SmashItWithAHammer


Crowdfunding is a really great idea. It is simultaneously a really crappy idea. Needless to say, like most things, it’s human greed and the relentless pursuit of money at any cost that determines which of those two things it is for any given case.

I like the idea behind crowdfunding, and have participated in a number of terrific projects. I’ve even run a crowdfunder of my own, with moderate success. When I choose crowdfunders in which to participate, I’m as careful as I can be to vet them for plausibility and likelihood of success – there is obviously no point in sticking your money in something that is based on pseudoscience, for example, as so many are. Nor is it worth participating in something that is just unachievable due to someone’s inability to grasp basic laws of physics. So I choose my allegiances carefully.

It is, therefore, hugely disappointing for me to have invested in a crowdfunder that tanks, as did the ARKYD Space Telescope Kickstarter yesterday.

A few years back, a company called Planetary Resources launched the Kickstarter for a publicly funded space telescope – “a space telescope for everyone” – with the promise of a ‘selfie in space’ as one of the primary perks. As perks go, that’s a pretty damn catchy one. The eventual goal of the project was to facilitate public accessibility to time on an actual space-telescope. There was to be a particular emphasis on affordable access for educational institutions and other bodies and persons who would otherwise never be able to afford such opportunities. Wow, what a cool thing, right?

The ARKYD Project Kickstarter was asking for a substantial $1 million to achieve its aims, and it made the milepost easily, quickly surpassing it by another half million. The Kickstarter project assessment made it quite clear that such an undertaking was not without risks, and indeed, the ARKYD encountered a few of them, including the explosion of an early launch vehicle. Not many Kickstarters can claim that kind of setback, but it is, after all, rocket science. All that taken under consideration, the ARKYD Kickstarter presented as a very well thought-out achievable project, with a highly-credentialled engineering and development team, a lengthy but plausible production schedule and most encouragingly of all, a great deal of support from science experts, space science advocates and fans across the planet. When I invested in ARKYD, I was completely confident that these people could deliver.

So I was pretty taken aback when – without any warning at all – Planetary Resources announced that they were abandoning their Kickstarter. I was especially dissatisfied with the reasons given by Planetary Research for the abandonment of the project:

When we closed the campaign in June of 2013, we were confident that the tremendous enthusiasm from around the world would translate into continued financial support outside of the Kickstarter community to move our idea forward… but, what we discovered was unfortunate. Aside from all the progress we made in the underlying technology, the follow-on interest from the business and educational sectors to expand the ARKYD campaign into a fully-supported mission did not exist as we had anticipated. We have explored and exhausted a variety of opportunities big and small for the financial backing necessary to complete the project ~ Chris Lewicki, [President and Chief Engineer] Planetary Resources Inc

You see, nowhere in the original Kickstarter pitch is it mentioned that the project is contingent upon this ‘follow-on interest from the business and educational sectors’. In fact, re-reading it, as I just did, gives exactly the opposite impression: that the money raised is more than enough to do the job, even prompting a host of ‘stretch goals’ to further enhance the scope of possibility. Like most people, I have no clue how much it costs to put a small satellite in space, and while I did vaguely wonder if a million bucks was a tad ambitious, what would I know, really? I mean, I’d given my money to experts. Like the other seventeen & a half thousand backers, I was hugely excited by the proposed outcome of space science for ‘all the wonder junkies out there’ as PR so colourfully put it in their promotional video.

Those of you who’ve been following this saga might at this point be interjecting that Planetary Resources is offering a refund to all backers on application, so what’s the beef? Yes, it’s true – all investors in ARKYD have been invited to claim full refund of their money, as of this morning. That seems fair enough – generous, even, considering that there are truckloads of crowdfunders that go under without so much as a thankyou note.

There is, however, a backstory that casts quite a different light on this ‘generosity’. Planetary Resources’ ARKYD ‘space telescope for everyone’ has been iced, but the company itself has just raised over $21 million for their Ceres project, an array of earth-observation satellites – ARKYD-like space telescopes – that are designed to monitor natural resources for anyone who wants to pay for the information.

That little satellite telescope in the picture there? That’s the ARKYD that we all expected to see doing publicly-funded space science.

You see what just happened, right? The $1.5 million that excited and optimistic kids funnelled into Planetary Resources ARKYD Space Telescope, was essentially an interest-free loan to a mining company.

Now Planetary Resources has never pretended not to be interested in mining. They make a big deal on their website about their future as an ‘asteroid mining’ company. But this is something quite different. If it had been presented to most people that they would be contributing their dollars interest free to a company whose aim was to make money out of exploiting the natural resources of the earth, I’m pretty damn sure they wouldn’t have raised a cent.

I’m fuming angry at Planetary Resources. Their $21.1 million dollar windfall will allow them to pay back their ‘loan’ from the ARKYD project and still leave them a cool 20 mill to set up a system that will let them put their greedy hands deep into the grubby pockets of mining companies all over the world. Worst of all, they just couldn’t be bothered delivering on their promise to give enthusiastic young people the opportunity to be part of humanity’s great space adventure. It appears that they thought the whole ‘space telescope for everyone’ business was just one big headache that got in the way of earning money.(i).

