WooWoo


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Acowlytes! Do you suffer from quivering? Nervousness? Fear? A compulsion to flee? Visual blurring? Panic? Nausea? Can you rule out having glimpsed Tony Abbott in budgie smugglers as the cause of these ailments? Then it is possible, dear friends, that you may have Wind Turbine Syndrome, or WTS. A more fitting acronym for this affliction would probably be WTF? but I digress.

Wind Turbine Syndrome is aligned with other forms of paranoia-induced woo such as EHS (electrical hypersensitivity) which evince a plethora of diffuse and non-specific symptoms1 attributed to technology of which the sufferers (and their doctors) are afraid and/or ignorant (or just plain don’t like).

WTS is rather more irritating than EHS, though, because of its implementation in a political agenda. The story generally goes like this:

A land owner makes a deal with a power company to host (usually for a reasonably healthy figure) a bunch of wind turbines on a nice windy ridge on his/her property. Other people who are within visual distance of the turbines (and sometimes not even that) who are not making any money out of them, claim to have developed WTS. There is not one single case of WTS being developed by the franchisee of a wind farm operator.2

For reasons that are not at all clear to me, many country people seem to have taken against wind turbines with an amount of vitriol that is perplexing. Personally speaking, I think the lazy rotating blades are quite elegant and attractive, and the airy whooshing sound they make fairly inoffensive.

But WTS is not, of course, about common sense. It’s about political agendas, ignorance and NIMBYism.

You will recall that the first push by objectors to wind farms took the form of ‘Oh noes!! The horrible mincing blades are killing all the birds!’ This, from people who up till then had pretty much never even noticed the green speckled parrot or the golden-throated lark.3 Well, it turns out that on the list of things-that-birds-need-to-worry-about, wind farms are pretty damn far down, so, with these newly-adopted eco concerns of the anti-wind lobby not getting much traction, another bogeyman was needed to put the scare into folks. They found one with WTS. Deciding without evidence that something is, a priori, bad, and then finding multiple, disparate reasons to attempt to support your supposition, is, as you will all know by now, a glittering trademark of irrational thinking.

I was going to tell you next about exactly what it is that’s supposed to be the cause of WTS, but after reading pages of print about it, I’m finding that difficult. Mostly, though, the Big Bad is infrasound: sound frequencies that are so low they are literally inaudible to humans. Other sources claim that it’s ultrasound – high frequencies that are above the range of human hearing.

Dr Nina Pierpont, a New York paediatrician and self-styled expert on Wind Turbine Syndrome (she lays claim to coining the term) says:

…infrasonic to ultrasonic noise and vibrations emitted by wind turbines cause the symptoms

To be clear, she is saying that the problem is all the sound they make, from the highest part of the audio spectrum to the lowest. This kind of catch-all generalizing should immediately ring your woo-woo alarm bells.

In The Independent where the above quote originates, Dr Pierpont goes on to say that:

…the wind turbine companies constantly argue that the health problems are “imaginary, psychosomatic or malingering”. But she said their claims are “rubbish” and that medical evidence supports that the reported symptoms are real.

‘Rubbish’? That would be an effective scientific rebuttal if ever there was one. Professor Gary Wittert, the head of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, would be one person who would take exception to to Dr Pierpont’s claims that medical evidence supports WTS. Using data from the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Professor Wittert has demonstrated that a sampled population of around 10,000 people living in the vicinity of wind farms in Victoria and South Australia shows no variation in quantities of usage of sleeping pills or cardiovascular medications from that which can be seen in the overall general population. Either people who live near wind farms aren’t seeking treatment for their WTS, or it doesn’t exist. This kind of data is, of course, exactly what would expect to see if WTS was a psychosomatic condition experienced by a small number of impressionable people rather than a discrete medical phenomenon in the community at large. Prof Wittert’s figures have still to be published and peer-reviewed, but we know that even when they are found to be solid (as they will be) the anti-wind farm campaigners will simply start crying that he’s a wind farm shill.

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Setting aside the statistical science for a moment, and wandering briefly into my own field of expertise, let’s consider that claim that infrasound is the cause of the WTS. First, there is no medical evidence at all to suggest that infrasound itself has detrimental impact on human health unless encountered at enormous levels – levels well in excess of what you’d find even directly underneath a wind turbine. When you know that low frequency sound can be detected in your bones, it’s the sort of thing that seems like it might be possible, but that’s about it – no-one has collected data on such speculations.4 So to prove that wind farms are producing infrasound that affects human health detrimentally, you need to do three separate things: show that wind turbines produce infrasound in the first place, demonstrate that infrasound has adverse effects on humans and then establish that the amount of infrasound coming from the turbines is sufficient to trigger those adverse effects. So far, the data accumulated for each of these scenarios is not at all promising for advocates of WTS.

Without even doing that, though, there is a much more persuasive argument against infrasound being harmful to humans. Let’s take a situation that arises in nature where large volumes of infrasound (and ultrasound and everything in between for that matter) are generated in a constant and repetitive manner, just as wind turbines are supposed to do…

Yes, that’s right – the sea. Crashing ocean waves create at least as much infrasound as a wind turbine, probably more by several orders of magnitude. And yet, living by the ocean has not been demonstrated by any science I’ve ever seen to cause people to exhibit any of the symptoms of WTS. On the contrary, the sound of the surf is considered, by anyone who is lucky enough to have a beach house, to be restful and relaxing.5

Another insidious aspect of the anti-wind farm lobby when it comes to WTS is their habit of attempting to align the wind power industry with the tobacco and asbestos industries. This is, of course, the cynical employment of the logical fallacy of Weak Analogy (mixed with a bit of conspiracy-theory style paranoia). In other words, they’re saying that because the tobacco industry and the asbestos industry claimed their products were causing no human health problems and were found to be engaged in coverups, then it follows that the wind power industry is doing the same. There is no logical equation that you can make between those two things – it’s nothing more than a semantic trick designed to befuddle sloppy thinkers. What will speak here, is the science, as it did in the cases of tobacco and asbestos. So, what’s the state of the science on the side of the WTS advocates? Not very persuasive at all.6

Nina Pierpont, who is a vocal objector to wind farms, bases all her science on one small self-generated study (10 families who were already ‘diagnosed’ as having WTS), that was sloppy in protocol, was based on subjective self-reporting and was not controlled. It’s the kind of experiment that would get you a C- if you handed it in to your science teacher. In the UK, the NHS found that Dr Pierpont’s study:

…provides no conclusive evidence that wind turbines have an effect on health or are causing the set of symptoms described here as “wind turbine syndrome”. The study design was weak, the study was small and there was no comparison group.

