The Quacks Strike Back

(but probably wish they hadn't)

Copyright Daniel Rutter 1996-1998


"Oh, sure, you can use FACTS to prove ANYTHING that's even REMOTELY true!" - Homer Simpson


Harmonic Energy Products are suing me!

Yeah, right.


I am getting closer and closer to being a canonical Web site owner. I've got drugs, I've got bombs, I've got silly gadgets, and now I've been the focus of a failed attempt at censorship.

Gather 'round, children. You'll like this.

My Clash With The Quacks has been up on my site since halfway through 1997. I wrote the bulk of it in 1996, but I never published it anywhere before putting it on the site.

On Valentine's Day, 1998, the article came to the attention of one Mark Millman, who sells the devices I disparage in my article. He has a web site, of sorts.

Herewith, his message of complaint, sent not to me but to the owners of the server on which my site then was.

>Dear Sir,
> I have just read an article written by Daniel Rutter which has
>been posted on your web site. Apart from the article being slanderous
>and totally misguided, I fail to see what relevance it has to a model
>club. I am sure that the Orchards will take legal action against the
>club for your irresponsible action. I have known the Orchards for years
>and I also know many qualified medical practitioners who have worked
>with them and trust them implicitly. I also know many people who have
>had serious health problems and have obtained permanent relief and often
>total cure from their illnesses as a reslult of using the modulator and
>many other products. As far as I am concerned, Mr Rutter is a very
>misguided person who I am sure will reap the consequences of his
>actions. I won't bother to go into all the issues that Mr Rutter has
>taken acception to, suffice to say what goes around comes around. I know
>the Orchard's and the truth of what they are doing, and I like Mr Rutter
>was a sceptic for a very long time. The difference is, I watched and
>waited for over a year rather than slandering them at the first
>association. Noel Orchard has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he
>is not a sharlerton and the fact that he is still openly operating with
>the support of many medical professionals after 10 or more years, is
>enough for me. It is a shame that your club has got involved in complex
>legal and medical issues such as this and I feel sorry for the members
>who will be tainted by association to Mr Rutter. As agents for these
>products, we are not concerned about negative publicity because the
>products will stand the test of time as they have for the past ten years
>despite people like Mr Rutter, and I am sure we will face many more like
>him in the future.
>
>Yours sincerely,
>
>Mark Millmnan

It would, of course, be uncharitable for me to draw attention to such things as his novel spelling of the word "charlatan", and indeed of his own surname. So I shan't. Note, however, the four words I highlighted in red. They're important.

A couple of days later, Millman sent a fax to the server owners repeating the above, and my site was, shortly afterwards, toast.

This action on the owners' part caused me no particular irritation; they were giving me the space for free, and there was no reason for them to fight my battles for me. The principals of the hosting company couldn't care less what I had on my site, and had a business to run. Crusading for free speech is not part of their job description. I had a not-necessarily-the-opinions-of disclaimer on my site, so it seems unlikely that they could be considered the publisher of the material, but no matter.

Mind you, that didn't mean I wasn't annoyed.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to constructively express your annoyance on the Web. If Millman wanted my writing suppressed, I was determined to show him he'd just made a serious tactical error.

I immediately posted My Clash With The Quacks to the sci.skeptic, misc.health.alternative, sci.physics and sci.med newsgroups. On the suggestion of a friend, I posted it to alt.censorship and aus.censorship as well. I sent it to the Healthfraud mailing list (send an empty message to healthfraud-help@ssr.com for info on this). I sent it to the Australian Skeptics. I sent it to the U.S. Skeptics' Society. I sent it to a guy I know at the Australian Consumers' Association. I sent it to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. I sent it to James Randi. And, of course, I sent it to all of my friends.

I got quite a lot of feedback, most of it positive. Not all of it, because Millman did get back to me, expressing his opinion that anecdotal evidence is as good as any other kind because it was good enough for ancient civilisations, and that the Modulator has been shown to "remove static from computer screens and make freezers run colder in Saudi Arabia". These look like readily, and cheaply, testable claims to me - but, wouldn't you know it, no controlled tests have been performed.

Quite a lot of people found Harmonic's claims as outrageous as I did, and were just as incensed at Millman's attack. Many of them emailed him. Some of them CC-ed me with their emails, which I'd like any readers to do if they decide to join the crusade.

