Exposing PseudoAstronomy

March 2, 2013

Podcast #67: Russian Meteor Conspiracies


I first said I wouldn’t do it, then I did it: Chelyabinsk meteor conspiracies! The episode is just a tad longer than the last one at a bit under 25 minutes.

The topics covered, besides setting the scene and what’s really known about the meteor, I talk about the coincidence of time; the coincidence of location; the conspiracies of missiles, UFOs, and Planet X; whether it was sent by some p—ed off deity; and the unfortunate scam that’s cropped up.

Besides all that, there’s a bit of feedback that lends itself to one of the (yes, of the two!!) puzzlers. And a quick announcement or two (depending on how you count ‘em) rounds out the episode. One of those announcements is that I will only be doing two episodes this month. Somehow I managed to put out 4 last month despite writing 3 grants, but this month is just insane along with 8 days of travel in the latter half. Sorry.

Remember that Expat will be on the next episode talking about some of the conspiracies related to politics, secrets, and engineering of Richard C. Hoagland. If you have something you really want me to ask him, feel free to send it in (or comment below).

January 2, 2013

A Psychic Predictions Addendum


For Michael Horn

Michael Horn, the Official North American Media Representative of alleged UFO-contactee Billy Meier, has attempted to send me various tasks and things to do, apparently failing to realize that I don’t work for him. I’ve pretty much ignored them as is my prerogative and for reasons I’ve explained in detail before.

One such “task” (literally, the subject of the e-mail was: “A new task”) was this:

Hi tehre Stuart,

As you may imagine I receive some interesting information from various people, among them a couple of astrologers who seem to have been pretty accurate.

So I’m copying you some fairly recent emails with content from them. You can of course feel free to examine it critically and see if the past info seems to be more than chance where it’s accurate and the foretold info/events should speak for themselves, one way or the other.

On August 31, Michael wrote in a comment on my blog:

P.S. When I have the time, I will post some interesting information pertaining to an email that I sent Stuart a while ago. In it I put information from a couple of astrologers who had gone on record with a number of specific things, and times they thought they would occur. It appears that they were…right. I notice that Stuart hadn’t put up a blog attacking these “silly” people, or whatever. Nor has he mentioned having checked them out and been confronted with their documented accuracy.

I wrote in response, to which Michael did not reply:

Oh, you mean your e-mail where your astrologer said, let’s see … “July will be a very busy month for the world … which … will also launch a major volcanic eruption, one of the largest we have ever seen, as well as major quakes around the world.”

Or “I see lots of major issues in the way of electrical power blackouts in 2012. There will be so many issues with power world wide, with huge black outs that last months even years. More black outs and rolling black outs then ever. Some very odd and completely un-explained by scientists.”

Or maybe this was more accurate? — “As I’ve said, I see major issues with the severe heat in many places. Temps could reach 130, even 140, this will also have a major effect on the power plants. July and August will be some of the worst times for this. The blame will partially be on sun solar storms that produces record breaking heat.”

Hmm. Unless I’ve been on some other planet the last two months, your astrologer doesn’t appear to be “right,” as you put it.

Let’s actually review the predictions of Michael’s astrologers who were “right,” shall we? I think that this will be informative because it shows how I got about evaluating predictions.

Reverend Michael Vanderpool, Astrologer & Intuitive — 0 hits || 3 can’t judge || 2 misses

First, the “Reverend” part — his “Doctor of Divinity” is from the Universal Life Church, an organization whose Wikipedia page starts by saying, “The Universal Life Church (ULC) is a religious organization that offers anyone semi-immediate ordination as a ULC minister free of charge. The organization states that anyone can become a minister without having to go through the pre-ordination process required by other religious faiths.” He also has a degree in “Healing Sciences” from the Jesus of Nazareth Church International. The certificates are scanned in and posted on his website. Not meant as an ad hominem, simply putting this out there since he consistently refers to himself as a Reverend.

Moving on, I listened to about an hour’s worth of his YouTube videos. The first was posted December 30, 2011. In it, he makes three predictions:

1. “January 9 to January 12, thus possibly affecting [January 8-16] … in terms of that war-like energy.”

2. He relates this to a war in Syria starting around January 15, and then Syrian president Assad is losing power in the time between February 24 and March 15 “with great probability.”

3. Markets will go up February 24, 2012. That’s the basic idea of this prediction, but he specifically stated: “Why do I say that [the Assad stuff]? Because in that window of time, the planet Jupiter will trine Pluto, and it almost always means that we see a a stabilization, or a maintaining of the markets, or an increase – a rising up of all markets when that happens.” He then says that last time this happened, markets went up. “And therefore, because I see that, the markets will go up with great probability February 24 …”

I then watched his video posted February 23, 2012. In this one, there was the very vague prediction:

4. There are “turbulent times” around June-July and a “difficult astrology time” around the November presidential election in the USA.

Analysis: WAY TOO VAGUE to be considered a hit or miss on any objective scale. As a predictor, this is useless.

Perhaps more interesting, he claims that he was 100% accurate in his market prediction that it’s “a very accurate prediction and quite a significant prediction.” This is based on a newspaper article from the previous day that stated the stock markets were at all-time highs since 2008. So taking that newspaper article, sure, he’s correct.

But let’s look at prediction 3 in greater detail, for which I’m using the Dow. The 10-year high for the Dow was October 12, 2007, at 14,093.08. The high in the year 2008 was May 2 at 13,058.20. 2008 ended at 8515.55, while the high in 2009 was at the end of the year at 10,328.89. Overall, the stock market has been improving ever since its low in early 2009, so the prediction that markets will go up on February 24, 2012, is not unlikely.

In fact, February 22-24 was not even the high for February, which came on Feb. 28 at 13,005.12, whereas Feb. 22-24 the Dow was around 12,940-12,985. It did NOT reach the high from 2008 in February in end-of-day trading, though it got close. Nor was this a high in 2012, the high close was 13,610.15 on October 5, 2012, though the actual high was up to 13,661.87.

Strictly speaking, he is correct, the markets did go up Feb. 24. But practically speaking, this was either (a) a high-probability hit that the market will go up on any given day, or (b) too vague for him to claim it was a hit with the specificity that he later did.

Similarly, he claimed that prediction 1 was actually “a great probability — a great possibility of war … in January 9-15, 2012 window, which can be evidence AS AN ABSOLUTELY ACCURATE PREDICTION” by looking at an Israeli news source from January 14, 2012, that said the largest war exercises in US history would be conducted between the US and Israel around that time. Sorry, again, this is way too vague to be considered a hit. He also did not even mention Israel in the Dec. 30, 2011, video, but thought it would have to do with Assad … see prediction #2. In fact, I watched it again because I had actually missed this ’cause I lumped it in with his Assad prediction.

And, the Assad prediction, #2, is a miss. He did not lose power in Feb-March 2012, and is still in power as I write this at the end of 2012. However, he claims that his Assad prediction was actually correct.

So far, we have 4 predictions, 3 claimed hits. I say three are too vague to score, and one is a miss.

