Complementary and alternative medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Just what acupuncture needs. Holograms. And more quantum.

It’s been a bit of a depressing week. I suppose it’s not any more depressing than usual, with the usual unending stream of pseudoscience, quackery (particularly of the Ebola type), and, of course, antivaccine nonsense to deal with. Then, as I’m writing yet another in a long line of unfunded grants, I find out that a foundation—and an anonymous foundation at that!—has donated close to $4 million to an “integrative oncology” practice in Ottawa affiliated with a naturopathy school to study “integrating” quackery with science-based oncology.

At first, I was thinking that I’d just do an acupuncture post, given that tomorrow is Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Day 2014, but then a reader gave me a better idea. At least, it was fodder for a better idea. I used to do a weekly feature on Fridays, in which I’d find the weirdest, wackiest, and silliest things that alternative medicine and quackery (but I repeat myself) have to offer. Remember? I haven’t done it in a while, because it was starting to get repetitive, and either the quality of woo or my ability to entertainingly skewer it had clearly been declining. I still resurrect it from time to time, and this seems a perfect time, given the subject, as you will see.

I’m talkin’Your Friday Dose of Woo, baby! Worse, I noticed that it’s been over a year since I’ve done it. So YFDoW, here we go. Even better, it’s something that can be shoehorned into Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Week 2014 without too much difficulty. All we need is a hologram.

Now, I hear you all saying out there, “WTF? A hologram! What’s that got to do with acupuncture?” No, it’s not holographic acupuncture (although that would be awesome). Rather, it’s the modern cousin of acupuncture that doesn’t involve all that sticking of sharp metalling objects, however thin, into the body. I’m referring, of course, to acupressure, which claims that putting pressure on acupuncture points is just as good as sticking needles in them. But if mere pressure works, then you must know that there’s only one way to make that pressure even more awesomely fantastic, albeit with no more healing properties than acupuncture (and that’s saying a lot, given that acupuncture has no known healing properties). Add holograms, baby:

John Schaeffer, president of the Winning Factor Sports Sciences Training Center, with multiple sports science degrees and a background in quantum physics, announces the launch of Holographic Acupressure Discs™ formulated by Winning Factor. These discs are the culmination of a decade of scientific testing and proven use by world class athletes nationally and internationally. Originally created to help athletes reduce pain and recover more quickly to train better, these discs are now available to the general public. They are an ideal option for consumers seeking non-pharmaceutical methods to treat their pain naturally.

In fact, pain is among the most common reasons that Americans turn to alternative forms of acupressure in the first place and millions experience some form of pain on a daily basis – whether it’s ankle pain from a “Weekend Warrior” working out too strenuously or the executive sitting for 15 hours in the office and dealing with their body’s minor aches and pains.

The Holographic Acupressure Discs™ formulated by Winning Factor are a form of acupressure through holographic technology. They are a non-invasive, do-it-yourself and affordable pain relief option for general wellness. They specifically target any areas that acupressure can, such as: back, head, jaw/TMJ, knee, shoulder and wrist pain, sprains and swelling.

You know, rather than woo-ey disks with 3D-appearing holograms on them, I’d rather have a real hologram, like the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager. At least he knew real medicine. Instead, we get some company selling disks that look like this;

Uglyassacupressure disks

With packaging that looks like something you’d see in 1967 after dropping acid. (Of course, I wouldn’t know from personal experience, particularly given that I was a preschooler in 1967 and my only drugs have been caffeine and the odd alcoholic beverage—more at skeptic events—but that’s what I hear.) See what I mean:


But how, you ask, do they work? Good question! Let’s go straight to the press release! There, we learn:

Each disc is uniquely programmed with one-of-a-kind vibrational frequencies that influence a person’s body. Holograms are quarter-sized/self-adhesive discs that are embedded with electrovibrational frequencies. Once programmed, they are then placed on acupressure points – specific places on the skin that are especially sensitive to bioelectrical impulses and long recognized and researched that these areas conduct human energy. Science has shown that using acupressure and stimulating these exact points can result in a myriad of natural body reactions, such as releasing neurochemicals (which block pain), promoting healing, improving circulation, boosting the immune function, and promoting the body’s ability to detoxify. In terms of explaining how the acupressure discs help alleviate pain, it is simple: one’s body is stimulated in relationship to how the holograms are programmed and their exact placement on the acupressure meridans. “This is an all-natural response,” says Schaeffer. “The hologram activates the acupressure area which influences the body to function and perform at its most efficient level.”

