Why it's easy to believe the hype of hucksters (and how to inoculate yourself)

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    Dec 13, 2012 4:36 AM GMT
    I had a terrific pain in my lower back, for which a friend recommended a massage therapist who'd "fixed" some athletes I'd heard about. I made an appointment and got treated to some serious muscle mashing. Dreadfully painful, but I was happy to get some attention.

    Table (pillow) talk turned to chiropractic, when I was asked about the last time I'd had manipulative therapy. I recalled the numerous times I'd sought treatment from chiropractors until it became obvious (call me slow) that I was being had.

    The credentials, the medical talk, the photos of backbones gone bad from decades of not getting chiropractic. I was a good and willing patient, but I wised up and swore to myself that I wouldn't be taken again by these gifted showmen. I told my massage therapist that "magic talk" was a deal breaker for me, to which he laughed, because he too disavowed chiropractic.

    Then, to my surprise while I paid my bill, he introduced me to his assistant AND a bottle of water. Not just any water, he tells me...high energy water. The angle of covalent bonds in this water is different from ordinary tap water. I actually said out loud, "Bullshit," and (re)warned him about my vow to eschew hucksterism.

    "But," he said, "I can prove it." An experiment he's done a hundred times, always with the same result. I said I was game, let's do this.

    The experiment: stand with your feet together. Man grabs your left arm (hanging at your side) and pulls downward, upsetting your balance. Then, get this...you drink the water and suddenly he's unable to upset your balance. Only I didn't drink the water...right away. I said, "I'm a dancer. Now that you've pulled on my arm I've already adjusted my balance in my head, and you'll be unable to knock me off balance. Plus, I read something called--what was it--'ideomotor-something' [wrong term, but it was in an article about the ideomotor effect that I'd read]."

    "Just try the water," he insisted. Sure enough, no effort on his part could dislodge me.

    I was furious, and I said--still in front of his assistant--"I warned you about people who try to sell me nonsense."

    To which he challenged, "Then why does it always work?" His own answer why it worked was so laughable that I, uh, laughed. "Your pelvic muscles are dehydrated, and this water--which is absorbed by your body faster than regular water [measured in milliseconds, if I recall]--was immediately utilized and gave you strength."

    To my credit, even though I didn't remember the name of the "effect," I came up with an easy test that didn't expressly DISprove his claim, but it rendered his results meaningless. As in, I didn't measure the angle of his covalent bonds, nor did I test whether or not a dehydrated pelvis was weaker than a hydrated one. I was able to demonstrate that his test "begged the question," and cost me nothing.

    Incidentally, his magic water was $5 a bottle (available just to me for only $1.99 if I bought it today). I passed, and he lost a massage customer too.

    Challenge for you: how would YOU demonstrate that his claim is bullshit (for less than one dollar)?
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    Dec 13, 2012 4:39 AM GMT
    Did he have magic mushrooms to go with the magic water?
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    Dec 13, 2012 5:06 AM GMT
    What was amazing is a few years later I was at a hotel and a friend of mine with a box of bracelets (not Q-Ray, but some 3-D hologram film was double-stick-taped to the top) was doing the exact same "test" to the hapless rubes who gladly paid $10 for better balance. Until he got to me.

    A year after that, I was being chased around another hotel by another acquaintance who had an eye-dropper bottle of--I shit you not--more magic water. Before he could squirt me I let him have some of my own medicine.

    Both apologized to me eventually (I guess once they'd realized that they'd been ripped off themselves by their MLM overlord).
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    Dec 13, 2012 5:06 PM GMT
    Sounds like you are a tough cookie, also has some flakey acquaintances. When I have been approached with some bullshit like that, I just nod, say no, and pass on. ( unless it's a cute Mormon missionary trying to seduce me with his religious nonsense, in which case I always try to seduce him) . Life is too short to get involved in trying to disprove everybody's nonsense claims . In the massage situation, I would just have told him no thanks, and if he were good at massage, kept him as a massage therapist without buying the holy water.
  • Fable

    Posts: 3866

    Dec 13, 2012 5:06 PM GMT
    mickeytopogigio saidWhat was amazing is a few years later I was at a hotel and a friend of mine with a box of bracelets (not Q-Ray, but some 3-D hologram film was double-stick-taped to the top) was doing the exact same "test" to the hapless rubes who gladly paid $10 for better balance. Until he got to me.

