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Pain is a very subjective phenomenon....It's not at all surprising that if a sufferer thinks he/she is receiving the benefits of some technology or magic, the degree of discomfort can be lessened. --James Randi
"...every home has a built in natural ionizer—the shower." --Denise Mann
QT, Inc., located at 680 Fargo Avenue in Elk Grove Village, IL 60007, sells Q-Ray bracelets, which according to court documents, are marked up 650 percent.* They've been priced as high as $350. From 2000-2003, prices ranged from $49.95 to $249.95. Sales are made at trade shows, via the Internet, and through television infomercials. The bracelet is said to be "the world's only ionized bracelet of its kind for balancing your body's yin-yang (positive & negative ions)." The brains behind this device is Que Te "Andrew" Park, who reportedly sold more than a million such bracelets from 2000 to 2003, mainly through infomercials.*
According to Park and the QT folks, yin and yang are ions. This should be great news to those trying to live a well-balanced life. This should also be great news to metallurgists and other students of solid objects who for centuries did not know that solid objects can be ionized or that there can be such a thing as an ionic imbalance in the human body! An ion is an atom or group of atoms that has a positive or negative charge because of having lost or gained one or more electrons. Dr. Stephen Barrett notes that "ions exist in solution throughout the body. There is no such thing as an 'ionized bracelet,' because solid objects are not ionized. There is no such thing as an ionic imbalance of the body...." (Barrett 2004).
How a bracelet is supposed to balance your yin and yang is not mentioned by the Q-Ray folks. However, they are confident that it will "energize your whole body and relieve pains the natural way by boosting chi..." This is an interesting claim. All kinds of New Age healers claim to be able to move, unblock, manipulate, or transfer chi, but I don't recall anyone ever claiming she could increase it. Unfortunately, the Q-Ray folks do not mention how they measure chi or how they know the Q-Ray increases it.
The Q-Ray people also say--although I am not sure even they know what they mean--that
The speed of "chi" in your body is equal to the speed of the light, based on the body electric. So fast, so effective. Not slowly, locally like others.
Apparently, clear English is not a strong suit with the Q-Ray people. Nor is intelligible or intelligent trademark claims. For example, they claim to have a trademark on each of the following:
Natural Pain Relief
Often imitated, Never duplicated
Serious Performance Bracelet (or Sports Performance Bracelet)
Why would anyone buy or wear such a bracelet? Well, it does have "cutting-edge exclusive Ionization Technology for 24 hours Non Stop Performance." And "the Original Ionized Q-Ray covers the whole afflicted areas of body instantly." Still not convinced? How about this: "Worn by more Pro-Tour golfers in the PGA and athletes in the MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL." The MLB? If this vague comparison and pseudoscientific jargon doesn't convince you, maybe this will
Balancing your body's Yin-Yang (Chi) is everything in your competitive Sports Performance and well beings. No Doping Test needed for Q-Ray.
Q-Ray provides a free dope test to anyone who buys a bracelet. Certification is extra. Some cruel folks might say that buying the bracelet means you've passed the dope test with flying colors and the certification would just be chi-icing on the yin-yang cake.
For those who prefer science to common sense and humor, I suggest you read the report from the Mayo Clinic on a double-blind, control group, randomized test of allegedly ionized bracelets (Q-Ray bracelets) vs. placebos for pain relief. Guess what the scientists found? No difference. That should yin the yang out of anybody's chi. Not really. Believers in magic will complain that the study wasn't carried out long enough (it went for 28 days) or that it wasn't large enough (it included 610 men and women 18 and older who had self-reported musculoskeletal pain at the beginning of the study). Or they will take great pleasure in noting that both groups reported a significant relief from pain, proving (to the magical mind) that both Q-Ray bracelets and placebos are effective pain relievers. Even if that's true for some kinds of pain, placebos might be a lot cheaper and more efficient: they work without recourse to increasing chi, balancing yin and yang, or disturbing anyone's ions. If you want to start a company selling placebo bracelets, I'll give you a free name: call it the Quack-Ray bracelet and charge accordingly. In the meantime, read Barry Beyerstein's little essay: "Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work."
