Medicine Pseudoscience Skepticism/critical thinking

There’s no woo like golf woo

I suck at golf.

There was a time in my life when I golfed a lot. Unfortunately, I was pretty lousy at it. I tended to shoot around 120, and only once in my life do I ever recall breaking 100 for 18 holes. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t sweat it. Just realize that that’s not very good. (A lower score is better, and par is usually somewhere around 72, depending on the golf course.) Of course, golf is hard. It’s very, very hard, and because golf is so hard golfers are always on the lookout for something that will improve their score. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a duffer like me or a pro, golfers are always looking for an edge, anything that will improve their scores. What that means is that golfers tend to be prone to woo. Whether they are more prone to woo than other athletes, I don’t know, but I do know that if they fall for something like Energy Athletic Golf, they’re pretty damned credulous. What am I talking about?

Negative ions, baby. Negative ions. And not just any negative ions, but negative ions being infused into your body through a golf shirt. Somehow, these “negative ions” are supposed improve a golfer’s game. How? Well, try not to laugh too hard, but this is the explanation given:

Energy Athletic Golf apparel, powered by IonX, can improve all aspects of a golfer’s game, helping to energize, increase focus and add power during every round. During an electrical storm or near clean, moving water, the air will feel clear and you feel revitalized. This is caused by the natural process known as ionization-when an electron joins with an atom. This pairing causes the atoms to move from a neutral to a negative charge, thus creating energy.

What science has learned is that ionization energizes the body’s electrical circuits. This stimulates blood flow, increases efficiency of power and speeds up recovery. This negative ion technology has been used by Russian cosmonauts and Olympic athletes to enhance concentration and physical performance.

With coverage many times greater than a bracelet or necklace, the IonX Ionized Energy Fabric, exclusive to Energy Athletic Golf, delivers ionized energy to the entire upper body through a negatively charged electromagnetic field built into the molecular structure of the fabric.

Got it? Negative ions somehow deliver “ionized energy” to the entire upper body! How? Patience, my readers and friends. Patience. First, be aware that Energy Athletic assures us that there is a double blind study that demonstrates conclusively that IonX represents a “revolutionary apparel technology.” If “revolutionary” means fleecing gullible golfers with more money than science knowledge, of that I have no doubt. But, alas, that’s not what Energy Athletic means. What it claims to mean is that the “improved flow of oxygen-enriched blood brings fresh energy to the muscles to help improve your energy, focus and performance.” How do negative ions cause more oxygen-enriched blood? There’s a lot of science-y-sounding gobbledygook on the Energy Athletic website, but basically what you see in the quote above is what you get. The end result is that supposedly a golfer “wearing Energy Athletic powered by IonX will have the advantage of increased average power of 2.7%.” Wow. A whopping 3%? I suppose that, if real, that might make a little difference. I suppose that at the very highest levels of competition, such a difference might mean the difference between first and second place. Of course, that all depends on such a difference actually being real, and given the level of pseudoscience on the Energy Athletic website, I remain…skeptical.

A good example can be found here in this video, where Al Ouimet, PhD, who is billed as the Chief Scientist at IonX, pontificates on the benefits of IonX technology:

Dr. Al Ouimet Energy Ion Test from Energy Athletic on Vimeo.

I love the part, which is right at the very beginning of the video, where Ouimet discusses how people start their day with a hot shower and how hot showers feel so good. What’s his explanation for the reason that hot showers feel so good? He claims that that feeling is caused by negative ions “bombarding your body” from the shower. Funny, I always thought that it was the hot water hitting your body was what felt good. True, he also mentions cold showers, but I always thought that the reason that cold showers could be bracing was, well, the cold water hitting your body. I do think it’s rather amusing, though, how Ouimet talks about how, after the ions hit you they go down the drain with the water, but that the IonX shirt keeps the ions close to your skin. Even more amusing is how he claims that the shirt works with the body’s own “force field” or its own “electromagnetic force.” He then claims that these negative ions cause the capillaries just under the skin to grow and in so doing somehow that allows “blood rich oxygen” to come to the surface. Somehow this is supposed to bring oxygen to the muscles.