The final video I watched was posted on April 6, 2012. He repeated #4, that there would be some potential problems with the banking system around June-July, which could manifest as the closing of the Straights of Hormuz. Could affect gas prices, food prices. The most specific thing I could pull out was:

5. “Gas prices shooting through the roof [in the summer]. … It would be wise for people to prepare for what could be incredibly high gas prices, and thus, in turn, if that does happen, it could affect food prices …”

Analysis: At best for the astrologer, this would be considered too vague, but under my scoring guidelines, I consider this a miss. Looking at 5-year gas prices in the US, we had a high in summer 2008 of $4.12/gal. In 2012, we had two peaks, one at $3.92 at the beginning of April — when his video was made, and a smaller peak in mid-September at about $3.87/gal. Other than the beginning and end of the year, gas prices were at a yearly low during the time period that he’s describing, June-July. Ergo, I consider this a miss.

And yet, in his e-mails to Michael Horn, he quotes news articles from June 30 stating that there are some rising oil prices and some analysts thinking that they’ll go up. Problem for Michael Vanderpool is that they did not.

Tony Vasquez — 1 partial hit || 3 can’t judge || 9 misses

These are all quotes from Michael’s e-mail to me on July 4, 2012. There were several different parts of it that I drew from to put these together. I included nearly everything written, with a few things left out that were preamble or more things simply too vague to judge.

1. “The U.S. presidential election turns out to be the dirtiest and most scandalous election ever.”

MISS

2. “Obama wins by a landslide.”

MISS — Obama won by less than he did the first time, hardly a landslide.

3. “I still see some kind of major controversy/scandal about Romney and it will completely jeopardize his chances at the presidency.”

MISS. Yes, he said some stupid things, but no one considers this a “major controversy/scandal.”

4. “I refer back to my previous predictions, and during this year’s astrological work, I continue to have no doubt that major chaos and destruction come from Iran, and to Iran.”

MISS

5. “I also believe that either Iran or Israel will be hit in a major way, possible hit by each other. This may not occur until late 2012, but July also looks like a possible time.”

PARTIAL HIT — One could consider the Israeli-Gaza conflict of November 2012 as the hit for this, but I consider it partial because (a) it was November and (b) Iran was not involved – at least not directly/obviously/admittedly.

6. “I believe Iran will also endure an attack from the U.S.”

Impossible to Verify with Present Info

7. “Also, as much as they are going to try and tell us Iran does not have a nuke or that they took out their nuke it will not be true.”

Impossible to Verify with Present Info

8. “I see lots of major issues in the way of electrical power blackouts in 2012. There will be so many issues with power world wide, with huge black outs that last months even years. More black outs and rolling black outs then ever. Some very odd and completely un-explained by scientists.”

MISS

9. “I still see major issues with the severe heat in many places. Temps could reach 130, even 140, this will also have a major effect on the power plants. July and August will be some of the worst times for this. The blame will partially be on sun solar storms that produces record breaking heat.”

MISS

10. “I do see 8+ earthquakes/tsunamis(3) hitting Japan and one 8+ hitting India – huge disasters with cities leveled.”

MISS

11. “Major “Events” in July and August will set off a chain reaction that will run right through 2014.”

TOO VAGUE

12. “I also see the Pope dying this year – the last pope then elected. Sept.-Nov. period for this.”

MISS

13. “July will be a very busy month for the world and a time when the planet’s energy shift goes into overdrive, which in turn will also launch a major volcanic eruption, one of the largest we have ever seen, as well as major quakes around the world. … I’m pretty sure there will be a major volcanic eruption – one of the largest ever – in July-August.”

MISS

Conclusions

A sum total of 1 partial hit, 6 too vague to judge, and 11 misses for a hit rate of around 4% and a too vague rate of 33%. This is right in line with the others from my main 2012 Psychic Predictions post.

With those all graded now, Michael, if you care to comment, feel free. But note that, as usual, I will block anything from you that is not SPECIFICALLY ABOUT THESE PREDICTIONS. No posting to your other stuff, no asking to look at other stuff, just comments about these predictions. Anything else will be blocked or edited out — you’ve posted enough stuff to your site that’s not related directly to the topic in other places on my blog.

December 29, 2012

2012 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Laypeople and Professionals Both Continue to Fail


Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

Introduction

Continuing a tradition that I started in 2010 and continued in 2011, I am posting a “psychic roundup” to celebrate the end of one Julian calendar year and bring in the next. In previous years, I have focused on Coast to Coast AM audience and professional predictions, and my conclusion has been, in one word: Bad. Average around 6% correct.

This year, I have branched out to other sources for three primary reasons. First, Coast has changed their format such that the audience predictions are more annoying and outlandish and it’s no longer one per person. Second, Coast is no longer doing a night or two of professional predictions where they bring in several guests per night to discuss the year ahead. It’s just a few people scattered over January. Third, last year, I was criticized for relying on Coast with people on some forums complaining that it wasn’t a good sample because no “reputable” person would go on the show anymore. I was also criticized for lumping different “kinds” of methods together, like astrologers with mediums.

So, I sniffed out seventeen other people who claim to make foresight-ful predictions who were not on Coast. I recorded their predictions, and I’ve scored them. I scored 549 predictions made by various people this year. If you want to just get right to ‘em, then see the link above or below. If you want more of a summary and a “how,” keep reading.

Download the Predictions Roundup Document (PDF)

People

Beyond the laypeople in the Coast audience, this year, the pros featured: Joseph Jacobs, Glynis McCants, Mark Lerner, Maureen Hancock, Paul Gercio, and John Hogue. The other 17 pros I looked at were: Concetta Bertoldi, Da Juana Byrd, Linda & Terri Jamison, Joseph Tittel, LaMont Hamilton, Carmen Harra, Judy Hevenly, Roxanne Hulderman, Blair Robertson, Pattie Canova, Cal Orey, Sasha Graham, Elaine Clayton, Denise Guzzardo, and Terry Nazon.

Many of these people are highly respected in their fields and charge a lot of money for readings (if they do readings). Let’s see how they did …

Scoring

I continued my tradition from last year with being somewhat strict in either calling something a miss or saying it was too vague or obvious or not a prediction. In one case, I had to call the “psychic” ignorant based on my reading of their prediction (that Antarctica would be found to have land under it?).

With that in mind, I was also what some may consider generous, giving some high probability hits (like Newt Gingrich would win the South Carolina primaries).

All numerical scores are the number of hits divided by the number of hits plus the number of misses. That means that predictions that were too vague/etc. were NOT counted against them, nor for them. The uncertainty is the square-root of the number of hits divided by the sum of the number of hits plus misses.

How They Did

I separated the folks into three groups: Coast audience, Coast professionals, and other professionals. Here’s how they did:

  • C2C Audience: 6.6±2.1%
  • C2C Pros: 15.6±7.0%
  • Other Pros: 7.5±1.7%

How They Did, Removing U.S. Presidential Election Stuff

The USA had a presidential election this year. About 3.3% of the predictions had specifically to do with who would run and be elected. These were pretty high-probability for the actual results followed what analysts were predicting months in advance.