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Footnotes:

  1. I quite understand that it now looks probable that to continue with ARKYD would have cost them something more than just abandoning the project outright and refunding everyone’s money – but that’s the whole pivot of my objection to what has happened. If this wasn’t going to be achievable from the outset with the money requested from the Kickstarter, then they’ve just fucked up, which is not a great endorsement of a their business acumen – investors take note. Not only that, they lied to their contributors after the project was scuttled, by telling them that the whole viability of ARKYD was entirely speculative and contingent upon attracting what we must now assume to be substantial investment from other sources. I, for one, would have been much more cautious about forking out if I’d known that. On the other hand,if Planetary Resources does know what they’re doing, then they simply exploited the good nature of kids and adults who thought they were getting to be part of a great space adventure. EITHER WAY, these people look bad []

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It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a naturally skeptical person such as myself, when hanging around on Facebook, tends to become somewhat unpopular with their friends. This is because it is simply in our nature to feel obliged to point out hoodwinkery when it is being deployed and propagated. And on Facebook, that’s a daily occurrence.

Seriously, I just can’t help it. It’s in my blood.

Today, we are going to dissect one such incident, and attempt to determine why it bugs me so.

If you are a frequenter of Facebook, you cannot have failed to have been inundated over the last few weeks with pictures of the so-called ‘blood moon’ (a phenomenon which used to be simply called an ‘eclipse’). The blood moon gets a shitload of mileage on Facebook whenever it occurs, with people sharing-on dozens of photographs of it, occasionally even without the anguished wails of imminent apocalypse.

The following image is one such example which drifted through my feed, with a caption that read something like “A beautiful photo of last night’s blood moon!”

Except that this is not ‘a beautiful photo’ of any such thing – you can immediately see that it’s fake. You can see that, right? Not only is it fake, it’s a particularly poor fake. In this age of incredible powers of photo manipulation, there is no excuse for such a major fail, and even less excuse for anyone to fall for it. But SO many people did fall for it (it was shared some five thousand times off the link that came to me, with comments that were almost universally in the manner of: “WOW, that is so beautiful. God is amazing!”),(i) that I feel compelled to record here, for all to witness, a forensic deconstruction of this image.

I want to say from the outset that you don’t need any photo manipulation skillz to see some of the things wrong with this picture. All you need is to have actually taken the time to observe how things look in real life. First of all – and MOST egregiously – the moon is sitting so low that it appears to be in front of the horizon. It’s entirely unnatural looking. We can make that easier to discern by racking up the image’s midrange values:

You can clearly see that the very defined lower edge of the moon is sitting a little in front of the far edge of the ocean. This enhanced image also shows you another thing: except for a little fuzziness around the moon, the luminance values of the sky are exactly uniform, right across the image. This screams fakery. That kind of thing never happens in photos of real skies. It tells you that there was something else there, and that the person who manipulated the image took it out and replaced it with fill. It also explains why the overall image is so dark – it’s much easier to hide that kind of trick if you crush the black areas right down.

Aside from this hocus-pocus, the moon in this image just looks wrong. It is way too round. If the moon was really that close to the horizon, it wouldn’t look anything like that – it would appear distorted and squashed, due to its light travelling obliquely through the atmosphere. The moon we see here is a moon that should be high in the sky, away from atmospheric refraction.

Another indicator that something funny is afoot is that to get a moon to appear to be that big on a horizon, you need to use a very long lens. A very long lens and an image taken by moonlight means a very shallow depth of field. We know that the DoF is not shallow, though, because the waves in the foreground are in focus.

That creates something of a paradox; if the image was taken on a long lens, the waves would be out of focus. If it was shot on a wide lens, then the moon would be tiny in shot. A single photograph simply can’t have both.

Also, because there is very little movement blur on the waves, and they are backlit (as opposed to a flash from the front) they give us another clue: the exposure is quite short and that means the shot was therefore most likely taken in reasonably bright light. Sunlight, for example. In other words, the moon does not belong to the same image as the bottom part of this photo. It’s just been amateurishly glued on.

For an experiment, let’s take that cropped image of the waves and do a reverse image search… hmmm… lots of shots of the blood moon photo and then, after a few pages of results, a hit on a page on a photo aggregator called Scoopers, containing this:

Well, what a surprise! I believe that is a fairly resounding QED. I suspect also that the ‘blood’ moon used in the shot is also just a normal moon with the colour altered, but, even though there are ways we could examine that hypothesis, it’s entirely unnecessary so I won’t bother. The supposed ‘blood moon’ photograph is, I think you will all agree, a complete phony.

But why does this bother me so much? Well, the thing is, it’s just another example of the insipid crap that pollutes the reality of the world. It’s the Photoshop version of religion; a thing that’s completely fabricated in order to create the illusion of wonder, when in fact it’s entirely superfluous because reality is MUCH MORE WONDERFUL. Here, take a look at some actual photos of last week’s blood moon:

Some very talented and dedicated photographers got you those images, and they are real, and they are WAY better than the miserable cut & paste of some lame hack. Mr or Ms Hack’s efforts dilute the value of proper creative people. And they get away with it – and are even rewarded for it – because of the credulity of the undiscerning.

When I pointed out, to the friend who posted the image, that it was fake, her reply was ‘Well, it’s a nice picture anyway.’ NO IT’S NOT. It’s a crummy, ham-fisted Frankenstein’s-monster-of-a-picture. Someone spent five minutes on it while waiting for midget porn clips to load. It belongs in a folder called ‘Failed Experiments’ on a fifth-grader’s computer. It’s too lousy to feature on a peeling poster on a tar-stained wall in a Chinese brothel. This is the 21st century, people. If you’re going to fake an image, there is no excuse to be less competent than a 1950s Russian propagandist.

In the next TCA post, we will examine another of these cheap pieces of social buffoonery. And one that involves science, so you can really expect we’ll have fun with it. Stay tuned.

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Footnotes:

  1. That’s an actual comment []

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In recent times in my adventures in the social media universe, I’ve started to see more and more prevalently, a certain riposte to arguments that champion science. It comes in the form of “…but science can’t be a hundred percent sure of it, right?” You’ll have seen the same thing I’m sure: you proffer that global warming is a serious problem, with over 95% of scientists working in climate science attesting to its seriousness, and someone chimes in with the argument that because there’s that 5% for whom the jury is out,(i) then there is some question of validity of the great weight of the argument in favour.

