Jun 13

The Incredible Floww Health Technology

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From the Floww website:

Floww® Health Technology was developed by Dutchman Jim Wagenaar. In the nineties he foresaw an irreversible increase in the amount of electromagnetic radiation. He also noted that more and more people had health problems which they attributed to radiation. Knowing that the human body itself also possesses a broad range of frequencies, he conceived the idea that radiation from outside could possibly be converted into body natural frequencies. Based on this he developed a unique method: Floww® Health Technology. 

Their products range from a mobileFloww, costing 49 euro, which you are supposed to stick on your mobile phone, to a homeFloww set costing 1,350 euro. Just another company selling bogus devices against electrosmog?

Out with the Bioresonance Drops and New ‘Research’

Almost two years ago Martin Bier, professor in physics, wrote an article about Floww on Kloptdatwel.nl, the Dutch skeptic website of which I’m one of the editors. He made clear that the claims of Floww are complete nonsense from a scientifical viewpoint. At that time, the company was also selling bioresonance drops, just plain water with a touch of ethanol to which a composition of frequencies was added. The specific composition was chosen depending on a analysis of a cheeck swap you would have to send in when ordering. They don’t sell those Floww Drops anymore, perhaps because of regulations you have to go by when selling ingestibale stuff. But the other products are sold without this personal analysis, so now we are supposed to believe that one size frequency fits all?

Since Bier’s article it seems that Floww has grown fast and is focussing on the international market more and more. Also their website presents some new ‘research’ on their technology. About time for a follow up in English, I thought.

‘Scientific’ article

On the page ‘how it works‘ we are given a summary of an article in the Dutch Journal of Integrative Medicine (Tijdschrift voor Integrale Geneeskunde) which has been made available in an English version (someone must have taken the effort to translate it as the journal is in Dutch as far as I know).

To summarize, the working of Floww can most easily be understood as that of an electronic transformer. External radiation in a wide wavelength range is transformed by the circuit into a specific and consistent electromagnetic field. The energy required for the generation of this field is completely supplied by the radiation present in the environment. There is a dose response relationship between the intensity of the environmental radiation and the strength of the Floww-field. Thus, the stronger the radiation, the higher the intensity of the field produced by the Floww equipment.

Electronic components of the Floww products

Electronic components of the Floww products

The crucial electronic part can be seen in the image on the right. So, now how is this Floww-field going to do anything with your body? It does not influence the electromagnetic fields against which harmful effects Floww is going to protect you, according to the inventor Wagenaar. Good point for selling the device, you can still use your phone ;-)
The article tells that Wagenaar’s working hypothesis is “that the integrity of the biological system will increase in such a way that radiation cannot cause any damage.” The author raises some reasonable questions: “How can a weak electromagnetic signal, such as these devices generate, a priori have any effect on biological systems at all?” and “In what way does the electromagnetic field that Floww devices produce, increase the resistance of the body against radiation?”
“To answer these questions”, he continues “we need to involve a mechanism by which radiation exerts influence on biological systems. A mechanism to which so far, in the research undertaken into the harmful effects of radiation, virtually no attention has been paid.” Oh, boy …

What follows in the article is one pseudoscientific fantasy after the other. We learn about resonators and the Q-factor, which in biological systems really is something special it seems:

With this the quality factor of biological resonators surpasses that of the most advanced technical systems based on superconductivity by a factor of up to 1010 . And all of this at body temperature! Thus, in biological resonance systems, there has to be a form of conductivity that is still completely unknown to technology.

and something about nature’s information system:

The preceding information helps to fill in the contours of the information system of biophysical regulation. It has a continuous physiological frequency range that extends from less than 1 Hz to over 1016 Hz. It is not unlikely that it operates with coherent pulsed laser signals over this whole frequency range. Which is highly remarkable while technical lasers only have the capacity to work with one or a few frequencies. The biological information system is equipped with resonance systems with a quality factor of 1018 . So ten billion times more sensitive and specific (selective) than the most advanced technical measuring device based on superconductivity.

