Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nexus Nonsense & Photonizer phoolishness

Breaking the laws of science is becoming quite an artform. From time to time, goodly nerds send me websites and adverts demonstrating how you too can somehow create energy, beat an uncurable disease, become immortal etc. As the quack market gets ever crowded, newer and more exciting bullshit comes along, clambering to show the world how elegantly it can dispose of scientific rigour and dust its feet of evidence.

There is a problem though for the slick, lithe marketeers whose tempting fruit so many are captivated by, (only to be found later, heavy of heart and light of wallet) - the number of tricks they can pull are limited, obvious and well-documented.

The picture above is of a Photonizer Bottle Cover, sold by Accapi UK LLP in their Accapi Nexus range of products.

For a mere £20, you more efficiently hydrate your body during work-outs helping you beat your personal best in the pseudoscientific weightlifting. The Advertising Standards Authority has today ruled that the website advertising this product breaches its code on misleading advertising, substantiation and making unfounded medicinal claims. A quick look at the website shows why:

The top of the page has a quote from Simone Moro, so we can tick Argument from Anecdote and Argument from Authority straight away.

Next we have the name of the product itself - Nexus Photonizer. To me this sounds like one of Professor Frink's products, but ASA precedent has shown that if you use an invented word in your marketing, even though it sounds like another word with a defined meaning, you aren't implying that meaning. It's a very sensible marketing ploy.

Now we get to the product description, bit-by-bit:
Photonizer 4-14 is a revolutionary bottle cover, made using the exclusive Nexus fabric. Thanks to its constant natural emission of infrared rays, it has a beneficial effect on the properties of water and water-based liquids.

And there goes the science mangle, mangling its way to sillyness - Is there any evidence for this wonder material that can impart magic through plastic to water?

Accapi LLP provided ASA with a summary of a study that assessed the effect on the characteristics of water when exposed to NEXUS material. (The Nexus material, by the way, turns up in ZERO references in PubMed, the massive scientific literature searcher). Note the evidence - a summary (i.e. no methods, results etc) of a study which exposed water to the material. But water never touches the material if it's a bottle cover, so this evidence, even though minimal and flaky, is not even relevant. The ASA are too clever to miss that sort of wool-pulling and concluded the study was not robust enough to make any claims about "beneficial effects of water". Hence it was deemed misleading and unsubstantiated.
The effect of the Photonizer 4-14 bottle and flask cover on water and water-based liquids is very fast.

Unhelpful and meaningless, and Accapi LLP couldn't provide evidence to ASA - again considered misleading and unsubstantiated.
Scientific studies demonstrate that the natural infrared emissions of Nexus fabric have an important effect on a litre of water just ten minutes from the moment the Photonizer is applied to the bottle. Liquids reach optimum and stable hydration levels at 30 minutes and these properties and maintained. When the Photonize is removed, it takes a further 30 minutes for liquids to return to their original state.

Without any evidence, and with what has be shown above, there's no reason to give that any credence.
Benefits of Photonizer 4-14:
Improves the hydration of the body during training, competition and recovery
Speeds up and optimises the absorption and digestibility of nutrients contained in supplements (for example, salts)
Stimulates diuresis, resulting in a more rapid elimination of waste products

It appears from ASA evidence, that this is based on anecdotes from users, so the level of evidence is that of astrologers and faith-healers. Not surprisingly, the ASA concluded they were misleading and were medicinal claims which are not allowed in authorised products.

So, it's a new form sexy product full of exciting science, but it has the same old tricks of bullshittery concealed within:
1. Arguments from authority
2. Arguments from anecdotes
3. Not providing any robust scientific evidence
4. Provide unrelated scientific evidence perhaps in the hope that it will not be noticed
5. Use scientific words liberally and confidently - meaning is irrelevant
6. Get it seen on TV by making sure you get celebrity endorsement

In reality, it's a similar set-up to Dr Kenzo Kase's Kinesio Tape which was recently in the Observer as an advertorial, and an embarassment to the science journalists at the sister paper, the Guardian.

There are plenty of products in all different guises out there, but I'll warrant those tricks above (whether unintentionally or otherwise) will be used time and time again to sell you, the person they treat as an idiot, a worthless product.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pod Delusion: A Business Proposal Based on Levodyn

I've got a little slot on this week's Pod Delusion, the Podcast About Interesting Things - about 30 mins in.

I thought it might be funny to pitch for the darkside and create a quack product, basing it on recently-ASA-slapped Levodyn.

Give it a listen and let me know if you're in.


Good people of the Pod Delusion, with your righteous anger and desire for truth, equality and defence of the little guy, how would like to toss those pesky morals away and make some dirty money?

I’ll let you in on my plan – just you, mind, don’t go blabbing to everyone, or we’ll be back right back where we started bleating about evidence and morals.
You see, there’s millions of people out there with certain health problems who will buy any old shit that looks convincing. All you have to do is get a few natural herbs – anything’ll do – mash it up, put it in a pill. Get some posh media grad to do some fancy marketing, you know, make it look all contemporary and sophisticated, get a website and bit of advertising and ker-ching, watch the readies roll.

Here let me show you what I mean.

There’s a product called Levodyn, for blood pressure. The US website says it cures high blood pressure naturally. Properly cures. But then has a disclaimer at the bottom in small faint type saying “These products are NOT intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” – can you believe the feds allow that crap? The UK website is a bit cagier – the advertising standards authority has already pulled them up for it. The makers just refused to respond and guess what happened – pretty much nothing! The UK website says it ‘helps’ lower blood pressure, which apparently is fine. There’s a few other bits of bullshit about promoting cardiovascular health, whatever that means.

There’s a few testimonials on there – who knows whether they’re true or not, but punters love that kind of crap, you know “I found this product on the internet and it literally saved my life”. The adverts people asked if the testemonials were true – the levodyn sellers just ignored them!

There’s a load of woolly stuff about science which is enough waffle to go over people’s head but feel science-good – anyone who checks the evidence is not their kind of customer.

The UK medicines watchdog, the MHRA, only give a monkeys if it’s actually got something in there that is going to have a medicinal effect – Levodyn does, but the MHRA decided it wasn’t present in a meaningful amount to bother about, so they don’t care.

The website is a website and the product claims to be made and dispatched from UK, so people will have loads of confidence in it – the beauty is that the website is registered to a USA address, so MHRA can’t do anything about it anyway!

So, we make up a product, put some natural crap in it, do some marketing, put it on nice, modern, website registered outside UK, make up a few a sciencey claims that are either meaningless or untestable and watch that pill-poppin public pelt you with pounds. High blood pressure, arthritis, excema, back bad – anything that loads of people suffer from, so we can convert the big numbers into sales. We’re only giving them choice right?

So. Are you in? Come on.... what’s the worst that could happen? Probably some guy does a podcast piece about you, but that’s about it. It’s easy. Ah, suit yourself, you Big Pharma, choice Nazi.