Hoax Museum Blog: Health/Medicine

The Fix-a-Flat Faker — When a doctor starts injecting bathroom caulk into your buttocks, I think that's a good sign he/she isn't entirely on the up-and-up.

Fake Fix-a-Flat nurse arrested, charged with manslaughter in Fla. client’s death

BROWARD — Oneal Morris, the transgender woman charged in two counties with injecting people seeking fuller figures with a toxic concoction which included Fix-a-Flat, on Thursday was charged with manslaughter in the death of a Broward County client. Morris, 32, of Hollywood, has been charged in the death of Shatarka Nuby, 31, of Tamarac...
According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Nuby had paid Morris, known as The Duchess, hundreds of dollars to inject her at her home with the concoction which promised to enhance her buttock, hips, thighs and breasts. Morris would sometimes be dressed in scrubs, giving the impression she was a medical worker — a doctor or a nurse, but detectives say she was a fake...
Following Nuby’s death, Morris was charged in Broward with three counts of practicing medicine without a license. Prosecutors say she injected many patients with a dangerous mixture of products including mineral oil, rubber cement, Fix-a-Flat and caulk. Many of the items were purchased at The Home Depot.

Posted: Fri Jul 27, 2012.   Comments (1)

Esoteric Breast Massage — Serge Benhayon is the creator of "Esoteric Breast Massage" (EBM). He describes this as a healing technique that offers many benefits, such as possibly preventing cancer.

Serge Benhayon

Despite what you may be thinking, EBM is not just an excuse for him to massage lots of women's breasts. Far from it. In fact, he never does the massaging. He emphasizes that only women can perform EBM on other women. This made it a little awkward for him to teach the technique, back when he was the only person who knew how to do it. From an interview in Spa Australasia magazine (pdf):

I have never performed an EBM on a client nor to any of our practitioners. It is not for men to do. And hence, initially, and deliberately by design, a small group of women were selected to learn the EBM. In keeping with my teachings on Energetic Integrity, the technique was demonstrated on my partner under simulation and no naked bodies were used. Once the techniques were learnt, the group of women set-out to practice on each other, over and over, until they could feel and learn its entire structure and how the energetic science feels in action and in delivery.

EBM Brochure

Being the inventor of Esoteric Breast Massage isn't the only thing that makes Benhayon an interesting character. Turns out he's also the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci. And his daughter is following in his footsteps. She's the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, and a practitioner of "esoteric connective tissue therapy" as well as "craniosacral massage." Plus, she can talk to women's ovaries.

Benhayon and daughter operate from their Universal Medicine center, outside Lismore in New South Wales, Australia. But they're attracting controversy. Their treatments, though lacking much scientific backing, are partially funded by Medicare. And a group of men are complaining that Benhayon has ruined their marriages. Links: hillsnews.com.au, ulladullatimes.com.au.
Posted: Mon Jul 23, 2012.   Comments (3)

Samuel Shepherd: the 125-year-old Man — Samuel "Old Uncle Sam" Shepherd had a hard but interesting life. He was a slave who managed to buy his freedom, and lived on until 1909. But it's his birthdate that generates more interest than the date of his death.

His grave marker in Oak Hill Cemetery (Lawrence, Kansas) lists his birthdate as 1784. This would make him 125 years old when he died. If true, he would potentially be the oldest person ever to have lived.

According to wikipedia, Jeanne Calment of France holds the record for the oldest unambiguously documented human lifespan. She died at the age of 122 in 1997. Christian Mortensen, who died at the age of 115, holds the record for the oldest male lifespan (again, unambiguously documented). Samuel Shepherd, at 125, would have beaten both of them.

However, the documentation for Shepherd's birthdate is incredibly ambiguous. There's just his word for it, and he seems to have guessed at the date. This disqualifies him for consideration as the Oldest Person Ever.

In fact, Shepherd seems to offer an example of the phenomenon of age exaggeration, which I've discussed on the site before. It's the tendency for people to lie about their age (or, more charitably, to grow confused about it), exaggerating it upwards as they near the centenary mark. They do this because being perceived to be very old makes them feel special and gives them higher status in the community.

The most famous example of this phenomenon is the Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba, which briefly gained a worldwide reputation as the Town of Supercentenarians, until anthropologists realized that large numbers of people in the town were misrepresenting their age.

I've also posted about the case of Buster Martin (who claimed to be a 101-year-old marathon runner), Mariam Amash (who claimed to be 120), and the Chinese village of Bama (which, like Vilcabamba, is supposed to be full of supercentenarians).
Posted: Mon Jul 09, 2012.   Comments (3)

Exam-weary students in China receive amino-acid infusions — A strange series of photos has recently been circulating online showing an entire classroom full of high school students in China hooked up to IV drips.

