Dragons Invest in Snake Oil

I like to believe that we are tending towards a market where a lack of science sense is a lack of business sense. In the domain of medicine, history illuminates the progress of evidence-based practices, taking us from medieval blood letting to the modern clinic guided by the pursuit of truth: science. In 2017, can investments in blatantly implausible and scientifically unsound products still yield a return? The CBC’s Dragons’ Den put that to the test.

On episode 9 of season 12, Dragons’ Den featured a duo from Collingwood, Ontario pitching a product known as the Neuro Connect. Produced by Greg Phillips (no evident scientific background) and Mark Metus (a chiropractor who practices pseudoscience clinically) through their corporation NeuroReset, the Neuro Connect appears to be nothing more than a set of metal clips.

The Neuro Connect.
The Neuro Connect. Retrieved from: https://neuroreset.ca/product/neuro-connect-lifestyle-set-3-green/ (November 25, 2017)

So how do the inventors justify the $80 price tag? They claim that the product carries “a subtle energy pattern that wakes up the sensory nerve receptors” offering to improve the wearers “balance, control, and strength.” They go as far as to claim that the product offers “immediate improvement in your balance and muscle function.” How does it do this? The inventors claim that an energy field is produced through a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. Of course, this is not how quantum entanglement works, illustrating that – in addition to not understanding physics – the inventors created a product which almost certainly does not work.

Despite such blatant flaws, the Dragons failed to uphold the standards of critical appraisal viewers have come to love. While it’s unreasonable to think that they could perform a thorough examination of a product’s scientific merits on air, I would have thought that the Dragons would at least not be susceptible to simple magic tricks. That’s right, magic tricks. Based on the segment that aired, the Dragons were convinced of the technology’s efficacy all from a technique commonly used to promote the pseudoscience of applied kinesiology.

The technique is less of a demonstration of the product in action and more of an exploration of the frailties and shortcomings of human psychology. The classic technique involves pushing down on a patient’s arm in two separate trials. The first trial is a test of the patient’s baseline strength when the practitioner pushes on their outstretched arm. The second test requires the patient to hold an item purported to weaken or strengthen them before the practitioner pushes their arm. The patient will very likely notice a difference between tests, but it’s not a result of some vitalistic energy force. Rather, it’s a result of the power of suggestion and the practitioner’s influence (remember, the one making the bold claims is also the one providing the force).

Dragons’ Den’s Michele Romanow falling for a classic gimmick. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/neuroreset-inc (Nov. 25, 2017)

Ultimately, the test is unscientific and doesn’t possess the most basic requirement of patient and practitioner blinding. In essence, it’s a magic trick, which isn’t surprising considering it’s coming from a chiropractor who uses wands. I wonder what investment I could muster from the Dragons with a hat that makes rabbits disappear.

If magic clips don’t interest you, the duo also offers an entirely implausible spray:

“You can spray me and make me more athletic?”

Michele Romano

“Yes.”

Mark Metus

Allowing this uncritical promotion is nothing short of irresponsible. The show trespassed on reprehensible when the duo took the opportunity to pitch further unsubstantiated claims to the Dragons and their audience.

“You’re hitting the [golf ball] straighter?”

Jim Treliving

“Absolutely. Every sport has an application with our product, whether it’s hockey, baseball…”

Greg Phillips

“What are the other real-world applications?”

Manjit Minhas

“Well healthcare for sure. And the elderly for sure. My mother, she says ‘I just feel like I’m going to fall over, but when I put the device on, I never feel like I’m going to fall over‘ because it helps regulate her balance.”

Mark Metus

Some Dragons were evidently more critical than others.

Dragons1
Both duped, Michael Wekerle and Manjit Minhas portrayed different levels of skepticism. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/neuroreset-inc (Nov. 25, 2017)

Manjit offered $100,000 for 30% of the company, but five other Dragons jumped on the deal to usurp her. I’m not naive enough to believe that televised deals are real, but – if this one goes through – I hope for the sake of public health and consumer protection that the Dragons lose out.

