According to TMZ, Power Balance, the company that sold hologram-embedded bracelets claiming that they could improve your balance and strength, is going to pay out $57 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by buyers of the product and close up shot.
I’ve always been skeptical so I always thought these claims were silly, but now that it’s big news I thought I would point out five mindset and argument parallels between the “buyers” of this bracelet and the “followers” of Christianity:
1) Power in Numbers
Power Balance: “With $35 million in sales in 2010 and millions sold, surely there has to be something to this magical product!”
Christianity: “With the incredible rise of the early Christian church, surely there has to be some truth to the magical claims of Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection (and so on)!”
Lesson: Popularity doesn’t equal truth. Just because all the Grade 1 kids in your local elementary school believe in Santa Clause doesn’t mean Santa Clause is real.
2) But Smart People Do It!
Power Balance: “Drew Brees and other superstar athletes have endorsed the product… so it must work!”
Christianity: “Francis Collins, C.S. Lewis, and other very intelligent people endorse my faith… so it must be true!”
Lesson: While listening to the experts is a GOOD thing, it is better to know WHY they endorse a product rather than the simple fact that they do. If a famous athlete believes in the power of a Power Balance Bracelet you need to ask: does he/she believe in the bracelet because of empirical evidence that it works or simply for the same reasons other schmucks believe in these things? And if an intelligent Christian believes in God you need to ask: does he/she believe in God because of empirical evidence for God or simply for other reasons that can’t be observed or tested?
3) Claims Filled With Gobbledygook
Power Balance: “Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow… the Mylar material at the core of Power Balance has been treated with energy waves at specific frequencies. The resulting Mylar is believed to resonate and work with your body’s natural energy flow to help you perform at the best of your ability.”
Christianity: “There is this magical battle going on between an all-perfect God that loves you and an evil demon that hates you. Anything bad that happens to you happens either because of your own sinful nature (which you need Jesus to overcome) or because of the devil. Thankfully, God loves you so much that he’s going to rescue you from the devil very soon and take you away to an eternal paradise, but only if you first choose to love God and accept his son Jesus who died for your sins. Otherwise… tough luck, you’re gonna burn in hell!”
Lesson: Storytelling is nice, but reality is more important than gobbledygook. If somebody makes up a fantastical story and tells you it’s real, ask for the evidence!
4) The Placebo Effect & Confirmation Bias
Power Balance: People wearing the bracelets have claimed that they have noticed startling results to their strength, balance, and overall well-being. Of course, none of these improvements are measurable other than “feelings” – and none of the benefits have been demonstrated to be true when put through double-blind placebo testing.
Christianity: Religious people have claimed that they have experienced incredible answers to prayer and miracles. Of course, none of these occurrences has been demonstrated to be miraculous – and prayer has never been demonstrated to increase the likelihood that you will obtain your desired outcome.
Lesson: If you believe something is going to help you do better then you might just do better, but it doesn’t mean that the “something” actually did anything other than making you think it did.
5) But It’s “Cool”!
Power Balance: Many didn’t care whether or not the product actually worked. They just liked the idea of having a cool thing wrapped around their wrist that was supposedly “magical”, whether or not they could actually feel its power. Plus, it proved to be a great stocking stuffer!
Christianity: Many don’t care whether or not their religion is actually true. They just like the idea of having a god in the sky that loves them, whether or not they can actually feel God’s power. Plus, it makes Christmas a lot more socially comfortable.
Lesson: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. While you shouldn’t disbelieve something just because it sounds amazing, you should require actual evidence to back up the claim before you accept it as being true.
UPDATE: Power Balance is not going out of business despite the lawsuits and lack of evidence behind their claims; and they have a new mouthguard! So… much like modern Christianity, it will continue to sell magic to those who don’t seem to value the idea of testing extraordinary claims via the scientific method of observation + experimentation.