Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Just what your water needs–more electrons!

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgWhile I am on vacation, I’m reprinting a number of “Classic Insolence” posts to keep the blog active while I’m gone. (It also has the salutory effect of allowing me to move some of my favorite posts from the old blog over to the new blog, and I’m guessing that quite a few of my readers have probably never seen many of these old posts.) These will appear at least twice a day while I’m gone (and that will probably leave some leftover for Christmas vacation, even). Enjoy, and please feel free to comment. I will be checking in from time to time when I have Internet access to see if the reaction to these old posts here on ScienceBlogs is any different from what it was when they originally appeared, and, blogging addict that I am, I’ll probably even put up fresh material once or twice.

As a skeptic, sometimes I’m just left shaking my head and muttering about some things that I come across. I sometimes wonder why I bother. Sometimes, I come across a scam that shows such an utter contempt for people’s intelligence that it completely amazes me that anyone falls for it.

But fall for it they do.

A perfect example of this is something that a reader named Matt e-mailed me a while ago about a man named John Ellis. I had never heard of this guy before, but when I visited John Ellis’ website, where he was selling something he calls the Crystal Clear Electron Water/Air Machine, it was like entering an alternate dimension, where the regular rules about logic, science, medicine, and physical lawas don’t apply (at least not to his claims). You’ll see why when you see the very first claim that greets a reader upon hitting his website:

If you change the properties, amazing things will happen!

Even as a senior citizen, I am stronger now than when I ranked #1 in the world in the discus because of my patented discovery!

What, pray tell, is responsible for this old geezer’s fantastic health? Glad you asked! Just click on the button:

Worldwide patents show John Ellis’ home WATER MACHINE is the first to permanently change water properties (they can be identified 100 years from now) with results that medical doctors can verify…

Wow, I think. What “can be identified 100 years from now”? I’m guessing he means water properties, but it’s not always entirely clear. Then, particularly relevant to my specialty, Ellis makes this claim:

Fifty years ago the hydrogen bond angle in water was 108° and you rarely heard of anyone with cancer. Today, it’s only 104° and, as a result, cancer is an epidemic!! By using our machine you can increase the bond angle to 114° and, unlike any other water, doctors can see an immediate change in the red blood cells under a microscope! It’s truly amazing!!

Odd that they never taught me this back when I was a chemistry major or when I was taking graduate level biochemistry courses. Also odd that they never taught me in medical school that you “rarely heard of cancer” 50 years ago. One would think that such an important observation of a change in the basic chemical structure of such an important molecule as water (specifically, that the bond angle of water used to be 108° but is now only 104.5°) would be an area of intense research interest among chemists. One would also think that scientists would be intensely interested if it somehow had something to do with the etiology of cancer. Never mind that Ellis never explains what on earth the bond angle of water would have to do with cancer. And, of course, Ellis never demonstrates that you can increase the bond angle to 114°, nor does he explain why one would even want to do so. I guess you just have to enter Ellis’s reality warp field to understand. Either that, or perhaps Evil Conventional Medicine™ and Big Pharma™ have, as usual, conspired to cover it up. (As an aside, if you want to know the real structure of water, in fact, more about water and its bond lengths and angles than most people would ever care to know, you can check here.)

But, blazing pathfinder that he is, eager to claim the mantle of Galileo, changing the bond angle of water isn’t enough for Ellis. He claims that he “adds electrons to water.” Why? Well, here’s his explanation:

Ordinary distilled is the worst because KEEPING WATER AT THE BOILING POINT FOR HOURS DRIVES OFF ELECTRONS NEEDED TO LIVE… it’s biologically dead, nothing will grow, fish die… it’s NOT “distilled like in nature” and yet people drink this water?? To get around the boiling problem, we boil for ONLY SECONDS (expand) and then cool about 80 degrees (contract), repeating several times a minute, GAINING ENERGY WHILE DUPLICATING NATURE’S PROCESS!!


ANY LAB will tell you, many other health promoting activities can’t work without the ELECTRONS found in CHARGED WATER because OXYGEN levels have dropped to as low as 8%, in today’s water molecules, they are SMALLER and CAN’T HOLD the additional donor ELECTRONS (from OXYGEN) needed to make them work!! As a result, VIRUSES and BACTERIA are mutating out of control… CAUSING almost ANY problem you can name!

