Biomagnetism: TV Globo Debunks Itself?

TV Globo debunks “quack science” that TV Globo, in another report, has uncritically endorsed.

Ecce Globo.

Purific is a Brazilian company that makes water filters — a common precaution to take here, given the state of the infrastructure.

We used to use one, but now subscribe to a bottled water service.

Purific has a grudge against TV Globo over the report reproduced above, which I will add to an NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS newsreel, subtitled, when I get a chance.

The video was posted by an anonymous user called PURIFICTUBE, who comments:

Matéria sobre o Purificador de Água PURIFIC no Fantástico, prometendo curar câncer de próstata e de mama. Exemplo de charlatanismo.

A report by Fantástico about the PURIFIC water filter, promising to cure cancer of the prostate and breast cancer. An example of charlatanism.

PURIFIC say they have been subjected to a thorough ratfinking by unethical journalists who failed to give them equal time, among other things.

When it comes to the issue of “magnetic water,” however — the principle focus of the debunking of PURIFIC’s products — have a look at Magnetic Water and Fuel Treatment: Myth, Magic, or Mainstream Science? (The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) for what seems like a pretty thorough discussion, based on an hour of browsing through the mountains of weird crap on the subject to be found floating around the Internet.

Their conclusion:

Is there a beneficial effect of magnetic water treatment? Perhaps. 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. Does magnetic water treatment perform as well as ion-exchange treatment? Definitely not.

From a quick review, it seems that it is likely not valid to claim that magnetism affects the molecular strcuture of water, or the tissues of the human body, but it may be valid to say that it has some effect on suspended particulates.

I have not looked at this company’s products or advertising myself, so I cannot really weigh in on the technical issues involved, or the claims it actually makes. I tend to rely on people who are calm, credible and knowledgeable about such nerdy topics to give me the straight dope.

Purific does seem to have one valid point to make, however: In another Fantástico report, on the use of “biomagnetic therapy” by professional athletes, the very same program appears to treat similar claims to the ones it “debunks” here without a shred of skepticism.

Does Globo dump on that which Globo iself has pumped?

Let’s try to sort this issue out.

First of all, the PURIFIC response to Globo follows.

A Purific do Brasil, empresa consolidada no mercado de purificadores de água no mercado nacional e internacional, com mais de 1.200.000 clientes espalhados pelo Brasil, vem ao mercado, tecer os seguintes esclarecimentos:

Purific of Brazil, a company with a solid position in the national and international market for water purifiers, with more than 1.2 million customers all over Brazil, comes to the market to offer the following clarifications.

Foi com grande surpresa e indignação que nós, da Purific, assistimos a reportagem veiculada pela Rede Globo de televisão, no programa Fantástico, no último dia 4 de novembro, a respeito de propagandas enganosas.

It was with great surprise and indignation that Purific watched the report aired by the Globo TV network, on its Fantástico program, on November 4, regarding deceptive advertising.

A reportagem teve como “pano de fundo” propagandas enganosas nos anúncios colocados nos postes das ruas de São Paulo.

The report had as its “backdrop” deceptive advertising found on ads posted on telephone poles in the streets of São Paulo.

Em um destes supostos anúncios, uma pessoa chamada Djalma, colocada pelo fantástico como vendedor, afirma que os Purificadores da marca Purific curariam a psoríase.

In one of these supposed ads, someone named Djalma, identified by Fantástico as a saleswoman, says that PURIFIC brand filters can cure psoriasis.

Ao entrarem em contato com o tal Djalma, este confirma os dizeres do misterioso anúncio de poste, no sentido de que realmente haveria a cura prometida.

When they contacted this Djalma, she confirmed the statements on the mysterious telephone-pole flyer, to the effect that the promised cure was real.

Quem é o Djalma? Esta é a nossa pergunta: quem é o misterioso Djalma? Porque vincular a figura de um misterioso charlatão à uma empresa séria, que nunca em sua história usou de argumentos de venda apelativos e inverídicos?

Who is Djalma? That is our question: Who is the mysterious Djalma? Why link the figure of a mysterious charlatan to a serious company, which never in its history has used sensationalist and claims to sell its products?

É importante salientar, caro consumidor, que a Purific nunca afirmou, em sua propaganda oficial, que seus produtos têm o poder de curar doenças como o câncer, por exemplo.

It is important to remember, dear consumer, that PURIFIC never stated, in its official advertising, that its products have the power to cure diseases such as cancer, for example.