Apparently the students aren't sick. Instead, they're exhausted from cramming for the upcoming National College Entrance Exam (Gao Kao). So they're all being given supplemental amino acids via IV drip. And this is something the Chinese government is willing to pay for. Links: ministryoftofu.com, globaltimes.cn, businessinsider.com.

I haven't found anything to indicate that the scene shown in the pictures isn't exactly what it's being described as. And Chinese officials, in interviews, seem to have confirmed that this is what's going on.

The question is, does an animo-acid drip do anything for the students that drinking a gatorade (or other energy drink) wouldn't? Or, even better, getting a good night's sleep. Not as far as I know. Though it's not going to hurt them, except for a small risk of infection from the needle. And it definitely looks dramatic, so perhaps it triggers a confidence-boosting placebo effect.

It's not just the Chinese who are susceptible to strange, pseudo-scientific methods of boosting student performance. In Electrified Sheep I wrote about an idea that gained popularity in Europe and America circa 1912 of turning kids into super-students by electrifying them. The concept was to conceal wires in the walls and ceiling of a classroom, turning the entire room into a gigantic electromagnet. The students and teacher inside the room would supposedly benefit from the magnetic influence surrounding them. This idea was promoted by none other than Nikola Tesla, who wanted to turn all American classrooms into electromagnets. Nobel-Prize winner Svante Arrhenius even conducted experiments to test the idea... though the experiments didn't reveal any obvious benefit.

Perhaps the Chinese will latch onto the idea of electrifying their high-school students next.
Posted: Wed May 09, 2012.   Comments (3)

Woman dies after trying to live on sunlight alone — The NY Daily News is reporting (via the Tages-Anzeiger) that a Swiss woman died after deciding to embrace the philosophy of breatharianism and live on sunlight alone:

Swiss woman dies after attempting to live on sunlight; Woman gave up food and water on spiritual journey

The Zurich newspaper reported Wednesday that the unnamed Swiss woman in her fifties decided to follow the radical fast in 2010 after viewing an Austrian documentary about an Indian guru who claims to have lived this way for 70 years.
Tages-Anzeiger says there have been similar cases of self-starvation in Germany, Britain and Australia.
The prosecutors' office in the Swiss canton (state) of Aargau confirmed Wednesday that the woman died in January 2011 in the town of Wolfhalden in eastern Switzerland.

Here's the trailer of the documentary she was inspired by:

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2012.   Comments (3)

Baby Yoga, or Swinging Your Kid Around Your Head — Infant learning and development is a field full of dubious theories, because there are so many desperate parents willing to try anything that might give their kids a slight edge-up in life. So the stage is set for Baby Yoga, aka "dynamic baby gymnastics," aka 'swinging your baby around your head.' Its practitioners claim that if you're not doing this, then you're depriving your child of an important developmental opportunity.

Check out the video below which shows Elena Fokina demonstrating some Baby Yoga moves. Warning: if the sight of kids being swung energetically around might disturb you, then you probably want to skip the video. Previous videos of Baby Yoga posted on youtube have been banned because they caused such an outcry. (See this BBC News story from Feb 2011).

Anticipating that this video might also get removed from youtube, here's a few screenshots of Elena in action.

According to the video, the practice of Baby Yoga originated in Russia -- its founder being Igor Borisovich Charkovsk, who also advocates the health benefits of dunking kids in water over and over again. More info: anorak.co.uk.

As one would expect, mainstream pediatricians warn that swinging your kid around like a rag doll could be very dangerous if you lose your grasp on the kid.
Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012.   Comments (6)

The Great Banana Smoking Hoax of 1967 — Brooke Kroeger and Cary Abrams have an article in the Local East Village analyzing the Great Banana-Smoking Hoax of 1967 -- in which a rumor spread alleging that you could get high by smoking bananas. Or rather, get high by smoking "bananadine," created by scraping the inside of a banana peel, boiling the residue, then drying out the residue and rolling it into a joint.

They try to get to the bottom of who started the rumor. One contender is the staff of the East Village Other magazine. Another theory has the singer Donovan as the instigator, through his song Mellow Yellow. Or perhaps it was the singer Country Joe.

Kroeger and Abrams think Country Joe is the most likely original source of the rumor, though they concede that "the Great Banana Smoking Hoax has many mothers."

Whoever started the rumor, it eventually had the great effect of inspiring the federal government to study bananas to determine any psychedelic properties they might have. Just in case bananas might have to be added to the list of controlled substances.
Posted: Thu Feb 23, 2012.   Comments (4)

Are there more doctors from Malawi in Manchester than in Malawi? — Charlotte McDonald of the BBC News debunks a persistent rumor that there are more doctors from Malawi in Manchester than there are in Malawi itself. Apparently the rumor has been repeated by a variety of sources including "the authors of an international study of health workers, and the head of Malawi's main nursing union."

