Mar 25

Acupuncture in Cows, Wageningen University and the Soviet Space Program

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In November 2012 someone sent me a link to an article in a Dutch biologists magazine about some research done by Wageningen University, something to do with acupuncture in cows. On itself this already looks quite weird, why would scientists from a reputable university be involved with nonsense like (electro)acupuncture? But Wageningen University has quite a trackrecord in doing pseudoscientific research on homeopathy and they have ties with the anthroposofic research institute Louis Bolk. So this was not that surprising to me.
What was interesting is the background story of the device they used for the electroacupuncture. In the published articles the authors tell it is an improvement of a device developed by the Soviet space program in the nineteen-eighties and used by Valeri Polyakov to stay in good health during his record stay in space. In the following months I tried to find out what could be true about this.

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What is the connection between cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov and acupuncture points on cows?

Read the full story I wrote about this for Dutch skeptics magazine Skepter:

Veterinary Acupuncture and the Soviet Space Program

Mar 20

Philip Stein Sleep Bracelet – Expensive Placebo

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Ook te koop in de KLM Sky High collection

Available in the KLM Sky High Collection

A reader of Kloptdatwel.nl, the Dutch website I frequently write for, sent an e-mail about a product he found in the onboard catalogue of the KLM Sky High Collection: The Philip Stein Sleep Bracelet. This bracelet is ‘is tuned to pick up natural frequencies that are believed to improve your quality of sleep’, the Philip Stein company claims. This is supposed to work via the proprietary Natural Frequency Technology they have developed.
The company even states that there is objective evidence that it really works. Are these just empty statements or is there some truth in the claims with which this bracelet is promoted by Philip Stein, next to the gaudy watches and other jewelry they sell?

What does Philip Stein state on how the bracelet is supposed to work? You might like some assurance on that before buying the bracelet, which was sold aboard the KLM fligth for 235 euros, don’t you?

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Mar 01

Update on #KoftaGate – Egyptian Miracle Detectors and Cures for Hepatitis C and AIDS

Last weekend the Egyptian Armed Forces came with remarkable news: they claimed to have developed devices for detection of the Hepatitis C Virus and HIV. Furthermore Major General dr. Abdel Atti told the Egyptian people that after 22 years of research his team has now a machine that can even cure HIV/AIDS. During the press conference in which he announced this, he made this rather peculiar statement:

We conquered AIDS and I take the AIDS from the Patient and return it to him as Kofta “meat balls”

Here is the video with English subtitles:

The hashtag #koftagate was soon born on Twitter, a clear indication that many Egyptians don’t believe a thing the man said. And they are right. I was glad to see that presidential scientific advisor Essam Heggy soon spoke of a scientific scandal. On the website Egyptian Chronicles I found quite a good summary of events up till now.

The story of Abdel Atti gets more silly by the day it seems. After last weekend he said he had been offered two billion dollar for his cure by a farmaceutical company but that he declined the offer to make sure that the Egyptian people would profit from this invention alone. The Economist has more on the background of Abdel Atti:

 Investigations by local reporters appear to show that Mr Abdel Atti received his general’s rank not through military service, but as an honorary title. As recently as last year he appeared as a faith healer on religious satellite channels and had previously made an income as a private consultant in herbal medicine. An article in a Saudi newspaper in 2009 mentions him in connection with charges of sorcery.

See below for an update.

Abdel Atti also shows a lack of humor as he is threatening to take a comedian Bassem Youssef to court who made fun of his invention on television. [update: check the blog by @mostafa for more info on this]

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Feb 23

Dubious Egyptian Hepatitis C Detector Pops up Again

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Today I was surprised to see a lot of visitors from Egypt on my blog. A closer look learned that they came for a blog I wrote almost a year ago about a very dubious detector for the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). It looked quite like the bogus bomb- and drugsdetectors which led to a big scandal and courtcases in the United Kingdom.
I didn’t hear anything new about the Egyptian detector until today. Apparently a spokesperson for the Egyptian Armed Forces announced that they were to present a new device for detection (and treatment) of HCV.

A press conference was scheduled for this afternoon, but I could not find anything specific about that. I did find however the following YouTube video which was uploaded yesterday and confirms that is about the same bogus device. Google Translated the video is titled Device for the detection and treatment of viral hepatitis C and AIDS gift from the Egyptian army to the people of Egypt. 

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If someone who understands Arabic reads this blog and can summarize what is told in the video in the comments, that would be great!

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Jan 16

Coast Protection with Poul Jakobsen, Innovation or Pseudoscience?

