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This "health company" sells salt water in a bottle.
July 29, 2011 8:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I convince my father that this so-called "business opportunity" is a complete scam?

I live in LA; my dad, San Francisco. He called me today telling me that he was coming down to southern California for a meeting regarding a "business opportunity"; specifically, selling a product called ASEA water.

Apparently this water is chock-full of "redox signaling molecules", which offer all sorts of health benefits. I tried googling the term but all the results seemed to be identical ASEA marketing copy. The scientific studies conducted with this product aren't peer-reviewed or discussed anywhere on Google Scholar.

Two other points:

1. There is an AskScience question on Reddit here. The consensus is that this is a total scam.

2. My dad insisted that I watch this YouTube video about "redox signaling" technology. I did; I call bullshit. Most of the positive comments are from dummy accounts created just to spout ASEA propaganda.

3. There's even a Wikipedia article on "redox signaling" which has only one section, History, and more of the same marketing jumble as all the other sites.

My dad remains convinced of this product's efficacy, and says that I just don't understand the science behind it all. I think he's being swindled. My gut tells me this is a Bad Idea.

But how do I convince him that it's total snake oil? It's so difficult to find actual, legitimate information from reputable sources with all the ASEA reps muddying the waters. I really don't want my dad to end up selling bottled salt water.

Sorry if this question is a bit jumbled, my head is whirling. I appreciate any and all help from the Hive Mind!
posted by ardent to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Note that the wikepedia entry doesn't even bother not being ad copy - they us a lot of "we now understand" etc.

The other option is to make a 1-to-10 bet with him. If he's so sure of it, he'd be glad to pay you ten grand to your bet of one that it's legit. If he's not willing to make that bet, he shouldn't be willing to put down the money at all.

Ask why his contact is so eager to bring him in? Just because he's that great a guy? Is your dad that fuckin' vain?

The reason there's no actual information is because it's all a bunch of woo, to use the parlance of our times. Bullshit, or, horseshit, to use his parlance (depending on his age).
posted by notsnot at 8:08 PM on July 29, 2011


This is my area of scientific expertise, but you don't need me to tell you it's BS, you already know. And the link you provided explains why.

Maybe ask your dad to see a doctor for some baseline tests, have him drink it for a few weeks (months?) and get retested? To see if he is healthier?
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:10 PM on July 29, 2011


Your dad is a grownup. Point him to some articles about it and leave it at that. If he wants to go out and put money into it, great- that's on him.

It's hard to convince a crazy person that they are crazy.
posted by TheBones at 8:11 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Scientific Assessment of Quack Water Scams is a great place to start.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:12 PM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ten Big Lies of Multi-Level Marketing Companies - on a site with lots of other info about these "be your own boss" sales companies.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:14 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your father is already committed enough to this lucrative sounding business opportunity that he's happy to take a flight and attend meetings. He is already brushing aside your objections by claiming to be more knowledgeable about it than you. Chances are, he has already become a believer.

If that's the case, then you can't change his mind. But, you can lessen the damage he will do to himself (and his family?). Understand exactly how much of his time and resources he intends to pour in to this, and instead of attacking it from the angle "it doesn't work and it's a scam", do your best to ensure he isn't gambling away anything that he can't afford to lose, along the lines of "eggs in one basket" and so on.
posted by kithrater at 8:20 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


It might help that the wiki article is likely to be deleted ~ Aug 6th.
posted by storybored at 8:37 PM on July 29, 2011


Go with him to the meeting, and bring a friend who is either in law enforcement or an attorney.
posted by tomswift at 8:39 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


a slightly different tack might be to make the product less special: agree with him that this salt water (from what I can tell) probably DOES contain redox signaling molecules....but so does all water. Redox means nothing more than the simultaneous reduction of one molecule (via loss of an electron or more) and oxidation of another (gain of an electron or more), even if its occurring in 'signaling pathways'. It's the transfer of an electron from one molecule to another. There are lots of electrons in all water. Rusting is a redox reaction, where electrons move from metal to water (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rust).

Now for the expected argument that 'redox' is different in those signaling pathways in the body: I studied nitric oxide synthases. These enzymes are prominent redox signaling proteins. They are also some of the most primitive enzymes, in the sense that primitive organisms have them. -->Because they perform redox reactions that all organisms require. Nitric oxide synthase, in fact, contains an iron atom as part of its heme, which gets rusted and un-rusted over and over again, as the enzyme performs its function. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitric_oxide_synthase)

Just a thought. I tend to agree with others that if he's so set on it, you really can't do anything...

