The Bug Banisher

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In many ways, the intersection of entomology and marketing is the ultimate expression of “build a better mousebug trap.”  Exhibit A: The Bug Banisher.
The Bug Banisher is absolute genius–if you want to rip people off using quantum new-agey BS.  For only the low price of $59.95, you get:

“Chemical Free!” (except for the plastic chemicals it’s manufactured from, of course.)

“Requires no electrical outlet!” Because…it’s a lump of plastic.  Well, to be specific, 4 little plastic lumps. With purple aluminum triangles glued on.

“Ants, cockroaches, mosquitoes, and flys [sic] find the barrier of Natural Energy intolerable.”
I love that Natural Energy is in Capitals.
I guess my problem is that I’ve been surrounded by UN-natural energy.  That may explain a lot about me, actually.

How does it work?

From the product literature: “it produces a negative ion effect that sends insects packing…”

You see? Genius.  Not “it produces negative ions”, which, of course, would be testable. And also would be completely impossible without any means of power supply.   (Unless, of course, it was ionizing radiation. You can get ion release without a power source via radioactive decay.  Which would make this a MUCH more exciting insect repellent!)

No, these little boxes produce an “ion effect.” From “Natural Energy.” None of which can be measured with conventional scientific instruments, of course.  And the boxes have to be carefully aligned at proper 90 degree angles. Failure to exactly align the boxes will result in the ion effect not….um, effecting, and thus poor insect control.

Even better, when you examine the patent for this device, you see that the inventor does not, himself, actually understand how it all works:

“the surface crystal structure of the plates is believed to generate magnetic fields and negative ion fields and apparently the negative ion fields disturb and repel insect pests from the area.”

I am hoping that some of my physics friends will provide an explanation for f-ing magnetic fields, how do they work? relevant to this particular usage.

But, Gosh! It has an EPA Est. number!

Indeed it does. It’s prominently displayed on most of the Bug Banisher materials, in fact. And that means that the inventor filed paperwork, as he is required to by law.  An EPA Establishment number provides information on where something is manufactured–in this case, it’s a Michigan zip code.  Looks mighty official. Means Nil in terms of the efficacy or safety of the product.

And your point is….?

Why am I bothering to debunk what is obviously bogus? Because it appears it’s being marketed to SCHOOLS.  Yikes.
The fellow that wrote this “Encyclopedia of Integrated Pest Management” which contains recommendations for school IPM manages to combines some good information with utter BS and drek–like the Bug Banisher.

As our society grows more chemophobic, we also want our solutions fast and easy.  We want our food sterile, our houses pest free, and we want all of this without any use of synthetic chemicals and at a low cost.

This is a situation which opens the doors to fraudsters, but also offers opportunities for change.  It’s good to seek alternatives to toxics–but you also need to use your common sense.  Basic physical principles of matter don’t change just because something is purple and shaped like a triangle.

Sigh.

Bonus Hilarity: Accept no substitutes! Other people make purple ion effect generating thingies! But they aren’t the same!

The 4 page instructional booklet for Bug Banisher

23 thoughts on “The Bug Banisher

  1. I’m a little rusty on the ins and outs of FIFRA, but as I recall anything making a pesticidal claim–be it a chemical or device or magic spell–must be EPA registered, and registration requires efficacy data. And if it were registered it would have an EPA product registration number in addition to the EPA Establishment Number. So my guess is that this isn’t registered, and thus selling these things is technically illegal.

    In fact, FIFRA was initially enacted to protect farmers and consumers from exactly this: snake oil salesmen claiming they can solve bug problems but hawking ineffective products.

  2. Well, yes and no, Karl. It has to be safe–but the bit about efficacy is rather muddled, and several new laws now apply:
    http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/regulating/laws.htm

    It’s also entirely possible they just made shit up and stuck it on the package–but given the effort that went into patenting every aspect of these devices, I suspect that they also went through the appropriate registration processes.

  3. QuestionAuthority

    I guess we’ve come a long way from having well-educated people evaluating patent applications in this country. That’s really patheic, as is the number of people that actually believe this would work.

  4. QuestionAuthority

    Hi BG,

    I was just remembering a certain physicist that worked in a Swiss patent office before blowing the world of physics wide open.

    It occurs to me that if what you say is true (and I don’t doubt it), I’d better get my application in for my perpetual motion machine. ;-)

  5. Well, it’s not like we lived in an age of scientific skepticism. This is an age where demonstrating that one has the right beliefs is most important. When journals published by scientific societies lead with conformist diatribes and politically motivated spin, reject papers that don’t follow the party line, and move the methods sections of research papers to the end, what do you expect? This contraption is as green as it gets, it doesn’t even hurt the insects – it banishes them. The triangular badge on the side is genius too – should bring in the pyramid power people. And I don’t think you are getting in the groove about the plastic – when these boxes end up in the landfill, then that is carbon sequestered and not in the atmosphere.

  6. Dave said:
    “When journals published by scientific societies lead with conformist diatribes and politically motivated spin”

    Wait…what? Can you give me an example?

  7. Hi, I’m comming here from Boing boing :)
    One question, in my country Venezuela, I have seen something very very odd, to repel insects people places plastic bags filled with water hanging around, I know it does sounds crazy but it’s very popular, even my Mom has do it at it seems to work, I just can’t understand why? Is it working or is just like a placebo effect?

