Snake oil salesmen shouldn't meet dragons

By Phil Plait | February 5, 2010 2:30 pm

I don’t watch the show Dragon’s Den, though I’ve heard of it: potential entrepreneurs pitch their products to a group of wealthy investors in the hope that they will get some capital. The investors — the dragons — are blunt when they need to be, and it does make for an interesting show.

… especially when the guy who comes in pitching his wares is an alt-med quack who says his bottle of water will cure everything from pink eye to leukemia to cancer:

Too bad ultradistilled water doesn’t cure vulturism. That guy looks pretty unhappy as he left, but he was treated very nicely indeed compared to what he deserves.

MORE ABOUT: Dragon's Den

Comments (80)

  1. He claims to have sold thousands of bottles. My suspicion is that he has not received FDA approval for his product, for which he is making medical claims. I wish one of the dragons had brought that up. I liked the one with the purple tie and the glasses, though. Calling it exactly what it is.

    I can only hope that this is all staged. Please, please, let it have just been staged and not real.

  2. rob

    hey, it cures “indegestion”

  3. PlasticRectangle

    I watched this episode on TV (we get a new one every week in Canada) so I thought right away
    ‘what would the BA say?’ when I saw this guy!

  4. Ken

    It’s a Canadian show … sadly, we have pretty much the same stupid supplement laws that the US has.

    It’s not the first such product pitched on Dragon’s Den.

    A couple seasons ago a hippie chick was selling a similar water that was empowered by her happy thoughts and prayers. … she would pray at the water!

    She was confronted … What if sales take off? how will your production keep up? … “I’ll just pray at larger volumes of water, it won’t dilute the effect”. She was then laughed at, yelled at, and booted to the sidewalk.

    No different than homeopathy … just using a different magic ritual to empower the water.

  5. EinsteinsQuandry

    This guy reminds me of the 19th and early 20th century salesmen that would roll into town with their wagon and sell their cure alls.

  6. No that is not only sleazy but evil.

    The show Shark Tank in the US is basically the same with a couple of the Dragons changed to Sharks.

  7. Chris

    Ahh, that made my day. I guess there is hope for us (or at least the Canadians) after all.

  8. Chris

    Did anyone else notice he spelled indigestion “indegestion” and prostate “prostrate”?

  9. ISavant

    He also said it cures “prostrates”.

  10. Chris

    I loved how they threw the book that was part of his “research” on to the floor.

    (another Chris)

  11. AbuMaia

    I couldn’t watch this… I got to 1:15, as the guy was rattling off the different diseases it cures, and the Dragons were spritzing each other with the water and throwing each other “this guy’s a wacko” glances. I hate to see people embarrass themselves on television, and this guy really hit the ground running, so to speak.

  12. drow

    huzzah for the wealthy investors.

  13. Phillip

    I was looking for a list of things that it cures to see if “Prevents dehydration” I couldn’t find anything on the water but I did find

    http://www.himacresearch.com/default.html

    Supercarburetors that would not only give you 100+ miles to gallon, but would end cancer.

    On the links page, you find that he opposed a senate bill because it would “legally will make it a felony for non-MDs to suggest or to practice ANY form of Alternative Medicine. ”
    I wonder why he would be opposed to such a thing.

  14. jest

    I no longer have cable, but when I did, I enjoyed this show once in a while. They really rip people apart when they come up with absurd ideas. I really liked the one guy who basically said “you offend me.” I mean c’mon, a guy walks in and claims he has what I could only call Jesus Water. If the cure were that simple, it wouldn’t cost that much nor would it be still be undiscovered by now.

  15. Barrett808

    Speaking of snake oil, what’s up with this climate-change denialist who’s talking smack about our Phil?

    “He should then realize his own heavy responsibility in not placing himself at the forefront of misusing science.”

    Bad Astronomer, Worse Climatologist
    http://omniclimate.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/bad-astronomer-worse-climatologist/

  16. NthDegree256

    I’m not usually one for schadenfreude but there was something very cathartic about that video. The moment where he weaseled out with “I do not prescribe and I do not diagnose, all I do is inform and supply people!” I lost any shred of sympathy for his embarrassment.

