that so roundly debunked it can be found here, and in Stephen Jay Gould's wonderful essay "The Chain Of Reason versus the Chain Of Thumbs", included in "Bully For Brontosaurus", a classic foray into the scientific history genre, and one that all skeptics should read.

posted @ Wednesday, November 10, 2010 2:54 PM

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