By the way, that wikipedia you have quoted is a head trip :) I do believe the ones I have linked here are a little more logical and supported....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:41 PM on July 29, 2011


Go with your dad if you can. These hucksters have a way of really pushing someone to spend their money. Take your dad's credit card or whatever he has for money. Better yet, leave it home. Go with him. Be the nice voice of reason. If you are adversarial they might pit you against your dad or some crazy tactic. If your dad's a reasonable guy, he'll sleep on it. Then he can decide after some thought and some distance from the sales people. Also, you might get hit with several waves of sales guys. Every time you say "no" they hit you again. DON'T STOP SAYING "NO!"
A person I know was totally shamed and embarrassed into buying a condo thing. It's like the sales guys made him feel like puppies and kitties die if he didn't buy. He bought but was able to get out.
Good luck with this stuff.
posted by hot_monster at 8:53 PM on July 29, 2011


Do not focus on debunking the validity of the pseudoscientific claims about the water: You can not argue against emotions with logic, or against logic with emotions. Simply be consistent and strong in referring to the water as a "scam" or other similar term, and don't dwell on it, just refer matter-of-factly to the truth that he is being misled.

What you should talk to him about is whatever emotional drivers are causing him to seek a get-rich-quick scheme. A few key ideas you can hit to try to persuade him to not be sucked in:

* "Dad, I thought you always told me there's no substitute for hard work, and anything that sounds too good to be true like a get rich quick scheme can't be legit. What would you think if I told you I found a magic elixir scam that was going to make me rich if I invested my money in them?"
* "If you feel you need to make more money, Dad, would you work with me to help think of our own business that we could invest your money in, instead of strangers who are trying to peddle a scam?"
* "Would you go into business with the other people in the room who are being taken in by this scam? Because those are your peers, and none of them seem like ultra-successful business people."
* "What did they say to you to convince you to waste your money on this scam? I know they must have been remarkably manipulative to convince you, because you're smart so they have to be pretty effective in pushing some emotional buttons with you."
* "I don't want to tell my [kids/future kids] that Grandpa wasted his savings on a water scam by some guys in a hotel conference center. Give me the money you want to waste on this, I'll hold it untouched in a savings account for a year. Get the contact info for one of the other attendees of this scam event, and in one year we'll ask how it's gone for him. If he's rich, you can take the money and go crazy with it, and I'll pay you the difference in whatever earnings you've gone without."

Key thing is you want to be empathetic to his emotional state (since that's what these leeches are exploiting) while being absolutely firm and adamant about the dishonesty of the hucksters who are preying on him. It's a tough balance, but you can do it with him. Good luck!
posted by anildash at 9:15 PM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh, and since you're being the responsible adult in this situation, don't be afraid to assign consequences. If he's betting a significant amount of money, tell him that pursuing this course of action will force you to assign a penalty; You refusing to talk to him or see him or return for holidays for two years may be a serious enough threat to jolt him to reason.
posted by anildash at 9:18 PM on July 29, 2011


My initial reaction to the first 30 seconds of the youtube video: physicists typically know nothing about medicine. Really, we don't. But PhD in physics sounds good if you're hawking pseudoscience. And man do I hate the shills that are willing to sell themselves to hawk pseudoscience.

Gary Samuelson (the atomic physicist) occurred at 1:48 of your youtube video, and mentions his degree at 0:14.

Let's look him up. After a google search, we find this >link, ( scroll down near the bottom or search for "gary")

You'll see that he was a physicist in 2004, and it has he current email address, at Legacytechgroup.com.

After a google search: Hey, he's the >research director of this company, as promised on the utah.edu website!

But wait, this company has nothing to do with medicine… like, at all…

Why is he in this ad, then? It's not his medical qualifications. It's not even his physics qualifications! Here's his thesis: Nuclear Spin Relaxation of Polycrystalline 129 Xenon. They're conning you with fancy degrees! Look at his degree! Your ribosomes aren't made of Polycrystalline 129 Xenon! This guy probably doesn't know what he's talking about.


I don't know if it would help for your dad to go through all of these steps. But I hope so. Because man do I hate sellout physicists who shill for pseudoscience.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 9:48 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Three links are borked, alak!

">link" corresponds to
http://www.physics.utah.edu/~hpgas/people.html

">research director" corresponds to http://www.legacytechgroup.com/contactus.html

"Thesis" corresponds to http://www.physics.utah.edu/~hpgas/papers/Samuelson_Thesis.pdf
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 9:53 PM on July 29, 2011


Yes, it's a total scam.

