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Guest Post: Ethan Milne’s Science Fair Experiment

A young SGU listener contacted Rebecca some time back to let her know about his experience with a science fair project this year. He had such a great, compelling story that we asked him to write a guest post for us. I’ll let him do the rest!


My name is Ethan Milne. I am thirteen years old and am in grade eight. I live in a small town (7,500). My science fair project this year was about the power of the placebo effect. I was inspired by watching friends wear Power Balance bands. They would say how it could help their strength, balance and energy.  Being a fan of SGU and a skeptic, I did not believe a rubber band could help them play soccer.

After doing some research I discovered it was all a placebo effect. It was cool to learn about Dr. Mesmer and how he mesmerized people hundreds of years ago using magnets. I wondered if I could mesmerize my friends with some placebo bands.

I created a science fair project to demonstrate the power of the placebo on my grade eight classmates. The principal provided ethics approval. Parents had to sign a consent form. Then they took a survey to rate their well-being in six areas. After that my dad (who is a doctor) gave my class a big presentation, taking advantage of the logical fallacy of argument from authority. I also had an interesting balance demonstration (trick) which amazed my entire class.

Then my classmates received a free placebo band that I ordered from the Meet the Skeptics. I got them for two bucks each yet I told my classmates that they cost $30-60 in an effort to increase the placebo effect. These bands specifically said “placebo, the power of belief.”

Image Courtesy SkepticBros

I tried to give the best ritual I could, telling my classmates to put the band on their dominant hand. They were told it would maximize the flow of negative ions across their neurovascular bundle. It was hilarious to watch them all be fooled by fancy medical words.

After a week I had them take the survey again. I crunched the data and found they had a 21% increase! After I told them it was all a placebo (fake) they were upset at being fooled. They thought that medical grade silicone and holograms were real.

Just for fun, I added an internal control. The control was that I told my classmates that because of the increase f energy provided by power bands, they might get insomnia. After I crunched the data I found that sleep had not made a relevant increase on their self rating forms! I had many comments from friends saying that the couldn’t sleep at night!

I am now participating in the Canada wide science fair in P.E.I. And have just received a bronze medal and a scholarship to a university thanks to this project. I hope to continue to promote science and skepticism. It was disappointing that science fair was voluntary this year. I believe that it should be mandatory, at least to promote science and critical thinking.


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. This is awesome science!

    maximize the flow of negative ions across their neurovascular bundle

    Quick – reverse the polarity of the neutron flow! =D

  2. This is awesome! And I hope that his classmates remember this experiment in the future when they encounter too-good-to-be-true claims about “medical” products.

    1. Well done Ethan! I am sure your project opened a few of your fellow classmates eyes. I applaud you.

  3. Bad*ss! Good job, Ethan. I hope your friends wanted to learn more about the placebo effect once they got over being tricked ;)

  4. So awesome. =D Well done, & congrats with the scholarship. What’s your next project going to be?

  5. We need more kids like Ethan in today’s world.

    There’s still hope, after all.

  6. That is a great experiment. However, I’d like to see it repeated with some kind of control group.

    1. I’d like to see a repeat with two controls: One group that is asked to wear the Placebo band, but does not get any fancy presentation or hype, and one group that does not wear any rubber bands.

      But I’m so impressed with this project! I have a placebo bracelet too. I’ve been asked if it works, and I always answer “every bit as well as an original Power Balance!”

  7. Congratulations on your Bronze Medal and your scholarship. Keep up the work and you’ll have a bright future indeed.

  8. I’ve always been fascinated by the placebo effect myself. Its amazing that Ethan was able to preform such a professional experiment. It demonstrates perfectly the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. That kid’s definitely got some smarts.

  9. I am gong to be trying to make a project with a couple control groups, possibly one group with the real deal,many one with the placebo bands. ????

    ~ come to the dork side, we has pi!

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