In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Park and QT Inc. for false advertising. The charge was based in part on the Mayo Clinic study that had found the Q-Ray worked no better than a placebo. On September 8, 2006, a federal judge ruled that Mr. Park's Q-Ray claims were fraudulent and he should repay at least $22.5 million to the suckers who bought them. (Park and QT could end up owing as much $87 million, depending on how many Q-Ray customers seek refunds.) In his 136-page ruling, the judge noted that Park made up all his claims about the way the bracelet works and the wonders it supposedly performs. U.S. Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow barred Park and QT from claiming the bracelet relieves pain, but they are still free to sell the thing.* I checked the Q-Ray website two days after the judge's ruling and found no mention of relieving pain. There were claims that the bracelet is made with "Bio-Metal" that it offers a "natural and effective method" to increase "bio-energy, vitality, and feelings of well-being." But there was nothing on the website about relieving pain.
During the trial, Park's attorneys criticized the Mayo study and argued that testimonials from satisfied customers justify Park's claims about relieving pain. Even if the bracelet works through a placebo effect, they argued, it still works and therefore they are not guilty of false advertising. QT Inc. attorney Michael Ficaro argued that "more than three out of four people got relief from this product and the other quarter who didn't got their money back." The judge didn't buy their reasoning, nor did he find that the evidence supported the claim that dissatisfied customers got their money back. The Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois had 128 complaints in 2003 from people who said the product didn't work or who had trouble getting refunds. A spokesman for the BBB of Chicago said that the judge's ruling reflects what consumers have been telling them for years. (If you have a complaint to make, contact the FTC at 202-326-2063.)
Q-Ray appealed and lost. In January 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court ruling requiring the Q-Ray folks to pay a minimum of $22.5 million, representing their profits from January 2000 to June 2003. They also will be required to provide up to an additional $64.5 million in refunds to consumers who bought the bracelets during that time period.* The court upheld the district judge's ruling that the Q-Ray folks "set out to bilk unsophisticated persons who found themselves in pain from arthritis and other chronic conditions."* Chief judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that the Q-Ray claims about ionization and enhancing the flow of bio-energy were "blather" and that the “defendants might as well have said: Beneficent creatures from the 17th Dimension use this bracelet as a beacon to locate people who need pain relief, and whisk them off to their homeworld every night to provide help in ways unknown to our science."
The Q-Ray bilkers have filed for bankruptcy but that has not prevented them from continuing to sell their bracelets. Their website now, however, makes no mention of any healing properties or magical workings. The new site just shows pictures of the various bracelets and their prices. If you click on the Why Q-Ray? link, the only thing you will find is mention of their "exclusive design" and the information that "Q-Ray bracelets are engineered for comfort. Not only is the band manufactured to naturally fit around your wrist, it also has flat terminal ends. Imitators have round terminal balls that put pressure on your wrist." Imitators? There are imitators of this fake? I'll bet they have good testimonials, too.
Superstitious belief, confirmation bias, and ignorance of the power of suggestion being what they are, it was only a matter of time before a new kind of magical jewelry would emerge in the free market. In the Philippines, Zorex Tymzone (which seems to be a kind of MLM store) now offers a bracelet with neodymium magnets* that is said to "enhance the flow of energy in the body at the 15 acupuncture points around the wrist." As everyone who believes in this rubbish knows, the bracelet will increase the flow of chi through the meridians of the wrist. This, of course, will balance the glandular system, increase energy, reduce stress, and create an enhanced feeling of well-being. At least that's what the folks who sell the trinkets are claiming. Only a grumpy old skeptic would ask to see the evidence for these claims.
For the record, the Q-Ray should not be confused with the Q-Link.
* According to Wikipedia, "as one of the more reactive rare earth metals, [neodymium] quickly tarnishes in air. The tarnishing forms an oxide layer that falls off, which exposes the metal to further oxidation. Although it belongs to 'rare earth metals,' neodymium is not rare at all." On the bright side, neodymium magnets are cheap, light, and strong.
Consumer Complaints about Q-Ray (note the ads by Google!)
Photo of Kentucky Derby winner leads to investigation Sports Illustrated- a funny story about a jockey with arthritis and a journalist who misunderstood "Q-Ray for my arthritis" as "cue ring to call the outriders." Jose Santos was cleared of any wrongdoing, in case you are wondering. Santos and the owners of Funny Cide sued The Miami Herald over the incident. A federal judge dismissed the suit. Q-Ray rode this pony all the way to finish line and it didn't cost them an ionized penny.