It would be easy to continue this series on ‘tricks of the trade’ for quite a while. But this might get boring, and I have therefore decided to call it a day. So here is the last instalment (feel free to post further tricks that you may know of [in the comments section below]):


It is almost inevitable that, sooner or later, someone will object to some aspect of alternative medicine. In all likelihood, his or her arguments are rational and based on evidence. If that happens, the practitioner has several options to save his bacon (and income). One of the easiest and most popular is to claim that “of course, you cannot agree with me because you do not understand!”

The practitioner now needs to explain that, in order to achieve the level of expertise he has acquired, one has to do much more than to rationalise or know about science. In fact, one has to understand the subject on a much deeper level. One has to immerse oneself into it, open one’s mind completely and become a different human being altogether. This cannot be achieved by scientific study alone; it requires years of meditative work. And not everyone has the ability to go down this difficult path. It takes a lot of energy, insight and vision to become a true healer. A true Deepak Chopra is not born but trained through hard work, dedication and concentration.

Critics who disagree are really to be pitied. They fail to exist on quite the same level as those who ‘are in the know’. Therefore one must not get annoyed with those who disagree, they cannot understand because they have not seen the light.

My advice is to start thinking critically and read up about the NO TRUE SCOTSMAN FALLACY; this will quickly enable you to look beyond the charisma of these gurus and expose their charlatanry to the full.


Some critics stubbornly insist on evidence for the therapeutic claims made by quacks. That attitude can be awkward for the alternative practitioner – because usually there is no good evidence.

Cornered in this way, quacks often come up with a simple but effective conspiracy theory: the research has been done and it has produced fabulous results, but it has been supressed by… well, by whoever comes to mind. Usually BIG PHARMA or ‘the scientific establishment’ have to be dragged out into the frame again.

According to this theory, the pharmaceutical industry (or whoever comes in handy) was so shaken by the findings of the research that they decided to make it disappear. They had no choice, really; the alternative therapy in question was so very effective that it would have put BIG PHARMA straight out of business for ever. As we all know BIG PHARMA to be evil to the core, they had no ethical or moral qualms about committing such a crime to humanity. Profits must come before charity!

My advice is to explain to such charlatans that such conspiracy theories do, in fact, merely prove is that the quack’s treatment is not effective against their prosecution complex.


If  critics of alternative medicine become threatening to the quackery trade, an easy and much-used method is to discredit them by spreading lies about them. If the above-mentioned ploy “they cannot understand” fails to silence the nasty critics, the next step must be to claim they are corrupt. Why else would they spend their time exposing quackery?

Many people – alternative practitioners included – can only think of financial motivations; the possibility that someone might do a job for altruistic reasons does not occur to them. Therefore, it sounds most plausible that the critics of alternative medicine are doing it for money – after all, the quacks also quack for money.

My advice to potential users of alternative medicine who are confused by such allegations: do your own research and find out for yourself who is bought by whom and who has a financial interest in quackery selling well.


It is true, there are some Nobel Prize winners who defend homeopathy or other bogus treatments. Whenever this happens, the apologists of alternative medicine have a field day. They then cite the Nobel laureate ad nauseam and imply that his or her views prove their quackery to be correct.

Little do they know that they are merely milking yet another classical fallacy and that such regrettable events merely demonstrate that even bright people can make mistakes.

My advice is to check what the Nobel laureate actually said – more often than not, it turns out that a much-publicised quote is, in fact, a misquote – and what his or her qualifications are for making such a statement; a Nobel Prize in literature, for instance, is not a sufficient qualification for commenting on healthcare issues.


12 Responses to The tricks of the quackery trade (part 5)

  • Please, please, please consolidate these into a single post that has it’s own permanent link on the side of the home page.

  • Another quack trick: talk in a condescending way about other quacks in order to improve your own standing.

    My mother told me this story: her ayurvedic practitioner said, while doing a pulse diagnosis, that the aura therapist she also frequents is a pretender and therefore a quack.

  • An anecdote: in an attempt to get rid of my post-nasal drip I saw a TCM practitioner who gave me acupuncture and put me on a “purging diet.” After a couple of weeks my mouth and throat were so ulcerated I could hardly eat (and the PND was still as bad as ever). The doctor said that was normal; just the poisons leaving my system. In desperation I consulted a regular doctor, the medical director at the pharma company where I worked, who immediately took me down the road to a steakhouse and bought me a steak with a salad including feta, tomato and olives, all foods forbidden by the purging diet. And of course a couple of beers. Two days later I was healed, though the PND has persisted to this day.

    I’m sure there are foods better avoided, especially if you are lactose or gluten intolerant, but a return to the dark ages when they used leeches and violent purges is probably not the answer.

  • TESTIMONIALS are always good for a laugh or two. They usually involve the correlation vs causation fallacy.

  • Excellent. Thank you for this post.
    You are right on target.
    I will post other tricks I’ve heard about more than once or examples of specific “treatments.”
    I think you covered it so very thoroughly and accurately that there is little more to add.

  • Excellent, accurate reflection of what we are seeing in the US. Exploding over the past 5-10 years, I think maybe exponentially. Fortunately the deception is facing appropriate scrutiny as is the case in this series of articles.