So, to try to un-bias the predictions relative to previous years, I removed ALL predictions having to do with the either who would be the nominee on the Republican side or who would win the presidency. The results, and compared with previous years, are:

  • C2C Audience
    • 2012: 6.7±2.2% (4.7% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 5.8±2.3% (8.8% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 5.7±2.3%
  • C2C Pros
    • 2012: 13.8±6.9% (17.1% too vague to score)
    • 2011: 2.6±2.6% (39.0% too vague to score)
    • 2010: 11.5±4.3%
  • Other Professionals
    • 2012: 5.5±1.5% (27.1% too vague to score)

Several Conclusions from the Data

Note that these are discussed in more detail in the massive PDF file that lists all the predictions. For the shorter version …

First, I repeat this every year – and I predict that I’ll repeat it, in effect, next year – these “professionals” are NOT capable of telling the future any better than you or I, and some of them are in fact far worse.

Second, another thing I repeat every year and has held true this year, is that the pros are much vaguer than laypeople. On average, they’re a factor of around 3-5x vaguer in the sense that, percentage-wise, 3-5x more of their predictions are too vague to actually score. This means that they’re very easy to retrodict, after the event occurs, to claim accuracy. But, that “accuracy” is useless because it was not something that could be actionable when the “prediction” was made because it was so vague

Third, if the small numbers can be believed, the pros are better at setting aside their personal aspirations for politics — of the 12 predictions dropped because they were about the presidency, 1 hit and 2 misses were from the laypeople, while 7 hits and 3 misses were from pros. This indicates they got more right than the laypeople, which, while someone could point to that and say it proves they’re more psychic/intuitive/whatever, an objective person would look at that and point out that they were simply more likely to state what the polls and analysts were saying at the time.

Fourth, again if small numbers can be believed, when separating the pros into psychic-mediums, psychics, intuitives, and astrologers, the prediction rates were identical — except for the astrologers, who got 0. The only difference was that the psychics were much less vague, averaging around 19% unscorable versus about 35% unscorable for the others. I’ll have to watch that and see if it pans out in future years.

Scoring, Revisited

Before I wrap this up, I want to revisit the scoring and point out a major difference between the prognosticator and what I would consider an objective person looking to see if a “psychic” prediction is accurate or if it’s so vague that it can be retrodicted after the event to claim accuracy.

My example is Linda and Terri Jamison, the “Psychic Twins” who claim to be “psychic mediums.” They stated they see “one or two major schools being victimized by a young terrorist in the U.S.”

I consider that a miss. A terrorist is someone who commits their terrorism to create fear and panic, usually in the pursuit of political aims. By all accounts — except for the very conspiracy-minded, who unfortunately have been on C2C talking about this — Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hooke Elementary School shooter, was anti-social and disturbed. NOT a terrorist, not doing this for political gain, no cause in mind, and no greater demands for a group. To me, this is NOT a correct prediction for the twins. Sandy Hooke Elementary is – no offense – also not exactly what I would consider a “major school” (someone from Connecticut please correct me if I’m wrong).

However, I fully expect the twins to go out and claim that they predicted the Sandy Hooke shooting based on their above statement, just as they’ve been saying for over a decade they predicted the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks via the following exchange:

– Twin A: “We’re seeing a lot of natural disasters in terms of earthquakes and hurricanes, uh, blizzards and earthquakes coming up, especially in the next 10-12 years. A lot of activity like that because of global warming. We are seeing, uh, various terrorist attacks on Federal government, uh, excuse me — Federal buildings, um –“
– Twin 1: “– yeah, particularly, uh, South Carolina or Georgia.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, by July 2002, and also uh, the New York Trade Center, the World Trade Center in 2002.”
– Art Bell: “Really.”
– Twin 1: “Uh, with something with a terrorist attack and, um, yeah, so that’s pretty much it.”

That is their claim for predicting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I consider it a miss. But that’s a future blog post.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up for this year. I’m not going to repeat my small tirade from last year against the amount of money people waste on these professionals. I’ll just ask that you look at the data: They don’t do any better than you.

I’ll also ask that if you found this at all useful or interesting, please help spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, message boards, your favorite podcast (unless it’s mine, in which case I already know), etc. A lot of work went into it, and as far as I know, this is one of the most comprehensive looks at predictions for 2012 (and thanks again to Matt T. for help on scoring several items).

Also, if I got anything wrong, please let me know by posting in the comments or sending me an e-mail.

May 23, 2012

Episode 37 – Follow-up (Interview!) on Space Law


Episode 37 has been posted. It’s a ~45-minute interview with a lawyer pair where we discuss space law for the past and how it may need to change for the future. It is a somewhat unusual episode for me, but I honestly found it fascinating and I hope that you do, too.

March 17, 2012

Podcast Episode 27: Stellar Scams


Day late, 20 hrs of work left to do before I leave for the airport in 10 hours … sorry. This episode is about buying star names and land on other planets.

This week, I’m introducing a new, alternative segment to the puzzler. My tentative name for it is “Fact or Fake.” This totally original idea that is not ripped off from any other popular skeptical podcasts is where I will present you with two to four items, based loosely around the topic in the main segment, and you need to figure out which is or are fact, and which is or are fake.

The reason for this segment shift is that the puzzlers are sometimes really really hard to come up with, hence why I’ve been soliciting ideas for the past few episodes. This doesn’t mean that the Puzzler is retired — if I can come up with a puzzler that’s good for the topic of the episode, then I’ll use it. If I can’t, then I’ll do this new segment. That said, the NEXT episode is going to be an overview of the asteroid belt, and whether it was ever a planet. If you can think of a good puzzler for that, please send it in.

This is my first attempt at this thing, so let me know what you think.

January 5, 2012

2011 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail … Again


Introduction

Last year, in what rapidly became a very well-read post, I wrote about the “psychic” predictions for 2010 by the audience and pros from the Coast to Coast AM late-night radio program. After reviewing nearly 200 predictions, my conclusion was that the audience did no better than the pros, and that both did miserably.

With a record number of Tweets and Facebook postings, how could I not do another analysis for 2011?

I’m a bit behind, but I’ve finally compiled the audience and professional predictions for 2011 that were made on C2C and I have scored them, as well.

So without further delay: The Predictions (PDF)! Please let me know if you find any mistakes in scoring, and I will correct them. If you enjoy this, please be sure to rate it (those stars at the top), leave feedback, and/or link to it from your portal, forum, social media, and/or wikis of choice! It’s the only way I know that it’s worth going through the many days’ of work to compile these.

Before We Get to Details … Scoring

I was a bit stricter this year in terms of what I counted as a “hit.” For example, Major Ed Dames stated, “Buy gold and silver if you can … because those commodities will be worth something.” I counted that as a miss as opposed to too vague. True, gold closed roughly $150 higher at the end of 2011 than it opened. If he has simply said “Gold will be up by the end of the year,” I would give him a hit (if an obvious one). But he said both gold and silver, and silver went down by $2.50 over 2011. On the other hand, he simply said they “will be worth something.” I interpreted that to mean as they will go up. Otherwise, taken at strict face value, this is like saying “Bread is something you can eat.” It’s just a statement of fact.

As with last year, I wrote down what predictions I could pull out of the professionals (more on that later). Many of them, however, were too vague or obvious – I considered – to be scorable. For example, Linda Shurman stated, “People are going to come out of their collective coma” because of the transit of Uranus in Pisces. I considered that too vague to be a hit or a miss. Similarly, Joseph Jacobs stated there would be rough times in Somalia. It does not take a claimed psychic to say there will be rough times in Somalia, so I did not score that.

