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The New Snake Oil Demonstrations

A follow up to last Friday’s post.

I was back at the mall yesterday, and I made a point to walk by the Energy Armor kiosk again. This time there was a young gal and one young guy standing duty. The girl made eye contact with me and sized me up as interested.

She greeted me and asked if I was interested in increasing my energy and balance. I bit, and she went into the spiel.

“This,” she said, holding up the wrist band, “is full of negative ions. When you wear it, the negative ions in your body join with the ones in the band and produce positive ions. The result is more physical energy, better balance, and increased strength.”

I was stunned. I mean, anyone who passed high school science knows that claim about ions is not just wrong, it’s pure gibberish. When I later repeated the description to someone else, they exclaimed, “Oh my God, they actually said that?”

It’s like if I said placing a negatively charged magnet on your car attracts the negative charges in the frame and gives the vehicle better gas mileage. It misuses the terms of science and gives a completely nonsensical explanation.

Anyway, back to the snake oil: The girl asked me if I wanted to take a demonstration. I agreed.

She had me stand on one leg, with my arms outstretched to my sides. She used two fingers and pressed down on my arm, (same side as my held-up leg), and within a couple of seconds I started to topple. She then gave me the wrist band to hold, and we tried the test again. My balance held stronger this time, and failed only when she gave a lot more effort.

Something was odd about the demonstration, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The demonstration did seem to support the idea that the band gave me more balance, but something seemed amiss. I had made sure to note the details of the demonstration: where she pushed down on my arm, (same place both times), which hand held the band, how much she pushed on me, and what her positioning was. Everything seemed straight up, but there was something nagging at the back of my mind.

I’m not a person who’s really comfortable with interacting with strangers. (I’m terrible with small talk at parties.) So I thought I should probably watch a demonstration from the sidelines.

The girl tried to draw me into a sale, but I said I had to be moving on. I thanked her, and then walked off. I went up the nearby escalator, to the second floor of the mall, and walked back to stand over the kiosk. It was watching as a non-participant that revealed the tricks.

I watched seven or eight people go through the demonstrations with the girl and guy. Another test they showed was to stand with feet together, point an arm out to the side, and then turn backward, twisting at the waist. A salesperson or a friend then marked in the air how far the test subject could turn and point. Then they did the test again while wearing the band. Of course, they could twist farther the second time.

Here are the tricks:

First of all, the salespeople always did the test first without the band. Then they did the test with the band. Never with the band first. Here’s the thing about this: you will always do better the second time you perform a physical test like this. Try it yourself.

The first time you stand on one foot, you’re easy to topple. The second time, you and your body know what’s coming and so better balance for it. The first time you twist, your body is tight. The second time, you are slightly loosened up (from the first stretch) and so can reach farther. Again, try this for yourself.

And to top it off, none of the customers/test subjects tried the test a third or fourth time, with or without the band, and of course the salespeople didn’t suggest trying it. Trying it again, especially without the band, would have ruined the illusion — the customer would do just as well, or better, a third time even without the band.

Watching also showed me why my test seemed amiss. I watched the girl do the test to other people and I noticed how she really played up her effort on the second push. That’s when it struck me: she didn’t really push harder to topple me the second time, she just leaned her body into a posture that visually suggested more effort on her part. Watching her do it to someone else and thinking about how it felt to me, I realized the “something amiss” was that the pressure she applied to my arm the second time didn’t actually feel any stronger, it just looked like she was trying harder. It was the incongruity between what my arm was feeling and what my eyes were seeing that nagged at my brain.

So basically, the demonstrations are just stage magic acts.

While looking for information about this bracelet online, I discovered another brand: iRenew. Here’s the TV commercial for this other brand:

Now, this company uses different demonstrations — pulling down on the people’s arm to topple them. Without the bracelet, the customer falls over, but with the bracelet, they hold firm. But if you look carefully, you can see exactly and easily how they pull off the stage magic.

When they pull on the subject’s arm, (when without the bracelet), they pull not just down, but slightly away — away from the sucker’s center of gravity. When they pull on the subjects arm the second time, (when with the bracelet), they pull straight down and close to the person’s body — on/into their center of gravity.

