What The Sceptics Say

This is intended as a sceptical look at the skeptics claims about magnotherapy and magnetic fuel and water conditioning.  Email me if you find other sceptical articles that could benefit from comments  john@sound-ideas.info

My comments are in red

Magnetic Water and Fuel Treatment: Myth, Magic, or Mainstream Science?   

Quackwatch – Magnet Therapy I.

QuackWatch Magnet Therapy II.

Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction? – J D Livingstone, Skeptical inquirer  

Magnet Therapy A Billion-dollar Boondoggle by Bruce L. Flamm

Biomagnetic Pseudoscience and Nonsense Claims

Magnetic and Electromagnetic Therapy By David W. Ramey, DVM

America's Strange Attraction - Magnet Therapy for Pain By Robert L. Park

Magnetic Therapy- Healing with Magnets. 

Wikipedia Magnet Therapy

Catch 22 - The FTC Rulings.

Skeptic's Dictionary: Inset fuel Stabilizer

Motoring Fuel-Saving Devices - Which September 1994

The Sceptics Dictionary - magnet therapy

Magnetic cure for arthritis is all in the mind - Daily Mail 14/11/2002

Magnetic bracelets 'unproven' 

Magnetic water treatment and other scams.

Articles about Sceptics.

   Guide to sceptics.

   Symptoms Of Pathological Skepticism

   The Fine Art of Baloney Detection


 Magnetic Water and Fuel Treatment: Myth, Magic, or Mainstream Science?


Skeptical Inquirer: January/February 1998

Magnetic treatment has been claimed to soften water and improve the combustibility of fuels. A literature review reveals that these claims are not well supported by data.

Mike R. Powell January/February 1998

I like this article, it is a good balanced look at the field

Magnets are not just for refrigerators any more. In fact, according to some magnet vendors, magnets can be used to improve blood circulation, cure and prevent diseases, increase automobile mileage, improve plant growth, soften water, prevent tooth decay, and even increase the strength of concrete. Some of these claims are backed by experimental evidence. Many are not. This article focuses specifically on the claimed benefits of magnetically treated fuel and water.

Most magnetic water and fuel treatment systems appear to be marketed through independent distributors who sell out of their homes. An Internet search using the keywords magnetic treatment reveals dozens of independent distributor home pages. Very few such devices are offered by national chain stores or advertised in mail-order catalogs. Possibly, the magnetic-device manufacturers sell through independent distributors to insulate themselves from some of the more exotic claimed benefits of magnetic treatment, or perhaps consumer and wholesaler skepticism has kept magnetic treatment out of mainstream retail. Regardless of the reasons, magnetic water and fuel treatment devices are not usually available at the local hardware or automobile parts supply store. This lack of wide availability has given magnetic water and fuel treatment a sort of fringe-science status in the minds of many consumers. Whether this label is deserved is the subject of this article.

Just a comment here.   The inventors of the devices I distribute, by network marketing, were faced with a problem when they started.   They were worried that if they went for conventional funding they could lose control of their invention and their company and that accountants could take over the business.   So they went the network marketing approach and started the business with 15,000 UKP.   They remained in complete control of the company as it grew and it now has a 10,000,000 UKP annual turnover.   They had never been in debt to anyone and had complete control of the company and all their inventions/discoveries.   I don't believe they would have been able to say that if they had used any other marketing system.

Claimed Benefits and Effects

The claimed benefits of magnetic water treatment vary depending on the manufacturer. Some claim only that magnetic treatment will prevent and eliminate limescale in pipe and heating elements; others make additional, more extravagant claims. Some of the additional claims include water softening, improved plant growth, and the prevention of some diseases in people who consume magnetically treated water. Magnetic water treatment devices consist of one or more magnets, which are clamped onto or installed inside the incoming residential water supply line. Typical costs for a residential installation range from about $100 to $600 or more.

Ours are 65 UKP and are several magnets in one module

Magnetic fuel treatment devices are constructed similarly. One or more magnets are clamped around or installed inside an automobile's engine fuel line between the gas tank and the carburetor (or fuel injectors). Claims for these devices include decreased hazardous gas emissions, more complete combustion, improved engine power, longer-lasting engine components, and a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in gas mileage. Prices for automotive fuel treatment magnets range from about $50 to $300.

Ours are 55 UKP and again a double array of magnets

The distributors of these devices rarely can cite any documented test results that validate these claims.

They are not selling to scientists, just to ordinary people

Instead, they rely on numerous testimonials, lists of corporations and municipalities that purportedly use the devices, and scientific-sounding explanations of magnetic water and fuel treatment. However, just because distributors do not cite the literature does not mean that no relevant literature exists. Published test reports and journal articles that investigate magnetic treatment are available. This article reviews the available experimental evidence for magnetic water and fuel treatment.

Magnets and Magnetism

To many people, magnets are a complete mystery. Vendors of magnet-based scams often use this ignorance to their own advantage, so a familiarity with the basics of magnetism can aid in the detection of dubious claims.

Even to scientists, magnetism is still not completely understood.   An understanding of the basics will not help with the effects on water and fuel which are still not understood.

Magnetic fields are produced by the motion of charged particles. For example, electrons flowing in a wire will produce a magnetic field surrounding the wire. The magnetic fields generated by moving electrons are used in many household appliances, automobiles, and industrial machines. One basic example is the electromagnet, which is constructed from many coils of wire wrapped around a central iron core. The magnetic field is present only when electrical current is passed through the wire coils.

Permanent magnets do not use an applied electrical current. Instead, the magnetic field of a permanent magnet results from the mutual alignment of the very small magnetic fields produced by each of the atoms in the magnet. These atomic-level magnetic fields result mostly from the spin and orbital movements of electrons. While many substances undergo alignment of the atomic-level fields in response to an applied magnetic field, only ferromagnetic materials retain the atomic-level alignment when the applied field is removed. Thus, all permanent magnets are composed of ferromagnetic materials. The most commonly used ferromagnetic elements are iron, cobalt, and nickel.

Ours are strontium and neodymium

The strength of a magnet is given by its magnetic flux density, which is measured in units of gauss. The earth's magnetic field is on the order of 0.5 gauss (Marshall and Skitek 1987). Typical household refrigerator magnets have field strengths of about 1,000 gauss. According to the distributors, the magnets sold for water and fuel treatment have magnetic flux densities in the 2,000 to 4,000 gauss range, which is not unusually strong. Permanent magnets with flux densities in the 8,000 gauss range are readily available. The magnets sold for magnetic fuel and water treatment are nothing special; they are just ordinary magnets.

Ours are not ordinary magnets.   We think that the important design point is the steep field gradients that our devices have.   This is done using tightly packed alternating poles in a double array to maximise the field gradients in the pipe.

In any case, manufacturer’s gauss figures are suspect, some are given at the surface of the magnet and not at the point of application of the field.

Water Hardness

The phrase hard water originated when it was observed that water from some sources requires more laundry soap to produce suds than water from other sources. Waters that required more soap were considered "harder" to use for laundering.

Water "hardness" is a measure of dissolved mineral content. As water seeps through soil and aquifers, it often contacts minerals such as limestone and dolomite. Under the right conditions, small amounts of these minerals will dissolve in the ground water and the water will become "hard." Water hardness is quantified by the concentration of dissolved hardness minerals. The most common hardness minerals are carbonates and sulfates of magnesium and calcium. Water with a total hardness mineral concentration of less than about 17 parts per million (ppm) is categorized as "soft" by the Water Quality Association (Harrison 1993). "Moderately hard" water has a concentration of 60 to 120 ppm. "Very hard" water exceeds 180 ppm.

Hard water is often undesirable because the dissolved minerals can form scale. Scale is simply the solid phase of the dissolved minerals. Some hardness minerals become less soluble in water as temperature is increased. These minerals tend to form deposits on the surfaces of water heating elements, bathtubs, and inside hot water pipes. Scale deposits can shorten the useful life of appliances such as dishwashers. Hard water also increases soap consumption and the amount of "soap scum" formed on dishes.

They also act as an insulator round the heating elements and make the heater less efficient and more likely to burnout.

Many homeowners and businesses use water softeners to avoid the problems that result from hard water. Most water softeners remove problematic dissolved magnesium and calcium by passing water through a bed of "ion-exchange" beads. The beads are initially contacted with a concentrated salt (sodium chloride) solution to saturate the bead exchange sites with sodium ions. These ion-exchange sites have a greater affinity for calcium and magnesium, so when hard water is passed through the beads the calcium and magnesium ions are captured and sodium is released. The end result is that the calcium and magnesium ions in the hard water are replaced by sodium ions. Sodium salts do not readily form scale or soap scum, so the problems associated with hard water are avoided.

A 1960 survey of municipal water supplies in one hundred U.S. cities revealed that water hardness ranged from 0 to 738 ppm with a median of 90 ppm (see Singley 1984). Ion-exchange water softeners are capable of reducing the hardness of the incoming water supply to between 0 and 2 ppm, which is well below the levels where scale and soap precipitation are significant.

One of the principal drawbacks of ion-exchange water softeners is the need to periodically recharge the ion exchange beads with sodium ions. Rock salt is added to a reservoir in the softener for this purpose.

And flushed out into the environment.

Magnetic Water Treatment

A wide variety of magnetic water treatment devices are available, but most consist of one or more permanent magnets affixed either inside or to the exterior surface of the incoming water pipe. The water is exposed to the magnetic field as it flows through the pipe between the magnets. An alternative approach is to use electrical current flowing through coils of wire wrapped around the water pipe to generate the magnetic field.

Purveyors of magnetic water treatment devices claim that exposing water to a magnetic field will decrease the water's "effective" hardness. Typical claims include the elimination of scale deposits, lower water-heating bills, extended life of water heaters and household appliances, and more efficient use of soaps and detergents. Thus, it is claimed, magnetic water treatment gives all the benefits of water softened by ion-exchange without the expense and hassle of rock-salt additions.

Note that only the "effective" or "subjective" hardness is claimed to be reduced through magnetic treatment. No magnesium or calcium is removed from the water by magnetic treatment. Instead, the claim is that the magnetic field decreases the tendency of the dissolved minerals to form scale. Even though the dissolved mineral concentration indicates the water is still hard, magnetically treated water supposedly behaves like soft water.

According to some vendors, magnetically softened water is healthier than water softened by ion exchange. Ion-exchange softeners increase the water's sodium concentration, and this, they claim, is unhealthy for people with high blood pressure. While it is true that ion-exchange softening increases the sodium concentration, the amount of sodium typically found even in softened water is too low to be of significance for the majority of people with high blood pressure. Only those who are on a severely sodium-restricted diet should be concerned about the amount of sodium in water, regardless of whether it is softened (Yarows et al. 1997). Such individuals are often advised to consume demineralized water along with low-salt foods.

In the UK, ion exchange water softeners are not fitted to drinking water, only to the water supply to washing machines, etc.   Users also complained about the water tasting ‘sickly sweet’

There is apparently no consensus among magnet vendors regarding the mechanisms by which magnetic water treatment occurs. A variety of explanations are offered, most of which involve plenty of jargon but little substance. Few vendors, if any, offer reasonable technical explanations of how magnetic water treatment is supposed to work.

If the scientists can't agree, neither will the vendors!

The important question here, though, is whether magnetic water treatment works. In an effort to find the answer, I conducted a search for relevant scientific and engineering journal articles. I describe the results of this search below.

More than one hundred relevant articles and reports are available in the open literature, so clearly magnetic water treatment has received some attention from the scientific community (e.g., see reference list in Duffy 1977). The reported effects of magnetic water treatment, however, are varied and often contradictory. In many cases, researchers report finding no significant magnetic treatment effect. In other cases, however, reasonable evidence for an effect is provided.

Liburkin et al. (1986) found that magnetic treatment affected the structure of gypsum (calcium sulfate). Gypsum particles formed in magnetically treated water were found to be larger and "more regularly oriented" than those formed in ordinary water. Similarly, Kronenberg (1985) reported that magnetic treatment changed the mode of calcium carbonate precipitation such that circular disc-shaped particles are formed rather than the dendritic (branching or tree-like) particles observed in nontreated water.

Kronenberg was the first as far as I know to mention the alternating magnetic poles that he considered necessary to produce this effect.

Others (e.g., Chechel and Annenkova 1972; Martynova et al. 1967) also have found that magnetic treatment affects the structure of subsequently precipitated solids. Because scale formation involves precipitation and crystallization, these studies imply that magnetic water treatment is likely to have an effect on the formation of scale.

Some researchers hypothesize that magnetic treatment affects the nature of hydrogen bonds between water molecules. They report changes in water properties such as light absorbance, surface tension, and pH (e.g., Joshi and Kamat 1966; Bruns et al. 1966; Klassen 1981). However, these effects have not always been found by later investigators (Mirumyants et al. 1972). Further, the characteristic relaxation time of hydrogen bonds between water molecules is estimated to be much too fast and the applied magnetic field strengths much too small for any such lasting effects, so it is unlikely that magnetic water treatment affects water molecules (Lipus et al. 1994).

Kronenberg’s explanation was that the structures ‘relaxed’ under the influence of the fields and enabled ‘CaCO3 nucleation centres’ to escape.   When the bonds reformed, the nucleation centres were no longer held in the structures.   I find this a bit dodgy, but I don’t know enough about the subject to criticise Dr Kronenberg.

Duffy (1977) provides experimental evidence that scale suppression in magnetic water treatment devices is due not to magnetic effects on the fluid, but to the dissolution of small amounts of iron from the magnet or surrounding pipe into the fluid. Iron ions can suppress the rate of scale formation and encourage the growth of a softer scale deposit.

Our magnets are on the outside of the pipe and iron pipes are uncommon over here. Duffy's study does not apply.

Busch et al. (1986) measured the voltages produced by fluids flowing through a commercial magnetic treatment device. Their data support the hypothesis that a chemical reaction driven by the induced electrical currents may be responsible for generating the iron ions shown by Duffy to affect scale formation.

Among those who report some type of direct magnetic-water-treatment effect, a consensus seems to be emerging that the effect results from the interaction of the applied magnetic field with surface charges of suspended particles (Donaldson 1988; Lipus et al. 1994). Krylov et al. (1985) found that the electrical charges on calcium carbonate particles are significantly affected by the application of a magnetic field. Further, the magnitude of the change in particle charge increased as the strength of the applied magnetic field increased.

Gehr et al. (1995) found that magnetic treatment affects the quantity of suspended and dissolved calcium sulfate. A very strong magnetic field (47,500 gauss) generated by a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer was used to test identical calcium sulfate suspensions with very high hardness (1,700 ppm on a CaCO3 basis). Two minutes of magnetic treatment decreased the dissolved calcium concentration by about 10 percent. The magnetic field also decreased the average particle charge by about 23 percent. These results, along with those of many others (e.g., Parsons et al. 1997; Higashitani and Oshitani 1997), imply that application of a magnetic field can affect the dissolution and crystallization of at least some compounds.

In other words, the laws of physics are not broken for water conditioning, all we are discussing is the magnitude of the effect.

Whether or not some magnetic water treatment effect actually exists, the further question, and the most important for consumers, is whether the magnetic water treatment devices perform as advertised.

Numerous anecdotal accounts of the successes and failures of magnetic water treatment devices can be found in the literature (Lin and Yotvat 1989; Raisen 1984; Wilkes and Baum 1979; Welder and Partridge 1954). However, because of the varied conditions under which these field trials are conducted it is unclear whether the positive reports are due solely to magnetic treatment or to other conditions that were not controlled during the trial.

Some commercial devices have been subjected to tests under controlled conditions. Unfortunately, the results are mixed. Duffy (1977) tested a commercial device with an internal magnet and found that it had no significant effect on the precipitation of calcium carbonate scale in a heat exchanger. According to Lipus et al. (1994), however, the scale prevention capability of their ELMAG device is proven, although they do not supply much supporting test data.

Busch et al. (1997) measured the scale formed by the distillation of hard water with and without magnetic treatment. Using laboratory-prepared hard water, a 22 percent reduction in scale formation was observed when the magnetic treatment device was used instead of a straight pipe section. However, a 17 percent reduction in scaling was found when an unmagnetized, but otherwise identical, device was installed. Busch et al. (1997) speculate that fluid turbulence inside the device may be the cause of the 17 percent reduction, with the magnetic field effect responsible for the additional 5 percent. River water was subjected to similar tests, but no difference in scale formation was found with and without the magnetic treatment device installed. An explanation for this negative result was not found.

If we can't explain a positive result, we won't be able to explain a negative result either.

Another study of a commercial magnetic water treatment device was conducted by Hasson and Bramson (1985). Under the technical supervision of the device supplier, they tested the device to determine its ability to prevent the accumulation of calcium carbonate scale in a pipe. Very hard water (300 to 340 ppm) was pumped through a cast-iron pipe, and the rate of scale accumulation inside the pipe was determined by periodically inspecting the pipe's interior. Magnetic exposure was found to have no effect on either the rate of scale accumulation or on the adhesive nature of the scale deposits.

Magnetic treatment through a cast iron pipe?   It does work, but you need to magnetically saturate the ironwork before you get an effect.   Our figures show this can take some time.   (It’s OK, our money back guarantee is for 12 months <g>)

Consumer Reports magazine (Denver 1996) tested a $535 magnetic water treatment device from Descal-A-Matic Corporation. Two electric water heaters were installed in the home of one of the Consumer Reports staffers. The hard water (200 ppm) entering one of the heaters was first passed through the magnetic treatment device. The second water heater received untreated water. The water heaters were cut open after more than two years and after more than 10,000 gallons of water were heated by each heater. The tanks were found to contain the same quantity and texture of scale. Consumer Reports concluded that the Descal-A-Matic unit was ineffective.

Much of the available laboratory test data imply that magnetic water treatment devices are largely ineffective, yet reports of positive results in industrial settings persist (e.g., Spear 1992; Donaldson 1988). The contradictory reports imply that if a magnetic water treatment effect for scale prevention exists, then it only is effective under some of the conditions encountered in industry. At present, there does not seem to be a defensible guideline for determining when the desired effect can be expected and when it cannot.

This is particularly the case when we don’t know the mechanism.   The inventor of our product was given a magnetic fuel conditioner and the WWII spiel and decided to test it.   It didn’t work.   He stripped it down, decided that it was badly designed and redesigned the device.   Several prototypes later he had a device that worked.   The business was formed on that fuel conditioner which is virtually unchanged today.   Spin-offs for us were water treatment and magnotherapy.

One of the claims made for residential magnetic treatment devices is that less soap and detergent will be required for washing. Compared to the claim to suppress scale formation, this claim has received little direct attention in the literature. To decrease soap and detergent consumption, the concentration of dissolved hardness minerals must be decreased. The tests by Gehr et al. (1995), described earlier, demonstrated a decrease in dissolved mineral concentration of about 10 percent. If this fractional decrease in dissolved mineral concentration is representative of that obtained by magnetic treatment, then it is unlikely that soap and detergent use will be significantly reduced. For example, given a water supply with 100 ppm dissolved hardness, magnetic treatment would only be expected to reduce the hardness to 90 ppm, assuming the results of Gehr et al. can be applied at this hardness concentration.

Where have these dissolved minerals gone?   Now I am confused.   I could understand this if more of the minerals were deposited on pipework as scale.   I think another mechanism is at work here.   I can see the possibility of the Kronenberg's larger disc-shaped crystals produced by magnetic fields having less surface area than normal dentritic tree clusters and thus having less effect on soap etc.

Is there a beneficial effect of magnetic water treatment? Perhaps.

Halleluia  - umm sorry about that <g>

Is there sufficient evidence of a beneficial effect to warrant spending hundreds of dollars on a residential magnetic water treatment unit? Unlikely. The understanding of magnetic water treatment must first be developed to the point where the effects of magnetic treatment can be reliably predicted and shown to be economically attractive.

Yes, quite happy with that.   Our device is only 64 UKP, about $110.   We sell by network marketing and the customers can see any benefits straight away in their kettles.   If their particular situation is one of the ones with no effect, then they get their money back.   We rely on happy customers for one product trying the others in the range.

Does magnetic water treatment perform as well as ion-exchange treatment? Definitely not. At present, the conventional water softening technologies are clearly much more reliable and effective. Further, the initial cost of an ion-exchange water softener (around $500) is comparable to that of many magnetic treatment systems.

Yes, but our devices are guaranteed to keep working for 99 years and have no ongoing costs, no salt to buy, no discharge to the environment.   And cheaper than British ion exchangers which are not fitted on the drinking water supply.   Given a money back guarantee, a hard water area and a kettle that needs frequent descaling, what would you try ??

Magnetic Fuel Treatment

Magnetic fuel treatment devices installed in automobiles are similar in design to magnetic water treatment devices. Hydrocarbon fuel is pumped through a canister containing one or more magnets or a magnetic device is clamped to the external surface of the fuel line. Magnetic treatment of fuel, it is claimed, results in increased horsepower, increased mileage, reduced hazardous gas emissions, and longer engine life.

Typically, vendors claim that either mileage or horsepower will be improved by about 10 to 20 percent. They also claim that if no improvement in mileage is noted, then the improvement must have come in the form of more horsepower. This, of course, makes it difficult for consumers to determine whether their magnetic fuel treatment devices really are working.

A literature search for magnetic fuel treatment studies revealed that such studies are practically nonexistent. I found a total of three references. Two of these (Daly 1995; McNeely 1994) were anecdotal accounts describing the use of a magnetic treatment device to kill microorganisms in diesel fuel, a fuel treatment application not usually mentioned by magnetic fuel treatment vendors.

Yes, diesel fuel bug.  We have anecdotal evidence of this, also a similar effect in beer engines.   Magnetic water conditioning devices have been used to cut down on micro-organisms in the beer lines.   See Bacteria.  We don’t push this area as we understand it even less than the others. <g>

The third reference (Tretyakov et al. 1985) describes tests conducted in which the electrical resistance and dielectric properties of a hydrocarbon fuel were found to change in response to an applied magnetic field. This report does not address whether the observed physical property changes might affect fuel performance in an engine, but it references two research reports that may contain performance data (Skripka et al. 1975; Tretyakov et al. 1975). Unfortunately, I could obtain neither report, and both are written in Russian.

My literature search search found no other credible research reports pertaining to magnetic fuel treatment. But we have a manufacturer-funded study done by the DTI's Warren Spring labs in the UK.  

“When the British Government's environmental laboratory was approached to test the fuel conditioner in 1992 the laboratory initially suggested it would be a waste of time and money, the product could not work, and there was insufficient scientific research to support it. However, after seeing countless (sorry, he sometimes gets carried away) testimonials from satisfied customers the laboratory agreed to design a test that would "have an acceptable degree of accuracy and repeatability" on condition that the Department of Environment retained full rights to the results. The test was actually carried out over 12,000 road miles on a petrol engine car as well as test bed running and a diesel engine truck was tested for emissions over 10,000 miles. The results of the test fully supported the manufacturers claims for the product and despite the Department of Environment making restrictions on the reporting of the results to support the marketing of the product they did eventually agree that the following wording could be used:“

"The DTI's Environmental Technology Executive Agency Laboratory's tests on the fuel conditioner fitted to a Vauxhall Cavalier showed fuel consumption improved, power increased and emissions reduced. A Volvo F10 truck tested for particulate smoke emissions showed a decrease of 15%. "

The utter lack of published test data is revealing. According to the vendors, magnetic fuel treatment has been around for at least fifty years.

Well, yes, it is said to have come from WWII when electromagnets were used on fighter planes to stop scarf getting into the engines.   They were producing the planes as fast as possible and this was a problem.   The pilots are said to have noticed a difference in performance when the electromagnets were switched on and performance was literally vital to them.   However permanent magnets were not strong enough to be effective until the modern magnets were produced.   Strictly speaking units that work have only been around for the last 10 years.

If it actually worked as claimed, it seems likely that it would by now be commonplace. It is not.

Vendors of magnetic fuel treatment sometimes respond to this reasoning with hints that the automobile manufacturers and big oil companies are conspiring to suppress magnetic fuel treatment to maintain demand for gasoline. Such a conspiracy seems quite improbable. This supposed conspiracy has not managed to suppress other fuel-saving innovations such as fuel injection and computerized control.

No, I agree, there is no conspiracy.   The main problem is that there have been a lot of devices that didn’t work so most people reject the claims and see no point in checking another, even if it did work.   Ours sells by network marketing and we give a money back guarantee, but few customers believe it until they try it.

In summary, I found no test data that support the claims for improved engine performance made by vendors of magnetic fuel treatment devices. Until such data become available, considerable skepticism is justified. At present, it seems quite unlikely that any of the claimed benefits of magnetic fuel treatment are real.

The company that funded the DTI trial sees no point in funding more tests, the device sells well, they are quite happy about the way their business is going and manufacturer's trials tend to be ignored as potentially biased.   If the customer is satisfied it works, fine, otherwise he gets his money back.


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2 Busch, K. W., M. A. Busch, D. H. Parker, R. E. Darling, and J. L. McAtee, Jr. 1986. Studies of a water treatment device that uses magnetic fields. Corrosion 42 (4): 211-221.

3 Busch, K. W., M. A. Busch, R. E. Darling, S. Maggard, and S. W. Kubala. 1997. Design of a test loop for the evaluation of magnetic water treatment devices. Process Safety and Environmental Protection. Transactions of the Institution of Chemical Engineers 75 (Part B): 105-114.

4 Chechel, P. S., and G. V. Annenkova. 1972. Influence of magnetic treatment on solubility of calcium sulphate. Coke Chem. USSR. 8: 60-61.

5 Daly, J. 1995. Miracle cure. Motor Boating and Sailing. October, p. 36.

6 Denver, E., executive ed. 1996. Magnets that don't do much to soften water. Consumer Reports. February, p. 8.

7 Donaldson, J. D. 1988. Magnetic treatment of fluids -- preventing scale." Finishing. 12: 22-32.

8 Duffy, E. A. 1977. Investigation of Magnetic Water Treatment Devices. Ph.D. dissertation, Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.

9 Gehr, R., Z. A. Zhai, J. A. Finch, and S. R. Rao. 1995. Reduction of soluble mineral concentrations in CaSO4 saturated water using a magnetic field. Wat. Res. 29 (3): 933-940.

10 Harrison, J. 1993. WQA Glossary of Terms. Water Quality Association. Lisle, Ill.

11 Hasson, D., and D. Bramson. 1985. Effectiveness of magnetic water treatment in suppressing CaCO3 scale deposition. Ind. Eng. Chem. Process Des. Dev. 24: 588-592.

12 Higashitani, K., and J. Oshitani. 1997. Measurements of magnetic effects on electrolyte solutions by atomic force microscope. Process Safety and Environmental Protection. Transactions of the Institution of Chemical Engineers 75 (Part B): 115-119.

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16 Krylov, O. T., I. K. Vikulova, V. V. Eletskii, N. A. Rozno, and V. I. Klassen. 1985. Influence of magnetic treatment on the electro-kinetic potential of a suspension of CaCO3. Colloid J. USSR 47: 820-824.

17 Liburkin, V. G., B. S. Kondratev, and T. S. Pavlyukova. 1986. Action of magnetic treatment of water on the structure formation of gypsum. Glass and Ceramics (English translation of Steklo I Keramika) 1: 101-105.

18 Lin, I., and Y. Yotvat. 1989. Electro-magnetic treatment of drinking and irrigation water. Water and Irrigation Rev. 8:16-18.

19 Lipus, L., J. Krope, and L. Garbai. 1994. Magnetic water treatment for scale prevention. Hungarian J. Ind. Chem. 22: 239-242.

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22 McNeely, M. 1994. Magnetic fuel treatment system designed to attack fuel-borne microbes. Diesel Progress Engines and Drives. November, p. 16.

23 Mirumyants, S. O., E. A. Vandyukov, and R. S. Tukhvatullin. 1972. The effect of a constant magnetic field on the infrared absorption spectrum of liquid water. Russ. J. Phys. Chem. 46: 124.

24 Parsons, S. A., S. J. Judd, T. Stephenson, S. Udol, and B.-L. Wang. 1997. Magnetically augmented water treatment. Process Safety and Environmental Protection. Transactions of the Institution of Chemical Engineers 75 (Part B): 98-104.

25 Raisen, E. 1984. The control of scale and corrosion in water systems using magnetic fields. Corrosion 84. Conference proceedings, Nat. Assoc. of Corrosion Engineers, Houston, paper no. 117.

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28 Spear, M. 1992. The growing attraction of magnetic treatment. Process Engineering. May, p. 143.

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31 Welder, B. Q., and E. P. Partridge. 1954. Practical performance of water-conditioning gadgets. Ind. Eng. Chem. 46: 954-960.

32 Wilkes, J. F., and R. Baum. 1979. Water conditioning devices -- an update. Int. Water Conf.: 40th Annual Meeting, paper no. IWC-79-20.

33 Yarows, S. A., W. E. Fusilier, and A. B. Weder. 1997. Sodium concentration of water from softeners. Arch. Intern. Med. 157: 218-222.

About the Author

Mike R. Powell, P.E., is a chemical engineer for a research and development laboratory in Richland, Washington.

Quackwatch -  Magnet Therapy 1 


Stephen Barrett, M.D. from Quackwatch

A reasonable article, but Stephen Barrett  doesn't seem to be aware of the other magnotherapy studies.


Salespeople in my town are selling magnetic devices for various problems -- impotence; low back pain; insomnia, etc. Any thoughts on how to evaluate their claims? I assume the method is quackery but that many of the salespeople are sincere.


I too am skeptical. The way to evaluate such claims is to ask whether scientific studies have been published. Pulsed electromagnetic fields -- which induce measurable electric fields -- have been demonstrated effective for treating slow-healing fractures and have shown promise for a few other conditions. However, few studies have been published on the effect on pain of small, static magnets marketed to consumers [1].

Quite correct, most of the studies are done on equipment only available for hospitals, or industrial magnets.   Magnet manufacturers cannot afford to fund studies, the money is not refundable.   You can’t copyright a magnet as you can a pill.

Explanations that magnetic fields "increase circulation," "reduce inflammation," or "speed recovery from injuries" are simplistic and are not supported by the weight of experimental evidence [2].

I have found over 700 studies on various aspects of magnotherapy, you will find references to some of them on this site.  There are more studies on medline using static magnets for fractures than using pulsed fields for fractures.

Researchers at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine have reported negative results in a study of patients with heel pain. Over a 4-week period, 19 patients wore a molded insole containing a magnetic foil, while 15 patients wore the same type of insole with no magnetic foil. In both groups, 60% reported improvement, which suggests that the magnetic foil conveyed no benefit [3].

In this study, the magnetic insoles were home-made, not commercial insoles.   The Weintraub studies used commercial insoles and showed results significantly better than placebo

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have conducted a double-blind test comparing the effects of magnets and sham magnets on the knee pain of 50 patients who had had poliomyelitis. The 29 who received an active magnet reported a significantly greater reduction in pain than the 21 treated with a sham magnet [4]. Whether this finding can be repeated and whether magnets can relieve pain in other types of patients remains to be seen.

The Weintraub study had similar results.   Both have gone on to further studies.

In 1998, Magnetherapy, Inc., of West Palm Beach, Florida, signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the State of Texas to pay a $30,000 penalty and to stop claiming that wearing its magnetic device near areas of pain and inflammation will relieve pain due to arthritis, migraine headaches, sciatica or heel spurs. The agreement also requires Magnetherapy to stop making claims that its magnets can cure, treat, or mitigate any disease or can affect any change in the human body, unless its devices are FDA-approved for those purposes [5]. Ads for the company's Tectonic Magnets had featured testimonials from athletes, including golfers from the senior pro tours. Various ads had claimed that Tectonic Magnets would provide symptomatic relief from certain painful conditions and could restore range of motion to muscles and joints. The company had provided retailers with display packages that included health claims, written testimonials, and posters of sports stars. Texas Attorney General Dan Morales stated that some claims were false or unsubstantiated and others had rendered the product unapproved medical devices under Texas law. In 1997, the FDA had warned Magnetherapy to stop claiming that its products would relieve arthritis; tennis elbow; low back pain; sciatica; migraine headache; muscle soreness; neck, knee, ankle, and shoulder pain; heel spurs; bunions; arthritic fingers and toes; and could reduce pain and inflammation in the affected areas by increasing blood and oxygen flow [6].

Although there are studies that show magnotherapy has these effects, there are few studies on specific products.

