5X5 Episode 6

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5X5 Episode 6
Dr. Harris's Pain Relief Snake Oil Infomercial
11th February 2008

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5X5 5 5X5 7
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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Dr. Harris's Pain Relief Snake Oil Infomercial[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.


S: This is the SGU 5X5, five minutes with five skeptics. Today's topic is Dr. Dennis Harris. Evan, you wrote about this today on your blog[1] after hearing his infomercial in your car.

E: I did. I heard his infomercial this weekend. A 30-minute radio infomercial about his all-natural pain relief system called the ETA...E-T-A ...Relief System. He described it as a combination of a supplement and a gel that's designed to relieve a person's everyday aches and pains, including those associated with, amongst other things, fibromyalgia. He is a very slick and good speaker. He sells the product very well. But that was about all that was convincing about Dr. Harris and his product, although he made no specific claims of his product. He also never told you exactly what was in this product. Didn't explain the ingredients involved in it. All you had to do was call the 800 number and call up for your 30-day free supply to get you started. So, right, you know, right away, I smelled the, the BS.

R: So he didn't say what was in it or what it did?

E: No. He made no specific claims of it and he never said what was in it.

S: If it weren't for the 800 number and his website, this guy could be a snake-oil salesman from a hundred years ago selling out of the back of a wagon attached to a carnival.

(laughter)

S: Now for some background, I...if you look this guy up, the first thing that comes up is the fact that he was the target of a Federal Trade Commission complaint. They basically, you know, dissed this guy for committing fraud, for making claims that were not supported with the evidence. And they, they essentially censored him. He had to promise not to make any more claims. This is for his original, his original snake oil, which was his snore, snoring, you know, product. His anti-snoring product. So the FTC shut him down for that. So he just, you know, moseyed on over to pain. Now he's been a pain doctor his whole life...apparently...if, if you read his website.

J: So listen to this. On his website. This is great. "Dr. Harris has devoted 35 years as a physician to the non-surgical diagnosis and treatment of all conditions of pain.

(laughter)

S: Well, wait, there are pain specialists. I don't see that he has any credentials as one. I looked him up in PubMed. He has zero publications, as far as I could see, in any of the topics that he claims to be an expert.

R: And also: "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and these products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease." Always read the fine print.

B: What is that font - 2?

(laughter)

E: Barely.

S: That's the standard disclaimer required by the FDA.

J: But Steve, they call it the "pain solution"!

S: With a money-back guarantee. (exaggerated announcer voice) "If you're not completely satisfied..."

E: Yeah, how many other legitimate medical products have money-back guarantees tied to them?

S: Yeah.

E: Not many.

S: No way.

(laughter)

B: Yeah, but how many people take advantage of money-back...guarantees? Not many.

S: Yeah, very few. That's why...

B: Even if it is a sham.

S: ...That's why they, they use them.

E: There are just so many red flags with the, with, with this fellow. I mean, you know, making no, making no specific claims, not telling you what ingredients there are in his slurry of vitamins and, and herbs. The fact that he relies on anecdotal evidence and testimonials instead of actual studies and research. You know, the fact that you have to call this 800 number to, you know, to pay for something, to get more, to even try to get more information on the product. I mean, just, all the classic signs of - like you said, Steve - a snake-oil saysman...salesman.

S: Right. Yeah, plus all the self-promotion, all the self-promotion. "Dr. Harris wrote the book on pain" claims his website. What book on pain? What's he talking about? He wrote his own little book selling his own products. You know, these guys, no, no academic, no scientific credentials whatsoever.

B: Isn't that the name of his book? "The Book on Pain"?

(laughter)

R: No, it's "The Pain Solution". Get it right, Bob.

S: "The Pain Solution", 'cause you have "Dr. Harris's Pain Relief System".

R: And also buried in a paragraph, he does say what is in some of the stuff, like green-lipped mussel extract?

E: Uh...

S: Green-lipped?

R: New Zealand green-lipped mussel. Yeah. What the hell is that? What does that do?

S: I have no idea.

R: "The same mussel has been clinically shown to be more potent in relieving..."

S: He throws out all these percentages, but these percentages are not based on any scientific studies. They're just done on his own patients. His own experience with his own patients. So he's just fabricating these, you know, fabricating data as needed just to, to sell his products.

R: So how does he get away with this? On, on a radio, like a national, this is a national radio station? A local radio station? How does he get away with it?

S: He gets away with it by not making claims, by exactly what Evan noticed. He's implying claims. You, you inf...you're meant to infer claims. Now you call it the "Pain Relief System". "I'm not saying it actually treats pain or any condition. It's just my 'Pain Relief System' that many people have benefited from", and blah, blah, blah. He obviously has learned from his experience with the FTC how to evade the system, by making these pseudo-claims and not, not letting himself be pinned down to any specifics.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.


References[edit]

  1. The Rogues Gallery: Doctor, It Hurts When I Do This
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