Fifteen-year-old takes on snake-oil salesman in between classes
October 7, 2010 4:01 AM   Subscribe

A 15-year-old Welsh schoolboy with Crohn’s disease has taken on the peddler of a supposed “alternative remedy” which is, in fact, a dangerous industrial bleach. Despite initial criticism from others with Crohn’s, he is making considerable headway.

When 15-year-old Rhys Morgan was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, he logged onto a support forum in search of advice and, well, support. Fishing around the site, he stumbled upon discussion of an alternative remedy called Miracle Mineral Solution, or MMS. It is promoted by one Jim Humble as a panacea, capable of curing not only Crohn’s, but HIV, cancer, and a whole host of other diseases. Understandably sceptical, Rhys Googled MMS and discovered the FDA advice on it. When used as directed, MMS is in fact chlorine dioxide, a powerful industrial bleach capable of causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration.

Alarmed, he alerted forum users to its dangers, and was rewarded with an onslaught of criticism and a 10 day site ban.

He raised the matter with the Medical Health Regulatory Agency, Welsh Health Minister Edwina Hart and the Advertising Standards Agency, and Cardiff City Council's trading standards department. As a result, the UK’s Food Standards Agency issued its own warning, urging people to report anyone they discovered selling MMS. A Guardian article on his campaign was picked up by the press in Kenya, where Humble claims to have treated 1,000 people suffering from malaria. As a result, the Kenyan Government also issued warnings about the use of MMS as a remedy for malaria.

The only downside is that as Rhys’s crusade against teh crazy continues, he keeps finding his school physics and chemistry lessons interrupted by demands to deal with the press. Despite the furore, the About page on his blog still simply says, with great modesty - "Hello everyone. My name is Rhys Morgan. I’m 15 years old and I have Crohn’s disease. I’m rather new to the skeptic community."
posted by penguin pie (48 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is promoted by one Jim Humble as a panacea, capable of curing not only Crohn’s, but HIV, cancer, and a whole host of other diseases

But not stupidity, or a complete lack of moral fibre, apparently.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:07 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


"...and i would've gotten away with it too if it wasn't for these damn kids!"
posted by jadayne at 4:08 AM on October 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


Frickin' woo nonsense. Ticks me off. It's stuff like this that makes me glad I am an active skeptic and fight the woo every chance I get.

And even the anti-colonialist Kenyan government is warning against something . . . well, fill in the blank.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:13 AM on October 7, 2010


The thing about unreasonable people is that they are.
posted by srboisvert at 4:15 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


That is great for the kid, but I do also think it's a great example that when questioning someone's dogma - a dogma that's wrapped up in a significant part of their self-identity - it's probs better to take a gently gently approach rather than acting like a huge arsehole and telling them they're idiots if they believe that crap.

I say this not only as someone with an autoimmune digestive disease (colitis! Whoopee!) who is deeply skeptical of the vast majority of alternative medicine, but also as someone who regularly commits the "Arsehole Error" when discussing climate change with climate skeptics or denialists.

Being a prick about things doesn't make people believe you, but it does make them hate you more. But I guess we're all pricks about something, though, and this is certainly a deserving target.
posted by smoke at 4:18 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, let's get this clear -- Humble recommends that people drink bleach and, apparently, sells it to them for the very purpose. Can't this be treated as some kind of assault? Why is this even being treated as a medical claim?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Morgan was also interviewed on August 11 Skeptics Guide To The Universe podcast.
posted by lordrunningclam at 4:28 AM on October 7, 2010


And a child shall lead them . . .

Anything that takes the alt-med huckster complex down even one peg is heroic work. Well done kid.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:33 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good work, Rhys. It is great to hear a young skeptic standing up against the woo peddlers and quacks.

Online forums on any medical or emotional ill are very prone to "true believers" of one weird remedy or theory or other ganging up on anyone who dares question the prevailing belief. it becomes like a religious inquisition against heresy, and results in the crazies running the nuthouse, and rational people like this boy silenced as not being "open minded".

I give him a lot of credit for persisting and problably saving some people from being poisoned.
posted by mermayd at 4:44 AM on October 7, 2010


How does someone reach a point in their life where selling industrial bleach to sick people seems reasonable? Do the hucksters convince themselves? Is it just about money?

This kid is awesome but the rest is really damn depressing.
posted by JoanArkham at 4:46 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


CrohnsForum's response to this is pretty interesting. It's hard to tell exactly what Morgan said that pissed everyone off so much because the threads have since been deleted, but from the reaction it appears that the main issue people had was what they considered to be unfair comments about one of the respected members of the site. They have a wiki page about MMS that at least hints that it's just an industrial bleach masquerading as a panacea, but I'm somewhat surprised that basically nobody in the reaction thread posted anything resembling a statement that it might be dangerous.

