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Monday, 1 June 2009

Bullshit Redux

According to the most recent survey, 25 per cent of school pupils in England report they had tried drugs at least once. 17 per cent say that they have taken drugs in the last year. Although these figures have dropped from the previous study, they are still cause for concern.

Schools have introduced a wide range of strategies to address this problem: drug education lessons; websites; visits from ex-addicts; and even security searches at the door. Presumably, these things are working to some extent, but the fact that one in four young people are still users suggests that more needs to be done.

Part of the problem seems to be that many drug users are difficult to identify. Generally, when asked ‘do you take drugs?’, most say ‘no’. Tricky devils.

If only there was a foolproof way of finding users, so that they could be helped to give up the gear, and take up more wholesome activities, like cricket and close harmony singing.

It turns out that there is a method.

The Quadro QRS 250G "Detector" (the Quadro Tracker) is a plastic box with an antenna. The manufacturers claim that this machine can detect drugs via "tuned frequency chips" to hone in on its target:

The frequency chip is oscillated by static electricity produced by the body [of the user] inhaling and exhaling gases into and out of the lung cavity. This static electricity is propagated on the surface of the body to the tracker which utilizes the charge to oscillate the chip … All matter contains exact molecular frequencies. When a magnetic field is created by a contained electrically charged body moving through space at a perpendicular angle moving to its direction, and that field is brought into alignment with another exact field, resonating at the identical frequency modulation, then both objects attract, just as two bodies are attracted toward each other in a gravitational field.

All that is required is to wonder around the school with the box in your hand, and the antennae turn towards the dope. Essentially, the Quadro Tracker is a super-high-tech dowsing tool.

Problem solved. And only $1,000 per unit.

But science is not tolerant of innovative ideas. Some scientists claimed that the complex language used to explain the machine was bogus. One laboratory even took one apart and found it to be empty, apart from some dead flies. Naturally, the manufacturer threatened to sue the lab. Then the FBI became involved. Its tests found that the Quadro Tracker was incapable of detecting anything at all.

But some schools are made of sterner stuff, and have spent considerable funds on the machines for spotting their drug-addled students. Some continue to endorse the product after the company that made it has been driven out of business by federal agencies.

One school district in the USA has been so inspired by the Quadro Tracker that it has gone on to invest in other alternative approaches to school improvement. The Polk County School Board in Florida secured funding of more than half a million dollars to employ the services of Starshine Foundation, headed by Sue Miller Hurst, “a pioneer in brain/mind research and its applications to learning environments”. According to James Randi, infamous critic of ‘Flim Flam’, this organisation promotes the use of remote viewing (pretending to perceive places, persons, and actions that are not within the range of the senses by psychic skills), clairvoyance (the same as remote viewing), morphic fields (something to do with life forces), direct knowing (no idea), soulwork (er), and psychokinesis (spoon bending).

It is not clear what this organisation actually did with Floridian school children. Presumably, with half a million dollars to spend, they did quite a lot. I’ve been unable to find an evaluation of the scheme and its impact.

Of course, things like this could never happen in the UK. Our cash-strapped schools would never let untested and unsubstantiated schemes interfere with students’ learning.

Brain Gym?

OK, apart from Brain Gym, they’d never waste time and money on pseudoscience.

Fish Oil? Mozart Effect? Left/Right Brain teaching?

Apart from Fish Oil, the Mozart Effect and Left/Right Brain teaching, British schools would never be taken in my dubious, sciency sounding bunkum.

Neuro-physiological Psychology? Educational Kinesiology? Learning Styles? Multiple Intelligences?

Right, I’m off to start my new business. Watch this space for the Institute for neuro-psycho-kinetic-educational-science-no-it-really-is-scientific-honest-we-haven’t-tested-it-yet-but-give-us-time-and-your-money-and-see-the-magic Studies.

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