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

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Link me up, Q-man!


I debated about whether to do Your Friday Dose of Woo this week.

I really wasn’t sure if I was up to it. As regular readers know, I was on vacation in London during the last week in August. Unfortunately, I returned to the news of a death in the family on my wife’s side, making the last few days a seriously saddening time. I even tried to keep blogging through it as a release to take my mind off of things, but, as the last two days showed, I reached the point where that didn’t work anymore. I guess it’s a good thing there’s still quite a bit of stuff to be mined from the old blog archives to be brought over to my spiffy ScienceBlogs blog to (hopefully) the acclaim of the adoring masses. (At least it maintains the illusion of activity for the cost of the five minutes or so per post it takes to transfer over from the old blog.) Then I thought about it. Reality really bites at times, and this is one of them. What better to combat the uncaring harshness of reality with a bit of fluffy, caring unreality?

And what better escape to unreality than a wee bit of woo? After all, reality will always be there waiting when it’s over–unfortunately.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your point of view) the Folder of Woo brims with potential targets–I mean subjects–for this blog’s weekly feature. As it all too often is, it was difficult to choose one. But I’ve been under a lot of stress lately; consequently, I could really use something to help me with that.

It’s a good thing for me that something called the “Q-Link” has my back:

Q-Link is the most advanced personal energy system available today. A quarter century of frontier research has given birth to the Q-Link, a sleek pendant that tunes your being for optimal living: More energy, less stress, greater focus, and enhanced well being. No matter what you do, the Q-Link simply helps you feel better and gives you a creative edge by helping harmonizing your mind and body.

And here’s what the Q-Link promises:

  • It strengthens your resilience and resistance to the effects of stress.
  • It increases your energy and enhances your mental performance, especially under pressure.
  • It increases your capacity to function in EMF saturated environments.

Yes! Exactly what I need! (Well, except for the stuff about EMF-saturated environments, but, hey, I just view that aspect of the Q-Link as an added bonus.) It even comes with a hypoallergenic cord. How thoughtful. But how, pray tell, does it work? No surprise, the purveyors of this woo are more than happy to tell you:

The Q-Link’s fundamental technology can be understood by imagining a tuning fork that vibrates at a certain pitch. Similarly, the Q-Link’s Sympathetic Resonant Technology™ (SRT™) is tuned to optimize the human energy system through resonance. As it interacts with your biofield, it leads to a rebalancing and restoration according to your individual needs…

The new Q-Link features next-generation SRT 3, which enables the device to more efficiently resonate life-supporting frequencies in the biofield and activate a more powerful response to stress. Most people will notice heightened energy, quicker effects, and a more rapid return to centered emotional balance.

Ah, more energy woo! I’m feeling a bit better already just reading about it. Just my amazement at how some device can detect the “resonance” of the “human energy system” when no scientist has yet been able to detect “life energy,” “qi,” or whatever you want to call it, much less any effect of any of these ;healing; modalities on this “life energy,” “qi,” or whatever you want to call it. But, hey, that’s just the nasty, evil skeptic in me. Even needing some stress and mood relief as badly as I do, I can’t resist questioning.

Bummer. I guess I’ll just have to take it out on Q-Link. But first, I must know where this amazing new technology came from:

The Q-Link emerges from a new paradigm in science. Our founders came of age as scientists attempted to model the strange world of the quantum universe, which contains observations that defy common sense such as probability clouds and the virtual emptiness of all matter. Some of these insights from quantum physics led to a deeper understanding of the biofield and subtle energies, which mirrored teachings from Chinese medicine and Eastern disciplines. These insights proved foundational for the Q-Link, one of the only applications to harness these emerging sciences for consumer use.

Yes! I knew it! I just knew that an appeal to quantum theory was coming. It’s inevitable, once the woo starts flowing, the “resonance” of “energy fields” is invoked, and woo-meisters start talking about relieving stress. (Oh, well, at least they’re not mentioning quantum homeopathy.) Let’s see how these intrepid researchers (and I do use the term loosely) managed to discover this wondrous process:

Our founders began the work that led to the Q-Link in the 1980s by creating ways to store information and emit fields through integrating subtle energy dynamics with modern electronics. Early prototypes, they discovered, could affect the rate of growth in plants, improve water, and even enhance audio systems. Further experiments confirmed positive effects on chemical systems. They then reasoned that the technology surely would affect the most complicated bio-chemical system of all – a human being.

Their journey led to scientists like Professor William Tiller, a world expert and material scientist at Stanford University, who took prototypes and created double-blind studies of his own. The results were very promising. In 1991, Clarus was born as a company, designed to translate the early prototypes of Sympathetic Resonance Technology™ into a powerful family of consumer products, led by the Q-Link.

Amazing! Particularly amusing is the involvement of William Tiller, woo-meister extraordinaire, and someone whom we’ve met before in no fewer than four previous editions of YFDoW. Not only has he been invoked during the justification of Dr. Emoto’s water woo, but he’s even tried to give quantum homeopathic woo-meister supreme Lionel Milgrom a serious run for his money.

Where is all this research published? If this all were true, it would revolutionize physics and health care. At least, I think it would. So where is all this stuff published? The peer-reviewed scientific literature must be riddled with papers describing these astounding new discoveries. After all, as Richard Dawkins said in Part Two of The Enemies of Reason, if homeopathy is true, it would overthrow many of the laws of physics and chemistry. The same is true of the Q-Link, although perhaps not to the same degree. After all, I suppose it’s possible that there is a “life energy” whose “resonance” can be affected. It’s just that science, despite increasingly sophisticated and sensitive instruments, has as yet been unable to detect it or, more importantly, detect any affect of manipulations of this “energy field” by devices like the Q-Link.

