Bad drink

By Phil Plait | October 1, 2010 12:30 pm

One of the temptations of being a skeptic is knowing how easy it is to fool people, and wanting to use that knowledge to get filthy rich scamming marks. Watching homeopaths, astrologers, psychics, and others roll around in twenty dollar bills gets old fast, especially when I see skeptics starved for funds.

And oh, I get ideas. I’ve come up with lots of ways to make a lot of cash, including one that is absolutely guaranteed to make me millions of dollars with minimal initial investment on my part. I’m not kidding– I mentioned it to my wife, and her eyes lit up comically like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with little dollar signs in her irises*.

Plait-Tech-TonicsBut I can’t do it: it’s dishonest, and goes against everything I stand for. Stupid scruples.

But the temptation is there, and it gets worse when other people come up with great ideas, like what Pareidolius whipped up on Hell’s News Stand: Plait Tech-Tonics.

How can I not want to endorse this? With a slogan like "Dark energy, light taste" it can’t lose! We’ll make tons of money, and then use it to fund vaccine clinics, skeptic groups, critical thinking books and workshops for schools… but. But.

Sigh. It would still be wrong.

Being right and honest and ethical sucks. "Taste the sciencey goodness!" Sigh.

* And don’t even ask. Duh.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Cool stuff, Humor, Skepticism

Comments (83)

  1. imnotbusyatall

    My friends and I talk about this all the time, we’ve come up with some pretty hilarious scams.

    How long before people start putting up ideas, and less scrupulous people come trolling for research?

  2. Actually this might be a really good idea. No, seriously. I mean have some energy drink or whatever that’s totally nerd branded like this and have some large chunk of the profits go to science education. Good AND good for your society. Then maybe some of those skeptics would get some funding.

    And I love that name “Plait Tech-Tonics”. That’ awesome! :)

  3. Ray

    Steve has it right. Make a real energy drink and funnel the profits to education. Pitch that right and it will make a mint.

  4. Hey, sign me up as a distributor for my area! I could use a few extra bucks, and this area has plenty of suckers possible clients.

    Darn, darn, scruples.

    BTW, shouldn’t it be “Plait-Tech Tonics”?

  5. Chris

    Why don’t the homeopaths sell bottles of vacuum? With nothing in there, it has to be the most potent thing in the universe. Just try and open it to see how much it sucks!

  6. With the bonus that the bottle keeps expanding, and nobody really knows why.

  7. Jim

    But does it have electrolytes?

  8. Brian Schlosser

    “Harness the Power of Evolution in a sports drink: Dawkade!

    Its Refreshment… EVOLVED!â„¢”

  9. jasonB


    What you have here is a golden opportunity to educate people. Only take credit cards and only online. Take their money hold it. NO HIGH JINKS with it. In a month return it to their card and send an email and letter explaining what you did.

    Okay you’ll need to consult various lawyers and accountants on this but I think you have a very teachable idea here

    It immediately brought to mind the “experiment” Randi did in a college class with astrological “readings” and the whole Holy Mackerel moment the class experienced.

  10. Mchl

    Can I be representative for European markets? Pretty please? I’ll give you my soul in exchange!

  11. Gus Snarp
  12. bigjohn756

    Hey, “Everyone else does it”, why not you? That seems to justify a lot of things. Just ask Jay.

  13. jedipunk

    Use the bottle as the container for your drink of choice on your new show. Better yet keep water in it and say it is juiced/powered/verbed with hydrogen.

    Cooking shows make up packaging for the items they use all the time. They often chuckle a bit when someone emails asking them where they got XYZ ingredient because they cannot find any store carrying the brand on the show.

  14. When you think that you can’t do something like this because you have a conscience, remember this quote from one of the defining movies of my adolescent life:

    “And evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.”

    Dark Helmet, “Spaceballs The Movie”

    So it’s ok to be diabolical. It’s not your fault people are dumb enough to spend money on things that can be easily debunked by a tiny amount of research.

  15. If you decided to write a book about how we are all going to die in 2012 you could be one rich liar! You probably wouldn’t be too popular in 2013 though . . .


  16. Dr. Plait, I am quite surprised at this entry. You have not made it a secret that you are very skeptical of any supernatural supreme beings. You have even been labeled as an atheist. Well, according to the vast majority of this planet who are adherents of some supernatural being or another, they have defined atheists as immoral, with no scruples what so ever. I’m sure you can see the conundrum here. I suggest you immediately abandon this farce of morality and just go ahead and be a jerk.


