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Power Balance Scam Shows Again the Pseudoscience Song Remains the Same

About 2.5 million people have spent $25 or more on a little rubber bracelet called Power Balance.

The following was originally posted to the Psychology Today blog Neuronarrative.

About 2.5 million people have spent $25 or more on a little rubber bracelet called Power Balance. Perhaps you've heard of it (or are wearing it). Its makers claim that it "resonates" with the body's "energy flow" producing extraordinary balance, flexibility and strength in its users.

Well, at least that's what they used to claim. Now, in a show of candor rare among hucksters (unless they're being threatened by industry watchdogs, which they are), they're admitting that the product isn't backed by an iota of credible scientific evidence. They'll even send you a refund if you feel you were duped by their advertising.

I suppose that's not exactly the same as admitting the product doesn't do what they claim it does. Here's a quote from Power Balance co-founder Josh Rodermel from The Daily Mail explaining how his product "works":

Everything in nature has a set frequency. The body has a frequency and things which cause negativity to the human body - like mobile phones and radio waves - break down its natural healing frequency. My brother and I worked out a way of putting good frequencies into our holograms so they balance out the body, making it stronger and more flexible. It works in different ways for different people. Athletes say they can last longer on the field, that they have better balance and that their muscles recover quicker. Non-athletes say it works for them, too, giving them that extra boost off the field, in many areas of life including the office and in the bedroom.

The holograms he's talking about are identical to those on your credit cards, but evidently you have to use the Power Balance brand of holograms to "balance out the body." Suffice to say this product is as much a sham as magnet therapy and crystals that align your Chakras. And it once again teaches us a lesson that so few people seem to ever learn: we are more gullible than we'd like to believe, and we're easier marks than we'd like to admit.

If you were one of the millions duped by Power Balance, don't feel bad. CNBC named it their "Sports Product of 2010"--an endorsement taken seriously by a whole lot of people. Many of those people also get most of their financial advice from the same source (might want to rethink that, by the way). Celebrities who use and endorse the product include David Beckham, Robert DeNiro, P Diddy, Khloe Kardashian, Shaquille O'Neal, and (gasp) the new princess, Kate Middleton.

But, alas, the pseudoscience song remains the same no matter how many stars or royals get pulled into singing it.

Products that seem to work via mysterious means inaccessible to scientific investigation are more than likely bullpucky and always have been. Their makers have always used sophistry and fuzzy explanations to sell them, and have always relied on the power of suggestion to propel the pucky as far as it'll go. The game never really changes; the shysters just develop craftier ways to circumnavigate our judgment and appeal to what we really want -- an easy way to feel better, look better, and be better.

David DiSalvo is a science, technology and culture writer for Scientific American Mind, Mental Floss,and other publications, and the writer behind the blog, Neuronarrative, which reaches 100,000 readers in more than 200 countries every month. He has appeared on CNN’s Headline News, and his work is referenced in news outlets worldwide.

David is also an award-winning public outreach and education specialist with nearly 18 years of experience communicating complex technical messages with palatable prose. He has served as a consulting research analyst and communications specialist for the US Environmental Protection Agency and several other public and private organizations in the US and abroad, spanning from Boston to Beijing.He is feverishly working on his first non-fiction book, tentatively titled, What Makes Your Brain Happy, and Why You Should Do the Opposite(Prometheus Books, 2011). He lives in Florida with his wife and three children.