Crimes against science

Here at Botwatch we respect science. We understand how important it is to look for evidence, evaluate it properly, and change your ideas according to what the research shows.

To be fully immersed in a Multi Level Marketing (MLM) scheme people need to be able to have a healthy disregard for science. They need to be able to ignore the cold, hard facts about their chances of success and to ignore any objectivity. They are encouraged to embrace a different way of thinking and to just ‘believe’ and ‘hope’ and ‘ask the universe’ for success.

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An intelligent person will look for evidence and listen to objective criticism. A person in the MLM mindset will be taught to shut down any criticism and shun people who try to provide evidence that goes against their beliefs. Lazyman and Money investigated why MLM reps think their products work.

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As discussed in previous posts, MLMs have overpriced products to enable the money to flow up the pyramid. This poses a challenge to the people trying to sell the products. They can only buy so much and stockpile a certain amount before they start to realise that they are wasting their money. They have to try and sell some product at some stage, or convince themselves their products are special.

In order to sell their opportunity or products, MLMs and the people in these schemes will revert to pseudoscience in order to back up their ridiculous claims. Here are some of the common scientific errors that people make.

Detox

The liver, skin and lungs remove toxins from our bodies. No amount of supplements will help this process. We do not need to detoxify ourselves. MLMs will have you believe otherwise. For further information read these articles from the Skeptoid, Guardian or just Google ‘detox myth’.

Here are some MLMs displaying their ignorance on ‘detoxing’.

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Monat here are explaining that when people’s hair falls out and  they get an itchy, flaky scalp, that is ok. It is just their hair ‘detoxing’. They say things like ‘as your pH balances equalize’- what does this even mean? Does any of this sound plausible to you?

 

Natural is good

Of course, natural is not good. Cyanide is natural. So is Ebola, volcanoes, scorpions, sharks, poison ivy. The list could go on and on. Just because something has come from a natural source (hasn’t everything?), does not mean it is safe. Take essential oils as an example. This is a substance that plants make to act as an irritant to put off creatures eating it. Essential oils are toxic and should not be consumes internally. But you will find people selling DoTerra and Young Living essential oils, saying you can drink it. It’s ok, they say. It’s natural.

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Here is a statement from the organisation that advises and tries to regulate the use of aromatherapy.

AIA does not endorse internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal or rectal) of essential oils unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level. An appropriate level of training must include chemistry, anatomy, diagnostics, physiology, formulation guidelines and safety issues regarding each specific internal route (oral, vaginal or rectal).

For more information, please visit the AIA site.

Science Based Medicine have looked at DoTERRA a few times. Have a look at these articles here, here and here.

This quote is from a Young Living seller

“Young Living oils are therapeutic grade A oils and are produced so that they are pure. Although applying oils to the skin and inhaling them can be beneficial, sometimes ingesting the oils is even more effective. The Vitality line of Young Living oil labels say that they can be taken internally.

People can put a drop or two of essential oils into milk to drink or drop into empty gel capsules and swallow. Empty gel capsules can be purchased from Young Living; 250 capsules for $9.87 retail.”

Chemical free

This Arbonne advert says the product is chemical free. How can anything be chemical free? Gasses are chemicals, so are rocks and metals. We are made of chemicals, and so is water. There isn’t a substance on this planet that isn’t made of chemicals.

How would you like a chemical free toothpaste? What on earth could it be made of I ask myself?

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I’ll stop now because this could go on for ever.

Anecdotes are not proof

When there is no scientific evidence that a product can do what the seller claims, they often resort to anecdotes. They might have been told they are not allowed to make health claims as this would break the law. So they resort to saying that the product cured them of something. Or they share other ‘testimonials’ and, once a database is built up of these testimonials, it can look like there is lots of evidence for the claimed effect. Of course, these claims have not been researched properly and many are complete fabrications. I think this type of product promotion preys on people’s scientific ignorance and people’s general trust of what their peers tell them.

If someone tells you a product worked for them, question their motives. Are they trying to sell it? Are they allowed to make health claims? If health claims are not allowed, why?

JuicePlus+ reps have set up a testimonial facebook page where they can all share their stories, thinking they are getting around the law. This is very deceptive. The range of claims is astounding.

Juice Plus and its effects on #fibromyalgia #juiceplus www.facebook.com/ahappyhealthieryou

 

In the UK testimonials are not allowed to be used when selling a product unless very strict criteria apply. Check out CAP for the guidelines.

