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Sep 03

Vi-Aqua – Turning Water into Snake Oil

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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:

For those who have just a few pants to water

For whom who has 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:

19 comments

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  1. Pepijn

    An anonymous comment elsewhere (off-topic) on this site pointed to a new article in The Irish Independent, which mentions a grower who uses Vi~Aqua: http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/irelands-mr-lettuce-gets-big-boost-from-using-hitech-water-30512161.html

  2. Roger Altman

    Pepijn:

    I have a doctorate in engineering so I feel qualified to critique your commentary.

    A potentially new technology deserves a little slack so that interested
    parties can study it, use it and, hopefully report their results without
    being prejudiced by off-handed remarks.

    Your absolutist approach, while scientifically based in principle, is devoid of
    independently obtained double blind data [which you claim is the ONLY
    reliable data source] to support your contrary views.

    So, overall, you do NOT present a scientifically based argument. In fact,
    your prejudicial approach reveals the typical small minded debunker
    mentality.

    Please open your mind to real possibilities because I have studied this subject to some degree. This technology has real potential even if present claims are exaggerated, misleading, or patently false [which needs to be demonstrated scientifically, not by insinuation, of course].

    So here’ MY TIP for you…

    In the future, when you have scientifically based facts [and of course,
    double blinded because nothing else will do, right?] that refute
    specific claims then by all means present them.

    If you don’t hold to your own ‘scientifically based standards’ then I think you really do
    need to spend more of your valuable time finding that paying job you
    are seeking.

    1. Pepijn van Erp

      Your comment:

      Your absolutist approach, while scientifically based in principle, is devoid of independently obtained double blind data [which you claim is the ONLY
      reliable data source] to support your contrary views.

      and the similar:

      In the future, when you have scientifically based facts [and of course, double blinded because nothing else will do, right?] that refute
      specific claims then by all means present them.

      make it clear that you are trying to put the burden of proof on the wrong person. May I just remind you of the words by Marcello Truzzi: “An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.”

      1. Roger Altman

        Pepijn van Erp: “make it clear that you are trying to put the burden of proof on the
        wrong person. May I just remind you of the words by Marcello Truzzi: ‘An
        extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.’

        Truzzi’s well known statement is not based on accepted scientific methodology.

        In order for ANY scientific claim to be accepted it must have at least the following attributes:

        1) Repeatable data which implies that measurement bias is practically eliminated using scientifically accepted procedures.
        2) Data that has been tested for statistical significance
        3) Data based on calibrated instrumentation, and materials that could be procured by other research facilities so that they could generate their own data for an independent validation of all ‘claims’
        4) Data identified for cause and effect, and almost always [unless these data are novel with incomplete, or unknown experimental procedures] were generated using well recognized procedures and measurement techniques.

        BTW, I believe item ‘4’ applies to the current discussion because the scientific community does not recognize the persistence (other than in a nano second time scale) of structured water even though about 80 years of statistical data proves it persists over many hours.

        If I were to apply your over-the-top, critical approach to the time when Einstein’s General Relativity Paper was first published, you would have had a field day debunking it because…

        (1) There was absolutely no evidence [and wouldn't be for about another 20 years] that such an outlandish theory could be true, and
        (2) even if it were correct, it could never be tested. So what good is it?

        1. Pepijn van Erp

          This Vi~Aqua fails your points 1 to 4 in different degrees, but you probably saw that as well. But you seem to suggest that critics muts first repeat the experiments of the people who make these farfetched claims themselves, before they´re critcism can be taken seriously. I don´t agree and I think you´ll find few serious scientists who would share this point of view.

          I’m not aware of any independently verified research which shows persistence of structured (liquid) water over longer time periods.

          General Relativity is a complete different story, off-topic here and therefore I´m not going to allow a discussion on that in the comments on this post.

        2. Roger Altman

          Pepijn:

          Your response to poorly supported claims is often justifiable in terms of being “right or “wrong”, but I believe you can respond in a much more constructive manner. So here’s my suggestion and I’ll leave it at that so we can both move on.

          You can criticize without appearing arrogant by not assuming that awful “debunker” attitude.

          Simply point out where the product claims fall short of providing solid scientific evidence.