Note how far away from her leg he pulls in the “Before” image, and how close to her leg he pulls in the “iRenew” image:

Try this yourself. It’s easy to do it.

You know, I enjoy watching stage and street “magic” as much as anyone. And even though we usually can’t figure out exactly how the magician pulls off his illusions, we all know he’s not actually reaching through loopholes in the fabric of space and physics — it’s all tricks. And most of us are willing to pay an entertainer to entertain us with these tricks. So maybe it shouldn’t bother me that some illusionists take the concept to another level and use the same stage tricks to sell completely bogus products.


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43 Responses to The New Snake Oil Demonstrations

  1. MadMonk says:

    Wow, I’m completely floored by the gullibility of people these days, especially for utter nonsense like this.

  2. brogrit says:

    this isn’t the first item “they” have tried to sell us…and yes, people are this gullible…they are looking for ways they can “feel better” without actually getting of their butts and working for it. if it wasn’t this someone would be trying to sell us something else.

  3. cowgrit says:

    Maybe you should be an investigative reporter….

  4. Fermal says:

    Is this the placebo affect?

  5. Bullgrit says:

    At least when doctors & scientists use placebos, they tell the subjects that the trick is in the experiment. Doctors don’t try to convince their patients that the sugar pill will actually cure their problems.

  6. eastlandgrl says:

    interesting, thanks

  7. zerodtkjoe says:

    Thanks for the info

  8. anonymous coward says:

    Pressure applied is key in the demo. No pressure there.

    The placebo affect works wonders on people who i know bought it and are wearing it as I speak.

  9. Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

    • stupid americans says:

      this is the ONLY site that says that theyre bad theres another 10000000 sites saying theyre good but of course if 1 site says its wrong it must be wrong..

      100ppl say drugs are bad 1 person says theyre good so u take drugs?

  10. maria andros says:

    Great work keep it coming, best blog on earth

  11. Tim says:

    Thanks saved me 40 bucks (my wife wants one too)

  12. k says:

    They Tested me first with it on… just to rebut ur argument but i did notice that when i fell or anyone else they used two fingers to press down as opposed to all fingers when you dont fall, maybe spreading out the pressure makes it easier to balance, FYI

  13. oshjua says:

    i actually had the bracelet on first when i performed the one leg balance and experienced unfathomable balance. then when my brother asked to take it off and try it without it, my balance was that of an elderly man! it may sound hard to believe but it works…he asked me to wear it first to eliminate the “mind over matter” bs. so i tried it on others, and trust me their bodies are in the same position for the tests and the amount of pressure i applied was not altered (Actually i had to press even harder). same results. i was completely baffled..
    another thing i must mention is that i have a wii fitness game that measures your balance. my balance age has stayed around 50ish, this has never changed no matter how hard i tried or put my “mind” into it, clearly my balance is garbage. but the true test was to wear the bracelet and retry….age 32 ….yeah i was mindfu**** all night. that alone sold me. believe in whatever you please, youll only know if it works when you try it.

  14. Dude Really? says:

    Too bad it’s completely in your head.
    Oh now i have a braclet on that gives me better balance so now ill try harder to have better balance. I have better balance now what the hell?

  15. tab mcaally says:

    I really liked your blog! It helped me alot…

  16. Davi says:

    I worked at a kiosk for True-Power energy band. I did the balance test a third and 4th time. It still worked better with the band on. And yes i was using much more force to push down.

  17. Bullgrit says:

    Davi, please explain the science of the band.

    • Andrew says:

      I am a manufacturer of a negative ion bracelet – Some bracelets on the market are debunked. I am not going to name names in this post and bash any one company. I a not here to expose any other company or promote my company.

      OK – to the details… What that girl told you when doing your demonstration was completely garbage and her boss should be fired for not training her on the product.

      The product yes is charged with negative ions – how is this possible? The Anion Powder that is molded into the silicone of the bracelet is made of 7-9 minerals such as volcanic ash that produce a measured negative charge. Science tells us that our bodies are supposed to be alkaline, meaning equally negative as they are positive. In today’s society, we are inundated with an abundance of positive ions from anything and everything electronic or mechanical to polutants in the air. Air condition in buildings is the number one contributor to lack of negative ions in the air.

