So much for science. But at least we can get drunk!

A reader writes:

From: Ernest
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!

The Wine Clip

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.

11 Responses to “So much for science. But at least we can get drunk!”

  1. RobL Says:

    Enjoyed Derren Brown's "Fear and Faith" yet?

    I find the broadcast effects of his "super placebos" to be a little unbelievable.

    Watching such a competent trickster it's hard to know if you're an observer or victim.

  2. Max Says:

    Let me help explaining this - what you're dealing with here is not science or bad tests but faith in disguise. And that is impervious to science, because by definition it outright refuses to even consider any opposing arguments on the basis that if they point to a different result they _must_ be wrong.

    I just had a discussion with someone fabricating as I write this a launch rod for a Chinese sparkly-orb-launcher-stick which he firmly believes is actually a rocket. The thing is, pointing out the text description, the pictures of the orbs being launched on the side of it or the fact that _every single_ actual rocket had its own integrated stabilizing launch rod so far are all in vain - because he _knows_ it's a rocket, no matter what I say. I kid you not. Unfortunately.

    That, my friend, is faith. It does require one to leave his brain powered off at all times, but on the plus side, it offers the comfort of absolute unwavering certainty. It also drives people with some reason left quite mad, but I guess that's the punishment of having a functional brain...

  3. alan_cam Says:

    Is this sarcasm? I left my sarcasm detector in my pants pocket, it got ruined in the wash.
    Something that uses ONLY stored propellant, to create a high-speed propulsive jet, is a rocket engine.
    Anything that obtains thrust from a rocket engine... is a rocket.
    How high it goes before exploding in a shower of pretty glowing particle is irrelevant. Just ask North Korea: all their rockets work. Making orbit is a quibble.

  4. psyklops Says:

    I assumed he was discussing roman candles which, and I may be wrong, are more like cannons or guns than rockets. Rocket engines are not just something that uses only stored propellant, but jet engines that use only stored propellant.

    Using a CO2 canister to fire a bb through a gun isn't a rocket, but using the CO2 canister to launch itself is.

    • MikeLip Says:

      Jet engines do not only use stored propellant. Rockets do. Rockets carry their own oxidizer, either as a separate component (liquid oxygen) or in a monopropellant - most common example would be blackpowder. No atmosphere needed for either. A jet needs air to run and inhales tons of it.

      • psyklops Says:

        If I was unclear, I meant rocket engines are a type of jet engine that uses only stored propellant, 'jet engine' to replace 'something' from the earlier post.

  5. MikeLip Says:

    I am so in the wrong business. As the operations manager for a technology company, I am intensely aware of the cost of tooling up to produce even simple parts. I looked closely at the clip, and while it's not the most sophisticated job of injection molding I've ever seen (our motor uses much more complex molded parts, and is far less tolerant of flash and mold marks), it's still a good job and the die for it would easily cost upwards of US$20,000. It seems to me that people don't drop that kind of cash to generate small scams, so this has to be a pretty profitable BIG scam. And I have always wondered why magnets are always good? Why does it never happen that you can poison people by clipping a magnet to their water line? Or make their car explode or melt by clipping one to the fuel line? Why is it that people don't ask themselves that? Terry Pratchett made the observation that just because a miracle isn't *nice* doesn't mean it's not a miracle. It seems to me that making molecular changes to something people ingest is just not likely to work out all that well.

    • comfychair Says:

      I suspect the answer to 'why are magnets only ever beneficial?' would be... erm, let's see... okay, I think I got it - how about: 'Well how do you know that all those times in your life when things went wrong and you were miserable and it felt like the whole world was against you, that it WASN'T because a powerful Magnet Wizard put some bad rare earth juju on you, and you just didn't know it? HA!'

      Like my mom and her old car with the wonky fuel gauge... when she expected it to run out of gas, and it didn't, it must have meant that a nice sweet loving little angel floated down from Heaven and coaxed the poor old car to eke out a few extra miles with some magic Jesus fairy-dust, or whatever. It couldn't possibly have been that she just didn't know how gas gauges work, or what kinds of weird behavior is normal for a wonky sending unit. Nope, couldn't be down to a complex mechanical object acting in unexpected ways, it HAD to be magic.

      • dan Says:

        A prime candidate for the prank where you sneak out to the car and top up the fuel tank for a few weeks, until the victim thinks they've got a perpetual-motion miracle on their hands.

        Then you start siphoning fuel OUT of the car, for a few weeks...

  6. speedweasel Says:

    Enough talk!

    Ernest, write up your findings and collect your prize.

    ...or shut up already (and learn something).

  7. koolraap Says:

    It's a scam -- it doesn't fit on casks :-) Anyhoo, the more cask wine you drink the better it tastes (same as any wine).

    It'd probably fit on to beer bottles -- might be worth a shot to see if it helps VB.

    All up though, this placebo device encourages science through drinking. Sign me up.

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