Patrick Holford and Q-Link: Boyd’s Galvanic Batteries with a C21 Update?

In a recent discussion about whether or not there are new and innovative examples of woo or just reformulations of old woo, Dr Aust pithily summed up the state of play.

ANY Alt.Health belief that has EVER been held will still be percolating around somewhere, no matter how insane it is.

Thus in order to dream up “New Woo”, you have to come up with something that absolutely no-one, anywhere, has ever though of before. As any scientist real scientist will tell you, this is a tall order.

HolfordWatch offers you an example of this phenomenon. You may recall that former Visiting Professor Patrick Holford is not only part of Biocare’s crack team of qualified nutritionists and scientists” (my emphasis) he is the Head of Science and Education at Biocare. As part of the scientific rigour that one expects from people who hold such lofty positions, he used to provide enthusiastic endorsements about products such as the QLink pendant which he would sell you for just £69.99: a product for which the scientific proof deeply impressed him.[a] The QLink is something that had all the hallmarks of being the 21st century update of that fabulously panacea device, Boyd’s Batteries.

Dr Ben Goldacre wrote up a thorough examination of the QLink pendant which is particularly detailed because, like any modern-day haruspex in proximity to a Dremel and other useful kit, he cut one open to peer at its gizzards.

The QLink is a device sold to protect you from those terrifying invisible electromagnetic rays, and cure many ills. “It needs no batteries as it is ‘powered’ by the wearer – the microchip is activated by a copper induction coil which picks up sufficient micro currents from your heart to power the pendant.” Says Holford’s catalogue. According to the manufacturer’s sales banter, it corrects your energy frequencies…

It’s a very sciencey looking pendant, a bit like a digital memory card for a camera, with eight contact pads on the circuit board on the front, a hi-tech electronic component mounted in the centre, and a copper coil around the edge…

[W]e broke it open. Drilling down, the first thing we came to was the circuit board. This, we noted with some amusement, was not in any sense connected to the copper coil, and therefore is not powered by it.

The eight copper pads do have some intriguing looking circuit board tracks coming out of them, but they too, on close inspection, are connected to absolutely nothing. A gracious term to describe their purpose might be “decorative”. I’m also not clear if I can call something a “circuit board” when there is no “circuit”.

HolfordWatch directs your attention to the photograph of the QLink Pendant on Bad Science and the mention of copper and other metals that pick up microcurrents from your body to power the pendant and its magical protective and curative powers. Now, look at this gallery of photographs of Boyd’s Batteries that depict a pendant:

3cm in diameter, consisting of a series of discs made from different metals and worn around the neck. A small electrical current was known to be caused by the juxtaposition of different metals. The theory was that this would be effective in treating various rheumatic complaints. [Additional photograph of the pendant for people who need a traditional perspective.]

That current-generated-by-juxtaposition sounds very like the QLink’s implied circuit and Boyd’s Batteries were said to be most efficacious when worn near to the heart. Of course, like any self-respecting panacea, the efficacy of Boyd’s Batteries was not limited to rheumatic disorders as the uncredentialled, self-annointed Professor Boyd’s own modestly-titled opus laid out in lavish detail: “The blood is the life!” An astonishing discovery! Accomplished at last! The efficacy of electricity! Nearly all diseases effectually cured by Boyd’s miniature galvanic battery!. A contemporary pamphlet for Boyd’s Miniature Galvanic Battery eulogised the pendant:

“The Miniature Battery will cure the following diseases, which are nearly all caused from the effects of impure blood: Rheumatism, Gout, Swollen Joints, Neuralgia, Dyspepsia, Lumbago, Aches and Pains, Pain in the Bones, Sciatica, Scrofula, Salt Rheum, Ulcers and Sores, Tumors, Boils, Carbuncles, Chills, Vertigo, Nervous and General Debility, Loss of Manhood, Impotency, Seminal Weakness, Female Complaints, Barrenness, Liver Complaint, Fever and Ague, Bright’s Disease, Kidney Disease, Diabetes, Catarrh, Sore Throat, Bronchitis, Asthma, Jaundice, Pleurisy, Diphtheria, Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis, Constipation, Hysteria or Fits, Heartburn, Weak Stomach, Flatulence, Quinsy, Pustula Affections, Piles, Hypochondriasis, Deafness, Disease of the Heart, Dropsy, Gravel, Spinal Diseases, Paralysis, Weak Back, Wasting, Decay, etc., etc.”

Is there anything this miracle battery couldn’t cure? Absolutely. Unlucky victims of yellow fever, cholera, dysentery, bloody urine, inflammation of the bowels, pneumonia, spasms, worms, and several other conditions were advised not to use the product. Adults were supposed to wear the device around-the-clock until at least a month after the illness was cured, children under 6 were to wear them only at night. In “extreme cases” such as “the entire loss of manhood,” a double dose — two batteries — was recommended. But the battery, warned the promotional material, was never to be shared with anyone else, to avoid transmitting diseases.