In the course of all this, Millman's site changed a couple of times. He added, then removed, then replaced, a disclaimer saying that Harmonic's products are not presented as curative and so do not need to be Registered or Listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (further recommending that "recurring symptoms of any kind should be referred to a phyiscian or health practiotioner", whatever those are). Mind you, he and other Harmonic proponents are somewhat sloppy about avoiding curative claims - remember the red words in the quoted email above? And Millman just loves to cut-and-paste in replies to skeptics that he and other Harmonic Products dealers are "actually improving peoples lives and solving many health problems that conventional science and conventional medicine has no answer for". Anybody who'd like to explain to me how that isn't a claim to cure disease is welcome to do so.

Half of Millman's "Medical Proof" of the efficacy of his wares is provided by a device called the "Omega Acubase" (mentioned on Quackwatch here). Millman claims that the "Omega Acubase", and I quote, "is approved for use as a medical diagnostic tool by the F.D.A. in the USA. The F.D.A. approves all devices of this nature and the criteria for compliance is complex and comprehensive. For those who do not accept accupuncture as conventional medicine, there is now proof of a more compelling nature available."

I searched the F.D.A. Releasable 510(k) database  and found no evidence to support this claim. Stephen Barrett M.D., the administrator of the Quackwatch site, told me he was unaware of any such approval for any device of this type, and further mentioned that "FDA approval requires proof of safety and effectiveness. Some devices can be used under investigative rules. However, that requires a genuine experimental protocol. Devices used for such purposes are not 'FDA-approved.'"

But Millman assured me, on the 20th of February 1998, that "Yesterday, I was informed by a doctor that proof of the FDA’s approval of the Acubase was available in several documents, and he is faxing them to me shortly." I requested details of this "proof" when it arrived, but, in a development so astonishing that it turned my hair white, no such details have yet been forwarded. I sent three emails to the manufacturers of the Acubase, Digital Health (I don't know if they still have a Web site or answer email; www.digitalhealth.com is no more), requesting only the FDA reference number for the device; when I discovered the right email address to send my inquiry to (mail@digitalhealth.com; info@digitalhealth.com was a dud), they agreed to forward the FDA "letter of approval".

This is an interesting document. Dated Oct 18 1995, it says, and Nancy Leonard (301-443-7491 x 141) of the FDA confirms, that the FDA recognises that a company called Global Corp U.S. Pty Ltd (224 South Woodland Drive, Orem, Utah 84058) intends to market a "Galvanic Skin Response Device". This gadget is the resistance measurer that provides the Acubase with readings, but it is not the Acubase in and of itself.

This device is, and I quote the letter, "substantially equivalent to devices marketed in interstate commerce prior to May 28, 1976, the enactment date of the Medical Device Amendments or to devices that have been reclassified in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (Act). You may, therefore, market the device, subject to the general controls provisions of the Act."

Later on, the letter says "...you may not promote or in any way represent your device or its labelling as being approved by FDA."

Thus, if you claim the Omega Acubase is "FDA approved", you are not telling the truth. Make money out of the claim, and you're committing fraud. If you say the Acubase's resistance-measuring component, (NOT the whole thing, with its mystic database of thousands of remedies) is "FDA registered" you're telling the truth - but not if you imply that this means the FDA say the device works.

To quote the excellent Quackwatch page on such devices:

"The FDA classifies "devices that use resistance measurements to diagnose and treat various diseases" as Class III devices, which require FDA approval prior to marketing. In 1986, an FDA official informed me that the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health had determined that the Dermatron and Accupath 1000 were diagnostic devices that posed a "significant risk." No such device can be legally marketed in the United States for diagnostic or treatment purposes. The FDA has prosecuted a few manufacturers and banned the importation such devices into the United States. State regulatory agencies have also taken a few actions. However, no systematic effort has been made to drive them from the marketplace."

On the basis of this evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that the FDA has not just not approved the Acubase (and various similar devices); it is actually, actively, involved in trying to stamp them out as quackery.

FDA letter page 1

FDA letter page 2

Digital Health brochure

First page of Global Corp US's FDA registration letter.

Second page.

Digital Health brochure, clearly indicating the "Patient Interface Unit" referred to in the FDA letter.


