A case study in pseudoscience: The Power Balance Bracelet


Most would agree that the field of strength and conditioning (S&C) is perhaps more accessible to the layperson than physics, biology or chemistry. This is not to imply the field is any less scientific, but it probably means that the field of S&C must work harder than other disciplines to differentiate itself from pseudoscience. So, a role of science in the field of S&C, and on this website, is to separate the good from the bad. The case of the Power Balance Bracelet is an example of this.

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Power Balance is a bracelet that you wear around your wrist (see it pictured above). It was claimed that eastern philosophy allows power balance wrist band users to achieve their best. More specifically, In a 2010 interview with the Orange County Register (Florida, USA), Josh Rodarmel, speaking for Power Balance, claimed that their wrist bands optimize the body’s own frequencies to promote balance, flexibility and strength, attributing the improvement to Eastern philosophies that allow users to achieve their best. Rodarmel was quoted saying “It absolutely is never to be a substitute for hard work,”  “It’s about making you the best you can be.” Power Bands sell at £30 each.

Science has provided us with numerous tools for evaluating these sorts of claims, they are often referred to as ‘demarcation criteria’ in the philosophy of science (see here for a discussion of these ‘demarcation criteria’). In this context, consider the following questions:

  • Do they call upon supernatural phenomenon to explain?
  • Do they use a method to get past the Baconian problem of the mind i.e. that by our very nature, we reason in ways that are not correct.
  • Do they seek to confirm or falsify their hypotheses? Karl Popper pointed out that good scientists seek to falsify their hypotheses, whereas much of pseudoscience seek to confirm it
  • How do they handle criticism of their theory?

A kinesiology undergraduate class in Orange County used this problem based approach, and concluded the power bands did not significantly influence performance in any way (Orange county register, 2010b). Incidentally, the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, arrived at the same conclusion (BBC, 2010), along with the Australian Consumer and Competition Committee.

Pseudoscientific claim?

Power Balance provides no evidence to support their claims, other than the personal experience of users, which is perhaps flawed, according to Bacon’s 400 year old assertion. There is no evidence of method and the improvements in balance, strength, and flexibility are attributed to supernatural phenomenon. How, then, does the company respond to criticism? Power Balance Australia was forced to make the following statement:

All Power Balance websites removed the claims. Power Balance UK, then issued a statement claiming that

  • They (UK) had not made any claims that their product did not perform
  • They have never made any scientific claims
  • The ruling in AUS does not extend to the UK
  • The media gives uneven coverage to Power Bands UK.

Numerous websites are now selling counterfeit bands, Power Band sales have shot up around the UK, and Power Balance is expanding. As Bacon said, the mind is the problem.

References

BBC (2010). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-11805616.

Orange county Register. (2010a). Retrieved from http://www.ocregister.com/articles/balance-278177-pain-power.html

Orange County Register. (2010b). Retrieved from http://www.ocregister.com/articles/wristband-280268-players-students.html.

Power Bands official website http://www.powerbalanceuk.com/

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