‘This is snake oil’: Scientists don’t buy balance-boosting clips featured on Dragons’ Den – Business
- UPDATE: On Feb. 1, Health Canada instructed NeuroReset to stop selling three more of its products (Neuro Connect One, Neuro Connect Lifestyle, Neuro Connect Golf) because it did not have the necessary medical device licences.
The dragons wanted a piece of the action.
Mark Metus, a Collingwood, Ont., chiropractor and his business partner, Greg Phillips, had just demonstrated how their “revolutionary” new product — a line of wearable clips called Neuro Connect — could improve a person’s balance, strength and joint function almost instantaneously.
“The technology … creates a phenomenon called quantum entanglement,” Metus told the six dragons in a November segment of the CBC program Dragons’ Den, a show where entrepreneurs pitch products to venture capitalists.
Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon that’s as difficult to explain to a layman as it is for a scientist to actually observe, let alone control. Leading scientists are still trying to unlock its mysteries, but that hasn’t stopped some entrepreneurs from trying to cash in with quantum physics-based products marketed with bold claims beyond anything proven scientifically.
Metus’s clips, as Marketplace discovered, are no different.
But the chiropractor’s live demonstrations helped convince five dragons to go in on the deal — a $100,000 investment for 30 per cent of the company, NeuroReset Inc.
“It’s called science,” said dragon Manjit Minhas, co-owner of Minhas Breweries, Distillery and Wineries. “I love the product and I strongly believe in science.”
Marketplace decided to take a closer look at the company after several Dragons’ Den viewers complained the segment had provided a national platform for a product marketed with questionable science.
The deal fell through after the taping, when the dragons do their due diligence, but the company said it has sold more than $100,000 worth of product since the episode aired — four times more than before the company’s national television debut.
With input from some of this country’s top scientists, including a lab test conducted at the University of Toronto, Marketplace found the questions about NeuroReset’s claims appear justified.
“If this is true, and passes peer reviews in a respectable journal, it would be really impressive,” said Raymond Laflamme, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information at the University of Waterloo.
“But I doubt it.”
Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology and Canada Research Chair in Skeletal Muscle Health at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., had a more blunt assessment:
“This is snake oil.”
Neuro Connect wearable clips cost between $40 and $120, and there are different versions for different activities such as golfing, gardening, even office work.
According to the company’s website, the clips, some of which have a copper core, are infused with a “subtle energy pattern” that wakes up neurological pathways through quantum entanglement, improving joint and muscle function.
Quantum entanglement was described by Albert Einstein as “spooky action at a distance.” Quantum physicists can’t explain why this happens, but the phenomenon involves two or more particles that share a link or correlation at a distance. Imagine a pair of dice that always roll the same number when separated at any distance. Quantum entanglement has only been produced in very specific conditions and is extremely challenging to use.
Nevertheless, the unscientific demonstrations Metus used to persuade the dragons, which are no different than those shown in videos on the company’s website, helped seal the deal.
“Walk forward onto one leg and reach up like you’re reaching onto a shelf,” Metus instructs dragon Michele Romanow, co-founder of SnapSaves, an online coupon company.
“You’re pretty good,” he says as he forces her arm down.
Metus then puts the Neuro Connect Balance clip on Romanow and has her raise her arm again.
“You’ll see how much stronger you are,” he says.
This time he can’t push her arm down.
“That’s crazy,” says dragon Arlene Dickinson, CEO of one of Canada’s largest marketing firms.
The company’s website is full of testimonials from people who claim the clips have helped with stability, pain reduction, even motor skills.
One video features Metus admitting he can’t really explain the science behind his line of wonder clips.
“We don’t absolutely know how it works; we just know that it works.”
For centuries, consumers have shelled out good money to businesses that use highly complex and unproven scientific claims to sell their wellness wares.
In the 1800s, belts that supposedly harnessed medical electricity were said to cure rheumatism, kidney and stomach troubles, and boost a person’s energy.
More recently, in 2008, a U.S. Federal Court ordered the marketers of the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet — a product that claimed to relieve chronic pain — to refund its customers millions of dollars for fraudulent advertising.
Quantum physics appears to be the latest wellness fad frontier.
“It’s science-ploitation,” said Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta. “It’s been used for a long time.”
Marketplace conducted its own tests using Neuro Connect Lifestyle clips.
With the help of experts at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, 10 participants were asked to do two tests: a static standing balance test and a grip strength test to measure whether the clips had any effect.
Each participant did the strength and balance test three times — once with Neuro Connect clips, once with a set of name tag clips and once with no clips. It was double-blind — neither those conducting the test nor the participants were told which clips were being used.
The results showed there was virtually no difference for either strength or balance when using the Neuro Connect Lifestyle clip, name tag clip or no clip.
Metus disputes Marketplace’s test results and said he will begin conducting his own studies soon.
Joe Mimran, founder of Joe Fresh and Club Monaco and one of the dragons who went in on the deal, admits it’s easy to get caught up in the moment when the cameras are on.
“You’re in the heat of the deal,” he said.
“Nobody wants to sell a product that’s not living up to its claims.”
Prior to the show’s taping, the dragons know nothing about the product or pitch, so, like the audience, they’re seeing it for the very first time.
“They seemed very credible. Chiropractor. He has a practice And there were all the science behind it. The mumbo jumbo of the science,” Mimran said.
“It’s business romance and you fall for it.”
Executive producer Tracie Tighe was asked what responsibility the show has to protect consumers from products that make false or outlandish claims.
“The entertainment value of this first meeting is what appeals to our viewers and is the pillar of success for this reality format,” she said in an email. “The pitchers sign extensive releases/agreements and they are required to confirm their business proposals comply with all applicable legislation.”
Entertainment or not, Caulfield said he’s “disappointed” Dragons’ Den helped legitimize products that had very little science behind them.
“Do they have a technical legal responsibility to be sure that there’s accurate information out there? I’m not sure,” he said. “But I’d like to believe they have a moral responsibility.”
A complaint to Health Canada in November prompted two Neuro Connect products to be pulled from shelves for making “unapproved claims.”
The company was required to stop selling the Neuro Connect Balance clip and Neuro Connect Balance Spray because it didn’t get the required medical device and natural health product licences from Health Canada.
But several other Neuro Connect products — including the Lifestyle clip that Marketplace tested — are still available.
In an email, Health Canada said it’s investigating potential additional claims for two other Neuro Connect products. The agency said appropriate action will be taken if it finds compliance issues.
NeuroReset offers a 30-day money back guarantee if its products don’t work. And Metus said he is still trying to get licences from Health Canada for the two products the agency flagged.
When asked whether he’s a snake oil salesman, Metus told Marketplace, “Everybody has an opinion, and that’s quite alright.”
He said he stands by his products and will continue to sell them even though he doesn’t fully understand how the science works.
“Can you criticize me for no peer reviewed studies? Absolutely,” he said. “We’re helping too many people, which is why I’m standing up for it.”