That is great for the kid, but I do also think it's a great example that when questioning someone's dogma - a dogma that's wrapped up in a significant part of their self-identity - it's probs better to take a gently gently approach rather than acting like a huge arsehole and telling them they're idiots if they believe that crap.

Again, it's hard to tell if his approach was too strong because all of the direct evidence has been deleted, but based on similar experiences in other forums I'm guessing it was a hopeless cause anyway. If you present a view that goes against the grain enough that the view itself is offensive to people, you will cause a massive pile-on every time you open your mouth. And it is even worse if the mods of that community side against you.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:58 AM on October 7, 2010


Well done to young Master Morgan and additional respect for his dream of becoming a doctor. No concerns about this kid taking the hippocratic oath.

'This Breakthrough can save your life, or the life of a loved one. The answer to AIDS, hepatitis A,B and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancer and many more of mankind's worse diseases has been found. Many diseases are now easily controlled.' 'As of 2009 over 330,000 MMS bottles have been delivered' I really really hope that figure is a lie.

Unbelievable. I mean I understand why people want to believe but really. What is far more concerning to me is that if you look on the website - he isnt just claiming it for aids, hep, malaria, herpes, tb & cancer but also hundreads of other illnesses. This is frankly terrifying:

What's the protocol to treat autism in a two year old kid?
'Would it be OK for a woman to work her way up to 15 drops if she has a 14 month old daughter who is still nursing?'
'Is MMS safe to take during pregnancy, especially during the initial trimester?'
posted by numberstation at 5:06 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a star. But yet another example of just how depressingly powerful the human capacity for self-deception is. No doubt they'll graduate to homeopathy next week.
posted by londonmark at 5:08 AM on October 7, 2010


Is "woo" a British thing? I don't think I've ever heard it in the States, but I love it as a way to refer to quackery and pseudo-medical douchebaggery.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:11 AM on October 7, 2010


Is "woo" a British thing? I don't think I've ever heard it in the States, but I love it as a way to refer to quackery and pseudo-medical douchebaggery.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:11 AM on October 7 [+] [!]


I've heard "woo-woo" here in America, referring to the same thing. I guess the Brits in their understated and civilized way, have dropped the second "woo".
posted by SPUTNIK at 5:21 AM on October 7, 2010


"Woo" is the term used by James Randi, who enjoys quite a bit of status in the skeptic community.

Is anyone else amazed that he got banned from a forum for warning its posters not to drink bleach?
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:24 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


A "woo-woo" is a rather pleasant cocktail.
posted by fatfrank at 5:56 AM on October 7, 2010


Is anyone else amazed that he got banned from a forum for warning its posters not to drink bleach?

The Dead Milkmen have agents everywhere.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:04 AM on October 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


compound q
posted by halekon at 6:04 AM on October 7, 2010


What is far more concerning to me is that if you look on the website - he isnt just claiming it for aids, hep, malaria, herpes, tb & cancer but also hundreads of other illnesses.

Yeesh, that is terrifying. Among other things he's claiming MMS is effective for:

"The basic overlying principle is if you are not getting well, you are not taking enough. I do not believe 6 drops a dose is enough to treat cancer unless you are using it numerous times during a day."

"I have heard from several people that MMS has helped them with Parkinson’s disease. I think MMS will help but no-one has told me that they have been cured yet.
I believe that it may be necessary to take MMS by IV infusion or enemas to make a big difference."

"Yes you can use it in the eye, I recommend making a 6 drops of MMS and 30 drops of Citric Acid solution"

"You can also give some to your puppy. Three drops of MMS for every 25 pounds of body weight"

And this is in response to someone asking if MMS is effective for Alzheimer's:

"There has been people with Alzheimer who are taking MMS, but we dont know for sure if it helps since they never get back to us.However, MMS has been affecting most diseases positively. We believe that you should go ahead and work with Alzheimer’s as MMS doesn’t cause harm."

And it's bleach. Bleach.
posted by Catseye at 6:35 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


And this snake-oil salesman is not arrested and heading to jail why?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:43 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


His experience is typical of those that question alternative medicine- the alt med scene steadfastly decries such tools of the medical establishment as evidence and actually evaluating claims critically.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:46 AM on October 7, 2010


My new hero.
posted by scunning at 6:57 AM on October 7, 2010


Exactly, fff. Surely there are laws against selling people bleach with instructions to drink it?
posted by harriet vane at 7:00 AM on October 7, 2010


"There has been people with Alzheimer who are taking MMS, but we dont know for sure if it helps since they never get back to us."

This is amazingly sinister, in more ways than one. This would be an awful thing to say even if this guy was selling something harmless.

"You can also give some to your puppy."