What a load of hooey.

First off, even if the shirt could do what is claimed for it and bring oxygen to the the surface capillaries, all that would accomplish is to make sure that the skin and superficial structures of the torso and arms are well-oxygenated. Another thought just occurred to me as well. These are short-sleeved shirts, standard golf shirts. They don’t cover the whole arm, just about half of the upper arm, or about one-quarter of the arm. If the activity of the negative ions depends so much on the proximity of the shirt to the skin, then all that’s getting the negative ions is the torso and the shoulders.

So what’s the result? Well, on this page, the Energy Athletic people are more than happy to show a graph of the alleged benefits:


I love how there is an asterix over the IonX bar in the graph, the implication being that there is a statistically significant difference between IonX and control. there is, of course, a problem. Look at the size of those error bars relative to the values shown on the graph. Also look at where the graph is started. It’s not as zero; rather, it’s at 600. In reality, the “eyeball” test alone is strongly indicative that there is no statistically significant difference between the two values.

So, if science fails to back up the claims made on this website, then what do the manufacturers of this shirt have to back up their claims? Why, testimonials, of course! Take a look:

Energy Athletic Testimonials from Energy Athletic on Vimeo.

Paul Azinger on Energy Athletic from Energy Athletic on Vimeo.

As amused as I was by this website, there was one thing I found rather disturbing about it and that’s how it pointed to an article on WebMD that, or so the makers of IonX shirts claim, is scientific evidence that negative ions provide health benefits. It’s an old article, dating back to 2002, and, unfortunately, it’s a highly credulous article as well, entiteld Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes. It’s a highly embarrassing bit of fluff medical journalism in which no peer-reviewed evidence is presented, but claims and testimonials that negative ion generators can help depression are presented more or less as though they were fact.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I suck at golf. It’s sad, but it’s true. If there were anyone who would be desperate for anything that might improve his game, even by a little, it’s me. Too bad skepticism and my knowledge of science get in the way of my believing the claims of Energy Athletic. Actually, it’s not too bad for me. it’s too bad for Energy Golf. In this case my skepticism keeps me and my money from being parted.

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]

63 replies on “There’s no woo like golf woo”

Oh God, those error bars. It makes me think of the last lab report I had to turn in for my tissue culture class. The same lab report where me and my lab partners spent about a page in the discussion section explaining why our results were absolutely freaking awful. Seriously, error bars like that should be reserved for undergrad lab courses where nobody knows what they’re doing – not for actual commercial products.

Ah, what am I saying. Screw the data! All that matters is milking profit from a bunch of credulous golfers desperate to one-up their colleagues! All hail the almighty dollar (*cough*)!

And of course, people will buy more than enough of this crud to nicely pad the company’s bank account for a couple years at least. Sometimes I despair at humanity.

Woo like this seems common in pasttimes where people case rationality aside and pay a lot of money if they think they can get it. Audio & videophiles are as bad for this sort of rubbish.

If you think “golf woo” is bad, I suggest you look at the woo used to sell products to “golden eared” audiophiles!

Who would have thought that the audio quality would be improved by gold plating the mains power plug? Or oxygen-free copper loudspeaker cables? Or cables that have to be inserted one way round? Etc etc.

@2: audio/videophiles amuse me. I cannot fathom what benefit they expect to get from having gold-plated connectors on digital cables like HDMI. I mean, the rationality for them on analog cables is suspect at best, but what environment are they working in that goldplating is going to improve a digital signal?

So, obviously, the .1 per cent can’t afford to pay more taxes– between the greens fees and club house drinks tabs and golf bets and now their woo treatments– why the poor dears are just barely scraping by.

