Magnetic Attraction

October 1999
by Dave Shapiro

On Sunday, August 1st, my wife Denise and I went to watch the final round of the GHO golf tournament in Cromwell, CT. Because there were thousands of people watching this every day, this was an ideal place for venders to pay for space to set up areas to demonstrate and sell their commodities (not necessarily relating to golf).

Many of these venders set up their booths in giant tents located near the clubhouse. We walked into one of the tents and I noticed one vender selling magnetic “healing” devices such as bandages containing small magnets or articles of wear that will have a “medicinal” effect on the person wearing it. I, of course, being a scientist (and a skeptic of any unproven “fact”) went over to the Nikkon booth selling these products. There was a long line of people waiting to have one of the salesmen “demonstrate” the effect of a product called a magnetic insole. The salesman asked the person to put their ringfinger and thumb together. He then easily separated them by simply pulling them apart with both his hands. Then he asked the person to step onto the insole and he was to try to pull the person’s fingers apart again. But lo and behold, the salesman couldn’t do it! The person suddenly became stronger and overwhelmingly more resistant to the salesman’s efforts. I couldn’t resist …. I had to show them how ridiculous this was. People were buying these products without question because the average Joe (or Sally) isn’t a skeptic, doesn’t know science, and will believe anything they see or hear from others.

When it was my turn, I allowed the salesman to perform the demonstration but …. I then said “since I can’t measure the amount of force you were using to pull my fingers apart, can I do a blind study for a second?” The salesman, probably not knowing what a blind study is, allowed me to do this. I asked the salesman to close his eyes …. which he did and I did not stand on the insoles. It sure looked as though he could see where I was standing so I asked my wife to put her hands over his eyes. I very quietly stepped onto the insoles and asked him to now perform the demonstration. Amazingly, he was able to pull my fingers apart! When he opened his eyes and saw where I was standing, he immediately asked his supervisor to please come over. Keep in mind that at least forty or fifty people were observing this. Many of them were questioning the supervisor and he tried to explain his way out of this by telling these potential customers about the subtle changes in the earth’s magnetic field and anything else that would confuse and distract them. I asked him if there are any studies on the medicinal effects of his products and he said “well not in the United States … but there were some studies made in Japan and Germany.” Being satisfied that I had made my point, Denise and I walked away. He was still trying to talk his way out of this when we left the tent. Yes, I had a 50% chance of failing on that first try, but I would have had the salesman do this several times until one of his efforts failed which still would have proven my point.

My wife and I were laughing all the way home but then it occurred to me that the Nikkon Corp was making quite a lot of money today.