CEPEO School Board Rejects EMF Balancers
When school boards are confronted by skeptics, the point of contention usually concerns an attempt to introduce creationism into a science curriculum. For the Ottawa school board le Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO), the controversy concerned a different form of pseudoscience – EMF Balancers, but in this case, the CEPEO proved to be on the side of critical thinking. Siding with Ottawa Skeptics, the board has removed close to a dozen EMF Balancers that had been installed in Trillium elementary school and Louis Riel secondary school and shipped the canisters of dirt back to the local distributor.
CEPEO officials seemed as surprised as we were to discover the existence of the Balancers. Ottawa Skeptics has congratulated CEPEO for making the right decision and for not undermining the science education of their students.
The investigation into the EMF Balancers at the schools began unexpectedly last September at a presentation in the Market called Balancing Your World. The talk had been advertised to show how EMF Balancers could remediate the stress and health problems purportedly caused by “electropollution”.
Jon and I attended the presentation, expecting to hear a typical alarmist rant about the detrimental effects of electromagnetic fields, but we were surprised to learn that EMF Balancers actually have no direct effect on EMFs. We were even more surprised to hear the broad range of unbelievable claims made during the presentation by Peter Webb, the inventor and manufacturer of EMF Balancers. Apparently, if you want to cure AIDS, eliminate greenhouse gases or stop hurricanes, Peter is the guy to see.
However, instead of learning how to solve the world’s gravest problems, we will focus on what may be causing the little aches and pains in our lives, or at least, that seemed to be the priority set by Peter and the 20 or so people in the audience that night. In any case, dark forces and government censorship seem to thwart Peter’s many other miracle discoveries, so we will have to be satisfied with the more limited but not insignificant benefits of EMF Balancers for now.
Unknown to Jon, me or, for that matter, the whole scientific community, we are all apparently beset by the influence of “geopathic” lines – an invisible grid of geomagnetically induced energy lines, detectable only by dowsing, that have the unfortunate tendency, we are told, of conducting bad vibrations into our houses. But fear not. Peter says he discovered that an ordered layering of calcium carbonate, kelp and specifc types of clay in a PVC container produces a device that can deflect those nasty lines around your property.
Using dowsing rods, the local distributor, Steve Priebe, showed how laying a Balancer on its side turned it OFF and uprighting it turned it ON. Jon foiled the demonstration by turning the Balancer upside down without Steve detecting it, but that revelation went without comment or concern. Apparently, Steve, Peter and the audience were not interested in having inconvenient facts or contrary evidence get in the way of a pseudoscientific breakthrough that promises to improve the health of plants, livestock and people, to help cars last longer, to prevent lightning from striking your property, and to make water molecules grow in size. What a bargain! I have always thought that my water molecules felt a bit compressed.
A great thing about the Balancers is that they are maintenance free. Canisters of dirt just don’t need a power source, and best of all, Peter says that he remotely updates all the EMF Balancers around the world on a daily basis using radionics, a technology as yet undiscovered by science. Surprisingly, Peter is not capitalizing on an after-sales income stream here.
Installation can require professional consultation though. For simple applications, such as houses, cars and office cubicles, users seem to be able to use the devices with impunity. However, the effect of the Balancers apparently increases exponentially by quantity and yet cannot permeate property lines. So, for large buildings and farms, Steve calls in Peter in order to wrestle with the complex geometries and optimize the layout of the multiple Balancers. Such was the case, we were told, for the installation of five EMF Balancers at Trillium elementary school and six Balancers at Louis Riel secondary school.
This admission launched the investigation. It’s one thing for someone to believe this pseudoscience and invest their own, well-earned money in its promises and another thing to expend public money on nonsense and expose public school students to superstitious thinking.
After doing some digging to confirm that these devices were, in fact, installed at the two schools – something that came as a surprise to M. Roch Landriault, CEPEO Director of Technical Services – we sent a detailed e-mail to M. Georges Orfali, CEPEO President, and M. François Benoit, CEPEO Director of Administration, which included the following excerpt:
On behalf of Ottawa Skeptics, I would like to express our concern that public money has been wasted on pseudoscience and that the effective endorsement of these products by the administration at both schools undermines the foundation of the students’ science education. If you agree with me that this situation is improper and needs to be rectified, I would be interested in hearing how you address it.
If, on the other hand, CEPEO supports the continued use of these products, I would be interested in receiving answers to the following questions:
- Can you confirm that public funds were used to procure and install these products in both schools, and if so, how much was spent?
- What is the CEPEO policy for procuring unconventional and unproven technologies that claim to affect school environments? Can any administrator decide to procure and operate such products or does it require Board approval?
- What scientific opinion was sought to verify the claims being made by the producer and distributor of the products as part of the procurement process? Could you provide me with an explanation of the science behind the products and literature from a scientifically credible source that supports the claims being made for the products (i.e., not testimonials)?
- What credible testing (i.e. not dowsing) was done to verify the operation of these products after installation and on an ongoing basis? Are there any locally produced readings from a technical measuring device (i.e., not dowsing) that indicates a relevant effect to the environment when the products are operating?
- Have the parents of the students at both schools been informed of the existence and continued operation of these products? If so, what claim was used to describe the effect that these products were supposedly going to have on the school environment and on their children’s behaviour? What information was given to the parents about side-effects that these devices might have, and what was the substantiation for that information?
- Does the CEPEO formally endorse the apparent pseudoscientific underpinnings of these products? If so, does the CEPEO endorse New Age mysticism and any other areas of pseudoscience?
- If school administrators have made claims about the effectiveness of these products, what systematic methodology and controls were used to ensure that their observations and conclusions were not due to confirmation bias or some other type of cognitive bias?
M. Orfali and M. Benoit agreed to look into the matter, but with upcoming school board elections and the Christmas break, they became distracted. Finally, at the end of January when they finally addressed the issue, M. Benoit agreed without discussion to get rid of the Balancers. This week, we received confirmation from M. Landriault that the devices had been returned to Steve Priebe.
The end of the story is somewhat unsatisfying. Under whose authority were the Balancers procured, and who installed them? How much money was squandered, and what was the funding source? How could the public educators involved be ignorant of the lack of science merit in the claims being made, or how could they not understand the effect of confirmation bias? Why was one of the school principals allowed to endorse the device in a product brochure? Has anyone been reprimanded?
We decided not to pursue these issues. The CEPEO seemed to be caught off guard by the incident, and when they finally looked into our complaint, they acted decisively and responsibly. In fact, we were preparing to conduct a double-blind demonstration at a board meeting in the event that CEPEO had deliberately installed the Balancers as an offical project. In the end, we are relieved to find out that this was not the case and rest assured that the CEPEO officials are critical thinkers after all.