I’m mildly impressed they dare to put negative ions at the centre of their spiel. They’re targeting the segment of the golfing population clueless enough not to see through the baloney, but on-ball enough not to automatically assume that that negative ions are bad ions.

Are these shirts supposed to be electrically charged then? Would this increase the danger of lightning strikes? 🙂

The spokesman guy has a white coat on, but he’s a mere PhD. Real MD doctors would never fall for this stuff!

Oh, wait.

I note that the good “Doctor”, while testing the shirts, is doing so with the scam shirt sitting very near or on top of the keyboard and monitor of his computer, while the other shirt is in the middle of his bench.

I wonder if that could influence the measurements.

The golf thing is as much for the credulous golfer as it is for the folks looking for gifts for the avid golfer. If priced correctly, this crap will appeal to the gift giver more than the receiver I think.

In very mild defense of the audiophiles, there’s much better science on gold connectors improving audio quality (corrosion-resistant but still highly conductive, easy to depose in a thin layer) than on this “negative ion” pap. However audiophiles do fall prey to other woo, specifically the polarised bit… and the notorious double-blind study showing that audio experts can’t tell the difference between identical rigs connected by ~$1000 of Monster Cables or by a few cents of coat-hanger wire.

As far as golf goes, I too am fairly pathetic at it… but my limited experience suggests that the way to improve is not to put more power behind your drives but rather to put more accuracy into your putts. (“Drive for show, putt for dough” is a cliche for a good reason.) So even if these shirts worked as advertised they still won’t help; heck, even as pathetically-underexercised a golfer as I can get enough power out of a club to get the ball to the green without a magic shirt.

The more persuasive woo would be to claim improved *accuracy*, but claiming that a shirt can do that is pretty counterintuitive and I gather the club manufacturers have that angle sewn down pretty tightly. (Not that they haven’t made clubs with bigger “sweet spots” that make it easier to make an accurate strike… but a lot of the carbon-fiber-and-titanium stuff is nearly-immeasurably different this way from their much cheaper steel cousins. All the composites really do is reduce the weight of the bag you or your caddy schlepp around.)

— Steve

Wow, that’s just hilarious! “ionization energizes the body’s electrical circuits” – so that’s what happened to the Hulk! You have to wonder when someone will start billing tanning beds as “dispensers of ionizing electromagnetic waves”.

My friend who golfs once had a grouchy Romanian caddy who gave him great advice – proof that a negative Ion can affect your game.

Bah, those are all quacks, buy my strontium 90 wristbands, for some real negative ions to charge your body!

Commercial comment (aka “spam”) spotted, currently at #18 by “Steve” with a link to, of all things, personal trainers in LAlaland.

I wouldn’t have been quite so harsh, but he’s besmirching the name of “Steve” and I can’t allow that.

— Steve (a real one who can pass the Turing Test.)

“The natural Ionic Energy Index™”

I love it! They have even trademarked it!

Ciaran @ 7 – exactly what I was thinking!

When the bozo mentioned AATCC (American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists) Test Method 76, I reached for my copy of the AATCC Technical Manual to see if Method 76 actually exists. It does!
“1.1 The purpose of this test method is to determine the electrical resistivity of fabrics. Electrical resistivity influences the accumultion of electrostatic charge of a fabric …”
In other words, it is primarily intended to determine if a fabric is likely to suffer from annoying static cling. Alone, it says absolutely nothing about presence of ions or ionizable compounds.