You can see part of an advertising flyer for Boyd’s Batteries with the pendant displayed on a magnificently-bearded, bare-chested somewhat historical-looking figure. Note that the pendant is worn near to the heart and on bare skin: it was reasonably common knowledge that a battery needed acid to work but Professor Boyd’s ingenious device only required “the natural humidity of the skin” to generate this health-flowing circuit that promoted “a proper proportion of electricity” in the blood and cured almost all ills. Amazingly, apart from the named illnesses such as quinsy, many of those nineteenth century symptoms are the ones that are associated with the harmful EMR from which the QLink is designed to protect the wearer.

Boyd’s Batteries had some competition from Richardson’s Magneto Galvanic Battery Pendant which was promoted along the same principles (although may have found a different market because it had a heart-shape at its centre). Although the batteries enjoyed some popularity, it is peculiarly heartening to see that the fine journal of rationalism, Gleanings in Bee Culture was speaking out fearlessly against these medical batteries in 1873.

THE LITTLE “BATTERY” SWINDLES
Although it is a little out of the bee-line, I feel it a duty to caution our readers against the swindles in the line of what is called miniature galvanic batteries, Boyd’s being perhaps the leading one. There is no more electricity about it than there would be about a brass button strung around the neck…

There are certainly men in every community who know enough of batteries and electricity to explain to you the utter absurdity of a lump of metals giving out a “current”. I have taken up this matter because one of our advertisers was innocently led to advertise them in his circulars.

That author may well be surprised to learn that similar nonsense about pendants and currents is still being advertised in the 21st century, or percolating around to use Dr Aust’s phrase.

Dr Macklis wrote an thought-provoking overview: Magnetic Healing, Quackery, and the Debate about the Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields.[1] The historical survey is informative and entertaining but the review concludes with a warning that the taint of quackery or charlatanism by association can poison the well for necessary scientific research and deter researchers from entering a contentious field.

New data suggest that electromagnetic radiation generated from power lines may lead to physiologic effects with potentially dangerous results. Whether these effects are important enough to produce major epidemiologic consequences remains to be established. The assumption of quackery that has attended this subject since the time of Mesmer’s original “animal magnetism” investigations continues to hamper efforts to compile a reliable data base on the health effects of electromagnetic fields…

Many well-respected investigators would argue that it is now time for the scientific community to re-examine the EMF problem in a careful, dispassionate way. In contrast to previous eras, many of the epidemiologic attempts now underway to validate hypotheses about EMF health effects are making use of good, well-controlled, statistically valid experimental models and are being conducted by serious, mainstream scientists.

Macklis’ note of caution in no way tempers the Holford endorsement of QLink and it just emphasises Holford’s poor track record in this area when one recalls Holford’s ill-considered foray into further EMF and Wi-Fi scare-mongering.

In 2007 Seattle Times published an excellent examination of modern snake-oil in the form of machines for energy medicine.

Medical charlatans have used energy devices in this country for more than a century.

In the past decade, the machines exploded into the mainstream, fueled by the Internet, which quickly and cheaply reached prospective buyers and patients…

“The message itself has stayed the same for centuries: ‘This is the cure that I discovered and it’s backed with testimonials from lots of people snatched from the grave by using it,’ ” said James Whorton, professor of medical history at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine…

“Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of quackery,” Whorton said. “They will tell you what you want to hear. The average person isn’t educated or trained to be able to evaluate these therapies critically.” [Emphasis added.]

Which is why some people reply on journalists to act as expert mediators and deliver accurate information. Unfortunately, UK newspapers gave a great deal of credulous publicity to the QLink Pendant (as detailed by Goldacre). Despite today’s sophisticated mainstream media access to expert opinion and ample resources for fact-checking, those credulous writers failed to meet the standards for basic scientific knowledge and healthy scepticism set by the C19 journal Gleanings in Bee Culture and it is doubtful that they would comprehend why the writer of that piece found such nonsense to be an affront to the intelligence of ordinary people.

Old woo, reinvented for the modern-day and trying to pass itself as a new woo for new challenges like EMR, but still old woo.

Notes

[a] Damian Thompson of Counterknowledge received a long, cross letter from Patrick Holford who mentioned, inter alia, that he:

Holford has “removed” his statement endorsing the Q-link. Fine: so would I, if I was discovered to have praised the “scientific proof” for a New Age pendant pretending to be a scientific device.

Thompson is a fair-minded researcher; we are sure that he would have mentioned it if Holford had said that he was contacting any customers who had purchased the QLink Pendant on his recommendation and was now offering them a refund.