It’s difficult to get most non-scientific people to understand the philosophical cornerstones on which science is built, but the one that provides the most problem is, perhaps, the scientific idea of falsifiability. Simply put, it works like this: a question of science is posed in such a way that it is held up to scrutiny for its robustness against pulling it down again.

Let me give you a very basic example. Let’s suppose that one day I leave an apple out on the bench in my back yard. The next day, I notice that the apple has been knocked to the ground and there are bites out of it. I advance to you an hypothesis: fairies at the bottom of the garden have a love of apples and they are the culprits. If you chose to disagree with this interpretation of the situation, and were to approach this scientifically, you might question my hypothesis and devise ways to show me that my suggestion(ii) is not the best explanation for the facts. You might, for example, decide to leave out a new decoy apple, stay up all night and, from a hidden spot, observe what happens to it. You might rig up a camera to photograph the apple if it is moved. You might put out a plastic apple and see whether it gets eaten or moved. There are numerous things you might do to chip away at my hypothesis.

Together – pending the evidence you gathered – we would establish the likelihood of my hypothesis being correct, and in the event that it started to seem unlikely, gather additional evidence that might set us on our way to a new hypothesis involving another explanation. Possums, maybe.

You might think that this is a simplistic, and perhaps even patronising, illustration. But consider this: you can never, ever, prove to me definitively that fairies weren’t responsible for that first apple incident, or any subsequent incidents that we weren’t actively observing. This is because we have no explicit data for those times.

The philosophy of scientific process unequivocally requires it must be like this. It seems like a bizarre Catch 22, but the very idea is a sort of axiom built into the deepest foundations of science, and an extremely valuable one, because it allows everything to be re-examined by the scientific process should additional persuasive data appear. It’s a kind of a ‘don’t get cocky, kid’ reminder. It’s a way for the scientific process to be flexible enough to cope with the possibility of new information. If we didn’t have it, science would deteriorate rapidly into dogma.

The problem is that people who don’t understand science very well tend to think rather too literally about this ‘loophole’ of falsifiability. They take it to mean that, if we did a thousand nights of experimental process in my backyard, and 999 of those nights we got photos of the possums chewing on the apple, then the one night where the camera malfunctioned it’s possible that the apple actually could have been eaten by fairies. Worse than that, they mistakenly go on to extrapolate that the Fairies Hypothesis therefore has equal weight with the Possum Hypothesis.

Even worse still, this commitment of science not to make assessments on the data it does not have is frequently wheeled out by an increasing number of people as if it’s a profound failing – a demonstration that ‘science is not perfect’.

But here, I will argue to the contrary. At least, I will say that science may not be perfect, but it does its very best to strive to understand where the flaws in its process might arise, and take them into account.

This should not be taken to mean, however, that nothing in science has any certainty, and everything is up for grabs. Why? Because science is all about probabilities. If you are not comfortable with talking in the language of probabilities, then you should really butt right out of any scientific discussion.(iii)

Of course, in the fairies vs possums scenario, we’ve already factored the probabilities into account: our brains can’t help but favour the hypothesis that we think is the most likely, given the observations that have accumulated over our lives: we know that possums like fruit; we know that they are active at night; we have seen possums. On the other hand, we have little evidence for the predilection of fairies for apples, or even for the existence of such beings. Taking into account all the things we know, it’s much more likely to be possums eating the fruit than it is to be fairies. But I will reiterate – because it’s important – that the thing to remember is that there is no way that anyone can ever scientifically prove to you that the one time out of a thousand when you weren’t looking that it wasn’t the fairies who took a chomp on the apple.

But you still know it wasn’t, right?

This is the point where it gets frustrating for real scientists doing real science. Fairies vs possums is a reasonably trivial scientific case, and most(iv) people have the educational tools to make a proper and rational assessment of the situation. However, in the case of a non-scientific person arguing that because 5% of scientists don’t agree with the rest on global warming there’s a cause for doubt on the whole thing, this looks to scientists – the people in possession of the greater number of facts and understanding of those facts – like someone arguing that the fairies ate the apple.

It’s not just the Climate Change discussion that suffers from this problem. A large part of the reason we now get into these kinds of debates is that our scientific understanding of the world has, in this age, become so intricate and detailed that it’s very difficult for non-specialists to properly grasp the highly complex nature of certain subjects. Climate science is one of those areas. Evolution is another, and vaccination one more. Because most of us don’t have a lifetime’s worth of education in any of these highly complex fields, and our brains don’t have the tools we need to assess the required data in any meaningful way, we tend to fall back on thinking patterns that are more attuned to the solving of simple, easily defined problems. We then superimpose those simple-to-understand patterns on subjects we don’t understand. Everyone does this, whether it’s in an effort to understand economics, or politics, or even our phone’s data plan. We just can’t help it.

What’s truly sad and frustrating is that when scientists tell us things that are hard to understand, don’t fit with what we know, and are not things we want to hear, many people (including, it has to be said, far too many of the politicians who make the decisions that rule our lives) start to try to find reasons why the scientists MUST be wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard all the variations: scientists are in it for their own agendas (the Frankenstein scenario); they’re being paid to give false results by Big Pharma/Agriculture/Data/Tech/Whatever; or, as we’ve discussed, because they don’t know everything.

Science doesn’t know everything. The thing is, contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe, it knows that it doesn’t know everything, and this understanding of its limits is built into its very structure. As such, it is not a weakness, but a very great strength.

