Woo at CU 2: Electric Boogaloo 7

Remember a week or so ago, when I was unleashing my amazing Powers of Sarcasm on the topic of Powerforce bands being sold with the CU logo? I’ve gotten a reply, and I thought I would share it with the internets.

To review: Powerforce power bands? Still total bullshit. Still claiming that “ions” are going to “give you confidence from within.”

Reply to the e-mail I sent to the Chancellor’s office:

Dear Rachael:

Allow me to answer your query regarding the University’s athletic marketing of the “Power Force” Power Band.

First, let me explain that the previous response that went out to a few individuals who e-mailed Chancellor DiStefano was supposed to be a reply on behalf of the chancellor by a staff member in our Buffalo Sports Properties office, not a reply from the chancellor himself. I apologize for the way the reply was worded – it was confusing as to who the author actually was.

Regarding your query: members of the senior administration staff have carefully reviewed your concerns, looked into the University’s contract with the company that markets the bands, examined our peer universities’ relationships with the company, and reached the following conclusions:

· As you suggest, the claims of the company regarding the efficacy of the band aren’t based on firm scientific ground. However, the band is being marketed by through the athletic department as a novelty with affinity- inspired athletic branding that is unique to CU Athletics. The symbol it uses – the charging Ralphie – represents CU sports teams, not the university as a whole, and certainly not its research entities.

· In the same spirit, our sports-labeled products include everything from sweat bands to golf tees to lawn gnomes. These are all designed to create affinity and build school spirit, not to be literal representations of the University and its academic work.

· Likewise, the company is offering the same Powerforce Power Bands for universities that include Cal, Penn State, Missouri, Pitt and a host of other peer schools. These are quality institutions that, like us, have elected to promote a novelty item with an athletic logo for affinity and commercial purposes.

I appreciate your concern and that of your fellow graduate students and other skeptics. Your respect for science and the scientific method is manifest inyour concern, and your dedication to advancing our highest academic values is impressive.

We do not believe in the end, however, that novelty items like the “Power Force Power Band” are threats to these values.


Bronson R. Hilliard, director of media relations and spokesperson
University of Colorado at Boulder

I believe that, in legal circles, this is what’s known as “the novelty item defense.” Right up there with “the metaphor” defense.

Rather than write a completely separate blog entry, I thought I would simply publicly repost the reply I sent to Mr. Hilliard a few minutes ago. While I admit that I would dearly love to say some snarky, snarky things, I don’t think that would be fair to Mr. Hilliard, who has been very polite to me.

HOWEVER. If you can’t survive without your daily requirement of snark on this one, Please see Stuart’s blog. He has taken up the baton of sarcasm and run with it most admirably.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my e-mail. I would like to address a few of the points that you’ve made, so please indulge me in that.

[Snip: Mr. Hilliard’s point about Ralphie representing the athletics teams rather than the academic departments.]

My impression has always been that in the public view, the sports teams and the university are inextricably linked. The student athletes that make up our teams are just that – students as well as athletes. In many ways, what sports teams do and promote can represent the school in some very profound ways. At an extreme, bad behavior by student athletes (eg: assaults, etc) can reflect extremely poorly upon whatever school that athlete belongs to. I bring this example up not because I would in any way equate a violent assault with the promotion of a pseudoscientific product, but more to exemplify my view that the athletic team of a university is not necessarily viewed as a completely separate entity.

And likewise, while Ralphie is most assuredly the emblem of the athletics teams, he is likewise associated completely with the name of the University of Colorado at Boulder. I think that it’s important to note that those of us here primarily for academic pursuits still have a certain level of team spirit and affection for our mascot. We don’t view Ralphie as the property of the athletic department alone and completely separate from us either. School spirit is school spirit, whether we are taking pride in CU because we’re fans of the football team or because we’re building a mission to Mars – or both.

[Snip: Mr. Hilliard’s point about novelty items.]

I think the salient point here, however, is that neither golf tees nor lawn gnomes are claiming to power one’s “inner force” with “ions.” There are novelty items, and there are novelty items.

Items that tacitly promote nonscientific or pseudoscientific ideas often get a pass with the label of “novelty item” – dowsing pendants, Ouija boards, and some very questionable medical devices spring to mind here. While many people doubtless consider pendants and Ouija boards to be nothing but silly novelties, it’s also undeniable that some people do take these items, and their claims very seriously. Sometimes to their very real harm. Another example of this would be ear candles, which have not been approved for medical use by the FDA but can still be sold (with a nod and a wink) as “novelty items.”

My concern here is, if we are going to promote the sale of a “novelty item” that makes such a questionable claim, where will the line be drawn?

[Snip: Mr. Hilliard’s point about the other universities.]

I actually find it quite distressing that such prestigious universities are associating themselves with this company and its carefully non-specific but nonetheless embarrassingly unscientific claims. I also feel like I have less standing to voice a complaint to the faculty at those schools, as I am not a student there.

That Penn State or Cal have decided to promote an item such as this should, I think, not be a justification for CU to do so as well. Rather, this could be an opportunity for CU to lead the way in standing on principles of both scientific rigor and team spirit. We can show our team and school pride in many ways (even with the occasional lawn gnome) while subtly brandishing out academic credentials as well.

Again, I think you for your time.

I will admit that when I first read Mr. Hilliard’s point about the other universities involved with this “novelty item,” I heard my mother’s voice very clearly in my head, asking me, “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?”

Hm, do ions help you develop psychic powers?

7 thoughts on “Woo at CU 2: Electric Boogaloo

  1. Reply Mom Nov 7,2010 21:41

    Score one for moms everywhere!

  2. Reply Reed E Nov 8,2010 01:43

    I, for one, look forward to the day when the “Senior Administrative Staff” and a “Media Relations Director and Spokesperson” of CU-Boulder take the academic mission of their university seriously.

  3. Reply Festivus2007 Nov 8,2010 01:53

    RE: Anomymous–

    The Yahoo article was for Power Balance. This is Power Force. Both are magical wristbands, but the Power Balance uses embedded holograms to work its magic, while Power Force uses magical ions.

  4. Reply Janiece Nov 10,2010 03:31

    You have SO ARRIVED, getting a mention on my celebrity boyfriend’s blog.


    Keep swinging that ladybrain…

  5. Reply neurondoc Nov 11,2010 14:43

    Sigh. This kind of stuff makes me insane, and I see it all the time professionally.

    What is saddest is that most of these companies prey on desperate people — people with chronic pain that hasn’t improved, people with progressive diseases that have no cure, people with cancer… That list goes on.

    When people claim that these are novelties, or say “what can it hurt?” they miss the point. The point, in this case, is that the device in and of itself may not cause harm, but the use may lead the patient not to receive proven treatment.

  6. Reply Keeley Nov 18,2010 03:37

    Do you remember when you were little and were taught that lying was wrong? Isn’t it a shame that so many adults can’t seem to grasp that simple concept?
    Been thinking about you guys a lot lately, miss you all.

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