In Australia, Sarah Laurie, an unregistered doctor and ‘Medical Director’ of the climate denialist affiliated Waubra Foundation is the chief ‘expert’ campaigner for people who supposedly have WTS. Laurie claims to have conducted research into the causes of WTS, but what she offers up is embarrassingly spare and scientifically awful. This article at Crikey examines Sarah Laurie’s claims and highlights an hysterical ‘Explicit Cautionary Notice’ from the Waubra Foundation that effectively challenges wind farm companies with a series of claims that are highly dubious. It is without doubt designed as a propaganda tool rather than as a document of sincere concern. The notice refers to Nina Pierpont’s study, incorrectly endorsing it as ‘peer reviewed’ which it was not.7 It also raises the spectre of ‘Vibroacoustic Disease’, a malady which is contentious in the field of scientific medicine, and is certainly irrelevant when dealing with the sound levels generated by wind turbines.8

Now, I want to make it clear that I do believe it is quite likely that most sufferers of so-called WTS are experiencing the symptoms they claim. Based on a rational appraisal of the science we have, though, it’s just not reasonable to conclude that those symptoms have got anything at all to do with any mechanical effects of wind turbine operation. An extremely balanced examination, by commentator Dave Clarke, sets out the state of play in the WTS debate with amazing clarity. Clarke examines every facet of the WTS phenomenon in thoughtful detail. It is effectively distilled down into one simple sentence:

It seems that complaints regarding nearby wind farms, regarding illness or simply annoyance, are often related to negative feelings about the wind farms.

In other words, for reasons that are hard to determine (but are most likely to do with politics or NIMBYism), people who don’t want the wind farms near them get stressed enough about it to make themselves ill. That is all.

At the very least, this explanation must be unequivocally ruled out before the promoters of Wind Turbine Syndrome can even begin to make claims that wind turbine technology is, by some unknown mechanism, causing the illness, and that ‘Big Wind’ is conspiratorially endeavouring to make it look like it’s not.

[Many thanks to Dr Rachael Dunlop for some of the source materials for this post]

  1. Symptoms of electromagnetic radiation sickness are for example sleep disturbances, dizziness, heart palpitations, headache, blurry sight, swelling, nausea, a burning skin, vibrations, electrical currents in the body, pressure on the breast, cramps, high blood pressure and general unwell-being.” []
  2. As far as my research has been able to determine, anyway. If anyone has heard of one I’d love to get a link. []
  3. Fictional birds because there are so many that are supposedly affected by wind turbines that you may as well say ‘any bird’ []
  4. It’s perfect territory for woo – a vaguely plausible mechanism that is ‘sciency-sounding’ enough to give it a sort of ersatz currency. []
  5. But God made the sea, right, so that’s OK. []
  6. And, like all pushers of pseudoscience, when the science is not on their side they freely wheel out the anecdotal evidence, the testimonials and the conspiracy theories. []
  7. Well, not in the properly understood scientific sense of the term, anyway. Pierpont showed her results to some friends, and then published the positive things any of them said. This is the same kind of peer review that made me Scientist of the Year in 2011. []
  8. Vibroacoustic disease is associated with people who are subjected to extremely loud noise for extensive periods of time. Think military personnel on cargo aircraft, or engine-room workers on ships. Even so, pinning the problem on infrasound is speculative. These kinds of noisy environments are assaulting workers with exceptional levels of sound of all frequencies, and separating out infrasound as the culprit would take a specific kind of research that – to my knowledge – has never been undertaken. []

When the maker of some web app or another doesn’t know how to make money out of a popular idea, the go-to concept is of course to somehow shoe-horn advertising into the user experience. Those of you who have a Facebook account will be familiar with the little panel of ads that runs down the side of the page – a little panel that seems to increase in length every time you log on. Personally, I think it’s completely daft way for an advertiser to spend their bucks – I must have ‘seen’ several thousand of those damn things displayed on my Facebook page and I hardly even notice them. Someone has convinced advertisers otherwise, though, or they wouldn’t be paying for them.

If I do notice one, though, it’s usually because it has an overly-high annoying factor. An offering that popped up this morning was a shining example. Ladeez and Gentlemen, I bring to you today…

The AMAZING TINNITUS MIRACLE™

Ah yes. Your flim-flam detectors just went ping, right. If they didn’t, get off my blog!

Now, I must confess that until this morning I didn’t really have a great deal of insight into tinnitus. Well, not of a scientific kind, anyway. I know what it is, of course, being a professional sound person & all, and I’ve even experienced it myself in my youth when I was much less careful of my hearing, but I’ve never known much about it physiologically. After reading the Tinnitus Miracle™ website, though, one thing of which I was entirely certain is that you need absolutely no knowledge of tinnitus to get the feeling that this site is designed to fleece easily-deceived and desperate folks of their money by convincing them that it has the absolute, failure-proof, 100% guaranteed cure for their affliction.

And, as a prospect for a scam – for a scam it surely is – it makes sense. Tinnitus is a medical condition with all the requirements that make it ripe for the pickings of those who would greedily make money from exploiting others: it’s a poorly understood, highly subjective condition with diffuse symptoms, and it can have dozens of causes. It’s distressing, persistent and can even be painful, but it’s not life-threatening. Best of all for the woo merchants, it’s a sad fact that science-based medicine doesn’t offer much in the way of relief for many sufferers of tinnitus.1

Even though I did go on to spend a little time reading about the condition, you really don’t need a lot in the way actual knowledge to get a strong sense that the Tinnitus Miracle™ ‘phenomenon’2 is decidedly fishy.

Skimming down the MASSIVE landing page starts the alarm bells ringing fast.3 The amazing Tinnitus Miracle™ is an eBook that you can buy for the handy dandy price of $39, and which unequivocally offers to ‘give you the secrets to eliminate virtually all types of Tinnitus within 8 weeks.’ It’s the enterprise of one Thomas Coleman,4 who purports to have suffered from tinnitus for 14 years and to ‘have tried every tinnitus treatment known to science and natural health’, including, but not limited to, ‘herbal remedies, Cellfood Oxygen, tonics, habituation, detox diets, vitamin therapy, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, macrobiotics, reflexology, Chinese Medicine, vegetarianism, the Wai diet, magnetic therapy, the mucus-less diet, the blood type diet, psychiatric treatments and whatnot.’