 

A friend of mine, Mark Cocquio, was home sick with glandular fever and had nothing better to do than email Millman. Out of this exchange came this magnificent explanation of the Modulator's action, into which I have interspersed [square-bracketed] comments:

"The first thing you need to understand is the fact that this is not an electronic device and as such has no electronic components [well, there's a plug at one end and a socket at the other, so it has, at least, two wires in there...]. The modulator does not change or deflect the EMR (it is not possible to do this, just ask any electrical engineer). What it does do is alter the "light" that comes with AC power. Everything gives off a light frequency and German scientists call the light that comes off electrical wiring "light at night" (and they don't mean visible light) see http://www.infoventures.com [if you don't find this confusing enough, that is]. The modulator has three proprietory devices inside the polymer casing that alter the frequency of light by directing a frequency into the phase wire [Nobel prize material, if true]. As a result, the biological effect of EM fields on human bodies [highly controversial] is totally different and can be measured on many differnet bio monitors. These consist of The Omega Acubase, The Listen Machine [both quack devices based on untestable electro-acupuncture metaphysics], Any heart/blood/brainwave monitor for example an EEG machine. The effect can even be demonstrated on an oscilloscope [I'm taking bets on whether the average Harmonic Products dealer could tell a CRO from a microwave oven]. This might sound pretty far fetched, hence the suggestion of going to a demonstration. The effect has also been demonstrated on the latest capillary monitors from China which have one many medical awards for diagnostic accuracy [as is well known, in China there are no quacks]."


To me, Millman said that he trusted Harmonic Energy products not to be running a scam. In response, I said this:

A man comes to your door and offers you a magic box. He says that if you put a thousand dollars in this box, he will take the box back to his car and say some magic words. He will then give you back the box. If you don't open the box until Christmas, you will find ten thousand dollars inside. The man shows you a hundred signed testimonials from people who say they all made their $9000 this way, and think you should too.

Would you trust this man?

No.

His claim is easily tested scientifically, and if it's true, his services will be in incredible demand. He could retire and franchise the magic-box business all over the world.

Why has he not done this?

Because his preposterous claim is a lie. He is a con artist.

You may be surprised to know that this exact scam, as ludicrous as it sounds, has been tried, with some success.

Do you see, now, why I am intensely suspicious of anyone selling a miraculously useful product, WHICH COULD EASILY BE SHOWN TO WORK BY INEXPENSIVE SCIENTIFIC TESTING, who does not perform such tests but instead relies upon fanciful devices working by unknown means and generating unrepeatable results, all of which can easily be explained as simple trickery?

 


 

Millman is a big fan of the "they laughed at Columbus!" pseudo-argument, which attempts to give ridiculed ideas credibility by pointing to past correct ideas which were ridiculed. The standard Carl Sagan response that they also laughed at Bozo the Clown, and the readily verifiable fact that most ridiculed ideas turn out to be as wrong as they look, did not prevent him from appending a quote from me to a list of amusing quotes. Oh, well. It's a free country.

 


The other side

 

Of course, there's no reason for you to take everything I've said here at face value. Check out what Harmonic Products' vendors have to say for themselves and their products.

Mark Millman's page is here.

These people sell Harmonic stuff too - and they've got an unusually nice-looking site. At a glance, you'd think they were selling proper products.

But my favourite Harmonic vendor site is Megadisc's. I have a special attachment to this site, because Megadisc was, a few years ago, an Amiga disk magazine in which I got my start in computer writing. Since then, the proprietor has, in my humble opinion, gone off the deep end in a big way. EMPower Modulators ain't the half of it; Megadisc sells these and roughly every other highly questionable "energy"-based gizmo. Orgone energy accumulators. Energised water. Energised water "generators". Colloidal silver. Colloidal silver "generators". Zappers. Therapeutic magnets. Radiation "suppressors" based on the "Lahovsky coil", which dates back to 1926 and appears to be a Tesla coil hooked to several spark gaps, which may spoil TV and radio reception in your immediate area but has never been shown to do anything good, despite the usual allegations of cancer cures. Cleantec Ceramic Washing Stones. Dowsing kits. Solar powered ultrasonic mosquito repellers. If you haven't spent enough on the products, you can have feng shui examination of your home or office and 101 different varieties of metaphysically motivated massage. Naturally, there's a Listen System in there too, and reference to homeopathy (look here too). There don't seem to be any phrenology books or ear candles, but I can't imagine why not.

 


Do something!

 

If you haven't already read My Clash With The Quacks, please do.

If you feel motivated to complain about Harmonic Energy Products, email rob.crowdy@health.gov.au, a contact email address for the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They've got lots of other email addresses which seem more appropriate, but none of them seem to work.

Readers could also contact the Australian Consumers' Association at ausconsumer@choice.com.au.

 


Find lots more of my writing at www.dansdata.com!


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This page last updated 04/05/04.