People desperately want magic ... especially cheap and easy-to-implement cures for intractable problems. Remember years ago the crankcase additive STP? (Is it still around?) The name stood for "Scientifically Treated Petroleum" --- sounds good already, eh? It was a goo that one put into the engine of a car; by thickening the oil it helped cut down on leakage through worn seals and gaskets. Conventional high-viscosity lubricants probably do a better job, of course, with fewer bad side-effects. And to really cure oil-burning in an old car one needs to bite the bullet and pay for a complete engine overhaul.

But meanwhile, spending a few bucks a month on unproven magic is mighty attractive. Additives like STP and associated products to put into the gas tank are generically called "mouse milk" by skeptics. Things like that are especially popular when they claim to help complex, ill-understood conditions, and when it's hard to make quantitative, objective measurements of their effects.

I thought again of quick-fix fixations the other day when, standing in a checkout line, I saw a little gimmick that claimed to enhance cell phone transmissions. It was priced at $10 and appeared to be just a postage-stamp-sized flat metallic sticker with a quasi-resonant circuit pattern on it. It cost perhaps two cents to manufacture. The promo prose on its package touted it "As Seen On TV!" (is this good?) and recommended putting it inside the battery compartment of a handset. Somehow, mystically, the sticker would gather and focus otherwise-wasted electromagnetic energy. The device claimed to work for "up to 18 months". (Why have a time limit? To make it easier to sell more?) My bogosity meter went off-scale, for technical reasons too numerous to list here.

This is a great planet that we live on, where people can make money selling ridiculous pseudo-scientific junk. Remember the craze, some years back, for strapping magnets to the fuel lines of cars, to "align molecules" and improve mileage? Or for putting little pyramid-shapes over razor blades to keep them sharp? And don't get me started on "Alternative Medicine"! (see AlteredNative, 24 Jan 2002)

TopicScience - TopicSociety - 2002-06-04

STP was as I recall it overused at the time in the generic meaning Scientifically Tested Product. Some decades later, the buzzterm as applied to hygiene products was (and still is) clincally tested, often accompanied by dramatic xy charts with neither axis' scale indicated. Of course, neither "tested" term says anything about the results of the purported tests; far all we know, the products might have been proved detrimental to health, environment, or whatever.

Once, it used to be good-luck charms, magic amulets, and saintly relics. The STP phase simply indicated what the then currently accepted belief was.

Sadly, there's simply too much "junk" of one kind or another being produced (and amazingly, sold) on this planet. Makes you wonder what amazing mouse-milk products alien civilizations sell to each other, and to their client races. Heap big medicine.... -- Bo Leuf

(correlates: CertainExpression, Comments on High Voltage Fiberoptic Cable, Epicentric Rant, ...)