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It sounds too good to be true: just stick some tubes in the beach and it will grow, no need for expensive beach nourishments to sustain those as part of your coastal protection. But this is what Danish inventor Poul Jakobsen promises his invention is capable of. How it works, he doesn’t know exactly himself, but he can show succesful projects all over the world. Dutch constructor Royal BAM Group got interested and sat up a test in cooperation with Rijkswaterstaat, the department which is responsible for coastal protection in The Netherlands. BAM offered to do this test on a no-cure-no-pay basis.
Between 2006 and 2011 the experiment, project Ecobeach,  took place close to Egmond aan Zee on the North Sea coast. Looking back at the results, scientists are not convinced that there was any positive contribution to the growth of the beach which can be attributed to the tubes. Rijkswaterstaat however, was so pleased with the results that they paid out a big bonus to the constructor – because there is no definitive proof that the tubes didn’t work.

Danish inventor Poul Jakobsen (screenshot TV N2 report)

Danish inventor Poul Jakobsen (screenshot TV N2 report)

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Dec 30

Looking Back at 2013

I started this blog in May 2012, so 2013 is its first full year and a good moment to look back how things are going. And I must say, if you look at the number of visitors it looks like a tremendous succes: in 2013 there were about 69,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics versus 819 in 2012! But to be fair, that’s almost alll because of one single post, the one on the Danish schoolgirls experiment in which they used garden cress to see what the effect of Wi-Fi might be.

The number one attraction of 2013

Researchers from the UK, The Netherlands and Sweden have shown great interest in the biology experiments of the five girls.

The horrible effect of Wi-Fi on the germination of garden cress?

I normally write my blogs in Dutch first for Kloptdatwel.nl, but this time I worked the other way round. I stumbled upon this story on the site of Gunnar Tjomlid (who had linked another post of mine in his article, that’s why I picked it up) while it hadn’t drawn any attention to mention in the Netherlands. So I decided to write up an English version first. Also with the intention to use it as a rebuttal with the rbutr-twitter widget, which I liked to give a good try. And there were already quite some sites (in English) bringing this story without criticism.
Just a day later the story on the experiment by the five Danish schoolgirls went viral in The Netherlands and Belgium as I noticed on monday May 27th in my Twitter timeline. Just pointing some people to ‘my’ rebuttal of the story set off a storm of visitors on this blog. Almost 20,000 on that day alone! That was helped by the fact that some newspapers brought the story with a link to my blog as a critical view. This article by De Standaard eventually led to more than 11,000 visits.
After the first couple of busy days I could follow from the visitor numbers where in the world the story had popped up again. Just two and half week ago it was warmed up by the horrible anti-science site Naturalnews.com and then by the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Another couple of thousand views were the result. Up till now the post has been viewed more than 60,500 times.
The Dutch translation which I published a couple of days later on Kloptdatwel was still good for more than 10,000 views and you have to add another 3,000 from the version which was reblogged on Joop.nl, one of the bigger opinion websites in The Netherlands. And finally: just last week I got a surprising e-mail from Thomas Guiot, a French speaking Belgian skeptic, who asked my permission (‘yes please!’) to make a translation, which is now online as well!

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Dec 10

The Worthless IGEF Certificate

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Someone on Tenerife must be laughing very hard every time he cashes another 1,700 euros for a complete meaningless report and the certificate which comes with that. Unfortunately, there are many people who are scared of the possible negative health effects from radiation coming from mobile phones, Wi-Fi or DECT. Or radiation from microwave ovens. Or even from earth rays. A lot of products claim to protect you from this radiation, but the scientific sounding explanations probably cannot be checked for validity by those people who might be interested in buying them. Some sort of official sign of approval might help them in making a choice. IGEF-Siegel_ohne_HG_IllustratorCS3And there is something pretending to be just that: a certification of the Internationale Gesellschaft für Elektrosmog-Forschung (International Association for Electrosmog-Research, IGEF). One small problem, this certificate is completely worthless.

The IGEF methods

The companies who sell anti-electrosmog devices often claim that their products have been investigated by scientists and have been certified. When you look into these claims a bit closer, you’ll see that these are not separate things. They can only show a report and a certificate from IGEF. The products are tested for efficacy with diagnostic methods like bioresonanceheart rate variability and living blood cell analysis. These methods sound sciency, but are in fact well known pseudoscientific nonsense and can’t be used to test the validity of the pseudoscientific theories used to sell all those anti-electrosmog pyramids, pendants and stickers.

