Breast-pill maker busted

A company making pills which falsely claimed to enhance women’s breast size has been fined $100,000 for breaching the Fair Trading Act (National Business Review, 16 December).

The Commerce Commission took the action against Erdic Ltd and its manager Allan Mitchell in the Auckland District Court after the company made claims in a brochure and on two websites that its pills were a natural alternative to breast implants and could significantly and permanently increase the size, shape and firmness of women’s breasts.

The commission found that “taking the tablets at the recommended dose would have no significant hormonal or other relevant effect in adult women of reproductive age that would lead to permanent alteration in breast shape and/or enlargement of breast size”.

Judge Kerr noted in sentencing that herbal alternatives to plastic surgery would appeal to those in the target market who were gullible, naive and wanting to increase their bust size.

Commerce Commission Director of Fair Trading Adrian Sparrow said consumers relied on information provided by businesses to make decisions about the products they purchase.

“Those marketing natural or alternative therapies have the same obligations as other businesses under the Fair Trading Act, and that is to ensure that claims made about benefits gained are accurate.”

Allan Mitchell and Erdic also pleaded guilty to breaching the Fair Trading Act by falsely claiming ads in the TV Guide and other Fairfax magazines had been approved by the Therapeutic Advertising Pre-vetting Service.

“There is always someone willing to sell snake oil to the unwary,” said Adrian Sparrow, “so the commission strongly advises consumers exercise common sense before purchasing ‘miracle’ pills and potions that make improbable claims.”

Big money for ‘Bigfoot’

The hoax Bigfoot carcass reported on in last issue’s Newsfront has sold on eBay for US$250,203 (Fox News, 20 October).

The hoaxers, Rick Dyer and Matt Whitton of Clayton County, Georgia, displayed a freezer containing a gorilla suit stuffed with animal parts which was rapidly debunked by a DNA test. The seller was named as North Carolina “paranormal entrepreneur” Joshua P Warren, who said the money would go towards resolving legal conflicts.

Dyer and Whitton sold the specimen in August to Californian Bigfoot tracker Tom Biscardi, who had persuaded Indiana “investor” William Wald Lett, Jr to stump up the US$50,000 required. Days after the hoax was revealed Lett filed a criminal complaint in Clayton County.

Warren’s eBay auction page explained that the animal parts had since been replaced with “non-organic” materials.

After all the debts are paid and legal matters dealt with, any remaining auction money will go to Warren’s Hoax Research Center, which he said was a nonprofit entity.

Kaikoura UFOs – 30 years on

Last December 30 was the 30th anniversary of the Kaikoura UFO sightings – and for some the memory is still as fresh as ever. TV producer Leonard Lee related his memories of the affair in the NZ Herald (29 December), describing how he received an early-morning call from his newsroom chief of staff Neil Miller in Melbourne, “babbling” that one of their reporters, Quentin Fogarty, and a freelance fim crew had filmed UFOs from a freight plane over Kaikoura. Lee had sent him to report on another apparent encounter by two pilots 10 days earlier.

He managed to get Fogarty on a trans-Tasman flight on New Year’s Eve, and together they watched the footage of the unidentified lights, “dancing and changing shape”. They had a sleepless night and spent the first day of the new year fielding calls from all over the world.

It was after screening their 30-minute documentary, he said, that “the sceptics – numerous scientists among them – started screaming at us from around the globe.

“We had, they said, filmed Venus, Mars, Jupiter, squid boat lights, mating mutton birds, everything in fact except UFOs, whatever they were.”

Lee goes on to quote US optical physicist Bruce Maccabee (he was also chairman of the Fund for UFO Research Inc., though Lee doesn’t mention this), who analysed the film and concluded they could only have been squid boats if they were “flying squid boats”.

Or maybe not. In the Spring 2000 NZ Skeptic former DSIR scientist William Ireland had another look at the documentary footage and concluded that a group of squid boats, viewed at a distance of about six kilometres, would match the reported sighting very closely.

By now, the story has passed into New Zealand folklore. People will choose to believe what they will.

Religious fakes like ‘gasoline on the flames’

USA Today (22 October) had a good report of the controversy over the James Ossuary, an ancient casket alleged to have held the bones of Jesus’ brother.

Six years ago, the two-footlong box made the cover of Time magazine and drew crowds of 100,000 when it went on display in Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. It bears an inscription, in Aramaic, saying “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”.

But the ossuary has a dubious past. Its origins are uncorroborated, and many outside experts have concluded the part of the inscription referring to Jesus is a later addition.

According to Nina Burleigh, author of Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed & Forgery in the Holy Land, it is part of a tradition of fake relics going back for millennia. It also shows the subjective nature of much archaeology, particularly the biblical variety.

Although selling religious fakes to rich collectors may appear to be an almost victimless crime, Burleigh says it’s a problem when dealers and forgers toy with believers.

“It’s a scam: Forgers take money from gullible believers that would have gone in the collection plate to help people. And they are distorting the truth. Especially in writing, we need in situ findings to have an accurate account of history.
“Finally, the forgers are really playing with fire. Things are so tense in East Jerusalem, to throw fake biblical artifacts into the mix puts gasoline on the flames there.”

Psychics cash in

Times may be tough economically, but it seems psychics at least are enjoying boom times (Wired, 8 November).

On September 30, when the Dow-Jones index fell 770 points, self-styled internet medium Katrina Spears came home to find she had messages from 30 clients.

While the bulk of psychic business is usually advice on relationship issues, there has lately been a marked shift towards requests for information on what the future holds financially.

Columbia Business School professor Gita Johar says the boom in superstition is a predictable response to troubling times. “If the future is uncertain, people turn to psychics. You have an illusion then that you can then control the outcome. People want the illusion of control.”

Hourly rates for on-line psychics range from US$100 to $1000, but this has not deterred the callers.

“It’s really starting to pick up,” says someone who calls himself Pure Empathy. “People are more depressed, and I can easily make $150 to $200 a day.”

Spears, however, says the spike was short-lived, and her business is now back to normal.

In case you were wondering, this is the advice Spears is giving: “Things will improve in March, April and May and start progressing from there. We are not about to go into a holy war that means everyone will have to eat rice and beans for the rest of our lives. But it is back to basics, and people won’t shop as much.”

That pretty much covers it. But is this kind of thing worth $3 a minute?

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