Even better, on the very same page, he includes a picture, with the caption: “The above picture is a close up view of one ice cube that grew up 2 1/2 inches out of the ice tray. This is proof that electrons are present.”


That’s all very nice (if a pile of B.S.), but what does this have to do with all the supposed health benefits Ellis touts for water treated with his machine?


Ellis brags on his website about having actual U.S. Patents on his machine. He even lists the numbers, 4,612,090 (“Water degasification and distillation apparatus”), 5,203,970 (“Method for water degasification and distillation”), and 6,409,888 (“Method and apparatus for water degasification and distillation”). So I looked the patents up, and you can too just by clicking on the handy links I provided. Basically, his device appears to be a water purification and distillation unit. Not surprisingly, nowhere in the patent applications does he claim that his device “adds electrons” to water or that it changes the bond angle of water. If Ellis had made such claims, the stodgy investigators at the Patent Office would surely have expected him to provide some actual scientific evidence that his device does indeed do what he claims it does before granting a U. S. Patent. Not surprisingly, Ellis made no such claims in his application. Sadly, all the device appears to do is to produce distilled water. That’s it. Certainly Ellis provides no evidence that his device in his applications (or on his website) in any way permanently changes the structure of water. (Perhaps any engineers out there who have more knowledge than me can comment about whether Ellis’ machine is even a decent water purifier.) Ellis does, predictably, provide a bunch of testimonials, however.

A retired chemist named Stephen Lower has analyzed Ellis’ claims in detail. Not surprisingly, he has concluded that Ellis is pushing pseudoscientific nonsense. (He also has a very nice website devoted to debunking water cluster quackery and–as he puts it–“aquascams.”) But even more damning still, I think, is the condemnation Ellis has received on that most credulous of credulous altie sites (with the possible exception of, where skepticism about alternative medicine is usually ruthlessly censored, CureZone, where he has been lambasted as a fraud and the messages haven’t been censored, as criticisms of alternative medicine usually are:

John Ellis has company called Crystal Clear; they claim to make a water machine that produces energized distilled water. Its $1700 bucks. Beware of this product. No support for the product after you plunk down your money. He is a fast talker and great at selling his $1700 machine. It DOES NOT work!!! He is an asshole when you try and explain your situation and ask for your money back. He had all the time in the world to sit on the phone and sell it to us, but was too busy to settle our problem and hung up on us. The machine may make distilled water, but if you are going to get it to put in your pool or spa, don’t bother. Your pool and spa will turn green. They told us we would NEVER have to put chemicals in either ever again. This turned out to be a total lie, and we got many different stories each time we called for assistance.

Of course, this person and most of the others piling on don’t question the central premise behind Ellis’ machine, that “energizing” water with electrons can somehow suddenly endow it with all sorts of beneficial abilities to improve health when that “energized water” is consumed. (Perhaps that’s why the message wasn’t censored; it wasn’t questioning the health benefits of “energized” water, only whether Ellis’ machine could make such water.) They’re merely upset that Ellis’ machine doesn’t seem to do anything other than distill and purify water and that the water didn’t somehow become magically resistant to algae. Well, what did they expect? That’s all the patents say the device can do!

I guess what most irritates me about people like John Ellis is how low an opinion of the intelligence of the consumer they appear to have, to use such transparently pseudoscientific rubbish to sell an overpriced water purification machine. On the other hand, given the gullibility of some of his customers, it’s not too hard to understand why he might have developed such contempt for them:

I beg to differ!! I got very good results from my living water machine. I talked to John Ellis about the theory behind his machine and found him engaging and informative. He’s out to make a buck like most people, but he does seem to have a big part of the truth in his process that inspired me to investigate further and learn more. Although I only spoke to him over the phone, I don’t feel as though he deserves the criticism leveled against him in this forum.

No wonder people like Ellis continue to make lots of money selling these sorts of devices based on ridiculously obvious pseudoscientific claims. People like “dr h2o” above guarantee it.

Now excuse me while I work on my own machine to infuse electrons into the water. It involves placing a couple of electrodes into water an running some voltage through it. Yeah, that’s the ticket…

This entry originally appeared on October 26, 2005 on the old blog.

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]

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