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Nov 20

Searching for Free Energy

You might think that , in these modern days, claims of cheap and simply way to deliver unlimited energy would not be taken seriously. Inventors who come up with these so-called perpetuum mobiles are something from a distance past. Or are they? Recently I became interested in the developing story of such a Free Energy machine, which is supposed to run indefinitely on the power of magnets alone. This magnet motor is invented by a Turkish former policeman named Muammer Yildiz. In 2009 and 2010 he presented his motor at the Eindhoven and Delft Universities of Technology. You can find videos of these demonstrations on YouTube.

Yildiz with one of his motors

Yildiz with one of his motors

It’s quite interesting to think about whether scientists should take these kind of claims seriously, as we are well aware of the physical (im)possibilities which seem to be set upon us by the Laws of Thermodynamics. Isn’t far more likely that such a machine is a (clever) hoax than a scientific breakthrough? The idea that this is indeed just another hoax is strengthened by the secrecy the inventors generally hold up protecting their invention; afraid, as they claim to be, that someone else runs away with their idea. This secrecy does not entice scientists to give their opinion on the machine, however some of them take Yildiz’s apparatus very seriously and even seem to promote it as real.

An important question to answer if you believe it to be a hoax, is: what is the perpetrator trying to accomplish? Yildiz for instance has been working on his magnet motor for more than a decade and he doesn’t seem to be in it to quickly make a lot of money and disappear (as others have tried before him). On the other hand he must have investors who support him, also financially, and what does he tell them?

I think a story of more than a century ago might shed some light of what might be going on. In 1872 John Worrell Keely announced that he had discovered a new principle for power production. He claimed to be able to ‘tap etheric energy’, a ‘latent force’ of nature and ‘the vibratory energy of the ether’ as he described it himself. Keely build a generator in his house, which he demonstrated regularly, a complicated ‘hydro-pneumatic pulsating vacuo-engine’. During these demonstrations Keely blew into a nozzle for half a minute and then poured five gallons of water into the same nozzle. After some fine adjustments the pressure gage indicated pressures of 10,000 pounds per square inch inside the device. This, said Keely, was evidence that the water had been disintegrated and a mysterious vapor had been liberated in the generator, capable of powering machinery.

jwkeelyKeely managed to attract some investors for his company which was supposed to bring this machine to the market. To the frustration of his investors this never happened. Luckily Keely managed to find a wealthy widow who was willing to support him for rest of his live, although in the end she cut his allowance as she was also losing faith in his inventions as marketable products.
When Keely died in 1898 his secret came to light: his etheric generator on the second floor of his house was in fact powered by an engine in the basement. False ceilings and floors on the first floor were found to hide mechanical belts and linkages to the silent water motor. A system of pneumatic switches under the floor boards could be used to turn the machinery on and off. Keely had managed to acquire a good income throughout his career keeping up the appearance of genuine inventor.

I wonder whether we encounter a similar scenario in the case of the Yildiz motor. So far things are running along the same lines. In January this year a 30 day test of his engine was planned at a European university, which was willing to test his device. The test was cancelled just a few days before it would start., because the unnamed university was setting more extraordinary conditions, according to Yildiz. As an alternative he would be demonstrating his device at an Expo in Geneva in April. He did. The motor ran for four and a half hours and then … there were problems. The planned continuous run of five days had to be stopped and was replaced by short demonstrations of switching the motor on, letting it run for a couple of minutes and shutting it down again. Not very convincing to a sceptical mind, but surprisingly enough some of the early believers think it clearly shows Yildiz is on the right track. The Yildiz story is not over yet.

This article was written for the summer 2013 edition of Thesis, the digital magazine of LEO, an organization for PhD candidates at Leiden University. 

More on Keely on The Keely Motor Company (with lots of pictures). The Yildiz website can be found here: http://www.bsmhturk.com/. I’ve written two articles on kloptdatwel.nl (in Dutch) about the Yildiz motor: Ontwikkelingen rond magneetmotor van Yildiz and Over de Yildiz motor – interview met Jorge Duarte

Nov 11

Does a green environment lead to less impulsive decisions?

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If you were offered the choice between 100 euros straight away or 110 euros in three months from now, what would you choose? Given low interest rates, it seems more rational to go for the larger amount in due time, but many people will take the directly available money. Professor Mark van Vugt and his team of the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam tried to find out whether it would make a difference in what kind of environment this question was posed to people. Prof. Van Vugt : “Impulsivity and short term thinking are typical human features. In our study, we investigated whether nature could affect those mechanisms in our brain.’ (VU press release, Nov. 6th 2013).