These kind of sciencey sounding sentences should help us to answer the two questions raised:

The first was: How can such a weak electromagnetic signal have an effect on biological systems? This can be explained by the extreme sensitivity of the vibration system the organism possesses. The Q-factor of the body’s own vibration systems, no less than a factor 1010 higher than what technical systems under superconductivity are capable of, is easily adapted to intensities such as those of the Floww field.
Then the second question: How can it be that the negative effects of external radiation exposure are wiped out, while the Floww products do not shield off harmful radiation at all? Basically, the proven positive effect of the Floww field on biological systems already tells us that the properties of Floww vibrations fall within the physiological Adey windows. If this were not so, the Floww-field would not be able to have any effect at all.

The last two sentences are something like a logical puzzle.The argument looks extremely circular. Basically we are being told here that the Floww field simply has to work via a highly speculative mechanism (Adey windows), because the author can’t make up any other explanation. Period. Yeah, but the “if this were not so” part is not a real problem, if you are ready to accept that there are probably no real effects seen from Floww to begin with. For those ‘proven positive effects’ we will have to look at some other research mentioned on the Floww website.

Research Institute Soffos

Floww asked a research institute, Soffos, to run a continuous survey amongst buyers of the Floww products. Soffos is a small bureau run by dr. Marij Schüssler-van Hees, who has had a career in farmacy before starting this bureau. She states that she uses ‘The Black Box model’, so she doesn’t look at how a treatment could possibly work, but only at the effects attributed to this treatment. Seems a perfect choice if you want to have your product tested for which there is no plausible working mechanism in science. A ‘Confidential report‘ is shared by Floww on its website:

This quality of life questionnaire(SF-36) measures the state of health of the client at a certain moment in time and identifies which products of Floww Health Technology are used during which period. The following health aspects are measured: general perception of health, health changes, physical functioning, emotional functioning, social functioning, mental health, vitality and freedom of pain. By asking the client to complete a questionnaire at various points in time, the effect of the use of Floww products becomes visible.

Of course this is just useless. You can’t test such a device without a controlgroup using a placebo, proper blinding and decent statistics, especially if your outcome measures are all subjective. Such research is a waste of time, but it can, of course, fulfill a role in the marketing mumbo jumbo.

Professor Anna van Wersch

A bit more serious looks the research of a real scientist, Professor Anna van Wersch. She is “a professor at the Teesside University in Middlesbrough, England, and an authority in the field of Health Psychology” tells the Floww website. She is asked by Floww to investigate the working of Floww products by looking at the effects in blood. In the video she is having her own blood tested as pilot for this research, let’s have a look:

OK, so here we see a professor in psychology believing that live blood cell analysis gets you reliable results.Weird. But maybe it’s just a lack of knowledge on pseudoscientific diagnostic tools that are being pomoted by quacks all over the world. So I wrote her an e-mail a couple of months ago expressing my concern and pointing her to some proper information on this matter. A week later I sent her a reminder, but never got a response. ‘The full results and an extensive research report are expected in May’ the blog says, but it seems to be delayed.

Testimonials

So what else is on the Floww website? Look, they have testimonials for professional use, too. Gotta love those! There we have a Ben Smith, professional rugbyplayer in Australia! He surely would know about electromagnetic fields, as most rugbyplayers Down Under are known for their degrees in … well, let’s have a look a bit further down the list. Hey, there’s a doctor: N. Westerman … Hmm, but he is into acupuncture and biophysical medicine and he actually wrote that not so impressive article I talked about above. Let’s skip him too, shall we? Next a real Medical Doctor: V. Schechtl – Chamorro Monsted. A gynecologist – hmm, don’t judge too soon, they might be experts in bodily vibrations. Ah, and she is the wife of Marc Schechtl, founder and CEO of Floww  … very convincing.