In 1999, the FTC obtained a consent agreement barring two companies from making making unsubstantiated claims about their magnetic products. Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies, of Irving, Texas, is barred from claiming that its magnetic sleep pads or other products: (a) are effective against cancers, diabetic ulcers, arthritis, degenerative joint conditions, or high blood pressure; (b) could stabilize or increase the T-cell count of HIV patients; (c) could reduce muscle spasms in persons with multiple sclerosis; (d) could reduce nerve spasms associated with diabetic neuropathy; (e) could increase bone density, immunity, or circulation; or (f) are comparable or superior to prescription pain medicine. Pain Stops Here! Inc., of Baiting Hollow, N.Y., may no longer claim that its "magnetized water" or other products are useful against cancer, diseases of the liver or other internal organs, gallstones, kidney stones, urinary infection, gastric ulcers, dysentery, diarrhea, skin ulcers, bed sores, arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, sprains, strains, sciatica, heart disease, circulatory disease, arthritis, auto-immune illness, neuro-degenerative disease, and allergies, and could stimulate the growth of plants.

Studies on these conditions are on medline.   The FDA requires specific tests for the manufacturer's product, not any other products or magnets in general.

I remain skeptical that small, static magnets can relieve pain or influence the course of any disease.

There are plenty of studies on Medline.

Some products are too weak to provide a magnetic field that penetrates the skin or are complete fakes that exert no magnetic force whatsoever.

Well, magnetic fields are not stopped by skin.   If he means they are too weak to have any effect, then can we have a cite for the study that shows this.    A complete fake or really weak product is easily detected, just check if it will pick up a bunch of keys.

If you have a chronic condition, magnotherapy is well worth trying.    But find a distributor you can talk to, with a good track record for his product, and who will give you a good money back guarantee.


1. Livingston JD. Magnetic therapy: Plausible attraction. Skeptical Inquirer 25-30, 58, 1998

2. Ramey DW. Magnetic and electromagnetic therapy. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 2(1):13-19, 1998.

3. Caselli MA and others. Evaluation of magnetic foil and PPT Insoles in the treatment of heel pain. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association 87:11-16, 1997.

4. Vallbona C, Hazelwood CF, Jurida G. Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: A double-blind pilot study. Archives of Physical and Rehabilitative Medicine 78:1200-1203, 1997.

5. Morales halts unproven claims for magnet therapy. News release, April 9, 1998.

6. FDA warning letter, Feb 3, 1997.

QuackWatch Magnet Therapy II

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

This version is an update of the previous article produced in February 2001.   Stephen Barrett  still doesn't seem to be aware of the other magnotherapy studies.   Or he is deliberately ignoring them

During the past few years, magnetic devices have been claimed to relieve pain and to have therapeutic value against a large number of diseases and conditions. The way to evaluate such claims is to ask whether scientific studies have been published.

And they have, I have found over 500 published studies on Medline.

Pulsed electromagnetic fields -- which induce measurable electric fields -- have been demonstrated effective for treating slow-healing fractures and have shown promise for a few other conditions. However, few studies have been published on the effect on pain of small, static magnets marketed to consumers [1].

Quite correct, the manufacturers cannot afford to do so, they cannot recover their research costs.

 Explanations that magnetic fields "increase circulation,"

Thermal camera sequences show magnets increase blood flow to hands are here on the Thermal page

"reduce inflammation”,

Studies on medline

or "speed recovery from injuries" are simplistic and are not supported by the weight of experimental evidence [2].

Here Barrett is quoting the Ramey article from 1998.   He does know about later studies, just quotes the studies that suit his purpose.

The main basis for the claims is a double-blind test study, conducted at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, which comparedg the effects of magnets and sham magnets on knee pain. The study involved 50 adult patients with pain related to having been infected with the polio virus when they were children. A static magnetic device or a placebo device was applied to the patient's skin for 45 minutes. The patients were asked to rate how much pain they experienced when a "trigger point was touched." The researchers reported that the 29 patients exposed to the magnetic device achieved lower pain scores than did the 21 who were exposed to the placebo device [3} Although this study is cited by nearly everyone selling magnets, it provides no legitimate basis for concluding that magnets offer any health-related benefit:

Although the groups were said to be selected randomly, the ratio of women to men in the experimental group was twice that of the control group. If women happen to be more responsive to placebos than men, a surplus of women in the "treatment" group would tend to improve that group's score.

But that would no longer be randomised.  And is there any evidence for such a susceptibility?

The age of the placebo group was four years higher than that of the control group. If advanced age makes a person more difficult to treat, the "treatment" group would again have a scoring advantage.

Randomised trials do not pick and choose, the purpose of randomising is to eliminate researcher bias.

The investigators did not measure the exact pressure exerted by the blunt object at the trigger point before and after the study.

Quite right, he didn’t measure the ambient temperature either.

Even if the above considerations have no significance, the study should not be extrapolated to suggest that other types of pain can be relieved by magnets.

Indeed, but there are other studies on pain relief and the accumulating evidence is that other types of pain can be relieved by magnets.   Barrett has ignored these other studies.

There was just one brief exposure and no systematic follow-up of patients. Thus there was no way to tell whether any improvement would be more than temporary.

This study was estimated to cost $50,000.   And who cares if it is permanent or temporary.   A drug free method of pain relief would be welcomed.   It certainly was by the participants.

The authors themselves acknowledge that the study was a "pilot study." Pilot studies are done to determine whether it makes sense to invest in a larger more definitive study. They never provide a legitimate basis for marketing any product as effective against any symptom or health problem.

Two better-designed, longer-lasting pain studies have been negative:

Researchers at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine have reported negative results in a study of patients with heel pain. Over a 4-week period, 19 patients wore a molded insole containing a magnetic foil, while 15 patients wore the same type of insole with no magnetic foil. In both groups, 60% reported improvement, which suggests that the magnetic foil conveyed no benefit [4].

Home made insoles gave no relief.   Weintraubs studies using commercially available magnetic insoles gave significant relief.

Chronic submaximal magnetic stimulation in peripheral neuropathy, Weintraub M (New York Medical Center
American Journal of Pain Management. 1998;8:9-13

Magnetic biostimulation in painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy, Weintraub M (New York Medical Center) American Journal of Pain Management. 1999; 9:8-17.

More recently, researchers at the VA Medical Center in Prescott, Arizona conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study involving 20 patients with chronic back pain. of the use of magnets to treat back pain. Each patient was exposed to real and sham bipolar permanent magnets during alternate weeks, for 6 hours per day, 3 days per week for a week, with a 1-week period between the treatment weeks. No difference in pain or mobility was found between the treatment and sham-treatment periods [5].

Comments from the study:

This was a pilot study and was not intended to prove or disprove the effectiveness of magnet therapy in general. Additional studies using different magnets (unipolar and bipolar), treatment times, and patient populations are needed.A stronger magnet may be necessary to penetrate to the source of chronic low back pain. Expanding the treatment time in an ambulatory setting would require manipulation of the devices by the subjects, which would increase the chances of detecting whether the magnet/sham was magnetized. If a device with opposite polarity or of a certain design was found to be ineffective, it could serve as a placebo.Our study population was small and had special requirements. The subjects had to travel to the clinic twice daily at specific times, conditions that eliminated many employed and younger individuals. Other potential subjects lived too far away or had no transportation. Since we recruited from the Veterans Affairs clinic population there were too few women. Thus, it is difficult to generalize these results to the population at large with chronic low back pain.

Here are more studies on pain relief ignored by Barrett

Effect of magnets on chronic pelvic pain, Brown CS; Parker N; Ling F; Wan J University of Tennessee, Memphis, TN, USA. Obstet Gynecol 2000 Apr 01;95 Suppl 1(4):S29 (ISSN: 0029-7844)

Magnetic Mattress Pad Use in Patients with Fibromyalgia: a Randomized Double-blind Pilot Study, Colbert A P, Markov M S, Banerji M,Pilla A A ,Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation 13 (1999) 19-31 ISSN 1053-8127

Legal and Regulatory Actions

These are the same as the previous article and just mean that the manufacturers did not have specific studies for their devices and the specific conditions quoted.

In 1998, Magnetherapy, Inc., of West Palm Beach, Florida, signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the State of Texas to pay a $30,000 penalty and to stop claiming that wearing its magnetic device near areas of pain and inflammation will relieve pain due to arthritis, migraine headaches, sciatica or heel spurs. The agreement also requires Magnetherapy to stop making claims that its magnets can cure, treat, or mitigate any disease or can affect any change in the human body, unless its devices are FDA-approved for those purposes [6]. Ads for the company's Tectonic Magnets had featured testimonials from athletes, including golfers from the senior pro tours. Various ads had claimed that Tectonic Magnets would provide symptomatic relief from certain painful conditions and could restore range of motion to muscles and joints. The company had provided retailers with display packages that included health claims, written testimonials, and posters of sports stars. Texas Attorney General Dan Morales stated that some claims were false or unsubstantiated and others had rendered the product unapproved medical devices under Texas law. In 1997, the FDA had warned Magnetherapy to stop claiming that its products would relieve arthritis; tennis elbow; low back pain; sciatica; migraine headache; muscle soreness; neck, knee, ankle, and shoulder pain; heel spurs; bunions; arthritic fingers and toes; and could reduce pain and inflammation in the affected areas by increasing blood and oxygen flow [7].

In 1999, the FTC obtained a consent agreement barring two companies from making unsubstantiated claims about their magnetic products. Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies, of Irving, Texas, is barred from claiming that its magnetic sleep pads or other products: (a) are effective against cancers, diabetic ulcers, arthritis, degenerative joint conditions, or high blood pressure; (b) could stabilize or increase the T-cell count of HIV patients; (c) could reduce muscle spasms in persons with multiple sclerosis; (d) could reduce nerve spasms associated with diabetic neuropathy; (e) could increase bone density, immunity, or circulation; or (f) are comparable or superior to prescription pain medicine. Pain Stops Here! Inc., of Baiting Hollow, N.Y., may no longer claim that its "magnetized water" or other products are useful against cancer, diseases of the liver or other internal organs, gallstones, kidney stones, urinary infection, gastric ulcers, dysentery, diarrhea, skin ulcers, bed sores, arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, sprains, strains, sciatica, heart disease, circulatory disease, arthritis, auto-immune illness, neuro-degenerative disease, and allergies, and could stimulate the growth of plants.

On August 8, 2000, the Consumer Justice Center, of Laguna Niguel, California filed suit in Orange County Superior Court charging that Florsheim and a local shoe store (Shoe Emporium) made false and fraudulent claims that their MagneForce shoes (a) correct "magnetic deficiency," (b) "generate a deep-penetrating magnetic field which increases blood circulation; reduces leg and back fatigue; and provides natural pain relief and improved energy level."; and (c) their claims are established and proven by scientific studies [8]. A few days after this suit was filed, Florsheim removed the disputed ad from its Web site.

The Bottom Line

There is no scientific basis to conclude that small, static magnets can relieve pain or influence the course of any disease. Some products are too weak to provide a magnetic field that penetrates the skin or are complete fakes that exert no magnetic force whatsoever.

500 published studies that Barrett either has not read, or has deliberately ignored.  


Livingston JD. Magnetic therapy: Plausible attraction. Skeptical Inquirer 25-30, 58, 1998.

Ramey DW. Magnetic and electromagnetic therapy. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 2(1):13-19, 1998.

Vallbona C, Hazelwood CF, Jurida G. Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: A double-blind pilot study. Archives of Physical and Rehabilitative Medicine 78:1200-1203, 1997.

Caselli MA and others. Evaluation of magnetic foil and PPT Insoles in the treatment of heel pain. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association 87:11-16, 1997.

Collacott EA and others. Bipolar permanent magnets for the treatment of chronic low back pain. JAMA 283:1322-1325, 2000.

Morales halts unproven claims for magnet therapy. News release, April 9, 1998.

Gill LJ. Letter to William L. Roper, Feb 3, 1997.

Jeff Wynton and the Consumer Justice Center v. Florsheim Group, Inc., Shoe Emporium. Superior Court of California, Orange County, Case #00CC09419, filed Aug 8, 2000.

Reader Response

From David Gessell, a design engineer from Oakland, California:

I recently was introduced to the bizarre concept that magnetic insoles can promote health and relieve pain. The seller promised improved circulation, reduced pain, better oxygen uptake, weight loss, and more or less any other positive benefit that could be imagined or requested. The mechanism presented was: Humans evolved (or were created, for those residents of Kansas) in the presence of the Earth's magnetic fields. These fields are blocked by concrete and pavement and other human structures. In the supposed absence of these fields the body in some way suffers. A friend had purchased magnetic insoles at an approximate cost of $100. She returned them after I explained that:

Magnetic fields are not blocked by concrete. Any place a compass works, the earth's magnetic fields are present.

Blood is not magnetic. If it were, one's body would explode in an MRI machine.

DC magnetic fields have no measurable effect at on the human body at levels strong enough to bend steel bars as commonly experienced by magnet and fusion researchers. These individuals are exposed to magnetic field strengths 6 to 10 orders of magnitude greater than that created by the rubberized magnetic insoles, without becoming either more or less healthful.

Assumptions not born out by published studies.


Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction? – J D Livingstone, Skeptical inquirer


Long considered only a component of quack medicine, magnetic therapy has received a boost from a recent study at the Baylor College of Medicine. Is it plausible?

James D. Livingston Skeptical Inquirer magazine : July/August 1998

This is a good article

A double-blind study at Baylor College of Medicine, published last November in Archives of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (Vallbona 1997), concluded that permanent magnets reduce pain in post-polio patients, and the results were heralded in The New York Times and on Bryant Gumbel's Public Eye. PBS's Health Week and Time magazine recently reported on the growing use of magnets by champion senior golfers and other professional athletes to relieve pain. Magnetic pain relief products are now sold in many golf shops, and ads for them appear in national golf and tennis magazines. Long a significant component of the health industry in Japan and China, magnetic therapy is becoming a more and more visible part of the alternative-medicine boom in the United States and Europe. Is it all just hokum, as many previously assumed, or is magnetic therapy becoming scientifically respectable?

Early History


Magnetic Therapy Today

Both ferrite and rare-earth magnets, unlike earlier magnetic materials such as steels and alnicos, have great resistance to demagnetization, allowing thin disks to be magnetized. (Earlier magnets had to be long and thin to avoid being demagnetized by the internal fields produced by the poles at the ends.) This feature allows modern magnets to be mounted in a variety of thin products that can be applied to the body with the magnetic field emanating from the surface.

Some suppliers recommend applying magnetic patches directly to your aches and pains, while others recommend applying small Band-Aid-like patches to acupuncture points. Magnetic belts containing sixteen or more magnets are purported to ease back pain, and similar magnetic wraps are offered for almost any part of the body, including hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and feet (magnetic insoles are particularly popular). For headaches you can wear magnetic headbands, magnetic earrings, or magnetic necklaces. (One company marketing magnetic necklaces provides simple instructions: the necklace should be put on as soon as the headache appears and removed as soon as it goes away. Since most headaches come and go, following these instructions precisely will clearly produce persuasive evidence of the necklace's efficacy.)

Many magnetic necklaces, bracelets, and earrings are formed from silver- and gold-rich magnetic alloys and promoted as both fashionable and therapeutic. One catalog claims magnetic earrings "stimulate nerve endings that are associated with head and neck pain," and magnetic bracelets "act upon the body's energy field" and "correct energy imbalances brought by electro-magnetic contamination or atmospheric changes." Larger items include magnetic seat cushions, magnetic pillows, and magnetic mattress pads, the last claiming to produce an "energizing sleep field." One supplier offers a PCD -- Prostate Comfort Device for older men. If properly placed while you sit watching television or driving your car, you will no longer have to get out of bed several times a night to relieve yourself!

The ones I use are magnetic wristbands with the magnets over the pulse point

To avoid trouble with the Food and Drug Administration, most suppliers emphasize only "comfort" and usually specifically state "no medical claims are made." Some, however, are far less careful. One company in Kansas markets a book entitled Curing Cancer With Supermagnets. The authors of the book claim to have cured cancer simply by hanging a neodymium "supermagnet" around the patient's neck. The cancer discussed in the advertisement was a breast cancer, but they report that "the supermagnets influence the whole body" and "our method can cure all types of cancer."

Many magnetic therapy products have alternating arrays of north and south poles facing the patient. Some have detailed explanations of why a circular pattern of poles is optimal, while others offer poles in checkerboard or triangular patterns. Nikken, the Japan-based firm that has used a multilevel marketing scheme to expand from an annual business in the U. S. of $3 million in 1989 to $150 million today, primarily offers products with alternating poles.

I distribute for a network marketing company and we also use alternating poles.   Our belief is that the resulting steep field gradients increase the effect.

One clear difference between such multipolar magnetic devices and unipolar devices (with only one pole facing the patient) is the "reach" of the magnetic field. The field from even unipolar magnets decreases very rapidly with increasing distance from the magnet, but the field from multipolar magnets decreases much more rapidly. If multipolar magnets really have any effects on the human body, they will be limited to depths of penetration of only a few millimeters. (Many refrigerator magnets are multipolar, which limits the thickness of paper they can hold to the refrigerator, but also limits the damage they can do to nearby credit and ATM cards.)

Sounds logical.   Ours fit over pulse points so there is no problem with depth of field.   On some units we have an extra module on the other side of the wrist to increase the depth of penetration.   However, the benefit of the multipolar approach is an increase in steepness of the field gradient and we believe this is more important than the field strength.

Other suppliers offer only unipolar magnets, and some emphasize the importance of having only south-seeking poles facing the body. Contrary to common scientific usage, they call south-seeking poles north poles. Since opposite poles attract, they argue that a pole that seeks south must be a north pole. (Here practitioners of magnetic therapy are perhaps more logical than mainstream science, which calls the south-seeking pole a south pole, requiring that the earth's magnetic pole in Antarctica is, by the standard scientific terminology, a north pole.) Dr. Buryl Payne, in his book The Body Magnetic (1988), argues that south-seeking poles calm tissue but north-seeking poles stimulate tissue, and you should therefore never expose tumors or infections to north-seeking poles. .

I am sceptical about this also, but as I use bipolar modules, I can't argue.

When I suggested to one practitioner that different effects from different poles seemed to violate basic rules of symmetry, he assured me that the rules were reversed in the southern hemisphere

Wonder what happens at the equator, when they change over.

One of the most ardent advocates of magnetic therapy is Dr. William Philpott of Oklahoma, who publishes his own Magnetic Energy Quarterly. He is also on the board of the Bio-Electro-Magnetics Institute of Reno, Nevada, a nonprofit "research and educational organization" and an advisor to the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine. His wife happens to have a business selling "Polar Power Magnets." Dr. Ronald Lawrence of California is President of the North American Academy of Magnetic Therapy and reports that he has successfully used magnets to relieve pain in hundreds of his patients. He is associated with Magnetherapy, a Florida company that markets "Tectonic Magnets." Both Dr. Philpott and Dr. Lawrence favor unipolar magnets.

The efficacy of magnetic therapy (or of any other medical treatment, mainstream or alternative) does not depend on our understanding the biological mechanism. Nevertheless most promoters of magnetic therapy recognize the need for offering some plausible explanation. The mechanism most commonly offered for various therapeutic effects of magnets is improved blood circulation, despite a lack of clear evidence for such an effect. Other suggestions include alteration of nerve impulses, increased oxygen content and increased alkalinity of bodily fluids, magnetic forces on moving ions, and decreased deposits on the walls of blood vessels.

We must be careful not to reject the device even though we reject the theory behind it.   The efficacy of the device has no connection with the knowledge or understanding of the person selling it.

The broadest explanation was presented by Dr. Kyochi Nakagawa of Japan, who claims that many of our modern ills result from "Magnetic Field Deficiency Syndrome." The earth's magnetic field is known to have decreased about 6 percent since 1830, and indirect evidence suggests that it may have decreased as much as 30 percent over the last millennium. He argues that magnetic therapy simply provides some of the magnetic field that the earth has lost.

Magnetic therapy is also prominent in the treatment of thoroughbred racehorses. An injured racehorse represents potential loss of a substantial investment, providing considerable incentive to try "alternative medicine" to supplement mainstream veterinary treatment. Magnetic pads for a variety of leg problems, magnetic blankets, magnetic hoof pads, etc., all get ringing endorsements from many horse trainers -- and even some veterinarians. One marketer of magnetic products for humans reports that he first became convinced of their effectiveness when he used them on his ailing llama! Enthusiasts argue that the placebo effect could not be effective on horses or other animals, but forget that it may influence the human who is interpreting the effect of magnetic therapy on the animal.

There is no answer to this other than to watch the reaction of the animal.   With animals, magnotherapy may be the only alternative to having the animal put down, so there is a strong incentive to try it.   If the result is an animal that no longer needs to be put down, that is an excellent result.

The Baylor Study

These examples and the centuries-old connection between magnets and quackery, have led many to consider modern magnetic therapy as total hokum, with the many testimonials for the success of magnetic treatments explainable by placebo effects. But the Baylor study, seemingly a careful double-blind study, has surprised many.

The study was conducted by Dr. Carlos Vallbona on fifty post-polio patients at Baylor's Institute for Rehabilitation Research in Houston. Bioflex, Inc., of Corpus Christi provided both the magnets (multipolar, circular pattern) and a set of visually identical sham magnets to serve as controls. To keep the study "double-blind" neither the patients nor the staff were informed as to which devices were active magnets, and which were shams. Before and after the forty-five-minute period of magnet therapy, the patients were asked to grade their pain on a scale from 0 to 10. The twenty nine patients with active magnets reported, on average, a significant reduction of pain (from 9.6 to 4.4), while the twenty-one patients with shams reported a much smaller average reduction (from 9.5 to 8.4). This is a substantial difference, and if the double-blind study was successfully conducted, cannot be explained by a placebo effect.

For a hardened skeptic, some doubts remain. Both Dr. Vallbona and his colleague, Dr. Carlton Hazlewood, had reported the successful personal use of magnets to relieve their own knee pains prior to the study, raising doubts as to their objectivity.

Yes, I accept this and that this was a self-funded study.   I believe the researchers had been told of this effect by their patients and decided to try it for themselves.   It worked for them, so they organised a self-funded study.   I have seen it estimated as costing $50,000 if it had been funded.   However I see no other way this study would have been done.

At about the same time the Weintraub study on neuropathy pain was done with similar results.   

It was also self-funded.

Conscious or unconscious biases of researchers can have very subtle and unrecognized effects on the results of their studies, and a serious difficulty of conducting any double-blind studies with magnets is the ease of distinguishing active magnets from sham magnets (although the patients were reportedly observed during the therapy period to assure that they were not surreptitiously testing their magnets).

The therapy period was only 45 minutes so this was easy to do.

Another difficulty of any studies of pain relief is the highly subjective nature of the data.

Pain is highly subjective, but there are standard tests used by doctors to evalute pain.

Despite these various reasons for caution, the results of this study have altered the views of many physicians. Dr. William Jarvis, president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, had formerly dismissed magnet therapy as "essentially quackery." He now tentatively admits that it may have value for post-polio pain.

More studies will be needed before magnetic therapy will be accepted by a majority of the medical community, and some studies are already underway. Last year the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine gave a million-dollar grant to Dr. Ann Gill Taylor of the School of Nursing of the University of Virginia to study the use of magnets to relieve pain. Among other things, she will be testing the effectiveness of magnetic sleep pads in relieving pain in patients suffering from fibromyalgia, a common disease involving joint and muscle pain. While we wait for the results of these and other studies, does what we know about magnetic fields and the human body make it plausible that magnetic therapy for pain might have a physical basis beyond mind/body effects?

Magnetic Fields and the Body

The electrochemical processes of the human body are extremely complex and incompletely understood, and physical effects of magnetic fields cannot be ruled out. Many thousands of papers have in fact been published on biological effects of electromagnetic fields, much of it focused on the effects of radio-frequency and microwave fields or, in recent years, on fields at power-line frequencies (fifty or sixty cycles per second). Studies of biological effects of steady magnetic fields (reviewed by Frankel and Liburdy 1996) have concentrated mostly on high fields of the level encountered in MRI magnets, typically of the order of 10,000 gauss (1 tesla). Unfortunately, research has been very limited at field levels typical of magnetic therapy products, most of which are limited to a few hundred gauss, even at the magnet surface. (The earth's field is a bit less than half a gauss.)

Viewed simply as inert material, the human body, like its primary constituent, water, is diamagnetic, i.e., weakly repelled by magnetic fields. In response to an applied magnetic field, the electrons in water molecules make slight adjustments in their motions, producing a net magnetic field in the opposing direction about 100,000 times smaller than the applied field. With the removal of the applied field, the electrons return to their original orbits, and the water molecules once again become nonmagnetic. (We perhaps should note that some promoters of magnetic therapy also promote "magnetized water." You can't magnetize water. Although water responds weakly to an applied field, the response disappears as soon as the field is removed.)

This is not what they mean by magnetised water.   All they are saying is that as a result of the effects of the magnetic field, the water and its contents are changed in a way which is beneficial.

Although the diamagnetism of water and most living things is very weak, a high-field electromagnet producing 160,000 gauss (16 tesla) at the center of the coil has recently been used to levitate not only water drops but also flowers, grasshoppers, and small frogs (Berry and Geim 1997), the "flying frogs" drawing worldwide media coverage. Since fields of that magnitude are required to balance gravitational forces, the much lower fields of magnetic-therapy devices can only produce diamagnetic forces that are thousands of times smaller than gravity. (The repulsive force will be proportional to the product of the field and the field gradient.)

Some dubious literature suggests that magnetic fields attract blood, citing all the iron it contains. However, iron in the blood is very different from metallic iron, which is strongly magnetic because the individual atomic magnets are strongly coupled together by the phenomenon we call ferromagnetism. The remarkable properties of ferromagnetic materials are a result of the cooperative behavior of many, many magnetic atoms acting in unison. The iron in blood consists instead of isolated iron atoms within large hemoglobin molecules, located inside the red blood cells. Although each of the iron atoms is magnetic, it is not near other iron atoms, and remains magnetically independent.

The net effect of the weak paramagnetism of the isolated iron atoms in hemoglobin is only a slight decrease in the overall diamagnetism of blood. Blood, like water, is weakly repelled by magnetic fields, not attracted.

Although most components of the human body and other living things are weakly diamagnetic, many organisms have been shown to contain small amounts of strongly magnetic materials, usually magnetite (Fe3O4). The most extreme case is that of magnetotactic bacteria, originally found in mud collected from the marshes of Cape Cod. Each contains a long chain of magnetite particles that interact strongly enough with the earth's magnetic field to orient the bacteria along the field. Magnetite crystals have also been found in pigeons, honeybees, many mammals, and even in the human brain, but in proportionately much smaller amounts than in the bacteria. It seems very unlikely that there is enough magnetite within the human body to provide a possible mechanism to explain magnetic therapy. However, if magnetite particles were located at strategic places, they could locally amplify the effects of low magnetic fields and, for example, modify ion flow across cell membranes, of the type involved with electrical transmission in nerve cells.

More likely mechanisms are those based on magnetic forces on moving charged particles, possibly including ions or charged molecules in flowing blood, moving across cell membranes, moving across synapses between nerve cells, etc., or those based on more subtle effects on biochemical reactions (Frankel and Liburdy 1996). Although no physical mechanisms for magnetic therapy have been established, the possibilities are numerous and complex. Only further clinical tests, carefully controlled to account for placebo effects, can confirm or dispute the results of the Baylor study and prove or disprove the claims of magnetic therapy.

Accepted, but that does not mean you should not try magnotherapy, just don't risk a lot of money, get a money back guarantee, and see if it works for you.

Some media reports have not sufficiently distinguished the Baylor form of magnetic therapy, based on modest static fields from permanent magnets, with a more accepted form of "magnetic therapy" based on high pulsed magnetic fields from electromagnets (Malmivuo and Plonsey 1995). Pulsed magnetic fields are very different from static magnetic fields, because, via Maxwell's equations, time-varying magnetic fields induce electric fields.

But static fields are also time varying in the human body and steep field gradients increase the effect.   If the body is alive there is internal movement through the field which means a time varying field strength which means electrical fields.   Thus pulsed fields cannot be assumed to be different from static fields.   However this is irrelevant because we still do not know what the mechanism is.
 There are fracture studies showing that static magnets are just as effective as electromagnets at helping fractures to heal. See my abstracts page.

Electric fields have pronounced biological effects, particularly on nerve and muscle cells, as we have known since the days of Galvani and his twitching frogs' legs. Many years ago the FDA approved the use of pulsed magnetic fields in "bone growth stimulators" for the treatment of fractures that were slow to heal, and research on "magnetic stimulation" -- pulsed magnetic fields applied to the brain or other components of the nervous system -- has grown rapidly in recent years. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which the patient receives hundreds of magnetic field pulses of 1 tesla or more, each only a millisecond in duration, has shown considerable promise as a means of treating depression. However, these forms of pulsed-field magnetic therapy are based on biological effects of induced electric fields, and are very different from the use of the static fields from permanent magnets.

See fracture stidies above, the difference may be only one of degree, and static fields can be applied 24 hours a day.  

Pulsed fields cannot.

There is no acceptable theory of why magnotherapy works yet.   The nearest I have seen is the pH theory from MVDr Vladislav Vaclavek, a Czech vet, who has written a book, "Magnotherapy the pHacts", ISBN 0 9535970 0 8.   There is a brief summary of the main ideas put forward in the book on my magnotherapy page.


Claims of therapeutic effects of permanent magnets should still be regarded with considerable skepticism. Most of the many testimonials to the effectiveness of magnetic therapy devices can be attributed to placebo effects and to other effects accompanying their use. For example, the magnetic back braces used by many senior golfers may help ease their back pains through providing mechanical support, through localized warming, and through constant reminder to the aging athletes that they are no longer young and should not overexert their muscles. All these effects are helpful with or without magnets.

The units we use are wrist mounted, but affect other parts of the body.   It's difficult to see how our results can fall under the 'other effects' banner.   If a user finds a beneficial effect when wearing the unit, which disappears when he removes it, he is less likely to think the effect is placebo or coincidence.

One British study of pulsed-field bone-growth stimulators, which were approved decades ago by the FDA, found that they were equally successful when the devices were not activated (Barker 1984), and concluded that their effectiveness resulted from the enforced inactivity associated with their use, rather than from the pulsed magnetic fields.

The more extreme claims of magnetic therapy, such as curing cancer by hanging supermagnets around your neck, are not only nonsense but also dangerous, since they may divert patients from seeking appropriate treatment from mainstream medicine.

Magnotherapy is a complementary therapy, not an alternative therapy.   It is meant to be used with conventional treatment (or alternative treatment), not to replace it, except in the case of drugs prescribed purely to relieve pain.   The Experts page has an article on Neuro-Medicine suggests a use for magnotherapy in chemotherapy treatment by reducing the side effects.

Magnetic jewelry and most other magnetic-therapy products probably are harmless beyond a waste of money. Several years ago, a double-blind study found that magnetic necklaces produced no relief of neck or shoulder pain (Hong 1982).

There will inevitably be people who attempt to climb on the bandwagon with inferior products.However, we do a dress version of our wristband for ladies evening wear, so not all 'magnetic jewelry' is ineffective.

The results of the Baylor study, however, raise the possibility that at least in some cases, topical application of permanent magnets may indeed be useful in pain relief, a conclusion that should be regarded as tentative until supported by further studies.

The Weintraub study has already been published and gone on to a further multi-site study across the US

Any mechanism for such an effect remains mysterious, but an effect of static magnetic fields on the complex electrochemical processes of the human body is not impossible. My own guess is that inexpensive refrigerator magnets are as likely to provide help as the more expensive magnets marketed specifically for therapy. (But since human nature leads us to expect more from more expensive items, use of refrigerator magnets will probably decrease the placebo effect!)

Our devices work in two distinctly different ways, one through the blood stream and one with topical application over a problem.   We use a patented bipolar module, which we believe is responsible for the success rate of these products.

This article really confirms our approach, try it and see, you have nothing to lose but your pain.   But look for a distributor who will give you a good money back guarantee and has a good track record.  


1 Barker, A. T. et al. 1984. Pulsed magnetic field therapy for tibial non-union. Lancet 994-996.

2 Berry, M. V. and A. K. Geim. 1997. Of flying frogs and levitrons. Eur. J. Phys. 18: 307-313.

3 Buranelli, V. 1975. The Wizard from Vienna. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan.

4 Frankel, Richard B. and Robert P. Liburdy. 1996. Biological effects of static magnetic fields (in Handbook of Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields, second edition, Charles Polk and Elliot Postow, eds. CRC Press).

