Sunday, 29 May 2011

Fir-Tex: Bullshit in vest form.

Move over Q-ray, there's a new nonsense product in town.

Everyone is familiar with Q-Ray bracelets. Little more than two ball bearings attached with a piece of steel cable, Q-Ray bracelets are marketed as some sort of mystical device that will revitalize your "bio-energy" (whatever that means). Despite being a known fraud, the Q-Ray bracelet remains popular. In the face of mounting evidence that it's a load of baloney, we've seen the nonsense "bio-energy" fad expand in the last year. Products like the phony Power Balance bracelets have hit the market (and like the Q-Ray before it, have been debunked a thousand times over by the skeptic community). But if you've ever said to yourself "I really wish I had a similar product that covered my entire torso", then you've been out of luck.

Until now.

Introducing "Fir-Tex", the latest in wallet-draining pseudoscientific technology. Fir-Tex claims to be the first "energized textile", that can be fashioned into clothing. Products such as Wear Wings - brought to you by Red Bull - are being marketed as the world's first in "energy fashion". Having a slow day? Feeling drained at work? Don't worry, just send in a big cheque, pull a Fir-Tex vest on over your body and your motor will be revving like a chihuahua on speed.

But how does it work? Or better yet, does it work?

Bold Claims
Before we get into the "science" behind Fir-Tex, let's take a look at just what the product has been claimed to do. A banner at the bottom of the Fir-Tex splash page tells us that Fir-Tex clothing will "improve energy and wellbeing", allow you to "jump 10% higher", "improve performance", "boost power by 10%" and "optimize balance and microcirculation". These claims are pretty generic as far as "energized" products go. You'll see similar claims made for Power Balance and Q-Ray bracelets. Also note that claims like these are incredibly ambiguous. What exactly does "improved wellbeing" mean? How do you "optimize" microcirculation? How do you "boost" power, and for that matter, how do you measure power in order to determine that it's been boosted? These claims are little more than technobabble; they're utterly meaningless strings of sciency-sounding words. Just how ridiculous the Fir-Tex gobbledygook is can easily be illustrated. Of the following three items, one is related to Fir-Tex and the other two are taken from Star Trek. Can you tell which is which?
  • decyon field fluctuations
  • biogenic energy in the 40 to 50 micron range
  • aggregate field of plain polarization
Fir-Tex stops short of making  any sort of medical claims, however. They're probably aware of how Q-Ray's medical claims worked out (very poorly), and to avoid lawsuits, they've added a disclaimer to their site:
"So by entering this website you must first acknowledge that FIR-TEX has not been designed for and does not make any claims whatsoever to be any kind of medical cure. Because it isn’t! The aim of FIR-TEX is to bring technological fabrics on the market and their products will help some subjects to simply perform better or feel better while others won't experience any difference or could even feel discomfort."
So despite their claims of "increased performance", they acknowledge that "others won't experience any difference". How convenient. If Fir-Tex doesn't work for you, it doesn't mean the product is a fraud, it just means that you're different.

But enough about bogus product claims, let's get down to some science.

Im in ur body vibratin ur waterz
So how does Fir-Tex work? Luckily for us, the Fir-Tex site has a science section. According to their site, Fir-Tex works on the principle of Far Infrared Rays. These are energetic rays that lay just outside the visible spectrum. They have wavelengths greater than that of visible light, but shorter than that of microwaves. What do far infrared rays do? Well, I'll let the Fir-Tex folks explain it to you:
"The human body is a reservoir of all kinds of bio-toxins which cannot be expelled immediately and become stored in the body, thereby triggering illness. When toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, or potentially fatal heavy metal toxins such as mercury, lead and chlorine, meet large water molecules, they are encapsulated by clusters of water and trapped in the body. Where these toxins are accumulated, blood circulation is blocked and cellular energy is impaired. However, when a 7 to 11 micron FIR wave is applied to these large water molecules, the water begins to vibrate. This vibration reduces the ion bonds of the atoms which are holding together the molecules of water. As the water evaporates, the encapsulated gas and toxins can be released and this is exactly what FIR technologies can do for the human body."

Wait....what? It took me a few times to read that paragraph to understand what they're trying to say. From what I understand, it's this: "bio-toxins" accumulate in your body by being "encapsulated" by water, and causing illness. FIR "vibrates" the water, "reducing" the ion bonds, causing the water in your body to evaporate and setting the toxins free so they can be expelled from the body.

This paragraph also represents a massive chemistry fail. When toxins enter your body, they do not become "encapsulated" by water molecules. This is another instance of technobabble - water cannot "encapsulate" anything, let alone toxins1. Perhaps they mean that toxins will bind with water molecules, but this won't happen either. Water molecules won't bind with gasses, nor will water bind with mercury.

