I like to believe that we are tending towards a market where a lack of science sense is a lack of business sense. In the domain of medicine, history illuminates the progress of evidence-based practices, taking us from medieval blood letting to the modern clinic guided by the pursuit of truth: science. In 2017, can investments in blatantly implausible and scientifically unsound products still yield a return? The CBC’s Dragons’ Den put that to the test.
On episode 9 of season 12, Dragons’ Den featured a duo from Collingwood, Ontario pitching a product known as the Neuro Connect. Produced by Greg Phillips (no evident scientific background) and Mark Metus (a chiropractor who practices pseudoscience clinically) through their corporation NeuroReset, the Neuro Connect appears to be nothing more than a set of metal clips.
So how do the inventors justify the $80 price tag? They claim that the product carries “a subtle energy pattern that wakes up the sensory nerve receptors” offering to improve the wearers “balance, control, and strength.” They go as far as to claim that the product offers “immediate improvement in your balance and muscle function.” How does it do this? The inventors claim that an energy field is produced through a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. Of course, this is not how quantum entanglement works, illustrating that – in addition to not understanding physics – the inventors created a product which almost certainly does not work.
Despite such blatant flaws, the Dragons failed to uphold the standards of critical appraisal viewers have come to love. While it’s unreasonable to think that they could perform a thorough examination of a product’s scientific merits on air, I would have thought that the Dragons would at least not be susceptible to simple magic tricks. That’s right, magic tricks. Based on the segment that aired, the Dragons were convinced of the technology’s efficacy all from a technique commonly used to promote the pseudoscience of applied kinesiology.
The technique is less of a demonstration of the product in action and more of an exploration of the frailties and shortcomings of human psychology. The classic technique involves pushing down on a patient’s arm in two separate trials. The first trial is a test of the patient’s baseline strength when the practitioner pushes on their outstretched arm. The second test requires the patient to hold an item purported to weaken or strengthen them before the practitioner pushes their arm. The patient will very likely notice a difference between tests, but it’s not a result of some vitalistic energy force. Rather, it’s a result of the power of suggestion and the practitioner’s influence (remember, the one making the bold claims is also the one providing the force).
Ultimately, the test is unscientific and doesn’t possess the most basic requirement of patient and practitioner blinding. In essence, it’s a magic trick, which isn’t surprising considering it’s coming from a chiropractor who uses wands. I wonder what investment I could muster from the Dragons with a hat that makes rabbits disappear.
If magic clips don’t interest you, the duo also offers an entirely implausible spray:
“You can spray me and make me more athletic?”
Allowing this uncritical promotion is nothing short of irresponsible. The show trespassed on reprehensible when the duo took the opportunity to pitch further unsubstantiated claims to the Dragons and their audience.
“You’re hitting the [golf ball] straighter?”
“Absolutely. Every sport has an application with our product, whether it’s hockey, baseball…”
“What are the other real-world applications?”
“Well healthcare for sure. And the elderly for sure. My mother, she says ‘I just feel like I’m going to fall over, but when I put the device on, I never feel like I’m going to fall over‘ because it helps regulate her balance.”
Some Dragons were evidently more critical than others.
Manjit offered $100,000 for 30% of the company, but five other Dragons jumped on the deal to usurp her. I’m not naive enough to believe that televised deals are real, but – if this one goes through – I hope for the sake of public health and consumer protection that the Dragons lose out.
I’m not the only person appalled at this lapse in skeptical thinking. Dr. Joe Schwarcz – Director of McGill’s Office for Science and Society – had his own criticism for the show and its guests:
Dr. Terry Polevoy – a veracious health watchdog – was equally critical and suggested appeals to the regulatory bodies:
Even the Reddit Skeptic community had many users calling the product a blatant scam. I can, at least, think of one use for these magic clips: