A reader writes:
Date: Fri, 28 Dec 2012
Subject: Wine Clip
Your review is entertaining but is not very helpful. I have used a Wine Clip for about 3 years, and frequently do a blind test on myself. Naturally, having some one else do the pouring.
After all, I don't really care whether some one else thinks the wine is better using the Clip. I am the only relevant person involved. And it works every time! Red wine is better when the Wine Clip is used. That is what is important to me; after all, I am the consumer.
There is a factor in the use of panels. The participants should never know it is a test. (I found this out when I was doing panel responses. Whether it be taste, smell or any other perception, translation by the brain of the perceptions received is influenced by the environment.
But you are right about one thing. Great magnets!
What would you do, Ernest, if someone sent you an e-mail that said, "Your commentary on the Psychotronic Money Magnet is entertaining but is not very helpful. I have used a Money Magnet for about 3 years, and always make more money when I have it hanging around my neck than when I leave it in the bedside drawer"?
Would you, in response to this, drop everything and dash out to buy a Money Magnet from one of the... differently-cognitive... people who sell them?
Would you turn your whole comprehension of the world upside down, because apparently it seems that the free will of other humans and the very workings of abstract probability can be distorted by a talismanic device that works by, uh, quantums, and stuff?
Or would you, rather, presume that the fellow e-mailing you might have not quite the right end of the stick?
I do not doubt that you believe the Wine Clip works. I am intrigued by your claim to have tested it in a controlled, though not double-blind, way. I do not consider your claim plausible, though, not least because if it's correct, then the whole of electrochemistry, indeed most of modern physics, is not. Countless carefully-assayed chemical mixtures are exposed to magnetic fields from the modest to the monstrous every day, with the assumption that those fields will not modify any molecules and mess up the experiment - and the fields never do.
Unless you stick some magnets on a wine bottle, apparently. Then, suddenly, physics goes out the window and "tannins" start getting broken up by magnetism.
Since I am surrounded every day by evidence that magnetic fields do not pull molecules apart, and a good thing too or writing this piece would almost certainly have killed me, I am afraid I can only conclude that there is probably something wrong with your testing regimen. Your collaborator is accidentally signalling you - without your conscious knowledge - or the Clipped pour is consistently the first or the second, or any of the hundreds of other possible variables for which a good test must control, which is why good tests are so difficult to do.
Note that James Randi told me, personally, that he has specifically requested that makers of magnetic wine-treatment devices demonstrate the truth of their claims in return for worldwide fame and a million dollars.
Not a peep.
(You are of course welcome to join the many other believers in paranormal events who say that the Randi Challenge is clearly some kind of scam. I would venture the opinion that a scam-challenge looks more like this.)
But wait a minute - why am I bothering to say all this to you, when you conclude by saying that tests that people know are tests aren't useful anyway?!
I'm currently writing a piece in response to yet another example of audiophile weirdness, and this "the participants should never know it is a test" thing comes up there, too.
I even managed to find someone claiming that the fact that blinded tests are objective makes them bad. Because, see, if a proper test shows you that a $900 audiophile widget does nothing, and you therefore save some money and don't buy that widget, you then won't be as happy listening to music, because even though you now know it was a placebo, you still need that placebo in order to fully enjoy the music. Or something.
But... didn't you say you frequently do blind tests on yourself, Ernest?
If objective testing doesn't work if the testees know they're being tested, I suppose you don't know when these blind tests are happening, right?
So is it something like, your wife sometimes doesn't use the Clip when you think she is using it, or something? And then asks you what you think of the wine, which for some reason doesn't alert you to the fact that another "test" is in progress? And then you turn out to be the first person in human history completely immune to cues from a non-blinded researcher with whom you have a personal relationship?
I'm really trying to not insult your intelligence here, Ernest, but you're not making it easy for me.