I must have cursed National Geographic by accident

Back in the dim and distant past, around 2011, when the dignified and staid National Geographic bought up my former blogging home, ScienceBlogs, there was a certain self-appointed guardian of the Purity of NatGeo who was infuriated that I might exist under the bold banner and yellow border of his beloved company. I was going to taint the brand! I was a horrible person who should be dismissed forthwith! I was a corruption, a depravity, a dissolute poisoner of the sacred spirit of science!

He was a little bit distraught about it all.

I’ve completely forgotten his name, but I’d be curious to know what he thinks now, now that NatGeo has completely shuttered ScienceBlogs after a couple of years of neglect, and now that NatGeo is peddling…magic…rocks…to people. Yep, they’ve really sold out. I guess they were envying Gwyneth Paltrow’s reputation and money.

It’s true. They’re sending out magic healing crystals to journalists.

The huge box Nat Geo sent me contained a book, some press material, and this glass water bottle with their name printed on the side. The >$70 bottle’s package advertises that it contains “carefully selected and ethically sourced gemstones representing the building blocks of earth,” including “wood,” “water,” “earth,” “metal” and “fire.” It came with an instruction and information manual.

Why does my water bottle have an instruction manual? It reads: “For the most precious moments in life! Gems raise the energy level of water. That’s been known for hundreds of years and scientifically proven. VitaJuwel Gemwater Accessories are not only Jewelry for Water, they’re a great tool to prepare heavenly gemwater like fresh from the spring.” The instructions are: screw in the gemstone vial, fill with water, and then wait 7 minutes.

You know how it works? Vibrations. NatGeo is promoting vibrations.

Some of the claims are really wild. At one point, the pamphlet says: “Everything in nature vibrates. Gems naturally act like a source of subtle vibrations. These vibrations inspirit water, making it more lively and enjoyable.” This is nonsense, and any reference to electricity in crystals (like piezoelectricity, when charge accumulates on some structures in response to physical stress) is neither exclusive to crystals nor relevant to healing or enlivening drinking water. (“Ha! Yeah. Nah,” astrophysicist Katie Mack told me in a DM.)

Now I feel really guilty. He was right. It was all my fault. That I was briefly (and under protest) sponsored by National Geographic was the causal agent that sent the whole venerable institution plummeting into a deep chasm of woo.

I’m sorry, everyone. I didn’t do it on purpose, it must have just been my bad vibes.


  1. militantagnostic says

    Given the various Jesus issues etc I have seen on the magazine racks at the grocery store, this is just a logical progression in their descent into nonsense.

  2. weylguy says

    National Geographic was bought out by the Fox/Murdoch folks in 2015. Gee, I wonder why so many of the magazines issues since then have featured Mary the mother of Jesus and similar pieces on Christian rot. Now it’s crystals and “vibrations.” God help us. WHAT THE FUCK HAS HAPPENED TO THIS COUNTRY?!

  3. consciousness razor says

    You know how it works? Vibrations. NatGeo is promoting vibrations.

    So … uhhhhh … it makes farting noises or something? *reads* Oh, fuck, it’s even more useless than that….

    If NatGeo’s credibility falls and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a vibration?

    But seriously, it really is sad. I always loved reading the magazine when I was still a subscriber.

  4. robro says

    consciousness razor — You actually read it? The pictures were cool, the illustrations pretty good, and the maps superb. But I found the writing generally unreadable.

    weylguy — 21st Century Fox, a spin off of News Corp, got controlling interest in National Geo in Sep. 2015. This past December, Disney announced it’s buying 21st Century Fox. Perhaps they’ll do a better job.

  5. consciousness razor says

    You actually read it? The pictures were cool, the illustrations pretty good, and the maps superb. But I found the writing generally unreadable.

    Well, the writing usually wasn’t the best part, I’ll give you that much. But I did read it — my standards are kind of low, honestly, since I’ll read nearly anything — and what I liked was the combined experience of reading and looking at nice pictures.

    So, okay… if PZ would simply to post a beautiful new map of his own design, every day at 7am CST, and he guaranteed there would still be no vibrating magical trinkets cluttering up the place, then I guess I wouldn’t complain too much (but still a little bit). It could never really be the same, of course, but I think the healing could begin.

  6. WhiteHatLurker says

    Wood is organic, so it has carbon … and diamonds have carbon. So send me a really nice diamond.

