(Investigator 20, 1991 September)

Magna Ban consists of ten flat, oval-shaped magnets supported in adhesive plaster. The packet comes with diagrams showing about 60 "acupressure points".

Application of the magnets to "sore, painful and stiff areas" is claimed to relieve [the] pain of "migraine and tension headaches, arthritis and muscular aches". It's "a relief — not a cure".

I found four women who tried the treatment, each of them for arthritis. Two reported no pain relief whatsoever. One reported relief but changed her mind within one day. The fourth changed her mind back and forth a number of times. She finally decided the magnets made no difference but decided to continue to use them.

A sample of four is of course scientifically inadequate.

A better way, if a government grant to do the job could be obtained, would be:

1.    Develop a pain scale. "1" might represent barely noticeable pain; "6" difficulty getting to sleep; "9" agony; etc.
2.    Divide a large sample of volunteers randomly into three groups; all individuals in each group rate their pain according to the scale.
3.    One group gets no treatment; another gets the genuine magnets to use; the third group gets look-a-like magnets, perhaps non-magnetic oval pieces of iron;
4.    The pain of all volunteers is re-measured at regular intervals.
5.    Statistical tests such as the "t-test" can then sort out whether the magnets helped at all.

The experiment would be even more thorough if each of the three groups were subdivided into smaller groups according to the sort of pain they felt (migraine, arthritis or muscular) and where they felt it. To do this satisfactorily, however, would require perhaps 200 or more volunteers.

Two of the four women asked their doctor for an opinion and were told: "It's nonsense."

A related question is that of electrical fields surrounding power lines.

Such "electromagnetic fields" closely resemble the magnetic fields of magnets. According to TIME (Australia) of December 24, 1990 power lines, electric blankets and household appliances might be linked to increased risk of cancer and leukemia. This used to seem like nonsense since the field surrounding a power line might be 1/100 the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. Also since distance from the power line weakens the electric field it is actually smaller in the human cells than the cells' own generated field. Nevertheless, the TIME article indicates that a possible link of electromagnetic fields with cancer is now "a legitimate open question."

Recently magnetic fields were applied to Ford diesel engines. Fuel consumption was reduced by 7.5% and hydrocarbon emissions by 10%! (New Scientist 1991, July 20, p. 12)

An article in Reader's Digest (1982 February) contains speculations that magnetic fields may eventually be employed to regenerate damaged or missing limbs and organs. It also suggests that "magnetic sensitivity could explain the secret of water diviners" and the "ability to know what another person is thinking".

Mind readers and water diviners have such a bad record that there's not much to explain. The effects of magnetic fields, however, may yet be full of mystery.