- Do you ever feel tired for no reason?
- Are you unable to concentrate?
- Lacking energy?
- A general sense of malaise?
- Repeating and mild aches and pains?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be at risk for a serious condition. The bad news is that there are many, many forms of this condition. So many that I can't list all of them. The good news is that there is a simple and effective vaccine against all but the most sneaky versions.
The condition I'm talking about? Susceptibility to the favorite ploys of quacks and charlatans everywhere. In this particular case, it's the quackery associated with healing or energy enhancing jewelry, like the beautiful piece here:
Luckily, the vaccine is simple: a little bit of knowledge. In this case, you don't even have to deal with a needle. You can protect yourself by playing a simple game!
Sit back, this will only sting a little. More after the jump.
I'm calling this Crystal Healing Bingo. I created it by pulling phrases from the sites listed on the first few pages of a Google search for energy enhancing jewelry. Go ahead, open another window. You can play along. In fact, I'm challenging you to play along. Your goal is to find a site that will hit more of these boxes than this one.
This particular instance of quackery even goes above and beyond the typical level of untruth found on crystal healing sites. Some of his claims are so out-there, that I didn't want to include them on the bingo card, for fear of making it an impossible game. I've highlighted a few of my favorites below, with some countering ideas from elsewhere. There are too many things wrong on this site that I'm going to hit my favorites, more or less at random. Then I'm going to bring in Matthew Francis and ask him to talk a little about the physics. (My background is in geology and anthropology. Physics was sadly neglected in my studies.)
So, my favorite parts from their pdf, err "free educational e-book and catalog:"
- The idea that quartz can be impregnated with a specific vibration and maintain it. This one is particularly interesting to me because it's based on a bit of science that all of us have day-to-day experience with but that most of us have probably not bothered to think much about: the crystal mechanism inside a watch. Now, I'll admit, I only learned the details of how these work recently, and from this video The Engineer Guy takes apart a quartz watch. Cool, isn't it? That's true of most of the claims in the pdf. They sound good on the surface, but if you do a little research, you'll find something much more interesting below!
- The founder is a "well-known ecologist." Because he has planted 1.3 million trees. I wonder, what kind of trees? Native to the area being planted? Different kinds so as not to create a monoculture? Can I call myself an ecologist if I plant a bunch of trees? Hey ecology people, what do you say? Better yet, can I call myself a biologist if I take in stray cats? What if I decide to collect pet rocks? Can I be a geologist too?
- The pyramids as monoliths – hey, guess what monolith means: mono = one, lithe = stone. The last time I checked, none of the pyramids are one stone. I seem to recall something about large populations of people being harnessed in order to build them block by block.
- The part where they say that the best way to use the pendant is if the stone is touching skin, then they show an example:
- And then there's my favorite non-sequitor in the whole thing. I will put it here with no further commentary, except to say that I'm going to start inserting it into case studies and see how long it takes someone to call me on it.
Now it's time for Matthew Francis to step in and tell us a little more about the "scientific" ideas involved.
As a physicist, I'm rather impressed by Light Stream Technologies. To quote their brochure, they give you "access to the infinite energy of the Zero Point Field!" (That exclamation point is in the original.) If you wear their "quantum jewelry", you can hold "the energy of God", and everything is "scientifically tested". I didn't find any actual data or specific methodology in this work, so I'm a trifle concerned about replication (the author does describe using a millivolt meter, in his defense). However, anything drawing on Isaac Newton's alchemical writings, the Sumerian god Marduk, Stonehenge, and the Book of Revelation can't be wrong, can it?
The author, David Sereda, is a "space and quantum scientist", which sounds pretty good to me as well. (Maybe I should start calling myself a "space and quantum scientist" instead of "physicist", since that's what much of physics really is.) He doesn't link his curriculum vitae, so I'm not sure where his training is, but if he's talked to Congress about nuclear fusion, that's pretty good. I myself have talked with Secretary of Energy and Nobel Laureate Stephen Chu about The Far Side, so I know how that kind of thing can happen. (I've also been publicly disrespected by a prominent string theorist, but that's a story for another day.)
However, impressive as Mr. Sereda's credentials are, and as amazing as his promises seem to be, when I read websites such as this, I find myself going through a mental checklist. "Did they use the word 'quantum'? Check. How about misusing the concept of 'energy'? Yup. Vibrations? Bingo!" I do give extra props for referring to tachyons and "The NASA Sound of the Sun" (sic), but seriously, a few hours with Chad Orzel's book How to Teach Physics to Your Dog would be time well spent. The problem is that many of the terms Mr. Sereda uses are actually well-defined in physics.