“As an expert in acupressure through holographic technology, I have combined the ancient wisdom of acupressure with modern technology. These discs are about ten years in the making and the female and male athletes I train have used them with great success. I am thrilled to make them available now to everyone. Consumers want a natural pain relief option without drugs or invasive procedures, at a low price point, and with noside effects.”

My first thought was: Holy holographic disc-shaped BS, Batman!

My second thought was: Vibrations. Why did it have to be vibrations? It’s the catch-all phrase that quacks love to repeat. Just for yucks, I did a search for “vibrational frequencies” and discovered that I’ve covered this topic many times through the years. For instance, does anyone remember Dr. Masuro Emoto’s water woo, in which he claimed that “intent” could be imprinted on water through the use of thought, gesture, and language? I do. In fact, the first time I took notice of Dr. Emoto’s—shall we say?—imaginative bit of mystical water quackery was way back in 2006. It was even an installment of YFDoW! Indeed, Emoto and I have traveled long together in the skeptical blogosphere, I a blogger, he a topic. Rather like Bigfoot and just as real. That’s why I was saddened to learn a week ago that Dr. Emoto had died. In tribute, I can’t resist posting this video because the same sort of nonsensical ideas contained therein about “vibrations” apply to Schaeffer’s holographic disk:

Now, Emoto didn’t mention “vibration” or “resonance” in the video, which has about as much to do with raising children as Schaeffer’s holographic disks have to do with reality, but make no mistake. He was always all about the vibrations. For instance, his bottled water, H2Om, was said to have “several distinctive vibrational frequencies that are incorporated in each bottle of H2Om.” Rather just like Schaeffer’s holographic disk “vibration” and just as scientifically valid, if you know what I mean. (You’re skeptics. Figure it out.)

Back to the holographic acupressure discs, with their “one-of-a-kind vibrational frequencies.” I wonder what Shaeffer’s background in quantum physics is, because clearly his education has failed him if he thinks these discs of his are anything more than discs with an ugly hologram on each of them. My first question when I read the press release was to wonder whether Schaeffer had any actual—oh, you know—scientific studies to back up his claims for these discs. Certainly none is mentioned in the press release. There are, however, testimonials, including one by Louie Vito, billed as a Olympic and World Snowboard Champion, who likes them. Apparently Apollo Ohno likes them too. Of course, testimonials of sports figures mean little; if there’s an area of human activity that’s rife with superstition, it’s sports. These are also testimonials, which are frequently misleading, given people’s cognitive biases and placebo responses. Unfortunately, apparently even doctors aren’t immune, because there’s a testimonial by two doctors, Dr. Job Menges, an orthopedic surgeon in Reading, PA, and Dr. Michelle Holding, also in Reading, PA, who specializes in pain medicine. She even seems to call in regularly to be recorded about how she uses these discs in her practice, such as here.

If you look at Schaeffer’s Facebook page, you’ll see that he’s a true believer in many things woo. I mean, the guy posts articles like The language of the body: Why just treating symptoms will never result in true health from and all sorts of other woo. The only thing I can give Schaeffer credit for is that his woo discs are not too expensive ($19.95 for 35 discs), but if you wear them every day costs add up.

Every time I see something like this, I think, “I’m in the wrong business.” You know, if I ever went to the Dark Side and used my powers for evil, I bet I could make a far better placebo disc than Schaeffer. Holographic Acupressure Disc? That’s nothing! Mine would be Quantum Laser Holographic Homeopathic Acupuncture Discs. Take that, Schaeffer! Or maybe I’ll miniaturize. Think of the potential for Quantum Laser Holographic Homeopathic Electroacupuncture Needles! Acupuncturists will eat it up.

I scare myself sometimes. Don’t believe me? I restrained myself in coming up with these ideas.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

39 replies on “Your Friday Dose of Woo: Just what acupuncture needs. Holograms. And more quantum.”

If Schaeffer has a background in quantum physics, he sure was being modest about not listing it with the bazillion and one certifications he lists on his bio page. The ring pattern on these discs looks like a rip-off of the 5 ring pattern used for the Olympics logo. (though probably with just enough variation to escape accusations of infringement).

I was an an athlete in college. I’m glad my coach stuck to the science behind training for a sport. And there is a lot of cool stuff happening in exercise physiology (like using portable V02 monitors to study performance in more realistic settings). But nonsense like these discs forces Schrodinger’s cat into the dead state.

from the web page for the book about how to use the disks:
A healthy cell vibrates at somewhere between 85 to 100 millivolts.
So if I use lots of these will I be able to run 20 litres per second? What happens if I put on disks rotated 90 degrees and wind up with my vibrations in quadrature? Or use two disks spaced such that I get nulls? What about intermodulation? So many questions!

