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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Critical Thinking About Pet Protector

Recently a reader asked my opinion about Pet Protector, a product designed for protecting against fleas and ticks.  I had never heard of it so I looked into it a bit.  From what I can see there seems to be a lot of rather bogus science behind it.

The company's website is, went there to try and learn about it.  The product is a metal disc that is worn on a dog's or cat's collar, and which gives protection against fleas and ticks for four years.  All without chemicals.  Sounds pretty amazing, right?  Here are some quotes from the company on how it works.

The Pet Protector Disc uses advanced technology to emit Magnetic and Scalar waves, creating a protective shield around your pets' body and repelling all external parasites.

Repels fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and all other external parasites including Australian paralysis tick

Produces Scalar waves and creates an impenetrable, protective shield around the animal's body

Officially tested and proven

The Pet Protector Disc is made of high quality steel alloys. It is charged with a specific combination of Magnetic and Scalar waves, which after being triggered by the animal’s movement (blood circulation), produce an invisible energy field around the entire animal’s body. Pet Protector’s Scalar waves are totally harmless to people and animals (they go absolutely undetected by humans and animals alike) and they are only effective against external parasites, repelling them from the shielded area. Therefore, the Pet Protector Disc acts preventatively; it drives fleas, ticks and mosquitoes away before they get the chance to infest your pet, versus all other anti-parasite products, which kill external parasites after they have already infested your pet.

Now that sounds like a pretty high-tech product, doesn't it?  And not having to use chemicals is so much better!

But let's not take this on face value or even just look at the testimonials on the website (which are always hand-picked for the best ones).  Let's spend some time looking into this effect and the claims.  And above all, let's use actual critical thinking (as we always should).

First, what the heck are "Scalar waves"?  I did a quick Google search learned a few things.  These kinds of waves have been researched since around the time of Nikola Tesla, and nowadays are firmly in the camp of pseudoscience.  When you find people supporting the idea of scalar waves you find them talking about conspiracy theories, ultimate healing, super weapons, weather control, and similar crackpot ideas.  Here are some choice quotes from some forums and websites.

In physics, a quantity described as "scalar" only contains information about its magnitude. In contrast, a "vector" quantity contains information both about its magnitude and about its direction. By this definition, a "scalar wave" in physics would be defined as any solution to a "scalar wave equation". In reality, this definition is far too general to be useful, and as a result the term "scalar wave" is used exclusively by cranks and peddlers of woo.

The main current proponent of scalar wave pseudophysics is zero-point energy advocate Thomas E. Bearden, who has concocted an entire pseudoscientific "scalar field theory" unrelated to anything in actual physics of that name. 

Bearden was pushing the medical effects of scalar waves as early as 1991. He specifically attributed their powers to cure AIDS, cancer and genetic diseases to their quantum effects and their use in "engineering the Schrödinger equation." They are also useful in mind control.

What is a “scalar wave” exactly? Scalar wave (hereafter SW) is just another name for a “longitudinal” wave. The term “scalar” is sometimes used instead because the hypothetical source of these waves is thought to be a “scalar field” of some kind similar to the Higgs Field for example.

Because the concept of an all pervasive, material Ether was discarded by most scientists, the thought of vortex-like electric and/or magnetic waves existing in free space, without the support of a viscous medium, was thought to be impossible. However later experiments carried out by Dayton Miller, Paul Sagnac, E.W. Silvertooth, and others have contradicted the findings of Michelson & Morley. More recently Italian Mathematician-Physicist Daniele Funaro, American Physicist-Systems Theorist Paul LaViolette, and British Physicist Harold Aspden have all conceived of (and mathematically formulated) models for a free space Ether that is dynamic, fluctuating, self-organizing, and allows for the formation & propagation of SW/LW.

I try to imagine what physics would be like without mathematics. I think it would be like this "scalar wave" business. A lot of guys coming up with ideas and swapping lies 'cause math is hard.

A scalar is just a number. A wave is a repetitive variation in that number. For example the altitude of each point in Wisconsin forms a scalar wave. Or sound waves, all you can hear is the intensity of the superimposed tones; the intensity is just a number (yeah, maybe a complex number) and it varies repetitively (i.e the cycles of the tones). 

You've asked about Bearden before and the answer is the same: while Greer is a second order crackpot, Bearden may well be certifiably insane - he is, at the very least, a liar and a fraud. 

Tom Bearden is a notorious crackpot. Has been for years. References available upon request. I kinda hate to go through this exercise again, but, if you are really interested in facts, I don't mind. He is a fraud, charlatan and temple priest of bad science. I hope I am not sugar coating this too much.

It seems that most reputable physicists don't believe in the various scalar wave applications that are touted by the fringes of science and medicine.  So to me this is one of the biggest strikes against Pet Protector, as it is the primary reason why it is supposed to work.

But for a moment let's assume that scalar waves really do exist in the way that they're stated.  Would this product work and is it backed up by studies?

Let's first look at one of the primary statements made by Pet Protector:  Pet Protector’s Scalar waves are totally harmless to people and animals (they go absolutely undetected by humans and animals alike) and they are only effective against external parasites, repelling them from the shielded area.  Does that make scientific sense?  No, not really.  I can find no information on the website on exactly why it affects parasites but not the host.  With typical topical chemicals a product works by affecting neurotransmitters found in insects and arachnids that are not found in mammals.  They are considered safe for most pets because they affect things that the hosts don't have.  I can't find anything about scalar waves that would cause them to be unnoticed by dogs and cats but not fleas or ticks.