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PS: This is the very first time on TCA that I’ve deployed a clickbait headline… and I’m not sorry.

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Footnotes:

  1. And that’s an important thing to remember here: the 95% figure that’s often quoted are the scientists who are certain, but that does not imply in any way that the other 5% are just as certain global warming is not happening or not of concern. Some of that 5% just don’t think the data is in. That’s a very different prospect to having an unequivocal position against. []
  2. For that’s really what an hypothesis is; a fancy kind of ‘suggestion’ []
  3. If you can’t think in probabilities, you almost certainly have a heck of a time living your life too, because – hear me – nothing is certain. []
  4. But not all, trust me… []

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I wanted to add one further post about the CieAura scam. I found out so many things while I was researching it, that I simply couldn’t fit them in the narrative without making it labyrinthine with detours. So this will be a kind of round up of CieAura ephemera and thoughts from me about it.

• One thing that I wanted to talk about was the large web presence of this racket. Searching the name brings up over 200,000 primary hits, and as you begin to spool through the highest ones, the first thing you notice is that very few of those hits are disparaging of the product. This might lead an undiscriminating researcher to conclude that any negativity against it – such as mine – is rare. It doesn’t take long to discover that CieAura is working the SEO like crazy – either through actively cross linking itself with itself, or getting other people (probably its reps) to do so. And make no mistake, CieAura is an internet whore. Wherever it can get its name mentioned, it does, sometimes numerous times in a paragraph. CieAura ‘comments’ are scattergunned through forums and user groups, often completely irrelevantly (trading on open and poor moderation). If you’re like me, the next thing you think to do is search ‘CieAura scam‘. You get many fewer results, and some of them are useful. The interesting thing, though, is that there is a significant proportion that look like they’re offering advice about being scammed, but turn out to be sales pitches – this demonstrates an active process of attempting to hoover up folks who might be doubtful about the product, and are sensible enough to do a search on it. It’s an eerie and creepy tactic and after I’d seen it a few times, my skin was really starting to crawl.

• When you do encounter users of CieAura on the forums, they are almost universally effusive about the product. If someone makes a comment like ‘it’s a scam, they don’t work’ you can bet there’ll be a chorus of others who dispute that. The likelihood is very high that the original comment came from someone who used the chips, and the rebuttals from people selling them.

• CieAura makes a big deal about the chips ‘not putting any drugs in your body’. This paranoid fear-mongering squares with Melissa Rogers’ and Kathy Heiney’s persistent mantra about ShooTag ‘not using any chemicals’. This is plainly an attempt to leverage prospective customers’ distrust of modern medicine as part of the sales pitch.(i) They really have all the angles on pushing people’s buttons.

• You can’t buy CieAura in any other way than from a sales representative. The CieAura website (and others I found) makes it seem that you can, but you just can’t. Try it if you like. You’ll always end up getting directed to a sales rep of one kind or another. At the very least this is another example of completely dishonest behaviour; why make it appear that you have a store and shopping cart on your site when you don’t? If the product is a completely legitimate one, and efficacious as it’s made out to be, why can’t I just order some, like I can do with anything else I want to buy? This speaks once again to the real mechanism in operation here: CieAura doesn’t care about selling the product as much as it does about recruiting chumps to sell it. That, there can be no doubt by now, is where the bulk of the money generation lies (see below to how relevantly this speaks to CieAura being a pyramid scheme).

• There are numerous CieAura ‘training’ videos on YouTube and elsewhere. If you’ve ever had someone attempt to ensnare you in a scheme like Amway or Herbalife, these whitebread airbrushed zombies with their lame xeroxed script will be quite familiar to you.

Once you take care of your family, then you can help others…” says Mr Less-Charisma-Than-A-Dog-Turd. That’s right folks, make sure you screw your family first, because they’re the least likely to go to the cops. This tactic has the additional advantage that it will make you feel like you’re getting somewhere if you get a few ‘sympathy purchases’ out of the starting gate. But after you’ve worked your way through your mum & dad & siblings, and alienated what are probably the last of your friends, you’ll find out mighty quickly that the Law of Large Numbers has taken care of any other suckers that might give you the time of day. By then, Paul Rogers has already spent your money on another of his awful suits.

And this idea that you’re ‘helping’ people is loathsome. How are you helping them? By foisting off on them some stupid twinkly little stickers that do nothing that’s even vaguely rooted in reality? Or by lumbering them with a business ‘opportunity’ that they’ll chip away at for a month or two before realising that, as always, a real job requires either some experience or a level of honest toil doing something useful. There is only one way to get easy money in this world, and that’s to piss all over other people.

I really detest the way that this whole thing is vaunted as decent business. This is not business, it’s out-and-out screwage. This is what people who are assholes think business means. I’ve run several successful businesses in my time and I have never found the need to treat anyone I work with, work for, or employ, like these people do. If you’re considering opting into the CieAura marketing scheme, take it from me, the people on the top of the pyramid don’t give a flying fuck about you or whether you succeed, no matter how heavily they peddle that message. Once you’ve put down your first few hundred, they’ve got what they want. Anything else they can string you along for is a bonus. If someone tells you they’ve made money out of CieAura – and that person is not Paul Rogers, because he certainly has – then you can bet your ass that person is another CieAura rep trying to recover a few dollars of the debt she’s no doubt carrying. To reiterate from last post: whatever CieAura might present this whole deal as, it’s a pyramid scheme. Go here and read this carefully so you understand why it can never work for you.

It’s mathematically impossible for everyone to make money in a pyramid scheme. For example, if each recruit needs to find 10 more people to recoup the cost of his or her initial investment, the eighth level of the pyramid would have to recruit a billion people to make back their money. And the next level would need 10 billion, nearly twice the population of the Earth. ~How Pyramid Schemes Work

• CieAura, no doubt, would object to being called a pyramid scheme. They would probably define themselves as a Multi Level Marketing program. They do this for a very, very good reason: in 1979, the US Federal Trade Commission ruled that Amway, a huge company that runs on this kind of system, was NOT a pyramid scheme. The fine points of exactly why not, are almost impossible to fathom, really, but in any case you can go here and determine for yourself how CieAura would fare if called to account by the FTC.

Here are a few points the FTC gives (from many) for differentiating a pyramid scheme from a ‘genuine’ MLM.(ii)

• Avoid any MLM that puts much more emphasis on recruiting salespeople than selling the actual product.
• Make sure that the products being sold have real value and a competitive price.
• Avoid signing up for an MLM as part of a high-pressure motivational event.
• Bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Any of that sound like CieAura? You see how they’re attempting to navigate around the strict definition of a pyramid scheme by selling a ‘product’? But the value of that product is completely fabricated, so having a ‘competitive’ price is a meaningless concept. They just put on any price they can get away with, because the thing is not ‘competing’ against anything but fairy dust. It’s lies wrapped up in deceit and tied with a bow of bullshit.

And it might not hurt to keep in mind that the people at the top of that CieAura pyramid are closely related to entities like BurnLounge who have been found criminally culpable of defrauding consumers via a pyramid scheme masquerading as a Multi Level Marketing opportunity (this does not, I hasten to add, make them criminals merely by association. But it does speak to the kind of company they keep, and the kinds of companies they keep, if you get my drift).

That’s all on CieAura for now, but I have a feeling we’ve not spoken the last words about them…

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Footnotes:

  1. A distrust that, while having a modicum of legitimacy, is blown way out of proportion by so-called CAM modalities. Yes, pharmaceutical companies are sometimes not the most honourable people in the world, but there’s a lot of pot-calling-the-kettle-black going on. Particularly when we consider the likes of CieAura, PowerBalance, Sensa Slim et al []
  2. I still think MLMs are dangerous swindles too, but apparently in the US, where money is the only thing important to a lot of people, the FTC has been swayed on that point. []

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I began this investigation into CieAura by saying that my main concern with this product was the science that is claimed to make it work. As I researched deeper, however, I realised that, like a lot of other people, I’d been hoodwinked by CieAura. The people behind this enterprise don’t care if their product has any basis in science. I don’t think they don’t even care what their product is. There are much larger subterfuges at work here.

For a start, it’s pretty difficult to accept that CieAura are unaware of the many levels of deception they use in the promotion of their business. Try as I might to believe that they misguidedly think that they’re being genuine about what they’re doing, there is so much obfuscation, sidestepping, misdirection and just plain fibbing on their website and in their marketing strategies, that it’s hard to cut them much slack as ‘honest folks just having a go’. The first indication of duplicity is the robust and persistent disclaimer that appears under every hyperbolic pitch of every CieAura modality:

“NOTE: CieAura products are sold for learning, self-improvement and simple relaxation. No statement contained in this writing, and no information provided by any CieAura employee or retailer, should be construed as a claim or representation that these products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease or any other medical condition. The information contained in this writing is deemed to be based on reliable and authoritative report. However, certain persons considered experts may disagree with one or more of the statements contained here. CieAura assumes no liability or risk involved in the use of the products described here. We make no warranty, expressed or implied, other than that the material conforms to applicable standard specifications.”

Wow. A simpler way of putting that might have been “We make no claim that our product actually does any of the things that we’re making you think it does”. That’s not the only disclaimer either – there are frequent secondary waivers scattered throughout the site:(i)

These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness. If you have a pre-existing condition, please check with your healthcare provider before using.

Despite the detailed legal ducking and weaving, it’s quite plain that CieAura intends you to have the impression that their holograms will have beneficial effects on medical conditions. A few little excerpts from the various product pages:

“CieAura SinusAllergy Chips are extremely effective in dealing with sinus allergies”

“The CieAura Chips and band help significantly reduce your appetite so it’s easier to make better food choices.”

“CieAura PureEnergy plus balance the body… and eliminate the need to add “energy” calories to the diet.”

“CieAura PureRelief Chips can be used to manage back discomfort caused by sprains, muscle strains, headaches & athletic soreness.” (by discomfort, they plainly mean pain)

Vague promises, to be sure, but given the contexts in which each of these statements is placed (which you can read by clicking on each of them, above), it’s pretty clear how CieAura is being promoted. And did you see the really weaselly line in the disclaimer? (I mean, it’s ALL weaselly, but this is particularly good):

…no information provided by any CieAura employee or retailer should be construed as a claim or representation that these products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease or any other medical condition.

This effectively means that anyone spruiking CieAura can say the product achieves whatever miraculous results they like and, very conveniently, CieAura can avoid taking responsibility for those claims. Liability is deftly passed onto anyone who happens to be selling the things (which you will see in just a minute is germane to the whole operation). The disclaimers, like the CieAura chips themselves, are completely void of any value.

Delving deeper into the CieAura site, there’s no shortage of other slippery efforts to bolster up the apparent bonafides of the operation. There is, for example, an impressive-sounding ‘Medical Advisory Board‘ for CieAura. Impressive unless you take a few minutes to investigate them. Of the six people featured, three are chiropractors, one is an osteopath and the other two are general practitioners. I don’t need to tell you that chiropractors and osteopaths are hardly the epitome of reliable medical advice. And I’m sorry, as much as I respect GPs, a couple of them endorsing a radical new approach to medicine that completely rewrites the way we understand the physics of the universe doesn’t hold much water for me.

