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I Was a SkyMall Science Vandal

I Was a SkyMall Science Vandal

I was flying before smart phones and tablets killed SkyMall. To me, it was always a Brookstone of the sky – a place to buy over-priced gadgets for increasingly niche purposes. It was fun to page through the catalogs and think of who bought a Sasquatch lawn ornament while ignoring the in-flight movie. Then I got older. I realized that SkyMall wasn’t just selling niche goods; it was selling a lot of pseudoscience. So I took up another hobby – annotating SkyMall pages with science.


I know full well that my effort to insert some science into the pages of SkyMall was ultimately futile. I’d have to mark up literally thousands of these magazines before I made any real dent in public consciousness, or at least whoever had my seat next. In addition to posting my work online, I’d leave the copy for the next traveler. It probably didn’t make any difference. I was just a science vandal.


But I felt compelled to be. SkyMall always had that feeling of “who buys that anyway?” while simultaneously encouraging us to be that who. It was undoubtedly fun to buy a SkyMall product, like being a part of a much less scandalous mile-high club. However, many of those products completely misrepresented human health, biology, and physics.


A lot of this work was just for me. I started out writing about science from the point of view of a skeptic. I wrote explainers for ghosts and water fluoridation and “chemtrails.” So I am always primed for the language that signals a product that is probably bogus. Buzzwords like “ion,” “frequency,” and “natural” are almost always red flags.


Some of the products were just silly, and were obviously meant to be. A bigfoot for your tree or a “velociraptor” for your lawn isn’t exactly harming our critical thinking skills. I annotated them anyway.

SkyMallScience_1 SkyMallScience_7

Some were simply incorrect about how the human body works, and expected you to pay handsomely for them. This is where I thought the harm was being done.

SkyMallScience_8 SkyMallScience_10

Others still made claims about the efficacy of supplements and health-tracking products. I said my piece in the pages with a pen.

SkyMallScience_5 SkyMallScience_3

SkyMall may not be leaving our seats just yet, but I’m not exactly holding my breath. In my mind, it’s devilishly clever to slip exorbitantly priced products that don’t work into a catalog of products we aren’t sure will work in the first place. At SkyMall’s best we can buy an ear insert to eavesdrop on conversations, at its worst we can buy largely untested and unproven pills that are supposed to “give you energy.” It lowers the bar for what we consider healthy, reasonable, and efficacious.

But then again, I’ve taken to ranting in between the pages of a now bankrupt magazine and leaving the result for other airplane passengers. So maybe I’m not all that reasonable to begin with.

Kyle Hill is the Science Editor at Nerdist Industries. Follow on Twitter @Sci_Phile.

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  1. jim says:

    Wow, you’re quite the authority.  I’ll just believe you that pressure points don’t exist.  You must have read that somewhere “legit” enough to discount thousands of years of eastern understanding. 

    • Squall says:

      Thousands of years of “eastern understanding” also says that ground up rhino horns are an aphrodisiac. Doesn’t mean it’s actually true in any way. 

  2. Marc says:

    Very funny stuff. I’m curious about the “supplements being automatically flushed out of your system” bit. What sources do you have on that?

    • Sarah says:

      Biology lessons in school since 7th grade, training as a nutritionist and being a RN. But that’s only for water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are being stored to a certain amount and you can actually overdose.

    • Rachel Sager says:

      My doctor often tells me the same thing about taking calcium supplements – you’re always going to get way less than you put in. She’d rather I just eat more dairy.
      That said, my cardiologist has me on niacin and fish oil supplements that are scientifically valid ways to improve your ratio good to bad cholesterol. BUT they would never be enough to prevent great disease without some dietary effort. 

  3. Heather Collachi says:

    Sooo, could you do this with Plexus? But never let on that I asked? There would be a horde of women after me if they knew I requested someone tear apart their beloved Pink Drink.

    • SnakePuncess says:

      Oh, I have tried. My cousin’s wife is selling it, and I’ve nicely tried to inform her a few times of what she’s selling, to no avail….