The outcome is that none of these (not even ‘whatnot’) were effective. Even surgery didn’t help the poor chap, nor did ‘dietary’ advice nor white noise CDs. Eventually we learn that the unflappable Mr Coleman was cured after discovering ‘a simple holistic system [that] opened the door to my new and much brighter Tinnitus free life.’ The site spares no effort to attempt to impress upon us exactly what a MIRACLE this discovery was. There’s the familiar liberal use of exclamation marks, copious underscoring, oodles of hyperbolic claims, excitable slashes of yellow highlighter and then… THE SCIENCE. Well, no, I lied. There’s no science. None. Nada. Nuttin’. What we have is that ol’ reliable science substitute though: testimonials! Everyone KNOWS a testimonial is MUCH better than science. Let me show you how it works:

Tetherd Cow Ahead is the best blog in the universe, bar none. I read it once and it completely cured my cancer! ~ Landon from Illinois

I used to have trouble keeping it up, but thanks to Tetherd Cow Ahead I can now go all night! Tetherd Cow rocks! ~ Raymundo

I purchased the Tetherd Cow Virtual Glass of Water and I’ve never had a computer virus since! Awesome work TCA! ~ Kofi Anan

Now brace yourselves, Acowlytes: those are not real endorsements, and they hold no credibility whatsoever! I just made them up! I know it seems shocking that someone should do such a thing, and I know you wouldn’t, dear friends, but the internet is, alas, not completely populated by good honest folks such as yourselves.

The point is of course that a fistful of internet testimonials is worth about as much as the paper they are printed on. Unfortunately there still exist out there a substantial number of people who seem to think that if something is written down in words, why, it must be true! Or something. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the endorsements could easily be as phoney as the names attached to them.5 What’s more, it seems that such people of limited perspicacity are unable to infer that fifty fake testimonials are no more persuasive than one. I could’ve written dozens above had I been so inclined – it’s not exactly difficult to make that shit up.6

But it’s not until you try to find some more information about Tinnitus Miracle™ that you begin to see the real depth of this racket. Performing a Search™ on the term returns a veritable truckload of spew. Hundreds, maybe thousands of links that duck and dive through the tinnitus world, inevitably making their way back to a site selling Tinnitus Miracle™.

And not even the merest hint of proper science on a single one of them.

Searching for tinnitus+miracle+scam is an even more enlightening experience. Now we see dozens of hits in the vein of this site, returning search abstracts like ‘There is no basis for the tinnitus miracle scam’ and Is Thomas Coleman’s Tinnitus Miracle Book A Scam? My Opinion … – all couched in such a manner as to appear to be a critical appraisal of the product. If you click through, though, they all go on without exception to overwhelmingly promote Tinnitus Miracle™ in some way or another, often with direct links to the main TM™ site. There are pages of these duplicitous offerings – I clicked through a few dozen and I couldn’t find one that wasn’t some kind of endorsement of Tinnitus Miracle.7 In fact, try as I might, I couldn’t find any negative critique of the Tinnitus Miracle at all. Lest you think that might be because the thing actually works, let me add that I also couldn’t find a single site that looked like it was a genuine unsolicited recommendation of the product either. To my eye, these sites all look like part of the Tinnitus Miracle empire – a vast and comprehensive attempt to stake a presence wherever anyone with tinnitus might search for some help. Now, there are two reasons I can think of that negative (or even mildly critical) reviews aren’t returned high-up in the search results. The first is that Coleman’s strategy is simply to super-saturate the SEO so that other links are just pushed way down, and you won’t easily come across adverse criticism, and the second rather more sinister one is that Mr Coleman is actively litigious and has aggressively quashed any unflattering press.8

Another frustration I had was in attempting to find out exactly what might comprise the substance of the Tinnitus Miracle. After reading pages of mind-numbing verbiage, I was concluding that the book offering the wondrous Tinnitus Miracle was probably just a mish-mash of anything and everything that might pertain to tinnitus, with not much ‘miracle’ content at all. This site (another TM™ promotion, despite its efforts to appear to be something else), supposedly penned by one ‘Britni Dorman’ gives some support to that conclusion:

Here are some things you can learn from Tinnitus Miracle:

• Eight food items that are best for you in this condition
• Ten foods you must learn to avoid like the plague since they can worsen your condition
• The name of a powerful herb used in homeopathy that can reverse the condition quickly
• The 100% natural secret vitamin supplement that can impact your condition dramatically in just a few days
• Medications that can worsen the condition
• How you can diagnose your condition with the help of a multi-dimensional approach
• Effective breathing techniques and strategies that allows your body to begin the process of healing

Ah, right. Good foods, bad foods, vitamins, homeopathy and Evil Big Pharma drugs that you can blame. Uh-huh. And some yoga & meditation thrown in for good measure (‘cos it certainly can’t hurt, right?) As miracles go, this is looking about as impressive as producing a coin from behind a kid’s ear.

There’s lots more of the same on this site, which purports to be a tinnitus ‘treatment advice’ hub, but which is revealed by even a cursory exploration to be crammed to the gills with links to the main Tinnitus Miracle site. Perhaps the most hilarious part is the the ‘Pros & Cons’ section. Breathless raving about the pros, but the cons, well:

• Cons – When it comes to the cons, I have to admit that Tinnitus Miracle barely has any.

Mr Coleman may as well have appended his signature to that one.

I did turn up one comment on a tinnitus relief discussion group from someone who seems to know what the book entails. The main thrust of this thread is another tinnitus scam called Quietus,9 but several sufferers ask if anyone has tried the Tinnitus Miracle. Well, someone called MissionCMD has done so, and had this to say:

I have purchased the book and read it twice. I have tried numerous things in it, but there is no ‘miracle’. There are numerous sections in the book that are duplicated (copy and paste) from one chapter to another… not to mention numerous spelling mistakes. Perhaps the ‘e-book only’ option was because the author could not get a publisher to edit? Overall, there were a few good suggestions, but there was no ‘miracle cure’ if that was what you were trying to ask. Essentailly just ways to try to manage the noise. I did a detailed search for almost three hours to try to find a reputable review before I purchased anything, and could find none. I could find many websites that had supposed reviews, however it looked much like the similar advertisement off of the original site. Suprisingly (or not) none of those sites were accepting comments anymore due to spam… hmmm. I did purchase the book anyway. You do have to keep in mind it does state ‘holestic’ in the sub-title. So the book did what it said… mentioned everything under the sun you can try to manage the tinnitus. That means recommendations ranging from therapy sessions, to extreme detoxification, to accupuncture. I personally did not find anything close to a ‘miracle’ though.