Oh for fuck's sake.
posted by mrgoat at 7:02 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The picture on the quack's website of a mom (in Kenya I believe) giving a glass of bleach to her infant while the quack looks on is heartbreaking.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:06 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mr Humble's website is created by these people. Are you allowed to advocate poisoning people in Oregan?
posted by adamvasco at 7:14 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Generally, snake-oil salesmen hedge their every statement just so that they can't be held liable. "Well, some people have been doing it, I haven't heard back from them, I don't see why not." There's never anything concrete or any real recommendation, and everything is "I think".

Of course, once the FDA behemoth moves, they are laser-evaporated from orbit anyway - but it's hard to get the FDA moving, like any large organization. So cheers to Rhys Morgan.

My daughter's got Crohn's. It sucks. What worked for her is homemade yogurt - three years without further symptoms at this point. But she still stays away from carbs as much as practical. I'll be the first to say that alternative medicine worked for her - but I'll also be the first to say that of the fifty alternatives, not all are equal, and that a grain of intelligence goes a long way towards not, you know, drinking bleach because some asshole sees a way to make a buck.
posted by Michael Roberts at 7:22 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


And this snake-oil salesman is not arrested and heading to jail why?

Googling Jim Humble is an interesting experience. It's hard (for me, at least) to tell exactly where a lot of the references to him online come from but there are suggestions that he did indeed get scared that he might be going to jail, tried to get his name taken off MMS and rebrand it as water purification drops, or withdraw it from sale all together (though, admittedly, I haven't read to the end of that second link yet, and sott.net looks like it might be a bit bonkers itself).

Despite all that, though, Humble seems to be very much at large.
posted by penguin pie at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2010


"The picture on the quack's website of a mom (in Kenya I believe) giving a glass of bleach to her infant while the quack looks on is heartbreaking."

There seems to be a lot of confusion in this thread not helped by the FPP, to be clear NaClO, or what most people call bleach, has been used for water disinfection since the 1800s (Its what Clorox was originally for) and is perfectly safe at appropriate dilutions. The active ingredient in this snake oil is Chlorine dioxide, a related compound, is also perfectly safe in appropriate dilutions and has been used in municipal water since the 40s and 50s.

It actually does make sense that it could help with with Chron's disease by inhibiting microbial growth in the gut. However, that doesn't make this man any less disgusting by selling this without meaningful tests of efficacy for Chron's much less HIV, cancer, Parkinson's, or whatever other diseases he wants to make money on.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:39 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ah interesting, thanks Blasdelb.
posted by penguin pie at 7:43 AM on October 7, 2010


As you say, that is a little different from pushing neat bleach - although the fact that his recommended method is to increase the concentration until you start feeling sick, and then keep it just about or minutely under that level, is not exactly reassuring.
posted by penguin pie at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2010


It actually does make sense that it could help with with Chron's disease by inhibiting microbial growth in the gut. However, that doesn't make this man any less disgusting by selling this without meaningful tests of efficacy for Chron's much less HIV, cancer, Parkinson's, or whatever other diseases he wants to make money on.

No, it doesn't make sense, because Crohn's disease is an auto-immune disease in which the body inflames its own intestines for no good reason. (Beneficial) bacteria in the gut are vital for being able to digest food at all whether or not one has Crohn's. And drinking bleach in the concentrations that are recommended for MMS (which are much higher than the concentrations needed to purify water) is going to damage intestinal lining further (hence the vomiting) in the process of killing any bad bacteria that might be there (except Crohn's is an auto-immune disease so bad bacteria aren't the problem anyway).
posted by hydropsyche at 8:10 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


'My sole income is from sales of my hardback book which includes both volumes one and two bound together. Of course donations are always appreciated into my PayPal account at MMS1@JimHumble.com. '

Subtle huh. To anyone in the know are there any paypal T&Cs this charlatan is in breach of that we can use to lobby paypal to close/freeze his account?
posted by numberstation at 8:15 AM on October 7, 2010


We live in sad times if one is considered a skeptic for being in full agreement with the US FDA, UK Food Standards Agency, and nearly-universal scientific concensus.

The idiots who banned him should be labeled as skeptics; not the other way around.
posted by schmod at 8:44 AM on October 7, 2010


The basic overlying principle is if you are not getting well, you are not taking enough.

He also has a diet plan.
posted by Evilspork at 9:08 AM on October 7, 2010


I admire the hell out of this kid because about fifteen years ago I was him. I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease when I was 13. When I was 15 I started a website chronicling my experiences with the illness and offering a little online outpost for support for others my age. It was one of the first teen Crohn's pages on the Internet at the time (this was 1996) and eventually grew to have a chat room and message board. Remember, this was the age of Prodigy, AOL, and Compuserve, so it was seen as impressive at the time. The forum regulars and I were forever smashing down quacks and hucksters who would appear before us with miracle cures and magic berry juice.