The fool has missed the opportunity to sell a programmer to allow users to customize the electrovibrational frequency. I’d make it communicate with Bluetooth to a smart phone, then I could sell aps too. Or ANT! They could talk to my shoes!

It’s too bad that promoters of scientifically illiterate products can’t be required to use equivalently poor grammar in their advertising, because these discs would merit the output of a monkey pounding on a keyboard with a hammer.

I love the Friday dose of woo, and would like to see its regular return. There is plenty of nonsense out there for years to come.

Even if you accept the idea that everything is about vibrations, what would lead anyone to think a hologram stuck to the skin would have any effects? How would you go about designing such a hologram? Most of the time these wacky ideas at least have some sort of internal consistency if you accept their erroneous preconceptions, but as far as I can see this is just gibberish.

I’m reminded of a friend of my dear woo-enthused sister, who turned up at a party she was hosting some years ago. He was clutching a video that he showed to the excited throng, telling us he knew the film maker personally, and that he had dropped off the grid after threats from the CIA (or similar). It was this fake video of a UFO making a crop circle.

Later I ran into the same man, at a Fortean Unconvention in London. He was selling holograms that you were supposed to stick on your cell phone to reduce harmful emissions. I am confident that a cell phone with one of these stickers on would be very unlikely to cause brain cancer. However, the same goes for the phone without the sticker….

I wonder what Shaeffer’s background in quantum physics is

It’s probably something along the lines of “has read the collected works of Deepak Chopra”. I say this because Shaeffer doesn’t even try to make his technobabble convincing. “One-of-a-kind vibrational frequencies”? How does he manufacture these disks then? He speaks of “programming” the disks, but makes no attempt to demonstrate that there is a remotely plausible (even with the help of applied phlebotinum) mechanism for doing so. And of course the sentence beginning, “Science has shown…”, is a great big [citation needed].

On second thought, maybe my comparison of Shaeffer to Chopra is unfair. To Chopra, who at least puts some effort into his technobabble.

I rarely think of myself as an optimist, but I can’t muster a pessimistic of view of human intelligence to imagine that Mr. Schaeffer is a true believer in his holographic disks. Surely the disks are mass manufactured in China, and Schaeffer knows they don’t vibrate at all. Surely he knows this is a scam. My head would just go all David Cronenberg at the alternative.

I went to the site to look at the stuff on the discs. Schaeffer’s business is in Reading, so I’m guessing Drs. Menges and Holding have a piece of the action in some way. (??) I also caught that while the press release refers to “electrovibrational frequencies” which are not A Thing, and thus not a testable product claim, he’s selling a 100 page “book” ($24.95) Acupressure Using Holographic Technology . The lengthy blurb includes this.

I will try to explain this in laymen’s terms. Holograms are quarter size discs that can be programmed with electromagnetic frequencies.

Well, layman though I may be, I know electromagnetic radiation is A Thing, a detectable thing, measurable in amplitude and frequency, and if you can’t detect it, it ain’t there.

I suppose the difference between the ‘book’ and the ‘discs’ themselves would let him slide out of a false advertising claim… (sigh)

That Schaeffer is in Reading is kind of interesting as it would seem to be anything but woo land. It’s known for old outlet malls and pretzel bakeries. It’s also, I just discovered on Wikipedia, “officially the poorest city in the nation with 49% of inhabitants living below the poverty line.” It strikes me as some kind of PoMo globalization: in the Internet Age anything can be anywhere. Reading is about a half-hour Northeast of Lancaster, another working class town that has two big economic engines on the East side: Amish Country tourism and the massive studio complex of the QVC Network.

As I remember Pogs cost a lot more than 57 cents each, at least unitl the bottom fell out of the market. Maybe he still had a large inventory lying around and thought of a way to get rid of them. The extent of human gullibility is astounding; a sucker born every minute indeed!

OT but are quasi-edgy essays by anti-vaxxers complete with poorly photo-shopped artwork** ever truly OT @ RI?
AND it’s Friday.

Again, Adrian Gamondes graces AoA’s front page with her artsy poseur-esque stylings with *Ebola Noir* in which she details a symposium exploring ‘Advances in Global Health’ by ridiculing SB physicians, educators, philanthropists and journalists ( Offit, Geberding, Hotez, Caplan, Gates and Mnookin, respectively and Dr Gallow- sic)

She is especially critical of Dr Caplan who addresses the problems anti-vaxxers create for public health.

After delving into her deepest fears, free asscoiated images and assorted bugaboos, she launches into post-war, dream-play mode with-
( wait for it!)……
based upon her scholarly expertise on the minutiae portrayed by television ganster sagas and unrestrained wishful thinking.

