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. 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.
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.
 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