    A year after that, I was being chased around another hotel by another acquaintance who had an eye-dropper bottle of--I shit you not--more magic water. Before he could squirt me I let him have some of my own medicine.

    Both apologized to me eventually (I guess once they'd realized that they'd been ripped off themselves by their MLM overlord).


    Was it GHB?
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    Dec 13, 2012 5:29 PM GMT
    fable saidWas it GHB?
    What is GHB?
  • MikeW

    Posts: 6061

    Dec 13, 2012 5:50 PM GMT
    Funny stories. Most claims along the lines you mention just make me grimace and icon_rolleyes.gif with incredulity. I have a woman friend, PhD no less, who is just such a sucker for dumb "magical thinking" shit. Blows my mind. Her speciality is the sociology of religion with a curricula vitae as thick as the Holy Bible so you'd think she might have a clue. But when it comes to "health related" stuff she's a real sucker. She has TWO Himilayan salt lamps:

    l_bw-1012.png

    One for the office and one for the kitchen.

    Now, having said all that, I have found chiropractic useful. I don't go regularly but due to working a job that requires my standing and working at a table a lot, I often have upper back pain. It had gotten quite bad when, 20 years ago, I began treatments with this young, gay practitioner I knew. The pain was gone in a month or two and has never been as bad as previously. Now, besides exercise, stretching and rolling, I get an adjustment about once ever two months from him and it seems to work. Whether it is "real" or not, I have no idea. All I know is I live pain free and that's all I care about.

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    Dec 13, 2012 6:05 PM GMT
    I can't even count the number of times someone has sent me "before" and "after" samples from their new magic $5000 water machine. Usually, they're both exactly the same. Then I get long angry phone calls about it. It never occurs to them to get their (usually perfectly fine) water tested before spending thousands on a magic box.

    I also have had people send me samples of "Himalayan Salt" for analysis. One company wanted lab results that they could put on their web site to prove that it's so much more "pure" than regular salt from the store. They just fundamentally couldn't understand the meaning of the word "pure." One or two of the samples also had some pretty sketchy metals and arsenic in them.
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    Dec 13, 2012 6:18 PM GMT
    While I think of myself as gullible in terms of falling for jokes/pranks, I NEVER fall for this kind of stuff. I'm hyper-skeptical.

    I had an acquaintance from high school try to play an unbelievably long (well, I won't say con) on me.

    In high school, he was beautiful muscular blond god of a football player. I still remember him naked from the locker room. At the time, he wasn't outright mean or anything, just didn't have the time of day for me. Anyway, he friends me on Facebook. Fine. After participating in some political arguments - about which we essentially agreed, a big shock - he picks up the phone and calls me to "catch up." Ok, well, I don't talk on the phone much with ANYone, but it was interesting enough. Nice to hear from him, I thought it was pretty cool.

    Fast forward a few months. I get a message, he would like to talk again. Ok. When we finally connect, he brings up this project he's pushing, asks me to go to some website and take a look, "if it makes sense to me" then maybe we could do something. Other acquaintances from high school are in. I think he's looking for angel investor in some start-up business. I tell him, I don't really do that too much any more, I don't have the kind of capital you'll need. But I'm not offended, that's what "friends and family" rounds are for. He says, whatever you decide, it doesn't make a difference to our friendship.

    I finally take a look at the website. It's all videos from apparently god-fearing southerners ("I've been so blessed by this business..") pushing some nonsensical MLM scheme. If you pay $800 to put up a website with affiliate links that pay the company, they'll cut you for a bit of the profit in on a convoluted, graduated scale. But of course you get the MOST money from signing up others. If you manage only a few levels, there'll be SIX THOUSAND websites that you're getting money from.