5 Hong, C. Z. et al. 1982. Magnetic necklace: Its therapeutic effectiveness on neck and shoulder pain. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 63:162-164.

6 Livingston, James D. 1996. Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets. Harvard University Press.

7 Mackay, Charles. [1841] 1932. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Reprint, L. C. Page.

8 Macklis, Roger M. 1993. Magnetic healing, quackery, and the debate about the health effects of electromagnetic fields. Annals of Internal Medicine 118(5): 376-383.

9 Malmivuo, Jaakko and Robert Plonsey. 1995. Bioelectromagnetism: Principles and applications of bioelectric and biomagnetic fields. Oxford University Press.

10 Payne, Buryl. 1988. The Body Magnetic (self-published).

11 Vallbona, Carlos, Carlton F. Hazlewood, and Gabor Jurida. 1997. Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: A double-blind pilot study. Archives of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 78(11): 1200-1203.

About the Author

James D. Livingston now teaches in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was for more than thirty years a physicist at General Electric's Corporate Research and Development Center. He is the author of Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets (Harvard, 1996), a popular-science book on the history, legends, science, and technology of magnets.


Magnet Therapy A Billion-dollar Boondoggle by Bruce L. Flamm


Skeptical Inquirer Volume 30, Number 4 July/August 2006

About a billion dollars a year is now spent on "magnet therapy," which is claimed to eliminate many symptoms and diseases. Basic scientific principles indicate that all of this money is wasted.

Bruce L. Flamm

About a year ago Leonard Finegold at Drexel University and I decided to look into the controversial field (no pun intended) of "magnet therapy." As a physics professor, Finegold knows a bit about magnets and magnetic fields. As a physician and former research chairman, I know a bit about therapy and medical research. Perhaps a physicist and a physician could shed some light on this interesting topic. We knew that magnets were touted as a treatment for many medical conditions and we knew that they were popular. But we were both quite surprised to learn just how popular they are. In the U.S.A., their annual sales are estimated at $300 million (Brody 2000), and globally more than a billion dollars (Weintraub 1999). You can get a rough idea of the magnitude of the magnet healing industry by doing a Google search for magnet healing. A search in January 2006 yielded 459,000 Web pages, many of them claiming that magnets have almost miraculous healing power. Do they? Professor Finegold and I reviewed the literature on magnet therapy and found very little supporting evidence. An abbreviated version of our review was recently published in the British Medical Journal (Finegold and Flamm 2006).

This was an editorial, an opinion piece which did not require peer review.

What follows are a few comments on the magnet healing industry, a brief synopsis of our BMJ paper, and a look at magnet therapy from a theoretical point of view.

Magnet Therapy Is Big Business

If you try the Internet searching experiment described above you will notice that in addition to almost half a million pages dealing with magnet therapy, Google automatically provides a list of "sponsored links." Your computer screen will fill with the names of companies that have paid to help you find their site. What do these sites offer? If you click on www.magnetsandhealth.com, you will learn that "magnets help to flush out toxins in our body" and that "our magnet products have both beauty and health benefits, they increase blood flow and they increase the oxygen level in the body." Really? They also point out that their magnets are small and mobile, which "allows you to heal the ailments of yourself and your family without having major interruptions in your life and routine. You also get all the benefits without having to go for expensive sessions with a magnetic therapist or having to take expensive courses of drugs which can also have harmful side effects." The message seems quite clear: Why bother with doctors and medicines when magnets are safe and effective?

Another of the scores of sponsored links is www.magnetictherapymagnets.com. This site is interesting because, in addition to selling dozens of magnetic healing devices for humans, it doesn't forget about Fido. For only $11.95 plus shipping they will send you an amazing pet collar that will "keep your cat or dog in excellent health and vitality with constant magnetic therapy." My wife and I are now kicking ourselves for spending thousands of dollars on veterinary care over the past several years. If we had only bought that collar!

I don't mean to pick on these two companies or imply that their claims are any more outrageous than any others. In fact, there are now hundreds of companies selling similar devices and making similar claims.

Among the companies touting magnet therapy I was surprised to find the Sharper Image, a seemingly reputable outfit. They offer a device called a "Dual-Head Personal Massager with Magnetic Therapy." It is somewhat phallus-shaped, small enough to fit in a purse, and claims to be a "discreet personal massager with two independent vibrating heads." That certainly seems enticing enough, but they insist that it does far more that your average vibrator. "A smaller pinpoint node enhances its massage with magnetic therapy for focused treatment." Hmm . . . magnet therapy for focused treatment.

Some companies actually claim that their magnets prevent, reverse, and cure cancer. For example, at one site purveyors of cancer-curing magnets will sell you, for only $2,595, the "Dr. Philpott Designed and Approved Polar Power Super Bed Grid." According to the site, "This is the strongest, deepest penetrating, permanent static magnet, biomagnetic therapy device available anywhere that we know of. It is used in many of Dr. Philpotts' magnetic research protocols for prevention and reversal of cancer and other serious disease that requires a full systemic deep penetrating treatment of the whole body." Similarly absurd claims can be found at www.stopcancer.com/magnets.htm.

Do the legions of magnet therapists and magnet purveyors really believe the incredible claims that they make? Are they well-meaning but misguided individuals or con artists willing to say anything to make a buck? Both types are most likely involved.

Studies on Magnet Therapy

The overall conclusion of our BMJ review was stated in the first sentence, "We believe there is a worldwide epidemic of useless magnet therapy" (Finegold and Flamm 2006). As you can imagine, this statement was not well-received in the magnet healing community. We found that many studies on "magnet therapy" were published in "alternative" journals as opposed to peer-reviewed medical journals. Many studies included too few patients to reach statistically significant conclusions. Others had problems with their placebo control groups. For example, study subjects realized that they were wearing a magnetic bracelet rather than a placebo bracelet when it attracted paper clips or other small metal objects. In light of the vast amounts of money spent each year on supposedly therapeutic magnets, surprisingly few legitimate randomized controlled trials have been conducted to evaluate their efficacy.

Who pays?  And how can they recover their costs?   Drugs can be patented, magnets can't

An excellent critique of magnet therapy by Quackwatch founder Stephen Barrett, M.D., can be found at www.quackwatch.org.

Rebuttal above

Is Magnet Therapy Even Theoretically Possible?

In reality, many people find anecdotal reports of healing, particularly from athletes or other trusted celebrities, to be more convincing than scientific studies.

I would say most people, I would prefer the word of someone I trust.  
The only people who are convinced by scientific studies are those who are scientifically trained.  
Don’t forget the tobacco companies produced lots of trials showing tobacco was safe

There are certainly many people touting magnet therapy. But is there, even theoretically, any way that magnets could have any healing effect? In our BMJ review we restricted our comments to typical magnetic devices claimed to have therapeutic value: these use "static" magnets like those used to attach paper notes to a refrigerator door.

Nope, they do not.   Most therapeutic magnets are much stronger than fridge magnets.

In this context, static means nonmoving and has nothing to do with static electricity. Moving magnets or pulsed electromagnets can create electric fields and electromagnetic radiation that could have some effect on living tissue. In contrast, a typical nonmoving magnet produces only a magnetic field.

No such thing as a non-moving therapeutic magnet.   On a human body the magnet is in constant motion with respect to body components.  Unless the body is a corpse of course.

Is there anything in the human body that is affected by magnetic fields? Surprisingly, the answer appears to be no.

Better check with your colleague the physicist.   Have you not heard of diamagnetic materials?   Look here for an example you can try at home.   http://www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/diamagnetism_www/index.html

This seems counterintuitive since most people know that oxygen in our blood is carried by hemoglobin and that hemoglobin contains iron. This is why iron tablets are often recommended for the treatment of anemia. However, the iron in hemoglobin is not ferromagnetic (see www.badscience.net). If hemoglobin contained ferromagnetic iron it would be simple to separate red blood cells from other bloods cells with a magnet. Several studies have shown that static magnetic fields do not affect blood flow (see www.hfienberg.com/clips/magnet.htm and www.quackwatch.org).

How odd, I cannot find any studies cited at the Fienberg site, it is just an opinion piece.
 The Quackwatch article cites 8 studies, 2 of those show an effect.
And I will cite again several that show it does.

Biphasic effects of static magnetic fields on cutaneous microcirculation in rabbits.
Okano H; Gmitrov J; Ohkubo C Department of Physiological Hygiene, The National Institute of Public Health, Tokyo, Japan Bioelectromagnetics, 20(3):161-71 1999
“Static Magnetic Fields can modulate vascular tone due to biphasic modification of vasomotion in the cutaneous tissue.”

Effect of 0.25 T static magnetic field on microcirculation in rabbits.
Gmitrov J, Ohkubo C, Okano H.Department of Physiological Hygiene, The National Institute of Public Health, Tokyo, Japan. : Bioelectromagnetics. 2002 Apr;23(3):224-9.
we observed increased blood flow (*P<0.05), which gradually decreased after exposure cessation.”

Biological effects of static magnetic fields on the microcirculatory blood flow in vivo: a preliminary report.
Ichioka S; Iwasaka M; Shibata M; Harii K; Kamiya A; Ueno S Department of Plastic Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Japan. Med Biol Eng Comput, 36(1):91-5 1998 Jan
“After exposure, microcirculatory blood flow showed an initial increase for about 5 min followed by a gradual decrease and a return to the control value. ”

Use of permanent magnetic field in reconstructive surgery of the main arteries (experimental study).
Lud GV, Demeckiy AM. Department of Surgery, Vitebsk Medical Institute, USSR. Acta Chir Plast 1990;32(1):28-34
 “effects: stimulation of the central and peripheral blood flow, hypercoagulation prevention, reduction on edema and inflammation.”

Perhaps more important, if hemoglobin contained ferromagnetic iron people might explode or be flung across the room when exposed to the extraordinarily powerful magnetic field of a MRI scan. For a fascinating look at things that can go wrong when ferromagnetic materials get too close to the powerful magnetic field of an MRI machine, visit http://mripractice.tripod.com/mrpractice/id69.htm and www.simplyphysics.com/flying_objects.html.

However, for the sake of argument, what if some effect of magnets on human tissue could be demonstrated? What is the likelihood that it would be a therapeutic or healing effect? Probably slim to nil. By analogy, consider chemical compounds. The number of known chemical compounds is on the order of ten million. However, only a handful have ever been shown to have any therapeutic effects. Yet millions are toxic.

How odd, a physician who has forgotten the Paracelsus quote “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

It would be most unwise to eat or drink anything found on the shelves of a typical chemistry lab. If a magnet had an effect on human tissue, there is no reason to believe that it would necessarily be a healing effect.

Moreover, even the rare chemical compound that has healing effects usually does so only in very specific dose ranges. Almost any prescription drug can harm or kill you if you ingest enough of it. If, theoretically, a magnet had some effect on human tissue and if, astoundingly, the effect was beneficial rather than toxic, would one not expect there to be an optimal dosage? Yet, advertised healing magnets vary widely in their field strength. Many magnet purveyors claim that the more powerful the magnet, the greater the healing effect. This sounds good but makes little sense. All known effective therapies-including medications, x-rays, and lasers-become toxic or damaging at high levels. Nevertheless, the "magnet therapist" who debated me on BBC radio immediately after our paper was published chided me for not understanding that some magnet healers fail because they don't use strong enough magnets. She was so convincing that I think she actually believes this. The BBC radio host made a point of stating that the magnet therapist was "certified." By whom, I wondered? The Intergalactic Association of Magnetic and Crystal Healers? After the show my colleague Professor Finegold, who was raised in the United Kingdom, informed me that the word "certified" has a derogatory mental health connotation in the UK. Perhaps the BBC host was not flattering my opponent.

If you cannot attack the argument, attack the arguer.   See ad hominem in Carl Sagan’s “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” on this page

Some magnet advocates contend that no one has conclusively proven that magnets cannot heal. Of course, they have it backwards. When it comes to healing, the burden of proof is on the seller, not the buyer. One is supposed to prove that a therapy works before marketing it to the public. If this were not true, medical companies could save billions by selling all sorts of untested drugs and devices. In reality, the government insists that every medicine and therapeutic device be meticulously tested for both safety and efficacy. This protective system generally works and only rarely do unsafe or ineffective products slip through and reach the public. Sadly, it seems that no such protective laws exist for magnets, crystals, amulets, magic potions, or other claimed miracle cures.

Who can afford the $231,000,000 required to cerify a magnet in the same way that a new drug is cerified.

Finally, in the firestorm of criticism that followed the publication of our BMJ article, a frequent complaint was that I don't have an "open" mind.

I think that is fairly obvious, this is an opinion piece not based on evidence at all.  
Look at Mike Powell’s article above for an open minded evidence-based approach.

It might be more fair to say that my mind is open-but not to nonsense. If properly conducted research demonstrates a genuine healing effect of static magnets, I will cheerfully incorporate magnet therapy into my clinical practice.

…It has been estimated that the FDA approval process takes an average of 12 years and costs $231 million. This presents unique difficulties for independent researchers and for therapies that do not lend themselves to patentability….David F. Horrobin Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, Vol. 22, No. 2, February 2001

Until that time, I hope that parents will take their sick children to evidence-based physicians rather than "certified" magnet healers.

Very happy about that.  This author doesn’t seem to be an evidence-based physician though.


Brody, J. 2000. Less pain: Is it in the magnets or in the mind? New York Times, November 28: F9.

Weintraub, M. 1999. Magnetic bio-stimulation in painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy: A novel intervention-a randomized, double-placebo crossover study. American Journal of Pain Management 9: 8-17.

Finegold, L., and B.L. Flamm. 2006. Magnet therapy: Extraordinary claims, but no proved benefits. British Medical Journal 332:

Biomagnetic Pseudoscience and Nonsense Claims


Home : Skeptical Inquirer magazine : July/August 1998

The following is a short excerpt from an updated version of a paper titled "Magnetotherapy, the Latest Magic Touch" presented at the Ninth European Skeptics Conference, in La Coruna, Spain, September 4-7, 1997 by Miguel A. Sabadell

One of the main ways magnetotherapy is applied is through the use of permanent magnets. According to proponents, you can get their benefits as follows:

Local application: Effects depend drastically on which pole you apply. North pole: against pain, inflammatory and infectious processes. South pole: provides strength and energy. Does your shoulder hurt? No problem. Put the north of one of the magnets on the front of your shoulder and the south of the other one on the back of it (like a sandwich).

General application: The aim of this method is to provide a general magnetic flow inside the body. This helps to regulate the disorders of the organism. A correct application of the general method is said to involve a deep knowledge of the polarity of the human body and its affinity with therapeutic magnets.

I have snipped the rest of this article which is opinion only and no references to studies or papers.   The author has only heard of the energy approach to magnotherapy, where magnets help the chi or Ki energy flow in the body.   This approach is similar to acupuncture and I have heard this form of magnotherapy described as acupuncture with magnets.   If you wish to read the whole article, you'll find it here



Magnetic and Electromagnetic Therapy By David W. Ramey, DVM


The following commentary was published in the Spring 1998 issue of The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. © 1998 Prometheus Books, all rights reserved.

Another good article

One of the more popular therapies for the treatment of a variety of conditions in human and veterinary medicine is the application of a magnetic field. The biological effects of low-level magnetic fields have been studied since the 1500s. The crucial question, however, is whether these effects have any physiological significance. Many claims have been made for the therapeutic effectiveness of magnetic fields, but are there any good reasons for believing them?


The idea that magnetic therapy could be used to treat disease began in the early 16th century with the Swiss physician, philosopher, and alchemist Paracelsus, who used magnets to treat epilepsy, diarrhea, and hemorrhage.1 Magnetic therapy became more popular in the mid-18th century when Franz Mesmer, an Austrian doctor who also helped begin the fields of hypnotism and psychoanalysis (and from whose name the word "mesmerize" was coined), opened a popular magnetic healing salon in Paris. The purpose of the salon was to treat the untoward effects of the body's innate "animal magnetism." In spite of continued condemnation by the scientific community, magnetic therapy became a popular form of treatment by the lay community.

Over the next few centuries, magnetic therapy developed into a form of quackery. In 1799, Elisha Perkins, a Connecticut physician and sometime mule trader, advocated the use of "metallic tractors" for the treatment of various diseases of humans and horses.2 The user of the tractors (small metal magnetic wedges) swept the tractors over the injured area for a few minutes to "draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the foot of suffering." Subjects and observers perceived immediate benefits. They reported their testimonials and Perkins became very rich. Magnetic tractors failed to prevent Dr. Perkins' death due to yellow fever in 1799.

In the late 1800s, the Sears catalogue advertised magnetic boot inserts. Magnetic caps and clothing (with over 700 magnets) were available by mail order from Thatcher's Chicago Magnetic Company. 3 Dr. Thatcher asserted that "magnetism properly applied will cure every curable disease no matter what the cause."4 At the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Albert Abrams, named the "Dean of 20th Century charlatans" by the American Medical Association, postulated that each organ system and patient was "tuned" to a characteristic electromagnetic wavelength. By the time of World War II, physiologic effects of electromagnetic fields no longer received much attention in medical journals.

The history of quackery in the use of magnets has obscured scientific investigations performed on the medical effects of magnetic and electromagnetic fields. From a biophysics standpoint, a distinction is made between the two therapies; magnetic and electromagnetic are not the same.

Agreed, I believe that pulsed electromagnetic fields may be harmful to some people.

Electricity and Magnetism

Electromagnetism was first discovered in the 1800s by the English physicist Michael Faraday, who determined that a magnetic field could be generated by running an electric current through a wire coil. Conversely, a changing magnetic field can generate an electric voltage; the magnetic field must change to have any electrical effect (hence, the term pulsating electromagnetic field therapy, which generates rising and falling levels of a magnetic field.)

The biological effects of pulsating electromagnetic fields are hypothesized to be due to electrical rather than magnetic forces.

An unproven hypothesis

Magnetism generates a voltage in tissue according to the equation:

V = n x a x dB/dt

V = Voltage

n = number of turns in the electromagnetic coil

a = area of the loop

dB/dt = The rate of change of magnetic field with respect to time, with B representing the strength of the magnetic field (in Teslas). For example, if B goes from zero to 1 Tesla in 1 millisecond, then dB/dt = 1000 Teslas/sec.

Based on this equation, a static magnetic field cannot generate an electrical voltage, as the dB/dt component of the equation, is zero, as is the voltage induced by the field. Thus, any effects of a static magnetic field on tissue cannot be electrical in nature.

Wrong, and badly so.   There is always motion in the magnetic field.   Human and animal bodies are not static lumps of tissue.   Blood and other fluids move through the body and the body is in constant motion relative to the magnet and the static field round the magnet, unless the subject is dead.   The Bipolar magnets with very steep field gradients magnify this effect.   dB/dt is not zero for static magnets.   A static magnetic field does induce voltage changes because the field is not static in the body tissues.   This one misconception forms the basis of this article.

However that does not mean that electrical voltages produce the effects of magnotherapy, merely that we cannot rule out static magnets as producers of electrical fields.

Pulsating Electromagnetic Field Therapy

Extracellular matrix synthesis and repair are subject to regulation both by chemical agents (such as cytokines and growth factors) and physical agents, principally mechanical and electrical stimuli. The precise nature of such electromechanical signals is not known, however. In bone, mechanical and electrical signals may regulate the synthesis of extracellular matrix by stimulating signaling pathways at the cell membrane.6,7 In soft tissue, alternating current electrical fields induce a redistribution of integral cell membrane proteins which, hypothetically, could initiate signal transduction cascades and cause a reorganization of cytoskeletal structures. 8 However, the hypothesis that electrical signals may be responsible for information transfer in or to cells has neither been proved nor disproved.


There is ample evidence that electrical activity exists in the body at all times. For example, electrical currents can be measured in the beating heart and are also generated in the production of bone. Endogenous electrical current densities produced by mechanical loading of bone under physiologic conditions approximate 1 Hz and 0.1 - 1.0 microA/cm2 .9 Thus, it is theorized that application of an appropriate electrical current, either directly through wires or indirectly through induction by a magnetic field, may affect tissues in several ways. The word appropriate in the preceding sentence is important since cells and tissues respond to a variety of electrical signal configurations in ways that suggest a degree of specificity for both the tissue affected and the signal itself.

The most widely studied application of electromagnetic field therapy in human medicine is in fracture therapy. Although the mechanisms remain undetermined, several studies report that electrical fields generated by pulsating electromagnetic field therapy stimulate biologic processes pertinent to osteogenesis10,11,12 and bone graft incorporation. 13,14 This form of therapy is approved for the treatment of delayed and non-union fractures in humans in the U.S. by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Effectiveness of the treatment is supported by at least two double-blind studies.15,16 Pulsating electromagnetic field therapy, however, delays the healing of fresh experimentally induced fractures in rabbits.17

I would expect frequency to have some bearing on this.
 There are repeated studies on medline showing that static magnetic fields improve the healing of fractures on rats and rabbits.

Pulsating electromagnetic field therapy has also been evaluated in the treatment of soft tissue injuries, with the results of some studies providing evidence that this form of therapy may be of value in promoting healing of chronic wounds (such as bedsores)18 , in neuronal regeneration,19,20 and in many other soft tissue injuries.21,22 results of a recent study in an experimental Achilles tendinitis model in rats indicated that there was an initial decrease in water content in injured tendons treated with pulsating electromagnetic field therapy but that all treated groups were equal to controls by 14 days.23   The limited value of this form of therapy in the treatment of tendon injuries may be due in part to the lack of significant electrical activity in tendons, activity that could be altered by a pulsating electromagnetic field.

In contrast, a number of investigators have been unable to show any effect of low-level electromagnetic fields on tissue healing. One study, for example, failed to identify any beneficial effect of applying a magnetic field to a non-healing fracture24 and concluded that the long periods of immobilization and inactivity required for the application of the magnetic field therapy were just as likely to be responsible for tissue healing.

Four studies on medline with positive effects from static fields, one from electromagnetic fields.

Criticisms of pulsating electromagnetic field studies include: some of the studies are poorly designed; independent trials have not been conducted to confirm positive results; and the electrical fields induced by the machines are several orders of magnitude lower than are required to alter the naturally occurring electrical fields that exist across biological membranes.25   Even proponents of the therapy concede that much work needs to be done to optimize such variables as signal configuration and duration of treatment before pulsating electromagnetic field therapy can be generally recommended.26

I am also a little concerned about pulsating and oscillating electromagnetic field therapy.   There is anecdotal evidence that alternating fields applied to the body may be damaging.   This form of therapy is strictly rationed.   As an analogy, alternating fields can be like 'sawing' at the body tissues and static field magnotherapy irons out the 'ripping' effect and reduces it to a mere ripple.

Static Magnetic Field Therapy

Magnetic devices that radiate an unchanging magnetic field are available in a variety of configurations such as pads, bandages, and even magnetic mattresses. Scientific studies do not support claims of efficacy.

This I don't understand, what about Baylor and Weintraub, what about the studies on Medline and my references pages.

Furthermore, a mechanism of action by which such devices might exert these effects remains elusive. Because static magnetic fields do not change, there can be no electrical effect.

I agree that the mechanism of action remains elusive, but the second statement about no electrical effect is definitely wrong.

Hypotheses for an effect of a static field include influencing the electronic spin rate states of chemical reaction intermediates27,28 and influencing cyclical changes in the physical state(s) of water.29 Importantly, neither of these proposed effects has been demonstrated in biological systems under physiological condition.30

Again this comes down to the studies, if you do not recognise any studies, then you cannot see any effects.

In spite of a lack of demonstrable mechanism of action, proponents of applying static magnetic field therapy to injured or painful tissues generally attribute their alleged effects to an increase in local blood circulation. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence in supporting this hypothesis is tenuous at best.

Blood, like all tissues, contains electrically charged ions. A physics principle known as Faraday's Law states that a magnetic field will exert a force on a moving ionic current. Furthermore, an extension of Faraday's law called the Hall effect states that when a magnetic field is placed perpendicular to the direction of flow of an electric current, it will tend to deflect and separate the charged ions. While the deflection of ions will be in opposite directions depending on the magnetic pole encountered and the charge of the ion, this force is not based on the attraction or repulsion of like and unlike charges.

The Hall effect implies that when a magnet is placed over flowing blood in which ionic charges (such as Na+ and Cl-) exist, some force will be exerted on the ions. Furthermore, the separation of ionic charges will produce an electromotive force, which is a voltage between points in a circuit. In theory, this produces a very small amount of heat. These physical effects, which do exist, provide the basis for a quasi-scientific theory to account for the purported effects of static magnetic field therapy. For example:

When a magnetic field with a series of alternating North and South poles is placed over a blood vessel, the influence of the field will cause positive and negative ions (for example, Na+ and Cl-) to bounce back and forth between the sides of the vessel, creating flow currents in the moving blood not unlike those in a river. The combination of the electromotive force, altered ionic pattern, and the currents causes blood vessel dilation with a corresponding increase in blood flow. 31

The problem with using Faraday's law and the Hall effect to explain the purported effects of static magnetic pads is that the magnitude of that force applied by the field is infinitesimally small. Two facts account for the lack of effect. First, the magnetic field applied to the tissue is extremely weak. Second, the flow of the ionic current (i.e., the blood) is extremely slow, especially when compared to the flow of electric current. However, it is possible to estimate the forces applied to flowing blood by a weak magnetic fieldas long as the strength of the magnetic field applied, the velocity of the flowing blood, and the number of the ions in the blood are known.

You also need to know the field gradients.

Magnetic field strength is measured in one of two units: 1 Tesla = 104 Gauss. The magnetic field strength of a Norfield's MAGNETIChockwrapTM(for horses) measured at California Institute of Technology had a field strength of 270 Gauss at the level of the pad and 1 Gauss at a distance of 1 cm from the pad. Tissues purportedly affected by the pads lie at least 1 cm away from them; 1 Gauss is approximately the magnetic field strength of the earth.32 Promotional information for Bioflex pads asserts an "independent laboratory" has measured the field strength of their pads at 350 Gauss and that "optimum" field strength for the purported healing effects is less than 500 Gauss.33 Regardless, these are very weak magnetic fields.

Considering the applied magnetic field at 250 Gauss (0.025 Tesla) and the velocity of blood flow v as 1 cm/sec (0.01 m/sec), the electric field to which an ion in the blood is exposed can be calculated as:

E = v x B = 2.5 x 10-4 Volts/meter/sec

Hence, the change in electric potential (a psuedo-Hall effect) across a 1 mm diameter blood vessel can be estimated at a minuscule 2.5 x 10-7 Volts.

Again, no allowance is made for the steep and changing field gradients, these calculations assume a flow through a constant and uniform field.

Ions of opposing charges will move in opposite directions when moving through a static magnetic field. The separation of charges, known as the drift velocity, can also be calculated. In the case of Na+ and Cl- ions in flowing blood under the influence of a 250 Gauss magnetic field, the increased separation of the positive sodium and the negative chloride ions will be about 0.2 Angstroms per second, or about 1/10 the diameter of an atom. This can be compared with the random drift distance in one second that results from the thermal agitation imparted by the heat of the horse's body of about 0.25 mm/sec. Stated in another fashion, the ions will travel farther from thermal agitation than from the 250 Gauss magneto-electrical field drift by a factor of about 10 million.34

Any magnetic forces generated by a static field affecting fluid movement in blood vessels would have to overcome both the normal, pressure-driven turbulent flow of blood propelled by the heart and the normal thermal-induced Brownian movement of the particles suspended in the blood. Given the strong physical forces that already exist in a blood vessel, any physical forces generated by a static magnetic field on flowing blood, particularly those as weak as those associated with therapeutic magnetic pads, are extremely unlikely to have a biological effect.

There is an effect proposed by MVDr Vladislav Vaclavek, a Czech vet, who has written a book, "Magnotherapy the pHacts", ISBN 0 9535970 0 8.   This is my attempt to summarise his theory which is backed by the University of Prague.

Some 60 - 70% of our body is water and water ionises to produce hydronium ions and hydroxyl ions.   Under normal circumstances only about one molecule in every half a million is ionised in this way and the effect of the magnets is to increase this proportion.   This increased ionisation of the water improves the buffering capacity of the fluids in our body.   Buffering capacity is the ability to reduce the effect of increasing amounts of acid or alkali in the body for any reason.

In other words it helps our bodies to keep the acid/alkali ratio where it needs to be for good physiological balance.    If this balance tips one way or the other we start to get problems.   Normal bodily functions slow down and we get a build up of the toxic by-products of our own metabolism, such as lactic acid.   The acid/alkali ratio is measured as pH and when this pH strays from the norm we experience pain.

If the pH of our blood is correct the haemoglobin will transport the oxygen that our body needs.   When the pH drifts outside very narrow limits, the ability of the blood to transport oxygen decreases.   Magnotherapy devices are helping to keep the blood at the optimum pH for carrying oxygen and thus playing their small part in maintaining a healthy body.

In other words the devices do not physically increase circulation, but effectively increases it by carrying more oxygen to the tissues.

Magnetic Pad Design

At least one manufacturer of magnetic pads (Magnaflex/BioflexTM) asserts that the effect of charge separation can be increased by alternating north and south magnetic poles. Alternating magnetic poles are most commonly seen in refrigerator magnets. By alternating the magnetic poles, an increased magnetic gradient is created, which increases the ability of the magnets to stick to the refrigerator. Paradoxically, alternating poles decrease the magnetic field strength of the magnet because the fields tend to cancel each other out as they extend from the magnet.

Yes, but as has been already said, it's the steep field gradients that produce the effect, not the overall strength, and alternating poles increases the field gradients.

Thus, while alternating poles would exert opposite forces on ions flowing through the magnetic field, the decrease in magnetic field strength would lessen any potential influence of the magnetic field on the target ions. Nor does there appear to be any consensus in the industry as to the ideal design for the pads. In fact, a competing manufacturer asserts that, "Leading scientists agree that unipolar magnets are superior to bi-polar,"35 although neither the scientists nor the supporting research are identified.

Yes, but this is irrelevant.   Until the mechanism is known, any statements about the mechanism are just theories.

Further proprietary design information regarding at least one commercial source of magnetic pads (BioflexTM pads) would also appear to be irrelevant regarding biologic effects. Promotional information for the pads indicates that the "concentric circle" arrangement of the pads increases the likelihood that the magnetic field would be applied perpendicular to flowing blood, thereby maximizing the Hall effects. In fact, because blood vessels run randomly throughout the three dimensions of any tissue, there can be no "preferred" arrangement of the magnetic field that would favor its perpendicular orientation to the flow of blood.

Yes, but the field gradients would be maximum in all directions.

Studies on Static Magnetic Fields and Blood Flow

A number of studies have investigated the effects of static magnetic fields on blood flow. Studies commissioned by the makers of one type of magnetic pad showed that exposure of a highly concentrated saline solution in a glass capillary tube increased the flow of the solution. This study has been often cited by manufacturers of static magnetic devices as evidence that magnetic field therapy can potentially affect the circulation of blood. Although the mechanism for the increase in saline flow is not apparent, it certainly could not have been related to any dilatory effect on the walls of the glass capillary tube. The investigator who performed the study concluded that the results of the experiments performed using highly concentrated saline in a glass tube should not be extrapolated to effects that would be expected with flowing blood.36

Unless you know the mechanism, any extrapolation cannot be assumed, but if it works on a saline solution, there is a good chance it will work on a blood solution.

A second study evaluated the effects of the pads in the distal limbs of horses using nuclear scintigraphy, a technique that is useful in identifying areas of blood vessel dilation and inflammation. That study concluded that, "Scintigraphy was performed in the vascular, soft tissue, and bone phase using a cross over trial to demonstrate increased blood flow and metabolic activity as a result of the local application of a permanent magnetic pad on the equine metacarpus. A highly significant increase was evident in the three phases."37 The results of this study have been used repeatedly to suggest that magnetic pads promote blood circulation to the areas under the pads.

This study, which is apparently the only one to state that a static magnetic field affects blood circulation, is open to criticism. The experimental model, which compared the results of scans on one "treated" limb vs. the non-treated limb is inherently inaccurate, as one forelimb cannot be used as a control for the other in scintigraphic studies (each limb should be used as its own control). Furthermore, the design of the study was flawed, as a bandage and magnetic pad were applied to one limb while a bandage only was applied to the other. A more appropriate control would have been a bandage and a demagnetized pad. The radioisotope chosen for the study was not appropriate to determine blood circulation accurately. Finally, the study measured absolute scintigraphic counts, when the use of relative perfusion ratios would have been more appropriate.38

Numerous other studies have failed to show any effect of magnetic fields on blood circulation. For instance, no effect of dental magnets on the circulation of blood in the cheek could be demonstrated.39 Scintigraphic evaluation of blood flow in mice exposed to two strengths of pulsating electromagnetic field force failed to demonstrate any circulatory effects.40 A study on the circulatory effects of a magnetic foil was unable to show any effect in the skin of human forearms41 and application of a magnetic foil to healing wounds in rats showed no significant effects.42 A study in horses showed that application of a magnetic pad over the tendon region for 24 hours showed no evidence of temperature increase in treated limbs vs. placebo controlled limbs, using thermographic measurements as an indirect assessment of blood circulation to the area.43

The Thermal page carries a series of thermographic photos 

Wait until the photos animate, there are 27 to load.   You can see that applying a magnet to one wrist increases the temperature in both hands.