However, the rumor isn't true. She estimates there are approximately 265 doctors in Malawi (which isn't a whole lot for a country of 15 million), but there are only 7 Malawian doctors in Manchester, which has a population of half-a-million.

Even if you look at the ratio of doctors to people, Malawi wins out. There's one doctor for every 56604 people in Malawi. And there's one Malawian doctor for every 71428 Mancunians.

McDonald interviewed Malawian doctor and social historian John Lwanda who theorized that the rumor dated back to 1981, when the Malawi ministry of health held a meeting in Manchester. Someone might have commented that there were more doctors from Malawi in Manchester during the meeting than there were in Malawi itself. And so the rumor was born.

I wonder if the persistence of the rumor also has something to do with the alliteration of Malawi and Manchester. It makes the phrase sound catchier, which might encourage people to repeat it.
Posted: Mon Jan 16, 2012.   Comments (1)

Jacob Hadcock: the new Craig Shergold — The Craig Shergold rumor strikes again. Jacob is a real kid, and he really has leukemia, but he isn't dying. But somehow word got out on the internet that he was dying, and that his last wish was to get christmas cards from everyone. So now the cards are pouring in by the thousands. Link: Associated Press.

Below is one of the youtube videos spreading the rumor.

Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2009.   Comments (3)

Misdiagnosed coma patient—is he really that coherent? — The Belgian man believed to be in a coma for 23 years, but recently found to be conscious, has been big news for the past few days. But now problems are emerging with the story. No one doubts that he's sentient, since MRI scans have confirmed this. But his ability to communicate is being questioned. Skeptics are questioning whether the statements attributed to him really are his, or do they come from his "facilitator" (a woman who holds his hand to help him type on a keyboard)? Doctors are also questioning how someone could be so profoundly isolated for so long, and yet still be so sane and coherent. From Wired.com:

“If facilitated communication is part of this, and it appears to be, then I don’t trust it,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics. “I’m not saying the whole thing is a hoax, but somebody ought to be checking this in greater detail. Any time facilitated communication of any sort is involved, red flags fly.”

There's also an ongoing discussion of the case in the hoax forum.
Posted: Wed Nov 25, 2009.   Comments (17)

Dr. Geeta Shroff: legitimate practitioner or quack? — Indian doctor Geeta Shroff is claiming to have helped many patients, thought incurable, by injecting them with embryonic stem cells. However, she hasn't submitted any of her work to scientific review, leading to suspicions that something fishy is going on. From timesonline.co.uk:

Dr Shroff has refused to publish her research and to submit it to peer review — a practise regarded widely as a cornerstone of good science. Instead, she has patented her technique, a route more familiar in business than medicine.
Doctors say that without safety trials and randomised clinical studies, her treatments are unverifiable and potentially dangerous.
There has been no research published, for instance, to rule out placebo effects. “If somebody spends thousands of pounds, it’s pretty hard to convince them it’s not money well spent,” said Anthony Mathur, a cardiologist at the London Chest Hospital working on stem-cell research.

Posted: Sat Nov 07, 2009.   Comments (0)

The Case of the Carbolic Smoke Ball — Clive Coleman tells the story for BBC Radio 4 of the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. It was an 1892 case of fraudulent advertising. The case against them is "seen by some as the birth of modern consumer protection":

The carbolic smoke ball was a peculiar device marketed as a cure for various ailments including influenza. It consisted of a rubber ball, filled with powdered carbolic acid. You squeezed the ball sending a puff of acidic smoke right up a tube inserted into your nose. The idea was that your nose would run and the cold would be flushed out.
The company making the ball advertised it in the Pall Mall Gazette offering a £100 reward to anyone using it correctly who then contracted influenza. They deposited £1,000 in the Alliance Bank in Regent Street to show the money was there.

Posted: Fri Nov 06, 2009.   Comments (3)

Healer knows all your problems before you even mention them to him — The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa has determined that Dr. Abdallah Kiwa has been "'duping' people into paying for services that cannot possibly be delivered." Specifically, Kiwa has distributed advertising pamphlets in which he has made the following claims:


Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2009.   Comments (6)

Acupuncture Exam — DC's Improbable Science has posted a pdf file of the exam given to those studying medical acupuncture at the University of Salford. Fans of acupuncture have long been lobbying for it to get more respect from the medical community, but as the DC Science blog points out, this exam appears to be nothing but gobbledygook. Here are several of the questions that exam takers must answer:

Posted: Wed Jul 29, 2009.   Comments (14)

Man claims to be allergic to Wifi — DJ Steve Miller claims that he is allergic to Wifi. Being caught near a Wifi connection causes him agonizing pain. From the Daily Mail:

The condition, known as electromagnetic sensitivity, affects two per cent of the population, and this is set to grow as more people opt for wireless internet signals. Steve navigates normal daily chores with the help of a ‘wi-fi detector’ which spots areas he should avoid. But the sensitivity has made moving house a real mission for Steve, who has needed to avoid homes close to a connection. He said: ‘I can’t live within 50 yards of anyone. I wouldn’t be able to stand it feeling ill in my own house. In his current home, in a remote area of Cornwall, he is shielded from the ‘electrosmog’ by sturdy 18-inch walls.