          You may even help by making suggestions that could assist readers of your blog and perhaps product venders make decisions that…

          could persuade readers to re-consider buying this product because you have provided very useful details and insights that they may not have considered, or even …

          help the vendor understand what needs to be done to more scientifically validate product claims (assuming that’s possible).

          My suggestion helps in another way.

          There are controversial technologies that have potential, but have difficulty getting traction because the powers that be are threatened by such developments. Colloidal silver, cold fusion and structured water are but three examples.

          Taking on a “gate keeper”, debunker position simply helps the power brokers maintain the status quo, either in terms of …

          (1) co-opting new technology to supply their conglomerates, or if that is not possible…

          (2) blocking promising technologies because it’s too costly for them to re-tool for such new products and their required infrastructure.

          By lending your expertise to constructively critique new ideas (especially the silly ones), you’ll be educating the public, and honest entrepreneurs.

        3. Pepijn van Erp

          I just point to the fact that you fail to give any links to research which give the idea of structured water any credibility. The other readers of these comments can make up for themselves if your critique on my attitude (‘awful debunker’) holds ground, I don’t think so.

        4. Roger Altman

          Because the subject of ‘structured water’ is way off topic, my first reaction was to ignore your obvious need to change the subject.

          As far as your readers are concerned, I must assume that they know who to perform a Google search (as do you). If they were to do so, they could spend the next 12 months reading books and papers about structured water, and still would have barely scratched the surface. It’s a fascinating topic. So to give the ultra lazy a leg-up, I’ve provided several references to BOOKS (and one MANUAL) on this topic below.

          2 Books by Davis and Rawls, One is called The Magnetic Effect. Perhaps you can figure out where to find the other.

          Dr. Jhon’s book entitled, Hexagonal Water

          “Structured Water: Its Healing Effects on the Dissolved State” by Norman de Lauder found in Mikesell 1985

          Morris Tischler (BTW, he’s the inventor of the first solid-state pacemaker) wrote a manual called Biomagnetics in Complimentary Medicine where he wrote, “The consumption of water magnetized by the negative polarity can also have a therapeutic effect.”

          And if you really are interested to expand your thinking (yes, hope springs eternal) try reading, The Message from Water by Dr Masau Emoto

          Finally, I would like to say a word or two about the distinction between seeking facts and attitude.

          As humans, it has been well established that our emotions trump facts.

          If you desire to deal with people in a CONSTRUCTIVE manner, your writing style must take emotions into account. If, as you like to brag, “I only deal with facts.”, then one has to conclude that you’re much more interested in stroking your ego than you are in educating your readers. Case in point:

          When I brought up Einstein, you were quick to tell me that was way off topic.

          Off topic?

          My ‘Einstein’ reference was intended to reveal something about your ATTITUDE towards anything that does not contain your gold standard of scientific inquiry – The Double Blind Study.

          What you fail to appreciate is technological breakthroughs and certainly scientific understanding is a journey that usually does NOT begin with worshipping at the alter of the DOUBLE BLIND TEST [which, by the way, assumes certain conditions that may not be true, or even more problematical, cannot be ascertained whether such assumptions are true or not].

          Let’s go back Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Here’s something for you to think about.

          If you were a mathematician at that time and read his relativity paper, a bright mathematician like you would have discovered a debatable assumption in his reasoning. And knowing you, you would have wasted no time is dismissing his paper not only for the reasons I’ve given earlier, but for questionable assumption as well [which, BTW - thanks to Hubble - turned out to be completely incorrect].

          Now tell me you wouldn’t have done that with a straight face?

        5. Pepijn van Erp

          I just asked for the evidence for structured water, because I thought you saw a connection with Vi~Aqua, but if you see it as a totally different matter, I’ll let it rest. But man, Emoto!?, even himself doesn’t regard his work as science: “My theory and research is not yet reached science and I should say it is more like fantasy”, he mentions somewhere.

          Concerning your impression that I only value double-blind research: in this article I just point out that the experiments done are not blinded and so may be well influenced by bias. If the inventors want to use this kind of experiments as an argument for Vi~Aqua, they’ll have to do those experiments in a proper way.
          But as I also mention, there are claims made about this instruments which are far more easily tested without the fuss of a double blind setup, for instance the claims on reducing the surface tension of water.

