If you’re sick, even the ridiculous can seem sublime

Let’s say you have cancer. And let’s say you’re really, really sick of having cancer. And let’s say that you’re also pretty tired of scans, chemo, radiation, hair loss, nausea. And let’s say you’re not really sick and tired of living, but actually pretty happy to be alive.

Finally, let’s say someone says that they can get rid of your cancer, without all of those pesky side-effects. It’s a win-win, no?


It’s easy to believe in promises that are congruent with our wishes. That’s what makes human beings so easy to deceive. A case in point is the VIBE Machine, a discredited quackery device. This thing was marketed until about a year ago. Not surprisingly, Orac has written about this thing in his Friday Dose of Woo. Stephen Barrett, the King of Quack-Busters, has also tracked the sordid history of this rip-off. The device was recalled back in 2008, so this shouldn’t even be a story anymore, except that word of the device still circulates among cancer patients and their friends. The company’s website is down, which is good, but this thing is still out there.

At least one website is still promoting it in detail. The website is, needless to say, a whole lot of words that make no sense:

The VIBE Machine works on five different levels by using a medium electromagnetic field. In this field, a high voltage pulse is added along with ozone. The charge is placed at a negative voltage which is being transmitted to an antenna designed to twist the magnetic field. It is then routed through noble and inert gases. These gases are in a plasma state, varying in frequencies which relate to human cellular frequencies. Plasma is found between the protons and electrons of all cells in the human body. By oscillating this plasma state, the cells are energized by the Vibe Machine. Disease is a state found in non-vibrating, non-charged, or non-energized cells. The VIBE Machine brings the vibrational level of your body back to its natural state of being. It is a technological breakthrough in enhancing the human body by helping it reach optimum vibration and energy.

This is not even wrong.

But that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is that I, not having cancer, read it and see, “blah, blah, blah, let me steal money from cancer patients”, but cancer patients are more likely to read it and see, “HOPE HOPE HOPE”. In fact, I spoke to one patient who said, “yeah, I heard it was recalled, but why should I trust the FDA?”

This is the strength of quackery, the weakness of real medicine. Real medicine offers hope, but also reality. Quackery isn’t so limited.

As physicians we need to become better at explaining the real meaning of hope—the hope for cure, the hope for living, the hope for comfort when that isn’t possible. And we need to give our patients the tools to protect themselves from scams like this. This means when we get mad, we don’t take it out on the patient who is, after all, just trying to get better.

But you—you, Dear Reader—also share in this responsibility. You must make sure not to tell your brother-in-law how cool some new thing sounds. You must help your friend with a bad disease to navigate their illness, avoiding the rocks of quackery. You must not shrug and say, “what’s the harm?” This is not a one-person job. Get on it.

Posted in: Cancer, Health Fraud, Science and Medicine

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