Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bill Nye: Snake oil salesman?

Brain Dunning (of the Skeptoid podcast) posted a story over at skepticblog, about a product called Activeion.  Activeion is a spray bottle, which is claimed to "ionize" water, making it an incredibly effective cleaning without the need to use harmful chemical products like ammonia or phosphoric acid.  In full disclosure, I'm not a chemistry expert, and I don't know enough to say with certainty that the claims Activeion is making are bogus.  However, I know that Dunning does his research, so I'm assuming he knows more than I do.  Plus, the explanations made by Activeion on their website are pretty hand-wavy and dumbed down, a classic pattern used by snake-oil salesmen.  For instance, they claim that their ionized water lies flatter on a surface than regular water.  Therefore, the surface with the ionized water on it is wetter, and will get cleaner.  Again, not an expert, but sounds like BS to me.  (Oh, add these bottle are selling for $169-$329.  Apparently the more expensive ones make the water puddle even flatter!)

Given that it is likely this product is pseudoscientific nonsense, it was painful to see Bill Nye the Science Guy as a spokesman.  He is in a 9-minute video on the Activeion page (go down to the bottom, where it says "How Does It Work?"), explaining this product the same way the website does.   I remember watching his shows as a kid, and was certainly a big part of me becoming the big science dork I am today.  His hows were engaging and got lots of kids interested in science.  Watching that video was such a disappointment.

Perhaps I'm wrong, and that this product really does work, and there's some solid science behind it.  The website makes a number of claims, including that the water kills 99.9% of bacteria, and the H1N1 virus, that should be easy to test.  I'm skeptical of this, of course, and sad to see someone like Bill Nye stoop to potentially be selling "homeopathy for dirt" (as a Twitter user described it).


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