What other fields besides high-end audio are susceptible to 'woo'?

The thread on “What equipment do they use in audio recording studios?” got me to thinking about other fields that are highly susceptible to ‘woo’, with woo being defined as “Audio woo consists of various vague and unsupported claims for devices or methods for getting better sound quality from systems that reproduce recorded music.”

For example, I was deep into salt water aquariums at one point and found a LOT of woo, ranging from magic powders to special spectrum lights to esoteric water additives.

What other fields and hobbies are hardest hit with vague claims of woo magic? And, maybe more importantly, why?


Part of it is simple tradition: Medical woo is a lot older than actual medicine, and it hasn’t died out. People were eating plants long before we knew how to refine them into medicines with known potency and fewer side-effects, or we knew that those specific plants were worthless and/or potentially harmful.

Another part is the old-fashioned scam nature of all woo: It’s a lot cheaper to sell “supplements” which don’t have to get by the FDA, or do Reiki where your only material outlay is a quiet office and some rocks, than it is to do things the right way. Much higher profit margins on stuffing garden weeds into pill capsules than making even generic medicines, especially since nobody’s checking to see that the garden weeds are clean or safe.

But the biggest reason is twofold: First, humans, when left to themselves, usually get better. Humans tend towards resiliency. Therefore, if you do anything which isn’t too harmful, the disease will usually go away. Second, humans are very bad at separating sequence from causation. “This happened before that, therefore this caused that” is an insidious fallacy which is very hard to overcome, and is medical woo’s best friend. Because if you did the thing, whatever thing it is, and then your disease got better, it’s easy to think the thing made your disease get better, and, what’s more, you think you have proof of it.

Accessories for performance cars are this way a little. And more so in the pre-computerized age.

Sure some aftermarket, say, camshaft will produce different horsepower & torque vs. RPM curves if the car is run on a dynamometer. But unless you’re driving the vehicle in the space that’s different between the before and after curves, it makes no difference as to your actual performance in the wild.

Which amounts to the same idea as the stereo gear that tests different on a meter or scope but produces no discernable audible effect.

I suspect a lot of sporting goods are the same way, especially in golf. I doubt I can swing a $1000 driver any more effectively than a garage sale driver. IOW, 150 yards then sideways into the rough with either club.
As you may have noticed, the really hard-core woo is applied to the people who can spend really hard-core money. Persuading people to part with an extra $1 for snazzier USB cables isn’t nearly as lucrative as persuading people to part with an extra $10K for snazzier speaker cables.

Cycling. Like electronics where you pay more to get less (electronics=smaller, cycling=lighter). Sometimes you pay more, to get . . . nothing.

One example, chain lube:

“The Johns Hopkins engineers made another interesting discovery when they looked at the role of lubricants. The team purchased three popular products used to “grease” a bicycle chain: a wax-based lubricant, a synthetic oil and a “dry” lithium-based spray lubricant. In lab tests comparing the three products, there was no significant difference in energy efficiency. “Then we removed any lubricant from the chain and ran the test again,” Spicer recalls. “We were surprised to find that the efficiency was essentially the same as when it was lubricated.””

Quoted from here, a highly opinionated and often hilarious cycling blog, BSNYC, but I have no reason not to believe he is quoting in good faith.

Note that the absence of lubricant (zero dollars) created “essentially the same” efficiencies. Or, you could send your chain for a spa treatment:

Muc-Off is offering an exclusive personal service where you can purchase a Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM chain that is hand treated with a unique Speed Film Lubrication; NanoTube Chain Optimisation.

The Ceramic Speed is also a relative bargain when you consider the Muc-Off is closer to two hundred (200) American Fun Tickets:

The prices are:

Shimano RRP £135
Campagnolo RRP £140


If you beat me to the top of the hill, or the city limits sign, I’m sure it was your choice of chain lube. Woo hoo! Or, just woo.

There’s more.

Man, woo can affect ANYTHING. Just the other day, we were planting a tree. (Dawn redwood - its gonna be SO COOL - and HUGE!) I figured I’d check some Youtube videos, just to reaffirm my understanding about hole size, root pruning, etc. The FIRST video I opened up had some guy talking about the importance of putting charcoal in the hole to balance out the ions of the heavens, and the need to cut the roots with a copper blade because???