Coast to Coast AM Audience

Every year, Art Bell would do the predictions show on December 30 and 31 for a “full” eight hours of predictions from the audience. He would have strict rules – one prediction per call, one call per year, nothing political rant-like, no soliciting, and Art numbered them. With Art having unofficially/officially retired (again) after the “Ghost to Ghost” 2010 show, Ian Punnett took over and, well, he wasn’t Art. He didn’t follow any of Art’s rules. This made the predictions a bit more annoying to figure out and write down, but I tried. Sometimes there were two per caller.

In the end, I counted 114 distinct predictions. 6 of them were hits, 99 misses, and 9 were non-scorable as too vague, obvious, or not for 2011. That’s a hit rate of 5.7% (6/(114-9)≈0.057). Very impressively, that’s the same rate as I gave the audience in 2010, so, huzzah for consistency!

Here are some of my favorites:

11. Subterranean tunnels will be found, huge caverns, a “huge city-like thing,” under America or the Russia-Asia continent. “This could lead to the big foot theories being solved.”

23. Within the Bilderburger / Illuminati, there will “be a wild sex slavery factory where blond-haired teenage girls are enslaved to make Illuminati babies they’re trying to create the perfect race. There will be sex slavery.” This will be revealed this year when someone is “caught red-handed with these girls.”

27. Synchronized walking will become very popular, such as in malls, with people walking in formation.

73. There will be a Christian worldwide movement that starts in the US around the time of the Super Bowl. They will force ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX to show Biblical stories.

Coast to Coast AM Professionals

Yes, as a skeptic we always say “alleged” psychic or whatever. I’ve done that enough in the intro and we’ll just go with their titles. Pages 14-25 of the predictions document list the different people that C2C had on for 2011 predictions.

I’ll state that, like the audience ones, these predictions were not as easy to record this year as they were for 2010. Instead of having the first few days of 2011 be devoted to several of these people, George had them scattered throughout the month of January and then did another set in July with three people. So, I recorded what I could.

The people involved were:

  • Jerome Corsi (Claim: General Conspiracist)
  • Joseph Jacobs (Claim: Psychic)
  • Major Ed Dames (Claim: Remote Viewer)
  • Linda Schurman (Claim: Astrology)
  • Starfire Tor (Claim: Psychic -> “Psi Data Downloads”)
  • Glynis McCants (Claim: Numerology)
  • John Hogue (Claim: Nostradamus Interpretor, Psychic)
  • Maureen Hancock (Claim: Psychic and Medium)
  • Angela Moore (Claim: Psychic)

All in all, they made a total of 64 predictions. I counted one hit, 38 misses, and fully 25 that were too vague or obvious to grant a hit or miss to. That’s a hit rate of 2.6% (Joseph Jacobs got the one hit by saying perhaps the obvious “I see maybe a temporary measure as far as lifting the debt ceiling”). That’s somewhat worse than 2010, when I gave them a combined (if generous) hit rate of 11.5%, for getting 6 correct out of 53.

Here are some of my favorites (there were many more from Starfire Tor, but you’ll have to read the document for more):

Joseph Jacobs: We’ll be “getting closer and closer to [UFO] disclosure.”

Major Ed Dames: We’re right at the cusp of a global flu pandemic that WILL happen in 2011.

Starfire Tor: Earthquakes continuing to accelerate due to the time shifts and time wars.

Starfire Tor: “You are going to see an advancement of the whale and people project … . It’s gonna be an agreeable movement around the world where cetaceans – whales and dolphins – who are self-aware are actually non-human people. So the status of them is going to change from ‘animal’ to ‘person,’ therefore people are going to have to stop killing them, and this is going to – every country every people in the world are going to have the opportunity to understand that there is more to intelligent life on the planet than humans.”

Maureen Hancock: “Decent relief” from high gas prices. “I see it coming down to at least a buck a gallon by November” in New England.

Differences Between Lay People and Pros

I brought this up last year, but it definitely bears repeating this year. The audience made 114 predictions and 9 (8%) of them were too vague or obvious to score. The pros made 64, and 25 (39%) of them were too vague or obvious to score.

That is a classic difference between a lay person and a “pro” in the business of telling people what they think the future will bring. Normal people will generally give you unqualified – if seemingly outlandish – statements. Such as, “The Saints will win the Super Bowl.” The pros will give you qualified vagaries, such as, “If the Saints do well and live up to their potential, I see them as possible winners of the Super Bowl since Mars in Virgo is favorable to them.” Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but let’s look back on some real examples:

Audience: We’ll see “a Clinton” for VP this year.

Professional: There will be new manufacturing ideas here in the US, opening doors for the unemployed.

Audience: A private research company without federal funding will start to clone people for organ harvesting.

Professional: In response to a question about the Carolinas being hit by a hurricane in the fall: “That is a possibility.”

See? This is also why they can stay in business. I’m fairly strict in my scoring. Someone who paid an alleged psychic $25 for a reading, remembering what the psychic said two weeks later, will be very likely to easily retrodict what the psychic said into a “hit” rather than a miss.

Take John Hogue’s, “Get ready for mother nature to be on the warpath.” I said that’s too vague to score. Let’s say he said that a month before Hurricane Irene hit New York in 2011. Most would count that as a “hit,” and they would not put it in context of Irene being only a Category 3, only doing $10 billion in damage, and Hogue not stating that the year of Hurricane Katrina when it’s much more apt.

No, this is not a rant, and I apologize if it comes off as one. I’m trying to point out why these people are still in business when they are no better than, sometimes worse than, and frequently more vague than the average person making a prediction. And with that in mind, let’s see … Joseph Jacobs charges $90 for 30 minutes, $150 per hour for readings. Maureen Hancock has her own TV show. Ed Dames sells kits on remote viewing, and most of these people sell books and other things. Maybe I should start selling my scoring of their predictions.

Final Thoughts

To continue from the above before transitioning back to the “fun,” yes, there is a substantial “where’s the harm” issue whenever we give these alleged soothsayers the power to make decisions for us based on vague statements. I point that out because it’s important.

But I also want to get back to this because I think they’re funny. I posted on Facebook a few nights ago, “Is it wrong for me to take distinct delight when alleged ‘psychics’ who are well known get things incredibly wrong?” I enjoy shaking my head at all these people being shown to be the shams they are.

And I enjoy the, well, I’ll just say “out there” predictions that make it through. Obama being a reptilian? Whales and dolphins being considered “people”? (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like whaling and dolphining, etc., but let’s not go crazy.) When you hear some of these, you just have to roll your eyes.

And hopefully when you hear some of these that don’t sound quite as crazy, you’ll pay attention to and notice some of the tricks of the trade, and not spend your hard-earned money on something you could come up with on your own.

 

P.S. I realize that WordPress has a habit of adding Google Ads to posts for those who are not ‘pressers and due to the content of this post, most of the ads are probably for psychic or astrologic readings. I’m looking into the potentiality of migrating my blog to my own server so I won’t have to deal with all of that, but I’m afraid of losing Google rankings and all the link backs that I’ve established over the past ~3.5 years. If someone is knowledgable in how to preserve all those with redirects, etc., please get in contact with me.