          So I think, you just have to read my article better and not with the bias of ‘this is probably another unsubstantiated debunk of just another skeptic blogger’. You’re just attacking strawmen here.

          As for Einstein, his mathematics had almost been done in the same way by Lorentz, so I don’t think many mathematicians were shocked by it because of the mathematics used.

  3. Sevan

    I think you misunderstood what I’m saying. I’m saying the idea of such things open the avenue for a new world, not a new world order. Failing to connect all of the dots and taking it the rest of the way leaves us only condemning real physics. It is as simple as the states of Matter, infusing anything with photon light and the frequencies associated with it will allow it to return to its original state. To deny the answer of positive growth within organic organisms, especially mammals, does not heavily rely upon the quality and state of the Water they drink is to deny 70% of our makeup. When you look in to works such as Masaru Emoto’s and even deeper thinkers you fine this to be self evident. But I suppose he’s a quack also according to your opinion which is that of common opinion, so in effect nothing new can or will be conceived by such a mind state.

    It is a fact that there is nothing that we embark on together that will fail, infusing water with Photon energy is a big step towards energy for the body so instead of kicking them down the ladder why don’t you put your mind to it and lift the concept even higher by making your own attempts. We condemn our own brothers yet we not dare bring an insulting chart to our real oppressors who keep the vast knowledge of nature in a state of disarray and confusion amongst its own inhabitants minds. Backwards I tell you, or is it Back -Words. Oh that’s right the words are backwards which serves to change the direction of your brain, and how you think. A new race is upon you, Super humans with common sense not super slaves without any. In the Gnosis?

    1. Pepijn van Erp

      Cannot make heads or tails of your comment. It’s far easier to construct these kind of nonsensical texts using the The Postmodernism Generator, and that’s free tip. I will now block you for a while, that will be better for the both of us.

  4. Sevan

    Well close mindedness will get you no further than your statement on homeopathy. It appears the world is now fertile with disbelievers who have not even tried the products they disclaim thus fueling a never ending cascade of disinformation. You need to start realizing that if the mind of our inventors was as rigid as yours you wouldn’t even have a computer to type this mess of an article you are writing.

    In conclusion you will find a great deal of things that you do not know, but you cannot discredit the students of higher learning with a miniscule view on the reality. After all you probably don’t know that you have Chakras, and a body that is an exact replica of the Universe, such is the likes of the mind controlled. Insulting Vi-Aqua is akin to a midget standing on the shoulders of a giant in order to see further but in this case its to disprove the existence of the very thing that may in fact expand the human you know as Pepijin.

    A expansive level of our creative capacity is now upon us however the old mind, the one strand fight or flight reptilian side of the brain must be put in its proper place. Wholeness

    1. Pepijn van Erp

      So you’re so ‘open minded’ that you actually believe the pseudo-scientific bullshit of Vi~Aqua? That kind of open mindedness did not lead to the development of computers. Or airplanes, because why wouldn’t flying carpets suffice?

  5. Tim Thomson

    Some users of the technology are also fooled apparently, by the excellent performance of the system! Used to good effect in New Zealand, and also in the Italian tomato industry. Don’t be too quick to condemn!

    1. Pepijn van Erp

      If you don’t use proper controls and blind you experiments in a proper way, it is very easy to fool yourself. Using a new system might well be accompanied by a more thoughtful treatment of the crops, which is responsible for the observed improvement.

      1. Tim Thomson

        Agreed, but if you take two adjacent pieces of pasture, and treat them the same, except for treated water on one and untreated on the other, then analyse the grass and root system chemically and by weight, you would have to admit that a significant difference would be convincing! These tests have been carried out in New Zealand, and I have been in touch with the people involved and seen photographs. I shall be visiting them later this year to see it on the ground.

        1. Pepijn van Erp

          If the set-up was not properly randomized and blinded, I wouldn’t put too much value on these results.

        2. Tim Thomson

          Your choice – I’m neither scientist nor salesman. I have seen enough positive evidence to persuade me to try it out for myself.

  1. Looking Back at 2013 » Pepijn van Erp

    […] in the comment sections of the YouTube videos. A good third place (1,250 visitors) is for the story on ‘Vi~Aqua’ the ‘miracle’-water that was also endorsed by Kew gardens, just because they were […]

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