Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Modern Day Snake Oil

My mother is suffering from cancer, unfortunately, and now this otherwise rational and intelligent woman is succumbing to the modern-day equivalent of snake-oil salesmen, hoping to find a cure in the field of "Alternative Medicine." Today my mom went to a 'doctor' who sold her $500 in dietary supplements that -- apparently -- are all going to cure her cancer! I'm glad she invited me along for her 'appointment' as I got a first-hand look at how the scam works.


First of all, the guy showed-up in practically a full surgical outfit even though we were only meeting in a small strip-mall office suite. Very 'professional' looking! He then proceeded to talk-up a STORM full of medical and biological terminology. It was impossible to consider or evaluate any of his statements because he JUST KEPT TALKING. Regardless of the forum, I can tell when I'm being manipulated in this way. I started-out wanting to like him (even as I knew I wasn't likely going to agree with him) and, in fact, he seemed very earnest and honest, like he really believed his own schtick. But after TWO HOURS I had to bite my tongue lest I threaten to report him for fraud.

Note -- He was VERY careful not to say that any of these treatments would cure her cancer! So there was nothing I could report him for. (dangle...) In this way he was obviously very practiced at his sales pitch. He also gave several anecdotes of people he had cured -- but without mentioning if they were also receiving traditional cancer treatments.

I'm not actually saying he was a con man. He may very well have believed all that crap he spouted. But if that's the case he needs to realize that the high-pressure sales pitch is only going to work on gullible or overly-polite people, while alienating everyone else.


Since my mom has an ACTUAL VERIFIABLE ILLNESS, I had assumed we were merely there to discuss and recommend possible treatments. But, no, he also gave my mom an on-the-spot 'examination'. His entire diagnostic technique consisted of -- and I kid you not, you can't make this stuff up -- PULLING HER FINGER. How unscientific is this?? Oh, let me count the ways! He would ask my mom's "body" if it "wanted" a particular supplement, then pull her finger, and based on the resistance he claimed to feel, would tell my mom if it was a good treatment or not. Even assuming he believed all this (which I doubt) my mom could vary her response for both conscious and unconscious reasons, and he could vary the strength of his 'test' pull in the same way. As I watched this charade I started imagining tricks I could play on him, such as swapping his 'test vials' so that they were all the same -- hence impossible to use for a valid test. I knew that his 'results' would not change if I did.

The worst part for me, actually, was when I thought of a dastardly joke we could play on him, and then I had trouble not laughing. Since the 'doctor' insisting on pulling her finger, what if I could've planted a gag Fart Maker? Every time he pulled your finger --- pffft. "Sorry!" I wonder how long he could continue under those conditions :-)


I noticed that he did a good job of 'eliminating' several 'unnecessary' treatments. In other words, he made a good show of not trying to sell her every possible pill. I also noticed that he correctly 'diagnosed' all the various ailments my mom had already mentioned to him. Kinda reminded me of TV fake John Edwards' use of undercover agents to interview the crowd before each show, to find-out what secret they were hoping he could divine.

For each ailment he would quickly explain a highly technical reason why this or that biochemical was 'off' and how this or that supplement would fix it. Of course, the human body is far more complicated than that. As my cousin once told me, "If your body needs more zinc, you can't just eat more of it. Your digestive tract will simply 'pass' most of it." In the same vein (ha ha) I have recently read several articles about once-promising drug treatments which, for reasons unknown, failed to work outside the lab. And that's for legitimate pharmaceuticals, not fly-by-night 'homeopathic' remedies that make no actual medical claims.


I had to wonder if this guy was even a legitimate doctor. His wall was festooned with certificates and degrees, and so I set about to make a study of them. Here's a quick summary:

1974 - BS from a christian college in Texas
1976 - MD from Baylor Medical in Houston
1977 - license in Oregon
1980-1 - certificate of appreciation for "Management" of a Texas hospital or something
1983 - license in Wyoming
2003 - license in CA from "Medical Board of CA"

There were various others which I've forgotten, but the one that really got my attention was the 2nd. Is it possible to get a medical degree in just 2 years? When I got home afterwards I googled "Baylor" as "Medical Board of CA", just to make sure they were real. I also looked him up on both the CA and TX medical boards' web-sites, and everything looked legit (and there were no actions against him).


So maybe he really does believe all that crap he spouted? I hope so. Fortunately, my mom also has a team of doctors at UCSD who claim to be open to alternative medicine -- but still want to review her supplements, just "to make sure none will react" with her ACTUAL treatment. According to doctor snake-oil, "none of these treatments interact with each other." In other words, they're probably all placebos! Wasn't there such an expose a few years ago about the "supplements" industry?

P.S. I can't entirely blame the cancer for her loss of reason. She was already under the thrall of her "bio-energetisist" whom I've learned she pays several thousand dollars a year for monthly treatments. But at least he also performs a legitimate service -- physical therapy -- as part of his fee.

P.P.S. Despite my harsh negative view of this 'doctor', I'm not doctrinarily opposed to Alternative Medicine. I just want it to prove it works! Is that so much to ask? Maybe the foods we eat, and the plastics we use, really do cause cancer through some as-yet-unknown mechanism. I have no doubt that today's "modern" medicine will seem like medieval torture in the near future. But that doesn't excuse all the unscientific unverifiable unBELIEVABLE claims of all those supplements my mom just paid top-dollar for. (dangle dangle...)

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