As we search the web for great medical device quackery, we’ve come to realize that while the internet is a great source of nonsense, many have taken up The Good Fight and waged a war of information against cybercharlatans. One such site: Device Watch. A member of the quackwatch.org family, devicewatch.org offers a sort of Bizarro-world Medgadget directory, a compendium of nonsense devices, operated by Stephen Barrett, MD.
Originally, we debated selecting a specific device, but found the whole collection deserving to be featured. We’ll begin with a list of signs of a quack device. Particularly great: “It has bright lights that serve no apparent purpose,” “The manufacturer isn’t exactly sure how or why it works” and “To get results, the patient must face a certain direction or use the device only at unusual times.”
While not every item on the “Devices Promoted with False and/or Misleading Claims” list has a link with specific information, most contain very thorough writeups regrading devices and their web-footed promoters. Highlights after the jump…
The Electrodiagnostic Devices page highlights a host of devices with such awesomely pseudo-technical names as “Accupath 1000, Biotron, Computron, Dermatron, DiagnoMetre, Eclosion, Elast, Interro, Interactive Query System (IQS), LISTEN System, MORA, Natrix Physiofeedback System, Omega AcuBase, OmegaVision, Orion System, Prophyle, Punctos III, and Vitel 618.” (What happened to the first two Punctoses and what features were missing in Vitel 617?). All these devices represent skin galvanometers, which measure resistance of the circuit between two electrodes (with some section of your body in the middle). The measurement can easily be duplicated across an object of similar resistance or changed dramatically depending on how hard the electrodes are placed on the skin. Also, all the devices feature a preponderance of most-likely completely vestigial knobs, sliders and lights. Luckily, the assorted authorities agree readily on the side of science, as can be seen by the many legal actions taken against those who use the devices.
In these modern times, nonsense peddlers must resort to clever double-talk and disclaimers hidden in small text to ward off the authorites. However, in a tribute to The Good Old Days, we reach back to the early 1900s (a diaspora of quackery) to bring Dinshah Ghadiali and His Spectro-Chrome Device to the stage. The ridiculousness of the device in question pales in comparison to its progenitor. Essentially, the Spectro Chrome cures the patient (of anything and everything, naturally) by shining colored light on the skin. The device was little more than a high-watt bulb and an assortment of color filters (although the specimen pictured seems to have a spiffy paint job featuring the Star of David). Dinshah Ghadaili, listing his credentials as “”(Honorary) M.D., M.E., D.C., Ph.D., LL.D., N.D., D.Opt., F.F.S., D.H.T., D.M.T., D.S.T., Etc.”, provides a wealth of sound advice, such as:
When it will be known that you are using Spectro-Chrome, you may probably receive adverse advice from opponents, Medical Doctors or otherwise. Take our advice and listen to them not. Spectro-Chrome — In Every Home, means the crumbling of their age-old moth-eaten doctrines and the upholding of the Torch of Emancipation, releasing you from their orthodox and autocratic grasp. For instance, they will tell you to stop the eating of all Starches and Sugars and inject Insulin, because you have “Diabetes.” You ask for our FREE GUIDANCE and we shall tell you: “Stop Insulin at once and irradiate yourself with Yellow Systemic alternated with Magenta on Areas 4 or 18 and eat plenty of Raw or Brown Sugar and all the Starches!!!
Unfortunately, it took two legal go-arounds to shut the man down. At his second trial we see examples of the device’s curative powers in the flesh:
His fate was virtually sealed when a star witness, whom Dinshah had “cured” of seizures, had one on the witness stand. The prosecution called a witness whom Dinshah had repeatedly profiled in his advertising as having been cured of paralysis; she could not take a single step when the master urged her. Another witness described how he had contacted Dinshah after his diabetic father had lapsed into a coma and was simply told to shine a yellow light on him. He did — until his father died.
Oh yeah, pile on that brown sugar you diabetics, the yellow light will save you. (Link)
Other greats from the device hall of shame include the Slim Slippers, oddly-shaped slippers supposedly capable of causing weight loss. The author not only points out some red flags in the advertising, but actually orders two pairs and follows the directions to the best of his ability (they’re somewhat unclear). Calls to the manufacturer prove to be of little help (although somewhat entertaining).
Rounding things out, we have bracelets to cure sea-sickness or electomagnetic energy imbalance and the Quantum Xrroid (QXCI), winner of the prestigious Megdgadget.com Modern Device that Sounds Most Like a 50s Sci-Fi Alien Leader Award.
While you’re there, it might be worth your while to either make a donation on the paypal link, as the site has little financial support. Although, in a twist of irony, devicewatch.org is a member of an anti-quackery webring (webrings are so Web 1.0). Following a link to the list of ring member sites also pulls context based advertising for the very products and practitioners they debunk.