  17. Jack Mitcham

    It’s actually a Canadian import of a British show. I used to watch the British version on BBC America.

    Excellent clip. AbuMaia, I strongly suggest watching the last 2 minutes or so. The Dragons REALLY tear into the guy. It’s no longer him embarrassing himself, it’s him getting verbally torn apart.

  18. Melanie (Australia)

    All over at 51 seconds!

  19. Grimbold

    Ye gods! The Dragons did treat him quite kindly, didn’t they? If I’d been a Dragon, I wold have called him a lying fraud to his face.

  20. Dan

    1) Try to scam people who are highly experienced business owners using distilled water
    2) ??????
    3) Profit!

    Seriously, what was he thinking?

  21. The clip says the product is is water with silver in it. That means it is colloidal silver.

    Colloidal silver was used in medicine in the late 19th and early 20th century.

    HOWEVER …

    … prolonged used of colloidal silver causes silver particals to build up in the skin, and when exposed to sunlight the silver particles tarnish, turning the user’s skin blue. This is a condition known as Argyria.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argyria

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahihGKZC5Kk

    Medical science discontinued using silver colloid a long time ago.

    I will not entirely say that the product is bogus. As already mentioned colloidal silver does act as an antibiotic. I seriously doubt that it does all the guy claims it does, and I am very glad the dragons sent him on his way.

    I certainly wouldn’t use it unless I had no other choice.

  22. jest

    Dan, I have a feeling you can probably omit the word “thinking” from the guy’s business plan. Unless the word “thinking” is associated with “ways to dupe people.”

  23. Jack Mitcham

    Grimbold:

    I’m pretty sure they did. Did you watch the whole clip?

  24. Grimbold

    I don’t recall that they used the exact words “fraud” or “liar”, but they did heavily imply it.

  25. Did he warn of the potential hazards? Drowning? Electrolyte imbalances caused by excess consumption? Potential for electrocution? Danger of adding pure sodium metal? The fact that it is made of two ingredients which, when separated and then exposed to a source of ignition, may explode?

    These guys aren’t dumb. I’m sure they were thinking of these liability issues.

  26. ScottW

    OMG this is hilarious.

    Has anyone who follows the alt-med crowd ever run across this guy?

  27. “…you don’t understand what I’m trying to do.”

    What is it with these people? They have some kind of supreme knowledge over everyone else? But he has books! Ahhh, it must all be ok if all the wingnut theories are written down!

    Kudos to Dragons Den for showing this show, it really exposed the inner workings of the alt-med crowd.

  28. R-man

    I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I watch this video. Maybe it’s the mineral water with silver.

    The Dragons knew from the word go that this was a quackery sale. You could see it the second he mentioned H1N1. The lady was the politest – reading his ‘research’ before announcing it was complete rubbish.

    Also liked how he saw that the “professional businessman” approach wasn’t working, so he switched to the “lone crusader who no one understands” approach, and then segued swiftly into “I’m right and you’re wrong”.

    The devolution of a snake-oil salesman. Classic

  29. Ron

    26 asked: “Has anyone who follows the alt-med crowd ever run across this guy?:

    No, but if you attend a “healing arts” fair you will see dozens of quacks just like him. Sadly most of the people at those fairs would never bother to question any claim for any “alternative” product. In new age circles the label alternative is considered sacred. I would guess that such fairs is where he could have sold thousands of bottles of his worthless water.

  30. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    (nelson) Ha-ha! (/nelson)

  31. I can’t believe this guy didn’t get screened before entering the show. He’s clearly crazy.
    And the worst part is, he doesn’t even seem like he wants to scam people, he genuinely believes in what he does.

    I feel sorry for the “thousands of people” who bought this product expecting a cure :|

  32. @ BarMonger (#31)

    I think that was the best thing that could have happened. If someone watching that wingnut give that presentation still wasted money buying his product, then they are as crazy as him. I think the show deliberately accepted him on to nail him to the wall, the producers knew what they were doing.

  33. Charlie Young

    I’d say calling BS pretty much means calling him a fraud or a liar.

  34. @ #32

    I guess you are right, keeping him off the show would also keep him in business. At least this way some people might see him for what he really is.