And that’s about as succinct a wrap-up as you could ever expect; the Tinnitus Miracle™ eBook appears to be nothing more than a diffuse hodge-podge of vague suggestions and both conventional and speculative treatments offered as options to address an affliction with multiple possible causes and a wide range of diverse symptoms. It seems to me, in fact, that Thomas Coleman is offering the very same solutions in his book that he says he tried in vain to cure his own tinnitus, just re-heated and served with a sprig of parsley.

A miracle, not so much.

I guess some of you are saying at this stage ‘It’s not really selling anything bogus – what’s the harm here?’

Well, this is the kind of scam that irks me for numerous reasons. First and foremost, it’s targeting vulnerable miserable people and offering them a ‘miracle’, when by any reasonable reckoning that’s not what they’re going to get when they fork out their money. ‘Eliminate Your Tinnitus Within 2 Months!’ the site declares, a promise that, as far as my reading indicates, is unlikely to be fulfilled for the majority of tinnitus sufferers. Tinnitus Miracle ‘…gives you the power to Cure Tinnitus permanently’, we hear: weasel language that deftly transfers any failure to deliver a result from the product itself to a responsibility for the sufferer to be capable of harnessing the supposed ‘power’. The site is full of such duplicity.

Another tactic that I find highly questionable is Tinnitus Miracle’s liberal us of scare tactics, another staple of scamdom:

WARNING: TINNITUS CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS IF LEFT UNTREATED

Well, no, for most sufferers that’s unlikely, despite the blood red fright caps. It is completely true that tinnitus can sometimes herald other more serious problems, but one thing is for sure – buying this book is not the way you’d want to handle that particular circumstance. As with most medical problems, if the symptoms persist, the most sensible thing you can do is to promptly see your doctor (and that information I’m providing totally free of charge).

Elsewhere:

One should only consider surgery for tinnitus if you were diagnosed with a tumor, osclerosis, or fistula . Even so the success of the surgery is 50%, with the inevitable consequence of irreversible deafness.

…which is a piece of negligent generalization bordering on criminality. The success of tinnitus surgery depends entirely on the circumstances of any individual, and the reasons for their problem. To scare all people who may be facing tinnitus surgery with the spectre of the ‘inevitable consequence of irreversible deafness’ is highly irresponsible, and demonstrates clearly that Thomas Coleman cares not one whit about your wellbeing – he just wants your $39.

My reading about tinnitus over these last few days has shown me that for an unfortunate few of those afflicted, the condition is utterly debilitating, and for the greater number it is, at the very least, distressing and uncomfortable. What these people really need to be doing is consulting knowledgable health care providers and getting the best help available. What they don’t need is a whole lot of baloney about the ‘wrong’ food and homeopathy. Even if some of what the Tinnitus Miracle book offers might be helpful (there are indications that meditation, for instance, may be of some benefit to some sufferers, depending on the cause of their tinnitus) it looks like it’s wound up with a lot of crap that’s irrelevant, of arguable efficacy or just plain hogwash.

Aside from that, the marketing campaign for Tinnitus Miracle™ is plainly full of misdirection and flimflam. As a ‘Small Sample Of What You’ll Learn When You Download Your Copy Of The Tinnitus Miracleâ„¢ System Today’, the site reels off dozens of specious claims, lame observations and tips such as these:

• Discover EVERYTHING you need to know about tinnitus, EXACTLY what causes the noise in your head. [Caps are theirs]

No-one knows EXACTLY what causes tinnitus. It can be the result of several different pathologies – physical hearing damage, biochemical interaction, neurological damage or problems, or the effects of other illness. In some cases it has a psychological component. Thomas Coleman is promising to give sufferers something that no doctor on the planet can. Why on earth should anyone believe him?

• What Personality characteristics do tinnitus sufferers share?

Oh, I dunno? The same star signs? A morbid fear of hummus? This is a stupid and irrelevant question, and is so wide in its scope that you could factor just about anything in here.

• The most powerful homeopathic herb (that can quickly reverse most tinnitus conditions) that the Tinnitus and drug industries hope you will never find out!

Of course!! The ‘drug industries’ WANT you to have tinnitus because they are EVIL. Mwahahahaha!

Please. Even the dimmest of the dim can see that this is complete rubbish. If such a ‘homeopathic herb’ even existed, only one altruistic tinnitus sufferer would need to publish its name on the net and the whole world would know. BAM! Take that Evil Big Pharma Mad Scientists. But guess what? No-one has. They obviously all feel so indebted to Thomas Coleman for revealing it to them that they don’t want to see him lose any of the money he would otherwise make on his eBook!

• The cardinal sin of every tinnitus treatment almost every tinnitus sufferer is guilty of, which instead of curing your tinnitus, weakens and destroys your body’s natural ability to defend itself, thus putting your health in serious risk and making your Tinnitus worse in the long run (and more than 92% of tinnitus sufferers are doing it!)

And you thought that masturbation just made you blind!

It’s all smoke & mirrors designed to deflect anyone from asking the question: ‘But what, exactly, am I getting for my $39?’

Which is, by all indications, nothing that’s likely to help you much, and certainly nothing that can compare to the advice that you will get from a good medical practitioner. If you have tinnitus, you have my immense sympathy. Having only experienced it as a fleeting annoyance brought on by my own carelessness, I can only imagine how awful it must be as a chronic condition. I hope that this post has helped you avoid spending money on something that would probably offer you little in the way of relief.

