Scientific Frauds (Jan, 1932)

Sadly these quack cures are still ridiculously popular.

Also, despite all of his fantastical ideas, Hugo Gernsback was an excellent debunker.

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Scientific Frauds


IT would seem that, in this enlightened age, the public should be sufficiently educated not to fall prey to the multitude of scientific quackeries which still abound.

With the public pretty well accustomed to science, there would seem to be no excuse for these latter-day swindles which are still being practiced all over the country; but, strange as it may seem, there is still a great amount of business being done by various individuals and companies who make a specialty of thus exploiting the public.

Usually, these scientific – mechanical frauds masquerade under some high-sounding technical name; and the literature as a rule contains a good deal of pseudo-scientific nonsense which the unsuspecting layman, not versed in scientific manners, swallows hook, line and sinker.

Moreover, when the layman has some disease or sickness, his mentality is usually not at par with that of a healthy individual, and he therefore falls a prey much more readily than he would do normally.

If, at any time, you or your friends see one of these scientific or mechanical contraptions, there is always one good way to find out whether it has any value or not. One need only go to the family doctor; and his advice on such matters may be trusted.

Unfortunately, there are still many thousands of people who are victimized every year because they do not wish to take the advice of their doctor, and because they think their own deductions are best. Hence the traffic in these contrap- tions which it seems difficult to eradicate.

On this page, I have shown a number of such frauds, many of which have already been exposed, and denounced by the American Medical Association as out-and-out fakes.

Fig. A shows a celebrated “goitre cure” and, believe it or not, this contraption has actually been patented by your own Uncle Sam. (Of course, that does not make it any less of a fraud. If you patent a mouse-trap, and afterwards sell it as a cure for rheumatism, the article is still patented and protected by patent law.) So with the “Galvano Necklace” for goitre, at one time advertised and sold extensively by a Western (Wis.) company.

This necklace is composed of glass beads strung on a flexible wire. Interspersed between the glass beads are copper discs and zinc discs. The contraption is supposed to liberate, in presence of an iodine salve and the moisture of the skin, electricity which, presumably, dissolves the goitre. In practice, however, the combination does not produce any current. As a matter of fact, whatever moisture there is in the skin tends to short-circuit the minute batteries thus formed, and the electrical effect obtained is nil. Even if there were current formed, it would still country the “Electric Comb.” This ingenious fake is a combination comb made of bakelite, in which are set teeth which are unusual only in that they are metallic. The even-numbered teeth are connected to the positive pole, and the odd teeth to the negative pole of a flashlight battery cell, inserted in the handle of the comb (Fig. B). You comb your hair; and the electricity let loose in your scalp is supposed to cure anything from dandruff to barber’s itch and falling hair. If the scalp is wet, it cannot be denied that a mierometric amount of current will actually reach the scalp. That amount of current, however, is so little, with a source of potential of the value of a volt and a half, that there is hardly any effect whatsoever. It has, as yet, to be proven that galvanic electricity at low pressure will do anything whatsoever on the human scalp, either good or bad. The contraption may be good as a comb; but you would hardly pay $5.00 for a 25c comb, and that is exactly what this gadget is—just like any other comb, as far as magic results are concerned.

Not so long ago, the so-called Askins “Vitality Batteries” or “Heart Batteries” were declared a fraud by the Post Office Department, and the company debarred from doing business in the United States. Our illustration (Fig. C) shows this marvelous invention, consisting of a pair of discs about a fourth of an inch thick and about three inches in diameter. It is described by the inventor as comprising a “zinc or negative battery, and a copper or positive battery.” Each “battery” is made of two thinner discs, tightly joined together at the edges. The copper “battery” is symmetrically seamed, and contains a small quantity of vinegar and a strip of copper. The zinc “battery” has several perforations and contains a filler of cotton or other absorbent material and a strip of zinc; it is to be steeped in vinegar, about once a week, for five minutes to recharge it. This invention is supposed to cure anything from cancer to heart disease, H right’.; disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Why it should do so, no one knows, not even the inventors. No electro-galvanic current worth mentioning is generated by this fool device; although it sells at $5.00 per set, while the entire material of which the contraption is composed of would actually cost about 40c to make. For efficiency, a rabbit’s foot, we believe, is much better.

And now we come to the famous “Electro-Chemical” ring, at one time put out by a Toledo company. This ring, strange as it may seem, is made out of ordinary commercial iron, worth about one tenth of a cent apiece (Fig. D). Yet, it was sold for $2.00. The claims were made that wearing the ring would result in the cure of such ailments as Bright’s disease, diabetes, epilepsy, goitre, cancer, etc.

Although the government issued a fraud order against the original company, the business has been revived under different names by the original individuals; the latest fraud order being under date of February 24, 1931. That anyone in his right senses would pay $2.00 for an ordinary piece of iron, because he supposed it to have inherent magic powers, is taxing one’s credulity to the utmost. Yet, such is the gullibility of the uninformed.

A few years ago, in my former magazine, Science and Invention, I exposed another famous swindle under the name of “I-ON-A-CO,” “The Magic Horse Collar.” This swindle, of late, was revived under the name of “THERONOID” by a company of that name, which flourished in New York City, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, and elsewhere. Believe it or not, 12,000 of these “Theronoids” were sold and may even now be selling in various localities.