      Now lets go a little bit further. Negative Ions ARE and are PROVEN to be natural and come from natural resources such as waterfalls, the ocean, fresh clean air from high altitudes, rocks, crystals, minerals… When you stand under a waterfall if you were to measure the negative ions it would be 25,000 times higher than the air in your home. Giving you a euphoric feeling when exposed to it. Negative Ions have been used for years in research on babies with asthma and have been proven to increase lung capacity by 30%, improve serotonin levels in the brain, increased oxygen to your blood, in return would increase your energy level, mood, endurance…

      As far as the science behind negative ions.. its not a myth or a placebo or a joke. They work.

      HOWEVER! Some companies cut corners on their production and do not put enough anion powder in their bracelet to make them work.

      How many ions should you have in a bracelet for them to be effective?

      1600-2000cc of anion powder is what a band should have.

      some companies cut corners and do 20-200cc. Some use 400-800cc. Some 800-1200cc.

      This can all be measured by using an ion meter. if you measure the air in an air conditioned building it measures usually between 0-5cc of negative ion. you hold a band in front of the meter such as ours and it reads 2000cc. You walk outside it will measure around 50-100cc maybe. You walk to the top of a 12,000ft mountain in colorado and it reads upwards of 10,000cc, you walk under a waterfall, 25,000+.

      As far as the balance test – I have done thousands of balance tests on people. There is no trick, I actually train people to do it properly which is push straight down every time. However some people are not trained properly and it makes us look bad. At our company reps must go through rigorous training before being put in any sales environment so we don’t look like some circus. We take our technology seriously.

      If the test is done properly by pushing straight down each time, it works every time no matter 2 times or 200 times. I am a big guy 6’4″ and I have had to literally hang on some peoples arms to topple them over at some of our events.

      Any way I am going to leave you with some links to information on negative ions and you can decide for yourself, hope I was helpful.



  18. greg says:

    I just started working for energy armor.They do not train us to be deceptive.You can do the demo with the band first the person just needs to touch an electronic after holding the band.I am a skeptic myself but the band works on ballance an i see more strength.

  19. HP says:

    I saw the special on OTL from ESPN a while back, so when my wife told me that our neighbor was selling the energy armor band I laughed and said “Oh no!, what a waste of time.” The next day he caught me getting out of my car and told me that he wanted to show me something. Of course I knew what it was so I wanted to get a good laugh and was set on proving his A$$ wrong. I hate to say it but……. I ended up buying one. I don’t think it was placebo cause I was dead set that this did not work and if it is then oh well… it worked ON ME

  20. CSC says:

    thanks for the info – i was given a handful of these at a tradeshow and thought they were interesting esp with the demostration – now after watching and reading your info, it makes more sense. good thing i didn’t spend any money on this…thanks!

  21. Mike says:

    I was SO p***ed at myself for buying one of these once I read this and saw some videos. Determined to know if I had wasted $20, I re-conducted the tests at home, first with the bracelet, then without. I even went so far as to tell my mum (she doesn’t believe in them either) pull down and AWAY from my body while doing the tests with the bracelet on. The bracelet works for me. Placebo or not. And FYI, placebos don’t work once you know it’s a placebo, so we need to come up with a new word for them… placebo isn’t really applicable anymore. You won’t know if it works for you until you try it, but I personally recommend every skeptic try it and be amazed.

  22. breaker360 says:

    Well, i have worn an energy armor band for the past couple of months and its been working. im much more healthier because of it. if you actually read about what negative ions can actually do for you, its quite amazing what doctors have researched about an environment with more negative ions. my only question is how does negative ions keep their charge on the bands? the bands do work.

  23. breaker360 says:

    its so funny how you people think its just a trick have any of you even looked up the benefits of negative ions vs positive ions im guessing not by the level of intelligence displayed in the writing above heres a website for you http://www.healthholidays.org/neg-ions.htm it explains everything very clearly how helpful negative ions really are both in everyday life plus the help they provide with illnesses like breathing problems or sore muscles to go along with them even helping pregnant women or women who are still breast feeding in producing a higher quality milk with more nutrients i was a complete skeptic of these things till i started doing my research and found it very hard to find anything negative about them that was even remotely credible heres a challenge for you all go back to those malls that have energy armor and do the tests with the band first to test that whole thoery of it being muscle memory please comment back

  24. Bullgrit says:

    It’s MAGIC!