As a more practical matter, if a magnet caused local increases in circulation, one would expect the area under the magnet to feel warm or become red as a result. Such an effect is not reported when magnets are held in the hand. Furthermore, one would expect any circulatory effects produced by very weak magnetic fields to be magnified in stronger magnetic fields. However, no circulatory effects have ever been reported in magnetic resonance imaging machines, in which the magnetic forces generated are two to four orders of magnitude greater than those produced by therapeutic magnetic pads. In studies of humans exposed to magnetic fields up to 1 Tesla (10,000 Gauss) there was no evidence of alterations in local blood flow at the skin of the thumb or at the forearm.44 Even a 10 Tesla magnetic field is predicted to change the vascular pressure in a model of human vasculature by less than 0.2%, and experimental results of the effects of strong magnetic fields on concentrated saline solutions are in general agreement with these predictions.45

Again, the field strength is not as important as the field gradients.   I think the MRI magnets produce a basically homogeneous field which will not produce the effect.

Based on the available scientific data, one must conclude that if there is an effect of static magnetic fields on blood circulation, there is no known biological mechanism by which that effect is generated. One may also postulate that the boots, blankets, and bandages in which the magnets are sewn have some sort of a thermal effect that is independent of the magnetic field (and could be duplicated with any form of bandaging).

See the book "Magnotherapy the pHacts", ISBN 0 9535970 0 8

Magnetic Fields and Pain Relief

Both static and pulsating electromagnetic field therapy have also been promoted as being beneficial for the relief of pain. As with other proposed effects, there is no known mechanism of action by which application of a magnetic field produces biological effects. If they are effective in the relief of pain, it is unlikely that the effect is related to a reduction in nerve conductivity; the field required to produce a 10% reduction in nerve conductivity is roughly 24 Tesla.46

The Baylor and Weintraub studies suggested something like this, but I doubt it.

As an aside, one of the negative studies for static magnets found "The proximal conduction time of the ulnar nerve was significantly reduced by magnetic treatment in the subjects without pain but was not changed in the subjects with pain."

Studies evaluating the effects of pulsating electromagnetic fields in the relief of pain have shown conflicting results. Pulsating electromagnetic field therapy has reportedly provided pain relief in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the human knee and cervical spine,47,48 in the treatment of persistent neck pain,49 and in the treatment of women with chronic refractory pelvic pain.50 However, electromagnetic therapy showed no benefit in the relief of pain due to shoulder arthritis51, and a 1994 summary of published trials of non-medicinal and noninvasive therapies for hip and knee osteoarthritis concluded that there were insufficient data available to draw any conclusions on the efficacy of the therapy.52 Paradoxically, another study in humans showed that magnetic treatment actually induced hyperalgesia in a tooth pain model.53

Pads that apply a static magnetic field are also promoted as having pain-relieving effects. Poorly controlled studies from the Japanese literature suggest that static magnetic devices were highly effective in alleviating subjective symptoms such as neck, shoulder, and other muscular pain.54,55 One controlled, double-blind pilot study suggested that magnetic pads were effective in the relief of myofascial or arthritic-like pain in postpolio syndrome,56 although every patient in the study, whether being treated with a placebo or a magnet, showed relief from pain.

Damning with faint praise, this is from the abstract
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Score on the McGill Pain Questionnaire. RESULTS: Patients who received the active device experienced an average pain score decrease of 4.4 +/- 3.1 (p < .0001) on a 10-point scale. Those with the placebo devices experienced a decrease of 1.1 +/- 1.6 points (p < .005). The proportion of patients in the active-device group who reported a pain score decrease greater than the average placebo effect was 76%, compared with 19% in the placebo-device group (p < .0001).
*****Note 1.1+/-1.6 suggests some patients got worse using the placebo.   Every patient did not get relief.

The Weintraub study, not mentioned here, gave the following results.
Overall, 64% of the 14 patients showed statistically significant improvement in the paresthesias of numbness and tingling. Peripheral neuropathy patients had the best response of the two groups, with 75% (6/8) improving, 38% (3/8) completely. The diabetic neuropathy group had a 50% response rate. VAS scores reflected the changes in decreased pain.

This report was small, but a multiple site study is now being run throughout the US.

However, other studies have concluded that a magnetic foil offered no advantage over plain insoles in the treatment of pain of the human heel57

The researchers made their own magnetic insoles.   The commercially made magnetic insoles in the Weintraub study showed a significantly better than placebo effect.

and that a magnetic necklace had no effect on neck and shoulder pain.58

Interesting outcome from this study.
 "The proximal conduction time of the ulnar nerve was significantly reduced by magnetic treatment in the subjects without pain but was not changed in the subjects with pain."

So the magnets had an effect, but not the expected one.

It has also been suggested that there is a strong placebo effect at work in the perception of pain relief offered by static Magnetic devices.59

Blinded studies eliminate the placebo effect.

Clinical Use of Magnetic Fields in Veterinary Medicine

Magnetic and electromagnetic devices appear not to be used on small animals.

Wrong, ours are used for cats and dogs as well as large animals.   In our case, pet owners who had used magnotherapy wristbands successfully put them round their pets necks with equal success so we produced versions for the pets.   They fit round the neck, over the pulse points.

However, the devices are widely advertised in magazines targeted at horse owners. Pulsating electromagnetic field therapy is typically applied to horses with boots or blankets. Some of the variables of the magnetic field generated (such as the amplitude and frequency of the signal) can be controlled using this form of magnetic therapy. However, changes in these variables appear to affect different tissues in different ways, and those ways are not well defined, making selection of ideal field strength of the therapy problematic.

The other way to apply a magnetic field to a horse is by attaching a magnetic pad. This form of therapy generates a continuous, static magnetic influence on the targeted tissue; however, the magnetic field cannot be modulated. The principle advantage of this form of magnetic therapy is that it is relatively inexpensive (compared to the cost of the machines) and easy to apply; the disadvantage is that as yet there is no scientific evidence of an effect.

Baylor & Weintraub studies

The absence of a plausible scientific theory for a mechanism of action should never override reliable strong clinical evidence of an effect. For example, the mechanism of aspirin was not known for many years, although the drug was clinically effective. However, there appear to be no published scientific studies available that demonstrate that any form of magnetic field therapy is valuable in the treatment of disease conditions of the horse.

None that I've found yet, studies are being done at Cambridge in the UK.
Plenty of studies on rats, rabbits and guinea pigs, but they are easier to handle<g>.

Daily electromagnetic therapy did increase the concentration of blood vessels in surgically created defects of equine superficial digital flexor tendon, but the maturation of the repair tissue and the transformation of collagen type (two essential components in the healing process of tendon) actually were delayed by the treatment in tendon samples collected at 8 to 12 weeks after surgery.60 No benefit could be demonstrated in the healing of freshly created bone injuries treated with pulsating electromagnetic field therapy when compared to untreated control limbs, 61 although another study did suggest an increase in bone activity under pulsating electromagnetic field treatment when holes were drilled in horse cannon bones.62 Topical treatment with a pulsed electromagnetic field showed little effect on metabolism of normal horse bone in another study.63 Unfortunately, the principle application of pulsating electromagnetic field therapy in people, for delayed and non-union fractures, is of little apparent use in horses.

Magnetic Therapy and Pseudoscience

In spite of hundreds of years of investigation, there still appears to be no place for magnetic therapy in scientific medicine.

Hundreds of years?   Modern strong magnets have only become available recently.

While legitimate investigations are taking place, many aspects of magnetic therapy carry hallmarks of pseudoscience. For example: Vague, unsupported claims of effectiveness. One device advertises that "leading scientists agree that unipolar magnets are superior to bipolar." The "leading scientists" are not identified. The company also claims to have "tens of thousands of very satisfied users."

This  section is irrelevant, what the salesmen say has no bearing on the efficacy of the product.

Misuse of defined scientific terminology. The discovery of a "unipolar" magnet (see above) or magnetic monopole would lead its discoverer to an almost immediate Nobel prize, as magnetic monopoles have not been shown to exist. One company advertises its "Tectonic" magnets (tectonics is a geologic term referring to the study of the earth's structural features.)

Nonsense, the literature defines unipolar as a single pole against the body with the other pole facing away from the body.   This has nothing to do with monopoles.

Mischaracterization of medicine. One company warns about the side effects of taking "too many pills" and states that, "Using magnets means you are not putting anything into your stomach that might cause upset or damage." Another company describes their magnets as "natural as nature" and "wholistic" [sic]. While magnets may not have any side effects, they may not have any effects, either.

Wholistic is an acceptable variant of holistic

Inaccurate claims. One company states that studies at various universities have "proven" that static magnets increase blood flow. This appears to be contrary to fact.

Studies on Medline

Predicted phenomena remain slippery. As experimental and theoretical work progresses, more and more sound evidence for the related phenomena should appear.64 So far, such evidence remains elusive in the field of magnetic therapy.

Look at the studies on the Abstracts page

No deepening evidence. In spite of hundreds of years of experience and investigation, the "state of the art" in magnetic therapy appears to have increased little since the days of Franz Mesmer.

Not true, modern strong magnets and multiple-pole, steep-field-gradient devices were not available until recently.


Whenever an injury to tissue occurs, the goal of any medical therapy is to help allow healing of that injury so that, to the extent that it can be done, the injured tissue is returned to full normal function as quickly as possible. The quality of tissue repair and the speed with which that repair can be accomplished are the two major variables in the healing of any injury. Any medical therapy that could be demonstrated to affect either variable (or better yet, both of them) would be extremely valuable to the medical field.

Repeated, controlled studies on medline.   References on this site.

However, assessing whether or not a particular medical therapy is effective in those regards is somewhat problematic. The old adage, "Time heals all wounds," is largely true. Many diseases are self-limiting and the body is able to heal itself with no intervention whatsoever. For example, according to one source, approximately 70 per cent of all acute infectious disease conditions of the horse are adequately dealt with by the host's defenses.65 That suggests that whichever method of treatment is selected, 7 out of 10 times, the problem will get better. If healing occurs while a device touted to promote healing is applied to an injured or infected area, that device often receives the credit.

Placebo controlled studies on medline

Explanations that magnetic fields "increase circulation," "reduce inflammation," or "speed recovery from injuries" are simplistic and are not supported by the weight of experimental evidence.

Studies on Medline

The effects of magnetic fields on body tissues are complex and appear to vary from tissue to tissue and from different intensities and duration of the magnetic field applied. The nature of the magnetic devices make them amenable to randomized, controlled, double-blind studies that are, for the most part, lacking. Although the therapies appear to be harmless, that does not also mean that they are useful.

Several vets in the UK use magnotherapy in their practice.   The horse owner is well aware when an improvement takes place.   In some cases the only treatment for a condition is to put the horse down.   Magnotherapy has been used to relieve the symptoms so that the horse no longer needs to be put down.   This is anecdotal evidence and press articles, so cannot be taken as proof, but if you have a horse with a problem, magnotherapy is worth trying.

Find a distributor with a track record who will give you a money back guarantee.   If it doesn't work, get your money back and try another method of using magnotherapy.   What have you got to lose?


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Hong, C., et al. Magnetic necklace: its therapeutic effectiveness on neck and shoulder pain. Arch Phys Med Reab. 63: 464-466, 1982.

Lin, J.C., et al. Geophysical Variables and Behavior: XXVII. Magnetic Necklace: Its Therapeutic Effectiveness on Neck and Shoulder Pain: 2. Psychological Assessment. Psychological Reports 56: 639-649, 1985.

Watkins, J., et al: Healing of surgically created defects in the Equine Superficial Digital Flexor Tendon: Effects of PEMF on collagen-type transformation and tissue morphologic reorganization. AJVR 46: 2097-2103, 1985.

Bramlage, L., Weisbrode, S. and Spurlock, G. The Effect of a Pulsating Electromagnetic Field on the Acute Healing of Equine Cortical Bone. Proc 30th AAEP, 43-48, 1984.

Cane, V., Botti, P. and Soana, S. Pulsed Magnetic Fields Improve Osteoblast Activity During the Repair of an Experiemental Osseous Defect. J Ortho Research, 11(5): 664-670, 1993.

Collier, M., et al. Radioisotope uptake in normal equine bone under the influence of a pulsed electromagnetic field. Mod Vet Prac 66: 971-974, 1985.

Turpin, R. Characterization of Quack Theories. http://www.chewable.com/hypatian/quack.htm.

Walker, R.D. Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. In, Current Therapy in Equine Medicine, III, Robinson, N.E., ed. W.B. Saunders Co, Philadelphia, PA, 1992.

America's Strange Attraction - Magnet Therapy for Pain By Robert L. Park


 Special to The Washington Post

Wednesday, September 8, 1999; Page H03

This article was written to publicise a book and is the author's opinions, not backed by any studies.   He seems to know very little about magnotherapy which is a small chapter in his book.

Paul isn't going to let anything get in the way of golf. He plays almost every day, and at 79 he doesn't hold back on his swing. So when Paul's shoulder hurt, he listened to the advice of other golfers and tried magnets.

The current popularity of magnet therapy seems to have started on the golf course, and golf pro shops were about the only place to buy therapy magnets.

Might be in the US, but not in the UK

Now you can find them in department stores and pharmacies everywhere. Worldwide, it is a billion-dollar business and, according to thousands of scientists and physicians, a billion-dollar waste of money by an achingly gullible public.

This is worse than the worst salesmen, 'thousands of scientists and physicians'.   Is this how science is practised at the University of Maryland.

Paul bought a magnet therapy kit for $49.95. The shoulder pain disappeared, and his handicap dropped from 20 to 17. It could be because he's playing golf more regularly, he admits, but he thinks that the magnets probably had something to do with it. So does his wife. Since she began putting magnets in her shoes, she says she doesn't get as tired.

Silly woman, doesn't know when she's tired !

Paul says he would recommend magnets for anyone.

But Paul admits that he hasn't always followed his own advice. When his knee hurt, he didn't try magnets. He went straight to his doctor.

But magnotherapy is a complementary therapy, not an alternative therapy.   It is meant to be used with alongside any current therapy with your doctor's approval.

Many friends his age have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. That's serious. Not only will it mess up your golf game, but it's also not reversible. Fortunately, X-rays showed no sign of osteoarthritis, and the pain seemed to go away without any treatment.

Paul's knee healed by itself; his sore shoulder probably would have, too. Most of the things that afflict us get better by themselves. Our bodies have a very sophisticated repair kit for injury or disease: Bones knit, blood clots, the immune system seeks out infectious agents.

That can make it pretty difficult to tell whether the remedies we take actually help. Whatever we happen to be taking when we get better usually receives the credit.

Paul's doctor advised him that magnet therapy is not scientifically proven. Nor is it approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"That didn't surprise me," Paul says with a snort. "Doctors always want to give you a pill. They think everything is internal. I don't know how magnets work, but they were using them in China thousands of years ago."

That's true, but the Chinese also were using powdered rhinoceros horn to restore virility. Unfortunately, they still do, with the result that the world is running out of rhinos.

By contrast, genuine medical advances extending and improving our lives today emerge from a detailed scientific understanding of how the body works. Viagra, for example, may yet save the rhino from extinction. The history of medicine is littered with the bones of traditional treatments that millions of people once swore by but now are known to be worthless or even harmful.

In The Fragile Species, Lewis Thomas notes that treatments such as purges and leeches were abandoned only when objectively compared to simply allowing the illness to take its course.

Leeches are still used in medicine to encourage blood flow

Magnet therapy, it seems, has been abandoned many times over the centuries only to be revived [see box below].

Yes, but stronger and more effective magnets are now available

So what has science learned about the effect of magnetic fields on the human body? Quite a lot, actually. Research has been driven not by magnetic therapy but by safety considerations associated with the phenomenal growth in use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for medical diagnoses and research.

MRI subjects the whole body to a magnetic field about 100 times stronger than the localized field of a therapy magnet. Happily, no ill effects been found from exposure to MRI fields.

Indeed, there are almost no effects at all -- just a few faint sensory responses, such as a slight metallic taste and visual sensations of flashing lights if patients move their eyes too rapidly. The fact is that the stuff we're made of just isn't very magnetic.

You are making the assumption that the strength of the magnet is important.   It is not, the steepness of the field gradients is the important factor.

That's why scientists were surprised two years ago when physician Carlos Vallbona at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston reported results of a double-blind trial of magnets in treatment of 50 patients suffering post-polio pain.

What scientists were surprised?   Not the ones who did the studies on medline.

Some of the patients were treated with commercial therapy magnets and others with sham magnets. After 45 minutes, 76 percent of those treated with real magnets reported a decrease in pain; only 19 percent receiving the placebo felt an improvement.

However, no confirming studies have been reported by other researchers. And in a published paper, Leonard Finegold, a biophysicist at Drexel University, criticized the protocol used in the Baylor trial.

What about the Weintraub studies?

The University of Virginia is finishing a two-year, double-blind study of devices sponsored by the National Institutes of Health's alternative medicine office, and results are to be announced soon.

Meanwhile, scientists might be more inclined to take the whole idea seriously if there were some plausible explanation of how the magnets work. Vallbona agrees that it's important to find a mechanism, saying he believes that magnets promote the flow of blood to the treated area.

Don't hold your breath, it took 60 years to find the mechanism for asprin

One suggestion is that magnets attract blood because some blood cells contain iron. The iron in hemoglobin, however, is in a chemical state that is not ferromagnetic -- that is, not attracted to a magnet.

You can test this. An excess of blood appears as a flushing or reddening of the skin. Skin turns red under a hot water bottle because blood is being diverted to the heated area to serve as a coolant.

But you will discover that placing a magnet of any strength against your skin produces no reddening. In fact, blood is weakly diamagnetic -- at sufficiently high fields, it would be repelled by a magnet.

It has also been suggested that a magnetic field causes water molecules in the blood to align, somehow improving circulation. In fact, no alignment of water molecules is observed even at the huge field strength of MRI magnets. At the temperature of blood, water molecules jostle each other so violently that their orientation is entirely random. To align them, a magnetic field would have to be strong enough to overcome this thermal energy.

John Schenck of General Electric's R&D Laboratory, the leading authority on the effect of MRI fields on the body, calculates that fields thousands of times stronger than any ever generated on Earth would be needed to align a significant fraction of the water molecules.

The same is true of claims that the magnetic field separates positive and negative ions (electrically charged atoms) in flowing blood. The ability of magnetic fields to affect current flows in this way is known as the "Hall effect" and is a standard measurement of electron mobility in semiconductors such as the silicon in transistors.

Ions, however, are much heavier than electrons. In addition, blood flows so slowly compared to electron motion that, once again, any effect would be wiped out by the agitated motion of the hot blood.

Indeed, at the field strength of therapy magnets, it's difficult to imagine any mechanism that would overcome thermal effects.

This is all irrelevant, no-one knows the mechanism and it is pointless trying to prove magnotherapy does not work by rubbishing salesmen's theories.

How strong are the fields of therapy magnets? In a kit like the one Paul bought, the gold-plated neodymium alloy magnets are rated at 800 gauss, measured at the surface of the magnet. A gauss is a unit of magnetic field density named after Karl Friedrich Gauss, a 19th century German scientist.

That's not much compared to the 30,000-40,000 gauss electromagnets used in MRI, but it's a lot for a small permanent magnet.

Fifty years ago, permanent magnets had to be long to keep the poles from demagnetizing and usually were made in the shape of a horseshoe. Development of thin, powerful permanent magnets using rare-earth compounds and various iron-based chemicals is one of the unsung triumphs of modern materials science, making possible everything from miniature headphones to laptop computers.

It also triggered the magnet therapy fad. No one was going to show up on the golf course wearing horseshoe magnets.

In general, makers of therapy magnets warn against using them "around credit cards or during pregnancy." The instructions with Paul's kit, however, showed a magnet being worn on the wrist.

Your wrist normally passes within an inch or so of your pocket or purse, and 800 gauss is certainly enough to wipe out the magnetically coded information on the cards. Since people who make these magnets often are paid with credit cards, they presumably have an interest in seeing to it that your cards stay in good working order.

Could it be that they make therapy magnets the way refrigerator magnets are made? Since refrigerator magnets are meant only to hold phone messages and Dilbert cartoons, they are designed to have a very short range field. This is done by making them in the form of narrow strips of alternating north and south poles .

You can test this. Take two identical refrigerator magnets of the thin flexible kind, not the molded ceramic ones. Slide one across the other. You can feel a little tug each time the poles line up. Right at its surface, such a magnet may be quite strong, but a very short distance away, depending on the width of the strips, the north and south poles will effectively cancel [see illustration above].

Even for a conventional bar or horseshoe magnet, the field falls off rather quickly with distance. But in refrigerator magnets with alternating poles, it happens much, much faster.

So what, field strength is not regarded as important by some manufacturers, field gradient is more important.  
Alternating poles increase the field gradient.

The magnets in the kit were in little Velcro pouches to be attached to the injured area with blue velvet straps. They must look dashing in the fitness center. I removed two of the magnets and slid one across the other. I could feel them clicking into place: Like refrigerator magnets, they were made with alternating poles.

To learn how quickly the field fell off, I stuck one of the magnets on a file cabinet. I could hardly pull it off with my fingers. I then inserted sheets of paper between the magnet and the cabinet until the magnet no longer could support itself.

Ten sheets! That's just one millimeter, about 1125th of an inch. The effective field of these magnets -- and of the kind used in the Baylor study -- would hardly reach through the skin, much less into muscles and joints.

What is the effective field?   What makes you think it has to reach into muscles and joints.   These are assumptions about a possible mechanism.

As health fads go, magnet therapy may not seem like a big deal. Magnets generally cost less than a visit to the doctor and certainly do no harm. But magnet therapy can be dangerous if it leads people to forgo needed medical treatment.

Worse, its popularity in the absence of convincing evidence tends to reinforce a distorted view of how the world works, leaving people vulnerable to predatory quacks if they become seriously ill.

Over 130 pro-magnotherapy studies found on medline.

It's like trying to find your way around San Francisco with a map of New York. That could be dangerous for someone who is really sick -- or really lost.

Sorry for some of the comments above, this sort of article brings out the worst in me.

Robert L. Park is professor of physics at the University of Maryland and author of the forthcoming book Voodoo Science(Oxford University Press).

Helene Grossman, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company


Magnetic Therapy- Healing with Magnets

http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~nogods/magnets.html  downloaded 14/02/2007

  Do magnets have health benefits? Can sleeping on a magnetic underlay, wearing a magnetic pad or drinking magnetised water improve your wellbeing? Those pushing magnetic therapy claim that the health benefits can range from simply reducing pain to the extreme, and irresponsible, claim of curing cancer. Do they really work or are they just a scam, a waste of money?

No, they don't work. It's a scam.

In his not-so-humble opinion.   You can tell by the emotionally charged language that he is a true believer who will ignore any evidence that suggests he might be mistaken.


What is 'Magnetic Therapy'? Put simply, it is the use of magnets to treat or ease the symptoms of various diseases and conditions, including pain.

There are excellent articles on the Internet explaining and debunking magnetic therapy and we will provide links to some of these at the end of this essay. However we don't wish to just restate this information, so the main focus of this essay will be to explore some 'what if' scenarios. What if magnetic therapy really did work the way magnetic therapy proponents say it does? How would our bodies really react?

While these scenarios are no doubt obvious to those that investigate and subsequently criticise magnet therapy, those that purchase magnetic products seldom think too much about the 'science' claims. But by using some basic science and logic anyone can quickly see that magnetic therapy just couldn't work the way they say it does.

Irrelevant and immaterial.   The beliefs of the proponents have nothing to do with whether the therapy is effective.

Although we'll mainly refer to 'Magnetic Therapy' in this essay, 'healing with magnets', 'biomagnetic therapy', 'bio-magnetics' and 'bioelectromagnetic therapy' are some of the other names given to this scam.

Bioelectromagnetics is a peer-reviewed, internationally circulated scientific journal that specializes in biological, biochemical, biophysical, epidemiological and clinical research on the interaction of biological systems with electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields with frequencies from zero (DC) to the optical region and with ultrasound. It is sponsored by the Bioelectromagnetics Society and published by Wiley-Liss, Inc. Bioelectromagnetics is the official journal of the Bioelectromagnetics Society and the European Bioelectromagnetics Association and is the official bioelectromagnetics journal of the Society for Physical Regulation in Biology and Medicine.

Magnets and their Use in Medicine

Of course some will be skeptical that magnetic therapy is a scam, stating that they can vaguely recall accounts of doctors, scientists, researchers etc using magnets to diagnose and treat medical problems. And this is perfectly true. However this apparent contradiction results from there being two types of 'magnetic therapy'.

To explain this, first we need to differentiate between two types of medicine. One is conventional medicine and the other is alternative medicine. Conventional medicine is what doctors are trained in and what we find in our hospitals. Alternative medicine is what unqualified and untrained therapists practise in their kitchen or promote on the Internet. Of course conventional medicine is more correctly called scientific medicine and alternative medicine is more correctly called unproven, superstitious or pseudoscientific medicine. If an alternative medicine is scientifically shown to be effective it quickly dumps its 'alternative' tag and simply becomes 'medicine'. Alternative therapies yearn for the respect of conventional therapies.

Magnets are definitely used in both types of medicine, conventional and alternative. However the phrase 'magnetic therapy' as used by the general public almost always refers to the 'magnetic therapy' of alternative medicine.

Problems arise when people confuse the positive and proven results of magnetic fields used in conventional medicine with the bogus claims of alternative medicine's 'magnetic therapy'.

You may reply that magnets are magnets, they all produce magnetic fields, and whether used by hospitals or alternative therapists, their curative potential is the same. However this fallacy rests on the belief that all magnets are the same. They're not. The hospitals use powerful and expensive electromagnets while the magnetic therapists are trying to do the same job with not much more than fridge magnets.

To understand why this makes a difference we need to differentiate between the two types of magnets, either of which can be used in the field of medicine, both conventional and alternative.

There are basically two types of magnets - electromagnets and permanent magnets. Both produce magnetic fields. The type of magnet that people are most familiar with is the permanent magnet. This is the sort that you played with at school to attract nails and iron filings and the type that holds notes on your fridge. Permanent magnets have been known throughout history and can be found in nature.

Electromagnets on the other hand are recent inventions and, as the name suggests, utilise electricity to create a temporary magnetic field. The magnetic field that electromagnets produce can be switched on and off. Switching the field on and off very quickly is known as a pulsed magnetic field. And not only that, but electromagnets also generate electric fields which can cause electric currents to flow in their surroundings. The magnetic field of permanent magnets is static and can not be switched off. It's on all the time. And unlike electromagnets, static permanent magnets do not produce electric fields.

Static fields are a misnomer, there is no such thing as a static field when either the magnet or the item in the field can move.  Move a conductor in a ‘static’ magnetic field and you will go a current flow.   Living bodies are always in motion.   Until they die!

So which type of magnet do conventional medicine and alternative medicine practitioners commonly use?

Basically speaking, conventional medicine uses electromagnets whereas alternative medicine practitioners use permanent magnets. Although both types of magnet obviously produce magnetic fields, the strength of these fields and their effects can be vastly different. Think of comparing a 1908 Model T vintage car to a modern Ferrari sports car. Technically they're both cars, but the difference in their performance is worlds apart. You can't drive a Model T and claim that it performs like a Ferrari. Likewise you can't use a permanent magnet and claim that it has the same effect as a pulsed electromagnet.

But if conventional medicine really does use magnetic fields, doesn't that mean that some form of magnet can cure, just as magnetic therapists say they can? Yes, to a degree. Pulsed electromagnetic fields have been found to aid healing in some bone fractures and to reduce certain types of pain for example.

So have permanent magnets
Effects of static magnetic and pulsed electromagnetic fields on bone healing.
Darendeliler MA, Darendeliler A, Sinclair PM
Discipline of Orthodontics, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Sydney, Australia.
Int J Adult Orthodon Orthognath Surg 1997;12(1):43-53
The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the healing pattern of an experimentally induced osteotomy in Hartley guinea pigs in the presence of static magnetic and pulsed electromagnetic fields. The sample consisted of 30 Hartley guinea pigs 2 weeks of age divided into 3 groups: pulsed electromagnetic, static magnetic, and control. An osteotomy was performed in the mandibular postgonial area in all groups under general anesthesia. During the experimental period of 9 days, the animals were kept in experiment cages 8 hours per day, the first two groups being in the presence of pulsed electromagnetic and static magnetic field, respectively. Based on histologic results, both static and pulsed electromagnetic fields seemed to accelerate the rate of bone repair when compared to the control group. The osteotomy sites in the control animals consisted of connective tissue, while new bone had filled the osteotomy areas in both magnetic field groups.

However they do not reduce pain in general

Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: a double-blind pilot study.
Vallbona C; Hazlewood CF; Jurida G

Address Department of Family and Community Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA.

Source Arch Phys Med Rehabil, 1997 Nov, 78:11, 1200-3

Abstract  OBJECTIVE: To determine if the chronic pain frequently presented by postpolio patients can be relieved by application of magnetic fields applied directly over an identified pain trigger point. DESIGN: Double-blind randomized clinical trial.
SETTING: The postpolio clinic of a large rehabilitation hospital.
PATIENTS: Fifty patients with diagnosed postpolio syndrome who reported muscular or arthritic-like pain.
INTERVENTION: Application of active or placebo 300 to 500 Gauss magnetic devices to the affected area for 45 minutes.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Score on the McGill Pain Questionnaire. RESULTS: Patients who received the active device experienced an average pain score decrease of 4.4 +/- 3.1 (p < .0001) on a 10-point scale. Those with the placebo devices experienced a decrease of 1.1 +/- 1.6 points (p < .005). The proportion of patients in the active-device group who reported a pain score decrease greater than the average placebo effect was 76%, compared with 19% in the placebo-device group (p < .0001).
CONCLUSIONS: The application of a device delivering static magnetic fields of 300 to 500 Gauss over a pain trigger point results in significant and prompt relief of pain in postpolio subjects.

or increase blood circulation etc as claimed by magnetic therapists.

Biphasic effects of static magnetic fields on cutaneous microcirculation in rabbits.
Okano H; Gmitrov J; Ohkubo C
Department of Physiological Hygiene, National Institute of Public Health, Tokyo, Japan. ;
Bioelectromagnetics, 20(3):161-71 1999
Abstract The biphasic effects of locally applied static magnetic fields (SMF) on the cutaneous microcirculation within a rabbit ear chamber (REC) were evaluated under conscious conditions. The microcirculatory vasomotion within a REC was measured continuously and analyzed multilaterally by microphotoelectric plethysmography, a real-time image analyzer and an image shearing monitor. SMF intensities at the REC were controlled at 1 mT and the duration of exposure was 10 min. Seventy-eight experimental trials were carried out on 22 healthy adult rabbits weighing 2.6-3.5 kg. Five experimental groups were chosen at random: 1) no pharmacological treatment or SMF exposure, 2) increased vascular tone induced by noradrenaline infusion without SMF exposure, 3) increased vascular tone induced by noradrenaline infusion with SMF exposure, 4) decreased vascular tone induced by acetylcholine infusion without SMF exposure, 5) decreased vascular tone induced by acetylcholine infusion with SMF exposure. The results demonstrated that SMF significantly enhanced vasodilation, with increased vasomotion under noradrenaline-induced high vascular tone as well as vasoconstriction with reduced vasomotion under acetylcholine-induced low vascular tone. This suggests, therefore, that SMF can modulate vascular tone due to biphasic modification of vasomotion in the cutaneous tissue.

And they most certainly don't cure cancer. For a very few specific aliments the use of highly specialised magnets, usually pulsed electromagnets, can have positive health effects.

This author has not read any of the studies, or has rejected them because they do not support his beliefs.  
This is not a scientific approach.

