Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Bullshit Bus rolls into Limerick

Every May Bank Holiday weekend, Limerick hosts 'Riverfest', consisting of open air concerts, firework displays, and markets hocking exotic goods and foods from around the globe. The main timesink is the market, where shoppers can traipse down the uncomfortably narrow road, browsing the stalls and taking in smells and tastes from across the globe. French, Italian and Chinese cuisines and desserts are all within a crepe's throw, in what must be a dream come true for all of those quixotic suburb-dwellers yearning for a more exotic life in some distant locale.

I was there this morning, and while pushing my way through the throng to score some oriental noodles, I noticed a stall set up hocking Power Balance bracelets (and a cheaper non-brand alternative). I've heard of these before, so I decided to take a look:

The box enthuses "As worn by Celebrities & Athletes!"
Power Balance bracelets are silicon wristbands with holographic stickers attached. Sounds like a cute fashion accessory, doesn't it? They cost $29.95 on the company website. What could justify such a price? They sprinkled in some bullshit. These are not mere adornments, Power Balance claims, these are a performance-enhancing tool!

Let's read the display:


So many alarm bells go off when you think about what this notice says. Let's ignore the drivel about this thing reacting "positively with your body's naturally occurring and ever-flowing energy fields", because this is patently wrong. Have a look at the empty promises of improving "Balance, Flexibility, Strength, and general Wellbeing". These are not empirically measured metrics, and "Wellbeing" is a term that snake-oil peddlers use when they can't make direct health benefits, so that can be immediately dismissed.

Your humble blogger, handling bullshit with his bare hands
Let's take a moment, dear reader, to look at the underhand way that "professional sportsmen" have endorsed this product. Luminaries such as David Beckham, Ronaldo, Shaquille O'Neal, and Linford Christie are listed as having "experienced the benefit of Power Balance". Experienced? As in someone accosted them with a bracelet as they politely tried to excuse themselves? That counts as an 'experience', but not one that they're necessarily championing. This non-endorsement however, could be enough to get some hero-worshipper to cross the line and part with €30 to get one step closer to his idol.

The guys peddling these bracelets have some serious nuts. Just have a look at EFX, who saw Power Balance charging a 30,000% markup on a 10c silicon bracelet and decided to get a cut of the action, but with a harder-sell:


"Try before you buy" it exhorts! Stand on one leg and have someone (more than likely the vendor, let's face it) push on your wrist until you fall over! Then put on the magic bracelet and repeat the procedure! This is science! There are so many things wrong with this 'trial' that I'd rather not expend the energy on it. The only truthful statement on this packaging is that it poses a choking hazard to children.

It's no surprise that something like this would be at a market. Far be it from me to opine on subjects in which I have no expertise, but I have pigeonholes into which I place people who seek out such bullshit. Cosmopolitan types who make a habit of going to markets to procure produce at inflated prices for the sake of not engaging in a more conventional corporate environment are the kinds of people who buy into the bunkum like alternative medicine, because they're 'alternative'. These are the belief networks that promulgate fear of western medicine and propagate rubbish that muddies the water about safe, important procedures, like vaccines. These people are dangerous in a rather subtle way.

Power Bracelets are an Australian Export, and thanks to the efforts of some Australian sceptics, they recently admitted to their lies:


In our advertising we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility.
We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
If you feel you have been misled by our promotions, we wish to unreservedly apologise and offer a full refund.
When I was at the stall this morning, I picked up the bracelet with a chortle and started telling my friend about the specious claims they were caught out on. The attendant kept her distance. It's possible she was aware of the high-profile fall-from grace that Power Balance had suffered. Had my initial reaction been any different, I reckon she'd have offered to test my balance.

[A scientific breakdown of the claims made by Power Balance are available on Skeptic Blog]

5 comments:

Vinnie Rafter said...

I bought one behind your back :-o

Anonymous said...

Hi Seán. This is your Mum. I'm glad you had a nice time at Riverfest. Dinner will be ready at 6 tonight by the way

Sully said...

@Vinnie - You're just bashful because you could have got a shoutout in this entry but didn't.

@Anonymom - If you're going to try and pass yourself off as my mother, at least get her style of writing correct. Use this verified comment as a reference.

Anonymous said...

Liking the verified comment. I just decided to impersonate your Mum after our coffee date a few weeks back. It amuses me.

Haven't been back on this since because I keep going onto the other Sully's blog. I wish I knew that Sully but I'll have to make do with your goodself and that other Sully in work who you know all about.

By the way if I didn't know any better I'd swear you'd photoshopped those hands into that pic. I think I've diagnosed your condition by the way...Sotos Syndrome

Primateus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.