    Man, that almost hurt to write. And count me in the group of people who have thought of ways to scam the stupids… It’s funny how all the 2012 beleivers seem to shut up at, “Let me hold your stuff on the 20th of December, 2012 then.”

  17. Don’t think of it as a swindle. Think of it as an object lesson in critical thinking.

  18. DrFlimmer

    Being right and honest and ethical sucks.

    But you have our entire support to stay as you are!!!!!!! Because, in the end, this IS the better way!

  19. I seriously think it’s a perfectly ok thing to sell if you do it as a novelty sort of thing with a proper disclaimer.

    I mean nobody thought selling the Pet Rock was scamming anyone. Everyone knew it was for fun.

  20. Brian

    If you deliver something of value (a drink) and you do not lie about what it is (aside from creative marketing speak) how is this unscrupulous?

    Is a bake sale unscupulous?

    Should I have to berate the Cub Scouts for selling me popcorn and candy bars?

    It is OK to make money – just do it honestly.

  21. Alex D

    Phil, I have to disagree with you. This is not “dishonest”. This is “sarcasm”. I, for one, would absolutely and gladly donate money to whatever cause this product were to support (assuming it’s one of the ones you mentioned) by buying one or ten of these, with full knowledge that it has no such application as such that is described in the advertisement. In fact, I would even go as far as saying that the ad is perfect in every way and should not change (unless there are legal questions to consider, of course).

    Anyone that doesn’t “get” the joke, and buys it because they actually believe the ad, then they deserve to be swindled. And besides, the same people that would be “swindled” by this product are the same people that believe in homeopathy and regularly send their money to snake oil peddlers. Why not direct their poorly aimed funds at a project that will actually benefit the world?

  22. Steve

    Ah, like the ‘tuned frequency’ bracelets that are supposed to relieve my arthritis and restore strength and balance? You are way above their ethical position, so go for it!

  23. Jim O

    When can I buy it? Great idea!


  24. Shadowslayer81

    Sounds like something you can sell on your website for extra money just for fun. With the right disclaimers and all. I’d rather drink that then Gatorade. Anyway i’m off to sell a dark matter mine to Nigerian scammers.

  25. PsyberDave

    Needs more Retsyn.

  26. 24601

    Shoot, who cares about trying to sell it to folks, I just want one of those bottles to put on my mantle ^_^

  27. Jeff Fite

    I wonder if this tastes good with Powdermilk Biscuits?

  28. I wrestle with similar conscience demons, but in my case I’d peddle phoney UFO paraphernalia.

    Of course, then I’d have to associate with the people who buy suck drek.

  29. This would be awesome, but needs to be changed (to make it ethical)

    Add the following footnotes to the original text (nothing better to make something academically scientifical than footnotes).

    “Homeopathy is so magical, so…yesterday.

    What you want is an energy drink based on science…the fresh, new sciency science of Nanopathy(TM)[1].

    Yes, Nanopahty, the science of nanoscopic robots[2] swimming free in bracing, fresh ‘n’ fruity, drink-like substance[3].

    Plait(TM) Tech-Tonics(R) are filled with billions of tiny, dark-matter nanobots[4], virtually undetectable without a patented Plaitronic Nanoscope(TM)[5]. But take this scientist’s word for it[6], they’re there, and now they’re pulsing with Placebo-enhanced Positronium-D(TM)[7]!

    Drinking a frosty Mango Macroscope is like swallowing a zillion tiny, dark-matter Piranhas that will make you feel exactly the way you expect to feel![8]

    Plait Nanopathic Drinks…if you can’t beat Alt Med, join Alt med!”

    Then add the footnote text (which should be one pt size bigger than the regular text)
    1. Nanopathy is the art and science of making fun of, ridiculing, and satirizing homeopathy and other alternative “medicines.”
    2. Otherwise known as natural bacteria and other single celled organisms found in ordinary tap water.
    3. Otherwise known as flavored tap water.
    4. Really, just bacteria, they’ve been with you for, like ever.
    5. Or a microscope.
    6. Or do some research yourself and double check these claims and post your results to be peer reviewed in our forums.
    7. Positronium-D is our feelings of elation at getting money from you for this drink to support science and science education…the more Mango Macroscope that’s bought the greater the quantity of Positronium-D.
    8. Or not. Regardless, that’s a simile and, literally,don’t take it literally.

    There, disclaimers bigger than the claims, and I think you’re well on the way to having a mega-awesome source of funds :) I’d buy it.

