Category: Skepticism

Peter Popoff: religious scammer still scamming decades after being caught


Waaay back in 1986, James Randi appeared on the Tonight Show and demonstrated that faith healer Peter Popoff had a source other than God’s word for his surprising insights into the lives of those healed. I strongly urge you to watch the video of Randi pulling back the curtain on Popoff’s blatant and despicable fraud. (Johnny Carson, the then-host of the Tonight Show, was a former magician like Randi and a like him an exposer of spiritual/religious scams, in the tradition of Houdini.)

After his exposure, Popoff lost most of his income and ended up declaring bankruptcy the following year.

He’s back. Unbelievably, he’s making money by the simple expedient of lying to people. Lots of money. He is literally raking in millions, again.

Recently, a video-maker got one of Reverend Popoff’s solicitation letters. He seems to have stolen a lot of his techniques from the late Oral Roberts and other colleagues in the field of promising miracles in a non-legally-actionable manner. Some of the things Randi documented in his classic book The Faith Healers:

  • Give the mark a cheap gift. This creates a sense of obligation to give something in return.
  • Offer miracles but only if a donation is made.
  • Suggest a minimum donation and imply that larger ones show more faith and get bigger miracles.
  • Write your letter as if you (the scammer) personally sat down and hand-typed it (with fake handwritten parts) and personally mailed it to the sucker, even though your organization sends out millions of them a week.

Popoff’s letter does all of these. There’s more. Watch the video. If you want to educate yourself about the subject, read Randi’s book.

Mike Jeavons made his video funny, but Popoff is just infuriating. He exists to suck the money out of vulnerable believers. He’s exactly what people hate about religious leaders, maybe part of one step short of Jim Jones.

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Grocery Shopping With Obby

I’ve been reading The Devil’s Panties for years now. I’ve always enjoyed its slice-of-life humor. Since creator Jennie Breeden married Obby, there have been occasional position-taking strips. Obbie is listed as co-writer these days, maybe he’s more of an advocate. This one is very much to the point:

The Devil's Panties goes on a diet

The Devil’s Panties goes on a diet

I had the pleasure of meeting Jennie at Dragon Con in 2014. (Obby was away from their table when I went by.) Take a look at their comic, I think you’ll like it–and it will never, ever insult your intelligence or tell you to eat Free Range Kale.

Preying on Believers With Bad Critical Thinking Skills

It’s perfectly possible to be a religious believer, and still be smart and sane.

But that isn’t the target audience for the spam I just got.

Nativity Stones Mail

Screen Capture showing the spam I received

(Click the image to expand.)

Essentially they’re selling rocks from the “Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem”. The cave is part of the Church of the Nativity–the reader is meant to believe that the various Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox priests who administer that temple would let pebbles be taken from the cave and sold via email spam.

Interestingly, the links go to fundybuzz.com. The spammers obviously know that smart, knowledgeable people won’t fall for the scam, so they aren’t making any effort to hide their contempt from anyone who is awake.

Fox News Fails Chemistry

Fox News Fails Chemistry

This is astonishing. I used to be a chemistry teacher, and I would have been embarrassed to have a story this nonsensical turned in by one of my high-school students.

Oxidation is combining with oxygen? Combining with oxygen derived from iron oxide is somehow not oxidation? This reaction will somehow not produce carbon dioxide or any other “pollutant”? Really?

I happen to work for an energy company. There really is “clean coal,” at least in theory. It’s a combination of removing pollutants like sulfur dioxide from the byproducts of combustion (smoke, ash, etc.) with sequestering the produced carbon dioxide so it doesn’t add to the greenhouse effect. Problem is, I just explained it better than Fox’s whole article, in one sentence.

This is what happens when you stop having science journalists and make “general” reporters cover technical stories–they make no sense at all.

The scary thing is that Fox has actually published a worse story on clean energy.

Quietly Doing Nothing

Whenever I listen to the local news radio station, I hear ads for Quietus®. Quietus is a remedy for tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition in which a person hears sounds, often roaring, humming or whistling, which are not perceptible to anyone else. In severe cases these sounds can interfere with hearing and understanding speech or enjoying music, or even prevent sleep. In many cases there is little medicine can do for tinnitus sufferers.

Medical conditions that can’t be easily cured by medicine are a natural target for medical nonsense. Quietus is (in the writer’s sole opinion) a fine example of something that couldn’t possibly work but is making money for its makers.