  1. Something that people who advocate ‘alternative medicine’ seem not to understand this situation too well, and you’ll often hear it put forward as a criticism. Science-based medicine never pretends that it has all the answers, because sometimes it doesn’t. There are some things science doesn’t understand very well. That doesn’t make science faulty – it just means that a complex world is not easily understood all at once. It’s a process. And the fact that science doesn’t have an answer to a complex problem doesn’t lead logically to the proposition that ‘alternative’ medicine does. Having no solution to a problem sometimes means, quite harshly unfortunately, that we don’t have a solution to the problem. We simply don’t know everything, and there is no imperative says we should. That’s not an easy thing to tell someone who is in pain, or who has a chronic debilitating condition. Unfortunately, as much as we don’t like that reality, reality really doesn’t care what we like. []
  2. Because that’s the way it’s promoted WIDELY across the interwebs. []
  3. Of course, if you have severe tinnitus, maybe the noise in your head might drown out said alarm bells. Perhaps this is what the makers of the Amazing Tinnitus Miracle are counting on… []
  4. Coleman may or may not be a real person. For the purposes of this post, I will accept that he is, although I did discover a number of things that made me suspect that he may be a fictional concoction. []
  5. I’ve long pondered why this should be so. I mean, I totally understand how you might buy a product that was recommended to you by a close friend. I can even stretch to understanding how you might buy a product endorsed by someone who you don’t know personally, but whose opinion you respect for some reason. But I can’t for the life of me even remotely comprehend why you would trust the opinion of some anonymous (and probably fictitious) name from woop-woop! []
  6. It is vaguely possible that the testimonials are written by actual people, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are genuine. Lots of people are willing to lend their name and photo out for a fiver. And, being extremely generous, even if the people are real, and the testimonials unsolicited, it still doesn’t mean that the information in them is necessarily accurate, nor representative of most tinnitus sufferers. Tinnitus does, in many cases, clear itself up spontaneously. If you have a few thousand people reading your book, it is quite likely that a small few will have spontaneous natural remission of the symptoms, and attribute it in some way to your magical cure. You only need a handful of those kinds of ‘miracles’ to make something look impressive… []
  7. This in itself is an intriguing indictment of the Tinnitus Miracle™ It shows clearly that the people behind it are completely aware that what they are promoting has every indicator of being a scam to those searching for tinnitus relief, and have shaped their marketing strategy accordingly. They are, in essence, predicting that they will be called on their scam, and then flooding possible criticism with noise. []
  8. I’d like to think this is not the case, but I guess we will see if that speculation has any substance if he finds this post. []
  9. Another sure marker for scams of this kind is the appearance of other players on the field. You can bet that where there’s an opportunity to bilk vulenerable people, there’ll be more than one opportunist with his finger in the pie. []

Just suppose, dear friends, that someone gave you (for your birthday, perhaps) a quality bottle of wine, but of a rather current vintage. You would probably know that the wise thing to do is to lay it aside for a couple of years in which time its component parts would do that magical aging thing that wine components do, and, upon opening it in 2020, say,1 you would have a tipple that was superior to that same wine opened today.

If, however, you are a mildly impatient person like myself, the temptation to open that bottle in confluence with some other circumstance (such as running out of other available bottles, for example) might cause you to reach for the corkscrew somewhat prematurely, depriving you of the optimal wine experience.

Well, Faithful Acowlytes, at last that dilemma is solved forever! I herewith present to you, the Vintage Express Wine & Liquor Aging Accelerator.

The VEWLAA takes your infant brew and, using ‘powerful Neodymium magnets’ ages your drink 10 years in 10 seconds. No, no, seriously, it does! With magnets. Look, here’s the science behind it:

I must admit I was quite skeptical, but this product is amazing. You can take a mid-range bottle of wine and in a few minutes, spectacular bottle of wine!

~Trina from Florida.

We used the wine ager on Christmas Eve on some delicious NYS Finger Lakes Red. We did not do an official before and after taste test but the wine seemed to taste richer and smoother on the palate.

~Reb395.

How does it work? Not sure. Do I believe the explanation? Not really. All I know is that the accelerator really changes things somehow, and makes wine/whiskey taste much more smooth and mellow.

~Ethan.

Well, OK, not science, but testimonials, and that’s exactly the same thing, right?

I’m a Believer says:

We haven’t try with just a glass but with the entire bottle let it age overnight in the accelerator

Overnight! Crikey, that must have aged the damn stuff some several centuries. How great would that taste, eh? KnuckleheadBBQ2 from Montana and his wife have even gone so far as:

… routinely leaving a bottle of wine in it for several days before opening it…

Man – that would have to be like drinking something fermented in the Mesozoic!3

Ah yes, it is yet another wine scam, this time one that invokes that age-old pseudoscientific notion that magnets confer beneficial properties on anything that comes within their field of influence. In this case, the powerful neodymium magnets, through some completely unspecified action have the fortunate effect of making wine taste better.4

OK, well, all the above came from Skymall (which sells the ‘accelerator’), via a link thoughtfully provided to me by acce245. But a little detective work turns up the people responsible for the VEWLAA. And w00t! They have a science page. Oh how I LOVE a science page. Let’s find out how the VEWLAA really works:

The earth’s magnetic field helps create the great taste of fresh fruits. During the long growing season, fruit is held in a relatively constant position in relation to the earth’s magnetic field, aligning the liquid particles much like tiny compass needles. This natural balance gives fresh picked fruit its smooth, natural flavor.

The delicate magnetic alignment of the liquid particles is destroyed during the crushing, straining, pasteurizing, fermenting and distilling used to manufacture beverages, and much of the smooth natural taste is lost. The traditional slow aging process of wine and distilled spirits allows the particles to once again become aligned by the earth’s magnetic field, but this process takes years, and dramatically increases the cost of the finished product.

Oh, how much does my stomach hurt from the laughing? Of course, once you had your polarities are re-aligned, you’d want to be mighty careful about swirling your glass, right? ‘Cos then you might ruffle its molecules’ nap. I don’t think neodymium magnets would fix that.

But hey – the VEWLAA is supposed to work on other beverages too. Why, Ethan, above, proclaims:

We tested juice, coffee, red bull/vodka. Someone even was convinced that crystallized ginger was more potent after being aged.

Are you following this Acowlytes? 10+ year-old coffee, juice, Red Bull and crystallized ginger are superior to their fresh equivalents! My own personal experience tells me that four-day-old coffee tastes disgusting, let alone coffee that’s been standing for 10 years, so I think you could consider me a little skeptical of these claims.

My favourite part of the Vintage Express site, though, is their own testimonials page. It features glowing reports from ‘Jeff’ a ‘wine & spirits appreciator’ and a ‘female taste tester’. Wow, am I SOLD!

