Friday Woo Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Oxygenate your silver! (Or is it “silverate” your water?)

It may be Thanksgiving weekend here in the States, and fellow ScienceBloggers PZ and Ed may be getting sniping at each other over Larry Moran‘s rather intemperate comments. (Can’t we all just get along, guys, at least for the holidays anyway?). Worse, this kerfluffle is threatening to suck in other fellow ScienceBloggers Mike Dunford, John Wilkins, John Lynch, and Chad Orzel, as well.

You know, this whole thing reminds me a lot of political and religious arguments that used to break out among my family sometimes during holiday gatherings. Let’s hope the results of this one, like the results of the ones my family used to engage in at times, don’t linger beyond the holidays.

Fortunately for purposes of a diversion from this unpleasantness (although unfortunately for critical thinking and science), woo is eternal. Woo marches on. Woo never goes away. (Well, maybe around the Christmas holidays it might not appear; I do have a life, you know. Well, sort of, anyway. And there’s always woo reruns to be had, now that Your Friday Dose of Woo has been going on for a few months now.) And it is Friday, whether it’s a holiday or not. So, perhaps I can provide a little respite from the blog drama that seems to have engulfed ScienceBlogs and lighten things up a bit. It’s time for a bit of woo. Come on. You know you want it. And the arguing over “appeasement” versus “practicality” will still be there when you’re done. Maybe you’ll be in a better mood to participate with a decreased the level of acrimony, having seen a bit of pseudoscience that we can all make fun of.

So, this week, let’s have a little chemistry woo combined with water woo combined with colloidal silver woo. It’s a product called BIONAID:

BIONAID concentrate is produced through a unique patent pending process, which permanently bonds one atom of silver with a multitude of oxygen atoms. This covalently bonded silver mineral concentrate is then mixed with your distilled water to produce a BIONAID and water-blend for drinking. The covalently bonded silver mineral concentrate (although mistakenly compared to colloidal silver) is NOT a colloidal silver product.

A “Colloidal” consists of individual particles within the range of 0.004 to 0.015 microns in diameter. The Bionic covalently bonded mineral particle is comprised of individual atoms of silver with up to a million covalently bonded oxygen atoms. The size of the Bionic molecule is much smaller than 0.004 microns which does not fall within the classification of a colloid.

Gee, that sounds perfectly clear. Tell me more!

A “Colloidal” consists of individual particles within the range of 0.004 to 0.015 microns in diameter. The Bionic covalently bonded mineral particle is comprised of individual atoms of silver with up to a million covalently bonded oxygen atoms. The size of the Bionic molecule is much smaller than 0.004 microns which does not fall within the classification of a colloid.

A million “covalently” bonded oxygen atoms bonded to individual atoms of silver? Covalently bonded? Wait a minute. Yes, the chemists out there are probably cringing and getting ready to throw things at their computer screens, but I humbly ask them to hold off a minute. For those who are not chemists, some explanation will be in order, but I ask for patience. Because there’s more woo to look at before I can explain why it’s woo. I ask the chemists and scientists in the audience to restrain themselves (really, I mean it) when you read this:

BIONAID is H2O, which is two Hydrogen Atoms sharing electrons with One Oxygen Atom. The Bionic Reactor Strips Hydrogen Atoms which contain 1 Proton and 1 Electron from the Oxygen Atom making a positively charged Oxygen Ion +2 (It wants two electrons) Simultaneously Supercharged Negative Silver Ions which have 47 protons and millions of electrons are created by the reactor ( 1M to 2M). Up to a million or so Oxygen Atoms immediately bond to each silver Ion by grabbing two of the millions of electrons from the silver Ion and sharing them with the silver ion as well as with other oxygen molecules already attached to the silver Ion.

Really, guys. Restrain yourself! I mean it. I understand, because my undergraduate degree was in chemistry before I went to medical school. I mean, after all, this stuff is science! Really. Just ask them.

