Troubled water

February 10th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, water | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday February 10, 2005
The Guardian

· You’ll be pleased to hear that I’m still alive. Unless you’re from Penta Water. I was feeling terribly afraid after its text messages saying things like, “Practice [sic] keeping one eye open.” But then you sleuths rallied round.

· Everyone and their dog emailed in about Penta’s tussle with James Randi, stage magician and debunker of nonsense. He has $1m on offer for anyone who can demonstrate under controlled conditions that something vaguely spooky is happening – the spookiest thing is that it has remained unclaimed for years. Penta’s ambitious claim that seeds germinate in half the time in Penta Water, compared with normal water, seems like a pretty easy experiment, suggests Randi. Perhaps someone could finally take that $1m off his hands. Penta triumphantly announces it will try for the prize (www.randi.org/jr/08-24-01.html) and Randi suggests independently verifying the experiment. Penta wants to use some weird “Bio Impedance Analyser” to test how hydrated humans get on their water, instead. No problem, says Randi, gamely, use anything you like, let’s say you just have to identify correctly which type of water, Penta or non-Penta, was drunk by 37 out of the 50 subjects. But then, as if by magic, in a puff of suggestions that it might sue, Penta disappears, saying it doesn’t have the resources to nominate one trusted person to watch an experiment it is so confident will net it $1m. It doesn’t threaten him with violence. Maybe Penta was worried that Randi might have magical powers, too.

· But Bad Science sleuth of the week goes to Ray Girvan of ace debunking blog Apothecary’s Drawer, because he found out that Penta UK is run by Debbie Flint, “the original queen of shopping telly” and author of Freedom Eating: “This natural weight loss method has systematically helped thousands of people to break free from Food Prison.” I think we can imagine what kind of weight loss system “freedom eating” is. “There are three accompanying CDs with a retail value of over £36. CD Three is Audio Chocolate by LJ Rich, music to help you lose weight by!!” Brilliant. And in June 2000 in the News of the World: “TV shopping channel beauty Debbie Flint became the target of sick phone pests – after her number was listed in the Mensa directory of Britain’s brainiest people.” Mensa? “When I started getting these unpleasant calls out of the blue I couldn’t for the life of me work out why I was being picked on,” said Debbie. Neither can I.


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