One other area of confusion often mentioned by the public and encouraged by magnetic therapists is the MRI scanner, a very powerful, very expensive, very complicated medical tool. MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging which uses an extremely powerful magnetic field produced by an electromagnet, along with radio waves, computers etc, to produce 3D images of the inside of the body. However it must be remembered that MRI scanners cure no one. It is merely a diagnostic device, albeit a very impressive one. No matter how long you spend inside one, you will be just as ill when you come out as when you went in.

Nope, you can get much worse.

It merely helps reveal what your illness might be. Other means must then be employed to cure you. The magnetic field from an MRI has no therapeutic effect on the body, anymore than a doctor's stethoscope has an effect on the heart. Magnetic therapists capitalise on the public's awe of the MRI and its mysterious magnetic field and allow them to believe that the MRI's diagnostic power has somehow been converted into healing power and that they can have some of this healing power in their magnetic underlay.

There's nothing wrong in claiming that hospitals may use magnetic fields to diagnose you and even treat you in rare cases, but it's utterly bogus to claim you can perform the same treatment with a silly magnetic underlay.

Quite right, use a properly constructed magnetic underlay
I won’t bother quoting the studies that show magnetic matresses have a therapeutic effect, it takes up too much space.

So why can't this limited success with magnets be carried over into the alternative medicine version of magnetic therapy? Well it could be, but unfortunately magnetic therapists refuse to use the same tools that conventional medicine uses. They replace the highly specialised, expensive, powerful, pulsed electromagnets with simple, cheap, weak, static magnets. They can't even treat the few aliments that conventional medicine can, yet they have the nerve to claim that their el' cheapo magnets actually have more curative powers than those of conventional medicine.

Studies show it does.   One session per month with the highly specialised equipment is not as good as 24 hour a day, 7 days a week with the cheaper therapeutic magnet (not fridge magnet).

They try and convince you that since magnetic fields are a valid part of conventional medicine, supported by scientific research, clinical studies etc, that the use of their souped-up fridge magnets will give you the same health benefits, without the expense. They refuse to highlight the fact that they are comparing apples with oranges, that their magnets perform very differently to those used by hospitals. Remember that electromagnets produce electric fields whereas ordinary magnets do not. A lot of modern technology uses electromagnets, eg TVs, and if all electromagnets were replaced with ordinary magnets they simply wouldn't work. Magnets and electromagnets are not interchangeable.

Quite right, use the magnets that studies show work.   Oh yes, that’s the therapeutic magnets.
Please not do not buy ordinary magnets and expect them to work as well as therapeutic magnets

So let's recap because this is extremely important:

Conventional medicine uses electromagnets with pulsed magnetic fields that have proven health effects.

Alternative medicine uses permanent magnets with static fields that have no proven health effects.

I’ve probably found as many permanent magnet studies as electromagnet studies, but this author cannot see see them.

This is where people jump in with claims that there is plenty of proof that the magnets used in magnetic underlays etc produce positive health effects, such as pain reduction and increased blood flow. However these people are no different from those who claim proof of ghosts and UFOs exist. When pressed they always fail to produce this evidence. Some refer to real magnet studies while neglecting to mention that the study used pulsed magnetic fields, not the static magnets found in magnetic therapy products. Others use testimonials and anecdotes that are nothing more than uninformed opinions that are offered when no evidence exists. Others simply relate snippets of a study that a friend of a friend told them about, but which they can't, unfortunately, locate. Others simply lie and make up support for their claims.

I said I wouldn’t post any more studies but this is such a blatant lie that I can't let it stand.

Magnetic Mattress Pad Use in Patients with Fibromyalgia: a Randomized Double-blind Pilot Study.
Colbert A P, Markov M S, Banerji M,Pilla A A
Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation 13 (1999) 19-31 ISSN 1053-8127.
Conclusions:  Sleeping on a magnetic mattress pad, with a magnet surface field strength of 1100+-50 Gauss, delivering 200-600 Gauss at the tissue level provides statistically significant and clinically relevant pain relief and sleep improvement in subjects with fibromyalgia.  No adverse reactions were noted during the16-week trial period.

Summary of a 12 month, double-blind, clinical test of magnetic mattress pads,
Kazuo Shimodaira, San-Ikukai.
Tokyo Communication Hospital, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Tokyo, Japan 1990.
This study demonstrated effective pain control in over 70% of 375 individuals who used static magnetic mattress pads for a variety of musculoskeletal pain complaints.

What if...?

This section is a waste of space.  Examining any proposed mechanism and finding it flawed has nothing to do with whether the therapy works.   It doesn’t matter what the salesman says, does it work, and studies show it does.

If you want to look at all the pretty pictures, go to http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~nogods/magnets.html

Magnetised Water

This is another scam that is becoming popular among magnetic therapy promoters. Here's some typical claims:

"Drinking magnetised water is another good habit to get into."

Researchers have found that you can give ordinary water therapeutic qualities by magnetising it. Says Bhati, "For this, you just put a small magnet each side of a bottle of water, leave it for about 15 hours, then drink it. Drinking magnetised water helps with constipation and cellulite.

Magnetized water: Universal Source of Health?
Magnetized water is claimed to be energy-building, activating, cleansing and detoxifying... The vitalizing and healing properties of magnetized water are believed to be intimately tied in with its "memory".

Here's more claims from two Internet Magnetic Therapy sites that offer the same 'evidence' that magnetised water has health benefits:

Magnetized Water
The proclaimed healing powers of various naturally occurring baths at places such as Lourdes, France, Sedona, Arizona and Jesus Chahin's Well in Tlacote, Mexico, occurs in areas where there is reportedly higher naturally occurring magnetic energy… Cancer is practically unknown to the Hopi Indians of Arizona…so long as they drink from their local water supply

How does the Earth's Magnetic Field Affect Us?
Lourdes, France and Sedona, Arizona have higher magnetic fields than everywhere else. It is believed the water contains less bacteria and more immune boosting power in these areas. Cancer is rare among the Hopi Indians in Arizona.

As far as I'm aware there's no evidence that the earth's magnetic field is any higher at these sites than elsewhere. For many gullible Christians however, Lourdes in France is promoted as a site of healing. Although no 'healing' has ever been shown to have occurred there, magnetic therapists deviously subvert the religious nature of this 'healing' site and instead attribute it to magnetic energy. I suspect the Pope would disagree with this view, preferring to believe that any healing comes from God rather than some impersonal magnetic field.

As for Sedona in Arizona, it's also a site of claimed healing. New Age morons flock there to perform silly rituals at numerous imaginary energy vortexes. Again, like Lourdes, no 'healing' has ever been shown to have occurred there, yet both of the above internet sites (and numerous others) claim that the Hopi Indians receive cancer protection due to drinking the 'magnetised water' found there. Note that they say, "The proclaimed healing powers of various… places" and "It is believed the water contains less bacteria…" No evidence is provided, only that it is "proclaimed" and "it is believed". Even if this was true, most Hopi Indians don't live in Sedona, and even if they did, they are only a small part of the population. If the "high magnetic field" and its effect on the water in Sedona really reduced cancer, everyone there should experience that reduction, not just the Indians. If it's just the Hopi Indians as these claims insist, then it's something particular to the Hopi, genetic or diet for example, but definitely not the magnetic field.
The fact that shows this 'healing' claim to be pure invention is the following: On September 29-30, 2006, the '2nd Annual Joining Hands to Fight Cancer Through Music Festival' was held at the Hopi Veteran's Memorial Center in Kykotsmovi, Arizona. Proceeds from this music festival were to benefit the Hopi Cancer Assistance Fund. Note the words 'fight cancer', 'Hopi' and 'Hopi Cancer Assistance Fund'.

If Sedona's magnetic fields were really protecting the Hopi Indians, why do they need a 'Hopi Cancer Assistance Fund'?

Of course there is one basic scientific fact that can be used to discredit any claim of therapeutic benefit from magnetised water, and it is this:

Water can NOT be magnetised!

Magnetised water proponents want you to believe that you can magnetise water in the same way that you can magnetise an iron nail. Expose a nail to magnets, remove the magnets and the nail remains magnetised. Here's one Internet site's description of how to obtain magnetised water:

One way to naturally magnetize water is to run it through 30 feet of sand where it will emerge negatively poled because of the effect of minute quartz sand crystals.

However water doesn't behave this way. It can't be permanently magnetised like nails. While it's true that very powerful magnets can have an effect on water molecules, this effect is very, very small and only temporary. To give your glass of water a magnetic field strength of 1 Gauss, you would need to expose it to magnets with a field strength of 100,000 Gauss. But even this would be a waste of time, because as soon as you remove the external magnets, the extremely tiny magnetic field in the water immediately disappears. Even if you built some apparatus to weakly magnetise water, as soon as you remove it to drink it, the water reverts to normal. You'd have to drink the magnets as well, and since they'd be 100,000 times more magnetic than the water, why bother with the water at all?

Also I fail to see why running water through sand would have a magnetic effect on it, but even it did, a "negatively poled" (north pole) magnetic substance is impossible. Magnetic poles always exist together, north and south. A glass of magnetised water is impossible, a 'negatively poled' one doubly so.

If you're still not convinced that magnetised water is a scam, fill up a glass with said water and see if you can get metal objects to stick to it. After all, this is what magnets do.

Studies show that treating water with magnets does produce a measurable change.

Magnetic water treatment
J.M.D. Coey , Stephen Cass
Physics Department, Trinity College, Dublin 2,Ireland.
Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials 209 (2000) 71—74
Carbonates formed by heating water containing ≈120 mg(Ca)/l are characterized by X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy. Tests on 32 pairs of samples establish, at the 99.9% probability level, that drawing water through a static magnetic field (B ≈ 0.1T V/B ≈10 Tm) increases the aragonite calcite ratio in the deposit. There is an incubation period of several hours, and memory of magnetic treatment extends beyond 200 h

MIn-Vivo Bioeffects Of Magnetically Treated Water
I.J. Lin, J. Yotvat, S. Nadiv
Department of Minerals Engineering
Technion Israel Institute of Technology
Haifa 32000, Israel
The report deals with a new topic, namely magnetic treatment of drinking water and its effect on farm animals - ruminants, poultry and pigs. Initial field findings are presented, mainly concerning milk-, meat-, and egg-yields, as well as reproduction.  Positive results were obtained, with important economic implications for food production.

You can treat and affect water with magnets.

Magnetic healing is nothing new

All of the magnet therapy proponents love to tell their potential clients that mankind has been using magnets to heal throughout history:

"That magnetic healing is nothing new can be seen by looking at early records of scientifically advanced civilisations… Ancient Greece… the Egyptians… Cleopatra frequently adorned herself with magnetic jewellery to preserve youthfulness… Chinese manuscripts dating back thousands of years"

According to Miguel A. Sabadell, astrophysicist and associate professor at the University of Zaragoza, "Neither Egyptians nor Chinese knew [of] this therapeutic use of magnets. Egyptians probably didn't even know the existence of magnets".
Also, only someone ignorant of history and science, or a con man, would describe these civilisations as "scientifically advanced". This blunder aside, the aim of this argument is to convince us that ancient man learnt long ago what we are just now rediscovering. The one group from history that is everyone's favourite is the Chinese, and the following magnetic healing argument is typical:

One question we love to ask is "How can something used in Asia, China in particular for over 2000 years, not have some basis in fact?"

This is a really stupid argument, but you see it used over and over again in scams. The fact that ancient man used something or believed something has no bearing on whether that use was justified or that belief was correct.

For example, let's say that I state that the world is flat, and then I try and support this claim with the identical argument as used above by the magnetic therapists:

"How can something that has been believed over the whole world for tens of thousands of years not have some basis in fact?"

Remember that for nearly all of history man has believed that the world was flat, yet we now know this is wrong and therefore thousands of years of belief was wrong. Thus this type of argument is flawed and can be ignored.

Claims must be evaluated on whether they work and whether they conform to known facts, not whether some ignorant peasant thought they made sense millennia ago. Imagine if you went to your doctor with a severe headache and he wanted to drill holes in your head to release evil vapours or perform an exorcism. These treatments may have been used for thousands of years, but only idiots would now claim they must have some basis in fact and therefore submit to this treatment.

Huh?? That’s exactly what they do to relieve pressure.   Ancient man got it right, but for the wrong reasons.   But who cares if it worked.

Magnetic therapy proponents expect us to believe that as ignorant as ancient man was about the rest of science, medicine and human physiology, when it came to magnets and healing, they insist that ancient man got it absolutely spot on.

Yeah right.

Another way of looking at this is that if magnetic therapy has really been around for thousands of years, and it really worked, then magnetic therapy would underpin our hospitals and our health regime. But it doesn't. We would be using magnets for pain management. But we don't. Also there would be an enormous amount of accumulated evidence in its favour. But there isn't. None at all in fact. Actually what evidence there is actually rejects magnetic therapy rather than supporting it.

You note he never cites any studies

Magnets don't cure, but they will heal

The BioMag website tells us that:

"Magnetic therapy is not a cure"

On page two of Magne-Sleep's product catalogue it clearly states:

"Magnets don't cure."

This is a typical disclaimer, found in various guises in most promotional material for magnetic therapy products. Here are some more from other magnet distributors:

While there are many testimonials to relief from illness and pain, to date there is no solid, scientific evidence that the use of magnets results in any physical benefits. The FDA has yet to approve magnetic therapy as a healing method or practice.

Anecdotal evidence of the health benefits of magnetized water abounds. However, so far there have been no systematic, clinical trials done to prove or disprove the healing effects of magnetized water in humans.

We do not profess or imply any medical claims for the products we sell. Our magnetic products are not sold to cure diseases. This product is not a medical device and cannot be relied on to supply medical benefits and is not a substitute for proper medical care.

Bottom line, do they work? That is a question we are asked every day by people from all walks of life. Will wearing a magnetic bracelet help? We at Southwest Distributing, Inc can not and will not tell you with certainty it will or will not work in your case. We have no scientific reports to follow up on any claims they do or do not.

What? Magnets don't cure? Then what's the point of using them? Now, now, don't panic. Magne-Sleep and others can't be up front and say that magnets "cure" because then people could take them to court for false advertising. It's just a legal thing to stop them having to give everyone their money back.

But don't worry, now that they've got the legal disclaimer out of the way, they will reinforce the view that magnets really will fix what ails you. They just won't use the word "cure".

For example in Magne-Sleep's promotional material they make the following claim three times:

"Hundreds of cases of diseases have been reversed by the application of magnetic fields."

This means that the disease has been cured. The reversal of a disease is a cure. No ifs, no buts. If you're healthy and then develop some disease, you're ill. But if you then reverse that trend you will end up being healthy again. That's the whole purpose of medicine - to cure you of a disease. Magne-Sleep clearly claims that it can reverse your illness:

Imagine your aches and pains gone, your illnesses and injuries being eased away quickly and painlessly. magnetic therapy can change your life, ease your aches, pains, illnesses and injuries

Magnetic therapy can free you from so many different problems - and from a regimen of pills and potions that may be merely masking your symptoms.


So Magne-Sleep needs to infer "cure" without actually saying "cure". What other words also mean "cure"? My dictionary offers the following:

Synonyms: cure, heal, remedy. The central meaning shared by these verbs is "to set right an undesirable or unhealthy condition"

To restore to health or soundness, to cure.

Treatment of illness or disability Healing power or quality

Having or exhibiting healing powers

Thus to "cure" means to "heal", and a "therapy" is a "healing" power. So rather than using "cure", perhaps Magne-Sleep has mischievously substituted the words "healing, therapy and therapeutic" for "cure"? Is this the case?

The title of the booklet Magne-Sleep supplies to support their claims is called:

"Healing With Magnets - The Power of Magnetic Therapy"

Sprinkled throughout their promotional material are claims such as:

"natural healing ability of magnetic therapy"
"Quicker Healing"
"Therapeutic Uses"
"A Complementary Therapy"
"this document discusses how we can use the power of the magnet to optimise our health"
"reports of successful treatment in a wide variety of conditions"
"magnets for deep, healing penetration into body tissues"
"Greater Healing Power"
"International clinical studies and scientific programmes have demonstrated the abilities of magnets to promote healing"

The phrase "magnetic therapy" or "therapeutic magnets" is used on every page of their brochure, except the cover. The cover uses "Magnetic Pain Relief" and "making it better with magnets". On the back page, entitled "Can MAGNETS do it for you?", the phrase "magnetic therapy" is used five times.

Thus prospective clients are left with no doubt that magnets are healing and therapeutic. They categorically say that magnets won't cure, then, page after page, they set about instilling the view that magnets will heal. But remember that heal is just another word for cure. This is a typical ploy of scams. They promise you everything at the same time as promising you nothing - Magnets will heal (ie cure) but they won't cure (ie heal).

So after you've spent all that money on their silly magnet products and discover that they didn't do one bit of good, remember that they did warn you - "Magnets don't cure."

Quite right, if my wife takes off her magnetic bracelet, the pain comes back.  Magnets didn’t cure, but they stopped it hurting.

Silly Science

This section has been cut as boring and irrelevant.

Ok that's enough. We could go on and on documenting their mistakes. It's obvious that their magnetic therapy promotions are pure fantasy, but is it due to simple ignorance of science or are they outright lies designed to deceive? I suspect both. Many small players, desperate to earn a buck and poorly educated, will be ignorant of the bogus nature of their claims, but any intelligent person with a reasonable education will be fully aware that they are telling lies to promote their product.

They have seen the evidence and seen that it works and try to explain it any way they can.   It took 60 years to work out the mechanism for aspirin, but everyone knew it worked.


The following is typical of proponents of magnetic therapy:

The positive effects of magnetic treatment have been confirmed by clinical tests and are recognized by modern medical science around the world.

Do you believe these claims, and if you do, why? What clinical tests support magnetic therapy and since when has modern medical science proscribed a treatment of magnets? Since they provide no real evidence whatsoever that their claims are in fact true, this statement is worthless, just as worthless as the following claims that I might make:

I’ve posted some of the trials here, but this author cannot find them.

'The positive effects of treatment using Eskimo magic has been confirmed by clinical tests and is recognized by modern medical science around the world'.

Or how about this one:

'Many scientists believe the Moon is made out of green cheese, and suppressed government files support this belief'.

These examples clearly demonstrate that saying something is true does not make it so. Magnetic therapy proponents can make bogus claim after bogus claim on their websites and in their promotional brochures, but this doesn't mean there is any truth to them. They can claim that science and research supports their claims, just like I can claim Eskimo magic works and that the moon is made of green cheese, but you shouldn't believe either of us until we provide supporting evidence.

And remember, before you label us hypocrites, that the burden of proof is on those that claim something new or controversial. It's up to magnetic therapists to prove their case, not others to disprove it.

As with anything, sensible purchasers should always evaluate the claims of the product promoter. There are questions we must ask if we aren't going to get ripped off.

Why should we believe what they say? Why should we trust their claims? Some good reasons to support a product would be:

They provide real evidence that supports their claims.

How about a list of clinical trials

They don't rely on testimonials.

No, but they will show you what others have experienced using their products.

They display an impressive knowledge of magnetism, physiology, health matters and science in general.

Don’t be daft, no-one understands the mechanism yet, read the scientific journals and see.

They provide good arguments that demonstrate we should take magnetic therapy seriously.

If you are in pain it is worth trying.   But perhaps the author is a masochist.

They don't make false or misleading assertions.

Come on, why should you be the only one allowed to make false and misleading statements.

There is no good evidence that contradicts their claims.

Correct, but why do I think this is not what you meant.

Unfortunately for magnetic therapy proponents, they fail on every one of these reasons. They provide no real evidence, only testimonials (usually from superstitious athletes). They are grossly ignorant about magnetism, science etc, their arguments why we should use magnets are childish, and worst of all, they often invent things to support their claims. That is, they lie. Of course, if this was all there was against them one could perhaps naively claim that they are just pathetic at promoting magnets. But this is not all there is.

The most important reason that we should reject their claims is the last point in the list:

While there is no good evidence supporting magnetic therapy, there is good evidence and good reasons that demonstrate it doesn't work. There is good evidence that magnetic therapy as promoted by alternative medicine is a scam.

Do post it for us, not just your opinion.

To wrap up, consider the following. Magne-Sleep and BioMag are possibly New Zealand's most well-known distributors of magnetic therapy products. Regardless of whether magnetic therapy works, here is what each of them claims about their company:

Magne-Sleep is New Zealand's original magnetic underlay

BioMag… is the original supplier of magnetic underlays in New Zealand

One of them must be lying, if not both.

Nonsense, they are saying different things.  Read it again.  One was the first to import and sell magnetic mattresses, one made and sold the first NZ magnetic mattress

If we can't even trust their claims about straightforward information, why should we trust them regarding complex and controversial information?

And why trust someone who has such poor reading comprehension skills.


 Wikipedia Magnet therapy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnet_therapy 22 March 2007

Magnet therapy, or magnetic therapy, or magnotherapy is a form of alternative medicine claiming that certain medical disorders can be effectively treated by exposure to static magnetic fields.

No, it’s a complementary therapy, not intended to replace treatment, and it’s usually the body that is being treated not the disorder.   If the body can then resist the disorder better then fine.

Proponents of magnet therapy claim that subjecting certain parts of the body to doses of magnetic fields has a beneficial effect.

A belief supported by clinical trials.

This belief has led to the popularization of an industry involving the sale of magnetic-based products for "healing" purposes: magnetic bracelets and jewelry; magnetic straps for wrists, ankles, and the back; shoe insoles, mattresses, and magnetic blankets (blankets with magnets woven into the material); and even water that has been "magnetized".

Magnet therapy makes use of the static magnetic fields produced by permanent magnets; the related alternate medicine field of electromagnetic therapy involves the application of electromagnetic waves to the patient.

An artificial distinction.   A permanent magnet can produce time varying magnetic fields just like an electromagnet and an electromagnet can produce static fields just like a permanent magnet


Scientific tests of magnetic therapy for the treatment of wrist pain from carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic low back pain

See comments in reference section.

have concluded that there is no health benefit from magnetic fields in those cases.[1][2]

And others have concluded that there is.

Treatment of Wrist Pain in the Work Place with a Static Magnetic Device - Interim Report of a Clinical Trial, M.J. McLean, et al, Second World Congress for Electricity and Magnetism in Biology and Medicine, June 8-13, Bologna, Italy.

This double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of a magnetic treatment device taped over the carpal tunnel against wrist pain sustained at work among a group of turkey plant employees. Results showed that the device was effective in alleviating such pain and that it was free of side effects.

Efficacy Of A Static Magnetic Device Against Knee Pain Associated With Inflammatory Arthritis  Neil Segal, Joseph Houston., Howard Fuchs, Robert Holcomb, Michael J. McLean, Vanderbilt University Medical School; Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine; and, Department of Neurology Vanderbilt University Medical Center

In this study, we examined the efficacy of treatment with a static magnetic field generator as adjunctive therapy for the joint pain in patients with inflammatory arthritis. The MagnaBloc (MB; U.S. patent no 5,312,321) is a non-invasive non-significant risk device, consisting of four permanent magnets arrayed with alternating polarity in a hypoallergenic plastic case. This device reduced mechanical low back pain and knee pain significantly more than placebo.

Blinding of any study into the efficacy of magnetic therapy is problematic as the participants in the study may easily ascertain whether they have been issued with a genuine magnet or a placebo dummy.[3]

This is a standard problem in scientific testing and there are standard approaches to solving the problem.   And of course they apply equally to studies disproving magnotherapy.

Legal regulations

A number of jurisdictions prohibit the marketing of magnetic therapy products with the claim that they offer any therapeutic effects. In the United States, for example, FDA regulations render it illegal to market a magnet therapy product that claims to treat any "significant" condition such as cancer, HIV, AIDS, asthma, arthritis, or rheumatism.[4]

“…It has been estimated that the FDA approval process takes an average of 12 years and costs $231 million. This presents unique difficulties for independent researchers and for therapies that do not lend themselves to patentability….”  David F. Horrobin Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, Vol. 22, No. 2, February 2001


Criticism from the scientific community views magnet therapy with disapproval since it is not explained within standard scientific protocol. Although there is a small amount of scientific evidence that appears to support its validity, [5]

I have found over 500 trials supporting validity and only 10 showing no effect.

as a whole, magnet therapy is lacking scientific confirmation to be fully accepted in science.[6]

Correct, full acceptance requires this “Five to twenty trials are needed to prove or disprove effectiveness of each product or method. After staff expenses, $100 million per year can support only 10-20 reliable trials per year” Wallace Sampson, MD Editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine

Carey explains in A Beginner’s Guide to Scientific Method, that true scientific principles are rigorously tested according to the methods of the scientific method; hence, by applying techniques from scientific investigation, apparent fallacies of magnetic therapy can be pointed out.

False anomalies are mysterious suggestions that attempt to explain an event, and they create ambiguity in that they omit factual information from their explanation.[6] Advocates of magnet therapy claim that magnets can help decrease pain levels but they fail to explain exactly how this occurs.

Because they do not know.   It took 60 years for the ‘exact knowledge’ of how aspirin works to be established, but trials showed it did work.   Is it suggested that aspirin should have been ignored until ‘exact knowledge’ was available.

[7] For example, in double blind experiments patients frequently become aware they are wearing a magnetic bracelet; thus, the "controlled" experiment loses validity, and this information is often omitted in the experimental results.[8]

But these studies have undergone peer-review in professional periodicals.   Are you suggesting a peer review is fatally flawed??

Another method of forming an anomaly is to over-rely on anecdotal evidence.[6]

Not in peer-reviewed studies they don’t.

Supporters make false assertions such as magnets stimulate blood flow because blood is composed of charged ions, or that the magnetic field can decrease pain because it can affect pain receptors. [9]

No, they are suggesting a mechanism.   Studies will prove whether that mechanism is correct or not.

Science does not support such claims because they are not based on solid scientific principles such as controlled double blind causal studies.[6] Because the fallacies used to explain magnetic therapy are not supported by science, there are numerous theories which attempt to invalidate its effectiveness.

Look at any of the peer reviewed studies in magnotherapy.   They show an effect, but not one claims a mechanism, they merely suggest possible theories.

Criticism of magnet therapy focuses on scientific facts about magnets, including that:[10]

•           The typical magnet used produces insufficient flux density to have a lasting effect on muscle tissue, bones, blood vessels, or organs.

Magnotherapy is applied 24/7 so this is irrelevant.

•           Researchers in high-energy physics laboratories can work for hours per day with their whole body immersed in magnetic fields far stronger than those from the bracelets, and there is no evidence they are more or less healthy than their peers.

Correct, there is no evidence either way.  And there are studies showing that field gradients are more important than strength of field.

•           No magnet healing manufacturer has demonstrated scientifically that its products achieve what they claim, and most cannot agree on what exactly the magnetic fields do.

Correct, and who would believe a study funded by a manufacturer.   Independent studies are required.

•           Some manufacturers claim that the magnets help to circulate the blood by some interaction with the iron in hemoglobin, a major component of red blood cells. However in its ionised form, iron is not ferromagnetic and cannot be affected by magnets.[11]

So what.   Studies and thermal camera studies show there is an effect on circulation, ‘iron in haemoglobin’ is just one person’s idea about how it might work.

•           Others claim that the magnets can restore the body's theorised electromagnetic energy balance.

As you say ‘theorised’.   Nothing to do with whether the therapy works or not.

There are also claims that the south pole of a magnet acts differently on the body than the north pole.[citation needed]

It is irrelevant what people claim, is the therapy effective or not.   Studies show it is.

•           Many of the websites that provide information and resources promoting the benefits of magnetic therapy belong to individuals and companies that profit from the sale of magnetic therapy products.

So what?   Is the information valid and are the resources useful?

•           Water is a diamagnetic material, and thus cannot be magnetized.

But water can be treated by magnets and an observable and lasting effect can be seen.

Magnetic water treatment J.M.D. Coey , Stephen Cass, Physics Department, Trinity College, Dublin 2,Ireland. Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials 209 (2000) 71—74

Carbonates formed by heating water containing ≈120 mg(Ca)/l are characterized by X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy. Tests on 32 pairs of samples establish, at the 99.9% probability level, that drawing water through a static magnetic field (B ≈ 0.1T V/B ≈10 Tm) increases the aragonite calcite ratio in the deposit. There is an incubation period of several hours, and memory of magnetic treatment extends beyond 200 h.

In addition, attempts to sell "north pole" or "south pole" magnetized water to treat different conditions ignore the fact that magnetized ferromagnetic materials inevitably acquire both a north and a south pole; science yet to have found evidence for the existence of magnetic monopoles.[12]

Irrevant, water is not ferromagnetic.  Studies show that magnetically treated water has health effects.


1.Carter R, Aspy CB, Mold J. The effectiveness of magnet therapy for treatment of wrist pain attributed to carpal tunnel syndrome. J Fam Pract 2002;51: 38-40.

This study applied the magnets for 45 minutes.  Magnotherapy is normally applied 24/7.  

2.Collacott EA, Zimmerman JT, White DW, Rindone JP. Bipolar permanent magnets for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a pilot study. JAMA 2000;283: 1322-5.

Again, magnotherapy applied at clinic only. From the study ”This was a pilot study and was not intended to prove or disprove the effectiveness of magnet therapy in general. Additional studies using different magnets (unipolar and bipolar), treatment times, and patient populations are needed.”

3. Finegold, L. Flamm, B. (2006). "Magnet therapy". British Medical Journal 332: 4.

This is an opinion piece, see the comments above. 

4. Magnets. CDRH Consumer Information. Food and Drug Administration (2000-03-01). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.

5. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/329/7480/1450

6. a b c d A Beginner’s Guide to Scientific Method, Third Edition, Thompson-Wadsworth, 2004


8. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/332/7532/4

This is 3 above, the Finegold editorial, repeated

9. http://www.texas-medical.com/magnetics/mag-articles.htm

10.Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction? by James D. Livingston — a Skeptical Inquirer article


12.Brau, Charles A. (2004). Modern Problems in Classical Electrodynamics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514665-4. 

External links

The following articles are on this page with comments.

Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction? by James D. Livingston — a Skeptical Inquirer article

Magnet therapy in the Skeptic's Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll, Ph.D.

Magnet therapy — an editorial in the British Medical Journal

Magnet Therapy: A Skeptical View — article by Stephen Barrett, M.D.


Catch 22 - The FTC Rulings



There have been two complaints recently against magnotherapy manufacturers in the US and the reasons are given below.

2. Respondents have promoted, offered for sale, sold, and distributed to the public magnetic therapy products. Therapeutic magnets are "devices" within the meaning of Sections 12 and 15 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

In other words you cannot sell magnets if you include a description on how to use them therapeutically.


Guidance from the FDA is to "Detain all entries of magnetic support devices which can be associated clearly with promotional claims or labeling for the use in the relief of pain or other medical indications.

3. The acts and practices of respondents alleged in this complaint have been in or affecting commerce, as "commerce" is defined in Section 4 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

4. Respondents have disseminated or have caused to be disseminated advertisements or promotional materials for magnetic therapy products, including but not necessarily limited to the attached Exhibits A through D. These advertisements and promotional materials contain the following statements:

A. Magnetized Water

Magnet Therapy is being more researched each day. Soon it will be a therapy of choice [.] Dr. Kenneth McLean, M.D., after spending many years helping people with magnet therapy, especially his cancer patients, confessed: "I can't say anything officially but let us face it; this treatment is a Godsend. It's good for almost anything." Magnets and Magnetized Water are the two hands of magnet therapy; they compliment each other.

This would probably be OK if the word cancer was removed.  

These are all quotes from published  books.

* * *


This water is recommended in cases of infectious diseases, urinary infection and gastric ulcers. Also for dysentery and diarrhea as it slows down peristaltic movements. Dr. N. Bengali recommends it in cancerous conditions.

North pole magnetized water has a healing effect on skin ulcers such as bed sores. Bed sores washed daily with the water heal faster. When applied once daily over two weeks, the condition has been found not to reoccur.


* * *

South pole water encourages growth activity in plants. Plants have been found to grow 20 to 40 percent faster when irrigated with this water. The water should be applied at the roots. Enthusiastic farmers have reported giant-size produce.

* * *


* * *

This simple treatment was very effective in breaking up kidney and gallbladder stones into small enough particles to be passed through urine without any pain or danger to the patient. [T]he water also prevented further formation of stones [in] the kidneys and gallbladder.

* * *

Similarly to the way magnetized water dissolves the settled salts on the walls of boilers and radiators, so it has been reported to help unclog the arteries and veins of deposits of cholesterol and salts and normalize the circulatory system.