  35. Billingham

    I don’t know why the Dragons laughed him off the stage. It appears that you can make billions of dollars selling water as medicine to a…misguided…public. It’s sound investment, if you’re the sort of big-time venture capitalist without a social conscience.

    I wonder if you did this on national TV, had the investor SAY that his motives were getting involved in a scam, and still convince people it worked.

  36. Gary Ansorge

    There are plenty of people who truly believe they have unfettered access to ultimate knowledge. He seems to fall in that category.

    I will note that copper has very powerful anti-biotic properties. It kills staph, e-coli and just about any other bacteria on contact. It’s great for a kitchen cutting board however, I would not recommend anyone ingest pure, metallic copper. I’m pretty sure that could prove just as lethal to a complex organism as to a bacterium. Not sure about the adverse effects of ingesting metallic silver.

    He has some of the biggest cajonnes I’ve ever seen. I can’t even imagine the arrogance required to make such a pitch in front of serious money people. Maybe he thought they just inherited all their money and had nothing better to do than piss it away.

    Gary 7

  37. What he and his kind will now say is “See! The big-money fat-cats are trying to suppress our efforts to bring healing to the people! That’s why the FDA and other organizations are fighting us. It’s all a vast conspiracy.”

    What these snake-oil salesmen don’t realize is that if this stuff worked they wouldn’t be able to move down the street for the crowds trying to buy their product and they would similarly have their movement hindered trying to squeeze past their competition.

  38. Sara

    You know, I think this idiot believes it. I would have more respect for him if he was truly running a con. Then I could feel contempt without any sort of pity.
    But he is just a deluded martyr, which makes him both dangerous and stupid. People who believe their own lies are dangerous – they pull in everyone who doesn’t want to use their brains to think about the hard things. They drag in mindless people by providing a simple solution for those who cannot face having no answers, not knowing why things happened, or how to fix the bad things.
    I suppose a good person should probably have some compassion for him. I’m not such a good person I guess.

  39. That was great! Prostrate! :lol:
    Sounded like it might have been colloidal silver…
    Snake oil is right! Good riddance!

  40. ND

    Sara,

    Sometimes I wonder about if they actually believe in what they say or not. Why? Because there are people who believe in stuff like this. But a good con artist will also be very good at emotional manipulation and playing with sympathies. If this guy is a straight con artist then he knows he will be called on it and receive a harsh critique and will be ready with an “emotional” response. He will act like he’s hurt, insulted and attacked unfairly. If he deeply believes what he’s saying, then there is no need to act as it will be a natural reaction. And I can’t always tell the difference between the two. But I’ll be going with con artist rather than genuine believer.

  41. While I enjoy a quack getting what’s coming to ‘em, I’ve never been a fan of Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank just because these investors offer some of the most lowball deals for majority stakes.

  42. MikeJ

    There is a legitimate use of silver in wound care dressings for its antimicrobial properties. I wonder if this guy hopes to take advantage of that by trying to portray himself as offering a product similar to that of manufacturers who actually have clinical data.

    I think it’s great they put him on the show. Hopefully some of the people watching were potential customers of this con artist, and now they won’t trust him for a second.

  43. Brian Smith

    While I enjoy a quack getting what’s coming to ‘em, I’ve never been a fan of Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank just because these investors offer some of the most lowball deals for majority stakes.

    Considering that probably >75% of the businesses are going to fail before they ever turn a profit, I can’t say I blame them. You need the winners to be HUGE winners if you’re going to play the VC game.

  44. Tom K.

    I’m too much of a skeptic to think this wasn’t all part of the script. Who would put that garbage out in front of real thinking people on purpose. Google the product if you are interested in buying it, then see this video, no sale. It is cool though that they would use this format to expose these kinds of scams.

  45. Brian

    The only way that clip could have been improved is if they had said “BS” to his face even more times.

  46. This guy made it past the producers for the same reason Larry Pratt made it in front of Simon, Randy, and the other American Idol judges to sing “Pants on the Ground”. It makes for good television.

    And damn, that was some good television.

  47. Mike

    Wow that was painful to watch. I almost felt bad for the guy, but he’s nuts! He honestly seemed to believe in his $18 water spritzer.