P.P.S. Looking forward to 2012, if anyone has found a psychic/numerologist/astrologer/medium/whatever who has put out specific predictions, I’d like to extend beyond C2C for my tallies. Let me know in the comments or by e-mail of these and I’ll look into them.

December 28, 2010

2010 Psychic Predictions Roundup: Audience and Professionals on Coast to Coast AM Majorly Fail


Introduction

Every year, the late-night number-one-rated four-hour radio show Coast to Coast AM spends December 30 and 31 taking “psychic predictions” from the audience, and January 1 with invited “psychics” for predictions for 2010. I had a lot of free time while taking pictures at the telescopes in early January so I listened diligently to all 12 hours and recorded every prediction.

Let’s see how they did, shall we?

Edited to Add: It’s come to my attention (Oct. 2011) that Cal Orey (see the “Professionals” section below) has this post listed on her homepage as me indicating that she was the highest hit-rate “psychic” on Coast to Coast for 2010 predictions. I’ll repeat here what I do below: She was highest because she got 1 right out of 3 that I considered specific enough to actually judge; the other 6 were too vague or obvious to refute or deny. One correct prediction about an earthquake in California is not something that I, personally, would be bragging about. But I’m happy to have her link to my blog.

Audience

Art Bell ran the audience nights and he was very specific: One prediction per customer per year, and no predictions about assassinations, politically-motivated, nor abstract religious ideas would be taken. This year, there were a total of 110 predictions that were recorded. I actually recorded all the ones that made it to air, so in the document I link to below, you will see some items crossed out. Those are ones that Art did not record. My own comments are included in [square brackets] and are things that were not said on the show.

Click here for the PDF with all the audience predictions.

I have now gone through and – with a little help on some items I didn’t know about, scored them. First off, there were 5 predictions that I considered too vague or not actually for 2010, so that gets us down to 105 predictions. Based on my information, 6 came true. That’s a hit rate of 5.7±2.3%. (Uncertainty is calculated by taking the square-root of the number of counts and dividing by the total — this is standard Poisson statistics.)

Here are some of my favorites:

14. Obama goes live on NBC saying that aliens do exist and there will be an alien with him who speaks to the whole world.

16. A lot of people who are handicapped will get out of their wheelchairs and will walk again. (Qualifier: “If they truly believe.”)

26. Re-discovery, by September, of the entrance to the hollow Earth at the North Pole.

52. God is actually a being of light and he is moving back towards us at the speed of light. The result is that he’ll send a laser pulse in that direction and tell us what a bad job everyone’s doing.

81. A celebrity will be exposed as a cannibal.

And my all-time favorite … one of the only hits: 102. There will be no really big changes, it’ll be “pretty much the same-old-same-old.” There’ll be some crises, medical advances, etc., but that’s what happens every year.

Professionals

As a skeptic, I will admit that I derive great joy in seeing professional purveyors of woo resoundingly fail. And the “professionals” that C2C invited on did just that, none with a hit rate above 33%, and that high one was by virtue of only making 3 specific enough predictions to score.

Click here for the PDF with all the “professional” predictions.

In scoring these, I think I was fairly generous, as you may note if you look at the document linked above.

Edited to Add: The percentage correct that I list below are based on (# correct) / ((# predictions) – (# too vague)). I add this because I noticed some confusion on how I gave Orey 33% instead of 11% (1/(9-6) vs. 1/9).

To summarize, here are the scores for each person:

  • Christian von Lahr: 3 out of 15 with 1 too vague for 21%.
  • Paul Guercio: 0 out of 6 with 2 too vague for 0%.
  • Glynis McCants: 0 out of 9 with 8 too vague for 0%.
  • Tana Hoy: 1 out of 16 with 5 too vague for 9%.
  • Cal Orey: 1 out of 9 with 6 too vague for 33%.
  • Terry and Linda Jamison: 1 out of 17 with 5 too vague for 8%.
  • Mark Lerner: 0 out of 5 with 4 too vague for 0%.
  • Jeffrey Wands: 1 out of 16 with 1 too vague for 7%.

The combined generous hit rate was 11.5±4.3%. This is statistically identical to the audience’s hit rate. The one who got the most right was Christian von Lahr with 3, though due to small numbers because of incredible vagueness or obviousness, Cal Orey came out on top percentage-wise.

A trend you will note if you look at the document linked above is that the pros were all, in general, fairly vague in their predictions (fully 1/3 of them were unusable). Or, they were incredibly obvious to the point that they couldn’t be used to score any “psychic-ness.” For example, Cal Orey “predicted” that Italy will have “another quake.” Well, considering that there are tens of thousands of earthquakes of magnitudes >4.0 every year across the planet, this is like saying, “During 2010, the sun will appear in the sky,” or “a politician will tell a lie or half-truth.” Duh.

Some of my favorites were:

von Lahr: Something really big with one of Obama’s daughters involving the letters “P,” “I,” “N,” and “K.” Note that the letters may have spiritual meaning instead or be turned, like the “P” into a “b,” “d,” “6,” or “9.” It could also look like a bed or a wheelbarrow [so, basically you can retrodict anything to this]. The letters are also in the word, “kidnap.”

Orey: If San Francisco gets another quake in 2010, Arnold won’t be very happy.

Lerner: There won’t be a catastrophe.

The one that ticked me off the most was, by far, Tana Hoy, who, if you were/are able to listen, almost seemed scared that we all knew he was just making things up. He started off the interview by calling the host, Ian Punnett, “Ryan,” and then stated obvious things that had already been announced.

The pair that I thought were most full of themselves were the “psychic twins,” Terry and Linda Jamison. They started the interview by claiming that everything they predicted for 2009 had come true, and when they were on later in 2010, they claimed that everything they had predicted in January would still come true. I couldn’t find a C2C interview they did for 2009, but I found one for 2000.

On November 2, 1999, they claimed AIDS would be cured by 2002, “breast cancer drug break-through by 2003,” “a cancer cure, especially for breast cancer by 2007,” 60% of cancer cured by 2008, a cloning of body parts “in the not too distant future … in diagnostic chambers,” and people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, MS, and spinal cord injuries will be walking “within the decade.” Yeah …. didn’t quite happen. And by my tally, they only had one hit for 2010, and it was incredibly vague but I gave it to them. They had some monstrous fails, such as shiitake mushrooms as a prevention for breast cancer and hurricanes devastating Florida. They even failed on some actual statistically likely hits, like a major storm hitting the gulf.

Final Thoughts

As we go into 2011, many, many people will look to alleged psychics, astrologers, mediums, etc. for forecasts about the year ahead. When I first started my blog in late 2008, I averaged about 10-25 hits/day. Then I did a parody of my own psychic and astrologic predictions for 2009, and my hit rate spiked by a factor of 5.

And yet, when we actually write down what these people say and we look at the misses along with the hits, we find that these people are basically full of you-know-what. They aren’t any more “psychic” than the average person making wishful forecasts.