On the other hand, someone who sells a similarly magic water for a living rents the $8,000+/month penthouse in my building (and his wife does not work), so if your father is willing to scam others it might work out for him.
posted by halogen at 10:01 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your experience is like my experience, you don't convince your dad of squat. You put your points and you argue until you're blue in the face and then you look on in helpless and increasing frustration as the bright, skeptical man you worshipped as a child apparently wilfully puts aside all his critical thinking skills and sinks further and further into a morass of alt-med bullshit until it eventually kills him. Alt-med is basically a religion, and people who get that religion rarely, in my experience, ever un-get it.

I'm sorry I don't have a happy ending for you.
posted by flabdablet at 3:22 AM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've also lost a good friend by refusing to stop calling bullshit on this bullshit. If you do find a reliable alt-med deprogramming method, please do post back here and share it.
posted by flabdablet at 3:25 AM on July 30, 2011


Maybe it would be worth doing some research into how to "rescue" people from cults. The basic model is not all that different from what I can tell.
posted by maxim0512 at 4:40 AM on July 30, 2011


Is this his first experience as a mark? How did he avoid it up to now? What hole is he filling in his life?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:30 AM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I notice in the OP you've been focusing on the science of the water, not on the business of MLM. Maybe you'd get further with that?

The argument I've used before against an MLM works on the point of who is taking the risk if they fail and who gets the reward if they succeed, and contrasting that with someone who just wants a salesman. The MLM sets it up so the salesman takes all the risk if they don't sell anything, even beyond the risks of selling on commission. If the person above them in the pyramid isn't willing to pay the salesman's expenses, or provide the product on spec, as an *investment* that betrays how little confidence they have that anyone can sell the product.

Though I used this only at the stage of, "I've been reading these pamphlets" not "I'm coming to another town for training," so it probably wasn't too ingrained, yet.
posted by RobotHero at 11:41 AM on July 30, 2011


Nthing that instead of a direct attack (parents tend to bristle at advice from their kids, you know) you ask him why he's doing this. Is he worried about money? Is he bored? Is he seeking something meaningful to do? Don't analyze him or try to tell him why he's doing things, but draw him out, listen to him, see if you can get him thinking about what he really wants.

And, instead of just the it's science/no it's not argument, maybe you can find some stories online of people who've been scammed by this group or a similar one? People who did believe, like your dad, only to discover later that it was all a scam? Those kinds of stories make it easier to admit you were taken in and step away, because then you don't feel as stupid.

Scam artists use people's reluctance to admit they were fooled to keep them buying in for even longer than they might otherwise. You need to keep this in mind with your dad.
posted by emjaybee at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are in a pickle here. I think your first problem is approaching this as if it were a Scam. It is not a scam in the traditional sense. The sellers are certainly going to make money if the product sells. The scammed are the buyers. I am not sure what it takes to get involved in this product, but if the upfront cost is low and he has time, then why not?

In this case, the company has managed to take a great business model, personal networking sales and applied it to a product claiming health benefits. The sellers will always say it works, so they will have hordes of people with positive claims. That horde of sellers will drown out any sensible person, including yourself.

Your only hope here is to ensure he understand the economics of getting involved. You might even try to convince him that once the general public gets wind of the truth they will not buy it. That said, Gatorade is well known for just being sugar and salt water and it still sells well. Most people could whip up a batch from products in their pantry for less than 25 cents a batch.

The key here is economics. I found the cost to be about $150 for 2 to bottles of this stuff. This is a massive cost and reminds me of Amway. Here is how I stopped relatives from joining Amway. I said,"if you truly intend to embark on this business, you must commit to NOT try and sell to friends and family." I told them in order to be successful they must be able to sell to non-friends and family. In support of that business decision I would not buy the product nor participate until at least 1 year from starting.

As expected, all the relatives ended up just losing the money they spent on the starter kits. In the case of this ASEA I suspect the starter kit to be around $500 to $1000 of products to demonstrate and display. A large cost indeed.

You see, these MLM types always tell the potential seller to FIRST sell to friends and family and then try and build the network. Well, business and friends and family don't mix. A true business requires connections outside that circle. If your father can understand that requirement then perhaps he will see that this is not going to sell.

At this point the only people buying are potential sellers. The potential sellers have enough money to afford the cost because they all see it as start up cost to a business. They will sell to other potential sellers until no one has the money to get involved. The general public would never pay $150 for salt water. This is how all these schemes end.
posted by CodeBlitz at 12:41 PM on November 16, 2011


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