Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Scientific Integrity

I recently got a subscription to the magazine Popular Science and was disturbed to find a two-page ad for a water distillation machine that is said to produce healthier water by increasing the hydrogen bond angle of the molecule. This high-energy water supposedly cures all sorts of diseases and keeps its drinkers in peak physical condition.

Now, this product might sound bogus because it's too good to be true or it's chemically unviable or it lacks proof of efficacy, or all of the above. In the case of this water machine, the ad is full of red flags beyond the basics, from ridiculous claims (drinking this water will multiply the battery life of your watch tenfold) to earnest assurances that it is not a con (the creator of this device received a grade of 100% in his college engineering course). An attempt is even made to turn scientifically-grounded criticisms of the product into a selling point: "Like Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, anyone not generating controversy isn't doing much of anything."

An advertisement like this is perhaps itself a test for common sense, but while the untruth of it may be clear upon reading or investigating the claims made, the larger problem for me is that my trust and interest in Popular Science has taken a severe hit. Printing ads like this in a scientifically-inclined magazine is either reckless or mercenary, and I can't think of any positive explanation for it. I suppose the 'popular' in the name of the magazine has greater emphasis than the 'science'.

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