"Miracle" Mud ~Scientific Test

Discussion in 'Equipment' started by magnetar68, Sep 17, 2012.

  1. magnetar68

    magnetar68 Supporting Member

    I did a search on "Miracle Mud" here and it looks like the sentiment here echos that elsewhere: namely, some swear by it, but many are skeptical. Generally, I am skeptical of anything with the word "miracle" in the name, but was browsing youtube the other day when I saw this somewhat scientific attempt to compare a few different filtration methods.

    Now, let me be clear, I would much rather see this test being carried out by a truly objective 3rd party, not the company that has everything to gain from promoting its product. Actually, I think it would be great if there was a non-profit group funded by world-wide reef hobbyists to do some true scientific testing. Advanced Aquarist does some of this stuff, like Sanjay Joshi has tried with lighting, but AA does take money from advertisers most of whom are product manufactures, so they have the potential to loose objectivity in my judgement and therefore I think a better model exists.

    For those of you who do not click on the video, the setup is that they have 4 identical Bare-bottom tanks all with the exact same equipment (tank size, overflow, heater, return pump, etc). All of them use ~100ml of GFO (Eco Phos), but no GAC. There are 4 different permutations they are testing:

    1) Berlin method: 24x7 protein skimmer, no refugium, no miracle mud
    2) Old school EcoSystem method from Leng with a miracle mud refugium and bioballs instead of a protein skimmer
    3) The "Mike Palletta" method where he uses a 24x7 protein skimmer instead of the bioballs
    4) A "EcoSystem Plus/Modified Palletta" method where the protein skimmer is only use 6 hours per day.

    The main problem with the video's test is that the results can simply be rigged: they may not be cleaning all tanks the same or some other active or passive manipulation that skews the results. Giving Leng the benefit of the doubt (some would argue that is not a very scientific thing to do), let's assume there is no deception going on and things are as stated. Also, we do not have here a number of datapoints that would be considered statistical significant; but that is clearly not reasonable given the costs involved.

    While Leng has yet to post any specific results, based on his statements in the video, following two observations can be deduced thus far in the experiment:

    1) Leng's original method is not as good as his method with the addition of a protein skimmer
    2) Having a refugium and protein skimmer is better than having a protein skimmer, but no refugium.

    Of course, there are no scientific measurements here, but Leng does use some terms that one could use to infer what he will eventually conclude: some tanks are "cleaner" and the corals "have more color" (and maybe more polyp extension -- I don't think he mentions that here, but Mike Palletta mentions that in a video on his 300G system). The video does not zoom in enough to really see the color or poly extension or see things side-by-side, so all that is obvious is that the tank without miracle mud has a lot more algae in the places where he did not clean it (back and sides).

    Now there are several issues with this experiment. The primary one being that he does not test a system with a refugium with no miracle mud. So we don't know whether the (somewhat subjective) claim about the cleanliness of the tank and the coral color comes from the miracle mud or simply the use of a refugium. I think having a tank with a refugium but without miracle mud would have gone much further in addressing the concern that miracle mud is a placebo.

    Another potential problem is that none of them deploy GAC or a sandbed, which would be common in most modern setups and certainly part of the filtration on the system. Certainly, the vast majority of us have sand beds, so running an old school bare bottom tank experiment is not inline with what most reefers do today. In terms of GAC, we know it clear the water and removes certain compounds, but it may be depriving corals of beneficial foods and nutrients, so comparing a system with GAC to one without it would need be done more objectively.

    Long story short: yes, you can have a nice tank with miracle mud; but still no real evidence here that it yields results over and above tanks without it.

  2. sfsuphysics

    sfsuphysics Supporting Member

    I also notice the "mud + refugium no skimmer tank" had a significant amount of aiptasia in it as well, and they are absolutely awesome filter feeders that can clean a tank of particulate matter in the water column. I didn't notice if they had the same aiptasia in all the tanks.

    That said, his voice just wasn't terribly interesting to listen to, no excitement at all!
  3. rygh

    rygh BOD

    Yeah, not exactly scientific.
    But the problem is, Ecosystem is saying miracle mud eliminates the need for sand beds, carbon, and protein skimmers.
    (from their web site)
    So really hard to create a single-variable scientific experiment, even if they wanted to.

    But if anything, I get the usual result from their experiments: No one single piece of equipment will do it all.
    And it still makes me wonder why people try so hard to do that.

    The best always seems to be a bit of everything:
    Live rock + Skimmer + carbon + normal water changes will handle most things.
    The remaining nitrate and phosphate issues have many solutions, and it is fun to tinker and
    argue about which is best.
    But why do people then insist on eliminating one of the above standard practices???

    Like other things, the over-hype of miracle mud might be its own worst enemy.
    Because it does seem useful. Just not a miracle.
  4. sfsuphysics

    sfsuphysics Supporting Member

    Yeah, I think the single best way to test the "miracle" nature of the mud is to remove as many variables as possible. A good first step isn't to test the Ecosystem vs other systems that also use it simply introducing a skimmer in others, but to test it vs sand in the refugium in the exact same depth/fashion as the miracle mud. If you have similar results, you can easily conclude it's not the mud but the fact you have a refugium/ecosystem that can pull out nutrients.
  5. magnetar68

    magnetar68 Supporting Member

    In my view, the lack of such a test is biggest indicator that this is just a substrate like any other and there is nothing special about it. Why else would he not do the most obvious of comparisons: everything is the same except the material of the substrate in the refugium? I wonder, does he know this won't create a noticable difference but he doesn't make $80/year in sales if a one time $20 bag of fine substrate does the same thing.
  6. aqua-nut

    aqua-nut Supporting Member

    There is another set of 'tests' using other companies 'mud'. Look for 'tri-tank'.
  7. Thales

    Thales Past President

    Best thread ever!

