Category Archives: Psuedoscience

Ionised water = The new snake oil

During Chinese New Year, my family and I went back to Malaysia to visit my relatives. We visited one of my aunts had undergone surgery to remove a small cancerous growth. Besides ensuring us that she would make a complete recovery soon, my aunt also told her plan of improving her health. Part of that plan involved the purchase of a water-ionizer machine. When we asked her what was the function of the water-ionizer, my aunt told us that she purchased the machine after seeing it on a television advertisement. The advertisement claimed that when the body becomes “too acidic”, it encourages the growth of cancer cells and other diseases such as obesity. The solution to this problem would be the water-ionizer. The advertisement claimed that the water-ionizer would ionize drinking water using electrolysis, producing “alkaline water” and “acidic water”. By drinking the alkaline water, the advertisement claims that the alkalinity would reduce the acidity of the body. The advertisement also claimed that the water acts as an anti-oxidant. (Snyder et al., 2008)

Convinced by my aunt, my parents bought a water-ionizer to ring back to Shanghai. At first, I myself had no doubts about the “benefits” of the water-ionizer. When we started our unit on acids and bases, I decided to see if the water-ionizer was really beneficial. To my dismay, the many claims that the water-ionizer company made were scientifically wrong.

Many water-ionization companies claim that by drinking alkaline water, it will neutralize the acidity of the body. Firstly, the intake of alkaline water does not affect the ph of the body. If alkaline water is drunk, the acids in the stomach will neutralize the basic nature of the alkaline water. The body has its own system of regulating the ph levels of the various parts of the body, such as blood and urine. For example, in the blood, the bicarbonate buffering system keep’s the blood’s ph at a constant level.

CO2 (g) + H20 (l) <=> H2CO3 (aq) <=> H+ (aq) + HCO3- (aq) (Frey et al., 2008)

The CO2 in the blood , when mixed with water, produces carbonic acid. The carbonic acid in turn can disintegrate into hydrogen ions and the basic bicarbonate. Hence, drinking alkaline water has no effect in changing the body’s ph level.

“Ionized water” is a misleading term. In chemistry, pure water has a neutral ph of 7, meaning that there are no ions in pure water. Water that is not pure water, such as rainwater, is already ionic, since they contain ions present in it, such as Sodium. Therefore, the term “ionized water” does not describe anything.

Secondly, the water-ionizer is supposed to turn water into alkaline water by “ionizing” the water through electrolysis. However, significant electrolysis cannot occur in pure water due to the lack of ions. The water-ionizer is a machine with 2 metal plates that are normally made out of inert metals such as stainless steel, separated by a membrane. They serve as electrodes, which are electrical conductors that conduct electricity to a non-metallic part of a circuit, in this case, the water. When connected to the power source, one of the plates becomes negatively charged while the other becomes positively charged. (Lower et al., 2008)

The negatively charged plate releases electrons. Hydrogen ions than bond to these electrons to produce hydrogen gas and OH-

2 H2O(l) + 2e → H2(g) + 2 OH(aq)

Based on Bronsted-lowry theory, the excess OH- ions make that side of the machine alkaline.

and the positively charged plate, oxidation takes place, producing oxygen gas.

2 H2O(l) → O2(g) + 4 H+(aq) + 4e-

Based on Bronsted-lowry theory, the excess H+ ions make that side of the machine acidic.

However, the H+ and OH- ions eventually recombine to form water, and the final equation reveals that the final product is hydrogen and oxygen gas, which does not affect ph.

2 H2O(l) → 2 H2(g) + O2(g)

Therefore, significant electrolysis can only occur when the water is ionic. However, most tap water is alkaline in order to prevent the disintegration of water pipes. Slightly acidic water, such as water from mountain glaciers and streams, is safe to drink. (Dunning et al., 2009)

Lastly, I also found out that the claim that cancer cells grow better in acidic environment is actually a misinterpretation of the fact that cancer cells release acids.  (Mathani et al., 2010)

So, what were the implications of this research? I believed that this research was very important. By understanding the complete process of the electrolysis of water, I was able to see that the water-ionizer’s claim of being able to raise the ph of pure water was false. I was also able to realise that the misuse of Bronstend-Lewis law could be used as convincing ways to trick people. Most importantly, this research shows that many health products will not only misinterpret and misuse scientific data to give their claims false credibility. This research also highlights the practicality of studying chemistry, since a basic understanding of chemistry can helps us deduce whether these claims are false. In conclusion, I feel that this research warned me to guard myself against false scientific claims and to apply my previous knowledge in chemistry to real world settings.

