Top 10 Ways You’re Being Sold a Sham

snake-oil-salesmanWould you know if you were being played? Most people would answer Yes, but in the consumer-based age we live in, most marketing gurus probably laugh at how easy we, as a population, are to fool. The modern day snake-oil salesman is not so easy to spot anymore. Considering that the Alternative Medicine Industry-which thrives despite an overwhelming lack of evidence- is among the fastest growing global industries, expecting to reach $115 billion in 2015, and nearly half of the people in developed nations receive some form of Naturopathic care[1], we’re not as savvy as we might think.

Here are Ten Ways quacks are selling you a load of drivel.

1.)    All the World’s a Stage. To pseudoscience pushers, selling healthcare is an art form; it’s not about presenting evidence, disclosing research methodology, predicting a product’s efficacy or establishing its safety. They only want you to think they have those bases covered. A lot of their credibility building stems from acting the part. It’s like cosplay, for healers. They start by donning white lab coats, and staging nostalgic photos of happy, healthy families frolicking in a strawberry patch. They present impressive sounding degrees, and even create a hierarchy within their own ranks by ‘accrediting’ educational programs, and they publish their own Medicine-y sounding journals.  The ability to influence customers only starts there, though. Next comes the emotional appeal.

2.)    You always knew you were smart. Quacks will almost always appeal to your vanity before pulling out their product bag. Once they’ve got your curiosity piqued, they may tell you how much wiser than all the rest of the sheep you are to eat from this grass patch instead of the usual spot. Way to think for yourself! You’re so clever, with a little direction, you should be competent enough to make your own healthcare decisions. Why stand for what the establishment forces down your throat? Shouldn’t you have the right to health freedom?

3.)    You have no idea how bad it is out there. Have you seen the news? Did you know we have a new epidemic? Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, migraines, autism, arthritis, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel… all reaching record levels never before seen in history. Disease causing agents in the air, in the water, in the food supply, in our children’s toys. Most of the time we don’t even know they’re there. Have you been experiencing pain, anxiety, or fatigue? It’s likely because of the toxins you’ve already been exposed to.  Before a pseudoscience pusher begins his/her spiel, he/she will always let you soak in a little home-made marinade of fear. First, let’s be clear, “toxins” the way they’re used by Natural Health proponents, don’t exist. They’re a made up concept. Second, if you examine the evidence, you’ll often find it’s not as bad as you think it is. Poor journalism is often to blame, combined with poor science comprehension. Overblown, false, cherry picked lines can make anything sound apocalyptic.

4.)    Lucky for you, there’s us! How serendipitous that we just happened to be here when you were looking.  Remember all that scary stuff I mentioned before? Well, there’s something you don’t know, a simple fix, a bold alternative  ‘they’ don’t want you to know about, but since we can see that you’re special, we can tell you the secret. Offering hope, particularly to chronically ill and incurable sufferers is the foundation of the trust fortress they’re building. They will claim they can treat what medicine has failed to cure. They treat the underlying cause of the disease, not just the symptoms. They offer the “whole body” approach, a ploy set up to make you believe they do something different than what good doctors have always done, as if they are the only ones who care about you as a person, before a patient. It’s very appealing.

5.)    Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. Lacking solid, peer reviewed, and repeatable studies, quacks support their claims of greatness on testimonials. Anecdotes have never been reliable evidence in the quest for scientific truth. There are too many variables person to person, and truthfully, our brains kind of stink at reporting accurate, non-biased information. There are evolutionary biologic reasons for this, but fortunately that’s why we have the scientific process and have developed tools for measuring actual change in our bodies, as in our world. Almost all positive anecdotes (particularly if they start with, “I was skeptical at first,”) can be explained by the Placebo Effect, Regression to the Mean, or misdiagnoses. Of course, when pressured to explain their lack of recorded results for scientific review, a quack’s response is likely to sound like this: I don’t know, I’m too busy making sick people well, perhaps you ought to try it for yourself.

