Category Archives: pseudoscience

Exclusion zone water

Note: this is rather technical. 

This spring I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with a distinguished engineer, inventor, businessperson, and benefactor of science. He explained how he has recently become interested in the work of Prof. Gerald Pollack, who discovered what he calls the “4th phase of water”. The very term “4th phase of water” immediately raised an alarm bell in my head, since there are actually 19 or so known phases of water. I decided to check out what this “4th phase” was. It turns out this ‘phase’ has so far only been observed at the boundary with an odd material called Nafion, so really, it’s interfacial water with special properties, not a new phase of the liquid itself. My research focus the past three years has been understanding the microscopic details underlying the dielectric properties of water.  I am very interested in the structure and behavior of water around proteins and dissolved ions (and have read numerous papers on the subject) so naturally I am interested in Dr Pollack’s claims. Additionally, Pollack has shown that he can use the exclusion done phenomena to build a device that filters out nanospheres, and he claims his discovery can be used for desalination technology. He has not yet actually presented a functioning desalination apparatus, but he has filed a patent for the technology.
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Filed under pseudoscience, research, technical, Uncategorized

Crackpot Nobelists

I have mixed feelings about the Nobel Prize. To some degree, I sympathize with Feynman:

I agree with Feynman that the discoveries that people made about the nature of reality are more important than titles and distinctions. The true test of scientific work is what it tells us about reality.  Of course “importance” is subjective, but importance can be defined operationally in terms of how much implication a discovery has for the workings of the universe, as made manifest through the breadth of experimental results that it can help explain. The importance of a discovery can also be defined through the impact a discovery has on technology and society.  The later definition is actually closer to Nobel’s intent, although the former version of “importance” usually implies the later as well. The invention of the transistor, a singular event by a few people, surely passes the test. Scrolling through the Nobel prizes in physics, they all appear to pass these operational tests at the highest level. Still, more generally prizes and awards are often corrupted by human cognitive biases and by the insularity of certain social networks – ie winning the prize becomes more about ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you discovered’. Continue reading


Filed under Musings, non-technical, pseudoscience

The chance that a child will have a severe reaction to the MMR vaccine is less than the chance they will die in 200 mile car ride

Backstory: Several weeks ago Newsday refused to publish a comment I posted on the article “Vaccine court protects ‘big pharma‘”. Having experienced this before (they have a very limited window to submit comments), I decided to rewrite the comment and submit it as an editorial. Recently I discovered it had been published. Unfortunately, the editor removed one of the key points from my piece, and also botched the grammar on the third line, so I am republishing the full piece here, with minor copyediting.

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Filed under non-technical, pseudoscience, Science communication

Energy drink ingredients – do they work? A science-based review

Note, appended 3/20/11: This was some research I did on energy drink ingredients. I never had anything close to an energy drink addiction and merely experimented with some. My conclusion was they are fairly harmless (apart from large amounts of sugar and questionable artificial colorings). The main active ingredient in most energy drinks is caffeine and most of the other ingredients are questionable. Since this was written I have completely stopped drinking coffee, because of caffeine dependency, discussed below. I drink 1-2 cups of black tea and 1-2 cups of green tea every day instead, and have concluded that tea is much more healthy than coffee (due to higher levels of antioxidants and stress-relief from theanine and other compounds). Tea provides ~45mg of caffeine per cup of black tea, (~15-30mg per cup of green) which is adequate to provide all  the beneficial effects of caffeine without committing to a major dependency.

Background & personal observations
There is a strong allure to energy drinks. It is now not uncommon to see a section in supermarkets marked “new-age beverages” and filled with a variety of concoctions with un-pronounceable ingredients which claim to improve everything from mental clarity  to sexual performance. Beverage giants such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are now experiencing major competition from numerous small start ups taking advantage of this new and fast growing market. The concept of a drink that enhances cognitive performance is not new, however. For a long time people have been searching for “smart drugs” or nootropics — drugs which enhance cognitive performance but without side effects or significant dependency. This article will try to sift through the various claims of energy drinks to determine if what , if any, of he ingredients are true nootropics, and make an evidence-based evaluation of what energy drinks may be worth buying.

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Filed under nootropics, pseudoscience