References

[1] Macklis RM. Magnetic healing, quackery, and the debate about the health effects of electromagnetic fields. Ann Intern Med. 1993 Mar 1;118(5):376-83

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14 Comments

Filed under Holford, patrick holford

14 responses to “Patrick Holford and Q-Link: Boyd’s Galvanic Batteries with a C21 Update?

  1. Wulfstan

    The Macklis link is worth reading. My particular favourite is the eye surgery and

    magnetic cure for strangulated hernias in which the patient was first fed iron filings and the imprisoned intestine was then freed from the surrounding muscular sheath through the external application of powerful magnets.

    The above does not detract from the sheer cybershow value of learning about scepticism from a bee journal.

  2. Mary Parsons

    This is an eye-opener. Do you think that the Qlink people know and just updated the idea or is this the woo version of the arrogance of ignorance? Do they genuinely believe themselves to be innovative and visionary and that this stuff has never been seen before?

  3. tifosi246

    Fascinating insight on “same wine, new bottle” in the CAM industry and “Hear, Hear” to the sensible readership of Gleanings in Bee Culture.

    Also an interesting reversal of the “new wine, old bottle” of Biosun (the sole makers of ear candles) asserting that detoxing via lighting a candle in your ear dates back to the ancient wisdom of the Hopi Indians, complete with selective image cropping of 1930’s wall painting to back it up. The Hopi tribe themselves want nothing to do with it Much more likely that it dates only to the mid ’80’s from Biosun themselves.

  4. @Mary, who knows? Trying to fathom these things out might cause distress and hair loss.

    @Wulstan and Tifosi, the journal of bee keeping etc. is an inspiration to us all. They probably little suspected that people would be quoting them on this matter well more than a century later.

    Nice pick up on the Hopi Biosun comparison although that has the added benefit of actively distorting history rather than just using it without acknowledging it.

  5. Pingback: 93rd Skeptic’s Circle: A mystical reading with Master Woo « City of Skeptics

  6. Phil

    I only read the first half of the article,so I may have overlooked something,but I understand their claims are hypothesizing concerning some observations with ‘subtle energy effects’. There are apparently some anomalies that do not fit into the energy model of just plain electromagnetic,nuclear weak and strong,gravity. Some people (I understand they include quantum physicists,materials scientists)hypothesize about there staple energies being a possible explanation for some observable benefits in (for just one application-and not the originally intended)the observable,biological realm…as to there not being a complete circuit,there doesn’t need to be,if indeed these fields exist. Induction takes care of that. The claim is that a crystal oscillates in the natural field emitted by the object(in this case a human being) which produces a current with its own field, which is clarified…and then is induced in the copper wire for amplification. There is then a resonant,clarifying feedback to the source. Or something like that!

    Admin edit: read the rest of the article and you will discover that nothing is connected, so…

  7. Phil

    The fact that there seem to be many testimonials for health benefits etc from both those who are at least initially cynical,and from those dispassionate scientists who tell of observable,testable benefits in various cases is surely interesting,and needs looking at more closely. Of course,it helps to cut through any mystery religion new-age slants that may be given to these things such that they are then readily written off. Just a thought.

    Admin edit: testimonials really don’t mean much in the face of a test that demonstrates that the gadget/technique does nothing/can not do what it is said to do. It’s rather like therapeutic touch in that respect.

  8. Phil

    I read the rest of the article and I don’t see any reason to modify what I said. I’m not endorsing it without a legitimate critical eye,but I’m just pointing out to you as someone with a physics degree that that argument ‘nothing is connected’is-by itself-redundant,because the claim is that electromagnetic induction is the order of the day,as I described. The hypothesis concerning subtle energies is just that-and I don’t think people count it other-but just are aware of some anomalies etc which cannot be fully accounted for in energy models in physics…As to the basis for such hypothesizing-there seem to be Imperial College and Stamford individuals-among others-that have noted positive observations. Re ‘uneducated’testimonials,my point was-assuming they’re not fake-are the parallel scientific observations would seem to lend support to their credibility-if they come from those who were cynical, there is less likely to be a placebo effect. And we can’t just assume all these sportsmen who attest to its benefits are so subjective concerning the analysis of their performance that what they say can be written off as wishful thinking…one’s critical abilities are as much impaired by a subjective cynicism and lack of information, as by a gullible naivety.

    Admin edit: you’ve got a reference to support that last couple of sentences? You also seem to be overlooking the fact that QLink is so dubious that even though Patrick Holford endorsed it and proclaimed himself impressed by the scientific support for it, he is now complaining to people who mention it because he no longer sells it and thinks that that is tantamount to a disavowal: cf the Counterknowledge link.

    This discussion of fundamental attribution error and Giants Shoulders is in the miniblog but seems relevant here.

