“Ultrasound pest repellers” and pseudoscience

We, as human beings, are difficult to satisfy. Our desires are many, and as intelligent as we maybe, it’s easy to fall into the trap of these desires -led by our emotions-  and make mistakes, sometimes very costly ones. It’s difficult for human beings to accept that they are just animals in the end, and so the world has revolved (continues to, in many parts of the world) around humans for centuries. The gods all over are anthropomorphic (or presumably so, in case they are invisible), and there continue to be Flat Earth Societies. It’s not enough for human beings to have control over the Earth’s resources, they must have control over all of nature, at least in their fantasies. They live their fantasies vicariously through their gods. Science’s fault continues to be that it does not explain everything and continues to try and learn and explain everything, rather than leave it to belief to explain what is perceived as everything. Nevertheless, it seems that it is important for us to believe that everything can be explained through apparent, rather than objectively tested, patterns. Michael Shermer illuminates a bit on this :

Speaking of deception, take a look at this object:

“Pest Repeller”
This is what healthy living is all about, right?
This is what healthy living is all about, right?

I hope you didn’t mistake this for a toy? Well, no one would blame you if you did, except for those who believe this is actually a “pest repeller”, and the fraudsters who sell it. So, how does this piece of piffle work? Using ultrasonic waves, or so it claims. Apparently, ultrasound bothers all indicated “pests” (mosquitoes, cockroaches, flies, moths, spiders, lizards, rats and birds), because while “ultrasound” means frequencies (approximately 20 kHz) beyond which the normal human ear cannot hear, there are many animals who can hear these frequencies. Bats are probably the best example. They can both produce and detect ultrasound; and, they use it to image their environment, detect prey and avoid obstacles, because their sense of sight (for most bat species) is not well-developed. The product claims that these pests cannot stand ultrasound in their vicinity for too long, and claims to have a range of 2000 ft(!). So, if pests could be controlled this way, it would be very convenient, wouldn’t it? No need to set up traps, no need to buy rat poison, just a “clean” way of getting rid of them, without being affected in the least yourself. Well sadly, reality is seldom that convenient. Here is a debunking of the ultrasound “pest repeller” myth, and here is a legal injunction to manufacturers of such stuff to stop selling them. Apparently, that has failed to deter them:

http://www.amazon.com/Rid-Tech-Ultrasonic-Pest-Repeller/dp/B00O97CPIK

and in India:

http://shopping.rediff.com/#!ultrasonic%20pest%20repeller

Well, pseudoscience and the business of fraud and trickery continue to have their soldiers, with some leading e-tailers around the world promoting them. Coming back to the “pest repeller”, as you can see, the around 200 g (about 7 oz) object claims to possess “oxygenrator” (sic) and “air purifier” units. Move over, air conditioners and dehumidifiers, you wicked, overpriced, unwieldy contraptions! Oh, and I wonder what the “oxygenrator” story is all about. Pseudoscientific photosynthesis, perhaps? What about at night, then? Oh, well, I give up. So, this three-in-one convenience is basically the key to a better life, right? Wrong. When you plug it in and switch it on, it makes an irritating high-frequency noise, presumably a prelude to producing ultrasound, a bit like what bats do. After that, it goes quiet, and apparently starts “working”. Of course, the “air purifier” vents seem neither to draw nor blow air. There is a label of instructions that says that the effects will be seen “2 to 6 weeks” after the thing is switched on. Enough time to fool a believing mind. Oh, and needless to say, the “pest repeller” doesn’t work.

Strange thing is, my dad actually bought this worthless thing without even checking whether or not it would work. To him, the appeal of a “clean” electronic pest repellent was too much to resist. His belief overwhelmed him. You couldn’t blame him. Belief can be very compelling, as we know. Of course, you cannot return things after “48 hours” on Rediff shopping, and I came to know after that deadline was over. They also follow the caveat emptor policy, so no complaining, and he has had to pay something for nothing. His ‘punishment’ is of course a lecture from me on the importance of skepticism, and the salutary lesson from experience.

As we have seen, bans and legal restrictions have little effect on the sale of such products. People are always seeking for an alternative, and this is where the sellers of these things cash in. When science and reality don’t seem to work, pseudoscience and fantasy fill in, often with dangerous consequences for the victim. The desire to have control over the smallest of problems brings the miracle-working charlatans into play. Think of all this “pest repeller” could do, for example. A family would actually stop using a more effective, but troublesome method of controlling pests (traps, poison,repellents, swatters etc), and let them run riot. If the area where the family lived were especially epidemic-prone, it could lead to serious consequences. Dad has seen through its nonsense, but only after buying it online. There are more expensive, elegant variants available on various websites, but all of them are equally effective. It’s time that more extensive campaigns were started to educate people against believing spurious claims, because simply being educated is not enough. It’s necessary, in my view, to educate one’s reasoning ability to constantly question one’s belief system. Unquestioning belief can lead to a lot of bad decisions. Tricksters come in all kinds of garbs. Just like “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction”, which Michael Shermer in the video rightly mentions, translates to “pseudoscientific baloney.”

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