Mass Media Bunk is a commentary on articles in the mass media that provide false, misleading, or deceptive information regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events.

Robert Todd Carroll

ęcopyright 2006





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January 19, 1998. Washington Post. Today the Post ran an article singing the praises of the DKL Lifeguard from DielectroKinetic Laboratories (DKL). The device is supposed to be able to detect a human heartbeat up to 500 yards away. It is touted as a great thing to have when searching for a lost person in, say, the rubble of an exploded building. Personally, I'd rather have a good dog in such a circumstance. I've expressed my skepticism of this device elsewhere, so I won't repeat my concerns about the device here. Rather, my concern is about Beth Berselli, who wrote the article, and the Washington Post, which printed "A Real Find for Rescuers - In a Search, LifeGuard Detects Heartbeats; Now DKL Has to Locate Buyers."

Almost all of  the information about this magical device came from Howard Sidman, one of the founders of DKL, and Michael G. Charapp, the company's attorney. Sidman's explanation as to how the device works, as well as his assurance that it works, went unquestioned by Ms. Berselli. She even bought Sidman's pitch that the only way the Lifeguard can be proved to work is if there is testimony from satisfied customers, but without customers there can't be any testimonies. I guess neither Sidman nor Berselli ever heard of a controlled experiment. "How can DKL sell the LifeGuard," Berselli writes, "until it has a track record? But how can it develop a track record until a lot of customers are using it?" Easy. Demonstrate the thing works under controlled conditions.

The closest Ms. Bereselli gets to showing she is not totally gullible is to note that "Though the technology is unproved, the concept behind it has supporters." For example, Joe Dougherty, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University's Center for Dielectric Studies, says "It's doable." That's some support! Tony Daniels is a more enthusiastic supporter. There is no evidence given that Daniels knows anything about the LifeGuard units, which sell from between $6,000 and $14,000, but he seems sure that "this will definitely give law enforcement officials an edge." Yes, if it works! Daniels is a former head of the Washington field office of the FBI and now runs his own consulting firm. He recommends it to his clients. "It will save lives and it'll save serious injuries." How he knows this is not mentioned.

Sidman claims that he and his investors have put half a million dollars into DKL. He is on the road trying to sell it to police departments, who never seem reluctant to spend the taxpayers money on unproved and questionable devices, such as the Quadro Tracker. DKL seems to have put most of its money into marketing and very little into research. We are told near the end of the article that "DKL officials say they understand the hesitancy of potential customers but are confident that testing, marketing and a public education campaign will attract customers."

Did it not occur to Ms. Berselli that testing of such a device should be relatively simple and that the fact that there is any doubt at all that the thing works as claimed is a tip-off that something is amiss?







ęcopyright 2002-1998
Robert Todd Carroll

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