The main difference between these professionals and the lay person is their vagueness. The C2C audience members were willing to make generally very specific predictions such as “Lake Tahoe is actually a volcano,” versus the professionals who know that being specific is to their detriment so will usually try to be more vague, such as “no major tsunami for quite awhile.”

Please let me know if you enjoyed this post – either by commenting and/or taking a moment to rank it with a star count just under the tags for the post. It took a lot of time to write these down and score them and I want to know if it’s worth doing for 2011.

Also, if I have made any mistakes in my scoring, please let me know and I will correct it ASAP.

November 10, 2010

Follow-Up 2: Major American University Advertising Pseudoscience


Introduction

This is going to be a quick post, and for background, you should take a look at the original post about this issue and the first follow-up.

Sweetheart Deals

It was brought to my attention very early this morning that there is an article on the Sports Business Journal about PowerForce bracelets (subscription required). The article states, in part:

“Power Force, a brand of ion-infused wristbands, has struck sponsorship and advertising deals with more than 100 colleges that will give the company exposure through radio broadcasts, in-stadium signage and on-campus displays. The seven-figure deals … will give Power Force marketing and media rights at most of the nation’s top colleges. On each of the campuses where Power Force made a deal, it will be recognized as the official supplier or preferred supplier of ion-infused products. … Power Force is in the process of supplying the licensed wristbands to the schools’ bookstores and other retail outlets around campus. The company also has begun to set up retail centers under tents on college football game days where it has rights near the stadium.”

Final Thoughts

In today’s society, money talks. Multi-million dollar sponsorship, if the article is accurate, could perhaps be why the CU-Boulder Director of Media Relations and Spokesperson was reluctant to say anything bad about them.

I still think it’s not a valid excuse, and this also continues to raise the interesting question about who is funding these guys. If these were “seven-figure deals” with 100 schools, that’s one hundred million to just under one billion dollars in capital that they have put up. For a company whose website is not very good (duplicated logos at the bottom, links not working or going to the wrong page at the bottom, unreadable font sizes, disappearing press releases that weren’t linked properly the first time, etc.), one really does wonder.

Oh, and in browsing the company’s legal page, I came across this gem:

“Unless we give you written permission in advance, any other use of this website, its content and its information, including linking or framing to this website, is strictly prohibited.”

Oops.

November 7, 2010

Follow-Up 1: Major American University Advertising Pseudoscience


Introduction

This post is a follow-up to my first post from two weeks ago, “Major American University Advertising Pseudoscience?” I strongly suggest reading it first.

If you don’t, a very brief summary is:

  • The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) is a Research I university with 4 Nobel Prize winners on staff, 3 in physics and 1 in chemistry.
  • CU-Boulder has licensed Power|Force to use CU’s logo on PowerForce’s products and CU-Boulder is actively advertising for the product.
  • The product is a bracelet that, in the company’s own words, was “developed to work with your body’s natural inner force … [because] within each Power Force powerband are ions that work with your body’s energy.”
  • This is a fundamentally meaningless statement and in the opinion of many, fraud.
  • This was pointed out to CU-Boulder administration, which replied in an e-mail claiming that magnetic therapy (no mention of ions) is a clinically verified science.
  • See my first post as to why that is not true.

Edited to Add: Rachael, the respondee, has posted her reply to the correspondence I copy below on her own blog. I recommend you read it. I found it humorous that in both of our follow-up posts, we switched around where originally I was the aloof, polite, rational one and she was snarky, and for this follow-up I was more flippant while she was more diplomatic.

Further Correspondence

I was one of three people whom the original person notified of the advertising of PowerForce by CU-Boulder during football games (that person prefers to remain anonymous, but I have verified the basic claims in my previous post). One of the other people was less lazy than I, and in addition to writing her own blog post about this, sent a letter onto CU-Boulder’s administration. Her reply (and I have received permission to include the reply on my blog as well as post her name), comes not from the Chancellor’s e-mail this time, but Bronson Hilliard, the “Director of Media Relations and Spokesperson” at CU-Boulder.

Dear Rachael:

Allow me to answer your query regarding the University’s athletic marketing of the “Power Force” Power Band.

First, let me explain that the previous response that went out to a few individuals who e-mailed Chancellor DiStefano was supposed to be a reply on behalf of the chancellor by a staff member in our Buffalo Sports Properties office, not areply from the chancellor himself. I apologize for the way the reply was worded – it was confusing as to who the author actually was.

Regarding your query: members of the senior administration staff have carefully reviewed your concerns, looked into the University’s contract with the company that markets the bands, examined our peer universities’ relationships with the company, and reached the following conclusions:

· As you suggest, the claims of the company regarding the efficacy of the band aren’t based on firm scientific ground. However, the band is being marketed by through the athletic department as a novelty with affinity-inspired athletic branding that is unique to CU Athletics. The symbol it uses – the charging Ralphie – represents CU sports teams, not the university as a whole, and certainly not its research entities.

· In the same spirit, our sports-labeled products include everything from sweat bands to golf tees tolawn gnomes. These are all designed to create affinity and build school spirit, not to be literal representations of the University and its academic work.

· Likewise, the company is offering the same Powerforce Power Bands for universities that include Cal, Penn State, Missouri, Pitt and a host of other peer schools. These are quality institutions that, like us, have elected to promote a novelty item with an athletic logo for affinity and commercial purposes.

I appreciate your concern and that of your fellow graduate students and otherskeptics. Your respect for science and the scientific method is manifest inyour concern, and your dedication to advancing our highest academic values is impressive.

We do not believe in the end, however, that novelty items like the “Power Force Power Band” are threats to these values.

Sincerely,

Bronson R. Hilliard, director of media relations and spokesperson
University of Colorado at Boulder

An Analysis of Mr. Hilliard’s E-Mail

In this analysis, I am going to translate Mr. Hilliard’s message from that of a media relations person to what it actually says (implies) to those of us who have been pursuing this. My translations are in quotes, my comments are not in quotes. Note that I am not actually claiming that Mr. Hilliard actually said the things I put in quotes, these are just my translations from what I infer.

First Paragraph Translation: I’m not certain to what this is referring, perhaps Rachael in her original e-mail accidentally complained that the message about magnetic healing came from the Chancellor, which it actually did, though in the form of a forward from someone else. Regardless, this paragraph is unimportant as it is stated.

Second Paragraph Translation: “Here’s what we’ve decided:”

Third Paragraph / First Bullet Translation: “Agreed, PowerForce’s claims are meaningless, but I’m being as cagey as I can in stating that. But we’re not actually claiming it works, we’re just marketing it. Oh, and by the way, that CU logo? That doesn’t actually represent CU.” I would consider this an Inconsistency fallacy. Another person has suggested it’s simply an “absurdity” fallacy (not a formal logical fallacy, mind you, but one that works just as well). This claim might be, on paper, true, but anyone in the general public who sees any logo related to CU is not going to separate a sports logo from an academic logo or whatever Mr. Hilliard is claiming.