 

Interpreting scientific data

Sometimes you hear of an MLM company claiming there is proper scientific evidence for their claims. When you actually look at their claims though, they often fall far short of the evidence required to back up what is being claimed. The first company that jumps to mind is JuicePlus. They go on about the ’30 gold standard studies’ that prove their vitamin supplements can do the amazing things they claim. Have a look at the studies. They no way prove any of the claims made. In fact, the small improvements in any factors can be explained by the existence of the vitamins. In the EU it is illegal to claim that the results are as a result of anything other than the expected results of the individual vitamins. Have a look at the disclaimer they have to display on their website in the EU-

Disclaimer

* * Current EU legislation necessitates that health-promoting effects may not be attributed to the product as such (in this case Juice Plus+), but only to the specific ingredients.
** Mandatory information in accordance with Article 10 (2) of REGULATION (EC) No 1924/2006: As a general rule, you should aim for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. The indicated health-promoting effects can be achieved by taking the recommended daily amount of Juice Plus+ capsules.

For more information on the interpretation of the research, read this very good blog of someone who painstakingly analyses the research.

I had a look at the research behind one of Ariix’s products and found it did not stand up to the hype its reps were creating.

Of course, to be able to understand the research, you first need to have access to it. Some companies claim to have evidence but won’t show you the evidence. They won’t even elaborate on where the research might be found. Many Monat reps, for example, claim that their products were tested at Princeton University for three years (or variations) and they concluded it was safe.

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This blogger  investigated where the claims might have stemmed from. There has been no official statement from the company clearing up the issue. I have found the ‘research’ on this website. All it shows are the results and methodology of the testing of some individual ingredients. They don’t test the products in their sold form. They don’t show where the research was published, who wrote it, any conflicts of interests or any evidence of peer review. In this form, the research is useless.

Fearmongering

Some MLMs provide scary ‘facts’ that, whilst true, do not support their conclusion that you need to buy their products. Take Ariix as an example. They make and sell some products like air and water filters. They explain how contaminated water can be really bad for you.

DRINKING CONTAMINATED WATER CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH

Of course it is bad. They then go to great lengths to explain how their filters can filter out these harmful things. They conclude that you should buy these expensive products for your health. What they fail to explain is that in the developed world our water supply is already free of these contaminants.

Our indoor environments are not as bad as the global picture because modern houses have ventilation, do not have indoor fires and people are generally not living in close proximity to other people and sewerage. The people living in conditions who would benefit from these filters have other things on their mind, like survival. They certainly won’t be in a position to invest in these filters.

Isagenix try to scare us into thinking some really strange things about cows and the milk that they use for their whey powder.

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Dodgy ‘science’ experiments

Some Forever Living reps ‘prove’ how pure their product is compared to other aloe vera juices. They do this by mixing it with iodine. They claim that the iodine represents the impurities in our body. They add some of their aloe drink to the iodine and it goes clear. Wow! It doesn’t go clear with other brands. The reps say this proves their product is more pure and better at eliminating these dreaded ‘toxins’.

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There are many of these ‘experiments’ on YouTube. Here is one, here is another. And another.

The reality is the colour change is just a chemical reaction due to one of the ingredients in Forever Living’s product. The chemical that is reacting is the ascorbic acid (vitamin C) that is used as a preservative in Forever Living’s liquid, but not present in the other brands. This chemistry page explains the reaction.

Young Living

Some people in Young Living have been doing ‘experiments’ to ‘prove’ that their household cleaning products are better at killing germs than bleach. They put some germs on agar in a petri dish and put in squares of paper soaked in various substances, including bleach, nothing, Thieves essential oil and other cleaning products. The experiment is described here. This is the type of photo people are sharing-

 

Their conclusion may not be all it seems. The essential oil that is used in these experiments is a pure essential oil and is therefore not a fair test. People do not clean their bathrooms with pure essential oils. That would get very smelly and very expensive. Someone questioned this in the comments on one of the blog pages where this experiment was published. They wanted to see what would happen if they used the actual Thieves cleaning solution. This is the conversation that ensued.

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‘Healthy pH’

The human body is very good at maintaining its pH level. pH is how acidic or alkaline your body is and it regulates itself with the kidneys and lungs. In real life I have a very good understanding of pH and have personally measured, cared for and seen the effects of a pH that is outside of the normal range. Blood has to be between 7.35 and 7.45 and anything outside of this makes you very sick. You cannot adjust this number by taking any supplement or by altering your diet. It just isn’t possible. And even if you could adjust it, you wouldn’t want to because it would make you ill.