  8. Terry

    Hey! Can you fix the purchase link? I clicked on the picture but I can’t figure out how to buy the Bug Banisher 1600! :)

    If they weren’t so expensive, I’d buy a bunch for my school to use. No, not to repel bugs. They’d be great in dissection kits to represent this genus of flim-flammery.

    The impostor warning is precious! Scammers snipping at each other like too many rats feeding in the same barrel!

  9. Dave

    You want examples – I’ll rest my case with the first journal I checked. If you see something that looks like objective science in the lead editorials, then you wear rosier glasses than I do.

    Nature
    Volume 467 Number 7314 pp367-48823 September 2010

    Editorials
    TopInvestment in Pakistan
    Humanitarian aid for the stricken nation must include help for its higher-education system, or risk undoing a decade of unprecedented advancement.

    The killing fields
    Plan to cull badgers in England shows the new government does not respect scientific advice.

    Announcement: Nature’s new look

  10. Ok Dave, but those are editorials-not peer-reviewed research. I expect an editorial to have an opinion ;p

    When you said “reject papers that don’t conform to the party line” I was expecting info about papers that were….rejected.

  11. OK Bug Girl, but your Comment 8 asks for a response to this quote: “When journals published by scientific societies lead with conformist diatribes and politically motivated spin”. By lead, of course I mean what comes at the front of the journal – the editorials. Why Nature’s editors, Nature in theory being a science journal, should be patronizing their former colonial minions about their universities (after the UK has buggered their own up so badly, but then I guess universities contain the major part of Nature subscribers, so this may just be preaching to the choir), pandering to petaoids and greenies by arguing from authority (no I don’t hate badgers, but whenever I hear ‘scientists advise’ or the like my hackles go up), and strutting their new, pretty face is beyond me. I’m not claiming there was a Golden Age when scientific societies and their journals were pure science (it wouldn’t surprise me to find that Nature editorialized in favour of Social Darwinism in the early 1900s). I was merely pointing out that they no longer even keep up the appearance of honouring fact above correct political beliefs. So if theory/model/belief is the essence of science and data only as valid as it confirms the models – why are you surprised at finding favourable comments about the Bug Banisher in the IPM gazetteer?

    As for rejecting the non-party line papers, Climategate is the best documented example that I know of, but I think the practice is pervasive and the only result you can expect when science becomes just another political tool of the ruling class.

    Now that I’ve said something politically incorrect like ‘Climategate’ I suppose I’m open to ad hominem abuse as being an evil climate disruptionist denier (really, I’m just a bug gardener trying to deal with late spring and early fall frosts more than halfway to the North Pole where models claim global warming is supposed to be most obvious). Before that happens, just let me say that I’m glad to see you up and blogging again.

  12. Um, if by climategate you mean the email kerfuffle, it’s a whole lot of nothing. And the VAST majority of practicing climate scientists pretty much accept the idea of anthropogenic climate change.
    I’m really disappointed to see you’re not interested in the evidence, but it’s not worth arguing over with a friend.

    I will point you at these two peer-reviewed references:
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/07vr675818570r57/
    and from the National Academy:
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107.full

    (also, once someone pointed out that the journal title PNAS could be pronounced “penis”, I can now only hear it that way ;p )

  13. I agree it isn’t worth arguing over. I don’t mind what you believe about climate or politics or religion. As long as you write well, I’m a fan. But you are giving me some short shrift here. I have been following the climate change phenomenon for over 20 years – my salary was once paid by climate change funding and I am an author on a paper in Ecological Modelling about its potential effects. I also seem to have paid closer attention to the ‘email kerfuffle’ than you, even read many of the emails. Extensive scientific bullying, perversion of the review process, poor science, junk models, and a clear attempt at covering up are all apparent.

    After that Williamson paper I think bollocks everytime I see PNAS. Now I understand that I’m slightly off the mark.

  14. The best place to complain about a non-hazardous scam pest control device like this is the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov), however AFAICT this device is no longer on the market and therefore not covered by FTC rules (the website link is a demo site for e-commerce software, you can’t buy it there).

    FWIW, the FTC did try to smack down the ultra-sonic pest repellent scams. They told the sellers to provide evidence of efficacy, but the makers were able to show temporary effects. So the FTC ruled that they must clearly state that any effect would be temporary. Sadly the ultra-sonic device makers came up with their own version of what Orac calls the quack miranda warning. The ultra-sonic makers say words to the effect of “this device temporarily scares away pests. Remember to keep the device installed and turned on to keep the temporary effect in place.”, sigh.

    That stupid patent wiki wanted $$ to see the patent and the Canadian patent site wasn’t working when I tried earlier this week. Today I was able to get the patent from the official Canadian patent site. What a farce, basically the guy thinks that anodizing aluminum somehow magically turns aluminum into a perpetual motion ion generator and that ions scare away bugs. The patent was applied for in 1990, was never approved and was declared dead in 1993. I suspect the Canadian patent examiner knew this was bogus from the start.

    Mr. Dewberry the inventor did receive two US design patents in 1996 but design patents simply cover the aesthetics of a device not its function. One of the design patents expired in April and the other will expire in November.

    I found no reference to magnetism in the patent but I’m guessing the inventor would accept this wonderful explanation as correct :-).

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