The paragraph continues to tell us that applying far infrared rays to water, the molecules will vibrate, and this vibration "reduces the ion bonds". They're correct in stating that applying far infrared rays will cause the water molecules to vibrate; this is because applying ANY kind of energy will make water molecules vibrate. Think back to junior high chemistry class. When you apply energy to molecules, what happens? They speed up, move around faster, begin to vibrate more. If you put a glass of water in the microwave, what will happen? It boils. The microwave radiation increases the energy of the water molecules and they start moving faster and faster. Applying infrared radiation is no different - it increases the energy of the water molecules and they will move around faster. This is the whole idea behind the infrared heat lamps you see keeping the burgers warm at McDonald's. So while infrared rays will make water vibrate, they aren't special in their ability to do this.

Furthermore, even though infrared heat can get water vibrating faster, it won't "reduce the ion bonds of the atoms which are holding together the molecules of water" because water does not contain ionic bonds. All bonds are not the same. Some bonds have more energy than others. Some bonds are made by sharing electrons between atoms, while some are made by the transfer of an electron from one atom to another. The different types of chemical bonds are given different names to distinguish them from one another. Ionic bonds are once such type of bond. They're formed by the electrostatic attraction of two differently charged ions. Sodium ions and chloride ions will forms ionic bonds and produce salt, for example. Water does NOT form ionic bonds. Water forms hydrogen bonds. These are a very different type of bond.

But perhaps that's just semantics. The point Fir-Tex makes is that applying far infrared rays will make the water molecules in your body evapourate, and allow toxins to be removed. Now, if you don't immediately see how that incredibly terrible that is, then read it again. Let's ignore the fact that it would take an extraordinary amount of radiation to make the water molecules evapourate. Considering how important water is for the proper functioning of your body, does evapourating the water from your very tissues sound like a good idea? And, if the water is supposedly "encapsulating" toxins, wouldn't freeing them from the ensnaring water molecules be even worse? Then they would have free reign to move about your body. Take mercury as an example, since it is one of the toxins mentioned by Fir-Tex above. Mercury does its damage by accumulating in neurons and inhibiting the formation of myelin. At high concentrations, it can cause severe impairment of mental faculties and can potentially be fatal. If mercury were "encapsulated" by water molecules in the blood, it would actually prevent mercury from reaching your central nervous system and doing damage. Fir-Tex products would actually be doing more harm than good!

It's also interesting to note that Fir-Tex is not the only "far-infrared technology" on the market. However, Fir-Tex does claim to be "different" from all those other products. How is it different? Well, Fir-Tex doesn't seem to want us to know:
"During our meetings with our customers we explain the difference between our product/technology and any other product using FIR technologies. The technical information is not public for the moment for obvious reasons which one would of course understand."
No, actually, I don't understand.

So the principle by which far-infrared technology is supposed to rely on is nonsensical at best and utterly batshit-stupid at worst. Does Fir-Tex have any evidence that it works?

Science, schmience. We use Chinese medicine!
The Fir-Tex website's science section has a page called "Live Blood Analysis", which they present as scientific evidence that their product works. I'll get to that in the following section. What I want to go through first is this "scientific presentation" that can be found on their website.

The presentation begins with a summary of infrared rays. They claim that infrared rays are "most beneficial" for "the living beings". In what ways they are "most beneficial" is not explained. They do, however, give three properties of infrared rays. First, they "can generate heat by direct irradiation but localized objects can also reflect them". Well, so can microwaves, but sitting next to a microwave tower is a bad idea. In fact, that's WHY it's a bad idea. Secondly, they "deeply penetrate the living tissues". Well, so can X-rays, but again, basking in X-rays isn't a good idea either. And finally - and this one's a doozy - they "activate (water) molecules, increasing overall temperature of the system". Increasing the overall temperature of the system is the same thing as generating heat, mentioned in the first point. But what does it mean to "activate" water molecules. Are all the water molecules in your body normally "inactive"? How do they become "active" in the presence of infrared rays? This is yet more technobabble (sensing a theme here?). These three properties, Fir-Tex says, are why far infrared rays are called “bio-genetic rays” (another made-up word).

Continuing on, Fir-Tex evokes Wein's displacement law as some sort of justification for their claims. Wein's Law takes the form of λ=K/T, where T is temperature in degrees Kelvin, λ is wavelength in nm, and K is a constant, equal to about 2.896x10-3m.K. Using this equation, Fir-Tex calculated the "frequency of emitted radiation" at 35°C as 9.4μm. If you whip out your calculator, you'll see that their math checks out. Human bodies (at 37°C, not 35°C, but whatever) do emit infrared heat at about 10μm, and this is what IR cameras are calibrated to measure. Armed with this number, what does Fir-Tex do? They conclude that "this explains why human body [sic] easily absorbs far infrared rays between 4 and 16 microns". Holy non sequitor, Batman! Using Wein's law shows what wavelength the human body emits, but says nothing about what wavelength it absorbs. And even if it did show that the body absorbs light of a certain wavelength, how does that show it is the "most easily" absorbed wavelength? What would that even mean?