    BAYMAC Guest

    Ray, you'd be surprised how non bias AAOL is. The scientific review committee does to answer to the sponsors.
  9. denzil

    denzil Past President

    I'd like to see a more controlled test with much less variables and tons of test equipment. Maybe we can have something that covers all permutations.

    Tank of Miracle Mud vs. tank of ...
    1) Sand bed
    2) Carbon
    3) Skimmer
    4) Sand bed with carbon
    5) Sand bed with skimmer
    6) Carbon with skimmer
    7) Sand bed, carbon, and skimmer
  10. magnetar68

    magnetar68 Supporting Member

    Additionally, I prefer a different frame for defining "better" and "best." I think there are two additional relevant axes: time and money. We all know there are several ways to make a beautiful coral reef tank. Look at RC's TOTM postings: lot's of nice tanks, but a fair amount of variability in terms of setup and maintenance. While there may be lot's of ways to setup a reef tank, when one looks at the amount of time over the life of the tank that once spends maintaining it and the costs outlays, both in terms of initial costs and ongoing maintenance costs, there are likely some ways that are "better," meaning they produce "acceptable" results but with significantly less time and money.

    I understand that this is hobby and that maintaining the tank is part of the enjoyment for many, but I think it would be preferable to give new people into the hobby what are some of the long-term cheaper and less time consuming ways to enjoy the observation of reef tank in the homes (here, I am contributing most of the economic "utility" or enjoyment to viewing the tank rather than maintaining it - arguable and person-dependent I realize). Obviously, other options may cost more and take more work, but maybe they produce better coral growth, color, and poly extension, so these pros and cons can be laid out. The good news is that time commitments, costs, coral growth, and polyp extension are all reasonably measurable values. Color is measurable too, but certainly harder to do and more subjective and costly.

    Another potential axis is environmental impact. A tank that uses less water, less electricity and uses maricultured or dry rock and sand could score higher here as they provide a smaller impact on the environment in terms of water conservation, pollution and reef ecology.

    There are other ways aspects to consider as well, such as the time it takes to go from 0 to having a reef tank filled with corals in your living room.

    Now granted, all of this is quite complicated and equipment dependent, in the same way that LEDs are cheaper to run long-term, but more costly up-front. Multiply that by all of the permutations here and you have a rather complex problem to articulate. But articulating complex problems to the consumer market is not a new problem and there are ways to do that. Yes, some things need to be dumbed down, but certainly doable with more rigor than most books address the comprehensive picture today. Usually, all of this boiled down to a grade of some sort througha weight average scroing system, but even a simple consumer report style Harvey Ball approach is better than anything I have seen so far.
  11. magnetar68

    magnetar68 Supporting Member

    I did not mean to suggest they are not, but the "potential" does exist. People are so corruptible :)
  12. denzil

    denzil Past President

    Yeah, some people just dive into the hobby head first if they have loads of money and aren't too concerned with long-term maintenance costs. However, as a very thrifty and new aquarist myself, I have to plan accordingly to what makes financially sense to me and what affects our ecosystem the least, hence why there's that other thread I started about a hypothesis of maintaining a reef tank without doing any water changes. Also, improvements in efficiency that lead to lower long-term maintenance costs can prove to be a lower barrier to entry for new aquarists.

    I really think there is still some room for efficiencies to be had in running a reef tank. It's just a matter of conducting some controlled experiments and/or trial and error.
  13. rygh

    rygh BOD

    Sure wish I had endless time. Sounds like some fun experiments.

    As far as both environmental issues and cost, in my opinion, at least with my system:
    Equipment costs definitely add up. But power is by far the dominant cost.
    And other than those two, cost/environmental impact is so down in the noise I barely worry about it.

    Water use - trivial compared with lawns, showers, toilets.
    Salt - I don't use huge amounts. Not that expensive, and pretty natural if it ends up back in the bay.
    Live capture impact of fish and coral - trivial compared with commercial fishing, pollution.
    And possibly even positive, since it raises awareness.
    Cost of fish / coral : I buy frags, don't have that many super fancy fish, so really cheap.
    A few bits of special chemicals, carbon, etc. - even on a big tank it does not add up.
    I have LEDs, so no T5 mercury issues.
    Fish food. - yawn
  14. BAYMAC

    BAYMAC Guest

    Correct. All humans are subject to bias. Didn't Galileo Galilei basically say that? So the question is, are you any less biased then they are? I think any answer you give will be biased :lol:

    The review committee is not AAOL paid, or paid at all. They do it out of the love of the hobby. Randy (RHF), Craig (B), Charles (D), and crew have written countless unbiased articles and all the while could have bent to any numerous vendors in the hobby. Do note that the blog and the articles written on AAOL are different animals.

    As a sponsor of AAOL I have never seen them change a single article to suite me, and they have published stuff that wasn't so great in terms of marketing products I sell. Look at who the sponsors are... the main payers are not manufacturers but rather etailers. I specifically sponsor them due to how unbiased they are :D

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