Monday, November 22, 2010

You get a placebo, and YOU get a placebo, and YOU get a placebo! Everyone gets a placebo!!

On Friday, the Red Dragon and I went to the mall. Gulp. I hate shopping, I hate the mall, I hate people, I hate holiday bullshit. But we had to go, so we consolidated a bunch of errands and did a quick tour, which hopefully will be our only trip to the mall this season (I make it a rule to avoid the place between Halloween and Valentine's Day if possible).

While there, we passed by a Power Balance kiosk and I had to be restrained from asking for a demonstration and then explaining "placebo effect" and "confirmation bias" to them...
In case you don't know, Power Balance bracelets are only one product in a long line of scams designed to make you feel like you're doing something useful or beneficial when really you're just wasting your money. You know, like Airborne, or detox products, or multi-vitamins, or acupuncture.
The Power Balance people bet on the idea that if you're sick or in pain, you're probably not 100% satisfied with your current treatment plan so why not add a rubber bracelet to your regimen? What's the harm? I mean, aside from wasting your money on a provably implausible gimmick and encouraging other people to forgo actual medicine and treatments in favor of an overpriced bit of junk. Because those seem to be pretty big arguments against it for me...

As far as the science goes, it's pretty conclusive.
Harriet Hall and Phil Plait (not to mention SETI’s Are We Alone radio program) gotchu. SGU gotchu. A round-up from gotchu.
And it's a Shonky Award Winner. So, yeah. Shonky gotchu.

So, it's up to you. You can buy a Power Balance bracelet for upwards of $60-$90 and get absolutely no effect aside from placebo and confirmation bias, or you can buy a Placebo Band for $2 (Australian) and get exactly the same effects. Or you could buy, like, a beer. Your choice.

Personally, I desperately want the Placebo Band, but I don't even want to shell out the money to make a point. Maybe in the new year. Either way, though, you can read about how the Placebo Band "works" from the Skeptic Bros, and can see how the woo-peddlers trick you with the demonstrations.

And remember, if you see someone peddling nonsense and want to help them reason their way out of it, be calm and kind and empathetic and patient and please please please please DON'T BE A DICK.

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