What does any of this have to do with Fir-Tex's brand of far infrared technology? Well, as the presentation points out, our bodies are composed of large amounts of water. Infrared radiation can make water warmer. Fir-Tex
"works like an active mirror; it captures/receives the thermal radiations from the body heat. Then it reacts and uses these thermal/Far Infrared rays (rays of life) to send energy back into the body with multiple beneficial consequences on cells and tissues."
In other words, Fir-Tex is the world's most expensive blanket! All it purports to do is trap the heat radiated by your body. The same effect can be achieved by a wool blanket. $30 at Bed Bath and Beyond and you can be soaking in all the Rays of Life (whatever that means) that you want.

But Fir-Tex is firm in their belief that infrared radiation is beneficial. Afterall, it's what Qigong masters use!
"Energy medicine is very old, at least as old as the first Qigong masters and other ancient practitioners of healing touch therapies. These healers all had in common the ability to emit energy through their hands, and so do many modern day healers, such as Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N., who began teaching healing touch techniques in the U.S. in the 1970s. Contemporary researchers have now proved that these forms of energy medicine use wavelengths in the infrared range."
Qigong "healers'" hands emit radiation in the infrared range? Does this come as a surprise to them? That's the range at which everyone's body emits radiation. That's what the Wein's equation above showed!

But none of this actually shows that Fir-Tex works at all. Fir-Tex's supposed evidence can be found in the Live Blood Analysis section of their Science page.

Live Blood Analysis, or How Not to do a Scientific Study
Prior to this, I had not heard of Live Blood Analysis (LBA). I'm more than familiar with haemotological techniques, but Life Blood Analysis was not a technique that I knew. A few minutes on Google, and I discovered that LBA is a technique pioneered by a company called Sevenpointfive. Who's Sevenpointfive, you ask? They're a South African naturophathic company that pushes their brand of "natural supplements". They present the same, tired "modern medicine is wrong, buy our products instead" line as every other "natural supplement" company. Their schtick, though, seems to be their LBA technique. What they do is simple. They take a drop of your blood, and look at it under a microscope for "imbalances" and "deficiencies". Whether or not Sevenpointfive's "technicians" can accurately diagnose physiological conditions using LBA is rather dubious to me. As far as I can tell, LBA is not a proper technique used by the medical community.

It's this exact method that Fir-Tex used to test their product. They took blood samples of individuals, then gave them all Fir-Tex vests to wear for 10 minutes, and took another sample. Then they compared the two. That is as detailed as their test gets. There's a huge problem here: they didn't use a  negative control subject (or if they did, they never mentioned it or showed the results)! This is a gigantic experimental flaw, and any results from their tests are worthless because of it. They also make no mention of what kind of activities the subjects were doing when they were using the Fir-Tex vests? Were they sitting still for ten minutes? Were they exercising? Was this controlled at all? Their methodology is severely lacking. Such a study would never get published in any reputable medical journal, which is probably why it exists only on the Fir-Tex website.

What were the results of their "tests"? Well, I haven't the slightest clue. Take a look at what they present as evidence:

Maybe it's because I don't have sufficient training to understand what I'm looking at, but I don't see a significant difference in the two treatments. All I see are alot of erythrocytes with some platelets here and there, in both cases. Nevertheless, Fir-Tex claims results like these indicate that their product protects cells from damage from free radicals (free radicals, according to Fir-Tex, are "atoms that are missing ions", a laughably stupid statement), reduces cholesterol, and boosts the immune system. None of their LBA pictures indicate any of these things. It is interesting to note that Fit-Tex admits "that each individual reacts differently to the same treatment, the results are thus never the same", but they don't accept this as evidence that their product does nothing. Quite to the contrary, they take this as evidence that Fir-Tex does work, just in different ways in different people. These tests definitely do not bolster their earlier claims of increasing your jump height by 10%, or "optimizing your balance". And even if they DID show such results, we have no way of knowing any of this is attributable to the Fir-Tex vests because of their shoddy methodology!

No doctor worth their medical degree would produce a medical study as awful as this. So who is responsible? Fir-Tex informs us that the tests were performed by "Dr Annelise Bunce, certified Clinical Metal Toxicologist and certified Dark Field and Multi Phase Microscopy and expert in Live Blood Analysis". Here is her CV. Masters in homeopathy? Oooh. That explains it.