Here we have a more subtle swindle; one for which even the man who knows a little about science may fall easily, because it is actually electrical. This contraption is a sort of horse collar, wound with some 560 odd turns of ordinary insulated copper bell wire, and covered with leather or some leather imitation (Fig. E). As a part of the hoax connected with the horse collar, there is a so-called control box, which is supposed to regulate the “strength of the magnetic field.”

Now, it is perfectly true that, if you plug this device into the electric circuit of a 110-volt alternating current, there will be generated inside of the horse collar a strong magnetic field. This magnetic field is advertised to cure practically every disease, for reasons known only to the manufacturers. But it is a fact, which has been verified for the past 100 years by many research laboratories, that magnetism, no matter in what form, has no effect whatsoever on the human system or its functions.

Attendants in big electrical power plants are subjected daily to a tremen- dons amount of magnetic flux; yet, they are liable to all diseases that humanity is heir to—and mind you, the amount of magnetism that exists in these power plants is millions of times more powerful than the “Theronoid” device and yet it produces no discernible effect. The fact is, that no matter how much magnetism is generated, and no matter how you use it on the human body, the effect is absolutely nil. Hence the “Theronoid,” with or without control box, and whether you plug it in the electric light socket or whether you just wear it as an adornment, is in each case equally efficacious.

The device is one of these subtle frauds to which the intelligent layman will easily fall a prey; that is one of the reasons why it obtained a large sale. If anyone is foolish enough to pay $50 to $75 for six pounds of bell wire, worth about $2.00, and hang it around his neck, that is of course his own affair; but a prudent man will not do it.

Another of these subtle fakes is known under the name of “Vit-O-Net,” an electric heating pad, made at one time by a Chicago company. This device is a genuine electric heating blanket, with which you are supposed to cover yourself from head to foot after it has been plugged into the electric socket (Fig. F). It cells for $102.50, and is worth perhaps $10.00 or less. If this heating pad had been sold simply as a heating device, no one could possibly get very much excited about it; because it is a good heating pad; but when claims are made that the “Vit-O-Net” blanket will “magnetize the elements in the blood and tissues,” such claims belong properly to Fairyland. Equally preposterous and ridiculous is the claim that “the blanket produces a vibratory action in the deepest organs.”

Quoting from the circular, we have these choice bits of nonsense: “It remained for the Vit-O-Net Mfg. Co. to concentrate these magnetic waves in the Vit-O-Net Electro-Magnetic Blanket, so that such energy will enter the human body, magnetize the elements in the blood and tis-ues. A vibratory action is produced in the deepest organs, stirring every cell into activity, increasing metabolism, and hastening the elimination of waste products.”

“When a human body is enveloped in the Vit-O-Net Electro-Magnetic Blanket, a gentle vibratory action takes place throughout the system. Every cell is stimulated by these magnetic waves, resting tired nerves, repairing broken down tissue and eliminating toxins through the pores and other waste channels.”

“At the suggestion of a noted San Francisco scientist, the Vit-O-Net Electro-Magnetic Blanket was thoroughly tested by the E. R. A. system which is recognized by thousands of physicians. These tests showed startling evidence of a definite emanation of energy from the blanket.”

“When you are wrapped in the Blanket, your body with the exception of the head, is entirely surrounded by a current of electricity. You are in a magnetic field (Faraday’s law). With 15,000 feet of magnetic wire contained in the Vit-O-Net, considerable magnetism is generated. The metallic salts in the blood being an excellent conductor, the entire blood stream, a moving body, becomes charged with magnetic energy.”

All this is a ludicrous twisting of facts and fiction. It is, of course, true that, when you are wrapped in the Vit-O-Net blanket, connected with the electric-light socket, your body is surrounded by a current of electricity. It is also true that you are in a magnetic field, and while that may mean something to an ignorant person, to the man of science it doesn’t mean a single thing, except that it makes him shake with loud laughter.

You are entirely surrounded by a current of electricity in your home whenever an electric light is burning; and every human being who is still on earth is surrounded by a magnetic field, because the earth has its own and most powerful magnetic field. So you do not have to buy the Vit-O-Net to get these magical results, because you get them for nothing anyway.

And, as for the metallic salts in the blood becoming “charged with magnetic energy,” this makes no sense whatsoever; for the plain and simple reason that magnetism (at low frequencies, at least, such as those of the 60-cycle line) has no effect whatsoever on blood nor the salts in the human body.

It may be stated, however, that the “Vit-O-Net” is a nice electric heating blanket, and will keep you warm and even, perhaps, cure your cold feet after you have found out how you have been swindled.

The writer will be glad to have readers consult him as to devices they think may be a scientific-mechanical fraud, falling into this class. Everyday Science and Mechanics will be happy to test the device and report the findings to our readers.

  1. Andrew L. Ayers says: December 7, 20109:52 am

    I love the advice about “talk to your doctor”; unfortunately, today, many doctors are as absorbed into the woo as the lay public. Something I have found difficult to do, in the past, is finding a doctor who -isn’t- a homeopath; it seems like a lot of “GP’s” in my area (Phoenix, Arizona) are homeopaths. Where have all the doctors who understand the scientific method gone to, I wonder?

  2. Kosher Ham says: December 7, 201012:08 pm

    The original fraud was a placebo.

  3. M.S.W. says: December 8, 201011:48 am

    Interesting “100 years by many research laboratories, that magnetism, no matter in what form, has no effect whatsoever on the human system or its functions.”…The fact is, that no matter how much magnetism is generated, and no matter how you use it on the human body, the effect is absolutely nil…”

    These have been proven to no longer be valid scientific statements.
    Example ”…

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