  9. Phil

    I’m limited in responding via mobile phone. And I’m ignorant of this Holford chap you mention. Seems a fair point you made. I’m fairly ignorant of what you’re about,too…but from your general content,tone and language etc, I get the indication you derive some part of your identity from a superior sense of your ability to objectively appraise. I’m not arguing with you! Just pointing out some information for you to objectively consider. I won’t feel defeated if you’re ultimately correct,or else victorious and vindicated!..I picked up that information myself when I was looking into it on the internet etc to try for my M.E. It’ll be evident with a quick search. Apparently golfers seem to be the sportspeople who are most involved en masse. A bit of a more subjective situation,I know-but there are others,too…and-concerning the bigger picture- I can’t resist pointing you to the ‘dose of Spurgeon’ article 3 or so down on the pyromaniacs blog-and my first comment under ‘Philip’ there. Apologies for the lack of link on account of doing this on my mobile-but if curiosity wins out it won’t matter ;) Kind regards.

  10. This really is the most amazing thing I have seen from Mr Holford.

    Firstly he promotes an expensive piece of jewellery which supposedly can protect the wearer from the evils of modern life. He claims research has been done, but never clarifies what kind of research. He then suddenly stops endorsing it. Why????

    Can Phil or one of Holford’s admirers please provide an explanation? If no one does so we might just get the impression ex-professor Holford is making things up as he goes along.

    Still, we must make it clear he is VERY nice man.

  11. “subtle energies”
    So subtle, they aren’t even noticeable?

    Ben Goldacre’s piece on the qlink revealed this:
    “in the sunshine, some of the nation’s cheekiest electronics geeks examined the QLink. We chucked probes at it, and tried to detect any “frequencies” emitted, with no joy.”

    According to Richard Dawkins in his intro to John Diamond’s Snake Oil: “Alternative medicine is defined as that set of practices which cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or consistently fail tests.” I think the qlink is in the second of these categories and has never been tested as a medical device. Given that there is zero evidence that it is effective, there seems little need to wonder about the supposed mechanism. Still, when anyone has looked at the purported mechanism of action for the qlink they have found nothing – no evidence of a working circuit, no evidence of it emitting frequencies, nothing.

    In keeping with the spirit of LeeT’s sign-off, I would like to say that I have always found Patrick Holford to be charismatic and articulate.

  12. Phil

    Hi chaps. No,all I’ve done is read some stuff on the internet etc on the Q-link,and see some of what has been purported to have been said by various scientists in observation of testable effects. I mean,obviously controlled experiments would be necessary,but I think it’s wise not to write it off as mere snake oil-on this basis. I find it interesting. I’ve forgotten my quantum physics and particle physics…but unless you chaps are already aware-you would see that there’s a lot of modelling to explain things-and those models throw up new questions,possibilities,anomalies that impact the model for reevaluation etc. So it is in energy physics,and always has been. We ‘start’with Newton with classical physics,then quantum theory for new conditions etc… If the people at CERN find their Higgs Boson-as yet a purely hypothetical particle that is nonetheless predicted by the current particle physics models-the model will perhaps be vindicated(for the present!). If not,things will have to be rethought. All of which is to say that there is perhaps more to energy physics in this material realm than meets the ‘eye’. The claim re the Q-link is that objects have an ‘energy field’associated with them-in the case of humans a ‘biofield’. This is what powers the Q-link externally by induction,for clarification and amplification,feedback and resonant superposition. It’s not going to have any inherent capacities. I thought ‘hmm,new age clap-trap?’ concerning ‘biofields’but perhaps not… There DO seem to be some anecdotal scientific observations concerning the beneficial impact,in various ways,on human biology amongst other things…interestingly,it’s claimed the guy who ‘discovered’some benefits to these things came from a physics background I think. He was purportedly trying to find ways to increase the efficiency of electrical systems with resonance effects,when he accidentally found them to be benefitting plant growth,or the like…my university had a human radiation effects department looking into radiation effects on the human system. I wouldn’t be suprised to find that there were some effects-in a more subtle way,as well.

  13. Phil

    We should be skeptical-better- discerning- concerning bad scientific method,jumping to illegitimate conclusions,etc-but at the same time,recognize our limitations and the possibilities-sureness-that even what we yet
    understand,we don’t fully understand. Not to mention-when it comes to modelling-we give sense to observations within the paradigms with which we approach it. Such paradigms themselves are not free from subjectivity.(Would that some people,such as Richard Dawkins!)would better realize this! As it respects scientific method,I think a healthy ‘discernment’,coupled with a healthy inquisitive mind that asks ‘what if?’in humility-is a far more healthy and productive approach to science than a bare skepticism.Just a thought to ponder.

  14. Ahhh, yess “charismatic and articulate”. Holford and his friends remind me of a Calvino novel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nonexistent_Knight

    Also, don’t FORGET he likes rabbits:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2003/apr/01/lifeandhealth.healthandwellbeing

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