So, let’s have a bit of fun here. To understand why the above is a big, steaming, stinking pile of BS, you need to understand what a covalent bond is. In a covalent bond, atoms share one or more electrons. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what the makers of BIONAID seem to be claiming is that their “generator” (whatever that is) somehow strips hydrogen atoms from the oxygen in water, then strips the electrons from those hydrogen atoms, and then finally somehow makes them available to the silver ions, so that each silver ion can somehow bond “millions” of oxygen atoms.

Or am I somehow missing something here?

Nope. It looks like I’m reading these clowns right, and it’s even worse than I thought:

As millions of positively charged oxygen atoms bond to the negatively charged silver Ion the charge of the overall molecule becomes positive due to the ratio of positively charged protons in the nucleus of the oxygen atoms being greater than the number of electrons being shared amongst the other oxygen molecules and silver Ion.

Ugh. Never mind that the steric considerations alone would prevent “millions” of oxygen atoms from ever binding to a single silver atom. Never mind that it’s impossible to add that many electrons to silver atoms to permit the covalent bonding of “millions” of oxygen atoms. I’ll give you just one example. Silver oxide (a.k.a. “silver rust”), for instance, has a formula of Ag2O, or two silver atoms bound to one oxygen molecule, or basically a half an oxygen per silver atom and appears to include a mixture of covalent and ionic bonding. Don’t you think that, if a single silver atom could bond millions of oxygen atoms, that it would have done so in nature somehow? Or at least that we’d find an example of a silver atom covalently binding to, say, five or ten oxygen atoms, you know, a more modest number? Or perhaps you need this handy-dandy magical device to allow such a bonding to occur.

But an even better example of woo is what they sellers claim that this super special silver can do for you:

The molecule therefore at any chance will continue to attract negatively charged electrons found in hostile organisms. Bad, gram-negative Bacteria, Viruses, Molds etc. have one electron (-1) in their molecular makeup. They are therefore attracted to the “Bionic” molecule and die once they contact the Bionic molecule because the Bionic molecule steals the electron from it changing its polarity and killing it in the process. As electrons are collected full oxygen atoms are released from the Bionic molecule and the positive charge of the molecule is maintained. These molecules are permanently suspended in water and are not toxic to the body. Unlike a standard silver Ion, which is missing one electron and will try to collect one electron before it is inert and no longer affective in killing bacteria or other harmful organisms the Bionic molecule can continue to attract millions of bad organisms and continue to kill them. Burk Hale, Inc.’s BIONAID can treat malaria-infested ponds or other water supplies that are undrinkable and turn them into safe sources of water for millions who are currently drinking infected waters.

It is the significant amount of oxygen atoms covalently bonded to the silver atom that makes this process uniquely safe and effective in all laboratory tests done thus far, and should not be compared with simple ionized silver particle or pharmaceutical solutions. Mild silver protein solutions must have extremely high parts-per-million to have remotely similar effects and may only be obtained by a prescription.

Wow. Funny, but they seem to have neglected to mention to me when I took all those basic science courses in microbiology that “bad, gram-negative Bacteria, Viruses, Molds etc. have one electron (-1) in their molecular makeup” and “the Bionic molecule steals the electron from it changing its polarity and killing it in the process.”

If only I had known. I mean, think of it. A cure for all infectious disease, be it caused by viruses or bacteria. I could even manage a cure for AIDS here. And, of course, this stuff redefines “bioactivity”:

Bioactivity is rated as the amount of the positive charge held by a particle (molecule) which is the result of the presence of a greater number of protons than electrons in that molecule. The “best” form of a Colloidal Silver molecule has 15 more protons than electrons giving it a plus 15 rating, i.e., it can destroy fifteen bacteria/viruses etc. before loosing its bioactive properties.

Example: If you had two petri dishes that both contained 1,000,000 bacteria-in one you place the best Colloidal Silver particle and the other you placed one of the Bion particles. If the solution allowed the bioactive molecule to come into contact with each bacteria the Colloidal Silver would kill fifteen bacteria leaving 999,985 bacteria living. The Bion Molecule would kill ALL one million bacteria completely sterilizing the dish.

All one million?

