Why Is a Science Website Selling Unscientific Products?

***Update***: Edmund Scientifics has responded to this post here. They say they’re transitioning the products to a different part of their website, but 1) They’re still in Psychology as I type this and 2) They’re still being sold without a disclaimer (or anything similar) that it’s fake science.

If you were looking to pick up awesome science-based gifts for friends or family members, Edmund Scientifics seems like a great site to visit. They have all the gifts you would expect to see in a science store — telescopes, crystal growing kits, a plethora of magnets, etc.

But they also sell a lot of pseudoscience.

Like a “Kirlian Imaging Device” that’s supposed to let you known as a device used to “photograph your aura”:

Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell explored and debunked that whole idea over a decade ago:

Although the Kirlian aura was claimed to present information about the “bioplasma” or “life-energy” of the object, actually it is only “a visual or photographic image of a corona discharge in a gas, in most cases the ambient air.” Moreover, experiments have failed to yield any evidence that the coronal pattern is related “to the physiological, psychological, or psychic condition of the sample,” but instead only to finger pressure, moisture, and other mechanical, environmental, and photographic factors (some twenty-two in all). Skeptics observed that even mechanical objects, such as coins or paper clips, could yield a Kirlian “aura” (Watkins and Bickel 1986).

There’s also a CD of Astral Sounds:

Imagine a safe, natural high inducing pleasurable feelings and emotions that in turn eliminates depression and pain. Astral Sounds professes to do just that.

Citations needed.

You would hope that a store that wants to support “science hobbyists and engineering enthusiasts” would do a better job of making sure the products they sell are legitimate examples of science at work.

They need to remove their pseudoscientific products from the site.

You can express your concerns to them directly at scientifics@edsci.com or on Twitter at @edmundsci.

(Thanks to Danni for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/linda.gulley Linda Stout Gulley

    Ugh.  Quackery.

  • Jeffrey Shallit

    Edmund Scientific used to be a really good store for science hobbyists, back when I was a kid (the late 60′s).  But they have changed quite a bit.

    • Rich Wilson

      They were bought out in 2000, and it’s been downhill ever since. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Scientific_Corporation

      • Anonymous

        According to that article, they’ve sold pseudoscience stuff since the 70s. So this is hardly new

  • Alt+3

    >eliminates depression and pain.

    Fuck you Edmund Scientific. Fuck you. People with depression need actual, real, proven methods to deal with it. It’s bullshit like this that leads to depression spiraling out of control. People buy this stuff and after several forms of woo fail to yield results say “I’ve tried everything and nothing works.” And then you sink deeper into your hole and become convinced nothing is ever going to get better. This is dangerous.

    On behalf of myself and everyone dealing with depression, fuck you.

  • Michael

    Speaking as a machine vision professional with an interest in chemical analysis through remote imaging, what exactly do these record?

    • Geeforson

      Corona discharge, a visual effect from passing high voltage through an object in a gas. I don’t know any specifics, but there’s papers: http://jap.aip.org/resource/1/japiau/v44/i7/p3102_s1?isAuthorized=no

      • Michael

        Mechanically demanding in other words. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    It’s kind of like “Why do pharmacies sell homeopathic medicine?”. Because it sells. Unfortunately, if something is profitable companies might over look efficacy.

    • Anonymous

      If they sell something that works then you may not come back and buy some other potential cure. Even better is something that is addictive whether it works or not.

      • Anonymous

        “The money isn’t in the cure, the money’s in the medicine.”

  • Trace

    Don’t “pretty colors” count for anything?

    • Anonymous

      Not if it’s promoting the idea that those pretty colors MEAN something!

  • Annie

    I just noticed they sell a DVD titled, “Kirlan Photography: Fact and Fiction” and from their product description, I would expect them to tell me Kirlan photography is BS.   The claim to use “real” scientific inquiry …

    Stick with Steve Spangler for your science shopping needs. Or better yet, make the items you need for experiments yourself.  It’s cheaper and you don’t have to wait!

  • Guest

    their entire “psychology” section is quackery. I’d rather buy and thinkgeek. ;)

  • Chris Calato

    I don’t think I have ever come across anything like that at http://www.sciplus.com/ if you need a woo free alternative.

    • Drew M.

      Heh. And the top item on the first page is one of those crappy auto escape tools that don’t work.

      Everybody sells woo.

      http://youtu.be/J8fKMeeYDmA

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        if you look at the comments you’ll notice the poster of the video admits he bought a cheap knockoff with many differences from the good quality ones reputable stores sell.

