The Australian manufacturer of Power Balance, the wildly popular rubbery bracelets embedded with holograms claimed to somehow adjust the body’s energy or vibrations, has admitted that there is no proof their product works. Power Balance bracelets achieved global popularity, in part because they were embraced by a parade of celebrities.
I recently interviewed researcher Richard Saunders, co-host of the Skeptic Zone podcast, about his role in exposing the Power Balance debacle.
“I first heard about Power Balance in mid-2009, when we were asked by a major television program in Australia to test the claims of Power Balance, the magical wristband with the hologram. The TV program contacted me because they ran a story about it and wanted to know what the skeptics said. I was the first person ever to actually test one of the Power Balance representatives, and he completely and utterly failed on his own product…. I tested the head of the Australian branch, and he failed five times out of five tests. So it was pretty conclusive. These were blind and double-blind tests where he had to tell which one out of six volunteers had the band on.”
I asked Saunders what the Power Balance representative’s reaction was. “I believe at the time he really thought these things worked,” Saunders said. “It was interesting, he was pretty shocked when they failed to work. He quickly came up with an excuse saying the tests weren’t properly conducted, but that was expected.”
So what was Power Bands claiming? “The claims are that these bands will improve your strength, your balance, and your flexibility. They also suggest it will improve your well-being, give you clarity of thought, improve your stamina and sports performance, that sort of thing. But in Australia such claims about flexibility and performance are medical claims, and you can’t make medical claims without evidence. That’s where we got them.”
As a result of the public outcry, Saunders noted that “The Australian government has forced Power Balance in Australia to remove ‘performance technology’ from all their advertising connected with the product. It is now illegal for them make these claims, and also to sell their product with the words ‘performance technology’ on them.” Indeed, Power Balance Australia issued a statement that read in part, “We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims. Therefore we engaged in misleading conduct.”
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel stated that “Suppliers of these types of products must ensure that they are not claiming supposed benefits when there is no supportive scientific evidence. Consumers should be wary of other similar products on the market that make unsubstantiated claims, when they may be no more beneficial than a rubber band.”
“No more beneficial than a rubber band,” indeed. Thanks to Richard Saunders, Harriet Hall (who covered the bands for Skeptical Inquirer ), Brian Dunning, and many other skeptics who tackled the topic, pseudoscience has been dealt another blow by science and skepticism.