Now if bozo had a blue lab coat, of the sort used in electronics manufacturing facilities, he would be embarrassed to find that it would be orders of magnitude better, by TM 76, than his golf shirt. The lab coats are designed to minimize static charge build up, to prevent blasting ICs and other sensitive components into oblivion.
A tinfoil hat would give spectactular results!
I wonder how power was measured for the graph. If the Y axis is taken as power in Watts (instead of dimensionless power divided by Watts, as labeled), the numbers are in the range of one horse power (746W). Curious.
Do golfers ever suffer from lactic acid accumulation while playing golf? How would increasing blood flow in the skin benefit muscles?
Gold on connectors for digital signals: A decently thick layer of hard gold over a good underplating of nickle is very definitely of value for the sole purpose of preventing corrosion that reduces reliability. Base metals tend to produce low-conductivity oxides, even in relatively benign environments, that can significantly reduce the reliability of connector contacts unless the contact pressure is sufficient to be “gas tight”. (There are a lot of cheap connectors that have “gold flash” – which I maintain is done by nailing a gold coin over the door of the loading dock – or employing a trenchcoat-clad Goldmember on the production line. The gold is so thin an porous that it is pretty much useless.)
I wonder if I could make my fortune by developing a solar-powered ionizer for water for washing golf balls.

The asterisk signifies, per the note under the graph, “Average power achieved over 15 seconds, on Wingate test for control and IonX garments.” So they’re not claiming that it’s statistically significant – which would be a nice trick when it’s about 0.2 sigma.

Personally I wonder why they even bothered to put the error bars on there at all. If they calculated them they obviously now that the difference is hugely far from statistically significant, so there’s no pretense of honesty to begin with. Why not just leave them off if you already know you’re lying?

The negative ions will not work, unless you also raise your body pH. Once that’s accomplished, you can neutralize all problems with your backswing and flush toxic errors like slicing and topping.

If they’d just open a course where you can do a coffee enema before teeing off, we’ll have all the bases covered.

Oh Lord! Magic shirts!

However if your ridiculous superstition allows you to have confidence in yourself you just might do better because of *that*. Imagine where you start on the Yerkes-Dodson curve: if your arousal is already “over the top” – due to nerves- something that makes you feel better, i.e. calmer, more self- assured – that might help your performance.

I once was offered -and took- a drink prior to a game and did better than I predicted I would have.

But seriously: I can just picture the ad campaign if this woo ever migrates to tennis apparel manufacturers. As if magic isn’t already surrepticiously implied in advertising : “Dress like Maria ( or Roger) – play better!”

I’m still trying figure out what magic sunscreen Andy Murray uses. If you don’t catch my drift, google his photo.

I do think it’s rather amusing, though, how Ouimet talks about how, after the ions hit you they go down the drain with the water, but that the IonX shirt keeps the ions close to your skin.

Wait… You’re supposed to wear it in the shower?

i tried to google up the meter he is using, but i can’t make out the brand on the video and see what the buttons are and maybe find a manual.

however, when he is showing how the regular shirt has 0 Volts you can see what the buttons are on the surface DC voltmeter since the camera is in nice and close. the big one is On/Off, the next is Hold and the next is Reset. it looks like he is pressing the Reset button when he is measuring the regular shirt, but not when he is measuring the energy shirt.

what do you suppose the Reset button does? maybe sets the meter reading to zero? hmmm…

Take up tennis instead. Minimal woo – once you get past the racquet technology and the magnetic necklaces and wrist bands, that’s it.

Hehehe. Before I got to the discussion of the graph, I took a quick glance and thought, “Boy those error bars are big.” And it turns out I was right to think that. If even a non-scientist like myself can spot that…

And these shirts use ionized energy, huh? I wonder what CDRH (Center for Devices and Radiologic Health) at the FDA has to say about them.

(first comment still in moderation)

I watched the video again in full-screen mode. The meter he is using appears to be a electrostatic voltmeter. This would measure the electrical charge on a surface – like the static charge produced on a latex ballon by rubbing it in your hair (which reminds me, it is the time of year when I need to spray my car seats with Staticide, if I still want my finger tips intact come spring).
He isn’t using AATCC Test Method 76 at all.

It could well be that the fabric has a permanent negative charge. This is well-established technology used in making cheap microphones and some types of ultrasonic transducers. The fabric would be completely incapable of yielding up the charge to anything else.