References:

Dunning, B. (2009). Kangen Water: Change Your Water, Change Your Life. Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Podcast. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4139

Lower, S. (2012, November 20). “Ionized” and alkaline water: snake oil on tap. “Ionized” and alkaline water. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://www.chem1.com/CQ/ionbunk.html

Mahtani, R. L. (2010, August 15). Acid Balance in the Body and Cancer – Caring4Cancer. caring4cancer. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from https://www.caring4cancer.com/go/cancer/nutrition/questions/acid-balance-in-the-body-and-cancer.htm

Snyderhealth (n.d.). cannotParse. snyderhealth. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://www.snyderhealth.com/water_ionizers/how_does_a_water_ionizer_work.html

University of Washington (n.d.). pH Buffers in the Blood. Department of Chemistry | Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://www.chemistry.wustl.edu/~edudev/LabTutorials/Buf

Why Science Won’t Get You A Date

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Most shampoo commercials in China seem to follow the same formula (this one on haircare company Pantene’s website is a pretty good example). Start with a shot of the waifish Chinese model feeling unhappy about her frizzy hair. The model’s hair is then doused in shampoo. Poof! She now has a full head of long, black, and impossibly straight hair. Men suddenly find themselves irresistibly attracted to her. The model smiles, looks radiant. End with a final shot of the shampoo brand. Throughout it all, a dramatic voice-over extolls the virtues of the shampoo, and tells viewers what the shampoo contains.

Lately though, there’s been a different type of commercial making its rounds. Its format is pretty similar to most other commercials of its kind, but this brand of shampoo has one major selling point: it apparently contains DNA. My mandarin is too poor for me to take down the name of the company, but to judge by the quality of the commercials, the company looks like it’s fairly commercial.

However, their claim that DNA can straighten and rejuvenate hair is absolutely ludicrous. Any visible hair on bodies is made out of dead cells, and being dead, no amount of shampoo will “revitalise” it. The same goes for the hair follicle. It may be alive, but drenching it in “DNA” is not going to make your hair straighter. What’s more, the company does’t even specify where they get their DNA from!

aerosolmoneydna2

Obviously, the company’s just using the DNA angle to sell more shampoo. All that this particular company is doing is using Science as a marketing tool. It is not alone. This website for instance, claims to sell “Genuine Human Sex Pheromones” in a spray bottle. All a man has to do is spray it on himself, and women will immediately become irresistibly attracted to him. Again, the company attempts to uses Science as a marketing tool, simultaneously using science to justify its claims and sell its products.

As laughable as they may seem, the claims do possess a grain of truth. Pheromones do exist in nature, insects and mammals for example release a number of different pheromones, all with different uses. The evidence backing the existence of human pheromones however, has yet to be found.

So we can safely conclude that neither DNA shampoo nor “human pheromones” will make you automatically attractive to members of the opposite (or same) gender. However, it does demonstrate the wealth of misinformation that bombards us on a daily basis. Companies will do nearly anything legal to sell their products, and that’s the extent of their scientific responsibility. Though their advertisments do hint at scientific fact, it has been stretched and embellished beyond recognition. Sometimes, the information is just out of date. For instance, this article that supports the existence of human pheromones was originally written in 1992. Whatever the reason, whenever someone or something, advertisment or politician, uses the phrases “scientifically proven” or “scientists say”, we must evaluate the credibility of that “science” and find the grain of truth that lies embedded within it.

Ambiguous Science

An earlier post by cajo discussed the reliability of information from the mass that is Wikipedia, but what of the depths of the World Wide Web?  Facts collected in a manner which hints at science come from every direction with little to no authority, and the resulting mess can get confusing at times.  Pseudoscience, like the footbaths Anna mentioned, is presented with the same language and the same authority, and this accessibility to too much information is harming the clarity of “online science”.  As a side note, the predicament is worsened when many published and accurate sources of scientific knowledge keep their articles reserved for those who pay, and are thus inaccessible to a large amount of people.  A good example of this is the collection of newspaper articles found on the subject of mobile phone radiation after a search on the search engine Google.

*I understand the use of Google is hardly scientific, and thus is probably why the material I found was so contrasting and variable, however it cannot be denied that Google is one of the most widely used search engines by the public*

Now from the imaginative “Star Wars” of the Cold War, to the weapon of choice on Star Trek, the idea of “death rays” has captivated fiction writers, the military and children alike for many years. Nowadays it apparently exists as an emblem of fear, the wariness that the wireless connection our generation now seems to expect as holding a hidden danger.  The results found on the 1st page of results found by Google included articles on how the radiation affected sleep, acted as a spermicidal, had biological effects but not health effects, caused cancer, and that the radio waves emitted in the electromagnetic spectrum by the mobile phones also had no effect whatsoever on the user of the phone.  This image in particular came from a website that discussed research funded by the cell phone industry which reported that mobile phone radiation harms sleep, and can cause depression and confusion.

radiation

All of these reports are, of course, signed faithfully with the mark of a science.  Whether research groups are actually coming up with these conflicting findings or if they are geared towards finding a specific conclusion cannot be said. But by beginning this research, I too, am unsure as to the effects of mobile phone radiation as I was presented with such an array of sources when I tried to find the information.  So what are the implications of this? Well, it has given rise to the very things science once strived to conquer – unfounded almost superstitious beliefs. 

The modern power of the internet is being abused in such a way that science is now hazy. I understand of course that scientific knowledge is liquid, ever changing as new discoveries challenge and confront the ways our world, our universe and even our bodies work and function, but something needs to be done to clean up this mess of misleading information on the web.  However, due to the open format of the world wide web, I believe that for many years to come such information will continue to appear contrasting and conflicting each other, and the public might very well be kept in the dark as to the actual effects of mobile phone radiation on the body.

