Jul 16 2013
The Arthritis Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1948 to help people who suffer from various forms of arthritis and to promote research. They are not a professional organization of experts, but more of a patient-centered organization. Many diseases and disease categories have such organizations to support sufferers and promote research.
In a perfect world all such organizations would be very science-based, but that is not always the case. They are generally good in this respect, but highly variable. It all depends on the organization’s leadership – do they recognize the need to have science-based experts advise them to make sure they do not accidentally promote bad science.
Unfortunately the Arthritis Foundation (AF) has fallen prey to pseudoscience, a failure that can be easily corrected. On their website they promote the Shuzi Comfort Band and have given the product their “ease-of-use” commendation.
The Shuzi band is simply another version of the Q-Ray, Power Balance, magnetic bracelet line of products that claim to improve health or performance through blatant pseudoscientific nonsense. On the AF website they write:
Shuzi is a range of Health Jewelry with Nano Vibration Technology (NVT). Scientifically proven each piece is embedded with a NVT Chip, made of a specially selected non-magnetic material, chosen for its lattice structure and Atomic properties.
The chip sends out a small pulse that balances the bodies bio field. With the bio-field in balance blood cells become much rounder and stronger improving blood flow to all parts of the body. Better blood flow means more oxygen getting to all parts of the body. Blood is able to flow into area’s that have had limited blood flow helping to relieve pain and discomfort caused by a host of aliments.
Nano Vibration Technology – technobabble terms taken right out of the snake-oil handbook. We also have reference to the non-existent biofield, and the very common handwaving explanation that the product works by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery.
There is, of course, no scientific evidence for any of this. It’s pure snake-oil.
How, then, did the Shuzi get the AF seal of approval? The AF describes their process for assessing products.
The process begins with the manufacturer, who submits a product to the Arthritis Foundation seeking expert evaluation of its product. At the GTRI lab, scientists experienced in the design and evaluation of products conduct tests to find out if the products is easy to use for someone with arthritis. The answer results from a three-step testing process.
- Each product is evaluated by a team of scientists, who test the product against a number of “pass” or “fail” requirements specific to the type of product under evaluation. For example, how easy it is to open a medicine bottle or to operate a stationary bike?
- Then the scientists assess and establish user tasks based on every manner in which someone with arthritis might use the product, from the point at which the product is removed from the packaging – yes, the package itself is evaluated – through multiple uses.
- Finally, a team of eight testers who have moderate-to-severe arthritis are evaluated for grip, torque and muscle strength, endurance, pinch force and range of motion. The testers then get to open and use the product, and then each tester is interviewed by the team of scientists.
“We try to be as objective as possible. I rarely ask if a tester likes the product or not, because that’s not the issue,” says Brad Fain, PhD, senior research scientist at GTRI. “I want to know if it’s easy to use.”
You will notice that missing from the process is any assessment of efficacy – does the product actually work? I imagine that the AF will defend itself by claiming that the ease-of-use seal is meant only to indicate that the product is easy to use for people who suffer from arthritis, not that the product is otherwise effective. This would not be a legitimate defense for two important reasons.
The first is that the public is not likely to make this distinction, they will see only that the AF has offered the product their seal of approval. Many people will likely assume that the AF would not have done so for a product that is entirely bogus.
If the AF is assessing ease of use and not efficacy, then they should only evaluate products that already have proven their efficacy. They need to add to their evaluation process a screening phase in which products are reviewed to see that they are legitimate. If there is no one at the AF who can tell at a glance that the Shuzi Band is snake-oil, then they have a serious problem and need to partner with advisers who can fill that gaping hole.
The second reason this defense would not fly is that the Shuzi band is being offered as a treatment for arthritis itself – to “relieve pain and discomfort.” The AF should be especially sensitive to products that are being offered to treat arthritis, and should not give their commendation to products unless they would recommend them as treatments for arthritis.
We live in a world full of misinformation, bad science, and fraudulent claims. Any organization whose goal is to promote the well being of patients who suffer from a disease should have as part of their mission protecting those patients from exploitation by fraud and pseudoscience. Meaning well is not sufficient.
There is a further problem of the existence of many disease-oriented organizations that are pseudoscientific in their mission but present themselves as legitimate patient advocates. The public may assume that any large, well-funded, non-profit disease advocacy charity is a worthy cause, but this is not always the case.
Those organizations who want to be considered legitimate have a tremendous responsibility to make sure they are rigorously science-based. Otherwise they risk promoting pseudoscience and harming the very patients whose lives they wish to improve.
The Arthritis Foundation has harmed its mission by promoting the Shuzi Comfort Band. They should immediately remove their seal of approval from this bogus product, evaluate how their evaluation process failed, and then make appropriate corrections.
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