Among the absurdly large numbers of preposterous claims, I notice they define ionization as “when an electron joins with an atom,” creating a negative charge. But that’s only half of the definition — ionization is also the *loss* of an electron, creating a positive charge. How do they know that only negative charges are beneficial? And how does their shirt ensure that only negative charge is created? And how to wearers not get zapped every time they pick up their clubs?

Actually, it occurred to me at lunchtime that the error bars are actually not that large. If the X axis were set to zero, the error bars would actually be pretty small. Of course, the problem with setting the X-axis at zero would be that the difference between the bars would be tiny as a percentage of the values involved, so small that they probably wouldn’t even be noticeable. And, of course, the error bars would still be large relative to the difference between the two values. Oh, what a conundrum…

Energy Athletic Golf apparel, powered by IonX, can improve all aspects of a golfer’s game, helping to energize, increase focus and add power during every round. During an electrical storm or near clean, moving water, the air will feel clear and you feel revitalized.

So wearing one of these magic shirts is like being struck by lightning.
I was not previously aware that this improved a player’s game.

Best be careful you don’t negatively charge the wrong stuff… could result in exploding golfers when all that Na+ is negatively ionized to Na – French golfers could become particularly dangerous.


Well, a coffee enema beforehand would certainly speed up the round.

Anyone who did that would certainly be his or her own worst enema.

I suck at golf.

Same here. I’m decent at teeing off and putting, but that is more than outweighed by my abysmal iron-use on the fairway.

Oh now – this is just silly! Everyone knows it doesn’t matter what you wear on the golf course (as long as your shirt has a collar). The important thing is what your clubs are made of. Try the new beryllium coated plutonium driver for explosive distance off the tee!

Regarding audiophile woo, I remember seeing a Monster digital audio cable that was at least double the thickness of your average run-of-the-mill one, due to the additional insulation. I didn’t know fiber-optic cable was so susceptible to RF interference (maybe it was for use in unusually bright environments). I wonder if the contacts were gold-plated, too?

My favorite poke at the audiophile woo was the guy who did a blind test of speaker cables with some of his “expert” friends. One of the cables he used was a pair of coat-hanger wires. No appreciable difference was detected.

I’m completely incapable of golfing — they have to issue helmets when I’m on the course. I can see, though, where woo and superstition can easily take hold.

The funny part with gold-plating is that it’s actually very inexpensive thing to do. Since the layer of gold is just several microns thick the actual cost of plating is very low. In fact, my current earphones for mp3 player have gold plated mini-jack. The best earphones I ever had, BTW, especially regarding bass tones – and I know what I’m saying, because in my life I went through 20 or so pairs of earphones (I tend to use up my stuff) so I have comparison.

Best part? It’s a no-brand that costed me 17$.

Well, this is all nonsense, but I have a sure fire trick. One of my great aunts (in a family of golfing fanatics) put her considerable success down to her pyschic cat. She asked the cat every morning and if the cat said she would lose, she would stay home and praticse her putting, and if the cat said she would win she played and most often won (as you do when you play golf almost every single day of your life) and if she lost it was because her partners were cheating (bviously). Sadly, my aunt was the only one who could cimmunicate with the cat. When she died he went to live at the neighbours, and while they say he is a good mouser and a lovely pet, he didn’t predict the earthquake and has as yet not helped them win the lotto.

No, I’m quite sure that there is some sort of woo that is very similar to what you’d get by reducing a wolf to goo.

Good catch, rob. To my trained eye (CoI disclosure: I am a Professional Engineer in power systems) that looks like floating voltage readings. In the first segment, the voltmeter is “spinning down” to the reading (it starts at around -2 VDC and ends up at about -18.5 VDC).

A bit of trivia. Many laptop computers operate at +18.5 VDC…

At first I read the headline as, “there’s no woo like wolf goo.”

Wolf goo: good for what ails you!

