So anyway, the other day I just happened to think that it had been far too long a time since I visited our old friends at ShooTag, so I took a little stroll over to their site. Yeah, pretty much same ol’ same ol’. The name (and by implication, the endorsement) of Texas State University has mysteriously reappeared on their front page again, after they were explicitly directed to take it off by said university (on account of… well, no delicate way to put this: they were lying about Texus U’s involvement in the supposed scientific tests of their product), but it hardly surprises me. That’s what dishonest people do. The site itself is looking spectacularly crappy – dead links, crummy nav, appalling layout. And it looks like it’s been comprehensively shat upon by the Bad Advertising Bird. Evidently not much effort or money going into that particular enterprise these days.

I did notice that they are sporting some ‘Camouflage’ style ShooTags now, ostensibly for dogs and people who are bothered by mosquitoes when hunting.

“NEW: STAY INVISIBLE WHEN HUNTING WITH THESE NEW CAMO TAGS!” they scream in caps, and given the outrageousness of previous ShooTag claims, one might be forgiven for thinking they’re now offering some kind of Harry Potteresque invisibility mechanism for their gadgets. But I suppose we should give them the benefit of the doubt and take it that they mean ‘invisible to mosquitoes’. I’m a charitable kind of person when it comes to metaphor.

The thing that caught my attention, though, was a small, nondescript link that appears twice on the home page:

3000 years of science! OK, so that’s gonna be good. Clicking the link takes us to a very different experience indeed. CieAura®’s site is way more moneyed-up than ShooTag’s sorry presence. Images of good-looking happy smiling people by the seaside tell me that:

“CieAura has introduced a series of holographic chips that communicate with the body to help promote proper balance in several areas of interest to all human beings: deeper rest, energy, allergies, libido, relief from discomfort and weight management.”

Cool. Holographic chips that communicate with the body! Like Star Trek! Or something. Well, you can’t just make something like that up, right? You’d need some science. Hey, they have a video! Let’s have a look at that to see if there’s any enlightenment to be had. I’ll wait while you do that. You only need to watch the first forty or fifty seconds. I promise that anyone who’s been a Cow reader for a while is going to get a really big surprise around the 31 second mark. Trust me, it’s worth it.

A personage called Paul Rogers (hmm… familiar sounding surname…) tells us that CieAura has ‘introduced a line of holographic chips to the world’. Well, he’s certainly peddling a line, that’s for sure. These miraculous chips have been developed for CieAura by their chief scientist – it’s about here that I choked on my Manhattan – Melissa Rogers. Oh, how many pennies just dropped then? Paul Rogers, the link from ShooTag and the suspicious lack of product activity from them over the last few years…

Let’s have a little recap of the scientific credentials of Melissa Rogers, Chief Scientist of CieAura®, who has been designing these chips for the last sixteen years (moonlighting from her deep thought on ShooTag, one supposes):

Ms Rogers first tangled with the Cow back in 2009, where she called me ‘ignorant’ for not being ‘disaplined [sic] in physics and quantum physics’ and attempted – but failed comprehensively – to impress me with her scientific knowledge of radio frequencies, fractals and crystals (some things I actually do happen to know quite a lot about). At around that time she left a comment on another blog in reference to ‘Einstein’s famous equation, E=M¾’, completely duffing probably the most well-known physics formula in the world, and one that even third graders get right. Over the next months, she went on to assert that mobile phones use radio frequencies (they don’t), that she understands the work of physicist Geoffrey West at the Santa Fe Institute (she doesn’t) and that she knows how to properly conduct a science experiment (not a clue).

Ms Rogers also has clear links to Professor William Nelson (aka Desiré Dubounet) who, in the late 1980s was indicted by the FDA on numerous charges of fraud, all related to medical ‘energy’ devices. Rather than face these charges Nelson illegally left the US in 1996 to hide in Hungary, where he/she currently resides, and still manufactures and sells his machines. I can’t say if Mr and Ms Rogers have any current affiliations with Nelson/Dubounet, but Melissa Rogers certainly did in 2009 – well within her supposed sixteen years’ development period for CieAura – when she spoke at Nelson’s annual QX Conference (a ‘medical energy’ seminar) in Budapest.

