There’s no woo like golf woo

I suck at golf.

There was a time in my life when I golfed a lot. Unfortunately, I was pretty lousy at it. I tended to shoot around 120, and only once in my life do I ever recall breaking 100 for 18 holes. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t sweat it. Just realize that that’s not very good. (A lower score is better, and par is usually somewhere around 72, depending on the golf course.) Of course, golf is hard. It’s very, very hard, and because golf is so hard golfers are always on the lookout for something that will improve their score. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a duffer like me or a pro, golfers are always looking for an edge, anything that will improve their scores. What that means is that golfers tend to be prone to woo. Whether they are more prone to woo than other athletes, I don’t know, but I do know that if they fall for something like Energy Athletic Golf, they’re pretty damned credulous. What am I talking about?

Negative ions, baby. Negative ions. And not just any negative ions, but negative ions being infused into your body through a golf shirt. Somehow, these “negative ions” are supposed improve a golfer’s game. How? Well, try not to laugh too hard, but this is the explanation given:

Energy Athletic Golf apparel, powered by IonX, can improve all aspects of a golfer’s game, helping to energize, increase focus and add power during every round. During an electrical storm or near clean, moving water, the air will feel clear and you feel revitalized. This is caused by the natural process known as ionization-when an electron joins with an atom. This pairing causes the atoms to move from a neutral to a negative charge, thus creating energy.

What science has learned is that ionization energizes the body’s electrical circuits. This stimulates blood flow, increases efficiency of power and speeds up recovery. This negative ion technology has been used by Russian cosmonauts and Olympic athletes to enhance concentration and physical performance.

With coverage many times greater than a bracelet or necklace, the IonX Ionized Energy Fabric, exclusive to Energy Athletic Golf, delivers ionized energy to the entire upper body through a negatively charged electromagnetic field built into the molecular structure of the fabric.

Got it? Negative ions somehow deliver “ionized energy” to the entire upper body! How? Patience, my readers and friends. Patience. First, be aware that Energy Athletic assures us that there is a double blind study that demonstrates conclusively that IonX represents a “revolutionary apparel technology.” If “revolutionary” means fleecing gullible golfers with more money than science knowledge, of that I have no doubt. But, alas, that’s not what Energy Athletic means. What it claims to mean is that the “improved flow of oxygen-enriched blood brings fresh energy to the muscles to help improve your energy, focus and performance.” How do negative ions cause more oxygen-enriched blood? There’s a lot of science-y-sounding gobbledygook on the Energy Athletic website, but basically what you see in the quote above is what you get. The end result is that supposedly a golfer “wearing Energy Athletic powered by IonX will have the advantage of increased average power of 2.7%.” Wow. A whopping 3%? I suppose that, if real, that might make a little difference. I suppose that at the very highest levels of competition, such a difference might mean the difference between first and second place. Of course, that all depends on such a difference actually being real, and given the level of pseudoscience on the Energy Athletic website, I remain…skeptical.

A good example can be found here in this video, where Al Ouimet, PhD, who is billed as the Chief Scientist at IonX, pontificates on the benefits of IonX technology:

I love the part, which is right at the very beginning of the video, where Ouimet discusses how people start their day with a hot shower and how hot showers feel so good. What’s his explanation for the reason that hot showers feel so good? He claims that that feeling is caused by negative ions “bombarding your body” from the shower. Funny, I always thought that it was the hot water hitting your body was what felt good. True, he also mentions cold showers, but I always thought that the reason that cold showers could be bracing was, well, the cold water hitting your body. I do think it’s rather amusing, though, how Ouimet talks about how, after the ions hit you they go down the drain with the water, but that the IonX shirt keeps the ions close to your skin. Even more amusing is how he claims that the shirt works with the body’s own “force field” or its own “electromagnetic force.” He then claims that these negative ions cause the capillaries just under the skin to grow and in so doing somehow that allows “blood rich oxygen” to come to the surface. Somehow this is supposed to bring oxygen to the muscles.

What a load of hooey.

First off, even if the shirt could do what is claimed for it and bring oxygen to the the surface capillaries, all that would accomplish is to make sure that the skin and superficial structures of the torso and arms are well-oxygenated. Another thought just occurred to me as well. These are short-sleeved shirts, standard golf shirts. They don’t cover the whole arm, just about half of the upper arm, or about one-quarter of the arm. If the activity of the negative ions depends so much on the proximity of the shirt to the skin, then all that’s getting the negative ions is the torso and the shoulders.

So what’s the result? Well, on this page, the Energy Athletic people are more than happy to show a graph of the alleged benefits:


I love how there is an asterix over the IonX bar in the graph, the implication being that there is a statistically significant difference between IonX and control. there is, of course, a problem. Look at the size of those error bars relative to the values shown on the graph. Also look at where the graph is started. It’s not as zero; rather, it’s at 600. In reality, the “eyeball” test alone is strongly indicative that there is no statistically significant difference between the two values.

So, if science fails to back up the claims made on this website, then what do the manufacturers of this shirt have to back up their claims? Why, testimonials, of course! Take a look:

As amused as I was by this website, there was one thing I found rather disturbing about it and that’s how it pointed to an article on WebMD that, or so the makers of IonX shirts claim, is scientific evidence that negative ions provide health benefits. It’s an old article, dating back to 2002, and, unfortunately, it’s a highly credulous article as well, entiteld Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes. It’s a highly embarrassing bit of fluff medical journalism in which no peer-reviewed evidence is presented, but claims and testimonials that negative ion generators can help depression are presented more or less as though they were fact.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I suck at golf. It’s sad, but it’s true. If there were anyone who would be desperate for anything that might improve his game, even by a little, it’s me. Too bad skepticism and my knowledge of science get in the way of my believing the claims of Energy Athletic. Actually, it’s not too bad for me. it’s too bad for Energy Golf. In this case my skepticism keeps me and my money from being parted.