Good morning Acowlytes. Today on The Cow we are going to have a science lesson. No, no, sit down there Joey, it’s not the kind where we make a miniature volcano and gas all the eighth grade on the top floor of C Block with sulphur – this is a lesson about science. Specifically, about how science works, and why it is different from, oh, just making stuff up.

As usual for a science lesson, I have some visual aids.

First of all here is a rabbit’s foot:1



A rabbit’s foot is what most rational modern people regard as a superstitious curio. The rabbit’s foot accrued its status as a ‘lucky’ object because in very ancient times the European Celts considered rabbits as sacred animals. Using a kind of logic that is mostly these days reserved for young children, the Celts figured that if the rabbit itself was lucky, then bits of the rabbit were lucky too.

Of course, there is no science at all behind this notion. A rabbit’s foot is an object that, no matter what people convince themselves to believe, does absolutely nothing at all.2 You can tell me you think it brings ‘good luck’, and even that you did a scientific study that shows, to your satisfaction, that it does what you claim, but (here’s the crucial thing about science): until your study is reproduced, under controlled situations, and in double-blind experiments by a third (preferably unbiased) party your claim is absolutely meaningless.

What exactly does all that mean? Let’s look at the bits:

Reproduceability: Well, obviously, if I can’t get the same results as you do, there is something seriously wrong with your idea; if you say your rabbit’s foot brings luck, and I don’t experience any luck while holding it, then how do we explain that?

Controlled Situation: This has a very rigorous meaning in science. Scientists spend a LOT of time perfecting controls, because they are crucial to experimental protocol. To put it simply, a good control is one that is completely free from the possible effects of the experiment. Not only that, a good control must be free of other artifacts that could be mistaken for possible effects of the experiment.

Double-Blind Procedure: When you have a vested interest in proving that your hypothesis is valid, you may, consciously or unconsciously, effect the outcome of the study. For this reason, scientists have come up with a very clever concept which ensures that neither the person conducting the experiment, nor anyone involved in collating the results of the experiment, know exactly what data they are handling until after the experiment is concluded. At that time, the double-blind protocol is decoded and the data is matched to the experimental procedure.

An Unbiased Third Party: Being able to convince others that your results are persuasive is a crucial part of the scientific method. That’s why the protocols I’ve outlined above are so important. If two or more groups of experimenters conduct the same study under the those conditions, and they get results that match yours, well then voila! – you have yourself a nicely working model! The really great thing about science is that if you disagree with someone’s hypothesis, you can perform the experiment yourself, under the same conditions! This is how we know so much of what we now know – this is why we no longer have smallpox, why diabetics can live a normal life, and why we know to keep ourselves clean to avoid contracting disease.

We could easily design an experimental protocol to test if rabbit’s foot charms are really ‘lucky’ but I think most normal people will accept that they are nothing more than a diverting superstition. But the lure of the talisman or amulet is a very strong one.

Which brings us to my second visual aid:



It is called a Shoo!TAG™ Essentially, until some scientific proof to the contrary is forthcoming,3 the Shoo!TAG™ is exactly the same as the rabbit’s foot, ie, a functionless tsotchke. This is despite the personal testimony of its inventors, no matter how enthusiastically they spruik it:

As a founder and co-developer of the Shoo!TAG™ I was looking for a non-toxic “green” alternative for controlling fleas and ticks on our dogs and cats and flies and mosquitoes on my horses and milk cow. When the finished prototypes were ready, I picked two dogs and one horse and cow for the first trials and put a Shoo!TAG™ on them. Within 36 hours, the dogs wearing a Shoo!TAG™ had a noticeable reduction in fleas and ticks. In addition, those pests still on the dogs were staying on top of the hair, moving slowly and easily picked off. I also observed that the dogs with a Shoo!TAG™ did not scratch or bite at themselves, unlike the two dogs not wearing a Shoo!TAG™ . The horse and cow wearing a Shoo!TAG™ had a dramatic reduction in flies. After two weeks observation, I tagged the other animals so they could receive the same comfort and benefit. Again, after 36 hours, all newly tagged dogs, horse and cow demonstrated the same reduction in pest problems as the test group did. I knew then we had a winner!

-Kathy M. Heiney, Wimberley, TX
Developer and Founder of Energetic Solutions, Ltd. and Shoo!TAG™

This, explicitly, is not science. Merely saying ‘you saw’ some results is exactly the same as saying “My lucky rabbit’s foot won me the lottery!” Until you set up a controlled, double-blind experiment, you’re not offering evidence, you’re just tendering an anecdote.

Nor is any of the ‘explanation’ of the supposed mechanics of Shoo!TAG™ offered on the Shoo!TAG™ site under the tab called ‘Science’, actually anything of the sort. You don’t get to call yourself a scientist just because you know words like ‘quantum’ and ‘electromagnetic’.4

Lately I’ve been pretty much resolved to letting Shoo!TAG™ take its place in the Museum of Cow Lore – something for us all to wheel out every now and then as an in-joke. Dumb pieces of pseudoscientific trash like Shoo!TAG™ tend to flourish in the United Flakey States of America, where 45% percent of people believe the Bible is the literal word of God, and some 20% believe in angels. It truly belongs there.

But this week Atlas informed me that Shoo!TAG™ now has an Australian web domain, and I see on it that they have some several dozen Australian suppliers, as well as Australian offices and representation.

They’re on my turf now.

  1. Rabbit’s foot picture borrowed from The Skeptiseum – I didn’t think they’d mind []
  2. …well, after it’s removed from the rabbit, obviously. []
  3. Hahahahaha! It is to laugh! []
  4. It is significant, in my opinion, that since I criticized the Shoo!TAG inventors’ claim to have had their science published in the (non-existant) Quantum Agriculture Journal, they have removed all references and links to the pdf which purportedly originated in that journal. Their allegiance to the dubious ‘Professor William Nelson’ has also evidently waned – he no longer features as their ‘voice of authority’ anywhere on the site. []