  48. Mary

    This guy’s company —-has established a mandate to raise public awareness on an important scientific finding that has been suppressed by hypocritical governments and greedy oil companies and automobile manufacturers: the supression of a super-high mileage fuel conversion carburetor system. —–quoted from his website
    http://www.himacresearch.com/default.html
    This carbeurator will improve your mileage by a truly unbelievable amount and prevent cancer. —The Air Pollution Solution is the Answer to Cancer and more.— quoted from site.
    Whoa, his site sets one’s mind into a spin. It is quite remarkable, really. It intrigues me how people can come up with this stuff– and more intriguing, but sad, that he can convince some people he is right.

  49. Jeremy

    Sadly for Bruce, it doesn’t appear to cure stained teeth.

  50. PJE

    I agree with #45 (Tom K) and #47 (Carey).

    I’ll bet that this person was intentionally given a spot for ratings. They’ve done it before on the show.

    I’m sure there is money in selling this stuff to an ignorant public, and the Dragons are there to make money (or so they say…one of them mumbled something about profits going to charity at one point but I can’t remember when).

    I’m positive that none of these Dragons would put themselves in a position on of investing in shady, unscrupulous business practices.

    On an unrelated note, I’m playing Dungeons and Dragons tomorrow! But there won’t be hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake :)

    Pete

  51. Mike Wagner

    They’re not always the most sensible investors.
    Brett handed over 5 grand to a “new age” kid who ran a stick around a ceramic pot and flexed his hands a lot. In that case it was a gift, rather than a profitable investment but it was sad to see this potential role model buying into the shtick.

  52. MadScientist

    I wonder if the wealthy investors know what will be on beforehand and get some advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Hmm … that reminds me, no one’s been asking me if it’s good to invest in Gizmo-X lately – maybe that’s because hardly anyone wants to put money into investments scams these days. I wonder if it’s just my imagination or if every single investment opportunity friends have asked me about have been nothing but get-rich-quick scams like the pill to double a car’s gas mileage.

  53. Troy

    They wouldn’t mention FDA (#1 Todd W.) because the FDA isn’t Canadian, they have something else.

    The Food Directorate, the Therapeutic Products Directorate and the Natural Health Products Directorate in the Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) administer the regulations pertaining to food, drugs and natural health products (a subset of drugs). The enforcement and compliance activities relating to drugs and natural health products is conducted by the HPFB Inspectorate.

  54. I wish Randi was one of the dragons. That would be fun.

    Speaking of Randi, he could get $1 million out of the $2.5 million that he wanted from the JREF. That would surely help his business. He’d just have to prove that his product works, of course.

  55. One Eyed Jack

    Good stuff!

    I’d love to see more quacks treated like this, but would they have been so dismissive if it was a priest peddling holy water? Sadly, I doubt it.

  56. There could be a market for this stuff…

    for people who want to turn blue.

  57. R2K

    Phil your paragraph is misleading, the spray contains silver. While there is no way this silver spray does what he claims, silver is anti-microbial. It will probably help clean your hands. It is a scam, but it is NOT just distilled water.

  58. apaeter

    I loved how he kept calling this flimsy pamphlet a book. I mean, these were ten sheets of paper with a staple through. I wonder if he’s ever seen an actual book.

  59. sgiffy

    I think in all his genius he forgot that Word does not check the spelling of words in all-caps unless you tell it to.

    @R2k, May even offer some help with cuts and the like. I mean not as good as real medicine, but even just irrigating a cut can help. And I think that silver in some form is used to treat warts, but I doubt there is sufficient concentration in his spray bottle to actually do much of anything.

  60. sorrykb

    The sad part is, this might actually make sense as an investment. People are all too willing to buy snake oil. Of course, there is that problematic moral dilemma (aka the “Bruce… you disgust me” problem) But maybe the magic silver water cures that too…

  61. JJ

    This is the same thing as Shark Tank, 2 of those “dragons” are the same. Not only is this guy a total quack, he can’t even spell for such an important business pitch, total moron. “I’ve done the research…”, this guy should be committed and the government should outlaw homeopathic products. I feel bad for the people that bought his magic water, it’s cruel and unusual punishment for those with serious ailments.