We can also find a bio for Melissa Rogers on the site:

Melissa uses small signal technology(i) and uniquely combines it with advanced science to develop products that help balance the body’s intrinsic energies. After successfully launching over 12 products into the retail mass market, she joined the CieAura team in July of 2012. Some of her products have won prestigious awards and have been University tested with high efficacy evaluations. Her products are designed to assist the body in balancing the energy in the body, thus helping reduce stress in the body. Melissa believes; reducing stress in the body will help reduce stress in everyday life.

“Some of her products have won prestigious awards and have been University tested with high efficacy evaluations.”

I’d love to know what those products are – ShooTag is quite obviously not one of them, since it’s never been university tested. There’s no mention of what Ms Rogers’ ‘prestigious awards’ actually were, which is kind of peculiar. Most people are very eager to show you their Oscar. I’m also quite curious about the extent of Ms Rogers’ ‘advanced science’, as she’s not demonstrated it anywhere that I’ve ever seen.

That CieAura has appointed this person as their ‘Chief Science Officer’(ii) speaks volumes about the kind of product that they’re selling, and we’ll examine that product in the next post.

I just know you’ll stay tuned.


  1. Ms Rogers has quite obviously picked up the ‘small signal technology’ buzzwords from her association with Rainer Fink who she implicates in the ShooTag experiments. []
  2. The implication it carries – that there are a bunch of other ‘science officers’ – is frightening, given the qualifications of their chief. []


Did you like that headline, dear Cowmrades? Did it make you chuckle just a little? I must say, it amused me for a brief second or two. It has very little to do with anything much except for the fact that it concerns wine, and is a ridiculous joke – much like our subject of discussion this morning: The Premium Wine Card.

Now, if you’re of similar mindset to myself, the first thing you think when you hear someone talking about a ‘Premium Wine Card’ is that it’s going to be one of those reward schemes for buying wine, amiright? You know the kind of thing – you buy a dozen bottles and because you’re a Premium Wine Card holder, you get a 13th bottle free (or something along those lines). Well, I’m not a big fan of loyalty schemes as you know, but hey, if that kind of thing floats your boat, go for it. It’s scamming by any other name, but at least it’s relatively harmless.

But oh no, the Premium Wine Card is not one of those things. The Premium Wine Card – let’s call it the PWC, since we’ll be referring to it a lot – is to wine as ShooTag is to pest control. In other words, it’s a useless gew-gaw promising miraculous results that defy any known scientific principles and is aimed solely at relieving credulous people of their cash.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: you take your PWC, and as you pour the wine, you hold the card touching the bottom of the glass. Leave the glass for thirty seconds (what that’s all about is, like everything else in this brainless enterprise, never explained) and that’s it, sports fans. The job is now done. Your five dollar bottle of plonk is now the spitting duplicate of a Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin.

Not that the PWC vendors would ever claim something quite so concrete, of course. Oh, no. In the kind of evasive double-speak we’ve come to expect from these kinds of swindlers, the purveyors of the PWC claim that:

•It is “A World first in technology to treat young wine and improve its taste instantly”

“…the Premium Wine Card has a positive effect on the tannins in the wine, causing them to quickly soften as if the wine had been further aged for a number of years.”

“…wine treated with the card has a fruitier aroma and a smoother, richer flavour with the mellower, softer finish that is typical of a premium cellared wine.”

Amazing! And exactly how is this miracle achieved? Well, I’ll tell you, Faithful Acowlytes: with frequencies. Golly those frequencies are versatile. With ShooTag we learnt how they repelled ticks and fleas, and now they’ve been rounded up to make wine taste better. Incroyable!