** alas, no holograms!

“Each disc is uniquely programmed with one-of-a-kind vibrational frequencies that influence a person’s body.”

“Uniquely programmed with one-of-a-kind vibrational frequencies”

Usually sCAMsters rave about how their vibrations perfectly fit whatever ails you. This seems to imply that every disk is different, so how would I know if any particular disk was properly attuned to me? Would I just buy lots of them and keep trying different ones until my self-limiting condition … ah … self-limited?

Again, Adrian Gamondes graces AoA’s front page with her artsy poseur-esque stylings

About the only thing I took away from that mess is that her reading comprehension isn’t even up to Lawrence freaking Solomon:

“Among other catastrophes, Solomon lists the first three polio vaccine trials—including Salk’s and Sabin’s—which led to illness, paralysis and deaths among tens of thousands of Americans.”


“In 1934 and 1935, two polio vaccines were prematurely employed in large-scale trials with disastrous results. The vaccines, given to 17,000 children in Canada and the U.S., killed six and paralyzed a dozen others, the deaths and paralyses typically involving paralysis in the inoculated arm rather than in the legs, as was more normal. So traumatic was this experience — to both the public and the research establishment — that it would take another two decades before another polio vaccine would be brought to market.

“Tragically, the 1955 vaccine — named after its inventor, Jonas Salk — had an even more disastrous debut. In the rush to mass-produce this vaccine amid the polio outbreaks of the early 1950s — this vaccine received the quickest federal approval on record — caution was thrown to the winds, with Salk and the head of the National Institute of Health refusing to heed warnings, including from other scientists in the field and from a scientist within the NIH itself. The result: 70,000 afflicted by the polio vaccine, 51 of them left permanently paralyzed, plus five deaths.”

The second reference is to the Cutter incident. She seems to commit these sorts of errors with some regularity.


Obviously, you’re supposed to multiply by the Joesphson constant, so that’s 41 to 48 THz, if I did the math correctly. That’s quite the frequency!

… so that’s 41 to 48 THz …
You may be onto something – it puts the wavelength right around human erythrocyte diameter. It would also mean a quarter wave antenna would fit nicely into lots of cells.

When some bozo claims to know about quantum physics, said bozo really should know the difference between amplitude and frequency, and that “electric magnetic/electricmagnetic frequencies (EMF) is, well, rong.

I was looking at the letters after his name on this fb page. I’m guessing
MFS – manager of fresh socks
MSS – manager of soiled socks
MPN – master of pretense and nonsense

Johnny, thanks for the link. I’ve never seen that one before.

“Uniquely programmed with one-of-a-kind vibrational frequencies”
Perhaps they are programmed by a machine that goes piiiing.

I think I would have greater confidence in someone who told me
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bing bang

than an actual MD who told me to use these disks.


In compiling data for a meta-analysis of bio-encanabulator research from The Journal of Irrepoducable Results that I am preparing for submission to Springer Online’s Transquantumnal Nanonanostructure, after filtering for conflounders I concluded with a coeffuent of P=√-1/π that the ONLY way to measure the vibration rate of cells as pertaining to athletic performance is, in fact, via voltage, as the winning factor is all about maximizing potential. Which is to say that cell vibration does not osculate upon any stabilizered frequency, but flutterates frequentially up and down the scale of Hurtz. Since healthy pink cells do vibrate very very much more than those icky terrorist cancer cells, which seeketh inconspicuous covert entry points to the qi at some distance from the meridian energy field matrix, the brutal repression of vibrational expression results, naturally, in a lowered rate of same.

My research also reveals a complete ABSENCE! of data on the obvious next question: what is the con-current Amperage of cellular output? From this utter lack I conclude with statismatical certitudinality that these measurements MUST be known to Science and therefore are being repressed by a quadrilateralist conspiratorial coalition of:
1. delusional anti-American do-gooders afraid of the consequences should this research become know to the military-industrial complex
2. high-tech neo-pagans who know this information holds the key to reversing the anthropenic global warming their cabal has been formenting for 200 years in an attempt to destroy the progress of civilization and reduce humankind to their desired state of barbarism.
3. agents of the Time Warner entertainment conglomerate concerned that a revelation that human being actually are batteries will hurt future earnings of The Matrix franchise product line.
4. Big Oil interests who realize the energy crisis could be solved by electric cars constructed with bodies cloned from fetal stem-cell issue, as watt that would mean is a Prius could travel from work to ohm on its own self-generated juice.

I’m currently on Facebook when something popped up and I knew I had to share it here.
Proof that stabbing someone can make things better”.

A healthy cell vibrates at somewhere between 85 to 100 millivolts.

Since when is the volt a unit of frequency?