Afirmamos sim, que a tecnologia do refil Purific retira impurezas presentes na água, tais como cloro e metais pesados, o que por sua vez contribui na prevenção de diversas doenças.

We do say that PURIFIC refills remove impurities from water, such as chlorine and heavy metals, which does contribute to the prevention of various diseases.

Somos uma empresa séria, nossas revendas estão espalhadas por todo o país. Crescemos e nos solidificamos no mercado, embasados em argumentos sólidos de venda.

We are a serious company and our resellers are present throughout Brazil. We are growing and consolidating our market position, based on a solid sales pitch.

Possuímos a certificação INMETRO nos nossos produtos, atestando, entre outros, a eficiência bacteriológica dos mesmos.

Our products are INMETRO certified, attesting, among other things, to their effectiveness against bacteria.

INMETRO: A federal standards institute in the ministry of foreign trade and economic development.

Não é justo que uma ação isolada, de um suposto vendedor que até o momento desconhecemos, prejudique uma rede inteira de pessoas honestas.

It is not fair for the isolated action of a supposed seller whom we have never met to be used to damage an entire network of honest persons.

Causa extrema estranheza o anúncio, tendo em vista que todos os nossos revendedores são treinados no sentido de utilizar apenas a propaganda oficial da empresa, inclusive contratualmente.

We find this advertisement very odd, given that all our resellers are trained to use only official company advertising, as a condition of their contract.

Outro fato que nos causa indignação na referida reportagem, seria a afirmação da dermatologista colocada pelo Fantástico, Valeria Petri: “isso de magnetizar é para enganar, é justamente para que a pessoa acredite que tem ciência nisso, para que os indivíduos de boa fé pensem que tem alguma ciência, mas isso é puro charlatanismo”. Ou então a afirmação do Professor de Química da USP, Paulo Sergio Santos, a respeito da placa de ímãs: “Isso aqui e nada é exatamente a mesma coisa”.

Another fact that provoked our indignation in this report was the statement by the dermatologist interviewed by Fantástico, Valeria Petri: “This whole thing of magnetizing is to fool people, it is just so the person will believe there is science in this, so that people of good faith will think there is some science in it, but this is pure charlatanism.” And also the statement by respected USP chemistry professor, Dr. Santos, regarding the magnet bar: “This and nothing at all are exactly the same thing.”

Nesse momento o foco da reportagem passa a ser outro, e informações inverídicas passam a ser veiculadas, eis que vários estudos nessa área têm sido divulgados no mundo científico, principalmente no exterior.

At this point the focus of the report changes, and untrue statements start to be aired, given that various studies in this area have been published in the scientific world, principally abroad.

No Instituto de Química da UNICAMP foram defendidas duas dissertações de mestrado e uma tese de doutorado sobre o tema, orientadas pelo Prof. Dr. José Fernando Gregori Faigle: Marco Antônio Barboza, Dissertação de Mestrado, “Ação de Campos Magnéticos em Alguns Sistemas Químicos e Biológicos”, IQ-UNICAMP, 2002 Maria Eugênia Garcia Porto, Dissertação de Mestrado, “Alterações de Propriedades Biológicas e Físico-Químicas da Água Induzidas por Campos Magnéticos”, IQ-UNICAMP, 1998. Maria Eugênia Garcia Porto, Tese de Doutorado, “Alterações de Propriedades da Água por Processos Físicos e Químicos”, IQ-UNICAMP, 2004. Informamos que tais trabalhos estão disponíveis para download no site da Biblioteca do Instituto de Química da UNICAMP (http://biq.iqm.unicamp.br/arquivos/teses/fisico_quimica.htm).

At the UNICAMP Chemistry Institute, two master’s theses and doctoral dissertation were defended on this subject, under the supervision of Dr. Faigle … You can download them from the Institute’s Web site.

Esses são apenas alguns exemplos.

Those are just some examples.

Outro exemplo da ação dos ímãs é trazido por uma outra reportagem do próprio fantástico

Another example of the action of magnets is reported on by Fantástico itself, in another report:

Nessa reportagem são relatadas as ações benéficas que os ímãs trazem no tratamento de lesões de atletas profissionais, bem como é afirmado, categoricamente que “cada vez mais a medicina vem se utilizando do magnetismo para salvar vidas”.

In that report, the beneficial action of magnets in the treatment of athletic injuries is dealt with, and it is categorically affirmed that “more and more, medicine is using magnets to save lives.”

