Science

How the Skeptic Movement Bankrupted Power Balance Wristbands

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Former Reason staffer Michael Moynihan (read his Reason archive here), now hanging his hat at The Daily Beast and Newsweek, reports from this summer's The Amazing Meeting (TAM), an annual gathering of folks who are part of "the skeptic movement." TAM is presided over by James "The Amazing" Randi, the mentor and inspiration of Penn & Teller. Here's a snippet from Moynihan's lively and well-worth-reading coverage:

Perhaps the best example of the skeptic movement's tenacious real-world influence has been its battle with a California-based company called Power Balance—manufacturers of wristbands that, when worn, were supposed to improve strength, balance, and flexibility, "safely restoring and optimizing the electro-magnetic balance within the human body," the company at one point claimed on its website. In 2010 alone, an estimated 2.5 million people wore them. Among those who sported the wristbands were Bill Clinton, David Beckham, Kate Middleton, Shaquille O'Neal, and countless professional athletes. Power Balance was making so much money that, in 2011, it purchased the naming rights to the Sacramento Kings' arena.

But [Richard Saunders, president of Australian Skeptics] smelled a rat. "I saw a report on a news program that said, 'Look at these amazing wristbands,' and they did the demonstration. So I wrote to the reporter and said, 'Look, I know how the tricks work.'?" The reporter arranged for Saunders and Tom O'Dowd, who owned the right to distribute Power Balance in Australia, to test the bands on national television. "He failed five out of five tests. And that started the avalanche that led to Power Balance's downfall." Australian regulators intervened, issuing a finding that forced Power Balance to admit that it was selling a product that didn't work as it claimed. "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," the company conceded. Soon after, it filed for bankruptcy.

Read the whole thing.