Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Electric footwear

Have you heard of Kickstarter?  It's a neat idea.  The site is devoted to people who have come up with cool ideas for small businesses or civic projects, but lack the funds to get going.  You launch a page on their site describing your proposal, publicize it, offer promotions and prizes -- whatever you can do to get the idea off the ground.  Interested people donate money, and when you have enough, your idea gets launched.

While the general concept (and most of the proposed projects) are good, it also means that crazy, but appealing, proposals can get way more funding than they deserve.  Because, after all, you have to be able to tell if what the person is saying makes logical sense -- and as we've seen over and over in this blog, lots of folks aren't really all that good at doing that.

Enter Earth Runners sandals.

Now, before we get started, let me be specific about what I don't mean in the following paragraphs.  I am not criticizing the quality of the sandals -- I've never seen one, but have no reason to suspect that they're poorly made.  Nor am I going to comment about the benefits (or hazards) of running while barefoot or thinly shod -- I have read a good many articles that lean either pro or con on this issue, and I am not knowledgeable enough about exercise physiology that my opinion would be relevant.

However, I do take exception to a large chunk of the "science" they're using to sell their product.

I put "science" in quotation marks, because once again we have that "sort of science-y or something" use of language, coupled with a good dose of woo-woo metaphysics, that we've seen so often.  Here's a sample:
Earth Runners are the first ever conductive minimalist footwear inspired by the world renowned long distance runners, the Tarahumara Indians of Northwestern Mexico.  Our original conductive design allows you to absorb ever-present subtle electrical energies of the Earth.  This provides an experience similar to that of going barefoot while still enjoying a measure of safety from varied terrains or street hazards.  The soles of our feet are natural access points for life force energy from the planet.  Typical footwear blocks these natural incoming flows of vital ground source energy, and thus impacts our health and how we move and live upon the earth.
What kind of energy are we talking about, here?  The Kickstarter page isn't specific, just using the vague, fluffy "earth energies" phrase without ever really defining it, but fortunately, the Earth Runners Facebook page goes into more detail:
Chances are, 99.9% of your reading this are completely disconnected from the earth right now. This is because you are not grounded to her through any direct physical connection. When we do rarely venture outdoors, we tend to insulate ourselves on top of rubber shoes, which block the infinite flow of free electrons which the earth shares with its inhabitants.

Standing barefoot on the earth (or otherwise connecting to the natural frequencies of the earth) connects the human body with an unlimited supply of free electrons resident in and on the surface of the earth. Standing barefoot on the earth also connects the human body with rhythmic cycles of the earth’s energy field. These appear important for synchronizing biological clocks, hormonal cycles and physiological rhythms.

The cells in your body constantly draw energy from the brain and the Earth's electromagnetic field in an effort to achieve what is called "magnetic resonance". Magnetic resonance occurs when the magnetic frequency in your brain matches a harmonic of the frequencies of the other organs and body tissues.
And lo, in order to promote the "free flow of electrons" that the Earth is "sharing with its inhabitants," the soles of Earth Runners sandals are pierced with copper studs, arranged in a "Fibonacci spiral" that lines up with the "foot's acupuncture points."  That way the electrons are free to flow up from the Earth and into your feet.

Well.  That gives us a place to start, doesn't it?  Here are a few responses I had, right off the bat:

1)  Yes, the Earth has lots of electrons.  That's because it's big.  Big things have lots of atoms, and atoms have electrons.  Ergo, the Earth has a great many electrons.  Most of those electrons aren't moving around much because they're participating in chemical bonds, but some of them can.

2)  When electrons move around, it's called "electric current."  If enough of them flow through your body, it's called "being electrocuted."

3)  The Earth's electrons do sometimes get stuck on objects, causing the objects to build up a static charge.  If you experience small amounts of static charge buildup, the result is a carpet shock.  Large amounts of static charge cause lightning.  Neither one is comfortable.

4)  Your biological clock has nothing to do with being barefoot.  It does have something to do with light/dark cycles and the internal production of hormones and neurotransmitters; getting the two to line up is called "entrainment."  Some of us are naturally bad at this.  We're called "insomniacs."  I walk around barefoot all the time, and note that I am still up at 3:30 AM writing this post instead of doing what the rest of the household is doing, namely, sleeping.

5)  The "magnetic resonance" thing is nonsense.  Sorry for being blunt, but really.  The brain "matching a harmonic of frequencies of the other organs?"  What the hell does that even mean?  Your organs aren't magnetic, or else walking through the silverware department of an Ikea would be a dangerous proposition, and would result in stainless steel cutlery flying toward you and embedding itself in your body.  Your water molecules (and any other molecules in you that are free to rotate) do respond to a strong magnetic field, which is the principle behind an MRI.  But the idea that each of your organs has a specific "magnetic frequency" and you'll feel better if they all get synchronized with each other is unscientific horse waste.

The disheartening thing is that so many people lack the scientific knowledge and critical thinking skills to recognize this sales pitch for what it is.  If you look at the Kickstarter page for Earth Runners, you'll see that they've already raised over $5,700.  The optimistic side of my personality wants me to believe that the donors are just interested in getting a cool-looking, comfortable, well-made pair of sandals, and they aren't buying them so as to keep their bodies well-stocked with happy electrons.  But the cynical side -- never very deeply buried -- remembers all of the other stuff people buy, the magnetic bracelets and crystal pendants and water vibration machines and so forth, sold using just such pseudoscientific foolishness.  And it becomes all too easy to believe that the sponsors of Earth Runners are being taken in, and believe that if they just wear their copper-studded sandals, they'll get in touch with Mother Earth.

So, anyway, there you are.  That's all I have to say about that.  Partly because if that wasn't enough of a debunking to convince you, going on for longer probably won't have any effect.  It's also because it's time for me to get going to my day job, where I will be wearing my nasty, rubber-soled, insulating shoes, depriving me of the natural flow of electrons from the floor of my classroom.  Maybe that's why I'm so tired at the end of the day.


  1. Maybe the studs would help us not build up a static charge, which would be nice in winter in Minnesota. Kza-a-a-ap! Of course, sandals aren't practical winter wear for outdoors.

  2. Tyler brings up a good point. These sandals would have the capability to "ground" the wearer. The irony being that these sandals should be marketed as freeing your body of excess electrons, which would be scientifically credible... Instead they claim these sandals do the exact opposite.

    Someone should tell these knuckleheads to google "Earth ground."

    Also, these sandals will also make the wearer MUCH more prone to being struck by lightning, as they are now a better path to GROUND. Rubber shoes have saved countless lives from lightning and electrical mishaps.


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