To be specific (well, as specific as meaningless mumbo jumbo can possibly be):

“The Premium Wine Card contains an embedded set of precise frequencies that produce a long-lasting natural resonance. The resonance can be transferred to wine through the wine glass.”

I’d like you to read that sentence once more through, because that is the sum total of explanatory information for the PWC’s method of action under the Technology heading on the PWC site’s How It Works page. I kid you not. Unlike the ShooTaggers, these people don’t even make the barest half-assed attempt at science. It’s all encapsulated solely in the words ‘frequencies’ and ‘resonance’. There’s not even a hint of what kind of mechanism in the card – if any – might be responsible for generating these frequencies or causing this resonance. I have my suspicions that there is exactly no mechanism at all, but I’m certainly not paying 75 bucks to find out.

The comprehensive (and laugh a minute) FAQ on the site has this clanger:

Q: Does It Make Every Wine Taste Better?
A: For most people yes!

Whoa there bartender! Most people? Did I get the aroma of subjectivity there for a brief second? Do you mean that this might not work for everyone…??? But it’s science, right, with all those frequencies & all? What if I’m not most people? What if I’m a smart person who doesn’t fall for nonsensical horse shit?

Oh I see! There’s a money back guarantee! I’m almost tempted to outlay my $75 in the name of science, but I have a sneaking suspicion that getting my money back might not be quite as straightforward as the website promise makes it appear.

Of course, the PWC site is replete with that obligatory signature of snake-oil vendors, the Testimonial. I’m inclined to believe that, unlike most of these scams, the testimonials are actually real. Mostly because they are, by and large, really terrible endorsements.

I didn’t think it would work but after rubbing the Premium Wine Card on my bottle, the beer tasted better. ~Paul Macaione, Cornubia

Crikey Paul. Don’t go overboard.

Oh, and I’m sure you noticed that Paul is talking about beer, here. Yes, quite astonishingly, the PWC does work on beer too. And on coffee and tea. And on fruit juice. Despite the fact that the only supposed mechanism of efficacy given anywhere on the website has to do with ‘softening tannins’ (and as far as I’m aware, there is not, and nor has there ever been, a market for aged fruit juice).

Choice magazine does have an online review of the Premium Wine Card. I’m afraid their assessment is rather more namby pamby than it should be, stopping well short of calling out the whole thing as a scam. They conclude, rather lamely in my opinion, that:

…if it can’t change the chemical properties of wine, it just might affect your brain chemistry – the placebo effect is a very powerful thing!

Which, aside from verging on being an actual endorsement of the fraud in question, perpetuates the erroneous notion of what the Placebo Effect actually is.

As we’ve seen previously on The Cow, there’s a veritable wagonload of woo in the wine-tasting business. We’ve had wine quality affected by magnets, by astrology, and even by the direction you swirl your wine in the glass. Needless to say, when this highly subjective process is subjected to any kind of rigorous testing, the miraculous effects fade away.

But in light of all this, my loyal Cowpokes, and mindful of the old if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em aphorism, I have good news for you! I’m about to save you 75 bucks with the introduction of… the Premium Cow Card.

What’s more, dear friends, you don’t even need to send off for the card. You can have it working within minutes! Simply print out a copy of the PCC on your printer and take it with you wherever you go. When used correctly, it will make your wine/beer/absinthe/steak/french-fries/haggis taste betterer than better. As you know, all TCA products are powered by our unique FeelyGood™ technology, and come with a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT MONEYBACK GUARANTEE.

“I can’t believe it! I applied the Premium Cow Card to my brain and now it’s operating at a full 20%! Seaworld has just given me an employment offer!!!” ~Hattie Bucksfizz, Marulan South.

It’s the time of year once more, dear Cowpokes, where we find ourselves wandering aimlessly through our local Giftorium looking for the exactly appropriate gifts for those special people in our lives. My meanderings this Christmas have led me to deduce that the item most wanted in Christmas stockings for 2014 is… a jar. They’re everywhere – in pretty much every homewares store I visited, there was a display featuring jars in one manifestation or another.