* * *

[Exhibit A, PHS000032-33][Consumer Brochure]


* * *

Dr. Philpott states that negative magnetic energy is capable of filling indented skin where a tumor has been. He also reports that no scar tissue will form where a cancerous tumor is neutralized by North pole magnetic energy. The same magnetic energy field eliminates scar tissue formation when a cut heals.

* * *

Dr. Philpott postulates that when a negative magnetic field is applied to a diseased internal organ, such as the liver, a three month application of negative energy may be required to cure the disease. An additional three month application may be required to repair the organ. His advice is to ensure that the magnet being used is larger than the lesion being treated and that sustained treatment with negative energy from a permanent magnet be applied.

* * *

In Dr. Nakagawa's classic study, Magnetic Deficiency Syndrome, he outlined that lack of magnetism may cause stress, mental disorders, headaches, arthritis, muscle pain, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue, allergies, insomnia, inflammation, circulatory problems, bowel disorders and other degenerative problems afflicting people today. Universal cure-all? In the search for a universal cure-all, none fit [sic] the description nearly as well as magnetic energy therapy.

* * *

Because it potentates the body's free radical scavenger and antioxidant system, magnetotherapy is reported to be valuable in counteracting degenerative processes causing heart and circulatory disease, arthritis and auto-immune illness, as well as neuro-degenerative and allergic afflictions. Drinking magnetic water is said to impart many similar benefits.

* * *

Nighttime magnetic field therapy has a calming and sleep inducing effect on the brain and body due to stimulating production of melatonin, an anti-stressful, anti-aging and anti-infections hormone.

* * *

[Exhibit B, PSH000035-38][Consumer Brochure]

C. The Pain Stops Here

If You Suffer From...

Knee Pain 


Shoulder Pain 

Neck Pain 



Back Pain 


Tennis Elbow 

Sports Injuries 

* * *

Biomagnetic Therapy has proven to be one [of] the most Economical and Effective means in the Treatment of the many Aches and Pains of the competitive Horse. The "MAGNETIC FORCE" Products has [sic] been designed to fit most animals for the Treatment of ARTHRITIS, BURSITIS, TENDONITIS [sic], SPRAINS, STRAINS, SCIATICA, LAMENESS, NAVICULAR and Foot Growth Problems.

* * *

With over 25 years of diligent research and testing, magnets have been used on both humans and animals, and thousands have had remarkable results as to the effectiveness in alleviating pain and initiating the healing process.

* * *

A Brief Explanation of How Magnetic Therapy Works:

Magnetic therapy products enable you to safely and economically treat the human and animal bodies' many aches and painful conditions without the use of injections, salves and drugs. Clinical tests have proven that when magnets are applied to the painful areas of the body a favorable reaction takes place. Neodymium rare earth magnets deeply penetrate the flesh and create a magnetic field that energizes and oxygenates the blood, especially the white corpuscles which are the body's natural healing agent. The charged ion particles in the blood are moved about, creating heat. This constant heat helps increase blood flow, which helps to ease body pain and enables the body to perform its natural healing process. Magnetic therapy is safe, non invasive, non addictive and the Neodymium rare earth magnets are permanent and can be used over and over.

Do Magnets Really Work?:

Throughout Eastern cultures, magnetism has been used for centuries, as many have been aware of the beneficial effects of magnets on the body. Magnetic therapy has now finally come to America. The cost of staying healthy and pain free has become so expensive that the American public clamored for an alternative therapy that would release them from the addiction of PAIN KILLER PILLS, needles, salves and restore their body's health.

* * *

If you suffer from back pain (from injury, chronic pain, etc.), our Magnetic Force therapeutic Back Band is a must.

* * *

Great for easing chronic back pain 

* * *

If you suffer from back pain (from injury, chronic pain, etc.), our Magnetic Force therapeutic Seat Pad is a must.

* * *

Great for easing chronic back pain 


Increases blood flow and oxygen flow to the back area

* * *

[Exhibit C, at PSH000051, PSH000052, PSH000057, PSH000062 & PSH000081][Internet Ad]


* * *

The high energy magnets within the Sleep Pads oxygenate the blood cells, stimulate production of the hormone Melatonin which is a natural relaxant and sleep aid.

* * *

[Exhibit D, PSH000010] [Consumer Brochure]

5. Through the means described in Paragraph 4, respondents have represented, expressly or by implication, that:

A. Water magnetized by respondents' product is effective in the treatment of cancer.

B. Respondents' magnetic products cure liver disease and other diseased internal organs.

C. Water magnetized by respondents' product is effective in the reduction of cholesterol deposits in the arteries and veins and normalizing the circulatory system.

D. Water magnetized by respondents' product is effective in breaking up kidney and gallbladder stones and in the prevention of further formation of stones.

E. Water magnetized by respondents' product is effective in the mitigation and treatment of infectious diseases, urinary infection, gastric ulcers, dysentery, diarrhea, skin ulcers, and bed sores.

F. Respondents' magnetic products prevent or reverse heart disease, circulatory disease, arthritis, auto-immune illness, neuro-degenerative disease, and allergies.

G. Respondents' magnetic products are effective in the mitigation and treatment of arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, sprains, strains, sciatica, lameness, navicular, and foot growth problems in animals.

I didn't know the FDA looked after animals as well.

H. Respondents' magnetic sleep pads significantly stimulate the body's production of the hormone Melatonin.

I. Respondents' magnetic products are effective in the mitigation and treatment of pain caused by conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, and sciatica.

J. Water magnetized by respondents' product is effective in stimulating significant growth in plants causing them to grow 20 to 40 percent faster than those watered by water not magnetized by respondents' product.

6. Through the means described in Paragraph 4, respondents have represented, expressly or by implication, that they possessed and relied upon a reasonable basis that substantiated the representations set forth in Paragraph 5, at the time the representations were made.

7. In truth and in fact, respondents did not possess and rely upon a reasonable basis that substantiated the representations set forth in Paragraph 5, at the time the representations were made. Therefore, the representation set forth in Paragraph 6 was, and is, false or misleading.

In other words, you cannot quote from books or studies unless you can prove every word they say with studies on your particular product.   You cannot quote from testimonials unless you can prove every word they say with studies using your particular product..

8. Through the means described in Paragraph 4, respondents have represented, expressly or by implication, that studies prove that Respondents' magnetic products are effective in the mitigation and treatment of pain caused by conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, and sciatica.

9. In truth and in fact, studies do not prove that Respondents' magnetic products are effective in the mitigation and treatment of pain caused by conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, and sciatica. Therefore, the representation set forth in Paragraph 8 was, and is, false or misleading.

In other words, for each condition that magnotherapy can be used for, you must conduct studies to prove that each of your products is effective.   The studies must be repeated.   At a cost of at least $50,000 a time.   This was the estimated cost of the Baylor post-polio pan study if it had been funded and not self-funded.

I distribute  about 15 products and we have testimonials for about 70-80 different conditions (not counting the animals).   That's only going to cost me $60,000,000 for one test of each, so about $180,000,000 will do.   But that is small studies like the Baylor and Weintraub study.   Ok, then $1,800,000,000.   That’s $2,000 extra on each device we've sold so far.   So we had better increase the price from $45 to $2,045.   Still the insurance companies will pay won't they.   Especially as all our rivals will be closed down.

As a result, I  will be giving up distributing magnotherapy products in the US, I now sell books, industrial magnets, and straps, do with them what you will<g>.   Only one product in anydispatch, we don’t want to give the inspectors the wrong idea, there is no connection between the products.   The fact that the book mentions ways of using industrial magnets and straps is completely irrelevant.

If the $1,000,000 fibromyalgia study funded by the NIH is positive, will that mean that only the product they tested will be able to be sold in the US?   Will any competitors have to come up with $1,000,000 if they want to sell a similar product?

Interesting approach.

Skeptic's Dictionary: Inset fuel Stabilizer


Robert Todd Carroll

Inset Fuel Stabiliser is a very expensive device sold in the US.   I've not heard of it before but this author writes very entertainingly about it.

Some people wonder why aliens with more time than intelligence would come to earth to mutilate cattle or abduct people for genetic engineering projects. Others ponder more serious questions, such as, what kind of engineering do these creatures have? Do they use leaded or unleaded? Paper or plastic? What kind of gas mileage do they get? Does their spacecraft meet California's rigid emission standards? How did they get here on just one tank of fuel, and how do they keep hovering around for all these years without making a pit stop at Exxon or BP? I think I have figured out the last question: they use the Inset Fuel Stabilizer!


They must use the Inset Fuel Stabilizer (IFS). There is no other explanation for it. What else could possibly explain how they continue to hover around the earth undiscovered, year after year, without making a single pit stop for gas? How else can we explain how they traveled billions of miles without any sign of polluting the atmosphere? The gas mileage the aliens get and the clean air their craft emits cannot possibly be explained by any of the known laws of physics, or chemistry, or biology, or California. The aliens are using the Inset Fuel Stabilizer.

This amazing device, according to its inventor, Bob Pearson, is able to align fuel and air molecules "in an energy field" so that they completely burn inside the Stabilizer.

Completely burn?   We claim only an 10% increase in combustion, I'm beginning to feel inadequate.

How does it do this? Bob has no idea, but it works. Of course it does. Only a perverted skeptic could mistrust such a claim. John Nacco of Inset Industries claims that the molecules that make up hydrocarbon fuels are surrounded by a positive charge. He claims this positive charge tends to attract other fuel molecules and that removing the positive charge causes the molecules to repel each other. This, he says, allows oxygen molecules to attach themselves to individual fuel molecules instead of having to bond to clusters of fuel molecules. The increased level of oxygen in the mix produces a more even burn, he claims, resulting in close to 100 percent combustion of the fuel molecules.

I'm reasonably happy about the last statement, but I also doubt the explanation.   But why should we expect the manufacturer to know how it works?   He only makes and sells the things.

Of course, Mr. Nacco does not explain why positively charged "molecules" would attract other positively charged molecules. Nor does he explain why a negatively charged molecule would repel rather than attract a positively charged one. Nor does he explain why oxygen molecules, which have no charge, would be attracted to negatively charged fuel "molecules". Given such a flawed account of chemical bonding, why should we believe him when he claims near 100 percent combustion of fuel molecules? Why should we believe him when he says that the longer the fuel stabilizer is in use, the lower the emissions readings become? Why should we believe another Inset person named Marshall who said he installed a stabilizer in his wife's 1990 Honda and within 11 days, hydrocarbon counts dropped from 145 parts per million to 9 parts per million and carbon monoxide emissions were eliminated completely (Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1994)?

My word, I definitely feel  inadequate, our device isn't anywhere near that good.

We can believe Marshall, but what does his data mean? Very little, since we do not know if he did anything else on his wife’s car or if he had it tested on the same equipment or if the car had the same fuel in it for both tests.

I can't think of anything else that can produce these results.  The only thing I can think of is to disconnect the engine from the exhaust.

What is the Stabilizer, then? This much we can say: it is a 7-inch long piece of stainless steel. It has been describe as looking like a slim beer can with a bolt-like valve on each end. That's it. There is no more. It is just a stainless steel tube that is designed to be inserted in your vehicle's fuel line. How does a stainless steel pipe align molecules or change their charges? No one knows. How does it keep them aligned once they leave the pipe? No one knows. Why would their alignment or charge have anything to do with if they would burn or emit polluting particulates? No one knows. Trust Bob, John, and Marshall though, because they say it works!

It sounds like a magnetic device, and has similar properties, particularly the effect increasing with time.    I've now looked at the website and I'm 90% certain it is a magnetic device.

Ray Hall read about the Inset Fuel Stabilizer in his local newspaper in Naperville, Illinois. The city of Naperville had shelled out $1,500 each for Stabilizers for the city's maintenance and police vehicles.

Gulp, ours are about $85.   I obviously don't have the right approach.    I am completely crushed.

Mr. Hall has some background in chemistry and physics. The claims reported by local journalist Susan Trudeau did not have the ring of verisimilitude, so Mr. Hall contacted her. She passed the buck to a Mr. Morris of Inset Industries. Morris told Hall that even the inventor did not know how it works, but the results speak for themselves. The results, unfortunately, were all in the form of anecdotes and uncontrolled studies of negligible scientific merit.

Mr. Morris told Hall that the Stabilizer was not patented because the workings were a trade secret and they didn’t want to reveal this information in a patent application. This seems patently absurd, not to patent such a revolutionary device.

Didn't anyone take one of these devices to pieces to see what was inside?

Morris did not appreciate having the claims of Inset challenged and "condemned me for my negative attitude," says Hall. Morris said that Inset was only trying to save the world from pollution and they had many satisfied customers, including police departments. Maybe these were the same police departments who were conned into buying the Quadro Tracker. Mr. Hall was disappointed that the reporter hadn’t checked out Morris’s claims, including the claim that an endorsement from the Environmental Protection Agency was forthcoming in the near future. Hall’s own investigation revealed that the EPA does not endorse products.

Agreed, the EPA do not endorse products, but they do evaluate them, don't they?

I must admit that I was very skeptical of Mr. Hall's claims. I checked out the WWW home page of Inset and, sure enough, it claimed that this tube can align molecules and thereby save you money on gasoline and make your engine run virtually pollution free. There were testimonials from cops, garbage truck drivers and others, as to the wonders of the Stabilizer. There was also a table which one could use to calculate how much money you can expect to save on gas by using the Stabilizer. There was another unskeptical newspaper article for perusal. What you did not find, though, was any evidence that the Stabilizer had been tested under anything that might vaguely resemble a controlled study. A recent visit to the Inset homepage revealed that the mileage chart is no longer there. Inset has since stopped touting the fuel economy/gasoline savings angle. Since such companies do not usually voluntarily remove such claims, it is likely they did so as a result of being taken to court.

Fuel economy is difficult to gauge, the driver may prefer to use the extra performance, particularly at low revs.   This would reduce any fuel economies. 

In any case, the main angle now is emission control. Despite all the hype about how it increases gas mileage and power and reduces emissions, the only thing guaranteed by Inset is that "the Fuel Stabilizer will reduce air pollution emissions to the level required by the Federal Clean Air Act and State emissions standards." For most cars, this guarantee means nothing, since they already are at that level or can be made so with a minor tune up. The Inset sells for about $1,600. For those cars which are in such bad shape that they can’t meet these standards, the cost of the Inset would be more than the car is worth.

Certainly more than my car.

The main evidence presented by Inset Industries for their product is in the form of testimonials and some indecipherable charts. It is easy to dismiss testimonials by company executives, but how can we dismiss the testimonial of an unnamed municipality in Texas which has tested some 340 diesel vehicles and reports that "the opacity on 340 diesel powered vehicles met State of Texas pollution standards while fuel economy increased approximately 19%"? Well, for one thing, fuel economy is not guaranteed when you buy the product. Secondly, there are no established emission standards for diesel engines, according to an unnamed supervisor involved in the purchase and testing of the IFS.

On diesels, the UK uses a  Hartridge Mk3 smoke meter and showed an 11% reduction using our product.   This is a standard test..

The municipality is unnamed, though why it should be is puzzling.

Not too puzzling, we used to quote a customer who was delighted with our heating product, but they eventually asked us to stop.   They were getting so many calls about our product and as they said, "Our business is Banking, not promoting your products".   We couldn't argue.

The unnamed source is also quoted as saying: "We had 97 to 99 percent opacity of particulate matter from our diesels, which was causing black smoke. I was getting more than 30 calls per week from residents complaining about the smoke coming from our garbage trucks. With the stabilizer installed, particulate matter dropped to 25 percent. When we shifted to low sulfur diesel, particulate matter dropped to 10 to 12 percent. We're not getting any more complaints about black smoke from our trucks." We have the word of unnamed source, probably an interested party, since he may have been responsible for asking the municipality to buy 340 of these devices at a total cost of something like half a million dollars. He gives us no report or indication that there is any report, no idea of how these tests were conducted. We’re to take his word that "particulate matter" dropped significantly. This is not reliable evidence; it’s hearsay. We have no idea how he got his numbers. We don’t know whether the reduction in smoke and the decrease of complaints was due to switching to the stabilizer or to the low sulfur fuel, or to some other factor. What looks like a significant amount of supportive evidence vaporizes under analysis. This is just the testimony of an unnamed source in an unnamed community making undocumented claims.

But what about the race car driver who swears by the IFS. In an article in Trackside magazine, NASCAR racer Dean Gullik reportedly felt that his race car had more power with the IFS. A test of horsepower with and without the IFS revealed there was no difference.

I'm suprised, our magnetic product showed an 11% increase, but I must admit we didn't run the test on a highly tuned sports car.   Wonder what speed they tested at, ours shows an increase in power with speed.   Just what a racing driver needs?

Rather than admit that his perception of more power was wrong, Gullik came to agree with John Nacco of Inset who said that the increased power wasn’t from increased horsepower but due to a change in "the torque curve." In any case, NASCAR officials let Gullik use the IFS because it had no measurable effect on the car’s power.

Did he win more races?

They consider it a "pollution control device". What is the evidence for that? A test was performed by Al Connors of Alan and Son Car Care Center (NJ State License # 06227) on Hwy. 202 in Branchburg, N.J. With the engine idling normally on 110 octane leaded racing fuel, readings taken from the left side exhaust showed the following emissions levels:

CO = .04%

HC = 62 ppm (parts per million)

C02 = .0%

Unfortunately, no comparable data were given for the car without the device, for typical emission readings on other race cars with similar engines and using the same gasoline. And, we have no idea of how accurate the testing equipment was.

We have standard emissions testers in the MOT test garages throughout the UK.   The equipment is regularly inspected and calibrated.   It's easy to get before and after figures with just a few minutes between them as our device is just strapped over the fuel line, and does not have to be put in the fuel line.

Inset claims that "Race cars with this type of engine and fuel typically produce hydrocarbon readings of around 1000 PPM and carbon monoxide readings in the 6.0% range. This race car, stripped of every pollution control device except the Fuel Stabilizer, is the first one with emissions significantly lower than the New Jersey Inspection standards for pollutants. New Jersey standards are: Hydrocarbons below 220 PPM and Carbon Monoxide below 1.2%." If this data is accurate, then why is the Inset guarantee so paltry?

All guarantees work on the minimum that can be achieved, nothing odd about that.

The only thing that Inset guarantees with its product is that your car will meet these New Jersey standards with the IFS. You would think they would be willing to guarantee something as dramatic as their testimonials.

Ah, typical American salesmanship, we British are much more understated <g>

Relying on peoples’ perceptions of things is not very scientific. Relying on testimonials by interested parties is unreasonable, even if the testimonial is couched in terms of scientific data.

Yup, happy with that.   I would give more attention to the word of a professional driver, but it depends how honest he is.

Tests of single vehicles or small numbers of vehicles are notoriously unreliable. Faulty equipment or faulty use of the equipment becomes a significant problem. Finally, there is a good reason for doing controlled experiments. They reduce the probability that other factors are actually responsible for the data. In the case of testing a device for pollution control several things must be controlled for:

1. The testing equipment itself must be thoroughly tested. Vehicles without the device must be tested several times, using the same kind of gasoline with the tank similarly filled, to see how much variation occurs. Temperature control is essential for this test, since temperature may effect the performance of the equipment and the vehicle, especially if the test is done at a time of year and in a location where the morning temperature may differ significantly from the afternoon temperature.

2. Once the variance of the equipment is established, controls must be made over the fuel and maintenance of the vehicles.

a) The same fuel from the same batch must be used throughout, to insure that any difference in data is not due to differences in fuel

b) No changes in the auto equipment other than the device being tested can be allowed: no changes in spark plugs, no adjustments of the carburetor, no cleaning of the fuel injector system, no adjustment to the timing, etc. Everything must remain the same in the vehicles except for what is being tested.

c) Vehicles must be tested under the same conditions: thus if vehicles are to be tested months after the first test, making it unlikely that the later tests will be able to use fuel from the same batch as the first test, there must a comparative test made of both the equipment and vehicles without the device at the beginning test and the later test. A baseline of variance must be established. Testing vehicles months later introduces special control problems. Temperatures under which testing is done may differ radically in summer and winter in some places. Making sure that the drivers of the vehicles do not have any work done on the car in the interval is a logistical problem of varying magnitude. In a municipal fleet, for example, no maintenance can be allowed on vehicles between tests: no oil changes, no tune ups, etc.

Very happy with all that.   You really need a testing agency that does this as a regular process.   We used the DTI's Warren Spring testing laboratory.   The only problem is who pays for the study.   If it is the manufacturer, then there will be the suspicion that he bought the results.   If it is done independently of the manufacturer, there is always the problem of the testers deciding that the manufacturers instructions are illogical and should be disregarded.   Even if the manufacturer says 'after fitting, hit with a hammer 3.5 times", the conscientious tester should try to do it. <g>

In reading the testimonials provided by Inset, there does not seem to be anything like a controlled experiment they can report. The only controlled experiment known to be done on their device proved negative and they reject the results. That is understandable, but why should we agree with Inset rather than the New Jersey Institute of Technology who did a controlled experiment on the Inset and found it to be of no value?

The New Jersey Institute of Technology in consultation with Stevens Institute tested the Stabilizer at the request of State Senator Robert Littell, who reported that he was getting great results with the device. Their tests showed that the device made no difference in gas mileage or emissions. The report was published in the December 1995 issue of the trade journal Fleet Executive magazine. The report was signed by NJIT Professor and Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies Dr. Robert Pfeffer; NJIT Professor Dr. John Droughton; Stevens Institute of Technology Professor and Director of the Center of Environmental Engineering Dr. George Korfiatis; and NJIT Professor of Engineering and Science Dr. Richard S. Magee. Senator Littell said he was "perplexed by the findings of the report" and refused to accept the findings. So did Inset and they filed a lawsuit against NJIT.


It does seem a sloppy study with far too many assumptions.   Wonder if they did it personally or passed it on to students to do.    You need to have an professional, independent testing lab.

A large scale test of the Inset and four other air pollution control products was conducted by researchers at the Armament Systems Process Division of the U.S. Army's laboratories at Picatinny Arsenal for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, but the report was not released because of major problems with the testing equipment.


Really?   When I read something like this, my initial reaction is that the results didn't come out the way they wanted.   Oh dear, am I becoming a cynic?

There has been an ongoing controversy in New Jersey regarding the reliability of the equipment they use to test emissions. In August 1996, the state of New Jersey charged Inset with violating the Consumer Fraud Act and state securities laws. But Inset continues to flourish on the Internet.

I asked a friend of mine who used to own an auto repair shop if he had ever heard of the Stabilizer. He said that he had but it was called the Vitalizer when he was in business. He thinks it might be the same thing being marketed under another name. He even suggested the unthinkable: there might be fraud involved here! I couldn't believe my ears. Fraud on the internet! What a concept! Anyway, I asked him: why, if this were fraud, would anyone be so blatant about it? Weren't they afraid of being caught and severely punished by the very law enforcement agencies who were giving testimonials for them? Not very likely, he said. By the time law enforcement catches up with these kinds of frauds, says my friend, they have moved on, changed their name, and are doing business as usual somewhere else with the same product but a new name. It happens all the time in the fuel and oil additive industry, he said. So, it wouldn't surprise him if it happened in the steel tube/fuel efficiency industry, too.

Yes, I can see that happening, but how long have Inset been in business.   We've been marketing our device for 10 years from the same address.

Well, I was shocked. I had been getting a lot of mail from people who were feeling sorry for me because I was such a negative person. I had vowed to be more positive just to make them feel better. So I looked for the silver lining in the Inset Stabilizer story and thought I had found it in the alien fuel efficiency angle. Now, I have to rethink my hypothesis. But wait. Maybe I can still find something positive here. I can say that if there are aliens hovering around earth looking for some good beef to mutilate or some tasty humans to experiment on, then they are probably using the Inset Fuel Stabilizer. And maybe Bob Pearson doesn't have to worry about a patent because he has one on his home planet.

Postscript: For those of you who balk at the $1,600 price tag on the Inset Fuel Stabilizer, don't fret. For a mere $239.95, plus tax and shipping and handling, you can get the Mileage Wizard ™. This device, we are told on the authority of those who are selling it, is a gadget which utilizes "cutting edge technology." According to its promoters, "the gasoline is introduced into the thermal magnetic vaporization chamber creating an almost vapor state prior to entering the fuel injectors, creating greater fuel efficiency." If you do not trust their data on fuel efficiency you can call the "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse at 1-800-363-3732." This offer is exclusively made directly to the public rather than to car manufacturers because, we are told, those big bad greedy corporate types would put owning this device "out of the reach of the average person." It is much better to allow greedy average people rip off each other in an MLM scheme, where the opportunity to make over $80,000 a month is made available to each and every one of us by the kind founders of the Mileage Wizard ™. Or so they say.

Robert Todd Carroll ©copyright 1998

Well, there seems to have been a lot of satisfied customers who obviously thought it worked for them and was worth the money.   $1,600, how long does it take to make that back?   We reckon our device makes its cost back in 2 to 4 months.   This device cost 20 times the cost of ours.

We have studies funded by the manufacturer from a professional testing body showing a reduction in emissions, and an increase in power and fuel economy.   It is challenged because it was funded by the manufacturer.   As a result we offer a 12 month money back guarantee if not completely satisfied that the device works.   In 12 months, you should have saved three times the cost.   I can't think of anything fairer.

Motoring Fuel-Saving Devices - Which September 1994

More miles to the gallon? Will a £40 magnet on your fuel line or £80 worth of alloy pellets in your tank save you fuel? We find out


• Our tests on two types of device showed NO significant effect on fuel consumption

And says nothing about other such devices

• Makers of fuel-saving devices have been banned from exhibiting at the forthcoming Motor Show

• Changing your driving technique can improve your car’s fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent as much a saving as claimed by any of these devices

Indeed, but why not do both

Want to reduce your car’s fuel costs by up to 20 per cent, improve its performance, reduce harmful exhaust emissions and make its engine last longer? Of course you do. But do the devices which make claims such as these actually work? We’ve tested two types,

Neither of them the leading British device

and have quizzed scientists, car makers, oil compa­nies, motoring groups, and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to see whether they think these products live up to their claims. We think the makers of these ‘fuel-saver’ products are being as economical with the truth as they claim to be with the miles.


Better fuel economy is often the most prominent claim made for these products.

‘Proven to add up to 20 per cent more miles per gallon’ — Saveco Petrol Booster;             

substantial savings in fuel (7 to 12 ~             per cent)’ — Broquet Fuel Catalyst; and

‘5 to 20 per cent more miles to every gallon’ — Ecoflow. 

Other benefits are claimed, too:

‘Reduces carbon monoxide by up to 60 per cent’ — Ecoflow;

‘Reduces pollution’ — Saveco Petrol Booster;

‘Poisonous exhaust emissions dra­matically reduced ... may increase catalytic converter life’ — Powerplus;

‘Allows any car to run on unleaded fuel’ — Fuel Cat;

‘Longer engine life, reduced oil consumption, quieter running’ — Broquet.


Many of the devices on the market which claim, among other things to save fuel, are similar in design. Most fall into three categories.

Magnets A magnet, usually encased in plastic, is clamped around the fuel line. The magnetic force allegedly affects the molecules in the fuel in such a way as to make the engine work more efficiently.

Alloy pellets These are either put directly into the fuel tank, usually wrapped in wire gauze, or inserted in the fuel line contained in a cylin­der. The manufacturers claim that the pellets catalyse the fuel, in some way, but seem unclear as to exactly what they do.

Yup, further research required.   I’m sure someone will get round to it eventually.

Magnets and alloy pellets These comprise the features of both of the first two devices. They are inserted into the fuel line and have a cylinder containing the alloy pellets as well as a magnet at one end.

The devices tend to be adver­tised in local papers, specialist mag­azines and mail-order catalogues. Prices can range from as little as £8 to over £100.


We questioned several mechanical engineers and scientists about the scientific validity of the magnet and alloy pellet methods.

A very powerful magnetic field could make fuel adopt an induced alignment by magnetising it, as is claimed. However, since the fuel is liquid, as soon as it has passed through the field the magnetisation ‘relaxes’ to zero. This takes less than one millionth of a second, so by the time the fuel reaches the fuel injector or the car­burettor it won’t be magnetised at all.

Wrong, studies have shown that the effect in water lasts longer than 200 hours.

Magnetic water treatment , J.M.D. Coey , Stephen Cass, Physics Department, Trinity College, Dublin 2,Ireland. Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials 209 (2000) 71—74


If it works on one fluid, water, it may well work on others.

The alloy pellets appeared to be used as a substitute to lead addi­tives in petrol (previously used to boost performance). The scien­tists had conducted experiments where pellets were stirred in petrol for six months. Over this time the pellets’ mass stayed exactly the same — no alloy was added to the petrol. If nothing is added it can’t have any effect on engine characteristics.

Typical of the lack of science in this article, the definition of a catalyst is a substance that causes change while remaining unchanged itself.   If the pellets had changed, they could not be a catalyst.


Fuel consumption can vary greatly as a result of many factors and the only way to test reliably for changes is in a fully-controlled laboratory environment using a series of repeated tests to give statistically significant results.

Nope, the only way to test reliably for change is as the device is used.   For example a test-bed engine does not have the same characteristics as an engine driven on the roads.  A laboratory set-up can be used to investigate how the device works, but cannot prove that the device does work in ‘real life’.  Testing ‘in vitro’ does not prove it will work or will not work ‘in vivo’.

Some of the makers of these devices do quote results of scientific tests. But when we asked for details, we found them scant, or the results not statistically signifi­cant. Another ploy is to quote test results selectively. If Consumption was seen to have increased and decreased during testing, only the improvement is mentioned. For example, in October 1992 a mag­netic device called Ecoflow was tested for its manufacturer at Warren Spring, then a Government laboratory. The makers then quoted selective results claim­ing the device worked. Warren Spring later produced a rebuttal, saying that the variation between tests was too great to claim success for it.

Nope, they did a further trial and these were the conclusions at the end of that trial.

1.       The effect of the Ecoflow, on this vehicle, was not consistent for Carbon Monoxide and Hydrocarbons between the first and second series of tests. This was probably due to the variability of the vehicle as a source of emissions. A high mileage vehicle was selected for these tests as being the most likely to show any benefits of the Ecoflow.

2.       Both series of tests showed consistent reductions in Carbon Dioxide, fuel consumption and the Oxides of Nitrogen and when the Ecoflow was removed the trend was reversed. The calculated mean per cent reduction for the two sets of tests was Carbon Dioxide 7.55, fuel consumption 7.76 and the Oxides of Nitrogen l9.39~.

3.       The power increase found in the first series of tests was sustained throughout the second set of tests and marginally increased to 11%.

4.       The idle emissions showed no distinct trends, possibly because the vehicle was not a very high emitter when normally tuned.

5.       The Ecoflow fitted to the heavy goods vehicle had the positive effect of reducing the smoke, measured in Hartridge Units, by 15%.

The DTI authorised the following statement to be used.

The DTI's Environmental Technology Executive Agency Laboratory's tests on the Ecoflow fitted to a Vauxhall Cavalier showed fuel consumption improved, power increased and emissions reduced. A Volvo F10 truck tested for particulate smoke emissions showed a decrease of 15%.


The evidence against such products is overwhelming. Scientists dismiss the ‘theory’ behind them.

Irrelevant, do they work.

Our tests (see p18) showed no significant effects on fuel consumption on six cars (and we’ll be presenting our evidence to the appropriate author­ities). Complaints against advertise­ments for them are frequently upheld. They’ve been banned from the Motor Show because of ‘spuri­ous claims’. Car makers, oil compa­nies and motoring groups we spoke to are unanimously against their use. The only supporters of the devices are the makers of them.

How about the users?

Faced with this evidence would you pay up to £100 for a fuel-saving device, just in case all the experts are wrong? We wouldn’t.

Neither would I unless they offer a money back guarantee.

If you want to reduce the fuel consumption of your car by ‘up to 20 per cent’ you can do it, without the expense of these devices, by simply changing the way you drive.

And if you want a further reduction try one of these devices.   One with a money back guarantee of course.

The Sceptics Dictionary - Magnet Therapy


Robert Todd Carroll

"I know of no scientist who takes this claim seriously...It's another fad. They come and go like copper bracelets and crystals and all of these things, and this one will pass too." --Robert Park of the American Physical Society.

See the comments on Park's article earlier in this page

Magnet therapy is a type of "alternative" medicine which claims that magnetic fields have healing powers. Some claim that magnets can help broken bones heal faster, but most of the advocacy comes from those who claim that magnets relieve pain. Most of the support for these notions is in the form of testimonials and anecdotes, and can be attributed to "placebo effects and other effects accompanying their use" (Livingston, 1998). There is almost no scientific evidence supporting magnetic therapy. One highly publicized exception is a double-blind study done at Baylor College of Medicine which compared the effects of magnets and sham magnets on the knee pain of 50 post-polio patients. The experimental group reported a significantly greater reduction in pain than the control group.

