Blasts from the Past
Given that many of our readers have only recently become acquainted with us, we thought we’d revisit some of the more entertaining product reviews that Vic Skeptics has performed in past years.
The Electrostatic Gravitator
Our mate Barrie Johnson combines his two greatest loves, electronics and fossicking: and he knows a bit about electronics – most of his working life was spent as electronics maintenance officer in a major Melbourne hospital.
In semi-retirement in the early 2000s, Barrie opened a business in the heart of the Victorian goldfields, servicing and repairing detection equipment. One day a friend brought in a flash-looking device called The Electrostatic Gravitator.
He’d been so impressed by a prominent advertisement in a glossy American fossicker’s magazine that he bought one, notwithstanding its considerable expense. Unfortunately, once unpacked it failed to live up to expectations.
Barrie promised to look into it (literally). What he discovered was a maze of components and wires. The weird thing was that most of the circuits were open. Things weren’t connected to other things.
Barrie concluded that not only could the Gravitator not work, it was never designed to work. He reported back to his disappointed customer, then went to the trouble of posting a warning to the magazine that it was hosting ads for a dubious product, including technical details. That, he thought, was that.
Imagine his surprise when the next issue of the magazine arrived in the post. The Electrostatic Gravitator was still being featured in several models. And there was Barrie’s scathing critique. They’d made several changes. All his “can’ts” had been changed to “cans”, all his “won’ts” to “wills” and all his “don’ts” to “dos”. This turned Barrie’s rant into a glowing testimonial for the Electrostatic Gravitator.
(They did have the good grace to call him Barney Johnson for the purpose of the testimonial!)
In 2003 we discovered that the price of the deluxe Electrostatic Gravitator had skyrocketed. However, an August 2011 google search failed to locate the product on sale.
In fossicker’s forums, there are posts by people who still swear by their Gravitator. The responses to these posts tend to be brief and cryptic, typically “B/S!” and “ROTFLMAO”. And Barrie still dines out on the story.
The Wine Clip
This product consisted of a magnetic collar. You slipped it over the neck of your freshly uncorked bottle of wine, and the flavour of the wine was thereby improved; or such was the claim. The wine clip “turned ordinary wines into good wines and good wines into great wines”.
Noted Australian wine writer Max Allen was sceptical. He assembled a Tasting Panel consisting of himself, wine marketer Brian Miller and an enthusiastic amateur from Vic Skeptics, who shall remain nameless.
He booked a lab at Melbourne’s William Angliss Institute, together with the services of a technician, who was made responsible for conducting what was probably the only ever double-blind trial of the Wine Clip. Three distinctively different red wines were subjected to separate testing.
Each was tasted three times by each of the three tasters. In each case the wine was dispensed once using the Wine Clip, and twice without, but in a random order not revealed to the Tasting Panel. We were simply required to state whether we detected any difference between the three notionally identical samples of each wine. Our conclusion was that the Wine Clip had not made any difference.
For several years after, The Wine Clip website carried the persistent message that they were Out of Stock. Eight years on, all mention of The Wine Clip seems to have vanished. We’re not claiming that we had anything to do with that. More likely, there was a strictly limited number of potential customers remaining after the initial promotional bandwagon had subsided. And eight years on, I can still taste that Durif ….
The PestXit Duo
Our comments on this hi-tech suppressor of rodents and insects are relatively recent, so we won’t bore you with the details. You can read them here https://vicskeptics.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/pestxit-have-they-built-the-better-mousetrap/ and here https://vicskeptics.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/pestxit-a-follow-up/.
One reason that we’ve mentioned PestXit again is that a very similar-looking product with similar claims and a similar ultrasonic method of operation (but a slightly different name) is currently being agressively advertised on Australian TV. We probably won’t be doing a product review. It would be repetitious, and life is too short.
Our original PestXit posts were made in 2010, but relied on online material published between 2005 and 2007. We honed in on the advertising of the product. It was based on testimonials and references to independent product testing. However the tendency was to confabulate genuine, probably mandatory electrical safety tests with absent reports on the effectiveness of the product. Where independent customer reviews of PestXit were available, support for the product was highly equivocal. The mental image of a PestXit being returned for a refund “with cockroaches nesting in it” persists.
The principle of Caveat Emptor – “Let The Buyer Beware” – should have no place in a modern society, and recent consumer legislation has given the purchaser real rights. However, there seems to be a serious lack of interest on the part of Government in requiring that some goods and services which are being advertised actually deliver “what it says on the packet”. We are in awe of Choice and other organisations who perform product surveys as a core business; but their resources are limited, (as are ours!) and the plethora of dubious wares being energetically promoted must be overwhelming. We’re reliably informed, for example, that there are over one thousand dieting products on the Australian market.
Dr Ken Harvey’s recent experiences demonstrate that supposedly “fair comment” can be a minefield of litigation, with authorities who should be responsible for consumer protection being content to leave private consumer activists totally vulnerable.
There’s another reliable principle that remains useful in the meantime;