Me – I just want my forcefield. Okay so I suck at golf and have read way too much science fiction.

I did a quick check on the specs for the voltmeter – couldn’t find that model – it appears too be too old to still have the specs online without really searching. The reset button does in fact reset the readings to zero. The hold button shows the highest reading since the reset button was pressed. Couldn’t tell if it kept it there without being pressed without doing more reading than I cared to do.
The other thing I noticed is that he “activated” the shirt when measuring it the first time by running his hand under the shirt as he was taking the readings. The voltmeter reads static electricity. Who wants a clingy golf shirt?

I’ve never actually golfed. I have a drive that maxes out at 100 yards. My links experience is limited to the Tiger Woods games and a few rounds of miniature. In no case have I submitted to woo – all my strange actions are for entertainment purposes only.

Ciaran @#7: “When I’m on the course and it starts to storm, I hold up my 1-iron, because not even God can hit a 1-iron.”

As for the semi-related woo of audiophiles, I don’t have the ability to link to XKCD’s strip on it. If nopony has linked to it yet, could somepony do that?

I was feeling under par until I read this post about negative ions. I had my ion this post and was watching the comments, some of which really putt me off. In fact, I was so teed off that I almost had a stroke. Luckily I realized that the only ones trying to drive a wedge between science and sport were the guys at Energy Athletic Golf. I watched the videos and thought, “Wouldn’t it be ionic if the business stayed out of the green and went into the hole because they lost their shirt?”

I am sure my uncle would love to get this. He is retired, loves golf, and thinks those ionized bracelets do a lot to help his game.

I really enjoy golf myself, though I am a miserable player. I really suck and cannot drive a ball due to my awful slice. In fact I often tee off with a long iron because I am much better with them and simply accept I will not be on the green in two. Maybe this shirt can help me.

A bit of trivia. Many laptop computers operate at +18.5 VDC…

Additional trivia: Watch out for the combination of floating chassis ground and metal enclosure.

@Anton P. Nym

“As far as golf goes, I too am fairly pathetic at it… but my limited experience suggests that the way to improve is not to put more power behind your drives but rather to put more accuracy into your putts.”

Actually, the best way to improve your golf (at least your enjoyment of it) is to put more beer in the cooler.

Speaking of golf woo, Sports Illustrated’s Nov. 7 issue reports (with photographic proof, no less) that golfer Jesper Parnevik regularly ate volcanic sand and fruit to cleanse his system.

Yes, volcanic sand.

Plain ‘ol silica is too binding, apparently…

@ Pinkamena, Panic Pony

As for the semi-related woo of audiophiles, I don’t have the ability to link to XKCD’s strip on it. If nopony has linked to it yet, could somepony do that?

Ask, and ye shall receive:

xkcd Audiophiles

If you think you can estimate a p-value from the means and standard deviations alone you are badly mistaken – big enough sample size can do wonders. Perhaps folks assume they are instead estimated standard errors of the means, and then you can indeed conclude something.

NPR had a psychiatrist make negative ion claims: “Wet, damp places have an excess of negative charge and although it sounds like snake oil, actually there’s good empirical evidence that negative ion generators can actually improve seasonal depression, just like phototherapy.” Positive ions of the Foehn or Santa-Anna winds are what “drive people mad”.

Ions are a load of hooey. You should check out the real deal – holograms. Powerbalance bracelets, pendants, and now mouthguards help athletes in all sports!
They even have a tried and true testing method.

Yours in woo-trolling,

On the topic of gold-plated connectors, I actually got to brag about mine recently, but not for the woo reason: My brother moved in and while he was hooking up all his electronics, he noticed one of his HDMI cables had some corrosion on it. Gold is a very non-reactive element, so it’d resist corrosion.

Of course, I didn’t get my HDMI cables for the gold plating. I got them because they were the cheapest cables I could find online. Any resistance to corrosion they might have is just a minor bonus.

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