The LA Times, December 27 1999, Jane E. Allen reported on 5 double blind studies done in the US. All had results significantly greater than placebo.

A less publicized study at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine found that magnets did not have any effect on healing heel pain. Over a 4-week period, 19 patients wore a molded insole containing a magnetic foil, while 15 patients wore the same type of insole with no magnetic foil. In both groups, 60% reported improvement.

No mention is made of the type of magnetic foil used.   The Weintraub study used commencially made insoles in a double blind study and had significant results.   I think I would prefer the results of a study using commercially made insoles to a study using  home-made insoles.

KSL-TV Channel 5 on Weintraub diabetic neuropathy pain study http://www.ksl.com/dump/news/cc/diamag.htm

Despite the fact that there has been virtually no scientific testing of magnetic therapy,

150 studies on medline?
(Ok, when I wrote this article I had only found 150.   It's over 700 now.)

a growing industry is producing magnetic bracelets, bands, insoles, back braces, mattresses, etc., and claiming miraculous powers for their products. The magnet market may be approaching $150 million annually (Collie).  Magnets are becoming the gimmick of choice of chiropractors and other "pain specialists." Former potter, Marlynn Chetkof sells Russell Biomagnetic products, and advises that magnets are better than painkillers or living with pain (Collie). Even a bankrupt building contractor, Rick Jones, is trying to cash in on the current magnet craze. He has formed a company called Optimum Health Technologies, Inc. to market his "Magnassager," a hand-held vibrator with magnets retailing for $489. Jones claims his invention "isn't just another massage device." He says it uses an electromagnetic field to help circulate blood while it's massaging the muscles. Jones raised $300,000 from investors and spent it all on "product development and marketing." Not a cent was spent on scientific testing of the device, though he did give $20,000 to a physiologist to evaluate his device "to make sure that it was not gimmicky" (Kasler). Also, a massage therapist claims that the Magnassager eases "the pain from carpal tunnel syndrome." How the therapist knows this is not clear.

The claim that magnets help "circulate blood" is a common one among supporters of magnet therapy, but there is no scientific evidence that magnets do anything to the blood.

Try the thermal camera sequences on the Thermal page.  

Even though the evidence is lacking that magnets have anything other than a placebo effect, theories abound as to how they work. Some say magnets are like a shiatsu massage; some claim magnets affect the iron in red blood cells; still others claim that magnets create an alkaline reaction in the body (Collie). Bill Roper, head of Magnetherapy claims that "Magnets don't cure or heal anything. All they do is set your body back to normal so the healing process can begin" (Collie). How he knows this is not clear.

Just because the proponents do not understand the mechanism doesn't mean that the device doesn't work.
Asprin took 60 years before the mechanism was understood.

The most rabid advocates of magnet therapy are athletes such as Jim Colbert and John Huston (golfers), Dan Marino (football) and Lindsay Davenport (tennis). Their beliefs are based on little more than post hoc reasoning. It is possible that the relief a magnetic belt gives to a golfer with a back problem, however, is not simply a function of the placebo effect. It may well be due to the support or added heat the belt provides. The product might work just as well without the magnets. However, athletes are not given to scientific testing any more than are the manufacturers of magnetic gimmickry.

However, they are the experts on their own performance.   If they say their performance increases, I would be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Athletes aren't the only ones enamoured of the power of magnets to heal. Dr. Richard Rogachefsky, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Miami, claims to have used magnets on about 600 patients, including people who have been shot. He says that the magnets "accelerate the healing process." His evidence? He can tell by looking at X-rays. Dr. William Jarvis is skeptical. He says that "Any doctor who relies on clinical impressions, on what they think they see, is a fool" (Collie). There is a good reason scientists do controlled double-blind studies to test causal efficacy: to prevent self-deception.

There are good controlled double blind fracture studies on medline, look on the Abstracts page.

Dr. Mark S. George, an associate professor of psychiatry, neurology and radiology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, did a controlled experiment on the use of magnets to treat depression. He only studied twelve patients for two weeks, however, so his results are of little significance.

The Baylor study was 45 minutes.   Providing there is an effect what more do we need?

While sales of magnetic products keep rising, there are a few scientific studies going on. The University of Virginia is testing magnets on sufferers of fibromyalgia. The Universities of Miami and Kentucky are testing magnets on people with carpal tunnel syndrome (Collie). At present, however, we have no good reason to believe that magnets have any more healing power than crystals or copper bracelets.

Are there over 130 pro-studies on crystals or copper bracelets on medline?

further reading

"Magnet Therapy" by A.R. Liboff (in the American Physical Society forum, Oct. 1998)

Magnetic and Electromagnetic Therapy by David W. Ramey, DVM

Magnet Therapy by Dr. Stephen Barrett

"Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work" by Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D.

"magnet therapy" - New England Skeptical Society

"Magnetize Your Beverages" by Stephen Barrett, M.D.

"magnet therapy" in Jack Raso's Dictionary of Metaphysical Healthcare

Magnet Therapy Relieves Post-Polio Pain 

Debunking Vitalism (review of Driving Force)

Revolutionary New Insoles Combine Five Forms Of Pseudoscience

Biomagnetic Pseudoscience and Nonsense Claims by Miguel A. Sabadell

Magnet therapy: what's the attraction?

Collie, Ashley Jude. "Let the Force Be With You," American Way, March 15, 1999.

Kasler, Dale. "Inside Business,"  Sacramento Bee, June 29, 1998.

Livingston, James D. "Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction?" Skeptical Inquirer (July/August1998).

Livingston, James D. Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets (Harvard University Press, 1997). $11.96

Magnetic cure for arthritis is all in the mind - Daily Mail 14/11/2002

Source: Daily Mail

Date: 14 November 2002


Science correspondent, James Chapman, reports on a study by scientists at the Mayo Clinic, in Jacksonville Florida, who have tested the claims that magnetic bracelets and necklaces help combat arthritis. The study showed that ionised bracelets are no more effective than dummy versions at soothing joint and muscle pain. The Clinics team picked 305 volunteers to wear an ionised bracelet for 28 days and another 305 to wear an identical placebo for the same time. Both groups reported significant lessening of pain, but there was no difference in the numbers doing so between either the group. The study, reported in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, did not address the effectiveness of copper bracelets.

This is the study that the Daily Mail article referred to.

News from Mayo Clinic in Rochester
Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Study Concludes No Difference Between Ionized Bracelet and Placebo for Musculoskeletal Pain Relief
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Nov. 8, 2002 — Researchers from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville , Fla., report wearing ionized bracelets for the treatment of muscle and joint pain was no more effective than wearing placebo bracelets in the November 2002 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Authors of the published study randomly assigned 305 participants to wear an ionized bracelet for 28 days and another 305 participants to wear a placebo bracelet for the same duration.
The study volunteers were men and women 18 and older who had self-reported musculoskeletal pain at the beginning of the study. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which volunteers wore an ionized bracelet and which wore a placebo bracelet. Bracelets were worn according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Both types of bracelets were identical and were supplied by the manufacturer, QT, Inc.
Participants self-reported their pain for each location where they felt it with a score of 1 to 10 before wearing a bracelet. They self-reported their pain again after wearing a bracelet for one day, three days, seven days, 14 days, 21 days and 28 days. Researchers were interested in both the change in the self-reported pain score for the location of greatest pain and the change in the sum of the pain scores for all self-reported painful locations.
Both groups reported significant improvement in pain. However, researchers found no difference in the amount of self-reported pain relief between the group wearing the ionized bracelets and the group wearing the placebo bracelets. The study authors conclude that the equivalent, subjective improvement in pain scores calls into question the true benefit of using an ionized bracelet.
Principal investigator Dr. Robert Bratton, from the Department of Family Medicine, says the study was important because so many patients are interested in alternative medicine. "We need to look at what our patients are doing for their various problems," he says, "and undertake objective, controlled studies to prove whether or not these treatments are beneficial."
The study authors say that although their goal was not to assess the effectiveness of placebos, their results did support the benefit of placebos in the treatment of pain. They also note that 80 percent of the 409 participants who answered an initial survey question about the use of ionized bracelets stated they believed the bracelets can reduce joint or muscle pain.
The study was conducted between 2000-2001. It won the Florida Academy of Family Physicians first-place award for research in October. Mayo Clinic Proceedings is a peer-reviewed and indexed general internal medicine journal, published for more than 75 years by Mayo Foundation, with a circulation of 130,000 nationally and internationally. ###
Mayo Clinic is a multispecialty medical clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. The staff includes 328 physicians working in more than 40 specialties to provide diagnosis, treatment and surgery. Patients who need hospitalization are admitted to nearby St. Luke's Hospital, a 289-bed Mayo facility. Mayo Clinics also are located in Rochester, Minn., and Scottsdale, Ariz. Visit http://www.mayoclinic.org/news/ for all the news from Mayo Clinic.

Contact: Erik Kaldor

Unfortunately, James Chapman misunderstood the study.   It was not about magnetic bracelets, but a product called the Q-RAY Ionized Bracelet made by QT.  This email was sent by the media spokesman at the Mayo Clinic.

The bracelets in the study were not magnetic. QT calls them ionized…...
Erik Kaldor

QT says “Why Choose Q-Ray Bracelets Over
Copper or Magnetic Therapy Bracelets? Because Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Therapy Bracelets don't balance your body the way Q-Ray does!”

 “Designed by Dr. Polo with polarized multi-metallic metals, the Q-RAY bracelet's circular form and spherical terminals offer low resistance to the bioelectrical conductibility of the alpha and beta waves, facilitating the discharge of excess positive ions or static electricity.”


So the study was not even about magnotherapy.   The Daily Mail completely misunderstood the issue.

Magnetic bracelets 'unproven'

BBC NEWS    Wednesday, 9 June, 1999


Suppliers of magnetic bracelets and necklaces cannot prove their claims that they relieve pain, according to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

They certainly cannot afford to prove their claims.

Some companies say that testimonials from satisfied customers are proof enough.

Well it’s about all any manufacturer can afford.

However, the ASA says that some of the claims made are extravagant and should be withdrawn if there is no clinical evidence to back them up.

Suppliers of the jewellery claim they offer relief from conditions such as arthritis and migraines through a technique known as magnotherapy.

Plenty of studies on magnotherapy and arthritis.

Efficacy Of A Static Magnetic Device Against Knee Pain Associated With Inflammatory Arthritis
Neil Segal, Joseph Houston., Howard Fuchs, Robert Holcomb, Michael J. McLean
Vanderbilt University Medical School; Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine; and, Department of Neurology Vanderbilt University Medical Center

The Effect of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields in the Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Knee and Cervical Spine. Report of Randomized, Double Blind, Placebo Controlled Trials
Trock DH, Bollet AJ, Markoll R.
Journal of Rheumatology, 21(10), 1994, p. 1903-1911.

A Double-Blind Trial of the Clinical Effects of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields in Osteoarthritis.
Trock DH, Bollet AJ, Dyer RH Jr, Fielding LP, Miner WK, Markoll R.
Department of Medicine (Rheumatology), Danbury Hospital, CT 06810.USA.
J Rheumatol. 1993 Dec;20(12):2166-7

And here’s some on magnotherapy and migraine

Experiences of Patients Suffering from Migraine-Type Headache Treated with Magnetotherapy
L. Lazar & A. Farago,
Hungarian Symposium on Magnetotherapy, 2nd Symposium, May 16-17, 1987, Szekesfehervar, Hungary, p. 137-140
This placebo-controlled, double-blind study examined the effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields (2-5 Hz and flux densities of 3-4 mT) on patients suffering from migraine headaches. PEMFs were administered to the head for 10-15 minutes per day over a period of 30 days. Results showed a mean improvement level of 66 percent in patients receiving the treatment, compared to just 23 percent among controls.

Experiences of Patients Suffering from Migraine-Type Headache Treated with Magnetotherapy
L. Lazar & A. Farago,
Hungarian Symposium on Magnetotherapy, 2nd Symposium, May 16-17, 1987, Szekesfehervar, Hungary, p. 137-140
This placebo-controlled, double-blind study examined the effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields (2-5 Hz and flux densities of 3-4 mT) on patients suffering from migraine headaches. PEMFs were administered to the head for 10-15 minutes per day over a period of 30 days. Results showed a mean improvement level of 66 percent in patients receiving the treatment, compared to just 23 percent among controls.

 They claim that an electric current produced by the products improves the circulation of the blood and helps to boost general health.

Ahh, they have postulated a currently unproven theory.  Naughty, Naughty

Some people are even convinced that magnetism can dissolve fat deposits.

Well, if, as a result of a reduction in pain, the subject can move better, then the exercise may well result in ‘dissolving fat deposits’.

Effects of static magnets on chronic knee pain and physical function: a double-blind study.
Hinman MR, Ford J, Heyl H.
Department of Physical Therapy, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, USA.
Altern Ther Health Med 2002 Jul-Aug;8(4):50-5
CONCLUSIONS: The application of static magnets over painful knee joints appears to reduce pain and enhance functional movement. However, further study is needed to determine the physiological mechanisms responsible for this analgesic effect 

Magnetic collars are available for dogs and there are even special bridles for horses.

Jeffrey Frankel, of Magna Jewellery, is confident his products work.

He said: "Not only are we in business, we are flourishing. Our sales are going up every year and our turnover this year has tripled, that indicates to me we are providing something that the consumer wants."

Angela Drewett has worn a magnetic bracelet for several years.

She believes it has helped to ease the symptoms of her arthritis.

"Within a week my friends were saying you are beginning to walk better, and by the end of the month I thought that's it, I have found something that is really helping."

No adequate evidence

Quite right, only formal, expensive studies will do.   Like the 20 studies found by these Austrian researchers.

Clinical effectiveness of magnetic field therapy--a review of the literature
Quittan M; Schuhfried O; Wiesinger GF; Fialka-Moser
Universitatsklinik fur Physikalische Medizin und Rehabilitation, Wien.
Acta Med Austriaca 2000;27(3):61-8   (ISSN: 0303-8173)
To verify the efficacy of electromagnetic fields on various diseases we conducted a computer-assisted search of the pertinent literature. The search was performed with the aid of the Medline and Embase database (1966-1998) and reference lists. Clinical trials with at least one control group were selected. The selection criteria were met by 31 clinical studies. 20 trials were designed double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled. The studies were categorised by indications. Electromagnetic fields were applied to promote bone-healing, to treat osteoarthritis and inflammatory diseases of the musculoskeletal system, to alleviate pain, to enhance healing of ulcers and to reduce spasticity. The action on bone healing and pain alleviation of electromagnetic fields was confirmed in most of the trials.

Ahh, but they published their research in 2000.

However, in a statement the ASA said: "To date the ASA has not seen adequate evidence to support any - implicit or explicit - efficacy claims for magnotherapy products.

Wonder what they require as ‘adequate evidence’

Something Rotten at the Core of Science
by David F. Horrobin Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, Vol. 22, No. 2, February 2001
…It has been estimated that the FDA approval process takes an average of 12 years and costs $231 million. This presents unique difficulties for independent researchers and for therapies that do not lend themselves to patentability….

And that’s for one product, one condition.

"Whilst most advertisers are readily able to provide an array of testimonials from customers these do not constitute substantiation as required under the codes.

"Until proper evidence is available advertisements for magnotherapy products should provide only the product name, what it is made from, how much it costs and details of how to acquire it.

"If the product name itself contains a claim that cannot be proved then this should be disclaimed in a footnote."

Yup, you can’t sell the product until you have proof it works that you can’t afford to pay for until you have sold enough products.   Another Catch 22.   All the manufacturer can do is offer a money back guarantee. 

Proponents of magnotherapy say that it has been used for centuries to cure or relieve common ailments.

They point to evidence of a type of healing called Bio-Magnetics that was used in the Orient, and to the long-time use of magnets in Russia to repair broken and fractured bones and to heal damaged tissue.

Modern day as well

They also have a place in Egyptian medicine - Cleopatra is thought to be one of the first to use magnets.

Rip off

But Dr Charles Shepherd, director of the ME Association, said vulnerable patients were being "ripped off" by manufacturers who were exploiting a loophole in the 1968 Medicines Act.

The Act requires claims made on behalf of all drugs and medicines to be backed up by clinical evidence, but it does not cover magnetic devices.

Dr Shepherd said: "Claims for these products are not based on any scientific evidence what so ever, but on a few anecdotal claims from satisfied customers.

Plenty of studies out there.

"Everybody in medicine knows that even if you give multiple sclerosis patients an injection of purified water some will feel better as a result.

"These products are being aimed at vulnerable groups of people who may well be tempted because orthodox medicine has not got the answer to their problems."

Yup and they get a money back guarantee as well.

Does ‘orthodox medicine’ offer a money back guarantee?

Magnetic water treatment and other scams by Steve Lower


Steve Lower, Dept of Chemistry, Simon Fraser University.

Magnetism is a mysterious phenomenon to most people, and even many of us who have taken a few courses in college physics often don't feel we really "understand" it. No wonder, then, that hucksters and scam artists (and maybe even some sincere but ignorant individuals) are having a field day promoting magnetic devices as a new form of snake oil to a North American public that is generally unable to distinguish science from pseudoscience, and whose criterion for believing in something is that it makes them feel comfortable.

The subject of magnetic water and fuel treatment comes up so regularly on the Chemical Education discussion list (chemed-l) that I decided to assemble several pages of notes on the subject. The most common promotions fall into a few major categories:

magnetic devices that "soften" water, either for the purpose of preventing formation of scale (precipitated carbonates of calcium and magnesium) in water heaters and boilers, or for supplementing or replacing detergents in home laundries.

magnets placed in the fuel line of a car to increase gasoline mileage (and sometimes, also to reduce carbon buildup in the cylinders.)

magnets applied to various parts of the body for health reasons

Most of this is utter nonsense.


Nevertheless, some of the promoters of these devices offer "scientific"-sounding explanations that show as much creativity in obfuscation and confabulation as will be found in the "Scientific Creationism" literature. It's the old story: if your beliefs do not fit the facts, change the facts or at least ignore them!

The salesman's claims may be overblown, that does not mean the devices are.
 And Steve ignores the studies on medline on magnotherapy

The only respectable site (other than this one!) that I am aware of that deals with MWT is the one maintained by the School of Water Sciences at Cranfield University in the U.K. Their Web page http://www.cranfield.ac.uk/sims/water/magnets.htm admits there is no accepted mechanism, but seems to accept that MWT works and offers a few references.

It also says this "Reported effects of magnetic conditioning of water have appeared in the literature  since the late 1930's. These have usually related to Antiscale Magnetic Treatment, though there is some  evidence that magnetism interacts directly with microorganisms. Reported effects  appear to vary widely, possibly reflecting variations in water quality, and the  apparent lack of their reproducibility has tended to undermine the credibility of the  process. The paucity of systematic studies of the phenomenon, independent of  AMT device manufacturers, and the lack of recorded design criteria have  prevented acceptance of the method by process designers and plant engineers.  The scientific literature is still unable to explain confidently why AMT works in  some applications and not in others. Recent research at Cranfield has identified  conditions under which magnetic treatment can lead to a maximum of 70%  reduction in calcium carbonate scale formation. The degree to which scale  formation is inhibited has been identified to be dependent on a number of  physicochemical conditions such as temperature, pH, hardness and alkalinity. This  work has also identified effects on pH, particle size, nucleation rate and crystal  form."

Magnetics to the laundry: hype and fact - a side-by side critique of "scientific" claims by some promoters of magnetic laundry devices .

A 'what the saleman said' page.   Salesmen's hype does not mean the device is ineffective, just that salesmen love to hype.


Non-chemical technologies for scale and hardness control. http://www.pnl.gov/fta/11_non.htm

This document, labeled as a Federal Technology Alert from the U.S. Department of Energy, presents a rather uncritical case for both magnetic and electrostatic water treatment. No author is listed

David Evers, Battelle Columbus Operations.   Contact names are also given at the US DofE and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

and there are no references to support any of the claims made.

A full page of references when I looked

What is most significant to me, however, is the scientifically naive explanation of why these devices work. We are told that the magnetic field deflects the ions in the water, causing them to move in opposite directions normal to the direction of flow so that ions of opposite charge collide more frequently, increasing the chances that they will combine and precipitate out before they have a chance to form scale or do other bad things.

No-one has come up with a valid explanation of how these devices work.   That has nothing to do with whether they work or not.   To assume that, as the hypothesis suggested  is flawed, the devices must also be flawed, is a waste of time.   These assumptions invalidate most of this author's conclusions.

The science: Charged particles moving in a vacuum are indeed deflected by magnetic fields, but ions in solution are too massive (remember that they have a primary hydration shell of H2O molecules attached to them) and too locked into the "cage" created by the surrounding hydrogen bonded water to be able to undergo any significant deflection as they pass by the magnet. (If this effect were really operative, the efficacy of the process would be a function of flow rate, and no mention is made of this in the article!)

But it is in the Kronenberg article and the Cranfield article

It should also be pointed out that oppositely charged ions encounter each other all the time through random thermal motions, and even form ion-pair complexes such as CaCO3° which can exist indefinitely as stable entities without precipitating.

This report also mentions an electrostatic method of water treatment in which "a surface charge is imposed on the ions so that they repel instead of attract each other."  This is ridiculous.

Again rubbishing the devices because the mechanism is not understood.   This is quite pointless and merely shows bias.

It is worrisome that the U.S. Department of Energy, which also looks after nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, should have its name associated with such sophomoric science.

The reason is obvious, they found the technology works.   The science will sort itself out in time.

"Magnetic water and fuel treatment: myth, magic, or mainstream science?" This article, by Mike Powell, a chemical engineer, appeared in the Skeptical Enquirer 22(1) 27-31 1998. The author provides a few references, practically all to non-refereed journals and conference proceedings of dubious quality. Powell observes that "the utter lack of published data is revealing. According to the vendors, magnetic fuel treatment has been around for fifty years. If it actually worked as claimed, it seems likely that it would by now be commonplace. It is not."

See my comments in his article here  on this page.   This particular comment is invalid, magnetic fuel conditioning was done using electromagnets during the war, but permanent magnets were not strong enough to be effective.   The modern fuel efficiency devices have only been around for the last 20 years or so.

Klaus J. Kronenberg: "Experimental evidence for the effects of magnetic fields on moving water." IEEE Transactions on Magnetics, Vol MAG-21, No. 3, Sept 1985 (2059-2061).

In this paper, the author describes the changes in the morphology of calcium carbonate crystals formed by evaporation of water that has been passed through a sequence of several magnetic fields. The effect of the treatment is to change the crystals from a dendritic form to smaller disk-shaped forms (that presumably are less likely to form a scale-- but this is not tested.) The curious thing is that the water seems to "remember" the treatment-- evaporation and crystallization were carried out in a field-free environment. The need for the water to flow past a succession of magnets (up to 16) at a specific velocity prompts Kronenberg to suggest that "the interaction between the magnetic fields and the hydrogen bonds is amplified to the breaking point by resonance." The idea is that the breaking up of the (H2O)n complexes somehow releases dissolved ions that promote nucleation of the smaller crystals. The observed effect lasts for up to two days.

It is difficult to assess this paper. His experimental results are interesting (there are photographs of the crystals), but much of the interpretation strikes me as suspect and I doubt that it would pass muster in a refereed Chemistry journal. An attempt to reproduce these results might make a good science fair project. Is this another case of cold fusion-- or of "polywater"?

Have a look at the article by Kronenberg on the Experts page
There are similar photos on the Cranfield site

Magnetic effects on surface tension of water

According to Kronenberg's paper (see above), magnetic fields can reduce the surface tension and viscosity of water by up to 2%. He gives the following references:

Bruns, Klassen, Konshina: Kolloid Zh. 28(1) 1966 (153)

Lazarenko a. Bantysh - Electron Obrab Mater 3 1970 (A review with 30 references)

Ellingsen, F.T. - Särtryck ur Vatten 35(4) 1979 (309-315)

A large number of "research" references and also a collection of technical articles (the latter with Web links) have been assembled by one of the magnetics manufacturers. Some of these look pretty impressive until you observe that practically none of the citations to peer-reviewed journals have anything at all to do with magnetic water treatment, and the articles that do address the topic directly are mostly in trade publications and conference reports, many quite obscure, difficult to obtain, and of dubious scientific quality. The non-research articles (including one distributed by the U.S. NTIS) generally lack sufficient references to allow useful checking.

Some examples of absurd claims

NESI (Natural Environmental Solutions Inc. of Las Vegas, Nev, whose Web site recently disappeared) offered to "Magnetically enhance your body's natural energy" -- In addition to the usual water and fuel conditioners (including a magnetic showerhead that "Has Been Proven To Consistently Remove Over 90% Of Free Chlorine", (starting every word with a capital letter presumably makes this more authoritative!) they offer a variety of Bio-Magnets that "magnetically enhance your body's natural energy",such as "Plaque fighting magnetic toothbrushes"

Repeated, double blinded,  studies on medline on magnetic dental picks.   They work.

("Get teeth whiter and eliminate unslightly build up"), magnetic coffee cups, magnetic insoles (your choice of all-north or bipolar)

The Weintraub double blind, diabetic neuropathy study showed magnetic insoles to be significantly more effective than placebo in reducing pain.

and a Quartz Crystal Simulator ("High voltage stimulation ideal for on the spot use" ?!) .. or, for your dog, magnetic pet collars and magnetic pet bed.

The repeated, blinded studies on fractures on medline were done using magnets on animals.

Magnetic pads:"Used In Pairs They Can Be Held In Position Without Tape Or Wraps By Placing One On The Inside Of The Clothing And One On The Outside."

... for men with prostate problems?

There are three recent, 1998/99, positive studies on magnetotherapy and prostatitis on medline

"Chlorine is one of the most toxic elements found in nature”.

Chlorine In Shower Water Can Trigger Negative Reactions In Those Who Are Chlorine Sensitive. Small Children And The Elderly Are Often The Most Susceptible. Asthma And Emphysema Sufferers Should Be Cautious Of The Chlorine Vapors Trapped In A Shower Recess. Magnesoft Shower Head Removes +90% Of Free Chlorine And Effective Life Of 15,000 Gallons. Now You Can Have Softer, Silkier Hair, A More Complete Shampoo Rinse And Squeaky Clean Skin. Your Water Will Taste And Smell Better, Especially On Rural Well Systems Or City Water."

(... but if you think chlorine is bad, consider a substance that had proven deadly to far more people: see the "Ban DHMO" (dihydrogen monoxide) Page.).

Commentary: Chlorine, like any gas, is less soluble in hot water than in cold, so it is likely that some chlorine is released in a shower-- although as one who often takes long, hot showers, I've never noticed it, even in places like Istanbul where the water is almost too highly chlorinated to be potable. However, it is not at all clear how a magnetic device can reduce the emission of chlorine, a gas that is completely unaffected by magnetic fields. One wonders where the chlorine is supposed to go!

I hadn't heard of this particular chlorine effect, but I have heard of an similar effect with hydrogen sulphide.   In that case the magnets decreased the smell in the shower.   The guess  was that the hydrogen sulphide was retained in solution longer, thus reducing the smell in the shower.

"Clean your laundry through the science of physics."

"Hundreds of dollars in savings because there is no need for detergents, fabric softeners or extra rinse cycles". (But pay $84.95 for the product!)

"Protect your family by simply changing the way you do laundry"

An alternative technology that is claimed to be even better than magnetic treatment of water hardness is the Care Free Water Conditioner. This device passes the water through a porous alloy made "whose electronegativity is less than the overall electronegativity of the water solution. ... As the water flows through the Care Free Water Conditioner, some of the electrons drawn into the solution displace some already captured by ions such as CO32-, HCO3-, SO4 2-, and OCI- during the turbulent orbitings of the various electrons. This allows the "displaced" electrons to become "free electrons" in the solution and these "free electrons" can be captured by ions or colloids with lesser electronegativities such as Ca2+ and Mg2+ to free themselves of CO32-, SO42-, and HCO3-."

Commentary: The absurdity of this explanation should be obvious to anyone who has completed a first-year Chemistry course and recalls that electronegativity is an arbitrarily-defined property of atoms in chemical bonds, not of ions. Further, there is no need for the cations to "free" themselves of the anions because they are totally dissociated anyway.

What the salesman says has nothing to do with whether the device works.

Suffering from back pain, insomnia, kidney stones, or any of about a dozen common ailments? It may be due to pollution of your body by stray alternating current-induced magnetic fields. If so, you need a magnetic mattress whose built-in permanent magnets provide healing "natural" ("direct current") fields. Replete with results of "scientific" studies [unpublished, of course!] citing such gems as "62.35 - 98.94%" effectiveness rating (at "99% confidence level") for relief of back pain. (It's hard to get a laugh out of a class when I am discussing statistical treatment of data, but this should do the trick!)

Two studies on fibromyalgia and magnetic mattresses on Medline

Articles about Sceptics

Guide to sceptics


From: DOwens6683 <dowens6683@aol.com>

This is a nice article on the tricks some sceptics get up to to discredit their opponents.

Ever get into an argument with a skeptic only to end up exasperated and feeling you've been bamboozled?  Skeptics are often highly skilled at tying up opponents in clever verbal knots.  Most skeptics are, of course, ordinary, more-or-less honest people who, like the rest of us, are just trying to make the best sense they can of a complicated and often confusing world.  Others, however, are merely glib sophists who use specious reasoning to defend their prejudices or attack the ideas and beliefs of others, and even an honest skeptic can innocently fall into the mistake of employing bad reasoning.

In reading, listening to and sometimes debating skeptics over the years, I've found certain tricks, ploys and gimmicks which they tend to use over and over again.  Here are some of 'em.  Perhaps if you keep them in mind when arguing with a skeptic, you'll feel better when the debate is over.  Shucks, you might even score a point or two.


This trick consists of demanding a new, higher and more difficult standard of evidence whenever it looks as if a skeptic's opponent is going to satisfy an old one. Often the skeptic doesn't make it clear exactly what the standards are in the first place.  This can be especially effective if the skeptic can keep his opponent from noticing that he is continually changing his standard of evidence.  That way, his opponent will eventually give up in exasperation or disgust. Perhaps best of all, if his opponent complains, the skeptic can tag him as a whiner or a sore loser.


Skeptic:  I am willing to consider the psi hypothesis if you will only show me some sound evidence.

Opponent:  There are many thousands of documented reports of incidents that seem to involve psi.

S:  That is only anecdotal evidence.  You must give me laboratory evidence.

0: Researchers A-Z have conducted experiments that produced results which favor the psi hypothesis.

S:  Those experiments are not acceptable because of flaws X,Y and Z.

0: Researchers B-H and T-W have conducted experiments producing positive results which did not have flaws X,Y and Z.

S:  The positive results are not far enough above chance levels to be truly interesting.

0: Researchers C-F and U-V produced results well above chance levels.

S:  Their results were achieved through meta-analysis, which is a highly questionable technique.

O:  Meta-analysis is a well-accepted method commonly used in psychology and sociology.

S:  Psychology and sociology are social sciences, and their methods can't be considered as reliable as those of hard sciences such as physics and chemistry.

Etc., etc. ad nauseum.


Skeptics frequently invoke Occam's Razor as if the Razor automatically validates their position. Occam's Razor, a principle of epistemology (knowledge theory), states that the simplest explanation which fits all the facts is to be preferred -- or, to state it another way, entities are not to be multiplied needlessly.  The Razor is a useful and even necessary principle, but it is largely useless if the facts themselves are not generally agreed upon in the first place.


Extraordinary claims, says the skeptic, require extraordinary evidence.  Superficially this seems reasonable enough.  However, extraordinariness, like beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.  Some claims, of course, would seem extraordinary to almost anyone (e.g. the claim that aliens from Alpha Centauri had contacted you telepathically and informed you that the people of Earth must make you their absolute lord and ruler).  The "extraordinariness" of many other claims, however, is at best arguable, and it is not at all obvious that unusually strong evidence is necessary to support them.  For example, so many people who would ordinarily be considered reliable witnesses have reported precognitive dreams that it becomes difficult to insist these are "unusual" claims requiring "unusual" evidence.  Quite ordinary standards of evidence will do.


