Skepchick Quickies 5.5

  • Researchers find first signs of autism in infancy – Gasp! Autism signs pre-MMR vaccine?  Surely not!  From Jenea.
  • Electrolyzed water = “miracle water”? – “It’s a kitchen degreaser. It’s a window cleaner. It kills athlete’s foot. Oh, and you can drink it.”  Skeptic senses tingling.  From Alice.
  • Ants may be the undead –  “Living Argentine ant workers carry both a “dead” signal and an override “not dead yet” signal.”   Cue Monty Python skit.  From Steve.
  • The Ponzi Prosperity Gospel – Pentecostals are the poorest and least educated Christian denomination and a main feature of Pentecostalism is Prosperity Gospel, “where church members are promised that God will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams if they tithe generously and believe that they will receive the money.” From Bob.


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. Miracle water? I’d call it artificial hydrolysis.

    simply putting the current though the salt water. yes it might do what it says for a short time. the NaOH formed would do the same thing that Ammonia water does & the hypochlorous Acid formed acts like bleach but after a short time the hypochlorous ion breaks into chloride and Nascent Oxygen and the NaOH ionizes bringing back the salt water solution.

  2. The knee jerk reaction to the autism article is “Take THAT Jenny McCarthy!” but the reaction I got was “What an incredible comfort this must be to parents.”
    I think the anti-vax group is so powerful because it gives parents something to blame at a point in their lives when they feel helpless and hopeless. The research in the article indicates that parents can begin to help their children by being alert to warning signs and making an intervention at a very young age.
    Cure for autism? Not even close. But it may point a way to maximizing the child’s chances for more enriching life.
    And it certainly beats being autistic AND getting the measels…

  3. I love the phrase in that church sign in the last article. Brutally honest.

    I have found that the Jehovah Witnesses do the same thing, but in another way. You see many old people, disabled people and many poor people at their churches, aka “Halls”, because they don’t promise you heavenly riches, but they appeal to people’s desire to be young and whole and fully functioning. You get to live in a paradise Earth, forever! You will be perfect, in body and mind! No crime, everyone will have a mansion, and all the peoples and races will live in peace and harmony. How can you resist? How can you not want that??

    All you have to do is scratch the surface and the logic falls apart (like I did when I was a kid; I was told not to ask those things and we don’t know god’s plans but he’ll take care of everything. Convenient.) What happens when the earth fills up with people that never die? Does god stop their genitals from working? What do you forever on a planet with out going mad from boredom? Can we build spaceships and go to other planets? What if I jump off a cliff; won’t I die? etc. It becomes a big “only god knows”, “god will not let you do that”, “god blah blah blah” fest.

  4. I wonder if ants ever play practical jokes on each other. Like spraying a dead relative with the “I’m alive” scent. It would be like an insect version of Weekend at Bernie’s.

  5. Is it me, or does the skeptic sense tingle always feel like the onset of a headache?

  6. @durnett:

    I listened to a Radio Lab episode where they talked about research done on ants. They would put the “I’m dead” scent on live adult ants. The ants would be getting carried away, wriggling and moving, but their brethren wouldn’t listen to them when they were saying “I’m not dead!” The undertakers would just look up at them and say, “Sorry dude, you smell pretty dead to me. You can’t negotiate this.”

  7. Recent research using eye-tracking and attentional tasks at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard Medical School has shown signs of autism in infants as young as 6 months. See http://www.childrenshospital.org/cfapps/research/data_admin/Site2205/mainpageS2205P5sublevel15Flevel57.html for a basic study description.

    The evidence is growing stronger each day that the neurological problems of autism are present well before the start of immunizations.

  8. That members of the Pentecostal cult are the least wealthiest of all the Christian cults is proof positive of the truth of Prosperity Gospel. That they neither (it is never either) tithe enough nor believe enough to receive the promised riches as reward demonstrates their unworthiness to receive such riches. That they can’t understand this simple principle is proof positive of the poor standard of education they have.

    Poor saps.

  9. “It turns out that zapping saltwater with low-voltage electricity creates a couple of powerful, nontoxic cleaning agents. Sodium ions are converted into sodium hydroxide, an alkaline liquid that cleans and degreases like detergent, but without the scrubbing bubbles. Chloride ions become hypochlorous acid, a potent disinfectant known as acid water.”

    Yes, and that lasts all of a few seconds before it neutralizes again (assuming you’re doing this on a *massive* scale, if not, even less than that…).

    But hey, I’ve apparently been unknowingly cleaning the sinks in the lab when I neutralize HCl with NaOH so I can dump it down the sink! Whodathunkit?

    I’m honestly surprised there isn’t a link at the bottom to that article about how water will replace gasoline as the fuel of the future.

  10. God, this will bug me all day.

    Sodium Hydroxide pellets are $300 for 12kg from Sigma-Aldrich. As this cleaning solution of theirs doesn’t burn or dry their skin out, it has to be 0.01M or so for its concentration.

    So you could get a gallon of NaOH cleaning solution for 5 cents, as that 12kg will make ~6,300 gallons of 0.01M solution.