True: Globo reports there that medicine is using magnets (and by implication, biomagnetism) to save lives.

Now, that does seem startling, I think.

Let me see if I can pin down the air dates of those two episodes, and the production credits.

Como pode, então, um profissional de química, trazido por este renomado programa, afirmar que a ação de uma placa de ímãs e nada seriam a mesma coisa. Ou uma dermatologista afirmar que uma empresa, ao colocar a placa de ímãs, estaria enganando as pessoas de boa fé? Estes fatos nos causam profunda indignação, pois fazem os nossos consumidores pensarem que nós os enganamos, causando um imenso prejuízo a esta empresa.

How, then, can a chemistry professional, brought on by this renowned TV program, affirm that a magnetic panel is “the same as nothing at all”? Or a dermatologist state that a company, in building such a panel into its product, is tricking gullible persons? These statements [made us really, really mad], because it makes our customers think we are lying to them, causing immense damage to our firm.

Ressaltamos também que fomos procurados pela Rede Globo, para esclarecer o ocorrido. Gravamos reportagem explicando tudo isso, mas apenas uma frase foi colocada no ar: a de que não utilizamos esse tipo de argumento de venda, qual seja, o de curar câncer e psoríase.

We mention as well that we were contacted by Globo to comment on the case. We recorded a response explaining all this, but only a single point was aired: That we do not use this type of sales pitch, that is, claiming that our product cures cancer and psoriasis.

De fato, a reportagem imputa a Purific uma imagem pejorativa, como se fôssemos charlatões, aproveitadores, impostores.

In fact, the report imputes to PURIFIC a perjorative image, as though we were charlatans, manipulators and impostors.

Deveria a mesma desvincular a ridícula imagem do misterioso charlatão Djalma da séria imagem construída até hoje por esta empresa.

The report should not have tied the image of the serious image we build for our company with the ridiculous figure of the charlatan Djalma.

Deveria também não desmerecer a tecnologia da ação de um campo magnético sobre a água, pois cientificamente é comprovado, como exposto, que ocorre a reorganização molecular da água, o que torna sua assimilação mais fácil pelo organismo, o que, obviamente, não significa cura de doença alguma.

The also should not have demeaned technology based on the action of a magnetic field on water, because it is scientifically proven, as we explained, that molecular reorganization occurs, which makes it more easily assimilable by the body — which obviously does mean that it cures any diseases.

O tal do Djalma, até agora, não nos revelaram que é.

As to this Djalma, they have still not revealed who she is.

Esperamos que tudo isso venha fortalecer ainda mais a confiança e a credibilidade do nosso sistema de purificação junto ao mercado consumidor esclarecido.

We hope this note will further strenghthen confidence in and the crediblity of our water purification system with the enlightened consumer.

I am not going to take the time to wade through all of that. In a rebuttal to Dr. Faigle, the company mentions a similar article that appeared in the Editoral Globo science title Galileu in 2003, in which he criticizes claims about the effect of magnestism on the “surface tension” of water.

I am really more interested in the alleged journalistic malpractice alleged here. The thing about Globo journalism is that often simply critically accepts the opinion of experts without actually understanding them. A lurid case:

A psychiatrist tells Globo that environment is a more important factor than heredity in producing antisocial behavior.

Globo tells its audience that “Corrupt people are born, not made!”

Now , it is true that medical claims for magnetism have been the subject of FTC regulatory action, apparently. An instance I found :

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.

Does PURIFIC make such claims?

Through people like Djalma, perhaps?

Maybe. Frankly I do not care. We use bottled water.

But PURIFIC does seems to have a valid point here: If Globo cannot establish that Djalma is a licensed reseller, or that PURIFIC does not sufficiently control its resellers in some way — like Cisco, allegedly — then it appears to be making a claim that is not well-founded.

A real investigative report would have fact-checked the claims PURIFIC made in its defense. Does it adhere to truth in advertising standards, and effectively police its sales force?

PURIFIC may or not be making misleading claims to consumers about the benefits of a feature of its product. It may or may not be compliant with truth in advertising regulations.

What do Brazilian regulators say about such features and how they can be marketed?

But for Globo to maintains that “magnetic water” is bunkum and that “biomagnetic therapy” is “saves lives” does seem pretty typical of Globo journalism.

Laboratory tests show: Watching this stuff makes you stupider.

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