Yes, somewhere between now and when I last visited an insane asylum,(i) the populace has gone jar crazy. But I need to make it clear here – we’re not talking about your standard preserving or jam jar. A jar is just a jar, right – they’re a common utilitarian item and you can pick them up from any ol’ kitchen supply place for tuppence… What makes a jar an even remotely contender for a respectable Christmas present?

Well, I’ll tell you. String.

Yes, my friends, it appears that some string tied around the jars instantly renders them Giftorium-worthy. In this example, the string is tied around four jars at the bottom, but some jars featured string at the top! And don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to put up with common garden variety ‘rustic’ string – why, string comes in all colours of the rainbow. A jar tied with coloured string is surely the gift that your significant other wants to wake up to on Christmas morning!

If string is not your thing, then a jar with a handle is the next step. A jar with a handle and a straw shoved in it. Preferably a jaunty red-and-white striped straw, it seems. It’s an effort, I suppose, to conjure whimsical images of sunny summer afternoons under the walnut tree, sipping ma’s home-made lemonade while Chip and Bobby Jo take turns at swooping over the river on the ol’ tyre swing.

Of course, there’s something for everyone in the Giftorium! If the down-home image is not your thang, you can change it up with the industrial look – a jar with a handle, a shiny stainless steel straw AND a pattern-punched lid to keep the wasps out.

But where do you go when you’ve exhausted the possibilities of a jar with a lid and a handle? Well, I’ll tell you – a jar with a lid and a handle on a stem! Kind of a wineglass-stein-jar thingo.

Call it a Frankenstein if you like, but I mean, seriously, the only thing that could improve on that is the addition of some string. Amiright?

  1. Which wasn’t actually that long, as it happens, as I was at Beechworth only last week. But for the sake of the amusing metaphor… []


Acowlytes! Let me introduce you to Food Babe. If you haven’t heard of her up until now, this is going to be a very special post for you. Food Babe, aka Vani Hari, is to put it quite simply, a reality-challenged, uneducated loon. Her basic schtick is to take everyday food items (anything that’s not chia or sprouts, principally) and concoct some kind of conspiracy around how they’re going to kill you.

She also gives travel tips:

The air you are breathing on an airplane is recycled from directly outside of your window. That means you are breathing everything that the airplanes gives off and is flying through. The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%. To pump a greater amount of oxygen in costs money in terms of fuel and the airlines know this! The nitrogen may affect the times and dosages of medications, make you feel bloated and cause your ankles and joints swell.

That’s right folks, airlines are trying to kill you with nitrogen. Up to 50% of it in the air they FORCE you to breathe when you fly. The fuckers!

Aside from being completely scientifically addled, that paragraph is, of course, nothing but pure unadulterated bollocks. She pulled all that information straight out of her ass – pretty much like she does with all her ‘facts’. The problem is, a HUGE number of people read this hogwash and take it as gospel.

You can read more Food Babe here, if you are a sucker for punishment. I guarantee it will make you feel more nauseous than an all-you-can-eat buffet at Outback Steakhouse.

NOTE: Not only has the main link to this article been redacted from the Food Babe site, someone is systematically moving all the cached links as well. The Google caches have been scrubbed, as has the Wayback Machine cache. In the grand tradition of historical revisionism everywhere, Food Babe is trying to make it seem like she isn’t an A-Grade idiot. Fortunately you can read the entire text of the redacted page at Skeptical Analysis.

The person who has just been appointed to the head of Australia’s once(i) world-admired science organisation, the CSIRO,(ii) believes in magic.

Yes dear Cowpokes, Dr Larry Marshall, a man whose scientific credentials barely cast little more than a dim glow from within the deep shadow of his business escapades, and whose tumbling grammatical trainwreck of a biography uses expressions like ‘leverage’ and ‘serial entrepreneur’, wants to create water dowsing machines.