Oh, and there’s also sommelier Michael Hanke from Morton’s Restaurant, Seattle, who has probably destroyed his credibility beyond all hope of salvation by appearing in a video endorsing the VEWLAA. After watching it, I’m inclined to conclude that the reporter who declares ‘I don’t know much about wines’ at the beginning of the story is more of an expert than the expert.

So, is there any real science behind the idea that magnets can age wine? The answer is no. But does this does stop a proliferation of devices like the VEWLAA? The answer is also, quite unsurprisingly I think you will agree, no.

There is:

•The Wine Clip (‘Using magnets to treat fluids – water, fuel, wine, etc. – is not a new idea.’ No, but it’s a frikkin’ stupid one.)

•The Wine Cellar Express (‘We can’t explain it ourselves… will the wonders of science never cease to amaze us!’

•The Wine Enhancer (You really have to visit this site)

•The Perfect Sommelier (‘How it works is a mystery!’)

Dozens of sites, claims that overthrow the laws of physics, hyperbole that makes PT Barnum look modest, veritable rivers of gushing subjectivity and not one single, spare, scrap of science. It is to make one want to bash one’s head on the table in sheer despair. Is there no skepticism of these stupid gadgets? Well, it turns out that not all wine drinkers are quite as brainless as the ones providing testimonials for the abovementioned devices. One sensible wine site that I found – The Winelover’s Page – had this to say about the Catania Wine Enhancer:

After an extended E-mail correspondence, Mr. Catania talked me into trying a Wine Enhancer for myself. I duly set up a double-blind tasting for a group of local sommeliers, comparing treated and untreated glasses of wines in unmarked glasses, revealing the identity of the treated glass only after the scores were in. I tried it again with other groups, and at home, repeatedly, always tasting “blind.” The results were never better (or worse) than random, suggesting that the device has no effect on wine at all.

Similar tests by myself and others with the other products [Some of these are mentioned above – Rev.], including a rather hilarious “offline” session in NYC with a group of our forum members and the inventor of the Wine Cellar Express, showed consistently similar results: Zero, zip, nothing, nada.

At last, the voice of reason. As always, when the science is correctly applied, the truth will out.

And that’s something to which you can reliably raise a glass. Slàinte!

  1. Should the world not have ended in 2012, needless to say… []
  2. A fitting nom-de-plume if ever there was one. []
  3. Of course, the more astute among you will have grokked the exponential scale implied by the writing on the gadget: 10 seconds for 10 years, 3 minutes for 20 years. You can work it out if you can be bothered, but basically the ramification is that the improvement scale is self-limiting. After a relatively small number of hours, the effect of further time in the prongs is negligible. Even if the damn thing did work, leaving your wine in it for several days is to all intents and purposes pointless. []
  4. And, in the case of the Wine Enhancer, also eliminating ‘those horrible wine headaches’. []

Sometimes, Faithful Acowlytes, teh stoopid in the world overreaches itself and becomes just plain criminal. Today, as Exhibit 1, I give you:

Homeopaths Without Borders.

No, dear friends, this is not some kind of Tetherd Cow parody of the worthy and quite awesome Médecins Sans Frontières, although it’s so fuckin’ unbelievable that it’s hard to accept that it’s anything but a cruel prank. Yes, you understood it correctly: these are homeopaths who model themselves on Doctors Without Borders1 and travel to poor countries like Haiti to spread useless superstitious nonsense based on the brainless ‘medical’ intuitions of an 18th century German village doctor. This, to my mind, is a tragedy of vast proportions.

Volunteers Sally Tamplin, Holly Manoogian and Alyssa Wostrel traveled to Port-au-Prince on May 23 and returned home on June 3, participating in the longest, most intense undertaking in that country by HWB. Responding to requests by charitable groups in Haiti, the volunteers worked not only in the capital but also traveled to sites in the countryside. Their ten-day schedule was a whirlwind of compassionate homeopathic intervention.

Intervention? What – they were visiting sick Haitians with poor access to medical care and substituting no medical care at all? Yeah, that’s what I call intervention, alright, although I fail to see where the compassion comes in.

When I see the pictures of middle-class white women (they are mostly women, it seems) on this site smiling and hugging little black kids, it makes me furious. I know they are probably all just misguided and good-intentioned and even believe that what they are doing is helpful, but I just want to point something out here: people in places like Haiti who are in desperate need of good medical care look at these healthy, rich Americans and trust them to be bringing that same standard of health to their own country. These borderless homeopaths, however, didn’t come by the possession of their good health via superstitious nonsense. They are healthy solely because of science; science that improved their knowledge of nutrition; science that gave them a good understanding of hygiene; science that made childbirth relatively safe; science that gave them immunity against polio and measles and smallpox and tuberculosis;2 science that allows their society to understand insect-borne diseases and keep them under control. And let’s be clear here: there is NO science in homeopathy. None. When one of these homeopaths contracts a serious infection back home in their own wealthy country, they don’t treat it with some silly sugar water potion. If they do, they die. These privileged people have become so ignorant of the powerful scientific basis upon which their standards of health are built, that it has become completely transparent to them. They apparently think they are healthy just because.

As I contemplate this situation, though, I strangely begin to find myself in agreement with one of the basic notions of homeopathy. According to homeopathic beliefs the more dilute a homeopathic remedy is, the more powerful its effects – as I’m sure you already know. I propose, then, that Homeopaths Without Borders act on this basic tenet of their practice. Let’s say one homeopath leaves Haiti- surely the positive effect of Homeopaths Without Borders on the Haitian people increases. If a few more leave, the beneficial effects become stronger still. And if we really ultra-dilute the pool and ALL homeopaths leave Haiti, then I think you’d agree that they would be doing the most good they could possibly do.

Let’s see if they can fault the logic in that argument…

  1. Although they make it VERY clear on their site that they are in no way affiliated with that organization. One speculates that you don’t put a notice like that on your front page unless someone compels you to do so… []
  2. Although science is losing that battle somewhat as TB rapidly evolves to become resistant to antibiotics. []

What's Your Opinion?

You will recall that a couple of weeks back I had a personal letter from Melissa Rogers, CEO of Shoo!TAG, in which she took me to task for ‘defaming’ her product, and asking why I believed there was no scientific support for it. I clearly outlined my position to her in a manner that I thought didn’t leave much room for interpretation. After receiving her reply this morning, though, I get the distinct impression that she didn’t actually read my letter, so much as skim through it in the way that I assume she approaches scientific literature. This is the sum of what she wrote:

Although I respect the right to your opinion, we obviously do not agree.  My question is:  What would you do, if you discovered you were wrong?