These basic biological and easily verifiable facts do not stop MLMs from spreading misinformation to sell their products. Here are some offenders-

Ariix

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Cleanshield

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A human body with ‘a pH near 7.0’ is a near dead human body.

Thrive from Le-vel

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Complete disregard for biology

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This is not how under eye puffiness is formed. Here is an article on the reasons scientists think eye bags are formed. There is no mention of tear ducts pooling.

 

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That pseudoscience has it all- biological nonsense, pH levels, health claims, and a claim that they use ‘evidence based documented evidence.’

Law of Attraction

This belief is rooted in the thought that bad/ negative thoughts will bring bad consequences. Likewise, good and positive thoughts will bring good consequences. The evidence that is presented for this pseudo theory is that ill people can often be heard complaining about their condition. It is therefore thought that it is this negative thinking that must have brought on the illness. Not only is this the fallacy of correlation and causation, it is beggars belief that anyone would make that conclusion.

Lacking in any proof or scientific evidence for this shaky belief has prompted some to look for a good meme or quote to back them up. This is what believers have come up with.

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It goes without saying that Einstein never said such rubbish. The actual quote came from someone who thought he was channelling an alien. Just in case you would like to check the authenticity of this quote, the people at Quote Investigator have looked into it for you.

Conclusion

People in MLMs will say any old rubbish to sell their products. Often the false information comes from the company themselves. The reps pretend to be knowledgeable in areas they have no understanding of. They are taught and encouraged to just believe in their company and their product and try to get others to believe in it. Pesky science and facts will not get in their way of trying to make a sale.

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MLM meets quackery

Most Multi Level Marketing companies (MLMs) have some element of quackery in them. Just take a look at the bogus health claims attributed to Ariix, Juice Plus and Forever Living products to name but a few. When Cleanshield came to my attention, I was horrified at the sheer amount of idiocy that I felt compelled to write about why it is so wrong.

Here is their product

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Wow, some bold claims there!

What is in this amazing product I hear you cry? How on earth can it ‘resist and correct’ these many conditions?

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Sodium carbonate.

There is a website dedicated to this ingredient. This ingredient used to be a key ingredient in household cleaners and washing powders. It is an irritant.

Sodium phosphate

This is a strong laxative and features on Medline plus, a medication information website.  There is a serious risk of kidney damage or death with this drug, especially if certain other drugs are taken or if there are some other underlying health conditions.

 

The pH of this liquid is 11-11.3.  pH is measured on a 0-14 scale where 0 is extremely acid and 14 is extremely alkaline. What else is pH 11, for comparison?

I’ll tell you what is-

Ammonia.

How would drinking a highly alkaline solution cure all those conditions in the advert above?

It won’t.

For some reason there is an idea being touted by quacks that all illnesses are caused by the body being too acidic and this can be cured by ingesting alkaline things. Here is what Cleanshield have to at about the process-

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This shows a gross misunderstanding of how the body works. If the stomach’s acid is diluted, it will no doubt make more acid, but this will not affect the rest of the body! Cleanshield think that the body’s water is an ocean and the whole ‘ocean’s’ pH will alter. Different parts of the body have a different pH and the body is very good at keeping them where they should be. Drinking an alkaline solution will not trick the whole body into being more alkaline. If it did, you would die really easily.

That bit at the end- ‘No known harmful pathogens can survive in the human body with a pH near 7.0’ !!! No human bodies can survive for long at a pH of near 7!

Blood’s pH should be between 7.35-7.45 and it is kept this way by the kidneys and lungs. If it goes much out of this range, you become very ill. If it goes under 7 and over 8 you will most likely die. It is very difficult to artificially change the pH of blood, and you would be foolish to try. To think that you can change it with a drink is laughable and ridiculous.

Where are the scientific papers showing any evidence at all of these claims of Cleanshield? How do we know what their drink does to their body? Where is the evidence this supposed change of pH will affect the immune system and that this can help with the list of conditions? There is none.

There is no evidence at all.

Cleanshield are not the only quackery MLM that are peddling alkaline water. Enagic are another MLM company at it. They sell expensive machines that make alkaline or acidic water to help with health.

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Kangen water comes in 5 different strengths of pH. They have a pH11 water just like Cleanshield. Interestingly, they say not to drink this.

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They subscribe to pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo of changing the body’s pH though.

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Please, if you are going to believe in the idea that drinking products can change your pH level and this can change your health, despite there being no evidence or any credible scientific reasoning behind it, do not do it within an MLM company.