I stand in awe at the woo. For one thing, one million bacteria is not that many. It just isn’t. You and I have untold millions upon millions of bacteria living on our skin and in our mouths, and literally billions of bacteria living in our colons. Of course, somehow medical school and all the reading I’ve done since never imparted to me the amazing knowledge that viruses and pathogenic bacteria possessed an extra electron that could be targeted by savvy woo-meisters for therapeutic effect. This is a claim that I’ve heard before. I suspect it’s a misunderstanding or distortion of the structure of the cell membrane of gram negative bacteria, which have proteins and compounds like LPS (which tends to impart a negative charge). In addition, it is true that most antimicrobial polypeptides have a positive charge, which is attracted to the negative charge of a typical bacterial cell membrane, and, indeed, raising the ionic strength of the surrounding medium will decrease the effectiveness of most such antibiotics because the charges are shielded from each other more.

It does not follow from any of this that you can somehow make silver bind millions of oxygen atoms and become toxic to bacteria simply by running a charge through it. Of course, we do use colloidal silver as an antibiotic. For example, Silvadene (a combination of silver and sulfa compounds) is used in the treatment of burn wounds. It’s a pretty effective topical antibiotic. If you’ve ever dealt with burn patients (as I have), you know this You also know that Silvadene and other creams like it are bacteriostatic (i.e., they inhibit growth but don’t kill) and don’t kill viruses. You also would know that it is the sulfonamide that is bound to the silver that is the active agent in such compounds, not the silver itself. Silver ions can also be used as an antimicrobial agent, but not in the way this woo claims. For example, there silver sulfonamide compounds are used to coat intravascular catheters and lower the rate of catheter infection.

But I can’t stand it anymore. But I can’t help myself. I have to go through this to the end:

BIONAID is designed to help you feel and generally perform better than ever before. The Bionic molecules have been proven to assist the body in a variety of beneficial and remarkable ways including the removal of toxins built up in your system. While clinical and laboratory results from UCLA virology labs and Genesis West-Providence (data available to registered inquirers) proves the efficacy of the molecule in this product, we are not making or implying any medical claims; nor that this product does any specific thing other than assist the body with the proper trace elements so that the body may become an undesirable host for unhealthy intruders.

This information is closer to a nutritional supplement, even though it is simply water and the Bionic molecule (the cream also has other ingredients). This is not about a drug. This product does not “cure” anything. Your body does the “curing” when it is provided the nutritional elements that it needs to naturally do what it does best.

We are convinced that our product does a superb job in meeting certain nutritional needs of the human body. And clinical tests over a 15 year period in major universities, labs and on human subjects worldwide verify our product’s efficacy. It Soars!

The only thing soaring here is the level of woo.

Ah, yes, of course this ” removes “toxins,” too! Why didn’t I see that one coming? But, remember, they’re not making any “medical” claims for this woo. Of course not. The FDA might come after them. Oh, no. This is a “nutritional supplement.” Although how it can be considered a nutritional supplement is beyond me, given that the body’s need for silver is quite small indeed. In fact, chronically overdosing on silver, colloidal or other, can cause a condition known as argyria, in which silver deposition results in a slate gray complexion. Argyria is not pretty. Fortunately, BIONAID probably won’t cause argyria because the amount of silver in the compound appears to be too low. But it certainly won’t do all the other stuff claimed for it, either.

Of course, no water woo would be complete without this:

BIONAID is a world class nutritional breakthrough. There are steps being taken with the latest research in quantum physics to improve upon this breakthrough. Research is revealing that water may have its own holographic memory, and with methods like “HADO”, which appears to indicate that “information” may be put into water, as discussed in the book, “Messages In The Water”, by Dr. Emoto, and the “Virtual Photon Laser”, by Dan Nelson is a new and exciting field of endeavor in the “structured water” research community that compliments their findings.

Ack! Misuse of quantum mechanics and a citation of Dr. Emoto (of H2Oooom fame). Woo spawning more woo!

And how much will this woo set you back if you want to indulge in it? Glad you asked! It’s a mere $20 a bottle or $432 a case. And if you want the super-duper BIONAID cream, it’s only $20 for a 2 oz. jar and $30 for a 4 oz. jar.

What a bargain.

My work here is done. We return you now to our regularly scheduled blog war, now in progress. Enjoy.

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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