Category Archives: News

Woo testing on the cheap

On the latest episode of The Skeptic Zone it was mentioned that they found the distributors of the Power Balance Bracelet on a wholesaler’s website, so I decided to do some poking around.

After a quick email to Dr. Rachie to get the website I found some fascinating information. I’m going going to post a link to the specific product, because as it turns out there are a lot of distributors that sell the product and some could be knock-offs. The site where you can search for them is Alibaba.com and they have a LOT more than just power balance bracelets. So go there and search for your favorite woo related items… But the fun doesn’t stop there.

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It’s time for a positive story

Last week a video was posted from the Australian show Today Tonight. They were testing Power Balancebracelet.

Australian Skeptics were represented by Richard Saunders and they did some blind testing on the show. As most that come to this site would expect, it failed. But, this is where the story begins in this case.

Dave the Happy Singer and Dr. Rachael Dunlop, who part of the Skeptic Zone team, along with other skeptics joined the Power Balance Facebook Group. I even joined myself.

We started asking for evidence that support their claims. Through this discussion one member of the group started having a bit of a dialog with us. Dave suggested she test the bracelets and I supplied a protocol for double blind testing.

I’m pleased to announce that this person did do the testing and reported the results over two status updates:

“yeah ok… it’s placebo… got a refund this morning…. :p”

“be true to yourself.. test the bracelet.. your mind is a powerful thing.. even il admit I was fooled … grow from this experience … ”

Thanks to Dr. Rachie, Richard, and Dave for bringing attention to this, and thank you to Suzi, the Facebook member that put the claims to the test and sided with science and reason.

Random daytrip.

Yesterday I was driving around Concord and passed by the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. I haven’t been there since they put the huge addition on and figured it was worth the look, mostly because the observatory hatch was open.

I must say, the new facility is fantastic. The current exhibit is on black holes. It starts by asking you to pick a name (from two columns) and then it takes your picture and prints out a card with a bar code.

As you walk around to each exhibit you put your card it and it keeps track of you and what you’ve looked at and you can interact with it online once you get home. During some points you can email your findings to your friends and record audio from yourself about what you’ve learned. It was a fantastic exhibit and the interaction was great.

After that I was wandering around looking at some items that were on loan from NASA when I was told the observatory was open so I headed up there. They had two telescopes setup that were pointed at the sun and I got to take a look. With the filters in place I got a great look at the sun and even got to see a sunspot. Turns out they’re also open every Friday night (weather permitting) and you can go look at the night sky as well. The person there said they usually have it on Jupiter, but also have it pointed to Neptune, and Uranus from time to time. If you have a free Friday night and the sky is clear you should swing by.

Perhaps the Granite State Skeptics can have an outing up there some time.

Biodynamics on NHPR

I recently happened to catch a segment on New Hampshire Public Radio‘s Word of Mouth, entitled “Biodynamics: The Next Green Wine.” The nearly nine minute segment focused on what biodynamics is, why it is being used in the wine industry, what sets it apart from organic and, of course, how it effects the products.

Biodynamic farming was introduced by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 in response to farmers complaints about degraded soil conditions and health of crops and livestock due to the use of chemical fertilizers. It capitalizes on one of the biggest misconceptions about organic farming, namely that farming organically forgoes chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In fact, organic farming allows all kinds of fertilizers and pesticides, but they can’t be synthetic. (To further complicate the issue, the 2006 agricultural appropriations bill (passed back in December 2005) allowed the use of 38 synthetic ingredients in organic foods.)

The core of biodynamic farming is a collection of nine preparations that are supposed to transfer cosmic “forces” into the soil to aid fertilization. Most of them include some kind of very specific instructions for use that usually involve ritualistic methods. Preparation 505 is a good example; Oak bark (Quercus robur) is chopped into small pieces, placed inside the skull of a domesticated animal, surrounded by peat and buried in earth in a place where lots of rain water runs past. The finished preparations are used in very small amounts, after being mixed into compost, inviting a comparison to so-called homeopathic remedies.