This trick consists of simple slander. Anyone who reports anything which displeases the skeptic will be accused of incompetence, mental illness or dishonesty, or some combination of the three without a single shred of fact to support the accusations.  When Charles Honorton's Ganzfeld experiments produced impressive results in favor of the psi hypothesis, skeptics accused him of suppressing or not publishing the results of failed experiments.  No definite facts supporting the charge ever emerged.  Moreover, the experiments were extremely time consuming, and the number of failed, unpublished experiments necessary to make the number of successful, published experiments significant would have been quite high, so it is extremely unlikely that Honorton's results could be due to selective reporting.  Yet skeptics still sometimes repeat this accusation.


This trick consists of lumping moderate claims or propositions together with extreme ones.  If you suggest, for example, that Sasquatch can't be completely ruled out from the available evidence,the skeptic will then facetiously suggest that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny can't be "completely" ruled out either.


The skeptic insists that he doesn't have to provide evidence and arguments to support his side of the argument because he isn't asserting a claim, he is merely denying or doubting yours.  His mistake consists of assuming that a negative claim (asserting that something doesn't exist) is fundamentally different from a positive claim.  It isn't.  Any definite claim, positive or negative, requires definite support.  Merely refuting or arguing against an opponent's position is not enough to establish one's own position..  In other words, you can't win by default.

As arch-skeptic Carl Sagan himself said, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  If someone wants to rule out vistations by extra-terrestrial aliens, it would not be enough to point out that all the evidence presented so far is either seriously flawed or not very strong.  It would be necessary to state definite reasons which would make ET visitations either impossible or highly unlikely.  (He might, for example, point out that our best understanding of physics pretty much rules out any kind of effective faster-than-light drive.)

The only person exempt from providing definite support is the person who takes a strict "I don't know" position or the agnostic position.  If someone takes the position that the evidence in favor of ET visitations is inadequate but goes no farther, he is exempt from further argument (provided, of course, he gives adequate reasons for rejecting the evidence).  However, if he wants to go farther and insist that it is impossible or highly unlikely that ET's are visiting or have ever visited the Earth, it becomes necessary for him to provide definite reasons for his position.  He is no longer entitled merely to argue against his opponent's position.

There is the question of honesty.  Someone who claims to take the agnostic position but really takes the position of definite disbelief is, of course, misrepresenting his views.  For example, a skeptic who insists that he merely believes the psi hypothesis is inadequately supported when in fact he believes that the human mind can only acquire information through the physical senses is simply not being honest.


The skeptic may insist that he is relieved of the burden of evidence and argument because "you can't prove a negative." But you most certainly can prove a negative!  When we know one thing to be true, then we also know that whatever flatly contradicts it is untrue.  If I want to show my cat's not in the bedroom, I can prove this by showing that my cat's in the kitchen or outside chasing squirrels. The negative has then been proven.  Or the proposition that the cat is not in the bedroom could be proven by giving the bedroom a good search without finding the cat.  The skeptic who says, "Of course I can't prove psi doesn't exist.  I don't have to.  You can't prove a negative," is simply wrong.  To rule something out, definite reasons must be given for ruling it out.

Of course, for practical reasons it often isn't possible to gather the necessary information to prove or disprove a proposition, e.g., it isn't possible to search the entire universe to prove that no intelligent extraterrestrial life exists.  This by itself doesn't mean that a case can't be made against the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, although it does probably mean that the case can't be as air-tight and conclusive as we would like.


The skeptic knows that most people will not have the time or inclination to check every claim he makes, so he knows it's a fairly small risk to tell a whopper.  He might, for example, insist that none of the laboratory evidence for psi stands up to close scrutiny, or he might insist there have been no cases of UFO's being spotted by reliable observers such as trained military personnel when in fact there are well-documented cases.  The average person isn't going to scamper right down to the library to verify this, so the skeptic knows a lot of people are going to accept his statement at face value.  This ploy works best when the Big Lie is repeated often and loudly in a confident tone.


This trick consists of dwelling on minor or trivial flaws in the evidence, or presenting speculations as to how the evidence might be flawed as though mere speculation is somehow as damning as actual facts.  The assumption here is that any flaw, trivial or even merely speculative, is necessarily fatal and provides sufficient grounds for throwing out the evidence. The skeptic often justifies this with the "extraordinary evidence" ploy.

In the real world, of course, the evidence for anything is seldom 100% flawless and foolproof.  It is almost always possible to find some small shortcoming which can be used as an excuse for tossing out the evidence.  If a definite problem can't be found, then the skeptic may simply speculate as to how the evidence *might* be flawed and use his speculations as an excuse to discard the information.  For example, the skeptic might point out that the safeguards or controls during one part of a psi experiment weren't quite as tight as they might have been and then insist, without any supporting facts, that the subject(s) and/or the researcher(s) probably cheated because this is the "simplest" explanation for the results (see "Sock 'em with Occam" and "Extraordinary Claims"; "Raising the Bar" is also relevant).


This gimmick is an inversion of "Stupid, Crazy Liars."  In "Stupid, Crazy Liars," the skeptic attacks the character of those advocationg certain ideas or presenting information in the hope of discrediting the information.  In "THE SNEER," the skeptic attempts to attach a stigma to some idea or claim and implies that anyone advocating that position must have something terribly wrong with him. "Anyone who believes we've been visited by extraterresrial aliens must be a lunatic, a fool, or a con man. If you believe this, you must a maniac, a simpleton or a fraud." The object here is to scare others away from a certain position without having to discuss facts.

* * *

To be fair, some of these tricks or tactics (such as "The Big Lie," "Doubtcasting" and "The Sneer") are often used by believers as well as skeptics.  Scientific Creationists and Holocaust Revisionists, for example, are particularly prone to use "Doubtcasting." Others ploys, however, such as "Sock 'em with Occam" and "Extraordinary Claims," are generally used by skeptics and seldom by others.

Unfortunately, effective debating tactics often involve bad logic, e.g. attacking an opponent's character, appeals to emotion, mockery and facetiousness, loaded definitions, etc. And certainly skeptics are not the only ones who are ever guilty of using manipulative and deceptive debating tactics.  Even so, skeptics are just as likely as anyone else to twist their language, logic and facts to win an argument, and keeping these tricks in mind when dealing with skeptics may very well keep you from being bamboozled.

From: DOwens6683 <dowens6683@aol.com>:

Symptoms Of Pathological Skepticism by William J Beaty


William J. Beaty  (c)1996

This article tends to be a bit extreme, the author must have been badly ‘burned’ at some time.   In my opinion, most members of the mainstream scientific community are not this dogmatic, it is the pseudo-scientific-sceptics who react in these ways.  

Many members of the mainstream scientific community react with extreme hostility when presented with certain claims.  This can be seen in their emotional responses to current controversies such as UFO abductions, Cold Fusion, cryptozoology, and numerous others.  The scientists react not with pragmatism and a wish to get to the bottom of things, but instead with the same tactics religious groups use to suppress heretics:  hostile emotional attacks, circular reasoning, dehumanizing of the 'enemy', extreme close-mindedness, underhanded debating tactics,  justifications, and all manner of name-calling and character assassination.

Two can play at that game!  Therefor, I call their behavior "Pathological Skepticism," a term based upon skeptics' assertion that various unacceptable ideas are "Pathological Science."  Below is a list of the symptoms of pathological skepticism I have encountered, and examples of the irrational reasoning they tend to produce.

  (Note: all the quotes are artificial examples)

1. Belief that theories determine phenomena, rather than the reverse.

"The phenomenon you have observed is impossible, crazy stuff.  We know of no mechanism which could explain your results, so we have grave suspicions about the accuracy your report.  There is no room for your results in modern theory, so they simply cannot exist.  You are obviously the victim of errors, hoaxers, or self-delusion.  We need not publish your paper, and any attempts at replicating your results would be a waste of time.  Your requests for funding are misguided, and should be turned down."

 2. Erecting barriers against new ideas by constantly altering the requirements for acceptance.

A practice called "moving the goalposts.")

"I'll believe it when 'X' happens"   (but when it does, this immediately is changed to: "I'll believe it when 'Y' happens.")


"I won't believe it until major laboratories publish papers in this field.  They have?  That means nothing!  Major labs have been wrong before.  I'll believe it when stores sell products which use the effect.  They do?  That means nothing, after all, stores sell magic healing pendants and Ouija boards.  I'll believe it when a Nobel Prize winning researcher gets behind that work.  One has?  Well that means nothing!  That person is probably old and dotty...  etc."

3. Belief that fundamental concepts in science rarely change, coupled with a "herd following" behavior where the individual changes his/her opinions when colleagues all do, all the while remaining blind to the fact that any opinions had ever changed.

"The study of (space flight, endosymbiosis, drillcore bacteria, child abuse, cold fusion, etc.) has always been a legitimate pursuit.  If scientists ever ridiculed the reported evidence, it certainly was not a majority of scientists.  It must have been just a few misguided souls, and must have happened in the distant past."

4. Belief that science is guided by conscensus beliefs and majority rule, rather than by evidence.

Indulging in behavior which reinforces the negative effects of conscensus beliefs while minimizing the impact of any evidence which contradicts those beliefs.

"I don't care how good your evidence is, I won't believe it until the majority of scientists also find it acceptable.  Your evidence cannot be right, because it would mean that hundreds of textbooks and thousands of learned experts are wrong.

5.  Adopting a prejudiced stance against a theory or an observed phenomena without first investigating the details, then using this as justification for refusing to investigate the details.

"Your ideas are obviously garbage.  What, try to replicate your evidence?  I wouldn't soil my hands.  And besides, it would be a terrible waste of time and money, since there's no question about the outcome."

 6.  Maintaining an unshakable stance of hostile, intolerant skepticism, and when anyone complains of this, accusing them of paranoia.

Remaining blind to scientists' widespread practice of intellectual suppression of unorthodox findings, and to the practice of "expulsion of heretics" through secret, back-room accusations of devience or insanity.

"You say that no one will listen to your ideas, and now the funding for your other projects is cut off for no reason?  If you're thinking along THOSE lines, then you obviously are delusional and should be seeking professional help."

7. Ignoring the lessons of history, and therefore opening the way for repeating them again and again.

"Scientists of old ridiculed the germ theory, airplanes, space flight, meteors, etc.  They were certain that science of the time had everything figured out, and that major new discoveries were no longer possible.  Isn't it good that we researchers of today are much more wise, and such things can no longer happen!"

 8. *Denial* of the lessons of history.

An inability to admit that science has made serious mistakes in the past.  Maintaining a belief that good ideas and discoveries are never accidentally suppressed by close-mindedness, then revising history to fit this belief.

 "Throughout history, the *majority* of scientists never ridiculed flying machines, spacecraft, television, continental drift, reports of ball lightning, meteors, sonoluminescence, etc.  These discoveries are not examples of so-called 'paradigm shifts', they are obvious examples of the slow, steady, forward progress made by science!"

9. Use of circular arguments to avoid accepting evidence which supports unusual discoveries, or to prevent publication of this evidence.

"We will not publish your paper, since these results have not been replicated by any other researchers."

"We will not publish your paper, since it is merely a replication of work which was done earlier, by other researchers.

10. Unwarranted onfidence that the unknown is in the far distance, not staring us in the face.

"Your evidence cannot be real because it's not possible that thousands of researchers could have overlooked it for all these years.  If your discovery was real, the scientists who work in that field would already know about it."

11. Belief that certain fields of science are complete, that scientific revolutions never happen, and that any further progress must occur only in brushing up the details.

"Physics is a mature field.  Future progress can only lie in increasing the energies of particle accelerators, and in refining  the precision of well-known measurements.  Your discovery cannot be true, since it would mean we'd have to throw out all our hard-won knowledge about physics."

12. Excusing the ridicule, trivialization, and the scorn which directed at 'maverik' ideas and at anomalous evidence as being a desirable and properly scientific natural selection force.

"It is right that new discoveries be made to overcome large barriers.  That way only the good ideas will become accepted.  If some important discoveries are suppressed in this process, well, that's just the price we have to pay to defend science against the hoards of crackpots who threaten to destroy it."

13. Justifying any refusal to inspect evidence by claiming a "slippery slope."

Using the necessary judicious allocation of time and funding as a weapon to prevent investigation of unusual, novel, or threatening ideas.

"If we take your unlikely discovery seriously, all scientists everywhere will have to accept every other crackpot idea too, and then we'll waste all of our time checking out crackpot claims."

14. A blindness to phenomena which do not fit the current belief system, coupled with a denial that beliefs affect perceptions.

"Thomas Kuhn's 'paradigm shifts' and sociology's 'cognitive dissonance' obviously do not apply to average, rational scientists.  Scientists are objective, so they are not prone to the psychological failings which plague normal humans.  Scientists always welcome any data which indicates a need to revise their current knowledge.  Their "beliefs" don't affect their perceptions, scientists don't have "beliefs", science is not a religion!

15. A belief that all scientific progress is made by small, safe, obvious steps, that widely-accepted theories are never overturned, and that no new discoveries come from anomalies observed.

"All your observations are obviously mistakes.  They couldn't possibly be real, because if they were real, it would mean that major parts of current science are wrong, and we would have to rewrite large portions of we know about physics.  Science proceeds by building on earlier works, never by tearing them down.  Therefore it is right that we reject your evidence and recommend that your funding be withdrawn."

16. Hiding evidence of personal past ridicule of ideas which are later proved valid.

Profound narcissism; an extreme need to always be right, fear of having personal errors revealed, and a habit of silently covering up mistakes.

" X is obviously ridiculous, and its supporters are crack-pots who are giving us a bad name and should be silenced."

But if X is proved true, the assertion suddenly becomes:

"Since 'X' is obviously true, it follows that..."

 17. Belief in the lofty status of modern science but with consequent blindness to, and denial of, its faults.

A tendency to view shameful events in the history of modern science as being beneficial, and a lack of any desire to fix contemporary problems.

 "It was right that Dr. Wegner's career was wrecked; that he was treated as a crackpot, ridiculed, and died in shame.  His evidence for continental drift convinced no one.  And besides, he did not propose a mechanism to explain the phenomena."

18. A belief that Business and the Press have no tendency towards close-mindedness and suppression of novelty, and that their actions are never are guided by the publicly-expressed judgement of scientists.

 "If the Wright Brothers' claims were true, we would be reading about it in all the papers, and flying-machine companies would be springing up left and right.  Neither of these is occurring, therefore the Wright's claims are obviously a lie and a hoax.

19. Refusing to be swayed when other researchers find evidence supporting unconventional phenomena or theories.

If other reputable people change sides and accept the unorthodox view, this is seen as evidence of their gullibility or insanity, not evidence that perhaps the unconventional view is correct.

"I'll believe it when someone like Dr. P believes it."

But when Dr. P changes sides, this becomes:

"Dr. P did some great work in his early years, but then he destroyed his career by getting involved with that irrational crackpot stuff."

20. Elevating skepticism to a lofty position, yet indulging in hipocricy and opening the way to pathological thinking by refusing to ever cast a critical, SKEPTICAL eye upon overly-skeptical behavior itself.

 "Criticizing skeptics is never beneficial.  It even represents a danger to science.  One should never criticize science, it just gives ammunition to the enemy; it aids the irrational, anti-science hoards who would destroy our fragile edifice."

21. Belief that modern scientists as a group lack faults, and therefor clinging to any slim justifications in order to ignore the arguments of those who hope to eliminate the flaws in Science.

"I think we can safely ignore Thomas Kuhn's STRUCTURES OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS.  Despite his physics training we can see that Kuhn was an outsider to science; he obviously doesn't have a good grasp on real science.  Outsiders never can see things in the proper positive light, it takes a working scientist to see the real situation.   Also, he stressed his central themes way too much, so I think we can ignore him as simply being a sensationalist.  And besides, if he's digging up dirt regarding science, then he must have a hidden agenda.   I bet we'll find that he's a Christian or something, probably a creationist."

 22. Blindness to the widespread existence of the above symptoms.

Belief that scientists are inherently objective, and rarely fall victim to these faults.  Excusing the frequent appearance of these symptoms as being isolated instances which do not comprise an accumulation of evidence for the common practice of Pathological Skepticism.

"This 'Pathological Skepticism' does not exist.  Kooks and crackpots deserve the hostile mistreatment we give them, but anyone who does similar things to skeptics is terribly misguided.    They are trying to hurt science, and must be silenced!"

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection by Carl Sagan


by Carl Sagan

Excellent article on what true scepticism is all about.   Pity there are so few true sceptics about.   This article incorporates  a 'baloney detection kit' to detect spurious arguments.   It works well on some of the other articles.

MY parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are -- really and truly -- still in existence somewhere. I wouldn't ask very much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren, to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There's a part of me -- no matter how childish it sounds -- that wonders how they are. "Is everything all right?" I want to ask. The last words I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were "Take care."

Sometimes I dream that I'm talking to my parents, and suddenly -- still immersed in the dreamwork -- I'm seized by the overpowering realization that they didn't really die, that it's all been some kind of horrible mistake. Why, here they are, alive and well, my father making wry jokes, my mother earnestly advising me to wear a muffler because the weather is chilly. When I wake up I go through an abbreviated process of mourning all over again. Plainly, there's something within me that's ready to believe in life after death. And it's not the least bit interested in whether there's any sober evidence for it.

So I don't guffaw at the woman who visits her husband's grave and chats him up every now and then, maybe on the anniversary of his death. It's not hard to understand. And if I have difficulties with the ontological status of who she's talking to, that's all right. That's not what this is about. This is about humans being human. More than a third of American adults believe that on some level they've made contact with the dead. The number seems to have jumped by 15 percent between and 1988. A quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation.

But that doesn't mean I'd be willing to accept the pretensions of a "medium," who claims to channel the spirits of the dear departed, when I'm aware the practice is rife with fraud. I know how much I want to believe that my parents have just abandoned the husks of their bodies, like insects or snakes molting, and gone somewhere else. I understand that those very feelings might make me easy prey even for an unclever con, or for normal people unfamiliar with their unconscious minds, or for those suffering from a dissociative psychiatric disorder. Reluctantly, I rouse some reserves of skepticism.

How is it, I ask myself, that channelers never give us verifiable information otherwise unavailable? Why does Alexander the Great never tell us about the exact location of his tomb, Fermat about his Last Theorem, John Wilkes Booth about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy, Hermann Goring about the Reichstag fire? Why don't Sophocles, Democritus, and Aristarchus dictate their lost books? Don't they wish future generations to have access to their masterpieces?

If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy.

The fundamental premise of "channeling," spiritualism, and other forms of necromancy is that when we die we don't. Not exactly. Some thinking, feeling, and remembering part of us continues. That whatever-it-is -- a soul or spirit, neither matter nor energy, but something else -- can, we are told, re-enter the bodies of human and other beings in the future, and so death loses much of its sting. What's more, we have an opportunity, if the spiritualist or channeling contentions are true, to make contact with loved ones who have died.

J.Z. Knight of the State of Washington claims to be in touch with a 35,000- year-old somebody called "Ramtha." He speaks English very well, using Knight's tongue, lips and vocal chords, producing what sounds to me to be an accent from the Indian Raj. Since most people know how to talk, and many -- from children to professional actors -- have a repertoire of voices at their command, the simplest hypothesis is that Ms. Knight makes "Ramtha" speak all by herself, and that she has no contact with disembodied entities from the Pleistocene Ice Age. If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it. It would be considerably more impressive if Ramtha could speak by himself, without the assistance of Ms. Knight's mouth. Failing that, how might we test the claim? (The actress Shirley MacLaine attests that Ramtha was her brother in Atlantis, but that's another story.)

Suppose Ramtha were available for questioning. Could we verify whether he is who he says he is? How does he know that he lived 35,000 years ago, even approximately? What calendar does he employ? Who is keeping track of the intervening millennia? Thirty-five thousand plus or minus what? What were things like 35,000 years ago? Either Ramtha really is 35,000 years old, in which case we discover something about that period, or he's a phony and he'll (or rather she'll) slip up.

Where did Ramtha live? (I know he speaks English with an Indian accent, but where 35,000 years ago did they do that?) What was the climate? What did Ramtha eat? (Archaeologists know something about what people ate back then.) What were the indigenous languages, and social structure? Who else did Ramtha live with -- wife, wives, children, grandchildren? What was the life cycle, the infant mortality rate, the life expectancy? Did they have birth control? What clothes did they wear? How were the clothes manufactured? What were the most dangerous predators? Hunting and fishing implements and strategies? Weapons? Endemic sexism? Xenophobia and ethnocentrism? And if Ramtha came from the "high civilization" of Atlantis, where are the linguistic, technological, historical and other details? What was their writing like? Tell us. Instead, all we are offered are banal homilies.

Here, to take another example, is a set of information channeled not from an ancient dead person, but from unknown non-human entities who make crop circles, as recorded by the journalist Jim Schnabel:

We are so anxious at this sinful nation spreading lies about us. We do not come in machines, we do not land on your earth in machines ... We come like the wind. We are Life Force. Life Force from the ground ... Come here ... We are but a breath away ... a breath away ... we are not a million miles away ... a Life Force that is larger than the energies in your body. But we meet at a higher level of life ... We need no name. We are parallel to your world, alongside your world ... The walls are broken. Two men will rise from the past ... the great bear ... the world will be at peace.

People pay attention to these puerile marvels mainly because they promise something like old-time religion, but especially life after death, even life eternal.

A very different prospect for something like eternal life was once proposed by the versatile British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, who was, among many other things, one of the founders of population genetics. Haldane imagined a far future when the stars have darkened and space is mainly filled with a cold, thin gas. Nevertheless, if we wait long enough statistical fluctuations in the density of this gas will occur. Over immense periods of time the fluctuations will be sufficient to reconstitute a Universe something like our own. If the Universe is infinitely old, there will be an infinite number of such reconstitutions, Haldane pointed out.

So in an infinitely old universe with an infinite number of appearances of galaxies, stars, planets, and life, an identical Earth must reappear on which you and all your loved ones will be reunited. I'll be able to see my parents again and introduce them to the grandchildren they never knew. And all this will happen not once, but an infinite number of times.

Somehow, though, this does not quite offer the consolations of religion. If none of us is to have any recollection of what happened this time around, the time the reader and I are sharing, the satisfactions of bodily resurrection, in my ears at least, ring hollow.

But in this reflection I have underestimated what infinity means. In Haldane's picture, there will he universes, indeed an infinite number of them, in which our brains will have full recollection of many previous rounds. Satisfaction is at hand -- tempered, though, by the thought of all those other universes which will also come into existence (again, not once but an infinite number of times) with tragedies and horrors vastly outstripping anything I've experienced this turn.

The Consolation of Haldane depends, though, on what kind of universe we live in, and maybe on such arcana as whether there's enough matter to eventually reverse the expansion of the universe, and the character of vacuum fluctuations. Those with a deep longing for life after death might, it seems, devote themselves to cosmology, quantum gravity, elementary particle physics, and transfinite arithmetic.

Clement of Alexandria, a Father of the early Church, in his Exhortations to the Greeks (written around the year 190) dismissed pagan beliefs in words that might today seem a little ironic:

Far indeed are we from allowing grown men to listen to such tales. Even to our own children, when they are crying their heart out, as the saying goes, we are not in the habit of telling fabulous stories to soothe them.

In our time we have less severe standards. We tell children about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy for reasons we think emotionally sound, but then disabuse them of these myths before they're grown. Why retract? Because their well-being as adults depends on them knowing the world as it really is. We worry, and for good reason, about adults who still believe in Santa Claus.

On doctrinaire religions, "Men dare not avow, even to their own hearts," wrote the philosopher David Hume,

the doubts which they entertain on such subjects. They make a merit of implicit faith; and disguise to themselves their real infidelity, by the strongest asseverations and the most positive bigotry.

This infidelity has profound moral consequences, as the American revolutionary Tom Paine wrote in The Age of Reason:

Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.

T. H. Huxley's formulation was “The foundation of morality is to ... give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.”

Clement, Hume, Paine, and Huxley were all talking about religion. But much of what they wrote has more general applications -- for example to the pervasive background importunings of our commercial civilization: There is a class of aspirin commercials in which actors pretending to be doctors reveal the competing product to have only so much of the painkilling ingredient that doctors recommend most -- they don't tell you what the mysterious ingredient is. Whereas their product has a dramatically larger amount (1.2 to 2 times more per tablet). So buy their product. But why not just take two of the competing tablets? Or consider the analgesic that works better than the "regular-strength" product of the competition. Why not then take the "extra-strength" competitive product? And of course they do not tell us of the more than a thousand deaths each year in the United States from the use of aspirin, or the roughly 5000 annual cases of kidney failure from the use of acetaminophen, chiefly Tylenol. Or who cares which breakfast cereal has more vitamins when we can take a vitamin pill with breakfast? Likewise, why should it matter whether an antacid contains calcium if the calcium is for nutrition and irrelevant for gastritis? Commercial culture is full of similar misdirections and evasions at the expense of the consumer. You're not supposed to ask. Don't think. Buy.

Paid product endorsements, especially by real or purported experts, constitute a steady rainfall of deception. They betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers. They introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity. Today there are even commercials in which real scientists, some of considerable distinction, shill for corporations. They teach that scientists too will lie for money. As Tom Paine warned, inuring us to lies lays the groundwork for many other evils.

I have in front of me as I write the program of one of the annual Whole Life Expos, New Age expositions held in San Francisco. Typically, tens of thousands of people attend. Highly questionable experts tout highly questionable products. Here are some of the presentations: "How Trapped Blood Proteins Produce Pain and Suffering." "Crystals, Are They Talismans or Stones?" (I have an opinion myself.) It continues: "As a crystal focuses sound and light waves for radio and television" -- this is a vapid misunderstanding of how radio and television work -- "so may it amplify spiritual vibrations for the attuned human." Or here's one "Return of the Goddess, a Presentational Ritual." Another: "Synchronicity, the Recognition Experience." That one is given by "Brother Charles." Or, 011 the next page, "You, Saint-Germain, and Healing Through the Violet Flame.'' It goes 011 and on, with plenty of ads about "opportunities" -- running the short gamut from the dubious to the spurious -- that are available at the Whole Life Expo.

Distraught cancer victims make pilgrimages to the Philippines, where "psychic surgeons," having palmed bits of chicken liver or goat heart, pretend to reach into the patient's innards and withdraw the diseased tissue, which is then triumphantly displayed. Leaders of Western democracies regularly consult astrologers and mystics before making decisions of state. Under public pressure for results, police with an unsolved murder or a missing body on their hands consult ESP "experts" (who never guess better than expected by common sense, but the police, the ESPers say, keep calling). A clairvoyance gap with adversary nations is announced, and the Central Intelligence Agency, under Congressional prodding, spends tax money to find out whether submarines in the ocean depths can be located by thinking hard at them. A "psychic" -- using pendulums over maps and dowsing rods in airplanes -- purports to find new mineral deposits; an Australian mining company pays him top dollar up front, none of it returnable in the event of failure, and a share in the exploitation of ores in the event of success. Nothing is discovered. Statues of Jesus or murals of Mary are spotted with moisture, and thousands of kind-hearted people convince themselves that they have witnessed a miracle.

These are all cases of proved or presumptive baloney. A deception arises, sometimes innocently but collaboratively, sometimes with cynical premeditation. Usually the victim is caught up in a powerful emotion -- wonder, fear, greed, grief. Credulous acceptance of baloney can cost you money; that's what P. T. Barnum meant when he said, "There's a sucker born every minute." But it can be much more dangerous than that, and when governments and societies lose the capacity for critical thinking, the results can be catastrophic -- however sympathetic we may be to those who have bought the baloney.

In science we may start with experimental results, data, observations, measurements, "facts." We invent, if we can, a rich array of possible explanations and systematically confront each explanation with the facts. In the course of their training, scientists are equipped with a baloney detection kit. The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you're so inclined, if you don't want to buy baloney even when it's reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there's a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

What's in the kit? Tools for skeptical thinking.

What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and -- especially important -- to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.

Among the tools:

Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the "facts."

Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

Arguments from authority carry little weight -- "authorities" have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.

Spin more than one hypothesis. If there's something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among "multiple working hypotheses," has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.*

* NOTE: This is a problem that affects jury trials. Retrospective studies show that some jurors make up their minds very early -- perhaps during opening arguments -- and then retain the evidence that seems to support their initial impressions and reject the contrary evidence. The method of alternative working hypotheses is not running in their heads.

 Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours. It's only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don't, others will.

Quantify. If whatever it is you're explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you'll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.

If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) -- not just most of them.

Occam's Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.

Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle -- an electron, say -- in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

The reliance on carefully designed and controlled experiments is key, as I tried to stress earlier. We will not learn much from mere contemplation. It is tempting to rest content with the first candidate explanation we can think of. One is much better than none. But what happens if we can invent several? How do we decide among them? We don't. We let experiment do it. Francis Bacon provided the classic reason:

Argumentation cannot suffice for the discovery of new work, since the subtlety of Nature is greater many times than the subtlety of argument.

Control experiments are essential. If, for example, a new medicine is alleged to cure a disease 20 percent of the time, we must make sure that a control population, taking a dummy sugar pill which as far as the subjects know might be the new drug, does not also experience spontaneous remission of the disease 20 percent of the time.

Variables must be separated. Suppose you're seasick, and given both an acupressure bracelet and 50 milligrams of meclizine. You find the unpleasantness vanishes. What did it -- the bracelet or the pill? You can tell only if you take the one without the other, next time you're seasick. Now imagine that you're not so dedicated to science as to be willing to be seasick. Then you won't separate the variables. You'll take both remedies again. You've achieved the desired practical result; further knowledge, you might say, is not worth the discomfort of attaining it.

Often the experiment must be done "double-blind," so that those hoping for a certain finding are not in the potentially compromising position of evaluating the results. In testing a new medicine, for example, you might want the physicians who determine which patients' symptoms are relieved not to know which patients have been given the new drug. The knowledge might influence their decision, even if only unconsciously. Instead the list of those who experienced remission of symptoms can be compared with the list of those who got the new drug, each independently ascertained. Then you can determine what correlation exists. Or in conducting a police lineup or photo identification, the officer in charge should not know who the prime suspect is, so as not consciously or unconsciously to influence the witness.

In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions. Among these fallacies are:

ad hominem -- Latin for "to the man," attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously);

argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re- elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia -- but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out);

argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn't, society would be much more lawless and dangerous -- perhaps even ungovernable.* Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives);

* NOTE: A more cynical formulation by the Roman historian Polybius: Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death.

appeal to ignorance -- the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist -- and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we're still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don't understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don't understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion -- to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don't understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)

begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors -- but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of "adjustment" and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?);

observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses* (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers);

* NOTE: A My favorite example is this story, told about the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, newly arrived on American shores, enlisted in the Manhattan nuclear weapons Project, and brought face-to-face in the midst of World War 11 with U.S. flag officers:

So-and-so is a great general, he was told. What is the definition of a great general? Fermi characteristically asked. I guess it's a general who's won many consecutive battles. How many? After some back and forth, they settled on five. What fraction of American generals are great? After some more back and forth, they settled on a few percent.

But imagine, Fermi rejoined, that there is no such thing as a great general, that all armies are equally matched, and that winning a battle is purely a matter of chance. Then the chance of winning one battle is one out of two, or 1/2, two battles l/4, three l/8, four l/16, and five consecutive battles 1/32 -- which is about 3 percent. You would expect a few percent of American generals to win five consecutive battles -- purely by chance. Now, has any of them won ten consecutive battles ...?

statistics of small numbers -- a close relative of observational selection (e.g., "They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly." Or: "I've thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can't lose.");

misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);

inconsistency (e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they're not "proved." Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);

non sequitur -- Latin for "It doesn't follow" (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was "Gott mit uns"). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;

post hoc, ergo propter hoc -- Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by" (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: "I know of ... a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills." Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons);

excluded middle, or false dichotomy -- considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., "Sure, take his side; my husband's perfect; I'm always wrong." Or: "Either you love your country or you hate it." Or: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem");

short-term vs. long-term -- a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I've pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can't afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);

slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);

confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore -- despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter -- the latter causes the former*);

* NOTE: Children who watch violent TV programs tend to be more violent when they grow up. But did the TV cause the violence, or do violent children preferentially enjoy watching violent programs? Very likely both are true. Commercial defenders of TV violence argue that anyone can distinguish between television and reality. But Saturday morning children's programs now average 25 acts of violence per hour. At the very least this desensitizes young children to aggression and random cruelty. And if impressionable adults can have false memories implanted in their brains, what are we implanting in our children when we expose them to some 100,000 acts of violence before they graduate from elementary school?

Knowing the existence of such logical and rhetorical fallacies rounds out our toolkit. Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world -- not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.