    Why aren’t ALL athletes, in every sport, wearing these magic bands? If these bands make you stronger, faster, and more enduring, not only would every serious athlete be wearing one, but the various sports regulatory commissions would be creating rules to control or ban these things. Millions and millions of dollars ride on athletes being faster, stronger, and more enduring.

    I mean, some athletes will use drugs to increase their performance — drugs with scientifically proven results and equally scientifically proven harmful side effects. But these bands have supposedly proven benefits with no harmful effects. And yet, every athlete isn’t wearing them. Are athletes ignorant? Are their coaches idiots? Are athletic managers and team owners uninterested in success?

    So, professional sports programs are either just really not interested in peak performance in their athletes, or they are just totally ignorant of the super-powered true effects of negative ion bracelets.

    In an industry that spends hundreds of millions of dollars researching and training to improve athletic performance, *you* have found the super-power key — in a mall kiosk? For 20 bucks.

    • stupid americans says:

      also people are saying it should be illegal if its like a drug that makes you overpowered but u guys are just retarded…. negative ions are found in certain air particles so what your saying is that air is illegal?? please stfu and read about whats in the bands and what negative ions actually do before you diss something thats actually true….

      and if its not true that they help you then why are they being sold publicly in malls? if it didnt work it would be false advertisement and illegal to sell so if its aloud to be sold then it obviously isnt a fraud.

    • OnceASkeptic says:

      Because the amount of positive ions that surround us depends greatly on where you live and how you (and those around you) live your/their daily lives. Positive ions are created from basically anything thing that is wireless or emits waves. This includes cell phones, wifi of any kind and even air conditioners. So, if you live in a city, you will most likely be more bombarded with positive ions than if you lived in the country.

      The science behind negative ions is as follows: the emitted negative ions collide with the positive ones (as we know from grade school science, positive and negative attracts) and neutralize them. As this happens, and the two ions join together, the resulting molecule becomes heavy enough to fall out of the air.

      How are negative ions produced? There are actually a few natural ways in which molecules become ionized by adding an electron (making it an anion, or negative ion). This occurs in waterfalls, lightning storms and volcanoes, just to name a few (some of these bands are made with volcanic ash).

      Anyway, back to the question of why these bands are not outlawed in sports, I believe it’s because it wouldn’t be fair to outlaw them. You’re not actually altering your mental of physical state, just reducing the effects the atmosphere or environment around you has on your performance.

  25. David says:

    I was at the mall yesterday and was sucked into a “demonstration”. The results of the balance and flexibility tests were, on their face, impressive. Still skeptical, my friend and I went through the tests two additional times, even changing the order of the tests. The results were the same each time. On one round of balance tests, my friend and I exerted the downward pressure on the arm, purposefully exerting more pressure when the bracelet was in the subject’s hand than when it was not. Based upon my experience and observation, I bought one to wear to see whether it would provide any benefits beyond the results these two simple pet tricks. Having now worn it for approximately 20 hours, I can say with conviction that I woke up this morning with no change in my chronic plantar fasciitis pain. I can also say I woke up mildly irritated that I’m wearing a somewhat constricting, cheap-looking wrist-band. But I’ll give this a bit more time because, contrary to your untested theory that the kiosk demonstrations are a fraud, our testing suggests that, except for the untested possibility that our minds may have subconsciously desired to fix the result in favor of the product despite our conscious skepticism, we observed that the demonstrations were not “rigged”. I’m still skeptical about broader beneficial results, but I’m looking forward to providing updates concerning any important changes in my health over the next few weeks. Believe me, I will advise if there are no substantial improvements, too. $26 is too much to pay for a few parlor game demonstrations regardless of whether the games are fixed.

  26. stupid americans says:

    negative ions are scientifically proven to work… you guys should buy one of them and you’ll notice the difference.

    why do ppl belive that 2012 is the end of the world but they dont believe that negative ions can help you with many things?