    I don’t like the last line, though. I’d prefer “If you can’t beat Alt Med, push them out of the market.” or something like that.

  30. Jennifer

    My Dad had an idea once: “Pennies From Heaven.” Fill a jar with pennies, glue it shut, sell it at an immense markup. These “holy” pennies will bring you good luck!

    But it would be wrong. :(

  31. Yllaria

    “For a limited time, made with additional dihydrogen oxide.”

    I want a bottle.

  32. Tom

    Why reword it at all? Just add a line of fine print reading:

    “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

    and you can get away with nearly anything.

  33. Tribeca Mike

    Mmm… Positronium…. drool…

    LOL by the way!

  34. Chris Winter

    I like the overall idea. The spoofiness is as apparent as dark matter isn’t.

    But… “Mango Macroscope”? Pareidolius might be hearing from Piers Anthony about that one. 😉

  35. Neon Sequitur

    I’m reminded of that famous Asimov quote from Foundation:

    “Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.”

  36. Grand Lunar

    You could have them sell this at NASA’s vistor centers. :)

    “Plait Tech-Tonics! The best thing since Tang!”

  37. Well, not wrong, just think of it as a tax for gullible people! And you should put your email on it. I’m quite sure, real or not, you would have at least a lot of orders!

  38. fletch

    Asteroid insurance.

  39. réalta fuar

    I VERY strongly suspect that Phil has no idea that could make him filthy rich of only he didn’t have those pesky scruples. There’s no reason to thing it’s particularly easier to have good unscrupulous money making ideas (that will actually work) than it is to have scrupulous and presumably legal ones (that will actually work). THINKING you have a good idea of any sort is easy, having one is, uh, hard. There’s no shortage of really smart con artists and grifters in the world (no reason to think a lot of them aren’t smarter than an average Ph.D. in astronomy), who spend lots and lots of time coming up with their own schemes, but the number of filthy rich grifters and con artists is surprisingly small (even if you include the religious hucksters).

  40. You should try their flavor, “Hope and Change.” Unfortunately it leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth after a couple of years. On the plus side astronomer’s cannot seem to get enough of it.

  41. I’m sorry, Phil, but your drink is high in baryons. Baryons make you fat.

  42. Chris A.

    @40 (The Arquette Sisters):
    Way to go off-topic, troll. BTW, learn proper punctuation; it will make you appear slightly less stupid.

  43. I agree with what some of the others say – sell the exact same thing others do, but don’t lie about its effects, be brutally honest about its ingredients, and as an experiment see if that sells. I’m sure in certain skeptic and sciencey circles it would do really well, and then it could expand into regular markets.

    There’s genuine potential in an approach like that.

  44. Make a sports water bottle I can take to the gym look like that though, I’d buy one! It could support JREF!

    A funny comic along a similar vein:

  45. Martin Tithonium

    /Being right and honest and ethical sucks./

    Yeah. I coulda been rich now, by getting into domain squatting a decade ago.

  46. When I was a planetarium curator, I frequently got calls about those “Name A Star” kits where you can have a 16th-mag star named for your kids, mistress, etc. Anyway, my standard response was to say, “These certificates have no validity outside the companies that print them. You might as well give the money to ME, and I’ll print you out something pretty from my own computer.”

    One day, I had said this to someone, and about an hour later, they called me back WANTING TO DO THAT!

    I hate when the smart thing to do isn’t the right thing to do.

  47. Ken (a different Ken)

    @9 (Jason B): I’d suggest a variant of that.

    Set up a site to sell the stuff, with the full credit card processing pages and everything.

    When someone enters their card, immediately dump the numbers (you DON’T want the liability of keeping those around) and send the truth email then.

    Keeping the money for a month has the potential liability if the person carries a balance on their card – you’d be costing them money and they’d be able to claim fraud (no idea if they could *prove* fraud, but they’d at least have a plausible case). If you never take the money nor even store the card numbers then I’d guess you’d be on firm ground that it’s a lesson not a scam.

    I would guess with the above setup you could even claim anything in the advert, since you’re clearly not intending to actually *sell* anything.

    P.S. Phil – the logo is *awesome*!!

  48. Harbo

    I have often thought, that would it be ethical, to practice medical woo (any sort) with the express purpose of identifying the genuinely ill and pushing them, gently, towards real healthcare…….
    And then ripping all you can get from the remaining “worried well”?? Yahoo
    Great post…..Again

  49. Christine P.

    That gave me a good chuckle! And we could use a lot more people in this world with your scruples. Especially in the financial institutions. And politics. I can dream, can’t I?

