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Quick Highlight: Magic Baseball Necklaces

October 22, 2011

Today’s Quick Note is about “Placebo-ball: the science of baseball’s magical necklaces,” by John Timmer on ArsTechnica.com. This full length article explores the phenomenon of major league baseball players wearing special metal necklaces that are supposed to mystically impart special energies to them.

Why would someone do this? Timmer notes: “ if you were being paid anywhere from $80,000 to $18,000,000 per year to swing the ash (or maple) stick, you might not think twice about plopping down anywhere from $35 to several hundred dollars on something that, in short, can’t hurt. And if it gives you an edge? So much the better.” [as always, all italics are added by me and are used to indicate quotes from the article]

I suppose Timmer’s logic makes sense here. The bigger question is what are these necklaces, and do they work? The article tells us that “these necklaces supposedly help players perform better by easing fatigue and shortening recovery time. The secret to these supposed benefits: titanium nanoparticles that help the body’s own energy flow more readily.” Titanium nanoparticles? Really? In the end, energy flow sounds really good, if it works. Does it? Timmer’s take is: ” In a word, no. Having metal near or in contact with your skin isn’t going to change the flow of any energy unless there happens to be electrified wires hooked up to that metal.”

The article goes on to tell us that the placebo effect may do something, though even more important is the psychological facet of sports performance: “But there’s a chance that something beyond the placebo effect is also at play. Performance in sports is profoundly affected by a player’s state of mind, which is why players and teams tend to have rituals and talismans that are thought to bring good luck in various forms.”

At the end of the day, the phenomenon of wearing these necklaces is probably more pop-culture than it is scientific in nature. But these ornaments have become commonplace and I enjoyed this article, if nothing else, for its willingness to explain the trend to me. If you’re a baseball fan on any level, you’ll enjoy this piece.

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