The Winnipeg Free Press Investigates Sports Bracelets

In today’s Winnipeg Free Press you’ll find an article entitled Wrist management: Can trendy sports bracelets actually improve your game or are they glorified rubber bands? In it, you’ll find a satisfying investigative report by Carolin Vesely on the subject of Power Balance and similar sports bracelets.

Photo by Bill Ebbesen (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

I’ll excerpt some of the good bits here, but please read the article if you’re at all curious about the claims being made.

“That sounds like gibberish to me,” [University of Manitoba kinesiology professor Todd] Duhamel says. Biofields can be measured, but “we don’t know what everybody’s biofield should be; there’s no ‘normal’ biofield frequency” where we can say, ‘Oh, you’re at 47.7 hertz and therefore you’re out of whack because you should be 49 hertz.”

Wearing a watch or ring made of metal will also influence your electrical field, he says, but any ions or other electricity or radiation emitted would only penetrate to a depth of one or two skin cell layers. And it doesn’t make sense, says Duhamel, that something worn on the wrist would affect how your legs work.

“I’d love to see scientific evidence. The fact that they’re making claims about strength and balance but not making an actual health claim would tell me that they have no evidence that it actually affects the human body in any real, meaningful way.”

Renny says iRenew should have results of its latest clinical studies on the website by the end of February. The tab marked “research” currently opens to an empty page, save for a photo of a muscled, braceleted young man hooked up to machines while running on a treadmill.

One of the main marketing tools used by the bracelet companies is a balance test. The test subject is asked to stand on one leg and hold his or her arms straight out to the side. The tester then pushes down on the arm on the same side as the raised leg until the subject falls off balance. The subject then puts on the bracelet and repeats the test — without toppling over.

Gem Newman, founder of the Winnipeg Skeptics, has an explanation.

“It’s a trick sometimes called applied kinesiology,” he says. “The first time when they’re pressing down on your arm, they’re pulling very slightly away from your body. It’s imperceptible to the subject, but they’re pulling you off balance.
“However when they put the wristband on your arm or in your hand, they’ll pull down on your arm again but slightly toward your body.”

Members of his group exposed the “trickery” for visitors at this year’s Red River Ex, where they happened to have their booth near a vendor of Energy Balance bracelets.

Anyone can test this out for themselves at home with a friend, says Newman.

“I’ll usually do it with my magic iPhone.”

When she was writing the article, Carolin Vesely contacted me about some of the claims these hucksters were making. I gave her a brief overview of some of the tricks they use to convince people that their balance or flexibility is improved, and tried to put her in touch with Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics. Unfortunately, the time difference apparently made it difficult to conduct a telephone interview, so you’re stuck with me, instead.

For those interested, here’s some news coverage from Australia that, while being rife with false balance and anecdote, does conduct a miniature blinded trial:

Because the claim isn’t addressed in the video, I feel the need to point out that in the segment where flexibility is being tested by having a “skeptical” reporter twist at the waist, it’s common for the subject to be able to twist around more fully on the second attempt than on the first, regardless of whether they’re wearing a rubber band.

Credit where credit is due: Richard Saunders and the rest of the Australian Skeptics deserve high praise for the work that they’ve done combating the vigorous nonsense promoted by Power Balance and their imitators, so I’ll give Richard the last word. Here he is demonstrating exactly how this so-called “applied kinesiology” trick works. It’s easy to do, and I highly recommend trying it out for yourself!

Prayer in Manitoba’s Public Schools: Here to learn, except when you’re not

Cross-posted from Subspecies

The Free Press (why do I read the paper?) is reporting that numerous schools in Manitoba still have students recite the Lord’s Prayer. This makes me especially sad as many of the schools listed are ones that myself or my brother have attended. I have no recollection of this, to be honest, with the exception of at J.A. Cuddy in Sanford. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t always been the case, but I’m sincerely confused because I attended Oak Bluff for a few years, and don’t ever remember doing it. Perhaps it blended so seamlessly into my expectations that I never thought it notable enough to remember.