Sorry. Even in grief, the skeptic in me just can’t stay muzzled.

Let’s get back to where all this “scientific evidence” supporting the efficacy of Q-Link to do whatever it is that its manufacturers claim it can do. Heck, they have a “library of research studies” to back up their woo. It’s all very impressive looking at first glance. At second glance, it becomes much less so. For one thing, not a single one of these “studies” appears to have been published in anything resembling a peer-reviewed journal. They’re just manuscripts. Some of them are even double-spaced–just like a scientific manuscript. Here are a couple of the best howlers. First, here’s a study by Robert Young, PhD, DSc, who is a microbiologist, entitled Summary of Double Blind Research Study on the Negative Effects of Everyday Lifestyle Stressors on the Human Cell and the QLink Device to Buffer Stress.


We’ve met Dr. Young once before in a previous edition of YFDoW. Suffice it to say that he’s a woo-meister supreme, who, both on his blog and website, pushes the concept that all disease is related to changes in pH and that you need to “alkalinize” your blood in order to cure diseases as serious as cancer and in general to be healthier. Apparently he’s branched out into new and different woo.

In the current study, Dr. Young does, of all things, live blood cell analysis and what he refers to at the “mycotoxic oxidative stress test” on blood drawn from subjects before and after wearing either a real Q-Link pendant or a “dummy” (i.e., “inactive”) Q-Link pendant. (I can’t resist asking how one told the difference.) I’ve been meaning to do a YFDoW on live blood cell analysis for a while now, but somehow never got around to it. Until I do, suffice it to say that these two tests, when used this way, are almost always pure quackery. (So I guess it’s appropriate to use them in a study of the Q-Link pendant.) The live blood test involves nothing more than dropping blood on a slide and looking at it under a microscope, usually a darkfield microscope. The “mycotoxic oxidative stress test” involves nothing more than letting that blood clot before looking at it. There are legitimate uses for simple darkfield microscopy, but this isn’t one of them. In brief, you just can’t tell the things that are claimed to be detected using this method, and interpretation that live blood cell analysis advocates make of observations of these blood slides are often based on a faulty understanding or misinterpretation of what can be seen in blood under the microscope, not to mention that the morphology of red and white blood cells can be highly dependent on the preparation, which is why real pathologists and hematologists use rigorous protocols.

The list of non-peer-reviewed dubious studies goes on. There is a study of the Q-Link and acupuncture, a study of the Q-Link and mobile phone radio waves, a study of the effect of the Q-Link on applied kinesiology (the quackery, not the legitimate discipline of kinesiology) and a study by William Tiller of whether the Q-Link can help the user “resist” EMF (begging, of course, the question of whether EMF at the levels studied even cause any adverse effects). This one is perhaps the most annoying. At least the other studies tried to seem scientific, with at least a cursory description of methodology and attempt at controls and blinding. This study is just a one-page summary of assertions with nothing that allows a reader to determine what they even really did!

Of course, Bad Science has already done a bit on the Q-Link (which is probably where I saw it and then filed it away into my Folder of Woo for later loving attention), where Ben Goldacre pointed out that the Q-Link had received credulous press coverage from such media outlets as The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Mail, and on London Today and Fox News. And no self-respecting woo would be without celebrities who use it, celebrities such as Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, possibly Tiger Woods (indeed, it appears to be particularly popular among golfers, to the point where there is even a line of Q-Link products pitched to golfers–at prices ranging from $59 to $999–and a list of professional golfers who wear the Q-Link is prominently featured), and Gloria Estefan.

Isn’t that, when added to the bevy of glowing testimonials, good enough for us pesky skeptics? Happily, no.

The truly funny thing is that this device has been examined by actual electronics geeks, who took it apart and tried to figure out how it works, particularly given that it has no power source and its makers claim that it is powered by “microcurrents” from the heart. As Ben reports:

Here in the sunshine, some of the nation’s cheekiest electronics geeks examined the QLink. We chucked probes at it, and tried to detect any “frequencies” emitted, with no joy. And then we did what any proper dork does when presented with an interesting device: we broke it open. Drilling down, the first thing we came to was the circuit board. This, we noted with some amusement, was not in any sense connected to the copper coil, and therefore is not powered by it.

The eight copper pads do have some intriguing looking circuit board tracks coming out of them, but they too, on close inspection, are connected to absolutely nothing. A gracious term to describe their purpose might be “decorative”. I’m also not clear if I can call something a “circuit board” when there is no “circuit”.

Finally, there is a modern surface mount electronic component soldered to the centre of the device. It looks impressive, but whatever it is, it is connected to absolutely nothing. Close examination with a magnifying glass, and experiments with a multimeter and oscilloscope, revealed that this component on the “circuit board” is a zero-ohm resistor.

Lovely. So what did the inventor say when confronted by this information? Well, I have to tip my hat to him for the cheekiness and sheer “woo-ey-ness” of his reply:

They kindly contacted the inventor, who informed me they have always been clear the QLink does not use electronics components “in a conventional electronic way”. And apparently the energy pattern reprogramming work is done by some finely powdered crystal embedded in the resin.

Of course it is.

There, I feel a bit better now.

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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