The study is published as: Do natural landscapes reduce future discounting in humans? Arianne J. van der Wal, Hannah M. Schade, Lydia Krabbendam, and Mark van Vugt (Proc R Soc B 2013 280: 20132295).

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So why would their findings matter to us? The researchers answer this question:

Many of the problems that society faces today have to do with the typical human tendency to value the present more than the future. For instance, will I eat my cake now or exercise first and then eat it? Do I want to start a family now or wait until I have finished my education? Do I fill up my car with petrol or purchase an electrical car?

Our results show that giving people the opportunity to immerse themselves in a green environment may shift their time horizon from the here and now to the future. With the majority of the citizens of this planet now living in large, urban areas we must find clever ways to bring people in regular contact with nature. Particularly for our children regular outdoor experiences may be important to as they are more likely to discount the future.

That’s quite a big claim and I’m not that sure this research shows any of this. It looks kinda flimsy to me. Two of the three experiments were similar to the priming experiments in social psychology, which have come under a lot of criticism the last couple of years (especially after the Stapel fraude case). My main problem with these kind of experiments is that the researchers assume that they prime the participants in a way they control. But there are generally many things you can think of what is actually happening and it doesn’t have to be the same for all participants.
Therefore the third experiment they did, seems more interesting. It didn’t involve pictures but gave people the actual feel of the environment. The researchers let them walk around in a wood close to Amsterdam or in a urban area (business district Amsterdam Zuidas). After a five minute walk the participants met with a research assistant who put some tasks to them. The task which gets the most attention in the media is like a game: first they were asked what they would prefer, 100 euros now or 110 euros in 90 days from now. The participants who took the 100 euros now, were asked a follow-up question, 100 euros now or 120 euros after 90 days. And so on. This would end at 100 euros now or 170 euros later.The idea is that people who choose the delayed but higher amount are also more concerned about long term issues in general. It’s called a temporal discounting game and has been used a lot by other researchers. But here, it seems to me, the execution of the game was somewhat different and the authors didn’t give that enough thought.

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Sep 13

Dutch School Hires Dowser to Clean up Electrosmog

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The Sacred Heart School in Lemelerveld (a primary school in a city in the East of the Netherlands ) thinks there might be a health problem with electromagnetic fields in its class rooms. Possibly negative radiation can harm the health of pupils and teachers, the school told local TV station RTV Oost. To get rid of this electrosmog they hired a local dowser, a man named Henri Berends, who is also working as electrician. During school holidays he successfully ‘cleaned’ the school. Head of the school, Mariëtte Eilert, told the reporter that she really notices a difference: pupils don’t complain about headaches as soon as before the clean-up.

Dowser Henri Berends

Dowser Henri Berends

The story only got more silly after reading an interview Eilert gave to newssite The Post Online. Apparently the dowser comes by every year and places small devices in the class rooms to the benefit of highly sensitive pupils. They seem to have quite a lot of those at the school, pupils with wandering souls … Luckily for the school (and taxpayers who would ultimately pay for this) Benders did his work for free accordingly. The devices Benders uses probably consist of layers of led and copper. But on his website he also promotes the use of crystals and stones. About Radiation, entities and energies he writes:

Because there is a lot of earthly radiation in our homes, electrosmog, old energy, the energy of people is pulled down. Because this energy is pulled down, it can get so low that you might get problems with entities/ghosts invading your aura.

Yeah, right.

Another school in The Netherlands lost several thousands of euros earlier this year to another charlatan. That one sold jars with copper and silver coils wich were placed on strategic points in the building to counterbalance Wi-Fi radiation. Maybe he would have gotten away with this for a while, if he hadn’t also put his faith in solving the radiation problem putting stickers in the school with the text ‘Ave Maria’. I’m not kidding here.

It’s worrying that people we trust the education of our children to, don’t seem to see through this nonsense. Even if you think that electromagnetic fields might be dangerous, it’s not that difficult to see that the proposed measures can’t have any effect. And if they don’t see that immediately, you hope that they would be clever enough to look elsewhere for proper information.
These two schools were duped by not too professional operating people. But there are also companies who sell bogus apparatus against Wi-Fi and GSM radiaton in a very well organized way. One of those, Floww health technology, even got support from a foundation, initiated by the government, which task it is to help new and innovative companies during start-up. This company is actively promoting its products to schools as well. I have no idea whether they are succesful in that, but these activities worry me more than this dowser.

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