A Frightening Thought
A Frightening Thought. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/neuroreset-inc (Nov. 25, 2017)

I’m not the only person appalled at this lapse in skeptical thinking. Dr. Joe Schwarcz – Director of McGill’s Office for Science and Society – had his own criticism for the show and its guests:

Joe Schwarcz
Joe Schwarcz. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/joeschwarcz (November 25, 2017)

Dr. Terry Polevoy – a veracious health watchdog – was equally critical and suggested appeals to the regulatory bodies:

Dr. Terry Polveoy
Dr. Terry Polevoy. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/pg/NeuroReset-Inc-120010445363940/reviews/ (November 25, 2017)

Even the Reddit Skeptic community had many users calling the product a blatant scam. I can, at least, think of one use for these magic clips:

How the product should be used.
How the product should be used. Image retrived from: https://neuroreset.ca/product/neuro-connect-lifestyle-set-3-green/ (November 25, 2017).

10 thoughts on “Dragons Invest in Snake Oil

  1. Dollarette (@dollaretteco) Reply

    This shows that the lack of scientific knowledge in Canada is widespread. Canadians have become regressive over the last 10 years as it slipped into emerging market status.

  2. Eileen Herbert Reply

    I have heard these claims on satellite radio programs. Retired nurse in my 70s . If there was a scientific basis for this , I could be interested but it just did not sound right to me . And a ‘spray ‘ version ?
    That really was the clue that this is bogus. SPRAY ON IMPROVED ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE ? Just
    not happening .

  3. Richard Dean Reply

    This is a REALLY old carnival scam, most magicians / mentalists and hypnotists know this trick.
    It is explained here : https://sciencebasedlife.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/exposing-the-power-balance-con/

  4. Tim Cheyne Reply

    Fake sceince, son’t waste your money on a piece of plastic with a clip om it.

  5. Gail Gibbons Reply

    As time goes on the last laugh will all be on you. I was in a very bad car accident and went to physiotherapists for 5 years…with little help. Within half a year Mark had me so much better that I can even do things that I didn’t think I would be able to do again. The QAT discs help me reset myself for pain and help me maintain my balance. Now that I can golf again the clips can work in the same manner. He will prove everyone wrong in time. Gail Gibbons

    1. Ryan Armstrong Reply

      I’m glad to hear you are feeling better. Unfortunately, it was almost certainly not due to any “Quantum Alignment Technique,” which is implausible, unproven, and even demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes quantum mechanics. If Dr. Metus believes the entire scientific and medical communities to be mistaken, he is welcome to conduct the research to validate his absurd claims. Further, I am so confident that Dr. Metus is entirely misguided that I would gladly debate him on these issues in any public forum.

      Regarding your personal experience, I would recommend watching this great video by The Body of Evidence describing what an anecdote is and why our own personal experiences are generally not sufficient to determine causality, especially with complex medical conditions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDlPoSSVPuA

  6. Gail Ann Gibbons Reply

    The last laugh will be on all you disbelievers. I was in a bad car accident in 2011. I went to physiotherapists twice a week for 5 years with not much help. Then was recommended to Mark and he is my god sent. Within half a year he got me pain free and I am now able to do more things then I thought I could and he showed me how to reset myself. Have not been to him for close to a year but had to just go back recently and I know he will have me back in great shape.

    In my books he is a hero and I highly recommend him to everyone I know.

    1. Ryan Armstrong Reply

      I find it strange that you felt compelled to submit a second comment very similar to your first. They are starting to read more like advertisements . . .

      Nonetheless, as you have clearly been in communication with Dr. Metus, perhaps you can relay to him that my offer to debate stands. Further, if Dr. Metus would be interested in an interview, I would happily connect with him and write a follow-up piece, offering him an opportunity to defend his seemingly indefensible claims.

      1. Gail Ann Gibbons Reply

        Sorry I wrote two similar comments. It was because when I had posted the one it was not showing up so I did it again.

        I will pass on your remarks, but may I also say to you there is a way of replying to people that you don’t have to sound so arrogant.

        1. Ryan Armstrong Reply

          Perhaps you mistake arrogance for confidence. I know that Dr. Metus has not conducted nor published any peer reviewed controlled trials on his devices and I know that he also fundamentally misunderstands physics as this happens to be my area of expertise. As another commenter pointed out, approaches that Dr. Metus uses to convince people that his devices are effective are merely parlor tricks that have historically been performed by magicians and snake-oil salesmen. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Dr. Metus a con artist because he seems to truly believe in what he does.

          It’s hard for anyone to hear that they’ve been deceived, so I am truly sorry that has happened to you. I would caution you against spending any additional money on these products.

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