The site is still around, but I don't update it anymore and the forum tends to run under its own momentum with less traffic that it used to generate. I'm 29 now, so anything I had to say about being a teen with a chronic illness is long since past, but I'm so happy to see that today's teens are still fighting the good fight and dishing out common sense when it's needed the most.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


penguin pie,

He is also selling a 28% solution which when diluted according to his instructions (a final concentration of around 100 to 200 mg/L for the initial two drops protocol and 400 to 800 mg/L for the 6 & 6 protocol) is still more than three orders of magnitude more concentrated than it should be for prophylactic antimicrobial use in sketchy drinking water (~0.2 mg/L).

"Note: If you notice diarrhea, or even vomiting that is not a bad sign. The body is simply throwing off poisons and cleaning itself out. Everyone says that they feel much better after the diarrhea. You do not have to take any medicine for the diarrhea. It will go away as fast as it came. It will not last. It is not real diarrhea as the body is just cleaning out, and it is not caused by bacteria or virus. When the poison is gone, the diarrhea is gone."

What is actually going on is the chlorine dioxide denaturing the proteins on the surfaces of your epithelial cells, killing them, and leaving nothing to stop your food on its way out. A quick review of the literature also reveals a number of other nasty possible effects at these amounts ~0.5g/day in the 6 & 6 protocol including Suppression of Thyroid metabolism (dose is equivalent to the 6 & 6 protocol in a 130lb human)

on preview hydropsyche,

Bacteria, good or bad, almost certainly do not play a role in causing Chron's as it is primarily an autoimmune disease. However, most people with Chron's find fibrous foods to be a trigger for symptoms as they allow for growth of intestinal flora, good or bad, which can activate an oversensitive immune system. It does make sense that large doses of chlorine dioxide could provide temporary relief since it kills bacteria preventing the manufacture of new antigens without lysing them. To be clear I am not saying that using this "product" is anything like a good idea for anything but perhaps cleaning a very stubborn shower while wearing a respirator.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The body is simply throwing off poisons and cleaning itself out."

Where did this detoxifying meme come from? As if complex pathology was reducible to "bad things stored in your cells" that can be magically eliminated by drinking tea. It's kind of a gateway fallacy that paves the way for further leaps of irrational logic such as, "the medical industrial complex doesn't want to find the cures to diseases because then people will stop paying for expensive medications." I suppose people with difficult to treat diseases might resort to this kind of logic out of frustration, but their "activism" potentially endangers those whose illnesses are treatable.
posted by gallois at 10:16 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This was definitely a law and order episode. ~life imitating art~
posted by MangyCarface at 10:22 AM on October 7, 2010


How does someone reach a point in their life where selling industrial bleach to sick people seems reasonable? Do the hucksters convince themselves? Is it just about money?

"Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays."
-Harry Lime, the Third Man

Crohn's sucks and everyone knows a remedy they heard about from someone who knew someone. That said, my ex swore by yoghurt.
posted by doublehappy at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2010


An audio interview with Humble was posted as a podcast by Righteous Indignation a coupla days ago. They're impeccably polite, evidently taking the "give him enough rope to hang himself with" approach. Bemused commentary from the interviewer, who concludes he is more mad than malevolent, here.
posted by penguin pie at 11:21 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Everyone says that they feel much better after the diarrhea

Funny how that works.
posted by Sparx at 12:55 PM on October 7, 2010


Bless this kid.
posted by Ouisch at 2:27 PM on October 7, 2010


What the hell is wrong with the people on those forums. I just don't understand do they think bleach is going to cure AIDS?

Well w/e. It's good that this kid made sure to see this to the end.
posted by Allan Gordon at 4:28 PM on October 7, 2010


That is great for the kid, but I do also think it's a great example that when questioning someone's dogma - a dogma that's wrapped up in a significant part of their self-identity - it's probs better to take a gently gently approach rather than acting like a huge arsehole and telling them they're idiots if they believe that crap.

How is this a great example of that? It seems like this kid's "huge arsehole" approach has been really successful at drawing attention to this issue, producing responses from two governments, international media attention and so on. More than likely the gently-gently approach wouldn't have yielded the same results. Getting banned from the forum is a plus because it makes for a more compelling story "brave young lad silenced by zealots for trying to protect others!" etc.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:12 PM on October 7, 2010


I don't really see any evidence the kid was being a "huge arsehole" here.

Phil Plait recently admonished some members of the skeptical community for taking a contemptuous attitude to new agers, other believers and people who fall for various forms of quackery, rather than trying to educate them. Morgan has Crohn's disease himself and was clearly trying to educate people. He may have lost his temper at some point, but that's not the same thing.
posted by nangar at 6:59 AM on October 8, 2010


I wonder if he has a position on worms?
posted by flabdablet at 2:49 AM on October 10, 2010


« Older On October 5, 2010 PBS' POV aired The Most Dangero...  |  Labelscar aims to chronicle th... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments