By Hal Brown
This is major revision version of the story I posted on Daily Kos on April 18, 2021
If you watch MSNBC as many of my blog readers do, and have a decent memory, you may recognize the name Robert Strictler. He’s one of the people who appeared in ads for Prevagen which is supposed to improve memory in people over 50. There are lots of the people giving paid testimonials ( see how many you recognize here, trivia points for each one). The ads featuring Strickler were running on almost every evening MSNBC show when I first wrote this.
If you haven’t seen the commercials they are all pretty much like this Robert Strickler one.
It should be a no-brainer (pun intended) that if there was a medication that actually improved memory in seniors, or anybody for that matter, it would be a boon to humanity. Everyone would be taking it.
So what’s the deal with Robert Strictler with his dulcet baritone, and all the other incredibly healthy looking people, touting how this pill improved their memories? Should you believe them? (I think I answered that in my illustration.)
Prevagen is marketed as a brain supplement supposedly based on a discovery coming from analyzing a species of luminescent jellyfish. This could convince the gullible. They say it contains a protein called apoaequorin, which is made by the Aequorea victoria jellyfish.
I mean, why not, it makes on species of jellyfish glow so why should’t it light up your brain? The jellyfish even kind of looks like a human brain.
|Glowing jellyfish, Aequorea victoria
"Brilliant" marketing, eh what?
He’s either lying and making the commercials for money, or actually thinks it has improved his memory. I won’t rule out the possibility that he’s a true believer and making money is a bonus. The placebo effect is very powerful.
Does it really work aside from a placebo effect which has been scientifically demonstrated to be powerful in many circumstances (read The Power of the Placebo Effect). The simple answer is no. You can reach this conclusion with a simple DuckDuckGo web search of Prevagen hoax or real.
You’ll find articles like this from a 2017 NBC News article.
There are numerous articles like this including this one from a Harvard Medical School newsletter: FDA curbs unfounded memory supplement claims.
Now lets do another DuckDuckGo search. Here’s what you’ll find if you search the following:
Why are some people more gullible than others.
Here’s are excerpts from this article that apply to both dietary supplements and how Donald Trump exploited the gullibility of a large segment of the public.
Homo sapiens is probably an intrinsically gullible species. We owe our evolutionary success to culture, our unique ability to receive, trust and act on stories we get from others, and so accumulate a shared view about the world. In a way, trusting others is second nature.
But not everything we hear from others is useful or even true. There are countless ways people have been misled, fooled and hoaxed, sometimes for fun, but more often, for profit or for political gain.
Although sharing social knowledge is the foundation of our evolutionary success, in this age of unlimited and unfiltered information, it is becoming a major challenge to decide what to believe, and what to reject.
Gullibility in public life
Gullibility and credulity have become important issues as a deluge of raw, unverified information is readily available online.
Consider of how fake news during the US presidential election influenced voters.
Stories that generate fear and promote a narrative of corrupt politicians and media can be particularly effective. In Europe, Russian websites “reported” numerous false stories designed to undermine the EU and to bolster support for extreme right-wing parties.
Credulity and gullibility are also of great commercial importance when it comes to marketing and advertising. For example, much brand name advertising subtly appeals to our need for social status and identity. Yet, we obviously cannot acquire real status or identity just by buying an advertised product.
Even water, a freely available colourless, tasteless, transparent liquid is now successfully marketed as an identity product, a multi-billion dollar industry built mostly on misleading advertising and gullibility. Dietary supplements are another large industry exploiting gullibility
There's a sucker born every minute
This is a phrase closely associated with P.T. Barnum though there’s no actual evidence he ever said it. Wikipedia
I’d say that with the birth rate in the United States now being a baby being born every eight seconds (Reference) there are currently many more suckers than merely one being born here every minute.
Con artists probably have uttered these words as they laughed all the way to the bank. Not to assume Trump ever said these words I wouldn't be surprised if he thought about it as he turned lying into an art form. I would expect that those working on his campaign either said it or thought it.
Another quote which is apropos when considering how gullible people are has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln but it is also unclear whether he ever said it:
“You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Reference
All I can say about the future of America is that whether Lincoln said this or not, I damn well hope it is true since it appears that about 40% of the voting public believe Trumpian lies. These number have been holding true since I originally wrote this
I hope that number of gullible people who swallow the scare tactics from the hard right hook, line, and sinker never gets high enough to turn us into the kind of country the likes of Trump and his minions want it to be.
I am not sure of the authorities of the FDA and the FTC and how they intersect or overlap when it comes to regulation or possible banning the advertising claims of supplements. This is the authority of the FDA for supplements. They say that “a firm is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements it manufactures or distributes are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading.”