There are a growing number of people who complain that they're allergic to WiFi. Last year there were reports of a group of "electro-sensitive people" trying to stop the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico from creating a wireless internet network, claiming it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ian Douglas, of the Telegraph, explains why no one is allergic to Wifi:

Wifi consists of electromagnetic waves, just like light or radio waves, with a frequency of 2.4GHz, giving it a wavelength of around 12.5cm. There is some variation but not enough of a range to make any difference. 2.4GHz is on the long end of microwave, getting close to radio, rather similar to mobile phone signals. It transmits at much lower power than a mobile phone mast, so even if those signals were harmful, Wifi would be less so.
Mr Miller makes no mention of mobile phones, he is only bothered by Wifi. If it is electromagnetic radiation in general he’s sensitive to, he’s in real trouble as radio waves and visible light flood our atmosphere every minute of every day.

However, there is one group that is well known to have an extreme sensitivity to electromagnetic waves such as light: Vampires! Intriguingly, Steve Miller's stagename is "Afterlife." So I'm betting he's a vampire.
Posted: Tue Jul 28, 2009.   Comments (14)

Another fake cancer victim — Yet another cancer hoaxer unmasked. Jonathan Jay White claimed to be a 15-year-old from Idaho suffering from Anaplastic Astrocytoma (a kind of brain cancer). He gained a lot of supporters online, including Lance Armstrong, who sent him a number of gifts. But it now appears that Jonathan Jay White never existed. Details at news.sky.com and jonthanjayisafraud.blogspot.com.
Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2009.   Comments (1)

China’s Fountain of Youth — ABC News has a report on the village of Bama, "China's Fountain of youth." People there are said to live unusually long lives. Out of the population of 500, six people are over 100 years old.

The locals attribute this longevity to pure water (which is "a striking blue because of low alkilinity"), simple home-grown food, and a special magnetic field.

Bama has become a big tourist destination in China. Billboards promote its special powers. New hotels are being constructed there. And you can shop at a store that sells products labeled "The 100-year-old Man."

But the key phrase in the report is that "there are no birth certificates to prove age." This immediately makes me think of the Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba, which in the 1970s was heavily promoted as a village of supercentenarians, until researchers examined the age claims more closely and realized the locals were exaggerating their age.

If the old folks in Bama don't have any birth certificates or documentation to prove their age, then I'd be very doubtful they really are over 100, because age exaggeration among old people is an extremely common phenomenon. It's a way for them to increase their social status by claiming to have done something remarkable (lived a very long time).
Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2009.   Comments (9)

Oprah, the Queen of Quackery — In the forum Captain Al linked to a recent Newsweek article that's well worth reading. It details how Oprah Winfrey has routinely promoted dubious medical/pseudoscientific nonsense on her show. It appears that the only standard of evidence important to her is whether a claim is emotionally appealing. If a claim passes that test, then it must be true!

Some of the nonsense promoted on her show includes:
  • Suzanne Somers' vitamin/hormone cure for aging.
  • Jenny McCarthy's crusade to pin the blame for autism on vaccines.
  • Dr. Christiane Northrup's theory that thyroid dysfunction is caused by repressing your emotions.
  • Radio-wave skin tightening treatments.
  • And "The Secret", that by "thinking positively" you can attract success and good health to yourself.
The article doesn't even get into her relentless promotion of psychic scammers.
Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009.   Comments (29)

Disgusting Fake Doctor — A man has been arrested in Spain for posing as a fake doctor. He was performing breast and buttock augmentations in his home, which was reported to be filthy (full of numerous pets). Plus, he was using veterinary tools to inject liquid silicone. The reason real surgeons haven't used liquid silicone since the 1960s is because it can cause discoloration, open sores, and gangrene. [metro.co.uk]
Posted: Fri Apr 17, 2009.   Comments (11)

Another Cancer Hoaxer — Dallas, Texas is home to the latest case of Munchausen Syndrome. Hope Ybarra managed to raise $100,000 by convincing an entire community that she was dying of cancer. She even fooled her family. Apparently the ruse went on for years. To their credit, once her family found out she wasn't really sick they put an end to the entire thing and are offering to return everyone's money. [Yahoo! Video]
Posted: Wed Apr 15, 2009.   Comments (15)

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