Some time ago, my wife and I had the visit of a French couple. They came from Britany by ferry, and when we picked them up in Plymouth we saw two very pale, sick individuals staggering from the boat. It had been a rough crossing, and they had been sea-sick for 7 hours – enough to lose the will to live! “Why did you not take something against it?” we asked. “But we did”, they replied, “we even went especially to a pharmacy at home to get professional advice. They sold us this medication, but it just did not work.” To my amazement they showed me a homeopathic remedy marketed against sea-sickness in France.

I am sure most readers would have similar, perhaps even better stories to tell. But what do you do with people who happily sell you bogus treatments? Most of us do very little – and that is wrong, I think, very wrong. We need to protest in the sharpest terms each and every time this happens. I would even suggest we do like Mark Twain.

In 1905, Mark Twain sent the following letter to J. H. Todd, a salesman who had just attempted to flog a bogus medicine to the author by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home. According to the literature Twain received, the “medicine” in question — called “The Elixir of Life” — could cure such ailments as meningitis (which had previously killed Twain’s daughter in 1896) and diphtheria (which killed his 19-month-old son). Twain, himself of ill-health at the time and recently widowed after his wife suffered heart failure, was furious and dictated this reply.

Dear Sir,

Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain

(Source: Berry Hill & Sturgeon)

10 Responses to Are they happily selling you bogus remedies? Respond like Mark Twain!

  • Well-constructed hypotheses of alt-med treatments boil down to “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.” — grammatically correct, but devoid of meaning. Abject bullshit.

    Peddling alt-med nonsense is a crime against humanity. To the alt-med apologists who find my replies condescending: You are beneath contempt. Stop committing the crime!

  • “The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link.”

    I’ll save it for later, it’s delicious.

    Thanks for the story sir Ernst.

  • “an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link”

    I must try that on Dana Ullman…

  • The fake seasickness remedy tale doesn’t surprise me. I’ve had someone try to sell me fake ‘flu vaccine (potentially lethal advice). I think part of the problem is that it’s usually the pharmacy assistants who sell these things. These people are rarely professionaly qualified, except perhaps as salesdroids, but this lack of knowledge never gets in the way of making autrhoritative statements about the virtues of lactose pills and heavily sugared syrups.

    • Sadly only yesterday I heard a qualified pharmacist recommend homeopathic arnica to a customer whose husband was recovering from surgery. When the customer had gone I challenged the pharmacist — who insisted that the homeopathic remedy was simple a ‘different concentration’ — without acknowledging that the concentration was so ‘different’ it was non-existant.
      Why doesn’t the Royal College of Pharmacy act to outlaw its members promoting snakeoil?

  • An idiot of the 10^33d degree (or a hero of the 10^-33d degree ? 🙂 ) is back from Sierra Leone where he (according to himself) fought a heroic battle against the ebola and cured many suffering along his way using the miraculous OO2 molecule.
    Dr Robert Rowen’s website at contains a verbose account of his crusade:
    Ebola Battled By Health Hero Robert Rowen MD In Sierra Leone With Ozone
    In his last blog on saturday he was waiting for the plane home. I sure hope he does not kill anyone by bringing the little filiform bastards out of there.
    The pompous accounts reveal a man who is totally devoid of any doubt that he is a hero and saviour and his OZONE therapy is a panacea.

    I developed a few sniffles on the third day (yesterday), and received ozone yesterday and today. In the last few years my colds seems to only come on with long jet travel. Suffice to say, the treatment worked like a charm. I felt terrific today, and was screened for temperature to enter an Ebola government meeting. My temperature was a mere 94.8, even in the sweltering heat.

    Dr Rowen injects people with something called Prolozone for anything from painful knees to aching keloids.
    He describes how he miraculously cures the most difficult cases and frees dignitaries and damsels from distress, reminding us distinctly of another noble and heroic knight whom we know only from the works of Cervantes:

    This day, the chief doctor of the SL Doctors and Dentists Association, who was mighty skeptical at first, actually received intravenous ozone herself after doing mine, and then quickly came up to have me treat her knee, which turned out to be a tendon problem.
    She left very pleased, as did an OB/GYN doctor who had pain going down his right leg to his foot. He was amazed that an injection into his SI joint fixed the entire problem. Few others were surprised. They had expected the results. I have posted the video on my you tube channel

    The video entitled “Prolozone Comes to Sierra Leone” is to my mind an interesting study in how a man with delusions of grandeur uses persuasion and suggestion to dupe the audience. Note also his trainee performing a knee-injection at 0:51, happily fondling the needle at the injection site with bare fingers.
    Browsing through Dr. Rowen’s self obsessed narrative I understood that he left behind ozone producing apparatus for the locals he trained to continue the miracle and is expecting reimbursement for future use of them.

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