    Of course, why the world would need 6000 versions of the same website selling the same crap with the same affiliate links is beyond me. You'd have to be a real moron to believe in this, I guess that's what he thinks I am.

    I haven't talked to him since.
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    Dec 13, 2012 6:35 PM GMT
    MikeW saidNow, besides exercise, stretching and rolling, I get an adjustment about once ever two months from him and it seems to work. Whether it is "real" or not, I have no idea. All I know is I live pain free and that's all I care about.


    I too got chiropractic, until I didn't. The point of the post was to both admit how compelling the ruse is--even for practiced skeptics--and to suggest a way of testing/exposing the claim.

    I'll get to chiropractic, in a bit. But the test I developed for the magic water (and magic bracelet) was the least expensive one I knew, because I was certain that the salesmen were begging the question.

    The "test" they did was a real test, and it really worked--on everyone. Try it on a friend. I suggest the salt lady, because it's an area of belief for her. Have her stand with her feet together (nowhere near the salt lamp). Pull on her left arm so that she loses her balance to the left. Then, bring the lamp closer, and do the same thing. Bing! Suddenly she has balance, because obviously the lamp restores balance or something. Offer that as proof that the lamp works. Also, try to sound convincing.

    ...

    The real answer is that you can use anything as the "balance restorer." Try chewing gum (magic chewing gum) with another friend. A pewter goblet. Snapping your fingers near another friend's left ear. Literally EVERYTHING works. Which means that either everything is friggen magic, or the test isn't actually measuring anything remotely related to lamps, water, bracelets or chewing gum. Perhaps the test is demonstrating something else entirely, and the salesperson is attributing incorrectly (or correctly, depending upon how much inventory they have to move--the massage therapist literally had a pallet of water in the lobby).

    Now, can you devise a simple test--here's your thought experiment--that invalidates the claims by the salt lamp adherents?
  • wild_sky360

    Posts: 1492

    Dec 13, 2012 10:23 PM GMT
    I was getting a very good deal from an odd, local massage therapist. The value fluctuated though, from what I imagine was how much he had to drink the night before. Vigorous massages =good, transitioned into my body telling him I needed gentle touch and meditation= lying face down in an empty room.

    The ping of the triangle at the beginning always made me smirk...good thing we started face down. I gradually got him to forgo the incense, and then the aromatherapy. Nope; don't want to smell like lavender for the next couple days.

    Eventually I couldn't go along with the program any more. After an airport pickup, when I should have been home nursing a head cold, he near insisted I come inside for just a moment to partake in the healing energy of his new space.
  • Medjai

    Posts: 2671

    Dec 13, 2012 10:31 PM GMT
    You really did make the thread! I am very amused.
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    Dec 13, 2012 10:44 PM GMT
    Trollileo saidThe covalent bonds are at a different angle? Seriously?

    Well, they say it seriously. But no, they are not actually.


    Medjai saidYou really did make the thread! I am very amused.

    It gets, you know, tiresome being an outsider trying to carefully deconstruct an OP's whack-a-doodle notions. So, why not have a thread where the opposite happens. Something constructive.
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    Dec 13, 2012 10:48 PM GMT
    I mean, even youngsters can get in on the fun. This girl kicks therapeutic touch in the 'nads:

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    Dec 13, 2012 10:56 PM GMT
    Trollileo saidI would never be able to say that to a paying customer with a straight face.

    Unless you yourself believed it, which is part of the trick--and the danger. SOMEONE knows it's bullshit, and are so skillful at convincing people to part with money. Once they get their vanguard of buyer-sellers, acting is no longer required.
  • MikeW

    Posts: 6061

    Dec 13, 2012 11:25 PM GMT
    mickeytopogigio said
    Trollileo saidI would never be able to say that to a paying customer with a straight face.

