Afternoon InquisitionScienceSkepticism

Sunday AI: Stupidity. There’s an app for that.

I confess, I recently purchased an iPad.  I was poking around online to pimp my pad when I discovered this in the Apple App Store:

Anti Mosquito Plus Sonic Insect Repeller
“Sonic Insect Repeller will turn your iPhone/iPod Touch* into an insect deflector that is effective, chemical-free and safe to use around children and pets!”

Gentle readers, I believe you know what I’m going to say about this:

I’ve covered before, in detail, the utter failure of any ultrasound device to repel anything besides common sense.
And, perhaps, money is also repelled out of your wallet.  (This is not a free app!)

The developers of this app have clearly gone to a great deal of time and trouble to make this thing look like it’s doing something. And, for all I know, if the iPhone/iPad (and Androids–there’s an app for them too) are *capable* of producing sound in these frequencies–which is doubtful–they may really be doing so.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that ultrasound has been shown again and again over the last 20 years to utterly FAIL at repelling mozzies.

And yet…these devices persist on the market.

What crazy apps for smartphones or tablets have you seen? Or, alternatively, what apps do you wish someone would invent?


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. If only there *were* an ap for stupidity! I have an old boyfriend who is a geneticist. Once I said, “Tom, can you come up with a drug that cures stupid (I used the verb as a noun just because it’s funnier) and put it in the drinking water?” He said, “We have that. It’s called arsenic.”
    As for the mosquitoes: buy a bat house. You and the bats win.

  2. I have friends and relatives who have bought the battery operated versions. They are sure that they work. These are people with degrees and advanced degrees. Sheesh!

    Also, don’t forget the ultrasonic deer whistles for your car. They were debunked decades ago by conservation authorities. Yet, there at least 3 late model cars on our block right now with them. All of the owners are college educated couples who are otherwise quite sharp.

    I have come to think that wishful thinking is, in fact, the most powerful instinct for humans.

    1. My wife was at our insurance agents office a few weeks ago and there was a box of high frequency deer repellent whistles free for the taking by the door, so she brought one home. I was planning on looking into their effectiveness which I thought was unlikely. (Nope, didn’t put it on the car!) You’d think there would be some evidence for a genetic advantage in the local deer population of a vehicle avoidance trait by this time.

      1. Maybe deer can’t actually hear them? Or maybe death by auto is such a small cause of death in deer that it would take hundreds or thousands of generations for deer whistle avoidance to become common. Another question is why should it work explicitly on deer? You would think squirrels and skunks would have much more to gain, and have shorter reproduction times, so evolution should act faster.

  3. I’ve discovered a great weight-loss app for the iPod. I’ve lost almost 20 pounds in the last year using it. Best of all, it’s FREE! Just download all the SGU podcasts, cue one up, and go for a walk. About 1:20 and 4 miles later, you’re done. Repeat daily for a year and you’re both smarter and thinner.

  4. The iPad would seem ideal for dowsing purposes ( i.e. duping the rubes), and I’d be shocked if there wasn’t already a dowsing app. On a non-delusional front, good insect field guides would push me that much closer to dropping the cash for an iPad.

  5. …and after reading Kerry’s comment, I checked. There actually is a dowsing app. On the plus side it’s free. On the *really* plus side the comments are enlightening (not as good on the reviews of Cage’s “33&1/3rd” on iTunes, but in some ways similar in coherency).

  6. I think we should encourage subversive apps that look like woo, but gently nudge someone aside. For example make an app that looks like an astrology app, but then goes on to say which constellations will be up that evening, and to estimate the relative gravitational effect your obstetrician had on you compared to, say, Jupiter. Then close with a comment like “do you know where your obstetrician is today?”

    1. I think that’s a bad idea.
      On today’s SGU walk (see above) I was listening to the episode from Nov 18, 2009 and the guest was archaeologist Kenny Feder, who mentioned an historic house preservation group had signed up some ghost hunters to gin up some spooky mystery haunted woo to try to get people interested in the old houses. The idea being to get them in the door so they could expose them to some real history and maybe get them interested. There was general agreement among the panel that this was a terrible idea. In addition to lending credence to the ghost hunters (and allowing them to claim to be endorsed by the historical group), most of the people attracted by the ghost tours will probably be completely uninterested in the actual history and will just leave when no ghosts show up. They compared it to the National Geographic channel trying to get people interested in archeology by airing shows about von Daniken.

  7. It’s interesting that they’ve used the word “sonic” in the name of the app. So, they’re not actually claiming that it is “ultrasonic”. Being ultrasonic would of course be impossible, since the iPad speakers have a maximum output of 20,000Hz, which is bang on the boarder between sonic (aka audible sound) and ultrasonic. The iPad is incapable of playing anything in the ultrasonic range.

    (Never-mind that even if it did play a sound at 20,000Hz, it would destroy the speaker in short order. Though it can output a sound at that level, I doubt the speakers would be designed to allow a sustained output at that level.)

    My guess is that they’re betting on people parsing ‘sonic’ as ‘ultrasonic’ (as bug_girl has). Because if the consumer makes the mistake, well, then that’s the fault of the consumer; can’t hold the manufacturer or producer responsible for the incorrect inference of the buyer when the product name clearly does not state ‘ultrasonic’.

  8. Re: deer whistles.
    I tried them when we lived in WI because hitting deer up there was about as common as hitting bugs.

    A few weeks after I put them on my car, I hit a pair of deer. I decided that WI deer actually liked whistles… ;-)

  9. Money making opportunity for lawyers. Got iPhone mosquito repellent ap? Get dengue fever? Call us. We can help. Apple has deep pockets.

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