  62. Keith (the first one)

    Unfortunately JJ (63), you can’t ban homeopathic products because you can’t ban water.

  63. Bunk

    “How much have you sold?”
    “Thousands of bottles! Um, $40,000 to $60,000 in the last few years.”
    “That makes your company worth $10,000,000?”
    “In my mind, it’s worth $100,000,000, so it’s a real bargain.”

    That exchange really cracked me up. I want 2.5 million dollars.> Tell me about your business!> I can narrow my sales down to a fairly wide range over an unspecified amount of time.> Oh yeah, I really want to give you some of my money!

    That guy has a bottle of snake oil in the accounting department too.

  64. JJ

    Maybe I should have said outlaw the sale of homeopathic products.

  65. Cures prostrates? So that cures me when I suddenly have the urge to lay flat on my face!?

    Also, indigestion in 30 seconds? I’ve had some wicked indigestion in my lifetime and I DO drink water but it’s a slow slow process to get rid of it. Now knowing that distilled water laced with silver is the cure, I know what I’ve been doing wrong!

    He got his @ss handed to him. :)

    Anyone notice he left at least $90 worth of water with the Dragons? Must not be that good. ;)

    edit: just noticed that indigestion is misspelled too!

  66. tsig

    Asking people for money then saying it isn’t about the money. Pathetic

  67. I should really bring this up now… About a century ago, a snake oil salesman presented to Mark Twain the very same miracle-cure arguments this guy here did. Mark Twain responded with a charming, witful letter:
    http://boingboing.net/2010/01/27/letter-from-mark-twa.html

  68. Traffic Demon

    “bacteria of every kind, including the H1N1 swine flu virus”

    Biology Fail.

  69. Pieter Kok

    That Mark Twain letter is fantastic!

  70. fred edison

    Sleazebag comes to mind when I watched that despicable swindler hawk his illusionary wares of broken promises.

  71. @Troy

    Yeah. I didn’t realize when I posted that it was a Canadian show.

  72. Bill

    Key point – the Dragon Lady (sorry, don’t know her name) after reading through the pamphlet, simply said “This isn’t medical research.” And if he really wanted to present a valid argument, he would have brought his most reputable reference material to support his position. What did he bring? A pamphlet that anyone with a simple word-processor program could create. If he really wanted to prove his point, he would at least have brought statistics from a double-blind study, even if he did it himself with a tiny sample group. Oh, wait a minute – what would he use as his placebo? Distilled water? So he would have been comparing placebo to placebo? Fail.

  73. Astrofiend

    This guy’s product cures prostrates – I think he may have discovered a cure for religious fundamentalism!! I knew that arguments based on reason and science couldn’t do it – you need to fight fire with fire, and nonsense with nonsense. Only then can you reach the critical density of pure nonsense required for implosion into a giant whirling vortex of contradictions, outlandish claims and super-dumb characterised by negative evidence density.

  74. I’m sure that it should cure thirst…

  75. BigBadSis

    Reminds me of the episode of “Here Come the Brides” when Jeremy (Bobby Sherman) believed the snake oil salesman who came into Seattle, and sold him his magic water that he claimed could cure Jeremy’s stuttering. Really sad. I’m proud to say they proved him a fraud by the end of the show.

  76. Markle

    @64

    Keith (the first one) Says:
    Unfortunately JJ (63), you can’t ban homeopathic products because you can’t ban water.

    What you can do is shut someone down for deceptive marketing practices. Claiming that your distilled water cures cancer would be one of those practices.

  77. Chris

    I wish they would have just flat out said it. I knew they wouldn’t, because it would have been considered slander, but still:

    “You are presenting a sham product as a cure for cancer. Because of you, sick people are using this product instead of seeking proven medical help. Because of your willful, informed actions, people are dying, and it is your fault. You sir are a murderer.”

    You’d think these people wouldn’t be so numerous, their own beliefs mean they should be dying off left and right.

  78. Michael Swanson

    I know I’m chiming in late but…ultra-distilled water stored in cheap plastic bottles? Not ultra-distilled for long then, is it? That jackass got off easy. I would like to see that scene unedited to know if the rest of group chimed in. Only two of the five had anything forceful to say.

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