    Unless you yourself believed it, which is part of the trick--and the danger. SOMEONE knows it's bullshit, and are so skillful at convincing people to part with money. Once they get their vanguard of buyer-sellers, acting is no longer required.

    Yes. This is exactly how it works in Intell -- Counter-intell as well. It's all about perception management. Thus one of my many mottos: "Whoever controls your perception of reality controls you." Whatever you believe to be true becomes the basis for your decisions, whether what you believe is true or not.

    And, of course, this can operate on a mass scale. Whole societies can be controlled and policies set and manipulated by what Philip D. Zelikow, Executive Director/Chair of the 9/11 Commission (and thus the liaison between Bush's White House and the Commission itself), referred to as "public presumptions." "The idea of 'public presumption'," he explained, "is akin to William McNeill's notion of 'public myth' but without the negative implication sometimes invoked by the word 'myth.' Such presumptions are beliefs (1) thought to be true (although not necessarily known to be true with certainty), and (2) shared in common within the relevant political community." Zelikow was obviously the perfect choice to herd the 9/11 Commission, the public perception of said event insuring the overwhelming acceptance of a super-surveillance society on the domestic front and the need for perpetual war internationally. Mass marketing like Popes never dreamed of.
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    Dec 14, 2012 4:31 AM GMT
    You should have told him that you don't need his magic water because you have a matter anti-matter neutron ionizer water filtration system at home. icon_biggrin.gif
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    Dec 14, 2012 12:21 PM GMT
    mickeytopogigio said
    fable saidWas it GHB?
    What is GHB?


    Gamma Hydroxy Buterate - it's a date-rape drug. It's tasteless and odorless usually slipped into a drink. The effects are the same as someone who drinks too much alcohol....they don't remember a thing until the chemicals have been metabolized.

    Good for you for calling the bullshit! There's way too many of it out there and I've noticed the biggest one is regarding health improvements. The best one I heard was a woman I worked with who heard that apricot seeds contain vitamin b17, a cure for cancer. She said that because the vitamin is missing from the body, the cancer cells continued to grow and that the vitamin "starves" the dangerous cells. I said to her that it was bullshit because cancer cells use nutrients to survive so how can vitamins, which make a cell grow, starve a cell to death? She quickly became quiet after that.
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    Dec 14, 2012 4:17 PM GMT
    mickeytopogigio said
    Table (pillow) talk turned to chiropractic, when I was asked about the last time I'd had manipulative therapy. I recalled the numerous times I'd sought treatment from chiropractors until it became obvious (call me slow) that I was being had.



    While I agree with the magic water BS, I have to take exception to giving chiropractic care a black eye.

    I had a head-on collision some years back and suffered a minor whiplash. I had some cervical vertebrae out of alignment. (Matter of fact, it was my Massage Therapist some weeks later who discovered it and NOT the Board Licensed team of "medical" doctors at time of the accident at the hospital who---despite several x-rays---didn't notice!)

    I went to a chiropractor who listened, x-rayed to confirm and laid out what he planned to do about it. Twice a week for 3 weeks and then once every two weeks unless I needed sooner relief.
    Once the pain & stiffness subsided to tolerable levels, he recommended that I could discontinue treatment unless the pain worsened.
    It didn't.

    Now, after suffering a fall from a ladder, I have returned to his office. Again, everything was examined, explained and reasonable treatment offered and which I am undergoing even now.

    I had someone tell me "If I took my car to get aligned and then they told me come back next week for another alignment, I'd find another mechanic!" I replied "If your car sat in an office chair several hours, worked on a computer, and climbed ladders and scaffolding, then I bet it WOULD need realignment!"

    There is such a thing as finding out 'best practices' for every medical treatment but it is something that is lost on majority of people since they don't bear the direct cost of medical treatment.

    THE reason I have long stated that 'health insurance' should be "catastrophic health care insurance" instead.
    Let the consumer pay for visits to Drs for sniffles, colds, flu, etc and reserve cost-reimbursement for major illnesses!