Websites Used

http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2005/01/27/1285335.htm

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23083534-2,00.html 

http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/mobilephone.html

A Twist of Fate

  A while ago, Anna wrote a post about foot baths, which criticized false science and noted its ability to misguide people. Today, we’re going to continue explore the illegitimate sciences. However, this time, we will not write it all off just yet.AstrologyAstrology is the study of the position of planets in our solar system, and their possible influence on our lives.If you don’t know much about the idea, here’s something to start you off:[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/oQPFoDkGFrU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]There are many ways to approach and assess the concept of horoscopes.  Some believe that horoscopes are either verifiable science, or utter nonsense. And that seems to make sense, for we tend to categorize most issues in the world as either true, or false.

Mahatma Ghandi once said:

I know nothing of the science of astrology and I consider it to be a science, if it is a science, of doubtful value, to be severely left alone by those who have any faith in Providence.

In mainstream science, astrology has been dismissed as false science. Surely, when vague words are used to predict such everyday happenings, some of them are bound to apply to the reader, and through giving suggestions to their sub-conscience, the reader will believe that these predictions were actually correct. In fact, some students have even conducted a controlled scientific experiment to disprove this matter. The result of the experiment could be a catalyst for major job loss for psychics and horoscope writers: When the signs of the horoscopes were altered, without the testing subjects’ prior knowledge, the subjects reported the predictions to be similarly or even more accurate.

From a strictly scientific POV, then, reading horoscopes to predict the future will help you no more in life than digging a hole in the ground and putting your head in it.

But I have some second thoughts.Do I Dare?

The human mind works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, having that crucial confidence boost is just what we need to enable us to do what could never have been done: things that were out of our reach. If we believe that we can succeed, and that the stars above crossed in the sky just for that very purpose, then we will have a much greater chance at achieving that glory. Despite all its downsides, horoscopes offer this exact self-belief.

Hence, reading horoscopes and letting it play with the human psyche perhaps is not as naïve as the idea sounds. It may not be a science, but it is certainly a valid way of dissolving the clouds on a gloomy day.

Science is a tool created to benefit mankind, and deserves to be lavished in praise; every one of our lives have been affected by the power of science and technology. Yet, this situation led us to worship science, and dismiss anything non-scientific as dangerous mind-tweaking nonsense. Not all false science is void of any value. And, perhaps the pondering we base our judgment on should not be whether the matter is a science, but whether it will aid us, and make us better off: the goal that science was developed to achieve in the first place.Question Everything

Skepticism in Action

It’s easy to find strange things when flipping through channels on a TV, or scanning articles in a magazine. From ridiculous claims to convincing arguments, the media in general can be plagued by a variety of falsehoods.

Watching TV with that in mind might seem like a limiting factor in the things we watch, yet for several people it has actually done the opposite. Once I found myself watching a show on MTV, because dealt with a woman that wanted to find the right date, but finding him meant knowing that he had clean feet. It became more interesting when they all got “detox foot baths”, where their body’s toxins were supposedly released through their feet. To me, the fact that a foot bath could rid the body of all its toxins sounded like one of those claims that could either be a medical breakthrough or a typical scam.

The second time I heard about these foot baths was because my grandfather.  My grandfather met a doctor who relied on alternative forms of medicine to cure and/or examine patients, and according to him, the doctor was amazing. Once again I was faced with the reliability issue- my grandfather was convinced that this man could solve all our problems (my dad had really bad back pain), but how could I know that my grandfather’s confidence wasn’t the product of a well-planned cheat? For the second time, skepticism sparked my curiosity and I went to see him. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to meet the doctor, (he didn’t show up that day), but we spent a good amount of time just waiting.

Bored out of my mind, I sat there and looked around. There were all sorts of herbs and remedies for just about anything, all of them full of claims and promises. Somewhere between my boredom and examination of the medicine’s labels, one of my Dad’s friends decided to get a foot bath. Knowing the type of pharmacy we were in, it was bound to be more than just a stress reliever, which is what we tend to associate with foot baths. Indeed, this was a detox foot bath.

It must certainly be more than just water and salts that allow sellers to say that their product has

many therapeutic benefits that will benefit your health and can also help with the ageing process.

And with that claim we can surely be sure that redundancy won’t impact our views on detox foot baths. But judgments aside, this form of therapy is based on something “scientific”. The bath starts with just water, salts added to it, and two electrodes. By the end, the water has become a disgustingly-colored muck, which according to a critic of this so-called breakthrough, is merely a) a result of “corrosion of the metal electrodes”, made up of transition metals to create the color and b) the addition of products that cause skin to flake off- creating the texture.

Whatever we choose to believe, whether based on advice or propaganda, skepticism won’t necessarily inhibit the imagination, but provoke it.

For more information/examples of dubious claims check out these websites:
http://www.chem1.com/CQ/FootBathBunk.html
http://www.theherbdoctor.org/foot-bath/ionized-foot-bath.html
http://www.vitalitybliss.com/detoxfootbaths.php