Consumer Health Digest #20-03
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 19, 2020
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Couple suing promoters of chiropractic neuropathy treatments. In the fourth of a series of investigative reports about a Southern California-based chiropractic business that aggressively markets non-validated neuropathy treatments, the NBCLA I-Team has told the story of patients Donna and Harvey Stone who say:
- They were duped into financing treatments by a sales presentation at a free dinner they attended after receiving an invitation.
- They did not understand that the doctors offering treatment were chiropractors when they first arrived at the business.
- They had a total bill of $18,000, none of which is covered by insurance.
- Harvey received a severe burn on his leg from equipment used to treat him and required weeks of treatment from a wound care facility.
The Stones are suing Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic and its owner, chiropractor Philip Straw. Attorneys for the Stones want other patients to know that they likely have legal recourse too. Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic shut down in January 2019, but shortly afterward opened as Superior Health Centers, which appears to use identical marketing materials. [Johnson C. Roher C. Couple accuses SoCal chiropractic business of swindling them out of $18K. NBC Los Angeles. Jan 16, 2019] The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in February. The complaint alleges medical negligence in the treatment of Harvey, elder abuse/financial abuse, negligent infliction of emotional distress, fraud/intentional misrepresentation, and concealment.
Concerns that factual arguments will backfire allayed. Full Fact, the UK's independent factchecking charity, has published a brief report which concludes that "factchecking does help to inform citizens and backfire effects are rare rather than the norm. We still need more evidence to understand how factchecking content can be most effective." [Sippit A. The backfire effect. Does it exist? And does it matter for factcheckers? Full Fact, Aug 2019] The report notes:
- A "backfire effect" refers to the effect that, when a factual claim reinforces someone's ideological beliefs, telling them that the claim is wrong ("debunking" it) can actually make them believe the claim more strongly rather than less thereby meaning that factchecking is ineffective or even counterproductive.
- Seven major experimental studies have examined supposed backfire effects.
- While backfire may occur in some cases, the evidence now suggests it is rare rather than the norm, and that debunking can make people's beliefs in specific claims more accurate.
- Two studies that tested the effects of addressing specific fears about vaccines found that debunking was effective at reducing beliefs in the claim they were debunking, but still decreased the intention to vaccinate among those with high levels of concern about vaccine side effects.
Alleged pyramid scheme temporarily shut down. A federal court has granted the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) request to temporarily shut down an alleged pyramid scheme known as "Success By Health," and to freeze the assets of the company and its executives. [FTC acts to shut down 'Success by Health' instant coffee pyramid scheme. FTC press release. Jan 16, 2019] In its complaint, the FTC alleged that Success By Health and its executives James "Jay" Dwight Noland, Jr., Lina Noland, Scott A. Harris, and Thomas G. Sacca:
- operated a pyramid scheme that used false promises of wealth and income to entice thousands of consumers to join
- featured an instant coffee called "MycoCafe" that included a mushroom that the defendants claimed has health benefits, but selling the product to coffee drinkers took a back seat to recruiting more affiliates
- have taken more than $7 million from consumers and pocketed over $1.3 million for themselves
- promised consumers "financial freedom," even though fewer than 2% of participating consumers received more money from the defendants than they paid to them; and that those lucky few averaged less than $250 per month
- told affiliates that "the masses" could earn more than $1 million each month in sales commissions, but marketing materials failed to disclose that to achieve that level of commissions, an affiliate would have to recruit more than 100,000 affiliates working underneath them, the vast majority of whom would be losing money at any given time
The FTC also alleges:
- The company also sold its products directly to the public for the same "wholesale" price paid by affiliates, severely limiting affiliates' ability to follow the defendants' instructions to apply a 50% "markup" before selling to the public. Thus when affiliates tried to sell the product to other consumers, they found themselves in competition with the company itself.
- Jay Noland is violating a 2002 court order stemming from a previous FTC case related to another failed pyramid scheme.
Multilevel marketing blasted. Business writer Mona Bushnell has noted that many (and some would say nearly all) multilevel marketing companies operate as pyramid schemes in which the salespeople make money primarily by recruiting more and more downline sales associates, not by direct sales of products. [Bushnell M. MLMs are preying on the dream of entrepreneurship. Business.com. Aug 22, 2019] She asserts that:
- Pyramid schemes prey on women, minorities and immigrants.
- Pyramid schemes use the language of success.
- Direct sales companies purposefully obfuscate sales data.
- The viciousness of multilevel marketing (MLM) companies cannot be overstated, no matter how family-friendly, female-friendly, and diverse they might seem.
This page was revised on January 20, 2020.