Dear Ms Rogers,

The entire problem here is that we’re not talking about an issue of opinion. You have made claims that challenge fundamental precepts of science as we currently know it, and you have said quite plainly on your web site that your product uses these novel scientific discoveries to repel insects. By doing so you are not putting forward an opinion that I am merely countering with some contrasting opinion. What you are doing is quite deliberately declaring that you have scientific substantiation of the principles by which you say Shoo!TAG operates. Scientific evidence and opinion are two very different things. Indeed, the scientific process is specifically designed to weed out the influence of opinion.

I believe that you understand very clearly that you need more than just opinions to make Shoo!TAG sound credible to your customers. You want to make it appear that you have science behind your claims, because you know, as we all do, that science works. The trouble is that, although you know lots of scientific buzzwords like ‘quantum’ and ‘electromagnetism’ and ‘fractals’, you don’t really understand much about these things, nor indeed, about the scientific process itself.

On your website, you use every opportunity to attempt to give Shoo!TAG scientific validity, even if it means distorting the truth. You use lots of scientific sounding language, you have a ‘Technology’ page (formerly called ‘Science’) where you talk about your ‘lab’ and ‘experiments’. You have implied repeatedly that you have endorsements by legitimate scientific institutions (which is demonstrably not true), and you publish scientific-looking documents with lots of tables and statistics. Your patent application has pages of technical-sounding language which is plainly contrived to give the impression that there is something scientific going on (when really it makes very little sense to anyone who does understand science).

The primary difference between opinion and science is that an opinion is, by its nature, a subjective stance. Science tries very hard to iron out all subjectivity and make an assessment of facts that can be agreed upon by anyone who cares to observe that assessment.

Let me try to explain this difference with some simple analogies:

In the 18th century, a mathematician named Daniel Bernoulli outlined a principle that showed that in a fluid flowing over an object with differing surface areas, a pressure differential is created on one side. This quite simple observation went on to have profound effects for our modern lives, perhaps the most well-known being the invention of the airplane. The Bernoulli Principle is what keeps aircraft in the air. Now it doesn’t matter what your opinion of Bernoulli’s discovery is; it will work for everyone in exactly the same way. Even if you hold an opinion that Bernoulli ‘just made it all up’, it will still work anyway. Bernoulli’s Principle is a sound scientific idea to which millions of people entrust their lives every day. And it is independent of opinion or belief.

Now let’s consider some colours: twenty shades of some dark red colour, say. We can show those colours to a hundred people and probably get a hundred different opinions on which of those shades might be called ‘purple’ or ‘crimson’ or ‘red’. And we could show them to people in China and Spain and Canada and get more opinions still. But if it came down to whether you would stake your life on the opinion of Gladys Blackshaw of Manchester, England, of whether the card she had in her hand was red, crimson or purple, you simply wouldn’t do it. Why? Because opinion is highly subjective and we don’t trust it for important decisions.

This is why humans came up with the idea of science in the first place: it is the most reliable way we know of assessing the world. What this means is that your opinion or my opinion or anyone else’s opinion is entirely irrelevant when it comes to your claims for how Shoo!TAG is supposed to work, because the only correct way of establishing the validity of your claimed results is with science.

You ask me what I would do if I discovered I was wrong?1 Well, the only way that I’m going to ‘discover’ that I’m wrong is if you can demonstrate some good science behind your product. The onus is not on me to prove that I’m right – I’m not the one seeking to sell a product based on remarkable new scientific principles. It’s YOU who are obliged to show the world that you’re right – YOU are the one making money out of this scheme. You have a responsibility to back up your claims. As I have said repeatedly, you can easily bring real science to bear on Shoo!TAG, should you have the courage to do it. It’s not even particularly hard science, as these things go. If you genuinely believe in your product, I simply don’t understand why you wouldn’t seek this kind of widely accepted corroboration. The really impressive thing about proper science is that if you really can scientifically demonstrate the astonishing results you say you can get, I (and everyone else on the planet) will have no choice but to accept your evidence, because the science will bear you out.

It won’t come down to a matter of opinion.

Sincerely
Peter Miller

  1. Asking a question like this is a technique much beloved of those who are unable to argue with evidence on their side. By throwing an open-ended query back at the interrogator the argument is deflected away from the issue at hand, which, in this case, is: What kind kind of evidence can they provide that they are right? What I would do if I am wrong is hypothetical and irrelevant to the usefulness of the discussion unless they can demonstrate that they are actually right. They are making the unverified claims, not me. []

I know, Faithful Acowlytes, that when I don’t post much for a while, you’re all out there thinking ‘Oh he’s off gallivanting around again, pretending he’s got a life or something’ but no, it’s just not true! As usual, this last week or so I have been spending every moment of my spare time in the Tetherd Cow Ahead laboratories helping the boffins with our never-ending quest to invent new ways to make the world a better place. And these last few days we have made progress that I think you will agree is thoroughly mind-boggling.

My friends, let me introduce to you our brand new product: TC Energy Water:

The TCA Miracle Carafe!

As you are no doubt aware, water is very important to our well being, and we should all make sure we get enough of it to keep ourselves properly hydrated. Something which you might not know, though, is that the water that comes from your tap is lacking in vital energy! Yes, Cowpokes, all that bouncing around in pipes and plumbing has robbed our water of its magical life-giving properties until it is a mere trickle of its former self. To that end, the boffins and I have begun the manufacture of special glassware that, using designs that are based on music converted into spatial dimensions, will revitalize your water back to its mountain spring origins!

Just let your water sit for three minutes in the TC Energy Carafe, pictured above, and in…

Hang on a second Acowlytes – someone is waving their hand around like a mad thing in the back there. What, dinahmow? What is it? What’s that you say? NO! Someone has already done it? Tarnation! Cowmrades! The woo-meisters have pipped us at the post again!

Yes folks, let me direct your attention today to TC Energy Designs’ ‘structured water’ products, a range of glassware that will take common old water and turn it into a magic elixir that will banish all your earthly woes.