Elsewhere on the web, in a YouTube video which is presumably aimed at pitching CieAura to prospective marketers, Paul Rogers claims that there is a ‘peer-reviewed study’ behind CieAura. He’s obviously heard the term ‘peer-review’, knows it’s something that a credible scientifically based product should have, and thinks it applies to this kind of crap [pdf]. It doesn’t.(ii)

I won’t bore you with more examples of the many instances of perfidiousness to be found here. Whatever the case, it really does not matter that the CieAura chips are nothing more than shiny decals with no mechanism of known efficacy and a lack of proper substantiation. The product itself is just sleight-of-hand. Its primary purpose is not to be sold to an end user.

Remember how I encouraged you to take note of the pyramid logo on the CieAura hologram? Well that, my friends, is quite a fitting emblem for this company, for they are the very model of a pyramid scheme.(iii) In the post before last, I mentioned Brian J, who left a comment on one of the ShooTag articles way back in June 2011. This is what he said:

I was at a presentation last night by a company named CieAura. They use the same technology as the shootag (so they say) and I was wondering what you have heard about them? They claim $80 million in sales this year and say that they will double next year.

I was thinking of become a distributor with them, but like I said, since they claim their method is the same as shootag, I was wondering what you thought?

The presentation that Brian attended wasn’t about trying to sell him CieAura chips for his personal use. It was designed to sell him on CieAura as a business opportunity that would make him some money. And indeed, in order to help convince Brian how wonderful CieAura was, they even tried out the old balance trick on him – with which he was impressed until I told him how it was done.(iv) Fortunately for Brian, he was warned off this swindle before they got his cash:


To sign up for their program was about a minimum $500 purchase, so I am REALLY glad I did not do it now.

And by the way, thanks for not making me feel bad. Your response was very kind. I know I am from a smaller town in Missouri, but when you look at the evidence as you have presented it, you feel like you should have known better.

You see how that works, right? To get in on the action of the miraculous CieAura, Brian has to fork out a base fee of $500 for a fistful of worthless glittery rainbow stickers. In the manner of all good pyramid schemes, that cool 500 goes to the next guy up the ladder, who’s paying off his franchise to the next guy up the ladder and so forth. Meanwhile, Brian has to sell off his wad of holograms to break even – which he realises very quickly is almost impossible, because outside the CieAura presentation room, no sensible person is going to take the useless things, even for free. No worries Brian! All you need to do is set up your own presentation event and rope in some more suckers! Only problem is, due to the laws of exponential mathematics, you eventually run out of suckers. CieAura, however, will not let you in on that little mathematical secret – they’ll tell you that you’re just not managing your dealership effectively… and attempt to sell you more useless crap.(v)

Because the product in this case is worth peanuts and has exactly NO efficacy, the only thing these people are really paying for is the privilege of using the CieAura name. And guess where most of the money in those $500+ advances comes to rest? Yup, that’s right, with Paul Rogers, Melissa Rogers and their cronies sitting there at the top of that pyramid (for a really excellent explanation of why a pyramid scheme is disastrous for everyone except the people at the top of the pyramid, go here).

Brian J had a lucky escape. Like most people who get involved in these scams he probably couldn’t afford to lose the $500 that CieAura was happily prepared to lift from him. And if Brian had not stumbled on Tetherd Cow, you can bet that they’d have eventually sucked a lot more out of him than $500 before he realised what was going on.

So you see why I believe the people peddling CieAura are despicable crooks. The dishonesty that stains the entire CieAura edifice speaks loudly against this being a decent and effective product. As I’ve said in previous discussions on TCA, honest people just don’t behave like these people do. There is simply no way on earth that you can set up a business like this and have no idea of what kind of racket you’re running. It makes me sincerely regret being foolish enough to occasionally feel a twinge of doubt about my negative assessment of the motives of Ms Rogers & co throughout the ShooTag saga: for most of the time I was challenging ShooTag, they were actively working the CieAura scam!

I want to finish off with a YouTube clip. You don’t need to watch it, because I’ll synopsise it for you. I only include it by way of proof, because I fear that if I merely told you about it you’d find it pretty hard to believe that anyone could actually be quite so lacking in basic decency.

It features Paul Rogers, CEO of CieAura, telling a Thanksgiving story. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it might reveal any shade of humanity in this man; it’s a tale about how he used the opportunity of a family Thanksgiving to inveigle (or more like browbeat, in fact) his closest relatives into the CieAura scheme.(vi) And certainly don’t go looking for any heart-warming epiphany here. I watched it right through – ever naive and optimistic – thinking that it might have some kind of revelatory and humble moral lesson; “..and in the end, I realised this was Thanksgiving, and the most important thing of all was that I had a loving family…”. But it’s not there. Paul Rogers is not that person. Even his close friends and family are, to him, just business opportunities.(vii)

He really needs a refresher viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Unfathomably, he seems to be completely oblivious as to how this video might seem to other people, since it’s publicly viewable on YouTube. Either that, or he doesn’t care. If you do choose to watch the clip, and you’re anything like me, you probably won’t get very far before you feel like throwing up.

Further reading:

PatchDiskBandScam has some comprehensive examination of CieAura as well as other health scams directly related to them, such as Lifewave, HarmonicFM and 8ight. There’s a great infographic showing the links between the people involved. Paul Rogers is right up there, but no mention of the CieAura Chief Science Officer. You can also see reports of a massive US Federal Trade Commission legal assault on a company called (perhaps somewhat grotesquely) BurnLounge, who were successfully prosecuted for operating a vast pyramid scheme. The previously mentioned infographic shows clearly how people involved in BurnLounge are linked to CieAura. BurnLounge was ordered to pay redress to 56,000 consumers of over 17 million dollars that it had bilked out of them, in a “scheme in which compensation for recruitment is unrelated to the sale of product to customers who are not participants”. The case was ruled in 2012. The FTC is still chasing the money.