In any case, everyone knows the entertainment in news stories comes from the comments. There are plenty of people spewing venom at this devious, atheist lawyer who is asking the schools to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are a few main themes for this objection:

Kids today are worse than they used to be! This is because they took prayer out of schools! Umm, I’m pretty sure the point of this article is that prayer is still in schools even though it’s not supposed to be. Most likely, you have a nostalgia bias, and remember things better than they were, and any real decline in good behaviour at school is due to other factors.
This country was built on Christian values! WTF, really? First of all, the argument from tradition is one of the worst fallacies. Second of all, this country has committed numerous atrocities based on those same Christian values. Xenophobia, racism and superiority lead to residential schools, Japanese internment camps, anti-Semitism, lack of women’s rights, etc. If those are the sort of values you think we should value and that Christianity promotes, you freaking suck, and Christianity sucks harder.
If you don’t like it, you should go to a country that doesn’t believe in God. Um no, first of all, a country cannot believe in God, only its people can. Furthermore, this particular country enforces the freedom of religious belief, INCLUDING atheism, agnosticism, and all other religions. There are very specific rules for how religion can enter public schools, and it is not allowed to be on school time. If you would prefer a country that does enforce such things, as pointed out by another commenter, I hear Iran is really nice for religious fundamentalism this type of year.
The Lord’s Prayer says nice things that all children should hear, regardless of their religion. First of all, no it doesn’t say anything that is worth saying. Talking about heaven on earth and being forgiven are explicitly Christian sentiments which are not universal. As for the bits about not doing or suffering from evil, isn’t that a given? Why do we need to teach our children, using religious doctrine, not to do evil? Do we need them to pray to an invisible man when someone has done wrong to them, or should we be encouraging them to actually do something about it?
“Who is Chris Tait? Who is he to dictate to others that they can’t pray in school? So schools are [sic] suppose to drop the Lord’s Prayer because some atheist lawyer says so?” No, schools are not supposed to use the Lord’s Prayer because our CHARTER says so. It is the law, the lawyer is reminding them of it!
“Heaven forbid, no pun intended, that the kids of today start their day being thankful, by reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s not have them learn about empathy either. However, if a dissident from an obscure tribe wanted part of their ritual ackowledged or believes read that would be ok, right.” Honestly, I don’t read any part of being thankful in there. I hear praise to God, which is quite different than, golly gee whiz, I’m sure thankful I am a Canadian kid who has rights and laws protecting me like freedom of speech and education! Furthermore, the law is quite clear, it doesn’t matter who you are, you are not allowed to promote religion in school. True, we do teach kids about Native history (grade 6, I think) but I also distinctly remember learning about the Reformation during European History in grade 7. It’s okay to learn about such things for the purposes of knowledge. Just because we made bannock in grade 5 doesn’t mean that the school division is promoting being a Voyageur! There is a difference between knowledge and promotion.
If we don’t allow God in our schools, where will he be when things go wrong? We do not need God to deal with our problems. We deal with problems. If someone is about to be raped, are you going to stand there and let God intervene, or are you going to call the cops?
A Christian agenda teaches love and forgiveness! No, a Christian agenda is a Christian agenda, and as such you cannot teach it in public schools. What is so difficult about this? Can someone seriously argue with me that you cannot teach someone what love is without talking about God? That it is impossible to forgive someone for a wrong without them pleading their case before a man in the sky first? Seriously?
Why don’t people deal with more important issues? This is irrelevant! While it may be true that there are serious issues that require attention, that doesn’t negate the fact that the law is being broken. Should we ignore drunk drivers because there’s a serial rapist? Should all the police in the city work in the North End, because it has some major crime issues, and ignore the rest? Just because X is not as popular as Y doesn’t mean it deserves to be ignored. A similar issue is happening in research. A lot of women get breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need money for Parkinson’s Disease or Huntington’s.
This is an atheist deception! What? How? What? Saying atheists are deceiving you, and then listing a bunch of bad things that happen (including in schools that have 100% compliance with the prayer!) is not an argument, it’s a non sequitir.
Children in schools have to hear pro-choice, pro-homosexuality and pro-evoution lectures! This is infringing on our religious freedoms just as much!! No, the charter guarantees that everyone will be treated equally and fairly. Imposing your religious beliefs on everyone is very different than being provided with information that disagrees with your bigoted religious beliefs. The Charter does not protect your right to be an asshole.