Quietus is a “dual homeopathic” medication. This means it has two supposed ingredients. However, most homeopathic medications in fact contain literally nothing. Homeopathy is an antiquated and unscientific pseudo-medical system based on these premises:

  1. Like cures like–that is, treat a disease with medication or medications that cause the same symptoms, and
  2. The smaller the dose, the more powerful the effect of medication.

Both are silly, but the second is what makes it impossible for homeopathic “drugs” to work. In most cases, commercial homeopathic remedies are diluted so much that none of the so-called active ingredients are actually present!

Quietus’ web site contains a page titled “Quietus® Homeopathic Treatment A Study by Dr. Thomas Latino, Ph.D.” The contents are not a study in any academic sense, however, just a description of the product’s ingredients and their traditional uses.

Quietus contains:

  1. Apis Mellificais which is obtained by soaking honeybees in alcohol.
  2. Aristolochia Clematis, also called “birthwort”.
  3. M. Chamomilla, German chamomile.
  4. Lachesis Mutusis,  venom from the African Bushmaster.
  5. Thuja Occidentalis or arbor vita, more commonly known as white cedar or eastern white cedar (although it is not a botanical cedar).
  6. C. Officinalis (presumably the pot marigold, Calendula officinalis).
  7. K. Phosphoricum, which they also refer to as “Potassium of Potash”. This is chemical gibberish, presumably they mean just “potash”, which is potassium phosphate (and which some homeopaths call “Kali Phosphoricum” to make it sound more technical or mystical or techno-mystical or something).
  8. Salicylic Acid, a chemical found within some plant tissues (most famously willow bark).

[sic] for all the above organisms–in biology species names don’t start with a capital letter, but Dr. Latino consistently writes them incorrect. “Thuja Occidentalis” should be Thuja occidentalis, for instance.

It’s interesting reading the above-linked “Study” page because it says right at the top, “Homeopathic potencies accredit their strength and efficacy to the electromagnetic signatures of the original substrate. These are scientifically created dilutions and successions of medicines such that generally not even a molecule of the original substrate or medicine is present in the medicine.” They admit up front that their product has no active ingredients but claim that “electromagnetic signatures” of these nonexistent chemicals somehow cure tinnitus. I don’t think you’ll find any physicists or chemists who can identify what “electromagnetic signatures” even means in this context.

Notice the weird melange of ingredients, very typical of magic-mongers. It includes extracts from living things (an animal and several plants), a very simple chemical (potassium phosphate), and an organic molecule (salicylic acid).

The key single thing to notice on the “Study” page is this: the author doesn’t list any claims that any of the ingredients help tinnitus. Even accepting at face value all the claims of homeopathic effects listed, they’re for other, not-obviously-relevant disorders including asthma, pain, cancer, and arthritis! Want to see a classic example of misleading language? The author writes, “Derivations of C. Officinalis are administered to elderly patients to treat tinnitus and cardiac related disorders and have been found to have effective implications when taken to counteract swelling and other conditions that may adversely impact the workings of the inner ear.” Note that Dr. Latino does not claim this nostrum works for tinnitus! He says only that it is used for that complaint. (What the heck are “effective implications”?)

The author of this “Study” is Dr. Thomas Latino. PubMed reports that Dr. Latino has zero medical publications. A more general web search finds the same “Study” that’s on the Quietus site was also published by The Hearing Journal in 2010. HJ appears to be an industry trade magazine. It is certainly not a peer-reviewed, scientific publication. He is stated to be “a consultant” and no details are given of his degrees, or professional experience, anywhere that I can find. His only other publication that I can locate is promoting another homeopathic nostrum, this one for sciatica.

But surely the makers must have some evidence it works? Well, all they give is a bunch of testimonials. Anonymous testimonials. Testimonials are very convincing–we humans are easily persuaded by stories. Trouble is, testimonials are easily found for all manner of quack nonsense, including copper bracelets curing arthritis, Laetrile curing cancer, and stump water curing warts. To show that a medical treatment works, you need controlled and blinded experiments or carefully-conducted epidemiological studies, which simply don’t exist for this ludicrous treatment.

In conclusion: this stuff can’t possibly work (again, it has no ingredients), they present no meaningful evidence that it does work, and the only effect it’s likely to have is moving money from the sufferer’s wallet to the seller’s. Not recommended.