Here is more from the website:
1. The Pet Protector Disc does not have the ability to eliminate existing parasites or their larvae 
2. The Pet Protector Disc can only repel new parasites from inhabiting your pet 
3. The Pet Protector Disc needs 7 to 20 days (depending on the pet’s size) to create a strong enough Scalar Wave field around your pet's whole body, protecting it from fleas and ticks successfully.

This is what I find interesting.  The premise behind the disc is that it actually and literally creates a invisible force-field around your pet.  Stop and say that out loud.  It sounds rather odd, doesn't it?  Somehow the disc creates an invisible bubble that doesn't actually touch the pet.  If it did, it would repel the parasites that already exist on the pet.  How does the disc do that?  Electromagnetic waves are supposed to emanate in a straight line from the origin source, and should spread out in all directions.  Magnets and gravity can change the direction of these waves, but you have to have pretty powerful equipment to make a noticeable difference.  Somehow a disc that looks like an ID tag has the power and ability to not pass through the pet but instead make a sphere around it.  Do you realize how strange that sounds?  And there is nothing on the website that gives details on how this might actually happen, or links to the science behind it.  You basically just have to trust the company that what they say is true.

Okay, so now let's assume that a product like this actually works and there are ones on the market who perform exactly as expected.  Does Pet Protector show evidence of actually repelling parasites?  For this we can go to the "Official Product Testing" part of the website.

The study was conducted over 4 years in the US, Argentina, Spain, and Australia.  The dogs and cats were selected randomly and were in homes with owners.  There were 22 pets selected in each geographical location, for a total of 88 over the study.  The animals were determined to be "100% free of any external parasites", had the disc attached to their collar, and were isolated for 15 days to give the disc time to fully activate.  On the 16th day they were released back to their normal environment and the owners were told not to do anything different.  The pets were examined weekly for four years, with only an occasional tick found during that entire time.

All of that sounds good, and if you look at the study document you'll see "Official" stamped in the corner of every page.  It certainly sounds convincing and scientific.  But this is far from being a true study of efficacy.  There are numerous unanswered questions, and this so-called study would be laughed at by any peer-reviewed scientific journal.
  • How were the pets determined to be parasite-free?  What methods were used and what was the expertise level of those doing the exams?
  • What were the baseline parasite levels in the various locations?  I don't know about the non-US locations, but in America the study was performed in California, which has one of the lower rates of fleas and mosquitoes in the country.  If they wanted to do a real study they should have come to the southeastern states.  Here in Georgia I never have a month go by where I don't see pets with fleas, even in the dead of winter.  
  • Did the lifestyles of the pets allow them access to parasites?  A cat that is strictly indoors is never going to have a tick, so making a claim of "see, our product prevented ticks" is rather pointless. Dogs that are hunting or camping are going to have a higher risk of fleas and ticks than a toy breed that only goes outside a few minutes per day to use the potty.  A pet owner who is doing routine treatment of the yard against insects is going to have a lower risk of fleas and ticks than one who isn't.
  • Did any of the pets chosen have a history of fleas or ticks being seen?  Even here in Georgia I have dog owners who aren't using any form of flea or tick control and yet we never see those parasites on their pets.  I routinely have clients who say "Oh, I've never seen any fleas so I don't need prevention", and despite my skepticism I can't find a single flea on the pet.  If one of these clients was using a Pet Protector the company would say "see, no parasites!"  Yet the pet never had them in the past, so why would they have them now?
  • Who was doing the weekly exams?  If it was the owners, I don't believe them.  I've had many, many situations opposite that I just mentioned, where they insist there are no fleas at all yet I glance at the pet and find a half dozen very easily.  Pet owners may not know how to examine the pet, may miss something, or may not easily recognize a parasite.
  • Where are the controls?  Here is one of the biggest problems with the Pet Protector data.  There are no controls.  If we wanted to test true efficacy we would have dogs and cats of similar breed in the same environment who used just a metal tag rather than the Pet Protector disc, and the owners didn't know which was which.  Having this kind of "blind" study with control removes bias from the people doing the routine exams.  You also have more validity in the data because if the control animals had fleas but the study ones didn't you could say that it was protective.  But if the control animals also didn't have any fleas then the lack of parasites had nothing to do with the product.  Pet Protector simply doesn't have this information.
Do you know how most flea and tick products are tested?  It is generally in a laboratory with research animals.  They are certified parasite-free by the researchers, who are usually specialists in parasitology.  A specific number of fleas ticks are placed on the pet (usually 100), and the same number are placed on every animal.  Counts are regularly made to see how many of those parasites placed are remaining, as well as the numbers on the control animals (who get the same parasites but not the product).  In some studies a new set of parasites is placed on the pet periodically to determine the duration of efficacy.  Can you see how this method is much more precise and valid that the one used by Pet Protector?

Hopefully you can see the incredibly numerous things wrong with this product, from the pseudoscience premise to the lack of anything that could be called a true scientific study.  There are many statements made by the company and their "study", none of which have solid science behind them.  

While this product is almost certainly harmless, I can't believe that it would have any real efficacy and would be a waste of the consumer's money.  I would not recommend buying it.