Skeptical Thinking

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 that determines which of those two things it is for any given case.

I like the idea behind crowdfunding, and have invested 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 cautiously.

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. This entailed contributors being able to upload an image of their choice to a screen on the ARKYD telescope, and then having it rephotographed in orbit high above the earth. 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 $1 million (a substantial figure by crowdfunder standards) 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 shutting down their Kickstarter. I was especially dissatisfied with the reasons given by Chris Lewicki, PR’s President and Chief Engineer, 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.

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. Lewicki’s announcement makes it sound like the only thing the money was used for was the development of the technology. I want you to keep that thought in mind as we continue.

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 optimistic, excited kids (and adults) funnelled into Planetary Resources ARKYD Space Telescope, was essentially an interest-free loan to a mining company to help them develop their technology.

Now Planetary Resources has never hidden their mining ambitions. 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 the ARKYD Kickstarter 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 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)).

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!”), ((That’s an actual comment)) 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.

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, ((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.)) 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 ((For that’s really what an hypothesis is; a fancy kind of ‘suggestion’)) 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. ((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.))

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 ((But not all, trust me…)) 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.


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

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. ((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)) 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. ((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.))

• 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…

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: ((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.))

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. ((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.))

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. ((They frequently refer to their business as ‘network marketing’ but that is nothing more than a euphemism for pyramid scheme.)) 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. ((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.)) 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. ((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.))

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. ((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.)) 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. ((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.))

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.

I know I said we were going to be looking at CieAura’s business practices today, but I thought instead that I might take a little detour, and think a bit about the central concepts behind what the product is offering. Specifically, we’re going to look at holograms, what they are, how they work and their relevance to any kind of biological or medical efficacy.

The first thing I’m going to assert is that the CieAura doesn’t use true holograms. I’ve never seen a CieAura ‘chip’ in reality, so I’m going off web images, but to me these look like ‘stacked’ or ‘2D/3D’ holos, which are found extensively in toys, credit and ID cards, and product design. These are just 2D layers which give the illusion of depth. They are stupidly easy to manufacture, and incredibly cheap, as we have seen. You can easily have them made to your own design.

It is vaguely possible that the CieAura holograms are what is known as Dot Matrix holos, and they are pretty much what they sound like: holograms made by specialized machines which stamp images into foil masters using a dot pattern. The process is somewhat similar to the way old-fashioned desktop printers worked. These kinds of holos are generally used when high levels of security are required, as they can encode what are called ‘shape scattered’ patterns. Electron-beam lithography makes even higher quality holograms still, and due to their very high resolution (up to a quite impressive 254,000 dots per inch) can encode all kinds of hard-to-copy detail. These last two are rather more expensive than stacked holos, but once you’ve made a master, it’s still relatively cheap to manufacture millions of clones.

Whatever the case, you should understand that what’s happening with all of these methods is that a machine is simply etching finely detailed patterns into a piece of metal, which is then used as a master to print the actual holograms onto plastic or metal foil.

Without wanting to get too technical about what a proper hologram is, and how it works, I’ll attempt a little explanation: even though light travels very fast (299792458 metres per second, in fact) it can be slowed down by materials it passes through, such as water or glass.

Here, the light bouncing off the pencil and reaching your eyes is slowed very slightly as it goes through the water in the glass, and when you compare it to the light coming off the pencil above the water, you can clearly see a discontinuity (and you can see that there is a depth-perception illusion in play – the pencil looks more magnified, and appears to be ‘elsewhere’ from where you know it to be). You will have seen this kind of effect countless times in your life; distortions in windows, raindrops on glass, the brilliance of cut gems like diamonds. If you wear spectacles, the warping of light by changing its speed is what helps correct your vision. Any transparent or semi-transparent medium can, and mostly always does, change the speed of light.

A lesser known example of the speed of light being altered is when you see an oily puddle on the road.

In this case, the rainbow effect is caused by the constituent parts of white light being bounced off the puddle at slightly different speeds – the white light of the sun is being separated into colours due to minute optical delays introduced by the oil/water mix on the road.

This changing of the speed of light as it goes through different material is called refraction (or diffraction, according to whether it’s reflected or transmitted). I’m sure you’ll already have made the link between oily rainbows and the holograms you see on credit cards, and indeed, you’re seeing exactly the same principle at work. The very cool thing about refraction/diffraction is that if you can slow light down controllably, and in just the right way, you can fool your eyes into thinking that the delay caused by what we call the refractive index of a material is not simply a colourful effect, but a function of distance. In other words, under certain conditions, and in just the right light, we can trick our eyes into seeing refractive changes as depth.

And this is exactly what a hologram does. The very small and highly organised grooves and pits on a holographic film refract the light in such a way as to give an illusion of depth – that’s what creates the hologram’s 3D effect. You will know from experience, that these little holograms work best when you have a very defined, single point light source, and when you view them from one angle. That’s simply because the refraction effect is most effective when it’s lined up exactly with a light source and your eye.

What I’m getting at here, of course, is that there is really nothing at all mystical about a hologram. Holograms are exploiting simple and extremely well understood properties of optics, and have no more magic in them than the magnetic strips on your credit card.

On the CieAura site we read that:

The holographic chips are actually small skin colored patches that are infused with specific formulas designed to balance the body when placed along energy sensitive points of the body called meridians. Some call the holographic chips and the results like “acupuncture without the needles”.


The CieAura Chip technology communicates with the body through the human electromagnetic field. This is known as bio-magnetic transfer. It works similar to acupuncture.


CieAura’s products operate from the infusion of Intrinsic Energy into a holographic chip. Intrinsic Energy is synonymous with subtle energy as used in other texts. Once the holographic chip is placed within an inch or so of the body, these energies communicate externally with the body’s energetic fields. The chip aids the body to move itself toward its optimum energetic state. The chips use physics as opposed to chemicals to externally communicate with the body’s intrinsic energy fields.

…Nothing enters the body. Intrinsic energy operates in the quantum physics area (smaller than an atom). As a result, there is currently no device capable of measuring the signal.

Let’s think carefully about what’s being claimed here: information recorded holographically (that is, by altering the refractive index of plastic to vary the frequencies of light travelling through it) is somehow ‘infused’ with ‘formulas’ that ‘communicate’ via ‘bio magnetic transfer’ and ‘intrinsic energy’ with the body’s ‘energetic field’. And this effect is not currently measurable with any known technology (how wonderfully convenient).

As we have seen before with ShooTag, this is nothing more than a collection of absurd and diffuse terms combined in a melange of completely meaningless waffle. Not one thing in the sentences above has even an ounce of scientific credibility. You can’t ‘infuse’ formulas into holograms like you would steep some herbs in hot water – that makes absolutely no sense. The term ‘biomagnetic transfer’ occurs nowhere in scientific literature because it’s bunk. ‘Intrinsic energy’ is a made-up term that means nothing at all. The human body has no ‘energetic field’ – that’s complete bullshit. And all this tied into acupuncture, which is a folk remedy that has virtually no credibility outside of a minute chance that it might have a barely discernable effect on pain. ((Acupuncture is difficult to test scientifically for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s pretty easy to tell if someone’s sticking needles into you. Nevertheless, the best science we have on it indicates that it’s ineffectual.))

It’s more than clear that all the sciencey-sounding verbage you encounter on the CieAura site is abject gibberish. It may be that Melissa Rogers is so badly educated that she really believes this baloney… but I don’t really think so. I believe that all this pseudo-mystical-sciencey stuff is smoke-and-mirrors distraction designed to deflect anyone from too-readily discerning the real purpose of CieAura.

And that purpose is what we’ll hone in on in the next instalment…

Next Page »