On August 25th 2013 The Irish Independent, the biggest newspaper of Ireland, published an article on its website containing claims which sound too good to be true: Wave goodbye to global warming, GM and pesticides – Radio wave-treated water could change agriculture as we know it. Apparently the reporter completely fell for the pseudo-scientific nonsense of Vi~Aqua, a company which sells little machines which ‘energize’ the water you want to use for plants or livestock. If you really believe what they are saying, that the energized water takes in nitrogen from the atmosphere, you could use up to 30 percent less of it and that it is ‘wetter’ than normal water, it wouldn’t be unfair to call it the “greatest breakthrough in agriculture since the plough.“ But why should someone believe this magic to be real?
On their website Vi~Aqua features a YouTube video of a television programme, which ‘explains’ how their products work (looks a bit old, probably from 15 years ago):
If you might wonder, professor Austin Darragh was a real professor at Limerick University and the other scientist who features in the story, dr. J. Leahy, still works there at the department for Chemistry and Environmental Science. But the science Vi~Aqua is presenting on how its technology works is, eh … vague. On the documentation page we can read in a document (Inducing the fourth state of plasma in water, pdf):
It is now becoming apparent that the phenomenon of latent magnetic energy in water is a magneto-hydro-dynamic product similar to plasma which fills all of the space of the universe and forms nebulae and stars. Electromagnetic activation of water, by introducing an electromagnetic low frequency field into it with a suitable technology, produces at the gas liquid interface of nano bubbles in water, a plasma.
This is just pseudo-scientific bullocks, akin the kind you encounter reading texts of quacks, explaining how homeopathy works. Vi~Aqua also claims that with electromagnetic encoded energy it reduces the surface tension of water. More precisely:
The Vi~Aqua system works by altering the natural surface charge of suspended particles and acts to modify the Zeta potential. The negative charge, induced by the applied signal, enhances the stability of the suspension by means of increased electrostatic repulsion between particles. This is due to the resultant double layer of ions that surround particles and vessel / pipe surfaces which are in contact with the water.
The modified “zeta – potential” facilitates improved hydration of solids and reduced surface tension of the water, thus creating the Benefits that will be see in your grass or crop.
This reduction of the surface tension should be easy to measure. Why doesn’t Vi~Aqua show some results of such measurements? We just have to be sure they don’t smear a little soap on the antenna they stick in the water
But let’s not judge too fast. Maybe they did found a breakthrough in agriculture, but are just completely off when explaining how it works and even science needs to develop an new understanding (hey, that’s what all those quacks say, isn’t it?) What about the results in practice they mention and the endorsements of happy customers?
There are some results of experiments from 1998 described in Full Scientific Report (pdf). A closer look at those three experiments learns that none were blinded, statistical analysis is not properly done, but even when we don’t make too much fuzz about that, the differences found were not that impressive. No where near the 46 percent heavier crops of carrots as mentioned in the article by Howard Lawler (who also was responsible for two of the experiments in the document).
Lawler mentions in the video above, that it’s not just the water, you also have to take better care of the plants. If a little difference in care is so important, it could easily explain the differences found in the unblinded experiments. The caretakers can easily have given a little more proper attention to the ‘treated’ plants. And there all sorts of ways bias can have had an effect (judging the growth, determination of the moment of harvesting). It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this research was never published in a serious scientific journal.
And what about that endorsement by Royal Botanical Gardens, mentioned in the article and of course also on the website of Vi~Aqua? A spokesperson of the gardens responded as follows to an e-mail from a commenter on a blog which criticizes the article of The Irish Independent:
Thank you for your email dated 29 August. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has not endorsed the Vi-Aqua products since 2009. A recent press article in the Irish Independent that mentioned this endorsement and activities by Kew around it, was inaccurate.
On Twitter they stated however that they hadn’t endorsed Vi-Aqua since 2006. But apparently they have been fooled for a while as well [see Update below]. Also a golf club has something to say about their alleged endorsement: the system has not been in use for at least 10 years.
Vi~Aqua sells these bogus products for different customer categories. For the farmer who might need a huge capacity of 25.000 litres per hour, but also for people who own just a small garden or balcony and have just a few plants to water:
Free business advice to Vi ~Aqua: putting an antenna in a bucket still seems rather troublesome to me, but I guess it shouldn’t be too difficult to transfer the technology into a mobile phone app
But wait! Wasn’t electromagnetic radiation just killing for plants?
See also: Question: Has Ireland’s biggest newspaper lost its goddamn mind? (and the comments) and Energized Water: pseudoscientific snake oil.
I blogged a similar piece about this in Dutch on: http://kloptdatwel.nl/2013/09/02/vi-aqua-magisch-water-uit-ierland-laat-planten-sneller-groeien/
|Update 28-9-2013The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) respondend to a Freedom of Information request and published the agreements they made with Vi~Aqua concerning endorsing their product. The first agreement was signed for three years in 2003 and it was renewed in 2006. RBG Kew states that they began a trial with the Vi~Aqua system in 2003 to see if the product might be an effective way to treat hardness in water. They tested several other systems as well and in the end they found that a water treatment system using reverse osmosis was more effective at treating the water than the Vi-Aqua system. RBG Kew stopped using the Vi-Aqua equipment as a result of this finding. The endorsement ended at the end of the three year term (in 2009).
To me it seems rather odd that you agree to endorsing a product which you still have to put through rigorous tests even if you get it for free.
More blogs on this subject:
- Austin Darragh’s Magic Water Machine
- Daft Claim: vi-aqua is a Device that makes water wetter and increases the output of vegetables and fruits by up to 30 per cent
- Magic Irish electro-water for sale
- Irish magic water for crops? Be VERY skeptical
- Irish Company Solves World Hunger, Climate Change, Small Chickens