Like a Duck

Let’s pause for a moment to talk about Quack Science.

We’re all about facts here at Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas, so this afternoon I went in search of a factoid I’d heard tossed out in an advertisement, upon which I hope to one day base an episode. That little bit of analysis will have to wait, however, because I stumbled across another, shinier trivium, and while “researching” that (also known as drifting through Duck-Duck-Go results), I stumbled across a Grand Conspiracy.

The interesting nugget: 99% of the molecules in your body are water. Most of the time we hear about the composition of the body in terms of mass, where water can account for somewhere in a very broad neighborhood of 60% (how much fat is in your body being the major variable). But water molecules are relatively small, compared to all the proteins and whatnot, so if you just want to count the sheer number of molecules, well, they’re mostly water.

While digging into my research I discovered that just by telling you that little fact, I am a rebel. It seems Modern Science doesn’t want you to think about the water in your body that way. I found a site that leads with

Settled Science has some very strange fixations about water and mass.

Uh, oh, I thought. I believe I hear ducks in the distance. Apparently comparing body composition using the masses of the constituent chemicals is a fixation. Using Wikipedia as the reference for what Settled Science wants you to believe, the blogger goes on about how widely the number varies from person to person, and so forth. He doesn’t say why this is bad, just that it’s “quantitatively meaningless”.

Step one to selling people quack science: pick a straw man and throw insults at it. “Science says this! But that’s not true! So trust me instead!

I kept reading, because I was curious what the guy was selling.

Apparently, it’s much more quantitatively meaningful to count the number of molecules rather than their mass. The reason for this is unclear. Never mind that his number is based on exactly the same measurements, with exactly the same variation, just doing a little math on the results. His own tables even show this.

Step two in selling Quack Science: baffle them with bullshit. The numbers look different. He’s got more decimal places (a sign of bad analysis). He must be on to something!

Presumably, this curious charade of mainstream misdirection is undertaken so that the casual reader doesn’t realise that 99% of molecules in the human body are water.

First, I love the phrase “curious charade of mainstream misdirection”. I’m gong to use it, I promise. Second, what a bizarre presumption. Why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone bother to prevent casual readers from pondering this mildly-interesting trivium? Curious indeed. Perhaps even nonsensical.

Step three in selling Quack Science: Set up the Establishment to be toppled by the white-night rogue scientist.

Thankfully, Dr Gerald Pollack [University of Washington Bioengineering] is far more direct.

OK, then! Now we’re about to get the sales pitch.

Only what we get is a video by Dr. Pollack showing how he can make water do crazy stuff, and thoughts on ways his discoveries might be useful, increasingly speculative as the presentation continues. Desalination definitely got my attention. (If I were a billionaire, I’d spend my lucre building bulletproof, low-maintenance solar desalination facilities in communities around the world that need them most.)

And our colorful blogger who spent all this time tilting at windmills? He just fades away, leaving me without a final conclusion to mock. Rebellion was his only product, and in the end, doing an extra step of math on the mainstream numbers and calling it rebellion was his only trick.

But then for bonus points I found a whole bunch of products that are loudly quoting (or misquoting) Dr. Pollack to sell fancy water bottles and crap. Often they will have a sentence that starts out with his quote, then adds to it, putting words in his mouth.

Because if you’re 99% water, that makes what you drink that much more important. Some of the products are blink-blink ridiculous, some are just portable water softeners. One kickstarter offered “Living” water. Yikes.

Get this: “Far-infrared emitted by the <product’s magic beads> enliven your water to improve your bodies natural healing capabilities” Never mind that every object at room temperature emits infrared; what does that even mean? What’s the difference between enlivened and non-enlivened water? How does that affect you, physiologically? IS IT SAFE? Are people going to start having aliens explode from their guts because of ‘enlivened’ water? And dudes! LEARN SOME FUCKING GRAMMAR!

That company also thought oranges were alkaline, and conveniently glossed over the part where the water is immediately dumped into a pool of acid when you swallow it. The more alkaline the input, the more acid your stomach creates.

I’ll let you research those products on your own; I don’t want to boost their search engine ranks with a link.