WatchDog on RepSpace has also tracked down a great deal of CieAura material.

There’s a long thread over at Museum of Hoaxes that follows a lot of the ducking and weaving of CieAura. The numerous personnel links with other promoters of quackery such as the previously mentioned Lifewave and HarmonicFM are immediately obvious.

I found a CieAura press release that boasts that they have been granted registration by the Australian Therapeutic Drugs Administration enabling them to operate in Australia, but I have not been able to determine if that is in any way genuine, and if so if it is still current.
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Footnotes:

  1. It’s likely that the CieAura promoters tell their marks that they are forced to put up these disavowals because the CieAura chips are ‘ahead of their time’ and ‘conventional medicine doesn’t understand how they work’, or somesuch. At the very least, this shows an enormous disregard for the safety of consumers, but most likely they do it in full knowledge that the product is bunk and they’re simply protecting their asses. []
  2. I trawled through this ‘paper’. It should be a flagship for what science is NOT. You can find an ‘explanation’ of peer review buried deep in the CieAura site, for anyone who should care enough to go looking for it. If you understand peer review, and the manner in which rigorous medicine is practised, it’s VERY hard to believe that this single, obscure, nepotistic paper is not being contrived with one single purpose: to make it LOOK like CieAura has substance. It’s simply another dishonest ploy. []
  3. They frequently refer to their business as ‘network marketing’ but that is nothing more than a euphemism for pyramid scheme. []
  4. If you stop and think about it, the balance trick is not in anyway demonstrating that CieAura is delivering whatever efficacy it’s promising – it’s just a marketing technique. I mean seriously, on the face of it, it just looks like a hologram seems to stop you from toppling over. What does that even mean? The extrapolation to ‘it will make you better in bed’ or ‘it will stop your allergy problem’ is a ridiculous and oblique leap of logic. But of course, they’re not using the trick to appeal to the person who would is actually the proposed end user of the chips. []
  5. Probably in the form of admittance to seminars, access to ‘special’ online motivational material and so forth – I really don’t know in the case of CieAura, but it will be something like that. People who manage these pyramid or network-marketing schemes get familiar with the exponential nature of the beast very quickly, and so they’ve come up with all manner of novel ways with which to screw the suckers they’ve already hooked. []
  6. There’s a fair probability that in this case, the people who bought in might have done OK. It’s not hard to figure out why: at this early stage, they’re pretty close to the top of the pyramid. []
  7. It’s probable that this video was made for motivational purposes and is directed at CieAura reps. This raises another possibility: that the story (like much else about CieAura) is fictitious. The alternative – that it’s true, and not only did this pathetic episode happen in Rogers’ life, but he’s exhorting other people to behave like this – is all so shabby that it makes me want to retire from the human race. []

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In the last post, we discovered – to our significant bafflement – that the magical CieAura has ShooTag‘s Melissa Rogers as its Chief Science Officer. Today we’re going to look at some of CieAura’s claims, and indeed, dwell a little on the ‘science’ that this wonderful gadget is supposed to use.

I will make it super clear here – since the ShooTag people seemed to have a lot of trouble with this concept – that the science part of this whole swindle is my major concern. If the claim of this device was that its working mechanism is magic, then I’d not be interested in trying to approach such a claim via a rational process. That’s a zero sum game. But the appointment of a ‘Science Officer’ clearly nails CieAura’s pretensions to the mast. In my book, spectacular scientific claims must offer spectacular and unassailable proof.

Before we go on, I have a confession to make – I realised this morning that I’ve actually examined CieAura in the past. In the comments on this post, Brian J visits the Cow to tell us about his experience with them. He found his way here because CieAura was even mentioned in the same context as ShooTag! But I completely forgot about it. In my defense, there are just so many of these damn scams that one tends to be very much like another and I truly forget which I’ve looked at. At that time (June 2011), CieAura was probably just getting its market penetration. Brian J’s story is an interesting one, and if you have the time, I recommend you read the discussion between him and myself. It’s very enlightening in regard to what we’ll go on to examine in this post, and the next.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. First I’ll give you a little breakdown of the product. CieAura manifests as not one, but eight different modalities. The website contends that it will help you with pain, sleep, fatigue, allergies, libido and weight loss, protect you from EMF and enhance your sporting prowess. CieAura comes in the form of holographic ‘chips’ that you attach to your skin with skin-coloured tape. This is what they look like:

The image is of a pyramid, in case you can’t see it. Pay special attention to that, because we’ll revisit the concept later.

Now I will point out here that it is frighteningly cheap to make a hologram of the kind you see here. A hologram is nothing more than an array of tiny little refraction scratches in the surface of thin plastic. There is nothing special about this process. Billions of these holograms are manufactured every year and they are made as simply as you might print a document on your home computer.

A ten second search gave me hundreds of options for getting sheets of holograms printed (mainly in China) for as little as 0.01 cents per piece (a piece usually consisting of one sheet of ten or twenty), and I bet you could even do better with a trade order. A single sheet of 10 CieAura holographic stickers will cost you 35 dollars. This is an absolutely astonishing manufacturing-to-sales profit ratio of 3500%.

The CieAura chips are supposed to be efficacious for 2-3 days. So, in the main, one packet of CieAura stickers is going to last you no more than a few weeks, and in all probability, customers are encouraged to buy multiple packs. You can see quite clearly that if these things are actually being purchased, this is a goldmine.(i) It’s fairly difficult to get a good metric for the purchase success of CieAura. The web turns up many testimonials, but that’s vague endorsement. We can probably assume moderate sales success, which, due to the profit ratio, is no doubt a significant revenue. But that’s only a small facet of the money machine that is CieAura, as we will see in a bit.