For example, "energy" in the vernacular can mean things such as how you feel ("I have a lot of energy today!") to the description of somebody's style of delivery in public speaking ("She was a very energetic speaker"). Energy in physics and chemistry, though, refers to the ability of something to perform actions: gravitational energy moves a planet around the Sun, for example, and chemical energy in the form of gasoline can be used to shift a car from one place to another. It's a conserved quantity: you can't create or destroy energy, though it doesn't always exist in a usable form. Despite being a term that's very precisely defined in physics, energy is a terribly abused term outside science, especially when people want something to sound scientific when it just ain't.
To go further, "zero-point energy" is the property in quantum mechanics where an oscillator has a small amount of energy even when left alone. (An oscillator is something that repeats motion over and over again,like a spring or a vibrating molecule.) In other words, zero-point energy isn't anything mysterious: it's just a consequence of quantum mechanics, and it won't give you infinite energy, no matter what you do. (And let's face it: if you had infinite energy, why would you just use it to feel better? Wouldn't you use that energy to provide for the world's physical needs? You'd never need to burn another lump of coal again!)
While both "energy" and "quantum" are terms thrown around quite a bit, "tachyons" are a little less familiar. A tachyon is a hypothetical particle that always travels faster than the speed of light. While such things are allowed by relativity, nobody has come up with a consistent theory involving tachyons: they have too many problems with violating (yes!) conservation of energy, not to mention causality. You see, tachyons (if they even exist, which isn't probable) travel backward in time, as measured by the likes of us ordinary people. I don't know where Mr. Sereda got his tachyons to treat his pendants, but he must have done it a long time in the future.
In fact, wait! I'm getting a tachyonic message from myself in the future. Future Me is saying, "Don't buy these pendants." Sage advice, and I don't even need to look at the shape of Stonehenge to understand it.
I also tried to get an engineer to try to replicate their "experiment," but it turns out that when you remind an engineer that he has a volt meter, he then spends the next hour wandering around his apartment looking at how his volt meter responds to various things, like his washing machine, his dog and his nose. So, that part may be coming later, or he might decide it's time to test everything in his refrigerator. You never know.
Okay, this post probably seems rather light-hearted and frivolous, but there's a reason I bring up things like this. The part that particularly gets to me is found near the end of the pdf, where they have a warning:
This reminds me that this is not a company marketing harmless feel-good security blanket pendants. This is a company marketing to people who may have serious health conditions, and they are marketing it as if it's a science-based product. While the information that accompanies this particular product is fairly easy fo most people to recognize as not accurate, that isn't always true. And that "most people" is not everyone.
It would be easy to just laugh this off as the rantings of someone completely out of touch with reality, but there are many, many people who are looking for a last-chance solution to whatever their problems are, whether those problems are real or imagined. We may say, "Oh, not me. I would never believe that. Everyone will know that by talking about this, I am engaging in satire." However, by giving sites like this a free pass in society with the "mostly harmless" stamp, we are allowing an avenue for those people who are most vulnerable to be taken advantage of.
These products may be silly, but the consequences of just rolling our eyes and walking away can be harmful, if not for you, then for the guy down the hall who is wearing a magnetic band to cure his high blood pressure, rather than modifying his diet and exercise, or your friend who has decided her child with autism needs an energy pendant instead of specialized attention to work with his abilities.
More than pointing out bad information, we need to counter it with good information. If someone is insisting that their quartz crystal has vibrational memory, show them how a quartz crystal really can have an effect on things – like a wrist watch or gps device. If they're claiming zero point energy is powering the piece of jaspe around their neck, then link them to the fascinating discussion on Scientific American about the details of what zero point energy could be. The great thing about a science-based view of the world is that there is always something more interestig and weird than you could have ever imagined. It won't help convince the truly desperate, but it just might create enough herd immunity that it could make at least a few people think twice before believing such willfully misleading information about an absolutely ineffective tool.
This post features the contribution of Matthew Francis. Matthew Francis is a science writer and speaker specializing in physics, astronomy, and related fields. He is a former college professor, ex-planetarium director, occasional musician, and frequent wearer of jaunty hats. He blogs about science, science communication, and whatever else he feels like at Galileo's Pendulum. You can find him on Twitter as @DrMRFrancis, and check out everything else he's up to at his home page.