The economic downturn may mean that you are thinking of retraining as an alternative healer. You might be tempted to invest your redundancy money or savings in training courses and equipment. Think again. It may be far cheaper and much more lucrative to invent your own brand new form of quackery. Most forms of alternative medicine are at most only a few decades old or have only become popular recently. If others can become famous and wealthy by doing this, why can’t you?
Here is the Quackometer’s Guide to inventing a new branch of alternative medicine in ten easy to digest and holistic tips:
1. Minimise specific effects
Right. Let’s get one thing out of the way. Your newly designed alternative medicine is very unlikely to actually work. Progress in medicine does not happen with people just making stuff up, but instead relies on remarkable insight, careful analysis, detailed research and long and expensive clinical trials, with lots of false starts and wrong turns before progress is made. You will not have the time, inclination, money or intellect for this.
So, with little chance of being able to offer real benefit to your clients, the best you can do is to ensure you do as little as harm as possible. To this end, make sure your new quackery is inert, neutral and inconsequential in action. Take your inspiration from existing and successful alternative medicine. Homeopathy is just plain sugar pills. Acupuncture is just little pin pricks. Reiki is just hand waving. Bach Flower Remedies is just a few drops of brandy. Reflexology is just a foot massage. Even chiropractic is just a vigorous body rub.
If you make the mistake of delivering real effects, then you may well be found out and your new business will come to sticky end. That is why we do not see old sorts of quackery anymore such as blood letting and trepanning.
2. Maximise placebo effects
Make your treatment theatrical. Make your customer feel as if they have been listened to, been taken seriously, and then had lots of effort made on them to create a cure. This will ensure any available placebo effect is maximised. People will feel better about themselves if you make the effort. We know that the more dramatic the intervention, the greater any placebo effect will be.
So, spend at least an hour with your customer, asking lots of detailed questions, just like a homeopath. Use arcane terms and be thoroughly paternalistic, just like an old-fashioned doctor. Wear a white coat and have a brass plaque outside your spick and span clinic – just like a chiropractor. Get an impressive Harley Street address. Use equipment with dials and flashing lights. Take x-rays. Put certificates on your wall and, if you are doing well, have attractive receptionists. Give the impression you are creating your cure just for this patient. They are special. Make them feel so.
3. Choose what you want to cure carefully
The bread and butter illnesses for alternative medicine are the self-limiting (hayfever, flu, morning sickness) and the chronic but variable and cyclical (bad backs, arthritis, mild depression). The number one reason for people believing in alternative medicine is that it ‘works for them’. What this means is that their particular complaint just happened to improve sometime after rubbing whatever magic beans they had chosen.
Chronic illnesses are ideal – they represent repeat business. Bad backs are a classic. People will come to you when their backs are really playing up. Cast your spells, crack their bones and stick a pin in them and their pain will become less noticable. It will have gone away anyway. But now you have a loyal and evangelical customer. Correlation is causation to your customer. “Regression to the mean” is your friend. Understand it and use it.
Have excuses ready if things are not quite getting better yet – or even if things are getting worse. Homeopaths expect to see ‘aggravations’, that is, things getting worse before they get better. To them, it is more proof that the sugar pills are ‘working’. Have a story ready for every outcome, good or bad. Never admit you have failed.
Avoid illnesses with obvious end points, like death. Getting payment may be the least of your problems. If you want to be heroic and tackle illnesses like AIDS and cancer, best do it offshore. Find a country with fewer regulations, much lower standards of healthcare and more vulnerable people. Homeopaths tend to go to Africa to treat AIDS or prevent malaria. They might be imprisoned here. Find a nice spot in Spain for treating cancer. Or Mexico, if you are from the US.
Invent a ‘wellness’ programme. Tell people you can help them even if they are feeling fine. It’s preventative, you see. Chiropractors are masters at roping people into prolonged, expensive and unnecessary treatment programmes, all in the name of ‘wellness’. Nutritionists ensure people are popping highly ‘personalised’ lists of vitamin and mineral pills and creating a continuous and easy revenue stream for you.