In any case, today we’re looking at the science claims of CieAura, so we’ll leave the business aspects for the moment and have a little gander at how this wonderful product is supposed to work.

I’m not going to quote the text from the CieAura ‘Science’ page in its entirety, because, to be honest, it’s just plain gobbledegook (similar to what we saw in the ShooTag ‘science’ claims). You can go read it if you want, it’s here. To me it seems like this:

“CieAura does magical and amazing things that will make your life better. We here at CieAura don’t really understand the way the world works, and we don’t think you do either. Ancient peoples used magic and so we thought that if we took magic, and added pretendy science words to it, you might believe it’s not magic. We’d convince you it works by saying something like this: imagine something irrelevant in the real world. Now imagine your body is like that thing. CieAura magically makes that irrelevant thing relevant to your body, and fixes whatever problem you want by making magic equivalence. Oh, and by the way, Energy.”

Elsewhere on the CieAura site, we get references to lasers, quantum fields and more energy. Proper science is referred to as ‘orthodox science’, but is used to attempt to leverage some CieAura credibility despite the condescension. Perhaps the most peculiar thing of all is this:

NOTE: It is often misconstrued that frequencies and vibrations are the basis for the CieAura Chip design. To clarify: It has been determined that frequencies and/or vibrations are not the rudimentary cause of brain and body communication. Research has shown that frequencies and vibrations are an energy force that can be measured, and when absorbed by the body, appear to create certain effects. We have found that when the frequencies and vibrations are removed from the body, there remains, what is referred to as, intrinsic energies, which operate as the body’s natural communication force. These “intrinsic energies” are not measurable in the same manner as frequencies and vibrations are measurable, and because of this, we use the body’s natural forces to antidotally determine the existence of these forces. For these reasons, we consider it factually incorrect to describe the results of our technology to be driven by frequencies or vibrations.

Any further discussion on how the chips work would reveal proprietary production technologies.

So after all Melissa Rogers’ previous huffing and puffing about ‘frequencies’ in her attempted scientific explanations of ShooTag, it appears she’s gone cold on that particular concept. Or maybe ShooTag works on frequencies and CieAura works on not-frequencies. From the above explanation, it’s completely impossible to figure out how it does work, and this paragraph sounds to me like this:

“Magic, frequencies, magic, magic, bullshit, waffle, waffle, magic, bullshit and oh, we can’t tell you how it really works because secrets.”

Another berserk thing that we discover from the CieAura pages, is that the holographic magic of CieAura is happily riding along on the coattails of another dubious area of medical pseudoscience – acupuncture.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is an energy medicine. Acupuncturists dating back 3000 years also employed these energetic principles of positive and negative or yin and yang with the neutral center energy of mind being the way of the Tao… The manufacturer of CieAura Transparent Holographic Chips has discovered a way to adhesively charge intrinsic energies into holograms for the purpose of influencing the human cycle. Our Chips influence key points to create the desired effect. The natural meridians in our body get out of balance and cause blockages in the natural energy flow between the vital organs, cells and tissues of the body. The body works to connect these energy flows; however, without help, there is rarely if ever a balance in our body that keeps energy, concentration, stamina, and plus and minus (Yin and Yang) at the optimum level.

So what we have here, in essence, is a highly questionable modality of ancient folk medical treatment being influenced by an unspecified and quite unknown mechanism of physical science to return an outcome that the manufacturers – in their own words – explicitly do not guarantee (we’ll examine this situation in the next instalment). Would you spend 35 bucks on that? I’d rather go to a movie and have a choc top.

In short, there is no science here. Once again we find Melissa Rogers throwing around all kinds of sciencey sounding stuff in order to give CieAura a patina of credibility, but wholly failing to make any sense whatsoever, and certainly not putting forward any rational explanation as to why CieAura is anything but a flimsy piece of plastic film with a picture etched onto it. It is significant to note here that these kinds of claims and techniques were specifically responsible for the comprehensive banning of Power Balance bands here in Australia. The manufacturers of Power Balance, which also “used holographic technology” to “resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body”, admitted that the claims they made for their product were baseless, and they were compelled cease trading in Australia and to refund the purchase price of a Power Balance band to all customers who requested it.

Finally, today, we’ll take a look at a YouTube clip:

I don’t know the bona fides of the chap doing the demonstration here, but this is the hoary old ‘balance’ test, which, despite the guy’s claims of it ‘not being a trick’, is exactly that, and has been shown to be such so many times that it’s amazing that anyone still falls for it.(ii) Here’s exactly how it’s done, and how the purveyors of the million dollar Power Balance scam were toppled:

In the next post we’ll go on to take a look at CieAura’s business practices, and some amusing legal stuff. Join me, won’t you?

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Footnotes:

  1. Of course, the assertion that some aspect of the holograms ‘wear out’ is abject nonsense, and in this respect we see a departure from the mechanism of ShooTag, which, although it was still nonsense, at least retains faint plausibility in the notion of the product efficacy being limited over time by wear and tear. Perplexingly, elsewhere on the CieAura site we find this: “Formulas cannot be changed unless bent or cut. Data on a hologram lasts over 50 years, so shelf life of CieAura products is almost unlimited.” So what is it, exactly, that limits the efficacy of CieAura holograms to two days? []
  2. It has been charitably said that the people who carry out these demonstrations may not be consciously affecting the outcome, but I have trouble believing that. Do the experiment yourself, and see if you can do it without knowing you’re doing it… []

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