        • Drew M.

          Point taken; I didn’t see that.

          I’m still not a fan of those things and think they provide a false sense of security. Luckily, with modern auto design, the belt cutter would almost never be needed in a non-fatal accident.

          Anyhow, I guess my soft spot for Edmund Scientific is showing.

  • Guest

    *at* not and.. 

  • http://twitter.com/dalestaines dalestaines

     /facepalm

  • x jeremy jarratt

    I posted the following reviews:

    “I got this to prove to my pastor that dogs have souls. Unfortunately, it seems that so do marbles, baseballs, folding chairs, and even my landlord, who is a horrible person. Obviously this thing only exploits natural phenomenon and not supernatural ones. Ah well.”

    “I put this on and astrally projected myself into a wall. Unfortunately, this didn’t have a song that allowed me to pass through without breaking my nose. “

  • Dougreardon

    I used to look forward to their catalogs, but now they go straight into the trash.

  • Fargofan1

    This reminds me of the time I went to a science museum bookstore and found they were selling Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

    “Astral Sounds professes to do just that.”  ….Nice use of weasel words; that doesn’t fly, even on Wikipedia.

  • Pseudonym

    The phrase “photograph your aura” (with quotation marks, no less) needs a citation. I didn’t see it anywhere on the Kirlian photography product page. Either they’ve changed the writeup, or this phrase was never there. Hemant, which is it?

    Looking at the writeup as it is currently, it looks like they’re just selling an electrophotography kit. They don’t appear to claim that it does anything other than produce pretty pictures using electricity and photographic paper.

    I’m not going to defend the “Astral Sounds” thing, though. Totally with you on that one.

    • http://whatdoesthesciencesay.wordpress.com/ Joshua DeWald

      Came here to say this as well. They even have pictures of inanimate objects on the product page. So  unless the whole description is “in code”, it seems to be claiming to do exactly what Joe Nickell says it does.

    • Drew M.

      Yep. I didn’t see any new age claims either.

      Methink Recreational Outrage is getting the best of us here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Porter/100001075278352 Ben Porter

      yea no new age claims they just say what the product really does. But the astral sounds is b.s. you do need to get rid of that quote if it is not on the page.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000391368967 Liyan Chen

    why? cos their idea of science isn’t the real one – like many other people in the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.silk Brent Silk

    There should be a big disclaimer that the product is ‘pseudo-science’ and to be considered ‘novelty only.’  It’s sad though, that we even need the disclaimer…

  • Anonymous

    Bullshit science is everywhere and much easier to understand than actual science.

  • Robert Grimm

    They don’t seem to be promoting the woo aspects of Kirlian Photography. It is certainly a real effect, even if it isn’t what the woo slingers claim it is. The real effect itself seems like something that would be within the realm of a science site. Is there a better name for it that would separate it from the woo and still be understood? I only know it as Kirlian.

    • Pseudonym

      “Electrophotography” is a more netural name, but as you rightly surmise, nobody would know what it meant.

  • Edmund Scientifics

    Thanks for the feedback. We’ve responded here:http://blog.scientificsonline.com/2011/12/responding-to-more-feedback/ Also — as a few other folks have mentioned, there is no mention of  “photograph your aura” on our product page for the Kirlian device. Your blog post insinuates otherwise. We appreciate it if you adjusted your post to reflect that…As we mentioned in the post, we really appreciate the feedback from our customers. We’re very lucky to have such a passionate customer base that holds us to high standards!Best regards,JasonEdmund Scientifics Community Manager

    • Edmund Scientifics

      Wow. Sorry about the formatting on that comment! It looked good before I submitted.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Thanks for the response, though I’m not sure how the company is addressing the psuedoscience. You say you moved the products to a new category, but they’re still in the old ones… In any case, I’ve updated the link to that “aura” information.

      • Pseudonym

        The write-up is better, but it still gives the wrong impression about the electrophotography kits. They are not “selling pseudoscience” with that product.

        Edmund Scientific also sells rock specimens. Some of these specimens are crystals. These are “known as” being used for woo. Would you want those moved out of the “geology” category? I know geologists who got their start because they collected pretty stones and crystals when they were kids.

        I’m still with you on the Astral Sounds CD, though.

  • Michael Appleman

    Anyone have any examples of the images these things make? Looks like it makes something similar to photograms. As a photographer I find this interesting, is this something that can be DIY’ed?


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