We’re talking about digging a frigging hole and dropping a root ball into it!

motor oil, or automotive lubricants in general. there are a few internet forums on that topic, and I’d say longer and bloodier flame wars have occurred over motor oil than religion.

it’s the same as with oil. Modern motor oils and transmission fluids are rather highly engineered fluids, and engines are designed with particular grades and API specifications in mind. Yet people will see a colorful bottle on the shelf at O’Reilly (whether it be Lucas oil “stabilizer,” STP goop, Seafoam, etc.) and mindlessly dump this crap into their engine, transmission, breakfast cereal, whatever. Then when you ask why they use it, they proudly proclaim “well, I used it in my last car and it went 180,000 miles with no problem!” Then when you ask why they think it wouldn’t have done the same on just regular oil changes and they get all huffy because you questioned their tiger-repelling rock.

nitpick- it’s actually the reverse; audiophools will claim they can hear differences which can’t be measured.

The thing about electronics “woo,” is it can be quantifiable and accurately measured with various test instruments.

Some hobbies are more prone to creating woo victims than others. The woo factor is really more about ignorant people’s participation, easy revenue for scammers, and driving up the woo factor by not doing the homework.

And make sure you plant during the right phase of the moon!

Cast iron frying pans :wink:

the problem is that those who buy into audio woo truly believe they can hear differences which can’t be measured.

Exercise and nutrition.

Chains rust. They also squeak when dry.

This is the one and only answer. Anything. Everything. If people can sell it, woo will develop around it.

The New Scientist Feedback column has made a hobby of collecting insane pseudo-scientific claims on the internet. Water is a favorite example.

Woo is everywhere. You only need to look, except that it’s too depressing to do so for long.

No surprise that xkcd has this covered: xkcd: Cast Iron Pan

The entire Sovereign Citizen movement is based on woo.

Come to think of it, so are almost all conspiracy theories.

But, but, but, it’s purple! And not just any purple, it is Royal Purple, and it costs more, so you know it has to be good.

I’m surprised that an automotive engineer wouldn’t know that. :wink:

Pick-up trucks … they’re just fancy motorized wheelbarrows … what’s the big deal for something you’re going to load with manure? …

Guitars and probably other musical instruments.

For acoustic guitars, for instance, importance of high quality “tonewood” is way overstated. The tonal qualities of an acoustic guitar have more to do with design, quality of construction, and the top wood to some extant, rather than the wood used for the back and sides. Bob Taylor once made this point by constructing the “pallet guitar”:


The guitar was constructed with the same techniques used in other Taylor guitars, except for the wood. The back and sides were constructed from oak scavenged from an old shipping pallet, and the top made from a construction 2x4 that they didn’t even classify as to the type of wood. The result sounded remarkably good. I do note that the top from the 2x4 was undoubtedly still a soft wood similar to the spruce or cedar usually used in guitar tops. Probably something like doug fir.

This doesn’t stop Taylor’s promotional materials from going on about the wonderful tonal qualities imparted by the carefully selected woods they use. At the end of the day, the real feature of exotic back and side woods seems to be that they’re pretty, distinctive looking or have snob appeal. Guilty. I have a rosewood guitar because I could afford and wanted one, and found one I liked. I can’t really categorically claim that the rosewood is massively better than mahogany.

Strings are rife with all sorts of dubious claims. Many years ago I remember somebody made some strings called “Nashville Straights”. They were packaged in a long thin package rather than coiled up in little envelopes. The manufacturer claimed that coiling up the strings was detrimental to them in some way. Myself, I usually buy Martin Marquis out of habit, having tried many brands of string at one time, and having eventually settled on the Martins. Now the only difference between Marquis and Martin’s normal acoustic strings is that the Marquis strings have a silk winding on the ball end which is supposed to reduce wear on the bridge. Probably doesn’t do a damned bit of good, but I pay $0.50 extra anyway.

Birthing. Apparently Mrs G is denying herself her true womanhood gifted by the cosmos by not having a baby naturally outdoors under a waterfall with a dancing ring of sous chefs at the ready to sprinkle the placenta with pink Himalayan sea salt.

No cites to hand, but computer gaming/esports gear seem pretty woo-ish sometimes. But again, unlike [del]audiophool[/del] audiophiles who seem to uniformly have cloth ears, there really are gamers with ridiculously fast reaction times or click rates or whatever, so maybe super-tuned gaming gear have some legitimate value. Some. A lot still smells of snake lubricant.

ETA: I can’t believe I just typed “esports” and kept a straight face…