Monday, June 21, 2010

Wet dreams


This morning I found myself sitting outside a café in upper Regent Street watching passers-by sample three types of water and offer their opinions on them. ‘Three types of water’ of course begs the question, and I suspect there was nothing but one type of water involved, with trivial variations in the usual trace solutes. This was a vox-pop test for the Radio 4 consumer and lifestyle programme ‘You And Yours’, which in this item was investigating the claims being made for so-called ‘ionized water’, equipment for the production of which is being installed in health-food cafés at vast expense. When the BBC folks contacted me last Friday to ask my opinion on ionized water, I think they were a little surprised when I responded ‘what’s that?’ They’d got it confused with the deionized water available in all good labs, not to mention garages that sell it for your car battery. But as I said to them, ‘ionized’ water made no sense to me. I’m pleased to say that it was quite proper that it did not. A quick search reveals that ionized water is just the latest of the ‘altered water treatments’ being advocated for turning ordinary water into a wondrous health-giving reagent. Like all the others, it is a sham. Basically it seems to involve an electrolytic process that allegedly produces alkaline water at one electrode – not entirely implausible in itself, if there is an electrolyte present, but the claims made for the health benefits of drinking ‘alkaline water’ are nonsense, and the waffle about reactive oxygen species and cancer just the usual junk. Fortunately, Steven Lower of Simon Fraser University has prepared an excellent web site debunking this stuff, which saves me the effort.

Those who want the full nonsense can get it here. Yes, complete with special ‘water clusters’. If you want to buy a water ionizer, feel free to do so here. And I’m amused to see that Ray Kurzweil, who wants to live long enough to reach the age of immortality that is just around the corner, has bought into this stuff. Ray swears that ionized water is alkaline, because like a ‘responsible scientist’ he measured the pH. His scientific curiosity did not, however, extend to investigating, if this was so, what the counterions to the hydroxyls are – in other words, which salts had been added to the water to make alkalinity possible. We are apparently supposed to believe that it is the water itself that is alkaline, which of course is chemically impossible. Keep drinking, Ray.

In any case, I was required on You And Yours to offer scientific comment on this affair. You can judge the results for yourselves here.

2 comments:

William said...

Couple thoughts,

1) Regarding Kurzweil, how ever did "futurism" become supposedly a scientific and respected field, when it rarely surpasses Sci-Fi? (or worse - http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2009/10/26/will-the-super-rich-evolve-into-a-separate-species/ Oy.)

2) You use the spelling "ionized" rather than "ionised"?! As a dumb American, I am now so very confused.

Philip Ball said...

I'm not sure how widely Kurzweil is respected within science - it is the onlookers he tends to wow.
I am addicted to Nature's archaic style rules, which insist on the "z" unless the Greek root demands "s", as in "analysed". I spent so long learning and adhering to these things that they're now in my blood.