Consumer Health Digest #08-04

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 22, 2008

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

MLM recruiting techniques laid bare. John Taylor, MBA, PhD, who operates the Consumer Awareness Institute, has done a detailed analysis of the sales pitches used to persuade people to join multilevel marketing companies. These companies claim that fortunes can be made by recruiting distributors and getting commissions on their sales. However, he has found—industrywide—that over 99% of new distributors lose money and that MLM recruiters hide the near-zero odds of making a profit. [Taylor J. Typical MLM misrepresentations. MLM Watch, Jan 23, 2008] The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a Business Opportunity Rule to force disclosure of true income potential, but the MLM industry is fighting tooth-and-nail to stop implementation of the rule. Last year, on behalf of the industry, more than 50 Congressional representatives and three former high-ranking FTC officials asked the FTC to develop "an alternative proposal that achieves the FTC's desired goals while not adversely affecting legitimate business interests." The Proposed Rule would do exactly that, but MLM leaders know that honest disclosure would decimate their industry. Because MLMs have deceived millions of people, the proposed rule is one the most important consumer-protection measures the agency has ever considered.

"Cancer cure" investment schemer pleads guilty. Richard A. Anders has pled guilty to one count of securities fraud for which he could be imprisoned for up to 10 years. The scheme involved marketing a company known as Helvetia Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Helvetia’s business plan described its company’s “primary business” as the delivery of a novel treatment called intracellular hyperthermia therapy (ICHT). The plan claimed that Nicholas Bachynsky, M.D., a Mayo Clinic-trained physician with a Ph.D. in chemistry, had developed a method to induce safe, practical intracellular hyperthermia. However, it did not disclose that the Bachynsky's license had been revoked and that ICHT is extremely dangerous. [Barrett S. Stay away from Nicholas Bachynsky and Intra-Cellular Hyperthermia (ICHT). Quackwatch, Jan 23, 2008] The plan's promoters promised investment returns of 200% to 600%. More than 50 people invested, with total losses exceeding $5 million. In his plea agreement, Anders agreed to recommend that he serve the 10-year maximum prison term and to pay full restitution to his victims. His sentencing is set for April 11, 2008. Two other co-defendants, Arthur Scheinert and Laurence Dean, already have pled guilty and received 5-year sentences. Bachynsky is scheduled for trial in February.

Courts getting tougher on spurious thimerosal-autism link. Following a ten-day evidentiary hearing, a Maryland Circuit Court judge has precluded the testimony of five expert witnesses offered to support the plaintiffs' claim that their son's autism was caused by thimerosal-containing vaccines. [Berger SR. Memorandum opinion. Blackwell v. Sigma Aldrich, Inc. et al., Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Case No. 24-C-04-004829, Dec 21, 2007] This paves the way for dismissal of the suit against Sigma Aldrich, Inc., Wyeth, Inc., Eli Lilly & Company, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Constellation Power Source Generation, American International Chemical, Spectrum Laboratory Products, and Merck & Company. The excluded experts were:

The judge concluded that "thimerosal in vaccines does not cause or contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism" and that he knew of no case in which a proffered expert was permitted to offer "a novel causation opinion that directly contradicts every generally accepted epidemiological study addressing the issue of causation." During the past few years, similar opinions have been issued in several other cases. [Seidel K. The autism-vaccine courtroom knockout team. Neurodiversity weblog, Jan 23, 2008] Geier's testimony has been rebuffed in at least a dozen cases.

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