A couple of days ago I noticed the following equation on a bottle of shampoo:
You can also strap magnets onto your car’s fuel lines to improve gas mileage. Strapping them onto your home’s water pipes reduces “effective hardness” of the water. If you did not know that waving, strapping, or implanting magnets will make everything better it only requires a small amount of research to find out that it would.
Magnets actually have easily measurable effects. Strong enough magnets can alter the growth of cells, or the shape of crystals, or even change the ionization of salt solutions. Waving magnets over copper wires can produce electricity; this is the way almost all of our commercial electricity is produced. Magnets are awesomely interesting, and their effects (especially on complex systems like the human body) are far from simple.
One would think that, with both magnetism and therapeutic value being measurable quantities, that there would be loads of clinical studies proving the effectiveness of magnets. One would think that the abundance of claims for “significant successes rates” would point to an entire body of therapeutic literature. One would think that, with over a century of development and billions of dollars in sales, that magnetic therapies would culture their own engineering and development communities. Unfortunately this is not the case. Most magnetic therapies enjoy less developmental thought than the logic that went into the Heidelberg Electric Belt that was very popular around 1900 (electricity is also magic).
“For weakness in men and women, personal exhaustion bringing back lost strength and power, over brain work, vital , impotency, rheumatism, sciatica, lame back, railroad back, insomnia, melancholia, kidney disorder, Bright's disease, dyspepsia, disorders of the liver, female weakness, poor circulation, weak heart action and almost every known disease and weakness.” -- Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue 1900
The way that most magic magnetic devices are designed is through inspired insight. This is a wordy way of saying they are simply made up. I do not want to use terms like “intelligent design” or “invention” when refereeing to the creation of magnetic therapy devices as both terms insinuate a thoughtful process derived from cause and effect. There is no apparent structure in the development of magnetic therapies. If any magnetic therapies actually worked at all there exists no system to tell if one therapeutic device works better than another.
Many of the magic effects of magnetic therapy devices are fraudulently conceived. If any working magnetic therapy device were ever conceived it would be impossible (using the means by which the benefits of magnetic therapy are currently examined) to see this. The interest by the distributors of magnetic devices in a patient’s outcome appears to be significantly diminished once the patient is separated from the purchase price for the magnetic device. I have not heard stories of magnetic device distributors dancing around a hospital bed wildly waving their magic electromagnetic wands over a stricken patient, and this is not because they have yet to invent suitable wands.
Beside the sink AYD had left her newest hairbrush. The handle of the hairbrush proudly announced that it was made with both ceramic and “Ion Technology”. Since charged molecules (ions) are affected by magnetic fields a magic wand for magnetic therapy should conceivably have something like an “Ion Technology”. Certainly practiced waving of a hairbrush-wand around a bedridden patient could, if nothing else, arrange their hair so they looked a little less ill in photographs.
AYD’s hairbrush was a marvel of thoughtful design. It was honeycombed with holes, and the body was hollow. The handle contained a large removable hidden aluminum pick; like a giant version of the toothpicks on old Swiss-Army knives. I pictured the “Ion Technology” existing as some battery-driven transmitter whose antennae were embedded wires in the complex pattern of perforations in the brush’s body.
Unfortunately the “Ion Technology” consisted of tourmaline. Tourmaline is a complex silicate crystal. There was no word as to how they applied the magic stone to the brush. I imagine they simply added some tourmaline dust to the molten plastic before they poured the brush. I wondered what would happen if they forgot to add the magic dust to a batch of brushes. Would anybody ever notice?
Apparently negative ions are another source of magical health benefits. Somply by putting a little tourmaline crystal into water you can purify the water, kill bacteria and remove chlorine smell (which is interesting since the chlorine in the water kills bacteria). I was particularly interested in the chlorine smell reduction. The chorine smell in chlorinated water is caused by hypochlorite ions, which are negative ions. Apparently increasing the number of negative ions actually decreases the number of negative ions if it is done right.
The shampoo was supposedly designed to “dominate” negative ions in the hair. Perhaps one needed to generate negative ions with the hairbrush so the shampoo could properly exert its dominance?
Needless to say I was a bit confused. I decided I needed to go to the source of the magic haircare products. I ran AYD down and tried to initiate an over-breakfast haircare de-briefing session.
“Dad!” exclaimed AYD “You don’t think anyone actually believes that stuff do you!”
I asked why she purchased the material if she so thoroughly thought the magical claims were false. Apparently a product with obviously false claims to magical benefit is superior to one that lacks such claims. I attempted to extract more specific detail on this phenomenon. AYD said something about shoes that I did not follow at all.
I attempted to steer the conversation towards things I could get a handle on. I wrote some of Maxwell’s equations on the whiteboard we usually use for messages and grocery lists. I diagramed the square/cube effect of magnetic flux on ionized particles in a conducting medium. I asked her about the beta-pleated sheet protein structure of hair fibers.
Breakfast went quickly. Between bites AYD clipped answers to algebraic questions I fired at her. Finally the clock ran out, and it was time for her to leave to catch the schoolbus.
I hit her with one last question as she was putting on her boots to leave: “So… Are you going to keep your shampoo and stuff in your own bathroom from now on?”
“You know it!” she replied.