Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Philip Stein watches and Christopher Hitchens

Like many other people may have done, I spent a fair amount of time last Friday reading tributes and listening to the words of Christopher Hitchens after learning of his death. There are so many of his debates on YouTube, you can easily spend hours enjoying his uncompromising style of argument in his distinctive voice. A personal favourite speech of mine is this remarkable one he gave on free speech for example. I also watched a debate I hadn't seen before; this one with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (it is a pretty terrible recording though).

I'd seen Hitch debate with Boteach a couple of times before, and this one seemed a little more friendly and less combative than others. Even so, Hitch is forced at one point to deliver what I am contractually obliged to call a Hitch-slap to Boteach when the Rabbi attempts to blame Hitler and the Nazi's on atheism (around 50 mins into the video). We've all heard that one before of course, but I was amused a couple of days later to read in Daniel Dennett's tribute piece to Hitch: A lesson from Hitch: When rudeness is called for of an earlier occasion of Hitch performing a similar rebuke to the same Rabbi, this time on the very similar and just as wrong claim that Hitler was inspired by Darwin. I don't know if on that occasion Boteach conceded the point, but he did in the video above. It will be interesting to see if he uses the argument in debate again.

To get to the point though: at the end of the debate, Boteach presents Hitch with a Philip Stein watch which was apparently a special watch made for a family-oriented campaign the Rabbi is involved with (and he asks Hitch to also become a patron). I like looking at watches and so I looked up Philip Stein to see what their watches were like (they are beautiful), there are some on Amazon and if I were not cursed with stupid skinny girl wrists and lack a spare £1000+ I would love to get one. So then I went to Philip Stein's website to see what else they had. Unfortunately the catalogue section seems to be broken so I couldn't browse the range, but I did then click on the Frequency Technology section to see what that was all about.

As a skeptic, this section has many claims that sound very familiar, especially if you know about things such as magnetic healing bracelets, Power Balance bands etc and it also has bits reminiscent of Qi, acupuncture etc. For example:

Natural Frequency Technology in Philip Stein watches is based on key frequencies beneficial to life and health, which are embedded on a metal disk found in every Philip Stein watch.
Initially though, it claims to have scientific legitimacy because of a published paper. I haven't read that, nor do I have the scientific credentials to give an opinion (there are plenty of skeptics out there who do of course) but I am certainly very skeptical of the claims being made on that page as they sound very much like nonsense woo-woo I've seen from many other products. Interesting that a high-end (I assume) watch maker would choose to use such techniques to sell four-figure value watches.

What really did irk me though was looking at the Who Wears It section, and finding a photograph of Christopher Hitchens and Shmuley Boteach, obviously taken at the debate described above. Whether or not Hitch agreed to his photo being used to promote the watch brand I do not know, but I doubt very much he would have done so if he were aware of the highly unscientific nature of the claims being made to sell the watches. Oprah Winfrey appears twice on the same page, which probably tells you all you need to know.

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