Selling snake oil is all about marketing, which means that a good snake oil product needs to have a great angle or a hook. Popular snake oil hooks include being “natural,” the product of ancient wisdom, or “holistic.”
Perhaps my favorite snake oil marketing ploy, however, is claiming the product represents the latest cutting-edge technology. This invariably leads to humorous sciencey technobabble. There are also recurrent themes to this technobabble, which often involve “energy,” vibrations and frequencies, or scientific concepts poorly understood by the public, such as magnetism and (of course) quantum effects. Historically, even radioactivity was marketed as a cure-all.
One category of technical pseudoscientific snake oil measures some physiological property of the body and then claims that this measurement can be used for diagnosis and determining optimal treatment. For example, machines might measure brain waves, heart rate variability, thermal energy or (the subject of today’s article) the galvanic skin response.
Chronic Lyme disease almost certainly does not exist, but a growing number of doctors are diagnosing and treating it with long-term antibiotics and other remedies. They are known as LLMDs (“Lyme Literate” medical doctors). This subject has been covered repeatedly on Science-Based Medicine, here, here, here, here, and elsewhere.
I have a correspondent who joined a Yahoo group for Lyme disease (Northern VA Lyme). She shared with me a message to that group that listed the LLMDs in their area. On that list was Patricia Slusher, ND, CN (naturopath, certified nutritionist). Other messages confirmed that Slusher is treating patients for “chronic Lyme disease.” One message specifically described the treatments prescribed by Patricia Slusher:
For the first 3 weeks my Lyme protocol consist of taking 3 supplements from Percision [sic] Herbs, LLC; LYX, Spirex and Puricell and spending 30 minutes 2X a week getting a Quad Zapper treatment. After the 3 weeks, my test for Lyme was negative. But bartonella was still positive. She has changed my supplements to taking Drainage-tone and Amoeba-chord by energetix and 15 minutes 1x a week of the Quad Zapper to fight the bartonella. I have doing [sic] this protocol for approx. 3 weeks. Along with this protocol I am on several other homeopathic supplements to address some of my symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, nerve pain (feels like someone is stabbing me with an ice pick or bugs crawling on me), numbness, inflammation, low vitamin D, etc. Also, supplements to raise the functioning level of my adrenals and kidneys. [Note: the Quad Zapper is a version of one of the infamous Hulda Clark’s phony devices.]
This sounded like quackery above and beyond what most LLMDs and even most naturopaths would offer, so I did some research. I learned some things. (more…)
Electrodermal testing is a bogus procedure where measurements of skin conductance with a biofeedback device are entered into a computer to diagnose nonexistent health problems and “energy imbalances” and to recommend treatments for them, often involving the sale of homeopathic remedies and other useless products. It falls under the general category of EAV (Electro Acupuncture of Voll). The history and variants of EAV are explained in an article on Quackwatch.
I’ve written about electrodermal testing before. I’ve explained how it amounts to fooling patients with a computerized Magic 8 Ball and I’ve discussed the legal and regulatory issues.
Now Stephen Barrett (founder of Quackwatch and Vice-President of the Institute for Science in Medicine) has written an article in FACT (Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies) entitled “Bogus electrodermal testing devices: where are the regulators?” He points out that existing regulations are sufficient to ban these devices, but that regulators have failed to take appropriate action.
Last week I described electrodermal testing. I’m sure many readers thought, “There oughta be a law against that.” Well, there are laws. Unfortunately, having laws and enforcing them are two different things.
Some of these devices are not approved at all. Most have received 501(k) approval from the FDA as biofeedback devices so similar to previous devices that they do not require new approval — for biofeedback. It is illegal to use the devices for anything other than biofeedback. The FDA has prohibited their sale or importation for unapproved purposes like electrodermal testing; it has sent warnings to companies, raided clinics, and confiscated machines. States have prosecuted users for practicing medicine without a license. Medical boards have chastised licensed providers. The Quackwatch website lists these regulatory actions but points out that there has been no systematic effort to drive these devices from the marketplace.
One electrodermal testing website admits that what it is doing is illegal and tries to fight back with this specious disclaimer:
It is important to understand that the laws in the USA forbid me from being able to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent disease. The AMA has a patent on those words and only a licensed medical doctor can do that. And although it is legal for a licensed medical doctor to violate the Hippocratic oath and prescribe toxic drugs that cause harm and sometimes even kill patients, it is illegal for me to claim you can be cured using natural, nontoxic remedies, even though thousands of people can testify how they have been healed using natural remedies.
Remember the Magic Eight Ball toy? You could ask it a question and shake it and a random answer would float up into a window: yes, no, maybe, definitely, etc. There is even a website where you can ask an Eight Ball questions online.
I have been meaning to write about bogus electrodiagnostic machines for a long time. These devices supposedly diagnose diseases and/or energy imbalances, indicate which remedies will correct the problem(s), and sometimes even treat the imbalances by transmitting a balancing frequency to the patient. I knew they were bogus, but I had never really realized the full extent of the deception until I viewed a set of training videos recently sent to me by a correspondent. I had never realized how similar electrodermal testing was to the Magic Eight Ball. I was further amazed at how they managed to combine every kind of alternative medicine into one incoherent package and to bamboozle patients with an appalling display of pseudoscientific babble.
This will be a two-part series. In the first, I will describe what the machines and their operators do. In the second (next week), I will address the legal and regulatory issues.