There is so much brainless nit-wittery on this site that it’s hard to pick a place to start, so let’s just commence with the home page:

The uniqueness of TC Energy Design glassware lies in its revitalising effect on water. The shape and form of the glassware generates an energising resonance pattern that restores the water within – and improves the surrounding environment – with subtle waves of harmonic resonance.

Yes, you read it right: not only do the TC Energy Design products ‘improve’ things you put in them, they ‘improve’ everything else in the room too! (They don’t appear to ‘improve’ anyone’s ability to think sensibly, unfortunately.)

This first page also features an inevitable and completely unsurprising reference to Dr Masaru Emoto and his notions of ‘unhappy water’ (which we’ve covered previously on the Cow), but we’ll come back to them in a bit. For now, let’s move onward to the TC Energy Design About Water page:

Water revitalisation is the act of shifting the energetic memory of water (whether it is purified or not) back to it’s state as found in nature. Revitalised water has been shown to have different effects on living systems than water that is not revitalised.

It hasn’t ‘been shown’ in any scientific studies that I’ve ever seen. Just like it’s1 never been shown that water has ANY kind of ‘memory’ either. The makers of TC Energy Design glassware claim that wine tastes better out of their products as well, so the ‘energetic memory shift’ apparently restores alcoholic beverages to the way they’re found in nature too. Or something.

But, my dear Acowlytes, why are we wasting time on the introductory pages of the TC Energy Design site when there’s a link to a Science page? That’s just gotta be the goldmine, right? Let’s take a squiz:

The cascading design of 6 sequential sections, with the volume of each section corresponding to one of the first 6 numbers of the universal Fibonacci sequence, aligns with the geometry found everywhere in nature. Revitalised water shows a 6-sided crystalline structure which corresponds to its increased level of energy and life force.

That’s very technical, so I’ll just simplify it a bit:

‘Our hard working unicorns spend every day gamboling in the candy floss meadows until the pixies bring them home to the gingerbread stables…’

Once again, we see a witless attempt to forge stupid, brainless links between nonsense and science. So the Fibonacci sequence occurs in nature – I bet you thought you were sitting on the same bench as Einstein when you read that somewhere, didn’t you Ms TC ED? So what? There are a shitload of number sequences that ‘are found everywhere in nature’: how on Earth does the Fibonacci sequence bestow any particular special powers? That’s right, it doesn’t. Because you’ve found some mathematics in nature, you think there must be something magical about that, but you know what? Mathematics occurs EVERYWHERE in nature. Making an arbitrary link between the Fibonacci sequence and water is completely nonsensical. Why not link the Lorenz equations to water? Or numbers like phi or tau? Why doesn’t a spherical bottle bestow its restorative powers on water, via the magical influence of pi?

In the same way, why do you think the number 6 is particularly ‘special’? Just because a nutty old geezer like Dr Emoto says it is (he himself admits he doesn’t have any science underlying his beliefs)? If you’re going to put stuff like that on a ‘science’ page you’d better be very careful because sooner or later someone who knows this stuff is going to run you through with the sharpened end of a harmonic series.

But wait, I’ve just noticed: there are some diagrams here as well! That’s impressive, right? There are some graphs that show that red squiggly lines and blue squiggly lines can exist at different places on the same page! And there’s another graph that shows that one column is above a red line and the other is below! Neither of these are actually linked to anything and both are unreadable.

What. Is. That. Supposed. To. Prove?

Boringly, there is also MORE lame unhappy water crystal bollocks. Hey, look, I’ve got science too! It’s based on daisy petal science – did you know that the number that determines how many petals on a daisy always falls on the Fibonacci sequence?!!!2

Daisy Petal Science

If that doesn’t convince you to read Tetherd Cow every day, I give up!

There are also a bunch of quotes from various supposed science authorities. The first one is from ‘a Japanese laboratory’, which is an impressive endorsement I think you will agree. I wonder if it’s the laboratory at the Japanese Ministry of Health, who were so persuasive with their test results for Shoo!TAG?

The second quote from a Paul Sommer of Schleusingen3 and the third from the Laboratory of E. F. Braun at Burgistein.4 Let’s see what those names throw up in a search, shall we? Oh what a surprise – mostly links back to TC Energy Design sites throughout the world, or to TC Energy Design promotional literature like this [image-heavy pdf]. Not even the smallest whiff of any science, even though there is no doubt that the intention of those quotes is unmistakeably to give you the impression that science has been done.5

There is much else on the TC Energy Designs site that I could hang out to dry, but I’m sure you get the drift by now. The Science page contains one more thing on which I’ll comment, though. It’s something that seems a little bit out of place among supposed corroborative science, but is, I think, the most enlightening thing on the whole site, and is also, quite self-evidently, at the very heart of the TC ED philosophy. It is this aspiration, proclaimed in the biggest font on the page:

“A TC carafe on every table on the planet!”

Oh yes, I really bet they’d like that. At friggin’ $770.00 a pop, that would do very nicely indeed, sir.6

Anyway, I won’t go on any more. Do visit the TC Energy Design site if you have time. It will give you a really good feel for the incredible level of fruitloopery out there. For now, I’ll just leave you with the TC Energy Design disclaimer:

TC products are not connected with any kind of statements about healing nor do they confirm the exertion of influence on the course of an illness. The use of TC products are free of promises for increased well-being and requires the self-responsible action of the person applying the products.

Let me make that a little clearer for you, dear friends:

‘We’re selling you products for which we make grandiose claims for amazing effects on your well-being, but actually we don’t stand behind any of them. And anyway, if our products don’t do any of the things WE claim, it’s YOUR fault.’

  1. That’s the correct way to use the apostrophe in the word, by the way. []
  2. It doesn’t really – I lied. But you see how EASY that was! And the only people who picked it up are the ones reading this footnote! []
  3. I don’t know what that’s supposed to herald – Schleusingen is just a tiny town in Germany. The attribution is like saying ‘John Doe of West Wyalong’ []
  4. Burgistein, likewise, is a tiny municipality in Bern, Switzerland. Neither Burgistein or Schleusingen have universities or similar properly accredited scientific institutions, to my knowledge. []
  5. Of course the real indicator here is that the quotes are not actually linked to anything. REAL science gets hot-linked quick smart – I don’t think I have to tell you the reason for that… []
  6. Do people REALLY spend that kind of money on this rubbish. I observe again that I am really in the wrong business. If only I could get rid of this damn conscience of mine. []

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