Home > Health, Skeptic > Pseudoscience for Christmas Anyone?

Pseudoscience for Christmas Anyone?

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I don’t fly very much. And when I do, I am usually so engrossed in my headphones that I don’t bother looking at the crap they have for sale in that catalog sitting in the pouch in front of me.

SkyMall apparently does good business selling products to weary travellers. I never really knew what kind of stuff they had in there, until I read this article in the L.A. Times about some of the alt-med nonsense that evidently graces its pages.

The one product that simultaneously had me chuckling and my blood boiling was the Aculife Therapist Deluxe, a do-it-youself acupuncture tool. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine which has become popular in North America because, well…the Chinese must know what they are doing right?

Putting aside the fact that acupuncture has never consistently shown any effect greater than a placebo, let’s look more closely at this product which was developed in Ireland (wait…what?).

Aculife Therapist Deluxe. From SkyMall Website

Aculife claims to work by using magnetic pulses instead of needles to stimulate acupuncture points in the hand. Even though traditional acupuncture uses points all over the body, this product claims to do the same thing, but using only your hand. Their evidence?

Otzi, a 5,000 year old mummy found in the Alps during 1991, has spurred a whole new vigor into modern research of the Ancient Chinese medical practice of acupuncture. Recent examinations of the mummy found that Otzi has a number of tattoos that coincide with acupuncture points that would be used to treat various ailments from which he was suffering.

While it is true that Otzi had some tattoos which show some similarity to acupuncture points, it could just be a coincidence as there are a large number of acupuncture points. Also, Otzi had no tattoos on his hand, but Aculife makes no mention of that.

Map of relevant points in the hand, according to Aculife.

Combining magnets with acupuncture is like mating Bigfoot with the Loch Ness Monster. Two pseudosciences for the price of one. But by using the “latest ancient technology” (wait… what?) Aculife claims to be able to treat (from their ad on Amazon):

hypertension, insomnia, fatigue, asthma, ulcers, hemorrhoids, high-blood pressure, rheumatism and muscle pain. You can even have a simple ailments treated like stiff backs, muscles and neck from constant travel or strenuous workouts.

One of the keys to having a product sell well is to have a large demographic to sell to. And you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t suffer from at least one of the aforementioned ailments.

So does it work? One of the customer reviews on the SkyMall website claims that he used the product for a toothache. The results?

the pain was still there but more bearable.

My favourite review came from Robert Strohmeyer of PCWorld:

I did spend a little more than an hour zapping myself while following the dubious included “Acupoints” chart. The result? It’s probably not as uncomfortable as a dog-training collar, but likely just as effective for most maladies.

Basically this is yet another alt-med product using pseudoscience, anecdotal evidence and the placebo effect to make a profit. And at a $200 price tag ($250 at Amazon!) it is making quite a profit indeed.

On a related note, likeminded folks at Skeptic North are planning a field trip to the Whole Life Expo next Sunday in Toronto, “Canada’s largest showcase of natural health and green living”. It is usually a great place to find all kinds of wacky “health” products, so if you are in the area you should check it out.

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