  27. LIES says:

    BLOGGER U R wrong… most ppl are gunna say thx for info. but they donts know…. There is celeberties (ur probably gunna say energy armor pays them but NO) people that just come out of surgery ( i no someone) was reccomended to buy the energy armor for his self and mom. The guy is basicly paralized nd was in coma for 20 days.!!!!! he even tho he cant talk (BAD ACCIDent) he says he uses them and they help with the exsersise (hes in wheelchair and trying to walk) is happy so I THINK U GUYS ARE JUST FAKE nd DONT KNOW WHAT UR talking about Good Blog Tho A LOT OF inFO I JUST dont Believe it

  28. Thanks very much for taking the time to figure this out. I was with two other people when we encountered a kiosk in a mall selling these bracelets. I am a skeptic and the sign on the kiosk claiming that it “works like magic” was my first clue that deception is very likely involved. I watched carefully as both other individuals went through the two balance tests, but I didn’t spot any sleight-of-hand. Then I tried it myself, and was very puzzled why it also worked on me. Still the eternal skeptic, wondering how I had been duped, I googled it which led me here to your article. Thanks again for your effort!

  29. Bullgrit says:

    I just rejected a reply to this post from someone who thought they could stand up for these products by insulting me and others repeatedly in one long diatribe. Not only did they throw in multiple insults, but they just continued the “argument” of saying there’s lots of scientific evidence without actually showing/linking to any such evidence.

    One of the good things about owning and maintaining a web site is that I have the ability to nip in the bud such things before they ever show up. I’ve approved several comments to this blog post that have disagreed with me. In fact, today is the first time I’ve denied any legitimate reply to this discussion.

    Basically, I have no problem with someone disagreeing with me, and I’ll let such replies show up here. But if all you’re going to do is throw in a bunch of insults and offenses, well, sorry, but I’ll just reject your reply and no one will see it.

    Such is the benefit, and duty, of a web site admin.

  30. the same guy you just denied a reply to says:

    here are your scientific facts about negative ions. “negative ions are beneficial to human body in 4 major ways: “economy Daily news” January 30, 2002.

    -strengthen the functions of autonomic nerves
    -reinforces collagen (tissues that are resilient and tension-related)
    -improves the permeability of the cell’s prototype plasma membranes (improves metabolism)
    -strengthens body’s immune system

    also according to John Heinerman, Ph.D
    “negative ion regeneration for youthfulness and logevity”
    -speeds up oxidation of serotonin in the blood. this is well known to have far reaching effects on mood, pain relief and sexual drive.
    effect of negative ions on drivers: improves fatigue and cognition of drivers (copy of study: http://www.tytlabs.co.jp/office/elibrary/preview/erev371pdf/e371_065sakakibara.pdf) This disproves your claim that there is little scientific research regarding negative ions. relying on google to do your research was a downfall. there are plenty of good reliable sources which prove these things are viable and would be a benefit to the public. though you considered my last post “harsh” it was correct, and here is the information to back me up. this is a great thing and it isn’t being allowed to help people because of skeptics. skeptics are created because of bad salesman that say things that they actually dont do. or salesman that are not 100% confident in their product so they rely in those tricks to make them work instead of LLETTING them work. go try it again after reading this information and you will love them.

  31. Bullgrit says:

    “though you considered my last post ‘harsh'”

    — No, I didn’t consider your rant harsh. It was insulting, using very impolite language. I mean, really, when you start out calling someone “stupid”…

    At least with your second, (and third), try you’re entering the discussion, and not just attacking.

    Strange, though: I can’t find any form of periodical titled “Economy Daily News”. Every other newspaper/magazine/report/agency/organization has a web presence of some kind. But this, whatever it’s supposed to be, is completely off the grid.

    The only references I can find to this “article” are several sites that quote all the exact same text. Those sites don’t link to the “article” or give any way to track back to the “source.” They just all say, exactly the same: “Economy Daily News” – January 30, 2002. That’s rather suspicious, yes?

    This “John Heinerman, Ph.D”: I can find the two quotes you give in your reply, (on several blogs and sales sites), but that is the full extent of his existence on the Internet. It’s like his only contribution to the world was those two sentences, and he never published anything more or again. And then every negative ion supporter repeated him over and over. I can’t help but wonder if this Dr. Heinerman ever existed.