  50. I know the temptation. I’ve debated starting a supplement “company” off and on for years. Those goddamn ethics always win in the end, though.

  51. Jearley

    Contains real Quarks!!

    Great Idea, Phil. Seriously, there is no law preventing you from separating foolish people from their money. Nor is there (all too obviously) any law preventing anyone from separating people from their money in the name of religion, as long as they give it willingly.
    No, what is stopping you from doing this is your own morality- doing what is right. Good for you.

    I have often thought about selling liter bottles of air online with a statistical guarantee that they contain a molecule breathed out by Elvis. Haven’t done it yet, but if they cut the district budget any more, I may just have to!

  52. Thameron

    Plait Tech-Tonics. That’s good. That is real good. As a punster I am impressed.

    As for the idea itself – selling water bottles (and other merchandise) with that design to skeptics at say TAM or other events would keep your conscience squeaky clean, and if there was nothing in the bottle certainly that would eliminate a lot of production issues.

    It is too good an idea to simply let fall by the wayside. People need more puns.

  53. If you want to see the saga of a really bad drink, take a look at MMS – “Miracle Mineral Solution” – a concentrated solution of the bleaching agent Chlorine Dioxide touted as a cure-all for all sorts of diseases.

    15-year-old Rhys Morgan has been reporting on this for a while in the UK, and has led to a ruling from the Food Standards Agency. The whole story is on Rhys’s Blog at

  54. Yet Another Ken

    Phil, if you autograph it I’ll buy a bottle.

    Just don’t expect me to drink it! :)

  55. Daniel J. Andrews

    We keep discussing book ideas. We actually worked (for fun) with the same concept that later came out in The Secret, but we decided not enough people would be dumb enough to fall for that one. We really need to lower our opinions of the intelligence of the general population. “No-one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public”–Henry Mencken (put any country in there instead of American, and it would still apply).

  56. Stargazer

    I’ve been thinking about start selling some bogus stuff like this, too. At the library a few days ago I saw a teenage version of The Secret. Amazing, isn’t it? They made a fortune from the first book and the DVD’s, but somehow that’s not enough. So I thought, maybe I should write a book like that and make money. But yeah, it’s wrong.

  57. The temptation alone makes me wonder if some slightly less ethical skeptics are actually behind some of the products out there.

  58. Tim

    Sell 500ml bottles of ….

    …’Condensed Life Affirming Vapor. Specially formulated to contain twice as much hydrogen as oxygen.’

  59. Mike

    How about exoplanet astrology? You see Phil, on the day you were born, Glise 581 g was in retrograde, while HD 20945 b was transiting, so by nature, you are curios and inquisitive, letting your imagination lead you to greatness, but also letting your skepticism get in the way of accepting far greater things. See, I have a nack for this already. That will be $5 please.

  60. Rob G.

    I guess you’ll just have to settle for the money you earn from your books, $5K/speaking engagement fee, Bad Universe and all the other TV productions you’re involved with.

    *Pulls out world’s smallest violin and proceeds to play, “My Heart Bleeds for You”.*

  61. Chief

    Phil. Why not get into astrology, since Pluto is no longer a planet you have cornered the market as the others are now using outdated charts and maps. Trademark the changes and your home free. The best thing is you don’t have to research the market, just draw on existing models.

  62. Gary Ansorge

    Yes, so pesky to NOT be a sociopath, to actually have empathy for the less fortunate among us.

    I’ll bet Bernie Maddoff had to tussle with HIS “better angels” for all of 5 nano-sec, but his desire for wealth was too strong.

    My father made the point many times, that desire for wealth for its own sake was likely the true source of evil. On that score, I claim to be something of a cynic. As long as I can pay my bills and have a few bucks left for non essentials, I’m happy.

    I think Bill Gates put it most succinctly, when asked how he became so rich, ” I was lucky,,,”. He was in the right place, at the right time, with the right stuff, having fun working on interesting stuff and that resulted in a lot of money.

    Jerry Garcia was the penultimate hippy, who eschewed wealth yet, because he was really good at what he did and people loved his music, still ended up rich even though his objective in life was only to play the best music he could.

    Just be the best you can be at what you love. The rest will take care of itself.

    Gary 7

  63. Jeff

    that is why “tenure means you’ll be poor forever”, and believe me, it does.

