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21st. Century Snake Oil
April 18, 2010 5:43 PM   Subscribe

"Con men used to travel town to town hawking medical remedies said to be made of Chinese snakes. Snake oil was useless and dangerous. So the FDA was created to put a stop to it and other food and drug scams. But, today, quack medicine has never been bigger. In the 21st century, snake oil has been replaced by bogus therapies using stem cells. Stem cells may offer cures one day, but medical charlatans on the Internet are making outrageous claims that they can reverse the incurable, from autism to multiple sclerosis to every kind of cancer."* Video Part 1 [13:15] || Part 2 [11:49].

"'Patients need to beware,' prominent stem cell biologist Larry Goldstein [says]. Goldstein and researcher Doug Sipp are with the International Society for Stem Cell Research, an organization of the world's leading stem cell scientists. Sipp is tracking bogus stem cell clinics all around the world. 'How have these operations grown, say, in the last five years or so?' [CBS correspondent Scott] Pelley asked. 'I would say the growth has been explosive. I've been tracking it closely for the past three years and I've been able to come up with more than 200 clinics that are offering some version of stem cells for some type of medical condition for which there is really no good evidence that the stem cells would be either safe or effective,' Sipp explained."
posted by ericb (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Recent FPP: Defying the FDA, Doctors in Colorado Offer Stem Cell Therapies for Joint Diseases.*

* Note -- no claim or evidence has been made, presented or inferred that the subject of this previous FPP has been or is engaged in fradulent activity.
posted by ericb at 5:46 PM on April 18, 2010


I know for a fact that stem cells will reverse aging if you just smear a big-ass glop of them all over your face. Are you calling Professor Farnsworth a liar?
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:52 PM on April 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


That WaPo article is exceedingly bizarre. It seems to suggest that the entire field of stem cell medicine has been completely discredited due to academic fraud, but I can't find any other reporting on the matter. It's also over four years old.
posted by mek at 5:55 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, apparently the man in question was recently cleared of fraud, but sentenced to two years in jail for embezzlement and "bioethical violations." Weird, but perhaps unrelated to the subject at hand.
posted by mek at 5:58 PM on April 18, 2010


I know for a fact that stem cells will reverse aging if you just smear a big-ass glop of them all over your face. Are you calling Professor Farnsworth a liar?

You laugh.
posted by NoMich at 6:00 PM on April 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Con men used to travel town to town hawking medical remedies said to be made of Chinese snakes.

The upside was that the medicine shows provided employment for countless musicians and helped spread musical practice and knowledge across the US in the period predating ready availability of recorded music. It's impossible to overstate their importance in regard to the development of American musical culture. Recommended listening.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:04 PM on April 18, 2010 [16 favorites]


(and here in China, snake oil is still readily available from people claiming it will cure just about anything)
posted by msbrauer at 6:05 PM on April 18, 2010


NoMich: Plant stem cells. Wow. I mean... wow.... Wasn't something like that involved in Poison Ivy's origin story?
posted by Grimgrin at 6:05 PM on April 18, 2010


Of course, many of these claims could be proven to be false ... if only stem cell research in the US wasn't hamstrung by the OMG BABIES nonsense.
posted by adipocere at 6:10 PM on April 18, 2010


Fun fact! Actual snake oil is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:19 PM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know for a fact that stem cells will reverse aging if you just smear a big-ass glop of them all over your face. Are you calling Professor Farnsworth a liar?

You laugh.


The last laugh is on all of you doubters! This is an unretouched before and after picture showing the results of a year of stem cell glop-to-the-face treatment.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:21 PM on April 18, 2010


Let's just be glad as hell the quacks hawked snake oil in the day and not fish oil.
posted by floam at 6:28 PM on April 18, 2010


So before and after are shown left to right in that picture?
posted by Mister_A at 6:31 PM on April 18, 2010


"plant stem cells," "cells from the stem of a plant," you know, whatever.
posted by wreckingball at 6:31 PM on April 18, 2010


Still relevant
posted by The Whelk at 6:34 PM on April 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


What a great poster!
posted by Mister_A at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2010


Journalists are quick to dismiss bloggers as amateurs, but the reason a lot of people can get away with stem-cell hogwash these days is the direct result of poor reporting on the part of accredited journalists on the subject of stem-cells in past few years.
posted by furtive at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


My grandparents are in their late seventies and their quality of life is rapidly degrading. A couple months ago they ordered some "Elixir of Youth" alternative medicine concoction they saw advertised somewhere and began taking it together. Within three days of taking it, my grandmother had a stroke. Even so, my grandfather kept taking it for two weeks, until the persistent nosebleeds made him stop.

