The wonders of rice – ctd.

Austin Frakt questions my findings:

Aaron Carroll’s iPhone had a near death experience and was saved by rice. Well, that’s what he says. I say it was the placebo effect and rice isn’t necessary…

Months ago, a less dramatic version of Aaron Carroll’s iPhone water-boarding happened to my comparatively lame LG enV®3. On my commute to work it got very wet in a rain storm and died (I am not lying–no toilet was involved). It was a slow and sad death. While on the train I held it in my palms as, one by one, each of its functions was snuffed out. By the time I reached my office all it could do was vibrate and moan, every three seconds.

Those were desperate cries for help. But what could I do? My solution was to open the phone and all its ports (USB, headphone, etc.) and put it on my office heater (forced hot air). Hours later it revived with no evidence of harm. I thought it a miracle too.

Who knew that it was this post that would push me to discuss the scientific method.  Ah, blogging.

I concede to Austin that there is no way to prove causality from my n of 1 trial.  Without a randomized controlled trial, I can’t prove that the rice caused the phone to come back to life.

I do, however, quibble with the term “placebo effect”.  Usually, when we use that phrase, we are talking about people who see benefit because they believe their intervention will work.  I don’t think my phone “knew” it was in rice and therefore came back to life.  Moreover, the outcome (resurrection) is objective enough that I as an observer can’t misread it.  I think it’s more likely Austin meant that I am just over-estimating the usefulness of the rice.  He believes that my phone would likely have come back to life anyway, and the rice was incidental.

Maybe.  But I would offer the following hypothesis.  (1) We know rice is a dehydrating substance.  (2)  We know the phone was wet.  (3)  The phone placed in rice dried out.  (4)  It is reasonable to assume the rice helped the process.

How much did it help?  I don’t know.  Nor am I willing to repeatedly drop my iPhone back in the toilet to discover the truth.  Austin’s own experience was that drying out the phone with a heater accomplished the same goal.  I would put forth that the bag of rice is less potentially dangerous to the device than a heater.

When I weigh the potential benefits of the rice (miraculous iPhone resurrection) against the potential harms of the rice (negligible), I come to the conclusion that I’d do the same thing again in a second.

So there.

P.S.  I have nothing but respect for Austin, and he knows it.  But we’re talking about my iPhone here.  Deadly serious.

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