    Other examples I’ve seen/heard:
    New client-patient completes extensive questionnaire about a variety of symptoms (that we all have from time to time.). The patient ranks severity or frequency of the symptoms on a numerical scale of 1-5 or 1-10. Common examples – insomnia, lack of energy, constipation, diarrhea, headache, muscle cramps, etc.
    Then the computer at the practitioner’s business prints out an assessment of imbalances or abnormalities in various organ systems and the practitioner “prescribes” products they are selling to “cure” the problem. Never mind a medical exam or exclusion of real diagnoses or expert assessment by a physician or mental health professional. The patient leaves having spent lots of money and feeling that someone is taking their symptoms seriously. The sale is pretty easy if someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, for example, and I wonder how often real medical conditions are missed.

    They are told they are suffering because they have “zero thyroid function” or “zero estrogen (or) testosterone (or) other hormones.” I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that phrase when I ask patients why they are taking certain supplements. When I request a printout of the record from the alternative office, the labs often are completely normal, but the practitioner tells the would-be patient that “what’s normal range for some people is NOT normal for you.” They circle the (normal) lab result and prescribe one of their products with frequent follow-up visits for injections and other labs etc. to correct the “imbalance.” “Your regular doctors are not trained in this in medical school, so they won’t understand these results and treatments.”

    This goes along with your mention of denigrating the patient’s well-trained MD to lure them away from their traditional physician and into their web of deception.
    A couple of patients have related the following “test” being performed in the chiropractor’s office to show that the medication they have been prescribed is causing them problems or they are “allergic” to it. The patient stands up holding the bottle of prescription medication (for high blood pressure or diabetes or any number of legitimate medical conditions) with arm stretched out and closes the eyes. The quack then tries to throw them off balance to see if they are “allergic.” Voila – they lose balance and are thus to stop taking this bad medication. !! I don’t understand the gullibility but these patients fall for this. I don’t know how the practitioner can sleep at night.

    • “The patient stands up holding the bottle of prescription medication (for high blood pressure or diabetes or any number of legitimate medical conditions) with arm stretched out and closes the eyes. The quack then tries to throw them off balance to see if they are “allergic.””

      That’s a variant of ‘applied kinesiology’ Utter balderdash!


    There are many ways quacks can be comapred with magicians (of the modern ‘entertainment’ variety). Both intend deceiving their patients/audience, misleading them, taking advantage of their gullibility, fooling them. The difference is that magicians admit this, quacks do not.

    Amongst the techniques used by magicians to alter perceptions are pattern recognition; exaggeration; humour (providing catharsis); misdirection; confusion, use of buzz or ‘wonder’ words; and a liberal application of dual reality – saying something which, or in a way which, can be taken in more than one way. What you think you see is not what you get!

    Magician Penn Jillette has described “one of the darkest of all psychological secrets – if you are given a choice, you’ll believe you have acted freely.” (Real Secrets of Alternative Medicine p.302).

    So, quacks adopt the persona of legitimate practitioners, style themselves ‘doctor’ or claim equivalence, dress the part of medical practitioners, use medical equipment (the more theatrical the better, often with plenty of bells, whistles, flashing lights, electronic gizmos, medical posters on the wall, impressinve ‘qualifications’), make false claims, mislead, confuse with meaningless jargon – and subtly suggest the patient would be wise to choose the camist’s ministrations, though of course a patient can choose not to do so.

    Insistent salesmen (second hand cars, double glazing, PPI insurance) are particularly adept at the ‘choice monte’ – they call it ‘closing the sale’. If the mark shows any sign of actually making the ‘wrong’ choice a magician has ways of dealing with that (sorry, my membership of The Magic Circle precludes explaing the exact techniques) – a saleman will carry out a ‘force field analysis’ with pro points on one list (lots of plus points which the salesman will help with) and con points on another (for which the customer is left to their own devices – and only a few result).

    Some choice!
    The benefits of quackery (‘feeling better’) are due to magic.
    (Or placebo effects if you will).

    • I have now read a list of logical fallacies on

      I quote nhumber 33: “Equivocation: The fallacy of deliberately failing to define one’s terms, or knowingly and deliberately using words in a different sense than the one the audience will understand. (E.g., Bill Clinton stating that he did not have sexual relations with “that woman,” meaning no sexual penetration, knowing full well that the audience will understand his statement as “I had no sexual contact of any sort with that woman.”) This is a corruption of the argument from logos, and a tactic often used in American jurisprudence.”

      This technique is one I referred to above as magician’s ‘dual reality’ – and part of the technique of ‘magician’s choice’ also known as ‘equivoque’ whereby a choice is apparently offered, but controlled by the magician. Or quack.

  • I have chronic pain as well as PTSD. My therapist steered me to an Alpha-Stim, which I rented for a month for $75. I thought it was helping for a few weeks, but lately I’m not sure. I can buy it for $600. Does anybody know why it’s so expensive and does it help long-term?

    • why would you want to buy it if it stopped working for you?

    • It is unlikely to help, but I would ask if your mental health specialist who recommended it is making any money on it, and check with your local or state medical society on proven risks and benefits.

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