Originally posted at NeuroLogica Blog: Steven Novella writes on the recent admission by the company that makes Power Balance bracelets – a piece of rubber that was purported to help maintain balance – that their product does not work. I doubt this will stop anyone from buying it. If you are credulous enough to believe this works than no testimony – even from the manufacturer itself – is likely to change your mind.
In our advertising we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility.
We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
If you feel you have been misled by our promotions, we wish to unreservedly apologise and offer a full refund.
This is an impressive skeptical victory. One of the self-proclaimed missions of the skeptical movement (such as it is) is consumer protection. Skeptics value truth and reason, and often we will correct a misconception just for the sake of doing so. But often misinformation has a nefarious purpose – to support an ideology, or just to sell something. Deliberately using misinformation in order to create a demand for a product or service is known as fraud.
The manufacturers of PowerBalance were forced to make the above statement in the Australian media. How did this come about? The Australian Skeptics were instrumental – here is a timeline of the events, summarized for me by Richard Saunders:
I appeared on TV on the show Today/Tonight in Dec 2009 and tested the Australian distributor. He failed 5/5 tests.(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ynbx5JfEwcA)A few months later I and Dr Rachie and Dr Krissy made the video: Applied Kinesiology – How it’s Done (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Piu75P8sxTo)After that I met with the people from CHOICE magazine and explained the whole system to them. They independently of me then ran their own tests and concluded it was a con. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds8OSYuig)Dr Ken Harvey then wrote a complaint to the TGA,(http://vicskeptics.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/tga-calls-on-power-balance-to-withdraw-claims-and-advertising/)All this lead to the ACCC directing Power Balance in December 2010 to stop making claims about the product that could not be supported. Power Balance Australia posted this retraction on their web site (http://www.powerbalance.com/australia/CA) – This page is of great importance. It shows Power Balance admitting their product does not work.Power Balance USA have now removed links to the Australian site! See bottom of page. (http://www.powerbalance.com/)
The video by Richard is especially useful. It shows how at least some people who were selling the PowerBalance bands used what, in my opinion, has to be conscious deception in order to sell their product. When you want someone to fall over, you push straight down on their arm. When you want them to keep their balance, you push slightly toward their center of balance. This is just an old trick, easily demonstrated.
The SkepticBros also got involved – two young skeptics who happened to have a connection to the Chinese manufacturers that were the probable source of these rubber wrist bands with cheap holograms installed. They discovered that you could order these bands for less than a buck a unit. They were selling for between 30-60 dollars each. So they had a few thousand made up and started selling them as Placebo Bands for just $2. I’ve got a few – they’re good conversation starters.
PowerBalance USA is still up an running. On their website they write:
Power Balance is Performance Technology designed to work with your body’s natural energy field. Founded by athletes, Power Balance is a favorite among elite athletes for whom balance, strength and flexibility are important.
Very slick – notice how they don’t actually claim anything. The implication is clear, but nothing is actually claimed. Still, in my opinion, this is fraud none-the-less. It is creating a misleading belief in order to generate a market for a dubious product. Now it’s time for the FTC to get involved. If Australians are being protected by the TGA, Americans should be protected by the FTC. Fraud is fraud.