Businesswise

Floww doesn’t really differ from all other bogus products which are sold against the alledgedly harmful effects of electromagnetic fields coming from mobile phone, Wi-Fi or other sources. What sets this company somewhat apart for me is the professionalism which seeps through. If it were any normal product, most of the steps taken would seem to be right, businesswise. It probably has something to do with the fact that the CEO of Floww, Marc Schechtl, doesn’t have a background in quackery (he was a tax-consultant) and together with his brother, Daniël Schechtl (whom I suspect to have studied something like commerce) seems to know quite well how to set up a business. That it happened to become a business based on pseudoscientific bullshit, might just be a coincidence.
They also got some help from a government organisation, Syntens (now integrated with The Trade Register), which was founded to help business start ups. Floww even managed to be one of the last remaining candidates in a business competition sponsored by Shell (LiveWire Award). I have had contact with one of the Syntens consultants and asked how they were looking back at helping a business which sells products which cannot work. He told me that eventually the market would decide if there would be a place for the products. In other words, they didn’t feel any responsibility to protect customers who are now being told that Floww did very well in this business competition. Or perhaps more likely, the organisation didn’t have any procedures for taking actions when something like this happens and the man I spoke to didn’t want to tell his manager he might have caused ‘a slight problem’.

I will follow up on this story if I get any news from the research by prof. Van Wersch. Or when the inventors happen to get a Nobel Prize in physics for proving all current scientific knowledge on electromagnetic fields wrong,of course ;-)

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Because Crop Circles and Chemtrails are sooo 2013 …

Chemtrail circle?

Just kidding

Apr 30

Great example of debunking bad science: on health effects Fukushima fallout in USA

There is a lot of fear mongering on the effects of the Fukushima disaster. Most of it comes from vague sources and is easily debunked. Things get a bit more complicated when supposedly real scientists are publishing articles in peer reviewed journals which show horrifying health figures caused by radioactive fallout in the months following the events which started with the deathly tsunami which struck upon the Japanese coast. Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman startled the US public with at least two articles, one even showing that probably 14,000 Americans had died due to the radiation. These scientists, however, have a clear anti-nucleair agenda and their calculations are deliberately misleading, as other more sincere scientists discovered.

The article on the 14,000 excess deaths was introduced by a press release:

 An estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States are linked to the radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan, according to a major new article in the December 2011 edition of the International Journal of Health Services.   This is the first peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal documenting the health hazards of Fukushima.

The article itself was published as: An unexpected mortality increase in the United States follows arrival of the radioactive plume from Fukushima: is there a correlation? More recent (2013) is the article in which they show an increase in congenital hypothyrodism in the months following the Fukushima disaster: Changes in confirmed plus borderline cases of congenital hypothyroidism in California as a function of environmental fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown (Open Journal of Pediatrics).

Sounds frightening, doesn’t it? However both articles are completely bogus. In the following video these articles are ripped apart:

Popular Mechanics published a nice article on the nasty consequences of publication of this sort of bad science: What Can We Do About Junk Science? It ends with the following statement:

It’s easy to blame the impact of junk science on sloppy experiments, irresponsible reporters, or a failure of peer review. But even after it’s debunked, junk science sticks because it preys on the public’s fear and distrust. Ultimately, junk science can be dispelled only if individuals think like scientists: Evaluate all the evidence and try to disprove your own preconceptions.

This might be true, but I think it takes some effort by scientists to lead those individuals where to look for good evidence and to give some clues how to evaluate it. An academic ‘debunk’ in the form of a response on the article in the journal which published it, will also probably not reach the wider audience which was misled by the original article itself or it’s passing on in an uncritical way by other media. And such a response could be behind a paywall as well. That’s why I appreciate this debunking video so much. It does a far better job in setting things straight for the audience the propaganda was aimed at in the first place, I think.

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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