Larry says he would…

…like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said. “When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’

You know what, Larry? When you see that – as a scientist – you should actually ask yourself why no real scientists believe, for even a nano-second, that dowsing works.

You have no idea how they do it? My suggestion is that you look up the ideomotor effect and watch this video. Several times, if you don’t get it on the first run through.


  1. I say ‘once’ because, like everything else in this country lately, it seems that the idiotic buffoons who aspire to be some kind of ‘government’ here, are hell bent on making it the laughingstock of the educated world. []
  2. You know WiFi? The CSIRO invented that. Yeah, WIFI! []


Image: Bill Brooks Creative Commons; Some Rights Reserved

Or: You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Homeopathy is crap. Serious, unmitigated, archaic, superstitious hogwash-laden crap. There is no defensible argument for why it might have the magical qualities with which it is imbued by some. On that, Faithful Acowlytes, I think you and I are agreed. I’ve noticed in recent times, however, a growing tendency from the dozen or so remaining supporters of homeopathy, to wheel out the justification that its validity might lie in the Placebo Effect.(i) The Placebo Effect is also cited by supporters of various other dubious unscientific medical practices (yes, I’m looking at you Mr Acupuncture) as a possible legitimate modus explainii.(ii)

The problem is that the concept of the Placebo Effect has become eroded over the decades into a magical-thinking term of its own, specifically, a notion that a placebo invokes some kind of Mysterious Ability Unknown to Science for the human body to heal itself, based on a sort of ‘mind-over-matter’ mechanism that remains to this day entirely unexplained. As someone who understands what the Placebo Effect actually is, this really annoys me. And when I’m annoyed, I dust off the soapbox.

Today on TCA, we’re going to look at the exact meaning and intention of running placebo mitigated trials in medicine, and why the explanation for the Placebo Effect is most likely dull and unexciting. Prepare to have your illusions shattered.

To help illustrate things, I’m going to give you a very basic example of how a clinical trial involving placebos might work – it’s not the definitive way of conducting a placebo-based experiment, but for the sake of simplicity it covers all the issues that we need to examine.

Imagine that you have invented a new drug for the relief of nausea. All your theory says that this drug is the bees knees, but to meet the many requirements of getting a modern pharmaceutical legally to market, you must demonstrate this to the satisfaction of the various bodies that regulate this kind of thing (and, as unbelievable as a lot of people seem to find it, this is actually quite tough). What you are obliged to do is to set up a blind – or double-blind – trial (we’ve talked about blind trials before on the Cow, but click on that link it you want a refresher) which takes into consideration numerous factors that might influence your potential outcome. Understand: you do this in order to rule out as much external influence as possible that might offer alternative explanations for results of your experiment. In other words, you’re trying to demonstrate that your drug, and your drug alone, is responsible for any observed lessening of nausea for your patients.

The problem is this: in many areas of medicine, the results of interventions are not totally clear cut. Experience of nausea, for example, is partially subjective, and what you’re trying to do with your experiment is to get an objective overview of how your drug influences a patient’s assessment of nausea. It is very important, therefore, to iron out any irregularities that might be caused by, for example, a subject’s expectation of what a treatment might do.

If you have a hundred patients, and you give fifty of those patients a pill and fifty nothing at all, then half your study knows with certainty that they didn’t get the ‘anti-nausea pill’. This might influence what they report in regard to their nausea. Maybe it won’t, but you have to consider the possibility that it will, and set about ruling it out. The obvious thing to do, then, is to split your group into three parts instead of two, give one third the new drug, one third a capsule identical to the one containing the anti-nausea drug – but with no active ingredient – and one third nothing at all. If the drug has any merit, then what you would expect to see here is positive results from the drug, and then equally neutral results from both the the empty pill (the placebo) and those who got nothing at all.

Are you with me? Does this sound reasonable?