Everything about this makes me terribly sad -- especially the childlike suspension of disbelief of my grandparents, who were so desperate to believe that they could really feel "twenty years younger", and which has ultimately only compounded my grandmother's mental and mobility difficulties. Life is hard enough without the dead-eyed garbage people of the world preying on the insecurities of our most vulnerable citizens to make a sleazy, bloody buck.
posted by hermitosis at 7:36 PM on April 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


> Fun fact! Actual snake oil is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids

I think that's only for water snakes, though.
posted by Decimask at 7:56 PM on April 18, 2010


I happened to catch the 60 Minutes takedown of the quack Dr. Stowe this evening, and it was fucking BRILLIANT. 60 Minute reporters can get so badass.
posted by msali at 8:14 PM on April 18, 2010


hermitosis, much as I hate the quacks and snake-oil salesmen of this world, I guess it's most likely that your grandmother's stroke was not linked to what she was taking. Even where laws allow them to, most quacks are not foolish enough to put anything active in their products. They are still bastards who prey on the weak, though.
posted by howfar at 8:53 PM on April 18, 2010


I guess it's most likely that your grandmother's stroke was not linked to what she was taking.

Her doctor disagrees.
posted by hermitosis at 9:22 PM on April 18, 2010


howfar - Actually, a lot of quacks offer "therapies" with active and dangerous ingredients. For example, see Chelation therapy or colloidal silver, just to name a couple.
posted by lexicakes at 10:18 PM on April 18, 2010


howfar - Actually, a lot of quacks offer "therapies" with active and dangerous ingredients. For example, see Chelation therapy or colloidal silver, just to name a couple.

And a lot of unregulated "dietary supplements" sold over the counter (like those mail order penis-enlarger pills) have been found to contain dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals, like lead and mercury.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:25 PM on April 18, 2010


I think there might be two kinds of quacks: evil con men and people who actually believe their own bullshit.

Well, it's time to go to sleep while the leeches bleed away the foul humours...
posted by double block and bleed at 10:29 PM on April 18, 2010


I think there might be two kinds of quacks

If it walks like a quack and talks like a quack, it's a duck quack.
posted by WalterMitty at 10:52 PM on April 18, 2010


Life is hard enough without the dead-eyed garbage people of the world preying on the insecurities of our most vulnerable citizens to make a sleazy, bloody buck.

Amen. I'm so, so sick of the people who are in the tightest squeeze being the ones that the predators, the psychopaths, the people with no morals descend upon to make a technically legal buck.

I guess we could take them out and shoot them, but that sort of thing is illegal these days.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:17 AM on April 19, 2010


I used snake oil in my 2006 Toyota Minivan and my engine seized.

I'd heartily second that it's no good at all.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:22 AM on April 19, 2010


Reiki anyone? "Healing touch?" These quack therapies have swept through medicine with barely any resistance. The holy grail is CMS reimbursement. Hospitals must salivate at the thought of getting paid for nothing more than having some nursing school dropout hold her hands over the patient and make cooing sounds.
posted by Faze at 4:23 AM on April 19, 2010


Snake oil IS bunk. Now, Don Brouhaha's Inca Helloil Tonic is the real deal.
One part of...the Paste, one part of...the Juice, and just a potent jot...of Helloil.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:01 AM on April 19, 2010


Good post. This is the evolution of the pseudo-science scam. The whole thing reminds me that no matter how foolproof something is made, nature will make a better fool. The saddest part is that these people aren't fools. They're desperate. And con men like Larry Stowe are feeding off of this desperation.

I bet there is a part of these con-men who actually think they are doing these people a favour by giving these patients hope. They probably justify it to themselves, if they even care, that they are giving people with terminal diagnosis some tiny bit of hope in their last days. Stowe even hints at that in the second video when he's confronted by asking what their prognosis is if they don't do his treatment, implying that he can't hurt to do it.

Can anyone tell me if the 60 Minutes video links (1,2) work outside of the US?

I want to forward them to someone in Canada.
posted by toftflin at 7:56 AM on April 19, 2010


toftflin: I can see part 1 from BC, Canada.
posted by Grimgrin at 8:04 AM on April 19, 2010


And in a similar fashion, those that claim to increase fertility. I saw one poster today which made me wish I could complain to the ASA - first it claimed to help people lose 3.5 kilos in two weeks, which is not a healthy weight loss, and then that they helped a couple conceive' [The man] was told by GP he had dead sperm.' It might not kill people, but there are lots of people out there desperate to lose weight, or have children, and exploiting this makes me feel fairly uncomfortable.
posted by mippy at 8:37 AM on April 19, 2010


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