Fourth Paragraph / Second Bullet Translation: “I hope that what I’m saying is convincing you. ‘Cause, you know, we market other stuff like clothing with the CU logo but I’m saying that those don’t represent the University, either. I mean, a hoodie can really be risqué and we don’t want people to think CU administration really wants to present that image!” Alright, I may have gone slightly over the top with that translation, but in all seriousness, how naïve can a director of media relations be? Or how naïve does he seriously expect us to be? This is a False Equivalency fallacy. He’s attempting to shift the burden of proof to us, which I would claim that I (and others involved in this) have more than met (again, see my first post on this). What my/our point, though, is how can the bracelet and its extraordinary claims be considered a “novelty” that’s simply “designed to create an affinity and build school spirit” if they are being sold with the $29 price tag that claims it comes with magical ions … versus sweatpants that cost the same in the CU bookstore as they would at Target; this is not the same thing (the false equivalency fallacy). No one claims that the garden gnomes that CU sells are going to be like the garden gnomes in Harry Potter, but the claims that come with the bracelets are about as magical as that book/movie series.

Fifth Paragraph / Third Bullet Translation: “By the way, lots of other kewl skools also license this stuff, why don’t you go bug them? We’re just doin’ what everybody else is.” Follow-up: “Oh, everyone else is jumping off a cliff? Sure! I’d love to!” Yeah, that’s pretty much what it boils down to, a very very Skeptics 101 fallacy of Argument ad Populum (AKA Argument from Popularity). As a fellow skeptic pointed out in e-mail to me, this is actually an opportunity for CU-Boulder to take the high road and show these other schools that they are giving their name and logo to this company. As opposed to taking what many may consider a coward’s approach: hiding behind these other schools and jumping on the “everybody’s doin’ it!” bandwagon.

Sixth Paragraph Translation: “By the way, the space bar on my computer isn’t working. But isn’t it cute that there are some of you trying to pursue this? [Insert some trite compliments.]” I don’t think much more needs to be said about this paragraph but I in my infinite verbosity will, anyway. If what preceded it had been different – perhaps owning up and taking some responsibility – then this paragraph would not have come off quite as patronizing as it does. It also was interesting that a Director of Media Relations and Spokesperson for CU-Boulder with a student-staff-administration population of well over 40,000 wouldn’t check over his e-mail to look for mistakes as simple as missing spaces between words.

Seventh Paragraph Translation: “For all those reasons, we’re not doing anything about this.”

Final Thoughts

Mr. Hilliard’s e-mail, whether intended or not, and whether ignorantly or not, is naïve in the middle and patronizing at the end. He seems to not realize – or hopes that we don’t realize – that people aren’t going to think of these as “novelty items” in the same way they are going to buy a golf tee as a “novelty item” or a CU-Boulder logo-infused shot glass as a novelty item. Any normal person is going to (1) see a CU logo and (5) assume CU is endorsing it, skipping all those intermediate steps Mr. Hilliard seems to think will lead them to a different conclusion. No one is claiming that a CU-logo-branded mug is going to imbue your morning coffee with extra energetic forces to get you through the day, and because of that charge you an extra $20. But that’s the basic claim of PowerForce – a fairly meaningless jumble of words sewn together like magnetic poetry on your refrigerator.

Rather than actually stand up and admit that there is a problem here that needs to be addressed, this latest e-mail adds yet another layer of naïveté on CU-Boulder, this time in the office (via the Director) of Media Relations. It now seems that this issue has been studied (re: “members of the senior administration staff have carefully reviewed your concerns”) and they are happy with (a) actively promoting a pseudoscientific product, (b) being associated with a company that – to anyone who knows the basics of human physiology and/or chemistry and/or physics and/or critical thinking – is making things up, and (c) allowing that company to market products with the University’s logo and name.

We also have the Director of Media Relations and Spokesperson for CU committing at least three formal logical fallacies: Inconsistency, False Equivalency, and Argument ad populum.

Yet again, I would call on all of you to contact the administration and let them know what you think. Alternatively or in addition to, you might do so at some of the other schools that license PowerForce, especially if your own school is swept up in this.

I also encourage you to get the word out. WordPress in the last several weeks added the common “sharing” buttons that let you tweet/facebook/digg/reddit/stumbleupon/wordpress my posts to let others know about them. Even if you don’t want to get directly involved by contacting school administrations, I encourage you to pass this post along via any or any combination of those links that are pretty easy to use. Someone among your hundreds of Facebook friends or Twitter followers may decide to send a message along to the administration.

Edited to Add: Rachael, the respondee, has posted her reply to the correspondence I copied above on her own blog. I recommend you read it. I found it humorous that in both of our follow-up posts, we switched around where originally I was the aloof, polite, rational one and she was snarky, and for this follow-up I was more flippant while she was more diplomatic.

October 27, 2010

Major American University Advertising Pseudoscience?


Introduction

I will start this post with two disclaimers.

First, I am not a medical professional, nor student, nor have I had any medical training beyond a wonderfully taught class in high school on human anatomy and physiology. That is why I link to those who do have that necessary expertise for some points in this post. I do have the physics background, though, and use that where appropriate.

Second, I will be discussing the contents of two e-mails that were not sent to nor from me but were forwarded to me by the initial sender. I have received their (being gender neutral) permission to post the contents and while I have no way of guaranteeing the validity, I do think they are genuine since I know the person who sent them fairly well. I have also verified the main claims contained in the initial e-mail. I will also be anonymizing them for some liability reasons except for the name of the Chancellor (since that’s easy enough for anyone to look up, anyway).

With that out of the way, I am a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder), for those of you who have not been reading this blog very long or have not checked the “About” page. For those who are unfamiliar with the university, it boasts roughly 30,000 undergraduate students and somewhere around 6,000 graduate students. The university has four Nobel laureates, three of them are in physics and one in chemistry. It is a Research I university meaning that faculty who want to do more research than teaching will go here, and it is fairly prestigious. The university is also reasonably famous (maybe a tad infamous, too) for its sports, and the entire campus pretty much shuts down itself and the nearby streets when there’s a football game. Now comes the disappointing part.

Edited to Add: I have written a follow-up post with the response of the Media Relations Director and Spokesperson at CU-Boulder. It’s not encouraging.

Initial E-Mail

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Athletic Director, and esteemed regents:

Today I attended a football game at my alma mater CU-Boulder. I felt a moment of pride as I passed by Wayne [sic] Physics and saw the sign noting CU’s three nobel prize winners in physics. This feeling was countered by one of chagrin when I saw that CU was promoting a plastic wrist band called “Power Force” as “the preferred wrist band of CU athletics.” This promotion was done on the video screen (complete with a photo of the power force band) and with the announcer promoting this product. It was, to my memory, the only product that was promoted during the game in such a fashion during today’s game. I have had an opportunity to examine the website for this Power Force. They are selling rubber (or rubberized plastic, it does not actually say) wrist bands with collegiate logos for $28.99.