Perhaps the most lucrative path is to invent illnesses. Create your own problems, diagnostic techniques and cures and you can provide an end-to-end service of imaginary illnesses and cures. The Detox industry has thrived on this. Food intolerances and allergies have made shed loads for vitamin pill sellers. Electrosensitives have been sold millions of pounds worth of useless EMF trinkets and neutralising boxes. People love their daily aches and pains, tiredness and mood swings to have a name and to have something to blame. You can provide a wonderful service by filling in the gaps for them.
4. Embrace the language of quackery
It is compulsory that you start using a few alternative medicine terms. ‘Holistic’ is probably the most important one. It will mark you out as a caring alternative type who wants to get to the ‘real’ causes of your illness, rather than superficial, but ‘money spinning’ ones, like viruses, genes and your smoking habit.
It does not really matter how monomaniacal your treatment is. All homeopaths ever do is dish out sugar pills and blame problems with your vital force. Acupuncturists stick pins in you and blame blocked Chi. A chiropractor will crack bones, even if you have an ear infection, and blame subluxations. Toxins cause all illness. So do parasites, acidic blood, vitamin and mineral depletion, miasms, vibrations, whatever. Pick one and stick to it. Describe yourself as holistic. No one will notice that you are the exact opposite.
‘Natural’ is another compulsory word. Do not trouble yourself that your treatment is completely unnatural. Vitamin pill sellers claim naturalness, despite their ‘food’ being the most highly processed and ‘space age’ form of nutrition imaginable. Be careful about what sort of ‘naturalness’ you highlight. Bach Flower Remedies work because they embrace the ‘goodness’ of the countryside hedgerow flowers. As John Diamond remarked, the public imagination might not have been quite so transfixed by ‘Bach Spider Remedies’.
Avoid using the term ‘alternative’ to describe your ‘medicine’. It is very 20th Century, and also frightens a potential lucrative source of income – government and insurance companies. Even ‘complementary’ medicine is falling out of favour. The hot button is ‘Integrative’. You want your business integrated with the health care provision of the state and private sectors. There is lucre there beyond your wildest fantasies – and the respectability of state endorsement. You do not want to be an alternative to a real doctor. Nor do you want to be complementary to them (some may see this as secondary and inferior). No, you want to be a ‘choice’ – a ‘lifestyle choice’ for the modern health consumer, and they can select you from within a single integrated market. Choice is the biggest biggest buzz word in healthcare politics in the UK. Make sure you offer it. People critising you will look like they are restricting consumer choice – always a bad thing.
5. Adopt the victim posture
Sooner or later, you may be asked why your new medicine has not been more wildly accepted and recognised by the medical establishment. The answer is simple: you are being suppressed by that very establishment. A powerful cabal of vested interests is trying to prevent the public from knowing about your discoveries and successes. ‘Big Pharma’ is the bogey man here. Use them to frighten the child in your customer. Highlight medicine’s failings and side effects and never mention their successes. If a critic highlights the successes of medicine, deny them and blame sanitation or fresh vegetables, or something. Under no circumstances, should you ever admit that a vaccination might be a good thing.
Say your invention cannot be patented and commercialised. No one can make money out of it (apart from you, but don’t mention that).
If a critic asks you for evidence about your treatment, then do anything but answer the direct question. Scream that the questioner is closed minded and probably a shill from Big Pharma. Say that your patients’ successes are all the proof you need. Claim that your technique does not lend itself well to ‘conventional’ scientific testing. But if some dodgy paper does exist, then wave it around furiously, despite just having claimed that science cannot measure what you do.
6. Wear the mantle of science
People love science. They do not understand it, but they love the authority of science. Most people form opinions based on various authorities in their life. So, embrace the authority of scientific language, but ignore the methods of science – the methods may show you are speaking hogwash. Your customers will not be interested in the details. They will never check references or take the time to understand what you mean. But they will be impressed by science experts and scientific language.
