Dr Ben Goldacre
Thursday December 4, 2003
Â· What is it about magnets that amazes the pseudoscientists so much? The good magnetic energy of my Magneto-Tex blanket will cure my back pain; but I need a Qlink pendant to protect me from the bad magnetism created by household devices. Reader Bill Bingham (weirdly, the guy who used to read the shipping forecast) sends in news of the exciting new Wine Magnet: “Let your wine ‘age’ several years in only 45 minutes! Place the bottle in the Wine Magnet! The Wine Magnet then creates a strong magnetic field that goes to the heart of your wine and naturally softens the bitter taste of tannins in ‘young’ wines.”
Â· I was previously unaware of the magnetic properties of wine, but this presumably explains why I tend to become aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field after drinking a few bottles. The general theory on wine maturation – and doesn’t it warm the cockles of your heart to know that there are people out there studying it – is that it’s all about the polymerisation of tannins, which could conceivably be accelerated if they were all concentrated in local pockets: although surely not in 45 minutes.
Â· But this exciting new technology seems to be so potent – or perhaps unpatentable – that it is being flogged by at least half a dozen different companies. Cellarnot, marketing the almost identical “Perfect Sommelier” even has personal testimonies from “Susan” who works for the Pentagon, “Maggie, Editor, Vogue,” and a science professor, who did not want to be named but who, after giving a few glasses to some friends exclaimed: “The experiment definitely showed that the TPS is everything that it claims to be.” So he’s no philosopher of science, then. Perhaps all of these magnetic products will turn out to be interchangeable. Maybe I can even save myself a bit of cash, and wear my MagneForce magnetic insoles (“increases circulation; reduces foot, leg and back fatigue”), the next time I’m out drinking, to improve the wine after I’ve drunk it.
Â· Strangely, none of these companies seems to be boasting about having done the simple study necessary to test the wine magnets. As always, if any do want advice on how to do the stats on a simple double-blind randomised trial, which could, after all, be done pretty robustly in one evening with 50 people – and if they can’t find a 17-year-old science student to hold their hand – I am at their disposal.
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