6.)    Clinically proven gobbledygook. Quacks know you’re not that naïve, though. That’s where they use their dressed up science gibberish to assure you that they got it covered. Don’t worry, it’s certified! Clinically proven, you don’t have to know by whom, they’re just highly trained professionals you’ve never heard of.  They may say that research is underway, or brush off the whole FDA approval thing as a pesky and expensive formality. Then they’ll use language that is specifically chosen to sound medical in nature, but won’t actually get them in trouble for dispensing medical advice. Labels can read, “Helps support joint health” or “Boosts the Immune System” because it is vague and doesn’t say anything about how the human body actually works.  Technobabble is also a very popular strategy in the realm of alternative therapy. Big words strung together with incomprehensible terms from physics, quantum mechanics, and chemistry intimidate most people from questioning the true meaning of it. How it works is simple: psychotronic amplifiers in the ionosphere reflect vibrational energy that magnetizes the plasma in our blood stream. When frequencies reach equilibrium with interplanetary alignment, miasmic force fields are expelled from our bodies through our sweat glands. Any questions?

7.)    Science doesn’t have all the answers. Often, this is where if you listen closely, hucksters start contradicting themselves. While simultaneously talking up how their product is this close to being accepted by the scientific consensus, they will emphasize mainstream medicine’s shortfalls. It’s true, science doesn’t have all the answers, nor does it claim to. But creating a false dichotomy of “if you can’t say for sure that your model explains this phenomenon, then that’s just more proof my model does!” is just wrong. They may often insert scare tactics like that many pharmaceuticals work on biological pathways scientists don’t even understand, or assert scientists have evil agendas, outlining all the bad things created by scientists in the last century.

8.)    Too bad we have to fight so hard for you to be able to use it. There’s no way to patent a natural remedy, so unfortunately that means they have no incentive to research it; Big Pharma won’t make any profit, so it’s just us here, looking out for you. This is where the salesperson starts trying to convince you that they are really a part of revolutionary movement, promoting healing products or services that are ahead of their time. They’ll say that the paradigm of today is outdated, but the powers that be are working to suppress anyone who wants to challenge the status quo. This is really just a method of distraction from the debate between proven and unproven therapies.  Conspiracy theories involving Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, Big Government, and Shadow Governments pitted against ‘We the People’ become a tired story. But everyone loves a David vs Goliath tale, and it’s pretty easy to incite a rallying cry for the little guy, that poor victim in his working class hero outfit just trying to help people live better.

9.)    There’s nothing wrong with experimenting to find what makes you feel better.  This tactic actually goes an opposite, but equally misleading route. Practitioners claim using evidence based medicine is not such a bad thing; in fact, there are many useful health benefits from regular consultations with “allopathic” or “Western medicine” doctors in addition to the naturopathic physician. They work alongside science-based doctors and encourage their patient to see both, so they get a complementary or integrative experience in healthcare. But (and there’s always a ‘but’), when patients are treated successfully, naturopathic champions are quick to take credit, saying it was their own special brand of woo that cured the patient. However, if it goes badly, they will often assert that the patient didn’t start holistic therapy soon enough, or that they didn’t believe in it enough, and that’s why it didn’t work. Suddenly the conversation changes. Bloody doctors and their pharmaceutical poisons, when will it stop?

10.) Who cares if it’s psychosomatic, shouldn’t people be happy for you anyway? To seal the deal, quacks will try to convince you that, much to their chagrin, there are people in this world who are just so miserable in their own lives, they will seek to bring you down from your new found success any way they know how. They’ll remind you that you are the one with an open mind, and the others, well, they just can’t see the light yet. What’s the harm in asking questions?  Injustice doesn’t become justice just because the majority of people say it is. Don’t let them get to you; perhaps they’re jealous, or perhaps you make them uncomfortable by going against the grain. Likely, they’ve already drunk the kool-aid, and are unable to think for themselves. If they don’t like that you’re happy, tell them to mind their own business.


This page was inspired by articles from Quackwatch. If you’d like to read them, they are:

Distinguishing Science From Pseudoscience, by Rory Coker, Ph.D.
How Quackery Sells by Stephen Barrett, M.D. and William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.
More Ploys That Can Fool You by Stephen Barrett, M.D. and Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D.




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