Sorry, WFP commenters. If fallacies and false equivalences are all you’ve got for me, I remain unconvinced. Kids go to school to learn information and to learn how to think critically. They spend all day saying, here kids, figure this out! Then they say, okay, now shut off your minds, and talk out loud to a man in the sky. It’s not learning, it’s brainwashing. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s your kid, that’s your own choice, but if you want to brainwash for Jesus, there are plenty of schools that are more than willing to oblige you.

Spare the (dowsing) rod…

This article is crossposted from Subspecies.

Apparently it was a slow news day and everyone was tired of NHL speculation, so the Free Press decided to run a fluff piece about a guy who divines dead people. Little did I know that there was something more patently ridiculous than water dowsing. This guy goes to graveyards in the R.M. of Springfield, helping to cataloguing graves for the Manitoba Genealogical Society. The article throws out a lot of big numbers

An MGS initiative has so far catalogued 1,362 cemeteries in the province…There are still about 150 cemeteries to do. Most of the work has been with cemeteries outside the city… But it has also done the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery in Winnipeg, with its roughly 12,000 graves, and Elmwood Cemetery that’s home to 51,000 graves… Mavins has catalogued the four main cemeteries in Springfield.

Wow, that’s a lot of graves! But oh wait, if you read carefully, those are graves being catalogued the usual way, that is “transcribing to paper all the information on headstones before weathering makes inscriptions illegible.” A skimmer could easily read that to mean that Mavins’ incredible divining ability has helped catalogue thousands and thousands of graves in Manitoba, or at the very least the ones in Springfield. But that’s not what is really meant here. It means that he’s spent a bunch of time in graveyards, writing down what headstones say, and then a bunch more time wandering the grass in graveyards with two metal rods. Although I assumed from the article that he had found bodies and they’d been exhumed from identification, I don’t think they’ve even gone that far. From the sounds of things, he just walks around places where bodies are likely to be, and when the ideomotor response kicks in, “identifies” the “body.”

"I dowse dead people" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Even if they have started to dig at some of the locations that he has identified, remember that he’s in a 150 year old graveyard that’s known to have unmarked graves. If you pick any area that seems reasonable, it’s likely that you will dig and find somebody. The fact that he identifies the body’s gender is also patently ridiculous – has anyone verified this, or are they going on his solemn word? Does he know how to distinguish an adolescent male from an adult female skeleton? Has he worked with any archeologists?

"I know there's got to be some corpses in this graveyard somewhere... if only there were an easier way of identifying them, like say if there were some sort of stone which we place over their head..."

In another case, Mavins said, a family knew it had a cemetery plot with five burials but didn’t know which family members were buried there. “I witched it and could tell them the number of adults, adolescents and babies,” he said. From that, the family determined the identities.

This leap in logic is precisely the problem. These bodies were identified with the assumption that his claims are true, and thus cannot be proof that he is legitimate. That’s circular reasoning, and that is not evidence, let alone good evidence.

Another thing – I wonder if this works while he’s walking over top of marked graves, too, or only when he’s thinking about it? What about over the recently deceased? Can he correctly guess the gender of a freshly buried individual or do they have to decompose first? And if it is something innate in the rods, could he correctly identify me as female, or would he need me to die first?

If this guy really had these magical abilities, perhaps he should call up the archeologists at the University of Manitoba – I’m sure they’d love the help in finding the lost tombs of the Pharaohs.