    But the good news is, I worked with youngsters, and their children later, as students for decades and some of the nicest memories are not the fancy vacations, but the simple pleasures I had teaching their uncluttered young minds. Even the poorest kid sometimes is worth a billion dollars in personality.

  64. Old Grey Geologist

    Run with the first 3 comments. This would be an excellent way to raise a lot of $ for science education!!

  65. Pareidolius

    It is as I have foreseen . . . everything is going exactly according to my plan. Did I mention that it enlarges your telescope too?

  66. Annony

    I also share your unfortunate condition of having morals… I blame my parents, really.

  67. I like to think that the name “Plait-Tech Tonics” comes from me pointing out the Philippine (tectonic) plate to you at TAM 8.

    And if not, well, why do we skeptics have to suck the magic and fun out of everything? Why can’t we let people like us have our harmless delusions?

  68. Charlie in Dayton

    Things like this make me wonder…if they believe so strongly about homeopathy, why isn’t one of their number selling homeopathic whisky?

    Just a thought…

  69. David

    I don’t see the problem with ripping people off and then using the money to fund humanitarian efforts. I mean, if it’s OK for Bill Gates, then why isn’t it OK for everyone else?

  70. Messier Tidy Upper

    Awesome joke . I’d buy one knowing it was fake just for the LOLs. :-)

    You could even set up a whole “Satiricol” products range methinks…

    @30.Fizzygoo : Love those disclaimers – great comment. :-)

    @68. Charlie in Dayton :

    Things like this make me wonder… if they believe so strongly about homeopathy, why isn’t one of their number selling homeopathic whisky?

    Yeah, just try watering down someone’s drink to see if it gets them drunker … They won’t be happy! 😉

    Alcohol versus watered down alchol offers real “proof” (in more ways than one!) that homeopathy is BS. 😉

  71. Scottynuke

    FWIW, I’d go ahead and copyright “Tech-Tonics” before someone less scrupulous gets the idea… :-)

  72. Nigel Depledge

    It won’t sell.

    Dark energy is repulsive.

  73. Cairnos

    “Now Polonium Free!!”

  74. Old Muley

    Looks like it would be good with a bolognium sandwich.

  75. One of the things I used to be really, really good in school RE lessons was putting a positive, intellectual spin on religious topics. If I was a believer, or a less scrupulous nonbeliever, I reckon I could very easily carve out a little corner in the theological book market and by making myself into yet another Flea – only I could do it better than 9/10ths of the buffoons out there trying it on.


    It’s true. There is a book in everyone. But in my case, inside is exactly where it should stay.

  76. Hmm…

    Homeopathy-treated wood. Take ground termites in a 300X solution, and apply a thin coat to a plank of wood. Leave it to dry. Charge twice as much for all timber treated for resistance against termites.


    This is depressingly easy once the mind gets going.

  77. Smitty

    I’m with Steve on this one. I think it is actually a really Cool Idea.

    Sports/Fruit Punch/Energy drink sort of a thing… maybe throw in some of the popular vitamins perhaps, like the “brainy” ones.

    Make the flavor names science-y and astronomical. You have the “Dark Energy,” but use it for a flavor name along with Anti-Matter, Great Attractor, Rouge Star, Galaxy, etc. A portion of proceeds to go to science education, vaccination and general woo fighting.

    I gotta tell you though, “Plait Tech Tonics” is epic clever!

  78. This could really work if marketed appropriately. It reminds me of a lot of the stuff they sell on think-geek. I’ve seen energy drinks around that are called “life potion” and “mana potion” but nobody* really believes they restore your life or mana, it’s just fun.

    Go for it!

  79. Chip

    Phil, could I interest you in a Photon Generator? I have many of these futuristic devices around the house, even in the linen closet. 😀

  80. Jesper

    I’m sure you won’t be surprised if you get e-mail from people seriously asking you where they can buy your Nanopathy(TM) drink… Or when someday you walk into a store and you see a bottle that looks suspiciously like your invention…

    You have to watch out with these parody jokes – no matter how obviously fake it is, there are always people who really want to believe in it.

  81. DennyMo

    Thanks for the new addition on my cube wall at work. I’d buy a case just to sell at the next farmer’s market in town, lots of granolas in the community would go for it…

  82. Michael Kingsford Gray

    Take a close look at the label.
    In the metric portion, the quantity is measured in MegaLitres! (ML)
    Does that mean the bottle has more than the 4 spacetime dimensions?


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