Friday, March 23, 2007

Cures that any reader with a brain would naturally tend to doubt.

Our friends over in the parallel bizarro-world of The Secret must just luvvvvvvv Kevin Trudeau. Who better embodies the belief that success is its own justification? (Come to think of it, Joel Osteen would probably love him, too.) If you're all about prosperity, how can you fault a guy who, in any given week, rakes in as much as $4 million? (Especially a guy who's promising to "help" so many people! Isn't that what The Secret is about, too? Helping people?) Hard as it may be for most of us to conceive of that level of income stream, it's exactly what some analysts say Trudeau had going during his best weeks of hawking Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About. And with his new diet book (which offers more stuff "they" don't want you to know) perched today at Amazon's No. 36—still a month away from its formal pub date—I'm sure that Trudeau can quite legitimately visualize similar riches in his future.

Kinda makes you wonder what's actually in his books, doesn't it?

I concede that Natural Cures is impressive—as a crash course in every deficient research technique and data-analysis methodology known to man.* Cures is also a tour-de-force in rhetorical artifice and hyperbole. The book brims with sweeping inanities like, "All over-the-counter nonprescription drugs and prescription drugs cause illness and disease." But why limit yourself to just drugs when you can indict, oh, let's say, everything? And so: "If you read the labels of everything you put in your mouth, you would see [that] the chemicals listed are dangerous man-made chemicals. They are poisons." Leaving aside Trudeau's inference that "man-made" by definition = bad**, he props up his allegation, for which his evidence otherwise is flimsy, by adding, "If you were to take any of those chemicals and ingest a large amount at one time, you would probably die." That's Trudeau at his dubious/devious best, using one of his favorite tactics: making an assertion that is correct and yet false. Huh? You see, from a strictly scientific standpoint, that sentence is absolutely correct; Trudeau can't be impeached on it. But it's correct only in the most literal, nitpicking way. Remember, a few months ago, the woman who entered that water-drinking contest run by some radio shock-jocks out west? She gulped down a prodigious amount of H2O and then died. She succumbed to water toxicity—in effect, she drowned herself. Her case proves that almost anything, even a normally benign (all-natural) substance like water, taken in "a large amount at one time," can kill you. Therefore, what Trudeau tells us is technically true—but irrelevant to most real-life settings and practices, and therefore very misleading. Those kinds of statements—correct and yet false—are the medium in the Petri dish in which scams are cultured. Natural Cures is full of information misused or misapplied in this manner, with the above tidbit merely being one of the more obvious examples. Of course, it's the subtler examples that are the most dangerous, since fewer people pick up on them.

There are cases where even Trudeau clearly suspects that his conclusions sound far-fetched, a problem he deals with by implying that he alone possesses inside knowledge that goes beyond the facts and figures; this is knowledge to which the rest of us aren't privy, because...well, you know why, by now. It's more of that stuff "they" don't want us to know. Trudeau never quite explains how he might've acquired that knowledge. Click here for perhaps the most cogent and concise analysis of the gap between fancy and fact in Natural Cures, courtesy of Quackwatch. Incidentally, the Quackwatch feature includes Trudeau's boast that he's sold 6 million copies of Cures, a claim I hadn't heard previously, and that exceeds most outside guesstimates by several million—although in this one instance, I'm inclined to accept Trudeau's figures.

Which only intensifies my contempt for the most disturbing aspect of the Trudeau business model: its progressive bait-and-switch nature. His $20 book drives traffic to his subscription site, www.naturalcures.com, where—for a lifetime membership of only $999!—you can ensure a steady flow of questionable facts forever, or at least until Trudeau abandons, sells, or revamps the site. There are actually four levels of membership, including a free one-week trial, a $9.95 monthly membership, and a gift membership "for a friend or loved one." But you see the genius here? One is reminded of the barnstorming success seminars that were all the rage a few years back, and remain popular today. The $49 admission ticket basically gets you in the door, where you're then pressured (or at least "induced") to spend hundreds of dollars more on books, DVDs, subscriptions (like the one Trudeau is selling here), and other costly follow-up materials.

The degree of dissatisfaction on the part of consumers who eventually wake up to the realization that they were hoodwinked can be read in this offbeat but telling factoid: Tim Young, an Alabama-based proprietor of a company that publishes maps and directories, has fielded hundreds of complaints that were intended for Trudeau's publishing company, which happens to bear the same name as Young's—Alliance Publishing Group. The complaints, Young told Salon, are usually from "people who are pissed off because…there's no real info in the book and they have to go to a web site and pay money to learn anything."

Further: Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not a big fan of Amazon's reader-ranking system, which is subject to wholesale manipulation (or at least it was before late last year, when Amazon undertook a number of "reforms" designed to tamp down on the most egregious abuses). Still, when a book like Cures garners review after review with titles like "fraud, don't buy" or, simply, "Kevin Trudeau is a con-man," you gotta wonder. There's no reason to suppose that anyone would've organized a backlash just to savage Trudeau's reputation. I mean, cui bono? What would be the point, if the reviews aren't legit? Other complaints about Trudeau's book and customary manner of doing business can be found here.

That about does it for now, but we'll return to Kevin Trudeau after the official publication of the diet book. I'm sure there'll be much more to say.

P.S. Some readers who've checked back now and then may have noticed that I keep making slight changes in the title of this post. That's because one or two of you are giving me grief, off-blog, about the confusing verbiage. We keep trying....

* Of course, the research wasn't really "deficient" in the sense that Trudeau didn't know what he was doing. He knew precisely what he was doing: picking through the morass of information in order to find exactly the right nuggets that could be twisted or cleverly contextualized to support the case he wanted to make. Alert readers will realize that this is basically the same charge we made against unethical journalists a few posts ago.
** There are many man-made things that have extended human life well beyond what it was at the turn of the previous century, when relatively few synthesized products existed. Meanwhile, there are many entirely natural things that you wouldn't even want to be in the same room with, let alone eat. Uranium comes to mind. So do cobras...

2 comments:

Cosmic Connie said...

More than anything, Kevin True-dough has tapped into the very lucrative "forbidden knowledge" market. We have Rhonda Byrne and her stable of hustledorks selling us mystical life secrets that "they" conspired for centuries to keep us from knowing. And we have Kevin bringing us health and weight-loss secrets that "they" don't want us to know. Lucky us!

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve -
I would be very hesitant to lump Joel Osteen in with the hustledorks like True-dough. Sure, he heads up the Wal-Mart of churches and rakes in phenomenal sums of money, but the message he preaches is very different from the Secretions, et al.

Yes, his spiel is about prosperity and success, but he does tell people to get their attitude right *and* get off their butts and take action. My take on his popularity, having grown up Southern Baptist, is that he offers release from the fear & guilt that many religions rely upon, and makes people want to try out of hope, rather than desperation.

While I don't agree with some of what he says, I do respect the man for offering a realistic, positive message, without the magic and woo-woo. I also have compassion for him, because despite his success and message, he is - in my infrequently humble opinion - married to the antichrist.:-)

Now, lock me in a room with Paula White for a few days, and we'll see who gets converted!! :-)

Just kidding, Connie.