Well that’s exactly what scientists do in blind test trials with placebo controls. Only… pretty much every time this kind of experiment is run, the results inevitably look funny. If the drug is efficacious, the patients who get an active ingredient post a positive assessment of their nausea relief, as you would indeed hope. The patients who got zip (representing what is called the baseline) report a neutral assessment of change in nausea levels. The placebo arm in this kind of experiment, however, almost invariably returns a result of marginal improvement. Better than baseline, but not as good as the active drug. In other words, it seems that the patients who think they might be getting some kind of medicine appear to get an actual physiological benefit from simply popping a pill.

How utterly weird is that? Imagine the puzzlement among experimenters the first few times these kinds of results came back!

Now we get to the real problem of the misunderstanding of the Placebo Effect. Over the years, this result, which is a very real result and is seen almost without fail in a great number of clinical trials, has been taken to mean that the ‘idea’ of taking a pill (or indulging in some other kind of intervention) can have an actual physiological effect on a patient. To put it another way, it appears that if someone thinks they’re being treated, then somehow they seem to physically benefit from being under that illusion.

Only, that’s not exactly what the Placebo Effect is showing us.

In science, a placebo trial has a specific and clearly defined purpose: to account for all other variables from the experiment that can’t be explained by the agonist of the experiment itself. This would indeed include any strange psychological influence on physiology should such a thing exist,(iii) but it need not necessarily be constrained to only this. What most people fail to understand is that the Placebo Effect may also include numerous other factors. Some of these are: patient reporting bias; risk justification; confirmation bias and even just the kind of bias that might be inherent in being involved in a clinical trial in the first place. What do I mean by some of these? Well, let’s say you’re a patient in a study such as the one I suggested above. You are given a pill twice a day for the period of two weeks. You’ve given up some of your time to be on this trial (recording and reporting results and so forth) and you like the doctor who is treating you. This might very well influence what kind of modification to your results you record – only a little bit, perhaps, but ‘only a little bit’ is the scale of the typical observed Placebo Effect.(iv) Note that you might not necessarily be really feeling any difference in your nausea levels, but you are being ‘kinder’ on reporting them to the nice doctor (you would not even be aware of this – you are being given a pill and, in your mind, hey, it might be the anti-nausea drug… maybe you should be feeling a little better…) In addition to this kind of scenario, people involved in clinical trials behave differently to people in their actual usual lives. There is a tendency, for example, for them to be more aware of their day to day health and to take a little more care than usual with it. This of course can produce real physiological results that can easily colour their experience in the trial.

These things are very difficult to iron out of an experiment, and that’s EXACTLY what the Placebo Effect is all about – it is a generic container for the strange and uncatchable inconsistencies that occur when attempting to run an experiment where there are a lot of variables.

To boil all this down, it may well be that the Placebo Effect in any given clinical trial – and perhaps in all clinical trials – is down to nothing more than erroneous reporting; not any kind of physiological outcome at all, but just a noise phenomenon in the experiment that produces illusory effects simply because it is an experiment and not reality. In the actual real world, the thing we think of as the Placebo Effect may not even exist, and it’s impossible to verify such a speculation since trying to do so would necessitate the undertaking of an experiment and thus risk producing a horrible spiral of nausea-inducing recursion.

So the next time you hear someone justifying some kind of pseudoscientific ‘alternative’ remedy or other by invoking the Placebo Effect, I suggest you do the following: look them squarely in the eye and say, with a lisp… “Inconceivable!”


  1. For numerous reasons that I won’t even bother to go into here, that’s seriously clutching at straws, in any case. []
  2. Yes, I know that I just made that term up, and it bears not even the faintest resemblance to correct Latin. []
  3. And it should be noted that in the special case of pain – and a few other stress-related illnesses – it has been shown that a psychological element can come into play depending on the subject’s mental state. It is well to clearly understand, though, that it’s rare for such a psychological element to come even close to matching the level of pharmacological effects []
  4. Placebo Effects are never profound. []


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