Quantum physics is your friend. Few people have any appreciation of it. And you can use the language of quantum physics to form cod explanations for whatever you like. Prefix the word ‘quantum’ to your treatment name. It sounds really impressive. Tell critics that they are stuck in a ‘Newtonian paradigm’ and that it is the quantum physicists that are really understanding what you do. Get a postmodernist sociologist to write some quantum gobbledegook to back up your claims. They will have no qualms – after all, science is just another ‘text’ and all viewpoints are valid. Another good trick is to claim foreign scientists back up your work. This makes it much harder to check. Russian science is a good bet – especially Russian scientists working on the space programme. Failing that, Chinese science is an excellent alternative, or even obscure Eastern European Universities. Cheeky people claim NASA pioneered their work. Few check.
Adopt the forms, behaviours and appearances of scientists. Once you get going, hold seminars and conferences. Book rooms in real universities to add kudos to the meeting. Remember to always book university rooms in the Medicine or Pharmacology departments, and never in Engineering, English literature or Law. Create a learned journal and publish ‘peer reviewed’ articles. However, never talk about data – that would be getting to be too close to real science. And you want to avoid that like the plague.
7. Envelop yourself in ancient origins
Having embraced the authority of science, you should also delve back into the historical origins of your treatments. Do not say that you have discovered your techniques – rather you have rediscovered them. Most alternative medicine has only really been around for the last fifty to a hundred years or so. Even Traditional Chinese Medicine was packaging and refinement made in communist China and then exported to the world.
Take a leaf out of the Ear Candling trade. They picked on an obscure American Indian tribe on which to base their claims of antiquity. Despite the Hopi writing to the manufacturers to deny the claims and to request they stop using their name, nothing has changed. People like to think they are tapping into ‘ancient wisdom’ and more ‘natural’ health approaches. Preferably use an Oriental connection. This is much more beguiling (and also harder to check). Ear acupuncture was invented in France and reflexology in America. Both are now found as part of the ‘traditional’ Chinese repertoire.
You may base your technique on some genuinely old practices like herbalism or acupuncture. But always overplay your ancientness. Acupuncture is claimed to be thousands of years old, despite thin steel needles not being invented until the seventeenth century and the first acupuncture point charts appearing at the same time. (Ancient China used bloodletting techniques with sharp flint blades – and this has been ‘re-interpreted’ as acupuncture).
8. Adorn yourself with titles and awards
Chiropractors love to put a brass plate outside of their office with the title ‘Dr’ on it, despite them not being medically qualified or having a higher research degree. It works though, so use it. People believe chiropractic to be some sort of medical discipline. If you do adopt the title ‘Dr’, it is also compulsory in alternative medicine circles to suffix your name with Ph.D too. It is a giveaway that you are a quack to sceptics, but your customers will be thoroughly impressed.
If you do not have a PhD then do not worry too much. There are correspondence courses where you can get one for a few thousand quid. A wise investment. Gillian McKeith was unlucky in being caught out. Chances are, you will not be. If you really have balls, just style yourself Dr anyway. It is not a protected title – it is yours to use.
But don’t stop there. How about Professor? You might get lucky, like Patrick Holford did for a while, and get invited by a minor university to teach. The title ‘Visiting Professor’ is so grand. Even easier, claim you are a professor from a very obscure overseas university. If it has burnt down and no longer has a web site, your claim is impossible to check. It will still get you onto the comfy sofas of day-time TV.
Awards are also impressive. Get someone to nominate you for a Nobel Prize. Anyone can do this. They may not accept your nomination, but hey? It is compulsory in alternative medicine circles to be nominated more than once, so you can describe yourself as ‘three times nominated for the Nobel Prize’. The Nobel Committee does not publish lists of nominees for understandable reasons. Otherwise, they would have to list my cat who I have annually nominated for the Economics prize.