(And no, they’re not talking about amplitude – a couple sentences later they say “For example, cancer cells have a vibration rate of about 15 millivolts”: my emphasis.)

If a parsec can be a unit of time, a volt can be a unit of frequency. And frankly you can’t measure something intended to relieve pain in Hertz.

@ Andreas Johansson

cancer cells have a vibration rate of about 15 millivolts

So they are claiming that cancer cells are less vibrating than healthy ones?
If these millivolts were a botched reference to membrane potential, they are claiming that cancer cells are less active than healthy cells.
Either way, that doesn’t stop cancer cells from aggressively invading their host’s tissues.

I have to stop trying to make sense of this.

@ LW #13

how would I know if any particular disk was properly attuned to me?

These guys obviously hope to start a new Pokemon frenzy. You should catch’m all!

I have it! Hologram microtheramin disks! Combine the potent woo of holograms, acupressure, vibrations AND REIKI !! I could have homeopathic amounts of (I’m not tellin’) blended into the substrate!
Gotta go order more exclamation marks and call my patent agent.
I would be willing to pay royalties to anyone who can come up with a way to incorporate a megadose of vitamin C into a 500 milligram disk.

I know other people have said this but Orac, please, Please, PLEASE get the overlords to give us the option to like comments. I’m grinning like a lunatic at Renate’s comment.

Bleach destroys vitamin C, so a drop of 1000C bleach solution should be equivalent to the most concentrated vitamin C ever!

A regular Friday woo-dose serves for more than just amusement. It illustrates that the kingdom of quackery has no borders. If say a homeopath complains that this sort of thing has nothing to do with what he practices, he might start reflecting on how one could possibly distinguish between the two.

And frankly you can’t measure something intended to relieve pain in Hertz.

Why not? If positive values induce pain, then wouldn’t negative values represent pain relief?

Seriously, I have encountered not only negative but complex frequencies. The latter give you growth or damping of the vibration–or, if the real part is zero, purely exponential growth or damping.


So, following de Broglie, they have energy of (2.7 to 3.2) x 10^-20 J (which is 170 to 200 meV). Red blood cells have an average mass of 27 picograms, but I don’t have time right now to do more calculations right now.

Studies show that twirling toothpicks at acupuncture points perofrom just as well as placing retracting needles at acupuncture points which perform just as well as inserting non-retracting needles at acupuncture points which work just as well as inserting non-retracting needles at the wrong acupuncture points.

Skeptics see this as demonstrating the perceived effects of acupuncture must be a function of placebo effect, but there’s no profit to be made there.

Entrepreneurs will instead conclude that acupuncture is in fact an ancient form of energy healing, that it’s all about healing intentand (most importantly) that there’s money to be made here.

I plan to start franchising Virtual Acupuncture Associates, your one stop source for Remote Acpuncture Intervention, also known as VAA RAI Systems (which I’ll get around to trade marking real soon now.)

Just send us a photo of yourself lying prone and once a week we’ll think seriously good thoughts at it while visualizing meridians and holding acupuncture needles.

Well, holding knitting needles actually–otherwise we’ll be bored silly.

All for a low monthly fee.

And be sure to stop by our webpage on ETSY for a nice selection of handknit socks, gloves, mittens and hats.

Eric Lund wrote:

Why not?

Read this sentence aloud and you’ll hear why you can’t measure pain relief in Hertz.

@Eric Lund,

Alas, negative Hertz refers to something that creates pain and makes you feel bad about it. Complex Hertz is pain that arises from your unresolved feelings about your upbringing. Imaginary Hertz are best left to the, er, imagination.

And let us not forget that most painful of breakfast foods, the Hertz doughnut.

I think perhaps the best than can be hoped for is to reduce frequencies to millihertz, in which case the pain will be small enough that it can generally be ignored, or to nanohertz, in which case the pain is so infrequent it can be borne without serious impact to lifestyle.

Will VAA RAI Systems be held as a private company, or will there be an IPA*? I think I would like to invest.
(* Initial Public Offering, not bitter beer or 2-propanol)

I shall have to educate myself and do my own research about this de Broglie fellow. I’m a bit concerned that he might actually be the notorious im Broglio going by an alias to avoid being outed for undeclared conflicts of interest.

what is the con-current Amperage of cellular output

Sadmar gets bonus points for the creative use of Meaningful Hyphenation.

Oh noes! Power Balance Band holograms (embued with these mystical vibrational frequencies, endorsed and tested by athletes) rebranded as pain relief sticky dots (embued with vibrational frequencies and tested by athletes, endorsement probably just around the corner once the ad campaign ramps up).
What is it with woo and holograms?

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