More money than sense
So just what will one of these babies set you back? Between €325 and €475 (that's $453CAN to $663CAN). Hell, while you're at it, €525 will get you a saddle for your horse. This is an unbelievably colossal waste of money. Fir-Tex does nothing more than make you warm. The "science" behind it is complete and utter nonsense, none of their claims can be validated and it simply does not work. Just like the Power Balance and the Q-Ray before it, Fir-Tex is a scam that will have its manufacturers laughing all the way to the bank.

1. It's been brought to my attention that this point is not entirely correct. Water molecules can, in fact, "encapsulate" some ions. This is called a "solvation shell". It occurs when a positively charged ion is attracted to the electrostatically negative oxygen of water molecules. Water molecules will effectively form a shell around the ion. I have my doubts about whether water can form a solvation shell around toxins, which are rather large compounds. Perhaps a more chemistry-minded reader could clarify this.


Madison Marbury said...

While I agree that the whole Fir-Tex thing is utter BS, I have to comment on your science. Water does indeed "encapsulate" some things (mainly ions). This encapsulation is known as a hydration shell or sphere. It's why ionic compounds such as table salt dissolve in water.

The more accurate your argument, the more successful it is.

C.W.G.K said...

Hi Madison,

Thanks for the comment. You're correct in stating that water can form a solvation shell around some ions - mainly positive ions, which are attracted to the electronegative oxygen in the water molecule. Perhaps I misunderstood the claims Fir-Tex was making, but I did not get the impression that this is what they meant by "encapsulation". Even if it is, I'm a bit dubious about water's ability to form a solvation shell around toxins, which are, relatively, rather large compounds. Nevertheless, I'll add your correction as a footnote.

Anonymous said...

I first thought all this FIR-thing was a joke. So taking it all as a joke, it was rather clear to me that it was the case of over-explaining simple, everyday things in a "sciency" way.

You know... like referring to a flashlight as a "personal portable photonic generator with encapsulated energy source and variable levels of photonic intensity".

So it is very simple.

FIR technologies? Body heat + clothing. You put clothing on, and you capture the body heat and feel warm.

Gasses captured in water? Sweat.
Put your FIR shirt on, you'll get warm, shirt will soak up the sweat and the sweat will then evaporate.

And sure as hell... sweat contains various toxic elements.

Clearly, we should all buy this FIR clothing for our families and domestic animals. :P

C.W.G.K said...

I wouldn't be so sure it's a joke. Given that they do have a webstore, where Fir-Tex items are being sold (for ridiculous prices!) and given that they are partnered with a legitimate company like Red Bull, I'm more inclined to think that they're serious - or at the very least, theyre scamming people out of their money.

jdupres said...

This seems quite legit though...?!

suppleness +3%
neuromuscular reactivity +6%
muscular power +4%

C.W.G.K said...


That study is hardly convincing. ESP Research really needs to learn how to conduct a proper test.

First, they have a sample size of only 15. This is a very small sample size for a study like this. With a small sample size, it is very difficult to determine whether the results are actually due to the experimental conditions or simply due to randomness.

Also note that they do not provide the data that they collected from each test. They go on to explain how the tests were conducted but do not mention what the results were. Likewise with the statistics. They claim they employed a number of statistical techniques and performed a variety of statistical tests but we do not see the results of these statistics! Also note that they say "a level of p<0.05 was used to define statistical significance" but then fail to report what their calculated p-values were! We have no way of knowing whether or not their own tests were significant based on their own definition of "significance". We have no way of knowing how reliable their data are, whether their results were significant, how likely any difference they found was simply due to random error...without these things, their conclusions are meaningless!

I also have to point out that the graphs included in this "study" are misleading. Note how the dependent variable range (suppleness performance and contact time) does not start at zero on the bottom. This is an old trick used in marketing to visually exaggerate the difference between bars. It looks like there is a big difference between the FirTex bars and the control bars, but if they had displayed the FULL graph, that difference would appear minute. Also note that on the bottom of each graph, they give the "statistical probability" as being 91% and 96%. These numbers might seem big, but in a test like this, the statistical probability should be 99.9% or higher, if the results are to be considered reliable.

Lastly, consider just what their results showed: a 3% increase in suppleness and a 6% decrease in contact time. Let's say you performed their tests without the vest and you scored 27.00cm on the suppleness test and 350ms on the reaction test. If their results were accurate and reliable (which I have my doubts about), the benefit provided by the FirTex vest translates into an improved suppleness score of 27.81cm and a reaction time of 329ms. In other words, you'd be able to stretch a whopping 8 MILLIMETERS further and your reaction times would be decreased by 21ms. These are hardly drastic improvements!