The website justifies this price with the following advertising copy: “Power Force Power Bands the Official Power Band of Collegiate Licensed Schools. Power Force, LLC is licensed to distribute team merchandise for more than 100 college teams. Power Force’s Innovative Products were developed to work with your body’s natural inner force. Within each Power Force powerband are ions that work with your body’s energy to give you confidence from within. Your inner force is limitless. Channel this force with Power Force powerband. Power Your Inner Force.” It does not take more than a rudimentary understanding of human anatomy and physiology to understand that there is no such thing as a “natural inner force” and that imbuing a plastic wrist band with some kind of ion is not going to have any effect on the human body whatsoever (except–I guess–if the ions were somehow toxic and would poison the wearer, which I doubt is the case here). The claim by the Power Force company as to the efficacy of this product is clearly pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo. It is extremely disappointing to see a university of CU’s caliber publicly and proudly associate itself with this kind of product, and with this kind of pseudoscientific claim. You are quite clearly (and apparently proudly) involved in selling a … overpriced product that cannot work in the way that its sales people claim. … This is no different than having the “preferred palm reader of CU Athletics” or the “preferred psychic medium of CU Athletics.”

I would also note that the website for Power Force brags that it is the official wristband of a great many universities. I don’t know how so many universities have been horns-waggled into an association with this dubious business partner, but I urge you to reconsider CU’s association, for the good name of the University that all of us love.

The website for this Power Force company is: http://www.powerforcellc.com/

Thank you for your consideration.

[Name]
CU graduate, BA A&S [year].

Emphasis is mine. Ellipses have been added to avoid liability issues.

Response

Dear [Name],
I asked our athletic department for an explanation for you regarding how products receive permission to use the CU logo and its endorsement. Buffalo Sports Properties owns the rights to all the advertising and sponsorship opportunities so this is their response.

“The company Powerforce went through all of the appropriate channels for approval to use the CU marks and logos. They applied for the CU license through CLC and based on the company’s information, goals and objectives, a license was granted. Additionally, the company has paid for a sponsorship with CU Athletics, which is the product was [sic] promoted on the video board.

As for the actual product, there has been research about magnetic therapy and its effects on pain, stress, fatigue, and concentration. While I don’t have access to our campus library (which may have better access to scientific research), here are two links to websites with articles about magnetic therapy.

http://www.articlesbase.com/medicine-articles/magnetic-bracelet-therapy-case-study-by-dr-carlos-vallbona-usa-2268067.html

http://www.magnetictherapyfacts.org/magnetic_therapy_research.asp

Thanks,
[First Name]
[Full Name]
Buffalo Sports Properties
[Phone]

Thank you for your interest and support of CU.

Go Buffs!

Philip P. DiStefano, Chancellor
University of Colorado Boulder

Ions

What are these mysterious “ions”? Put very simply, all atoms have at least one proton. If an atom does not have the same number of electrons as it does protons, then it is an ion. This will give the atom a net positive or net negative charge (if number of electrons is less than protons, then positive; if electrons are more than protons, then negative).

Now, it is true that ions in the body play an important role – an essential role – in allowing cell membranes to function as they should and in the basic function of muscle and nerve cells. I’m not going into more detail there because that’s beyond my expertise and it’s unimportant to this post. What is important is that while ions are essential, the phrase, “ions … work with your body’s natural inner force” is absolutely meaningless.

What inner force? There are four fundamental forces of nature — gravity, electromagnetic, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. So maybe they mean electromagnetic force. Except that the ions in a bracelet aren’t going to affect you in any way, pretty much no matter how strong they try to make them (assuming they actually do “put ions” into their product). For example, the multi-million dollar machines hospitals use called MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) create electromagnetic fields that are thousands of times stronger than a refrigerator magnet, yet they don’t affect your health.

One sentence later, the marketing claim for PowerForce changes: “… [I]ons … work with your body’s energy …” But we’re faced with a similar problem. What energy? I’ll refer you to Skeptoid Episode #1 – New Age Energy for a good discussion on that.

Magnetic Supposed-Therapy

Interestingly, the response quoted by the Chancellor has nothing to do with ions. Rather, the person moved the goalpost to discuss magnetic therapy. This lends credence to my supposition that PowerForce is advocating that the “force” their products work through is the electromagnetic.

It’s also interesting to note that the responder thinks that the CU library may have “better access to scientific research” on magnetic therapy. I’ll tell you that they have better access than the average person to medical journals, but magnetic therapy studies that are actually done with large sample sizes and are double-blinded show null results. I recommend listening to QuackCast episode #15 that has a 33-minute discussion of the main claims of magnet therapy and why they are all untrue.

Since I am not a medical person, I will merely state and explain my favorite: The most common is that magnetic bracelets will help the flow of blood because your blood (specifically the hemoglobin molecule in the red blood cells) contains iron. The only problem with this is that the iron in the hemoglobin is nearly completely magnetically neutral. If it wasn’t, then if you went in to get an MRI, your blood would explosively exit your body and coat the inside of the machine. It’s really that simple.

I went to the two links that were recommended by the Buffalo Sports Properties responder. The first has an ad at the top that promises to teach you to “use your own body’s healing power to end chronic tendonitis pain.” The second is fairly obviously an umbrella page for pro-magnet therapy folks. While not necessarily wrong to use this as evidence, it is wrong to use them if you actually read their studies. The first is a self-study and is meaningless since it was completely unblinded. The second is a report on another study that in itself is meaningless and one would need to examine the initial study. The third is from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine … hardly a mainstream journal that is accepted by most medical professionals.

For magnetic therapy to actually be true, it must be physically plausible, requiring a mechanism. From a physics standpoint, it does not, at least not in any of the ways promoted. Again, one of the easiest ways to almost literally blast any claim to its efficacy is to take it to the logical conclusion: Put the person in an MRI and the effects should be magnified significantly. And yet decades of MRI use has failed to show any kind of results claimed by magnetic therapy proponents.

Edited to add: A good, recent meta-analysis of magnet therapy.

Final Thoughts: What We’re Left

We are left with either knowingly or unknowingly ignorant marketing and promotion. If unknowing, it’s embarrassing at a bare minimum and should be corrected when pointed out. If knowing, then I would, in my opinion, say this probably gets into the realm of fraud (by the PowerForce company).

It’s ridiculous that a university as prestigious as CU, with three physics and one chemistry Nobel laureates on faculty, would sink to the level of unabashedly lending its name, logos, and promotional space to such an obviously untrue product and set of claims. I can understand someone over in the Buffalo Sports Properties office being ignorant of physics, chemistry, and human physiology and being swayed by big words, sciencey-sounding claims, and falling prey to the argument from popularity of dozens of universities on their bandwagon.

I may even be able to understand a Chancellor maybe not wanting to deal with looking further into the issue. But that’s part of his job. Any kind of promotion of pseudoscience by any academic institution should not be tolerated.

I have checked the PowerForce website and they do offer the CU bracelet. Their main marketing page does make the claims quoted in the initial e-mail. I encourage anyone and everyone who thinks that a university should not promote pseudoscience to contact the CU-Boulder administration and let them know.

If you do contact them, I recommend sticking to the basic fact that CU allows PowerForce to license their name and logo, that CU unabashedly advertises for them, and that the claims are demonstrably wrong. Details of the initial e-mail I presented and the narrative that followed are less important than the basic idea of an academic institution advertising pseudoscience.

Or, if you go to, are employed by, or are affiliated with another university, I encourage you to check out PowerForce’s website and see if they have yours listed. And then contact your own university’s administration.

Edited to Add: Now that you have read this, I have written a follow-up post with the response of the Media Relations Director and Spokesperson at CU-Boulder. It’s not encouraging.

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