Sunday, October 02, 2005

How to Succeed at Quackery (Without Even Trying): Part 1

Finding a Niche

In medical quackery, a niche is pretty much synonymous with a disease or disorder (or range of disorders). Every type of quackery, whether you’re peddling devices, drugs or diets, needs a disorder to cure (or prevent). And picking the right disorder can make the difference between success and failure.

Keep it simple:

A few people have been successful with quackeries aimed at a broad range of disorders (see HR Clark), but these are risky ventures. A person starting out in quackery, unless they already have a great deal of name recognition, would do better to stick to a single disorder or a small range of similar disorders. This allows you to tailor your approach to the concerns and issues of a specific group of potential marks. Trying to address too broad a range of sufferers can cause you to be less attractive to any of them.

One possible exception to this is “cancer”. To the majority of the lay public, cancer is a single disease, so cancer is one area where the novice quack can safely address a broad range of diseases. In fact, trying to focus on a single type of cancer will often backfire, since that is precisely what the “allopathic” medical community does. By claiming to have a cure for a particular cancer (e.g. melanoma), you lose the “alternative” cachet that is so important to becoming a successful quack.

Keep it vague:

Ambiguity and vagueness are the greatest assets for a budding quack. When you pick your niche, be sure to find a disorder that is poorly defined or difficult to diagnose. Disorders that are not recognized by allopaths are excellent choices, since there is no way that anyone can accuse you of misdiagnosing them. The best are disorders that are purely imaginary, since the marks will be so appreciative when you don’t say that it’s “all in their head”.

Think long and hard before choosing a disorder that has a well-established and unambiguous diagnosis, unless you are willing to put in the time to convince people that the accepted diagnostic criteria are wrong. If you are just starting out, this may be too much work – save it for when you are an established quack. At all costs, avoid disorders that the mark can diagnose themselves – promising a “cure” for freckles will mean that you actually have to deliver on your promise. It is much better to pick complaints that are vague and subjective, like fatigue, malaise or depression.

Good choices: Chronic fatigue, Autism, Gulf War Syndrome

Bad choices: Fractures, Angina, Pneumonia
Likewise, keep your claims vague and hard to quantify – never, ever promise something that can be objectively measured, if you can avoid it. Promise the marks a “50% increase in immune function” or a “200% increase in energy”, but not a “50% increase in red blood cell mass”. Don’t make it easy for the quackbusters (or the FTC) to get a bead on you. If your particular niche makes hard number unavoidable (e.g. weight loss quackeries), be sure to cover yourself well in the fine print.

Pick a winner:

Although there are lots of people who have made it big pretending to treat incurable diseases (like the cancer quacks), you can save yourself a lot of trouble by picking a disorder that is either self-limited, fluctuating or imaginary.

The imaginary disorders are without a doubt the easiest to deal with – convince the mark that you’ve cured them and they’re out the door poorer but happier. That’s why imaginary disorders are the ones most sought after and – as a result – why there are so many quacks treating them. You can either crowd into an already established imaginary disease (or move to an under-served area) or you can make up your own imaginary disease. Either way, it’s more work to get started but a great payoff once you’re established.

If breaking in to the imaginary disease field sounds like too much work, your next best choice is a self-limited disease – something like colds or muscle aches. The main problem with self-limited diseases is that you need to constantly be out on the street hustling for new patients. These diseases are most profitable when you’ve gotten established and have a product on the shelves of the health-food or supplement stores.

The problem is that the window of opportunity – the time between the onset of symptoms and when the disease runs its course – is so short. If they can run to the quack store and buy your nostrum while they’re still feeling rotten, you get the credit (and their money) when they get better. If people are getting better before you have a chance to see them, you lose their business.

In some ways, late stage cancer can also be seen as a self-limiting disease, since the mark will often die (or be too sick and preoccupied with dying) before they realize that your “cure” has failed. And the grieving family will usually not want to take legal action, especially if you’ve done a good job with your bedside manner and hand-holding. It may seem perverse, but the families will often mistake your end-of-life bloodletting (in a monetary sense, if not literally) for a true attempt to save the life of their loved one after all the allopaths had given up. It’s sick, but it pays well.

If imaginary diseases are too much work and self-limiting diseases require too much hustle, then you might want to look into one of the thousands of chronic fluctuating disorders available. This part of the field is truly under-exploited, especially now that the allopaths are helping more people live to a ripe old age. And old age is full of chronic fluctuating conditions.

Almost all of the chronic medical conditions have fluctuating symptoms, better on some days and worse on others. Your job, in this lucrative area, is to convince the mark that you are responsible for the good days and they are responsible for the bad days. It’s as simple as that. If that seems to harsh for your mindset, you can squeeze out a little more profit by telling the mark to use your nostrum or device more often on the bad days, in the certain knowledge that good days are coming. Either way, you’ll look like a regular miracle worker. If you’re really good, your marks may even offer to wash and wax your BMW on their good days out of gratitude.