    That link you give in your (#30) reply: it’s 404 file not found.

    And finally, that link in your last (#31) reply: Those “articles” at least look more legit, but they are from the mid 1980s! Plus they are presented on a site that sells negative ion generators — negative ion *air* generators. You do understand there’s a difference between breathing fresh air and wearing a plastic band on your wrist?

    If all you have to present to support the negative ion bracelet concept is:
    – An untraceable “article” that is copied and pasted to a dozen negative ion web sites. (Seems fake, to me.)
    – An untraceable “PhD” who only exists as a source of two sentences, copied and pasted to a dozen negative ion web sites. (Seems fake, to me.)
    – A 404 page. (Seems nonexistent to me.)
    – A couple of 25-year old articles posted only on a single web site that sells negative ion products, (different products than what this post is about). (Seems irrelevant to me.)

    …well, count me as unmoved in my educated opinion. I would think that if something is as scientifically and medically amazing as these negative ion bracelets are supposed to be, there would be more — any! — legitimate information on them.

  32. Steve says:

    I was just in Orlando FL and stopped at an outlet mall when we were approached to do one of the demonstrations. I can tell you that I am very skeptical of these things and my wife is twice as much as I am. We went through it and noticed a difference but I wanted no part of it. My wife ended up buying 5 of them for $60,(buy 3 get 2 free…talk them down)one for us both, our 2 kids, and my brother. I couldn’t believe she did it and I was actually a little upset. I agreed to wear it to see if it actually worked.

    We ended up going to Universal 3 days in a row. Usually I am exhausted and my feet are killing me at the end of the day. I wore my band the 1st day and felt pretty good. The second day I left it at the hotel and my feet were absolutely killing me and my back was also in a lot of pain. I wore it the 3rd day and felt even better than the 1st….no pain and I felt like I could keep going for hours. I didn’t want to leave. This was also the longest day at the parks. I can tell you first hand it works.

    As for people saying that the people selling them use deceptive trick or are frauds, I completely disagree. I have done the tests on about 7-8 of my friends and each one has worked. I did the balance and flexiblity tests (I do one with the band off, on and then off again) but also did one of my own. Try touching your toes….I guarantee you will go farther down with the band no matter which way you start. I have no reason to taint the results and was actually trying to prove them wrong. I have yet to be able to do do that. I could really care less HOW it works, I just know it does. So before you say that people are idiots for believing it, try it for yourself rather then just passing judgement on what you believe might be true or what you hear from someone else who has never tried it.

  33. Scott says:

    They have a return policy. If you get it and you don’t think it works just return it. I find it interesting that most of the people that are calling these people idiots do not have one, so their input should not be taken into consideration.

    Also, when you buy the bracelet they even give you instructions on how to perform the balance test yourself, so any technique the salesman could use to get a sale is rendered useless.

    If you perform the test yourself and a friend and you don’t think it works, just return it.

    And by the way, religion is based on something you cannot see as well.

  34. Matt says:

    I was walking through the mall and came across one of these Kiosks. Just so happened one of my ex-coworkers had taken a part time job there so I decided to stop and visit. She introduced the concept of Negative Ion Technology and went on and on about the various success stories people had when wearing these bracelets. (Whole time I’m thinking this is complete and utter Bulls**t.) I let her conduct the tests – balance, flexibility, etc. Amazingly enough, I was able to rebut every positive test result with a negative rational explanation. Go Figure. No way she was going to convince me that these things actually worked! However, since I knew her current employment situation, I went ahead and bought one of the newest bracelets made out of stainless steel with silicon links so she could collect the commission on the sale. Do these bracelets actually work? Will they make you run faster, jump higher, sleep better, or feel more refreshed and ready to take on the day? Who Cares?

    FACT – I helped a friend out and got a decent stainless steel bracelet out of the deal.

  35. Jay says:

    These posts are fishy, I was sucked into a demonstration by this one guy at a mall. He just kept going on and did every demonstration possible on me even the “pull arms down method”. I tried to learn how he did it , because the band costs 35$. This Article was very informative and I believe it has to do something with the body not the band.

  36. Meagan says:

    Good information. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
    I’ve bookmarked it for later!
    Meagan recently posted..MeaganMy Profile

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