    Which metal? Aluminum is part of rubies … and sapphires and emeralds and … Send them all!

    I am pulling a blank with “fire” – fire opals maybe?

  7. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Possibly the most disappointing “being sent a big box of of things that claim to cause vibrations” ever.

  8. blf says

    I just took a peek at the VitaJuwel Gemwater site (which I won’t link to). I did not strap enough pillows to my forehead beforehand, and hence not only now need a new desk, but also have a headache. So please add a fewmany more pillows to your helmet before proceeding… You. Have. Been. Warned.



    (You there! Yes, you. In the faux viking helmet (they really didn’t have horns, you know). The pillow on the far left looks like it’s slipping out…)


    Seven years ago, we revolutionized the way to prepare vital and fresh water at home. Following age-old traditions, we created gemstone vials to hygienically inspirit drinking water. Our vision now and then is to provide you with homemade, natural gemwater like fresh from the spring!

    VitaJuwel gem vials are made from lead-free glass and hand-picked gems. We offer several different gem blends, tested by naturopaths and based on the insights of modern crystal healing. Their scientifically proven efficiency make them an essential accessory in health-seeking households worldwide.

    (Sorry, I forgot to mention not to be drinking anything when you read that, and to have a barf bag at the ready. I also suggest that if you pull the remaining horn out of your ear, teh stooopidity won’t hurt quite as much…)

    The stuff comes in multiple flavours, selling for c.80$ to over 300$. I have no idea how one is supposed to use it (I don’t see any instructions, or for that matter, other mundane details like size, how long it lasts, or just what, exactly, it contains (ingredients)). The impression I get is one is supposed to just dunk it in the tap water.

    Picking one of the cheaper flavours:

    […] Experts claim that amethyst stimulates the mind and soothes emotions. Rose quartz fosters tranquility and harmony. Clear Quartz is a stone for clarity and perception. As a combination, they’re used for their wonderfully invigorating effect. […]

    And stale urine in the eyes makes ones grave greener! May contain snail slime.

    The alleged customer reviews are hilarious. For instance, If the tastebuds can sense it, I can only imagine how much more impactful + energizing the H2O is to the cells of our bodies! Thank you for this amazing product that restores Life to H2O!

  9. freddy72nz says

    At least they have a disclaimer that says it’s all woo.

    9. Medical Disclaimer
    VitaJuwel USA gladly provides information in relationship to gem water and all of the gems that are part of the VitaJuwel gemstone vials. This information is intuitive in nature and not scientifically verified. VitaJuwel USA cannot guarantee results with any stone, mineral or jewelry. While this field is speculative and exploratory, individuals are encouraged to use discrimination in diagnosing and treating illness for medical, emotional and/or spiritual conditions. You should never substitute stone or minerals for sound professional medical treatment when indicated for any condition.

  10. gijoel says

    Given that the history channel has gone from documentaries about Hitler to bullshit reality television I doubt it’s your fault.

  11. Derek Vandivere says

    I cancelled my subscription a year after the Murdoch buyout and the first couple really woo articles. They actually called a couple months ago to ask me to subscribe and were a bit surprised when I told them the editorial direction had led me to drop my subscription.

    Clearly evidence that I made the right choice…

  12. gaparker says

    My parents subscribed to Nat Geo when I was a kid. Back around 1965, I read there about this cool new theory called “plate tectonics”.

  13. sebloom says

    It’s not your fault, PZ. Two words explain the problem…

  14. blf says

    freddy72nz@11, I realise you are being sarcastic, but just for people’s information: That seems related to the Quack Miranda Warning, which is an attempt to not be sued for making bizarre claims by saying, in small print and an opaque manner, the claims are bizarre. These woo-woo shysters are doing just that, the promotional blithering (marketing) says scientifically proven efficiency (see @10) but the small print says “not scientifically verified” (and similar).

    In this particular case, given that the water only seems to come into contact with the supposedly-glass container (not whatever is inside), there probably is robust data on the efficiency: It does nothing at all to the water, presuming the inert glass is clean (and similar). Due to the placebo effect, it might accomplish more, for some people at some times, than simply taking money from the wallet.

  15. andrewpang says

    If selling out to pseudoscience is the way to keep a science magazine alive, I’d rather the magazine simply not exist at all in an increasingly post-print media era.