Next Lesson: Running your Quackery Business



Blogger Orac said...

Brilliant. I'm only envious that I didn't think of the topic first!

02 October, 2005 17:47  
Anonymous Skeptico said...

You only forgot one thing: throw the word "quantum" around a lot.

02 October, 2005 18:51  
Blogger Autism Diva said...

It really helps if you set up a website with your name in it, like "" or better the ever so friendly, "". Make sure you get a photo of yourself looking ultra loving and content (and healthy), yet capable of deep soul searching and show a true desire to bond with your patients.

If you can't do it this well, keep practicing in the mirror, while looking at this photo, until you get it right.

The man is a master of "the look".

Also, if you are going to have a radio program... make sure you can do "the voice"... but now Autism Diva is trodding on Prometheus' next blog entry... never mind.

02 October, 2005 19:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skeptico said: You only forgot one thing: throw the word "quantum" around a lot

And Synergy! You must use the word Synergy often and liberally if you want to sound scientific. :-)

03 October, 2005 06:25  
Blogger redlami said...

Have you heard anything of NIDS and Dr. Michael Goldberg? When I first heard of them, my quackery hackles were raised significantly. I just blogged a little bit about it here but I'm always looking for more info and commentary.

03 October, 2005 07:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now here's someone that knows how to play by those rules:

Answer? What's the question?

03 October, 2005 09:05  
Blogger JP said...

You forgot one key, key thing. Ad hominem against the pharmaceutical industry or the medical profession. You see, you need to convince your marks that "big pharma" or "allopathic drug pushers" don't have the answer to their problem.

Drugs are toxic. Doctors don't know how anything about "nutrition".

The only way to treat your condition is through natural means. Use the word natural a lot. Natural=safe. Natural!=side effects. If you can, throw in a dash of conspiracy theory as well - because after all, the drug companies and your doctor WANT you to be sick, but *I* (your neighborhood quack remedy pusher) WANT you to be well.

03 October, 2005 10:07  
Blogger JP said...

One other thing - if you can prove the FDA or FTC is out to get you, all the better.

Or is that part of chapter two?

03 October, 2005 10:08  
Blogger bonni said...

I have another "good candidate" for quackery: Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS). It's hard to diagnose, has no cure, and involves chronic pain. It's also apparently associated with PTSD (i.e., many people with an FMS diagnosis have had previous a previous PTSD diagnosis), so it's probable that the people dealing with this disorder are already traumatized and you can play on that to manipulate them.

As for words to use, I think "holistic" is a winner when trying to dupe people into spending lots of money on dubious cures and treatments. ;-)

04 October, 2005 00:04  
Blogger HaloJonesFan said...

Don't forget the buzzwords! (Some of these are repeats from earlier posts, of course.)

"poisons" or "toxins"
"lymph" (side note: funny how nobody ever discusses phlegm in their alt-med cures, even though leechcraft considered it a vital humor)
"corporation", "pharmaceutical industry" (or just "industry"), "Big Pharma", "salesman"
"only a theory"
"suppressed", or "they don't want you to know"

04 October, 2005 08:23  
Blogger Pierce Wetter said...

As an alternative medicine apprentice, I agree. Definitely pick a problem that Western medicine can't deal with effectively or where dealing with it effectively means "supressing symptoms". Our patients self-select for problems where a doctor wasn't able to help them, and I'm just fine with that; I go to the regular doctor myself.

I don't view what I do as a replacement for Western medicine, merely a supplement.

04 October, 2005 10:42  
Anonymous Dangerous Bacon said...

Yup, don't forget to exclaim about how you "treat the whole patient", not just "symptoms" or "the disease".

"Good for what ails you" worked well for the carny barkers; these days you want to talk about "adaptogens".

Stress the "cures" your enthusiastic testimonializers (whether imaginary or not) can vouch for.

04 October, 2005 18:44  
Blogger Autism Diva said...

ooooh, did we hit "healing crisis" yet?

05 October, 2005 02:03  
Blogger clone3g said...

You can't get better until you get worse! Herxheimer and all that. Die-off reaction. It's sign that the stuff is working as the toxins leave your body or the pathogenic organisms die and release their toxins. They don't WANT to die so they rage against the strong medicine for all they are worth

05 October, 2005 07:06  
Blogger JP said...

I need to co-opt "rage against the strong medicine" as either the name of my next band or a song title.

05 October, 2005 09:58  
Blogger bonni said...

You can't get better until you get worse!

And it's got to hurt if it's to heal? ;-)

12 October, 2005 19:15  

Post a Comment

<< Home