    HCl is similarly $300 f0r 19L of it, making about 2,300 gallons of a solution of similar strength for around 13 cents a gallon end cost.

    So, *how* long would it take them to recoup the costs of doing the same with that $10,000 machine (on the assumption the machine actually does that…)?

  11. Given, I’m not suggesting a hotel should have its employees trying to work out dilutions for caustic chemicals, but I’m sure there’s a market for pre-diluted solutions (I’m pretty sure that market’s already filled, for that matter), but it could theoretically be just as cheap as their magic machine.

  12. I’ve read a little more about this “miracle” water and the thing is it separates the stuff into two solutions (if any of you thought, as the article implies, and as I did, that it was one solution, that’s not the case). So you do get actual cleaning-y chemicals out of this. Low concentration, but extant none-the-less.

    On the cost front I challenged my custodial dept to explain how this would be more cost effective and the answer is twofold.
    1. Even if it isn’t cheaper we save staff exposure to concentrated chemicals, since they don’t need to mix them.
    2. We go through a LOT of cleaners, so $10,000 for a machine that reduces the cost of those cleaners would actually pay for itself fairly quickly – within about 2 years it looks like.

    Here are the interesting issues with purchasing the chemicals rather than the system to create them onsite:
    1. storage of the products (space is at a premium here)
    2. training issues for mixing and use
    3. water treatment prior to mixing (I had no idea, but you have to either use distilled water or soften the water before mixing the chemicals we’d be looking at)

    Oh, and our custodial supervisor send me the “FDA approved” letter for the effectiveness of these solutions. Since I can’t post a pdf in a comment, I could e-mail it to Skepchick if you all are really that interested.

    Anyway, my main hesitation now is the cost. Bearing the cost of the machine in mind, the people who know what we spend think it will actually be cheaper.

    The other hesitation is if it is a total scam, and the machine doesn’t do what it claims to do. I don’t think they’d have FDA approval if it didn’t…

    I think this would not be a good solution for a small business or small hotel, but the larger your institution and the more you spend on cleaning solutions the more likely it is that it might be worth it.

    Please keep me posted if you hear anything about scams related to this, or if you run across real solid evidence one way or the other.

    Here’s what BoingBoing says: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/02/23/electrolyzed-water-a.html

  13. Ah, I feel embarrassed, I fell for a media article mis-reporting how a scientific concept works and just assumed they were outright wrong (Though in my defense that usually *is* the case!).

    I’ve never heard of a machine that electrolyzed, and separated, brine solutions before. I know there are machines that *clean* by electrolysis, as an alternative to autoclaving or sonicating stuff to clean it, and I figured they had just misreported news of these machines as an alternative to autoclaves (such as for destroying anthrax).

    Still, though, I question the economics of it, as the machine costs a pretty penny out of the box, and is going to need to be serviced at some point, as the cathode/anode are going to have to be replaced, especially if you’re just running tap water into it rather than distilled water.

  14. Wow. Have a look at that picture from the autism article. It looks to me that vampires get autistic children too =(

  15. AAltair: FDA does not regulate household cleaners. It regulates food and drugs (http://www.fda.gov/opacom/7approvl.html). They would most likely have to register with the EPA. I don’t think any governmental agency would regulate “effectiveness” of cleaners. However, I’m only speaking from experiences working in marketing for a company that markets household cleaners.

  16. Ok, the water thing confuses the hell out of me.

    (1.) “some hotel workers are calling it “el liquido milagroso,” the miracle liquid.” Oh, yeah cuz no service worker in California speaks English. Holy fricken balls, if the photo showed all black people and said “The workers call it “Shiiiiit-Foo”. That’s jive talk for “Really great”. Maybe the really subtle racism doesn’t bother anyone else, or maybe I need a freakin nap, but it bugs me.

    (2.) “that scientists said is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores without harming people or the environment.” Hmmm. Who are these scientists, where was the work published, and who reviewed it?

    (3.) “A New York poultry processor uses it to kill salmonella on chicken carcasses. Minnesota grocery clerks spray sticky conveyors in the checkout lanes. Michigan jailers mop with electrolyzed water to keep potentially lethal cleaners out of the hands of inmates.” None of whom will be named, lest you source check.

    (4.) “I didn’t believe in it at first because it didn’t have foam or any scent,” housekeeper Flor Corona said. “But I can tell you it works. My rooms are clean.” We finally get a name, and it’s an anecdote. Nice.

    (5.) “nontoxic cleaning agents”…sodium hydroxide and hypochlorous acid. Caustic soda is highly caustic, and reacts highly exothermically. (ie, fire, smoke, death.) Hypchlorous acid is somewhat caustic, and is potent oxidizer. It’s not anything you want stored in the same room unless the concentrations are on the homeopathic level.

    (6.) The two solutions it makes are identical to weak solutions of toilet bowl cleaner and and bleach water respectively. I can’t see how making it on site makes those solutions safer or less toxic.

    Yen-Con Hung really is respected researcher and really did research E-water. So, I don’t know. The tone of this article really bothers me.