9. Create two web sites and embrace weasel words
Legal matters need some attention. But not much. If you are selling through a web site, best not make too many bold claims about the effectiveness of your treatments. Trading Standards Authorities may come down on you like a ton of bricks. There is an easy way out: create two web sites. On the first, make as many bold claims as you like. Create a newsletter and ‘Health Club’. Fill your site with all your speculative and unproven nonsense. But, whatever you do, do not sell your product – maybe, just a few books. What you are doing is creating a ‘brand’. Then, set up a second, apparently unconnected site, that sells whatever you like and trades on your brand, but makes only very bland claims and no real claims to effectiveness. Easy. Sometimes, the web is so full of nonsense that might support the sale of your daft product, you do not need the first site: just tell punters to Google it, like Julian Graves does.
Be careful what you say in advertising. Do not claim to be able to cure things. Instead, claim to ‘treat’ illnesses. You may be totally unsuccessful, but you are not lying. Your punter will not notice the subtle difference between treating and curing. Learn lessons from Chinese High Street Herbalists who simply list ailments on the windows of their shops whilst making no claims whatsoever. Look at the Society of Homeopaths for their excellent exposition of weasel words.
10. Create a training programme and set up a regulator
Finally, to rake in true wonga, do not just sit around waiting for your next mark to visit you and hand over fifty quid. Real money is made by training others in your new practice. Set up a correspondence course and training programme. Set up an ‘Institute’ and award diplomas and certificates. A very minor university may even accredit you. It does not matter that your course is just made up idiocy, all that matters to Universities is that paying students will attend. They will tick the boxes to show that you are properly setting ‘learning objectives’ and ‘assessment strategies’ and you are away. Chiropractors have this one sown up with Universities underwriting their degrees. Take a lesson from them and ensure you tell your students that they are getting an equivalent ‘post graduate’ education to a medical doctor, even if this is patently false. Also, learn from chiropractors and spend half the time teaching them good business practices. You do not want your students to fail commercially.
Writing training materials may be hard work. You could follow the Reiki method, which is essentially a pyramid scam. Reiki practitioners are ‘trained’ by having a previously trained Reiki healer ‘attune’ them – essentially, wave their hands over them in a special way. Fees get passed back up the chain. They can then go on to ‘attune’ other people – usually ex-customers. Marvellous.
Then you can really kick off with the accreditation thing. ‘Skills for Health’, the government training quango, can then develop National Occupational Standards for you, just like they are doing for Homeopathy and Reiki. It matters not one jot that these subjects are pseudoscientific balderdash, you can gain nationally accredited skills training programmes in your new money spinning exercise.
Finally, all good alternative medicine should have a ‘regulator’. To the public, it will look like their chosen healer is being monitored for the efficacy and safety of their work. To you, it is a good advertising device and channel for new customers. There are hundreds of regulators for alternative medicine in the UK. All have one thing in common – they will never condemn or criticise any of your practices, or strike you off for anything other than sexual misconduct – and then, at a push. You will be safe to do what you like without fear of being judged by the ‘regulator’.
Even the UK government will provide this sort of service to you. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, or Ofquack, was set up this year by Prince Charles and his Foundation for Integrated Health and a government grant of £900,000 to be a ‘one stop shop’ regulator for all manner of quacks. However, they have made it quite clear that they are not interested if the treatments actually work, but only if the member has been trained in their alternative medicine and have insurance cover. It matters not at all that the training might be utterly delusional and result in dangerous advice to customers. All the boxes have been ticked.
And so there you are. Not too hard. Finally, the best top tip I can give you is for you to find a way to start believing in your own bullshit. You will appear far more convincing to people if you believe yourself. As Richard Feynman said “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool”. If you are not interested in truth then hurry along and get fooling yourself. It should be easy. Once you have done that, fooling everyone else is a doddle.
Good luck, and check back on these pages for when I write about you.