Popular Science has a ways to go

I’ve heard some bad things about Popular Science in my time, but I got a really good deal on a subscription recently, so I decided to give it a second chance. The articles are okay (although the lead article this month is about “Marines in Space”). It is the advertising in which this magazine really fails. I’m not going to mince words here. The advertising in Popular Science is absolute bullshit. A lot of the ads are for various scam pseudoscientific contraptions, and it’s frankly insulting to see them in a magazine that purportedly is about science. You don’t see nonsense like this in Scientific American or SEED Magazine; why is it in Popular Science?

I think you need to see an example of what I’m talking about before you realize how craptacular this advertising really is. Here’s the most egregious ad from the January 2007 issue, which I have scanned in:

This entire ad is false nonsense, designed to prey upon hysteria in the minds of the uninformed, so a point-for-point refutation is unneeded. I will, however, point out a single sentence that not only exemplifies what is wrong with this ad, it exemplifies what is wrong with Popular Science in general:

“Your hydrogen bond angle is 10° greater than ordinary water (114°)!”

I’m almost speechless (but not quite). What manner of deception and outright lie is this? It’d be like saying that I can make a machine that reverses the direction of gravity. It’s as stupid as claiming the sky is red. The angle of the hydrogen bond in a water molecule is exactly 104.45°, period. It’s a consequence of simple laws of chemistry and physics. Sure, it can be temporarily changed under the continuous exertion of an outside energy source. But the molecules would revert to normal as soon as the force was released. You can’t make “energized water”. It simply doesn’t exist.

If Popular Science wants to regain any shred of respect they must get advertisers that, at the very least, aren’t trying to scam and defraud their readers with products that purport to do the impossible. The writers at Popular Science are smart enough to know that this is false and yet they publish this bullshit anyway! Hopefully they realize how ridiculous this makes them look, and maybe, just maybe, they will do something about it.

Update: Looks like I’ve been Pharyngulaed. I’ve put the image on Flickr; this should help save my connection somewhat.

14 Responses to “Popular Science has a ways to go”

  1. Aaron Says:

    You’ve been punk-assed, too.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, as I’m not a chemist, but if you ‘[break] down the hydrogen bonds in water’, don’t you get gaseous hydrogen and oxygen out of it? You know, hydrolysis?

  2. Aaron Says:

    Wow, I’m really not a scientist. I was thinking of covalent bonds, and I’m not really sure what a hydrogen bond is or how it would be special.


  3. Cyde Weys Says:

    It’s the same principle though. Breaking the bonds in water (whatever type they may be) will give you hydrogen and oxygen. The angle of the bonds is a consequence of some pretty fundamental physical laws, which certainly can’t be overriden by whatever scam device these snake oil connoisseurs are trying to peddle.

  4. james rindsleisch Says:

    I am a chemmist and there is no way you can change the molecular structure of a water molecule without using a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor and then it is unstable.

    However there is an additive to water that improves acidity of the body and provides 3000ORAC units of antioxidant potential. It can also neutralize the chlorine in your water. More info [URL removed] that provide more insite.

  5. Cyde Weys Says:

    Hehe, manual blog spam (he managed to pass the CAPTCHA). I’ve snipped out the URLs so he doesn’t get any benefit out of this spam. I’m leaving the rest of the message up because it’s an interesting tactic. “I am a chemmist” indeed. Hey, I’m a brian surgoen, would you let me operate on you?

  6. Matthew Brewer Says:

    I’m a High School Chemistry Teacher (Soap Lake High School, Soap Lake WA). Hydrogen Bonds are what hold two water molecules together. If you break the hydrogen bonds you will separate individual water molecules (form water vapor). You must break the covalent bonds in water to release gaseous hydrogen and oxygen.

    Hope this helps.

  7. Cyde Weys Says:

    Thanks for the clarification Matthew, it’s been awhile since I took chemistry and I am indeed rusty on this stuff. When the ad mentioned hydrogen bonds I was thinking the bonds that attach the hydrogen atoms to the oxygen atoms — which are, as you point out, actually called covalent bonds. It’s all coming back to me now from chemistry class in ninth grade.

  8. D. Michael Agin Says:

    Unfortunately the advertisor is playing on the illnesses of those searching for a cure. Remember when Steve McQueen went to Mexico to cure his cancer? He died you know grasping for straws for “the cure”.
    Popular Science should be ashamed of itself — but they are not.
    Shades of P.T. Barnum and those on TV selling you “cleansing products”.
    Then again there are those who try to sell you their “Holy Water” and “Prayer Cloth”.
    I have written to Popular Science requesting that they stop these type of ads — I do not think that they will. Maybe I will cance my new subscription.
    Dr. D.Michael Agin

  9. God Says:

    this is a scam.
    only i have holy water.
    bond angles cannot be increased.
    they would just break.
    not to mention that by adding ten degrees to each angle, the total of the angle degrees will exceed 360 degrees.
    and that makes about as much sense as me throwing myself off a cliff and flying away on a space heater while wearing purple shoes and singing silly songs about dinosaurs and jelly beans.

    nuff said.

  10. Frank Says:

    Well, this shit is in POPULAR science, much like POP music it has no actual merit yet has widespread success due to appealing to the base instincts of “normal” people everywhere. If you find this disturbing then you are simply not in the target demographic of the paper, and should read some unpopular yet scientifically accurate magazine instead.

  11. William (green) Says:

    I think it’s more that they don’t care than that they’re actively endorsing it. You could argue that they’re implying endorsement by allowing the ads to be run in their magazine, but I’ve always enjoyed the cheesy ads at the end, which is where this ad was, I bet.

    I mean, have you seen the smaller ads after that section? There are ads for all kinds of things. I think I saw DIY plans for a Moray free energy generator. You see that kind of stuff and you think “Aw… how cute!”, right?

  12. Madison Marbury Says:

    I think William of green (not orange?) has the right idea. Instead of being outraged over something that is so clearly silly nonsense, just enjoy the amusement. That’s what I have always done.

  13. Cyde Weys Says:

    It’s not silly amusement though. Quack medical treatments KILL PEOPLE who use them instead of actual efficacious medical treatments.

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