Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Test - The Wine Clip

We ran a test, semi-scientifically and everything.

My guests brought something called a "wine clip," which is a magnet device that fits over the neck of a bottle of wine. It's supposed to be a special "rare earth" magnet, and when the wine pours through the magnet, the magnet's supposed to instantly aerate it. Uh huh. When my guests first told me about this gadget, I was skeptical and dropped an email to one of the physics profs here at NWU, because seriously, if a little magnet could rearrange the molecules in wine that fast, what would an MRI do to people? Or one of those electromagnetic turbines making electricity in a hydroelectric dam?

He kindly emailed back agreeing that my skepticism was reasonable, and sent me to this website reviewing the thing. As you can see, the reviewer wasn't impressed.

But we decided to run a test, though only with one bottle for the moment. (Ideally, I wanted to test it with a couple of bottles, but we only opened one at a time. Great restraint we have, eh?)

I sent my guests out of the room, flipped a coin, and poured one glass without and two with the magnet, putting a marked index card face down under each glass. Then I sent my guests in to do the taste test and left the room.

I asked them to record their observations, but they just wrote down their conclusions about which glass(es) were treated. So much for our scientific method.

Statistically, they failed. There's a 1/3 chance that they'd guess correctly about any single glass, and they hit that pretty much.

Now the question is, why did my guests actually think a magnet could do anything to wine? And for when a magnet really is working (on my refrigerator, for example), why would it matter if it's "rare earth" or just magnetized iron? Isn't a magnetic field a magnetic field?

So much for Thanksgiving Day science at the BardiacShack!


  1. I like scientific experimentation during the holidays! Maybe at the faculty dinner I'm going to tonight I'll surreptitiously plant a copy of the Chancellor's strategic plan and see how many faculty take the bait and discuss it ad nauseum.

  2. What would it mean to aerate a bottle of wine anyway? make it sparkly like champagne? (you can see how minimal my scientific knowledge is.... )

  3. Anonymous9:26 PM

    The reason for your guests apparent ease of being duped, has at least a couple of explanations. 1) The placebo effect, or 2) some odd kind of 'irrationalisation' - 'If you do something, then there must be an effect, right?' This kind of reasoning is amazingly common (if you do not believe me, watch a few infomercials!)

    The CP

  4. Dear Bardiac: I've had the same skepticism about magnetic shoe inserts, magnet bracelets, etc. Someone has to stop the insanity!

    By the way, I just saw "Stranger Than Fiction" and now I think of you as being a female Dustin Hoffman. How accurate am I?

  5. Recent studies on the placebo effect have shown it to be very real. So I think you need another test. Serve wine to people and tell them it's been run through magnets -- and see if they say it tastes different.

  6. I had a friend who glued magnets into her shoes because someone told her that the magnets rearranged the nerve endings making pain unreadable. I am not a scientists but if a magnet could do that, change molecules and cells and atoms and all of that, wouldn't we all be at risk of becoming mutated like every generation and our DNA would not stand a chance. I'm not even sure radiation, in small doses, can do what most folks believe magnets can. Your science experiments in your house sound like some in mine.

  7. FD: A female Dustin Hoffman? I'm afraid Dustin Hoffman looks a LOT better than I do as a female. That doesn't thrill me. However, Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and many other male actors look better than I do as females, too. I think there's a trend, but I don't want to think further about it.

    Jo(e): At least more research would be fun, eh?

    Sarah: You're supposed to let red wines "breathe" or something, right? I think that's supposed to expose them to oxygen in ways that changes the tannins or something? We've now more than exhausted my wine expertise.

    Everyone else: we should ALL do wine research, really!

    My guest insisted on using the magnet again, arguing that as long as s/he was enjoying the placebo effect, that was fine. I can't think about placebo without thinking of the Chaucer character, and that just shows how warped I am!

  8. Why can you people just do the simple wine test, instead of trying to make it so complicated, by using several different wine and keeping everything such a secret from your guest. Just get an inexpensive bottle of red wine (doesn't work as well on white wine) Pour your guest a glass without the clip. Pour another glass with the clip. Have them taste the first glass, then the one with the clip. They will be able to tell a difference. They may not like the difference, but it is very obvious.

  9. Because if they know which is which, the placebo effect may kick in; that's when because you think there's a difference, you experience a difference. It's a well known thing with people, that if you suggest an effect, they'll find it.

    By using only two glasses, one with each, you give your testers a 50% chance. That increases the odds of a good guess. By adding a third glass, but not saying if it's magnet-treated or not, you increase the odds that your results will be at least minimally meaningful.

    My guests couldn't tell a difference better than random chance would suggest. And my physicist friend explained that there should be no change from exposure to a magnet.

  10. Rare Earth magnets are made of materials (alloys) which can be much more strongly magnetized than iron, making them smaller, more powerful, or both.

    While I'm also wary of "magic magnet" products and suspect the "wine clip" is just another scam (despite glowing reviews from some wine experts) be careful in your scientific experiments to factor in the reverse placebo effect, the mindset by which the assumption that "it can't possibly work" obscures positive results. Note also that the device under discussion is said to be most effective on the cheapest wines and, according to most reviews, either ineffective on or detrimental to the sort of wines you'd actually want to serve guests.