I think the FDA which is a scientific body should do a rigorous review of research used by the manufacturers of supplements to make their claims, or commission their own studies. Then if appropriate the either the FDA or the FTC could issue the ban.
There’s another three letter government entity, a commission and not an agency, which is relevant in this discussion, the FEC. The is the Federal Election Commission. They seem to be a toothless tiger when it comes to keeping our elections honest. See “Senate confirms new members and restores power to long-hobbled Federal Election Commission” from 2020.
I suspect that those taking advantage of the payouts ordered by the FTC never reach the predicted amounts (see “Prevagen Payouts Could Reach Tens of Millions of Dollars Due to False Advertising” ) because even if those who purchased the product hear about it not that many will go to the trouble of submitting a claim. Even if they learn of the settlement they need proof of purchase and only are eligible to receive 30 percent of the retail cost of Prevagen, with the total not to exceed $70. How many people have proof of purchase and will bother making the claim to get a maximum of $70?
Note that the original FTC false advertising charge was issued in 2012 and the payouts weren’t ordered until 2020. It seems to me that a company that has made hundred of millions selling a bogus health supplement doesn’t care about paying out tens of millions to consumers anyway.
Here's an excerpt about Prevagen from GoodRx:
Is there any scientific evidence supporting Prevagen’s claims?
The evidence to support Prevagen’s use is limited and flawed. Quincy Bioscience published a small study in 2016 comparing 10 mg of apoaequorin per day to placebo (a pill with no medication in it) for 90 days. All study participants self-identified as having memory problems, but none had any serious memory loss conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
At the end of the study, people taking apoaequorin had higher scores than those taking placebo on some of the tests used to measure their overall memory. The study authors noted the difference between the two groups was significant, and Quincy Bioscience — who also sponsored the study — has been using these results to back up Prevagen’s claims.
But there are a few issues with the study. First, it only included a little over 200 participants and only ran for 90 days. This number of people is smaller than what we typically require when trying to prove a medication is effective for the general population. Also, conducting the study for only 90 days means we don’t know the long-term safety or effectiveness of Prevagen.
Another problem with this study is the types of tests the researchers used to test memory. None of the cognitive assessments used in this study are standard tests used by healthcare providers to look for and diagnose memory loss conditions. Using a non-standard test makes the results difficult to interpret, so we can’t say for sure just how effective Prevagen is.
The only way I can see to protect gullible consumers is to ban such advertising. In the world of politics there's no feasible way to ban false advertising. The only was to fight against people being misled by poltical lying this is to educate the public so they are more skeptical and become adept at critical thinking. This would take an enormious bipartisan public education campaign. Getting the GOP on board with this is about as likely to happen as Trump going on Fox News and admitting he was the biggest liar of all time and suckered all of his supporters since he didn't give a crap about them.
----- Case Study: Dr. Zach Bush -----
Dr. Zach Bush made a case against getting vaccinated for Covid to his many followers when the vaccine first came out. This year we have RFK Jr. spinning similar dangerous lies about vaccines.
Well known medical doctors like Dr. Oz who promotes pseudoscience have a significant following but lesser known ones like Zach Bush promoted false claims to a gullible audience not only about various health subjects but dangerous theories about Covid including in Zach Bush’s case recommending against vaccination.
I researched Zach Bush because he'd been recommending against Covid vaccination. If you search him on DuckDuckGo you have to go far into the results to find anything debunking him. If you add the search terms pseudoscience, quack, debunked, and fraud you will find several articles explaining how he is promoting pseudoscience.
If someone worried about the Covid vaccine talked to a friend who gets their medical information from Zach Bush and his like and then they looked them up online they would find what seem to be logical medical reasons not to get it. When I first looked at some of what Bush wrote it look like a lot of scientific gobbledygook, but I could see how lots of people would find what he said to be credible. Then I did my deep dive into the Internet to learn more about him.
I learned from one of those websites exposing him as a fraud that several years ago he hired a company to assure that he could flood Internet search results with his own material. It was successful. This fraud is a slick self-promoter who even sells his own products on his various websites.
Zach Bush is a good case study because of his credentials. This is some of what Medika,an excellent website. says about him in “Who Not To Trust: A List of 10 Covid-19 Charlatans and “Medical” Snake-Oil Salesmen.” Note that he's number three on their list. They consider him, as do I, a real danger to the public health. They call him the poster boy for predatory health. From what I can tell he mixes reasonable sounding and at least, to some extent, scientifically researched medical and scientific opinion with pseudoscience.
As a showman he is a slick as the snake oil he sells. In fact, he actually does sell products like this:
I could call him the Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. of the medical profession.
I am always suspicious about anything posted on Reddit, however I found the comments posted there about Zach Bush to be worth reviewing.
I joined and post my first comment which was abut Bush here.