  17. The chemistry of this is actually quite wonderful.

    It is bullshit to say that this “electrolysed water” is any different from the normal action of chlorine or hypochlorite in water because this is simply a crude and brutal approximation of the method by which chlorine is made industrially.

    For instance, in the Castner- Kellner process :

    The electrolytic cell is made in 3 compartments.
    The walls fit into a pool of mercury on the floor of the whole cell

    The carbon rod anodes in the outer compartments resist the action of chlorine and the iron grid cathode in the inner compartments that of caustic soda.

    During electrolysis the chlorine liberated at the anode passes out of pipes at the top, while sodium dissolves in the mercury and diffuses to the inner compartment where it reacts with water to give sodium hydroxide.

    The solution of chlorine in water is:-

    H2O + Cl2 = HCl +HOCl
    2HOCl = 2 HCl +O2

    The action of chlorine is:

    Chlorine first reacts with water give hypochlorous acid HClO
    The hypochlorous acid is a vigorous oxidising agent and the oxygen in it combines with other elements, much more so than the oxygen atoms of oxygen gas.

    Oxidation destroys proteins in infectious organisms by breaking up the carbon ring structures and chains to form smaller molecules.

    There are many other oxyacids of chlorine, most of which exist IN EQUILIBRIUM with each other, the predominant species depending on temperature, concentration, pH, etc.

    Because the various species end up the same under any given set of conditions, it matters not whether you start with chlorine or “electrolysed water”.

    Sorry for the long post but the complete thing was a lot longer….(!)

  18. Hmm. Once you find out that it basically makes bleach and lye, it makes sense. Now, both these chemicals are cheap and plentiful, because of how easy they are to make out of cheaper and more plentiful water!

    I see many advantages here. Think of all the storage, shipping, storage again, shipping again, then finally storage on-site costs that are not incurred using this machine. Then, back in my days as a line cook, we used to get in trouble for using “the red stuff” to clean the grill. What was the red stuff you ask? Sodium hydroxide. Very strong, I think ph 11 or 12. Great cleaner, except the dish washer company would charge 120 cad per 16L bucket of NaOH and red dye. Plus, you get that stuff of your hands, and it’s chemical burn city. This machine, provided it’s functioning normally, cuts out a lot of middlemen and warehousers and shippers. Think about it, most of the weight of bleach and NaOH solutions is water. The stuff we pump through pipes to every reputable food and hospitality establishment. Admittedly, it probably has to be paired with some form of purifier/filter/distiller, but I would think it would still be a net savings on energy overall for these products, tho I don’t have the time right now to run the numbers.

    Overall, good for the environment, I say. Plus, the product it dispenses is at a relatively safe concentration, so no need to worry about special training and precautions, vs having a giant bucket of solid lye or even concentrated lye solution and bleach.

    sorry for the ramblyness, but I haven’t had enough coffee this morning. Or maybe too much. either way, Thoughts?

  19. “…a main feature in popular Pentecostalism is the Prosperity Gospel…”

    I have to take strong exception to this. I grew up in the Assemblies of God, which is Pentecostal. Now, I’m not going to say you might not hear the occasional AG preacher who teaches something like a prosperity gospel, but, by and large, it’s discouraged. Other fellowships may see it more often. It’s a lot more common among Charismatics. But this article seems to be trying to tie Pentecostalism directly to prosperity gospel teaching, which isn’t true.

  20. It’s been great reading everyone’s comments on “miracle water.” Seems like it’s been a good skeptical exercise.

    @mikespeir: I’ll admit to being pretty ignorant about the various sectors of Pentecostalism. AG churches seem to be most common in my area, but do they make up the majority of Pentecostal groups?

  21. Amanda:

    There was a time when the AG was the largest Pentecostal fellowship. I think the Church of God is now, at least in the United States. There are other, minor varieties.

  22. Hope I’m not coming across as a dick here…but:

    @bluescat48 : concentrated solutions of hypochlorite are stable for months or more. Dilute solutions are not.

    @Ltstorm : while HCl is the end product, it is the intermediate HClO that is the disinfectant (and see above)
    I agree with the thrust of your second post re costing though.
    Re your 3rd post: I hope the employees can figure out how to disinfect their toilets at home.
    Re your 4th post: Carbon anode/iron cathode are resistant to reaction with the products (see my first post)

    @AAltair: Have you factored in the cost of power? It takes a lot of juice to make a litre of 5% hypochlorite (bleach).
    Do you know HOW MUCH hypochlorite is produced so you can compare like with like ie if the gizmo makes a very dilute solution, then your cost comparison should be on the basis of greatly diluted bleach solutions.

    @truthwalker: You hit the nail on the head – I hope the gizmo produces ENOUGH bleach to do the job properly without producing caustic concentrations, and therefore the main concern would be QUALITY CONTROL in the hands of untrained and inexperienced workers.

    @ zipzooker: against all that is the IsquaredR loss of electrical power in transmission. But, if a proper like with like costing was done, just maybe it would be economical.

    Here endeth the lesson!

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