Planting, cultivating, and harvesting of crops are all planned with astronomical guidance, usually by the phases of the moon. Pest control is attempted by using small amounts of ash created by burning the offending pest or infected plant, yet another nod to homeopathy. Seeds must be gathered from the local plants to avoid getting your seed stock from large, multinational seed corporations.

So biodynamic farming turns out to be a bit of a hodgepodge of various other non-scientific disciplines, from homeopathy, to astrology, and includes some seemly religious rituals. But does it work? Most studies have shown little effect, and have attributed any effect that was observed to the extra care and use of compost from more normal methods of organic and sustainable farming.

So why do they do it? It turns out that the use of sulfates in winemaking makes it very hard to get an organic label on a bottle of wine. However, the different rules mean that it’s far easier to put a biodynamic label on the same bottle. And vineyards that label their wines as “biodynamic” are able to charge more for them.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s hard to tell, since wine varies so greatly depending on where it’s grown, the year, and various other conditions, like the weather, that are basically uncontrollable. Depending on the actual effort the vineyard puts in, and how much of a mark-up they charge for the biodynamic label, it could be worth the extra effort. And it certainly feeds the need that many consumers have, to search out things they perceive as better. Biodynamic has been said to be almost “super organic,” which makes the allure that much greater for people looking to feel like they’re doing that much better for the Earth, but in reality they seem to be paying for little more than rituals and wishful thinking.

A Sea Monster is Born

The Lake Franklin Pierce alligator is a myth in the making. Today, just a joke but tomorrow and for generations to come, a lake monster! How does a lake monster myth start? In this case, most of us that live on Lake Franklin Pierce in Antrim New Hampshire found out about our alligator when we read the headline in the local free newspaper, “The Villager”. The June 11,2009 edition got our attention with the headline, “Possible Alligator Spied in Pierce Lake“.

The article went on to tell the tale of Ray and Richard Grimard. They were fishing from the deck of the local hydro electric plant when they spotted an alligator. Despite the doubts of Dave Walsh a Fish and Game Conservation Officer, the rumor of an alligator in “our” lake spread like wildfire in the lake community. I can see the hydro plant from the dock of my lake cabin. I often see Ray and Richard and others fishing from the deck of the plant. It should be noted the “plant” is a small white building that appears to have seen better days. It’s about the size of a trailer home. I usually kayak by and often wave at the guys fishing.

In the days after the article came out people were joking, “any sign of that gator?” was a common joke. Fishermen were told to use “chicken” for bait and to go out and get a bigger rod. Children were teased with “look out for that gator!” when swimming. More than one sibling got revenge on another sibling by swimming underwater, pinching, and then laughing at the result. Still ominous signs were seen when some mothers decided it would be a good idea to tell their smaller children not to go near the lake without an adult because “the gator will get you”. As one mom said “well it’s works better than just nagging. They are scared of an alligator!” Historically, many “monsters” served to keep children from wandering where they shouldn’t. Swamps, wells and the woods are populated by monsters waiting so snatch small children Now Franklin Pierce Lake has a “monster” just waiting to snap up any unattended children.

As summer has gone on, the alligator rumor hasn’t died down. I heard someone fishing on the hydro plant deck speaking loudly to a person in a kayak about “that’s just where I saw the alligator!” People have reported loud splashes and odd movements in the water (my guess is an otter). Once we know that we can possibly see an alligator, our eyes eagerly search for one.

Time will tell if the Franklin Pierce alligator makes it through the winter. An alligator is just too much fun to give up easily. But as time goes on, what will the Franklin Pierce alligator become? Just a story, or will it morph into a mythical being seen only rarely and photographed through only a fuzzy lens? Lake Champlain has “Champy”. Franklin Pierce lake seems ready for “Frankie” a monster of our own.