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Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.  — Sinclair Lewis

Feng shui practitioners searching for a new scam have embraced the self-deception known as building biology, bau-biology (bau-biologie), or architectural ecology. Its advertisers claim that bau-biology is the modern science of natural and sustainable architecture.

However, bau-biology (or whatever name you use) is a pseudoscience, not a building science. Saying it’s a building science is just a marketing slogan, not reality.

Bau-biology is supposedly an advancement in science and technology.

But the facts are less convincing.

  • A search of Highwire, and other sites that publish scientific journals, turns up no mentions. Bau-biology doesn’t exist, as far as science is concerned.
  • Published information on bau-biology is available only from those who sell and endorse products to remedy the alleged problems bau-biology discovers, or those who sell training. That’s how pseudoscience and sham work, not science.
  • Bau-biology is primarily marketed to women who have little experience with or are scared of science. These people are not competent to evaluate the scientific claims made for bau-biology.

Frauds like to market dubious ideas and products to people with little or no science education and who prefer to take things on faith. It is less likely the authorities will be notified that a fraud is taking place, because the victims’ ignorance protects the perpetrators.

Infamous EMF attorney Michael Withey asserted in the Wall Street Journal that “public concern over EMF is rising irrespective of its validity.” As a result of his legal maneuvers the California Supreme Court ruled that EMF cases “have no place in the courtroom.” These junk science cases are no longer filed in at least three states: California, Florida, and Texas.

There are three critical threats to our species and our planet right now: global warming from the rampant emissions of carbon dioxide, peak oil and dangerously high levels of bio-accumulative toxins in our environment that threaten human health and the health of ecosystems. Green buildings should address these three issues by designing buildings to use as much “free” natural energy as possible, by not adding carbon dioxide to the environment through their construction and operations, by conserving and cleaning their own water, and by using materials that are not toxic to life — no volatile organic compounds, no formaldehyde, no PVC. Instead, they use rapidly renewable materials, locally produced materials, etc.  — Kelly Lerner, co-author of Natural Remodeling for the Not-So-Green House

Bau-biology has nothing to do with the disciplines of environmental design (landscape architecture and environmental planning, urban design, city and regional planning, or architecture in general). Its adherents do not have adequate education or techniques.

A quick search of an Environmental Design Library at a university shows you that bau-biology (or whatever you choose to call it) is not a mainstream study.

Bau-biology cannot quantify the microclimate of a building; if it could, the practice would be integrated into the techniques used by museums to preserve artifacts. Comparing the knowledge of the Center for the Built Environment with the anemic offerings of the average bau-biologist is daunting, but it shows you that bau-biology is a sham.

Here is some authentic architectural ecology. You will not find bau-biology.

There are structural problems in the way that adherents of this creed work.

  • They work as independent commercial traders, not as a group of researchers advancing the credibility of their ideas.
  • If they get into a university setting, they avoid what Ben Goldacre calls “the culture of critical self-appraisal” — they avoid valuable interaction with people in other disciplines, who could share ideas with them.

We have seen all of this before

Bau-biology is primarily an updated set of bizarre ideas from 19th-century cranks, heavily laced with Spiritualism and its New Age descendants. The idea has been to keep the philosophy and just update the language with current buzzwords to provide a scientific ambiance for quackery.

Bau-biology advertisers are working hard to confuse people into believing bau-biology is the leading authority in sustainable architecture (or sustainable anything).

The advertising strategy is to create a need or worry where one did not previously exist.

During the early days of American advertising an innovative fellow invented the concept of body odor; now everyone buys deodorants.

An advertising agency developed the idea that cars express virility. Today, people selling cars in the US subtly question the masculinity of men shopping for new cars. One study showed that “attacking their machismo makes men more supportive of war, more homophobic, and more willing to shell out for that SUV.” (“How to Sell Humvees to Men.” ScienceNOW, 4 August 2005)

In the 19th century a medical doctor named Ernst Hartmann concocted the crank notion of Earth-induced grids criss-crossing the planet and causing a bewildering variety of vague symptoms. Someone updated the crank’s ideas (and others), injected enough worry to sway the credulous, and invented bau-biology.

With bau-biology you can:

  • impress your victims (“clients”) by claiming that this is the “hot topic in feng shui today”
  • claim that feng shui and bau-biology are related environmental studies
  • sell devices reputed to cure what cannot be cured by the method being sold — because the “problem” is a fiction.
  • quote reputable sources in dubious ways to close the sale
  • promote and quote from books by cranks to generate enough fear in the credulous so that they book your services.

Thankfully, it is easy to identify baubiology as pseudoscience simply because so many baubiologists rely on dowsing to analyze a nonexistent problem called “geopathic stress.”

Never mind that dowsing has been thoroughly debunked. Like a belief in Santa Claus, it keeps on finding gullible new audiences. But what reasonable adult would trust another adult who still firmly believes in Santa Claus?

If a theory is believed deeply enough by a large enough group … they will go to ever-more-extreme measures to save it. — Lee Smolin

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