There’s no question that crystals are pretty. But the aesthetic visual pleasure is where it stops for most crystals. All too often we’ve seen “celebrity health experts” like Gwyneth Paltrow promote crystals and other forms of dangerous pseudoscience. Paltrow’s brand, Goop, has promoted products such as jade eggs (read: polished rocks) to place in your vagina as well as encouraged people to put coffee in their ass. It’s one thing for non-scientist celebrities like Paltrow to endorse nonsensical and potentially dangerous behaviors. They’re celebrities after all. Their job is to act in a show or film and provide entertainment. As a result, we shouldn’t expect them to be beacons of scientific literacy.
But now we have a problem. Recently, National Geographic, who is well known for their stories about wildlife, science, history, and archaeology, sent packages to science writers to promote their new show, One Strange Rock. Contained in the package Gizmodo writer Ryan F. Mandelbaum received was this:
It’s a water bottle that contains ‘healing’ crystals.
Mandelbaum points out that the instruction manual for the water bottle (yes, there’s an instruction manual) makes it clear that at no time should the water you’re putting in the bottle come in contact with the vial of rocks (or “crystals,” if you will) inside it.
I’ve joked that Creationists are why shampoo bottles come with instructions before, but now I think I need to update the joke to “water bottles” instead.
And just to be clear, in case there’s any confusion, here’s a detailed chart of the benefits of healing crystals that I found. I can confirm that this is this 100% accurate:
Why does my water bottle have an instruction manual? It reads: “For the most precious moments in life! Gems raise the energy level of water. That’s been known for hundreds of years and scientifically proven. VitaJuwel Gemwater Accessories are not only Jewelry for Water, they’re a great tool to prepare heavenly gemwater like fresh from the spring.” The instructions are: screw in the gemstone vial, fill with water, and then wait 7 minutes.
Vitajuwel sells a lot of different bottles with rocks inside them on their website, starting at $84, which I assume is what National Geographic sent. The most costly version is a diamond-filled bottle, which will set you back $344.
And that’s totally fine. You can sell anything to people on the internet, and there’ll probably be someone somewhere who will buy it, because #Capitalism. But the problem here is the pseudoscientific claims made about them. Mendelbaum elaborates:
All of the “science” cited in the brochure comes from widely debunked research from the likes of Japanese author Masaru Emoto—you know, the researcher who claimed humans could impact the chemical structure of water with their thoughts—or unnamed “German scientists.”
Some of the claims are really wild. At one point, the pamphlet says: “Everything in nature vibrates. Gems naturally act like a source of subtle vibrations. These vibrations inspirit water, making it more lively and enjoyable.” This is nonsense, and any reference to electricity in crystals (like piezoelectricity, when charge accumulates on some structures in response to physical stress) is neither exclusive to crystals nor relevant to healing or enlivening drinking water. (“Ha! Yeah. Nah,” astrophysicist Katie Mack told me in a DM.)
[You may also enjoy reading: The curious case of misrepresenting Jordan Peterson]
You’re free to spend your money however you want, on whatever you want, and companies are free to try to sell whatever product they want. The issue is that when you make claims that are demonstrably false to try to sell a product, you run the risk of people getting hurt. People like David Wolfe have literally made a living from promoting products with bogus claims that encourage people to not trust doctors, to avoid vaccinations, to be noncompliant with prescribed medications, and to replace their chemotherapy treatment with his deer antler (a real thing he sells).
To make matters worse, a representative from National Geographic responded to Mandelbaum, and the tone was… Troublesome.
Update 3/1/18 8:50AM ET: Nat Geo responded, and they are disappointed in me. Chris Albert, EVP of Communications, National Geographic Global Networks, sent me the following statement:
Clearly you missed the entire point of the kit, which is really disappointing. We were sending you an entertaining mailer to grab your attention for what I believe will arguably be one of the best science television series produced in recent years, from the creative minds of Darren Aronofsky and Nutopia.
Of course National Geographic does not subscribe to pseudoscience, and I think you full well know that. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun.
Personally, I could understand a “gag gift” like this if it didn’t cost $84, and if the money they spent didn’t go to an actual company that markets this crap.