Nov 20 2007

History Repeats Itself – The PAPIMI Scam

In 1916 a physician name Albert Abrams published a paper introducing the world to the Electronic Reactions of Abrams (ERA). According the Dr. Abrams every disease has its own unique vibrational signature, and Abrams was soon marketing devices to both diagnose (the dynamizer) and treat (the oscilloclast) pretty much anything. Abrams made millions selling and licensing devices to doctors, chiropractors, and other practitioners and clinics began cropping up all over America. This cottage industry of quackery continued for years, convincing millions of clients that the ERA was a miracle breakthrough of modern medicine. The ride didn’t end until Abrams died and it was discovered that his machines contained useless parts (a scam within a scam), and it became clear that he was the perpetrator of one of the greatest medical hoaxes in history.

Sounds crazy, right? Nothing so outrageous could happen today. (OK, so regular readers of this blog will see what’s coming next a mile away.)

Recently the Seattle Times recently ran a story exposing a con-artist and his device that would make Abrams proud – Panos Pappas and his PAPIMI device. Pappas claims that his device is based upon “frequencies spectrum,” that physicists should “forget E=MC2,” that his machine treats inflammation and improves oxygen. His claims are essentially a mishmash of typical quack mumbo jumbo, but he has an impressive looking machine that uses “energy.” Wow.

Pappas is following the Abrams model – selling or licensing machines to quack clinics and raking in millions off the suffering of others. Pappas has added a new twist, however. Pappas has one thing to contend with that Abrams did not have, and that is the FDA. Because Pappas wants to sell his device to treat cancer and AIDS (you know, real diseases) his claims fall under FDA regulation. The way around this, however, is to register the device for clinical research, so that is what he did.

It was a good scam while it lasted. Clinics used the PAPIMI to conduct “research” even though they were getting paid for its use. Some clinics didn’t bother with the whole research thing, and just used it as if it were a legitimate device. Pappas, meanwhile, was busy marketing – scamming the San Francisco 49ers to endorse the device. He was also able to claim that the device is FDA registered. This only means that the company is registered with the FDA – it is not the same thing as FDA approval, and the FDA never approved the device as safe and effective. (This is a common deception.)

But the trail of death and misery finally caught up with Pappas. A five month old baby boy died of cancer while under treatment by the PAPIMI. The electromagnetic device also caused some injuries. Eventually the FDA prohibited use of the machine in 2005, and Pappas had to flee the country on fraud charges. But there are still some machines in use in the odd CAM clinic.

Pappas’ mistake (if you can call it that – he is happily living off his millions in Europe) was that his machine actually did something. He could have had his machine use chi or some other form of fake energy, instead of actual electromagnetism. Fake energy therapies that do literally nothing are outside the regulation of the FDA.

This sad tale teaches us a few lessons. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it – that is why part of the job of skeptics and the skeptical movement is to remind the public about the scams of the past, because they are likely to come around again every generation.

Second, the current regulations that we have (at least in the USA) were inadequate to protect the public from the PAPIMI or the likes of Pappas. This one definitely slipped through the cracks. Unfortunately the cracks are widening under pressure from the health care freedom lobbyists who want freedom for quacks to defraud the public.

They really want history to repeat itself – they want to go back to the days of snake oil salesmen and patent medicines – the heyday of medical quacks and con-artists.

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “History Repeats Itself – The PAPIMI Scam”

  1. ellazimmon 20 Nov 2007 at 8:48 am

    Sometimes I think that the hardest part about being skeptical isn’t the staying-on-your-toes part or the hurting your friends and family part (like when they find you reading The God Delusion or when you try to convince them to get real medical attention); the hardest part is just grinding through another variation on the same old scam. Why do these things just keep coming up again and again and again? I thought skepticism was supposed to be engaging not boring. Sigh. I’m going to go and watch Bronowski’s Ascent of Man again. Actually, I haven’t finished Creationism’s Trojan Horse yet (Monkey Girl is very good by the way). And there’s lot of stuff I haven’t even looked at on Talk Origins. Okay, I feel better now.

  2. Gary Goldwateron 20 Nov 2007 at 10:41 am

    Do not feel at all discouraged. The fact that it is the Seattle Times doing this expose is very significant. I’m a Seattleite. I had a young, bright fellow over for a lunch not long ago. He’s going to the local naturopathic college, Bastyr. I don’t know if he got the following practice from Bastyr…probably from one of the many, many associated inventive health facilitators. But the fact that he’s a student at Bastyr says something about its scientific rigor.

    This young fellow was convinced that his hands could become so filled with energy, if he learned a certain technique, that he would be able to direct this energy and it would help others’ bodies heal.

    I tried to pursue the nature of this energy. How was it measured? You could feel it in your hands. Was there a way to show it was effective? Yes, the teacher made objects move. And in his training he had….maybe….made something move but wasn’t totally sure. How close did you have to be…was there a 1/x-squared drop-off? No drop-off. In fact, it was possible to move an object on the other side of the Earth. Was it only good on Earth or could the practitioner move objects on the Moon? My wife stopped my questioning at this point because she thought, incorrectly, that I was making fun of him. In fact, I was pursuing an understanding of this energy & the young fellow, I think, understood that.

    My wife has another friend who spent 25,000 dollars about 7 years ago for some computer & program that you hooked to some parts of your body and then, as you sat there, would list body functions and a number [to tell you the current function level of the function]. My wife did it…of course her friend knew her frailties beforehand. But the machine was “diagnosing” the underlying problems of those frailties. With this information, my wife’s friend could then use her knowledge of alternative health care to suggest a course to better health.

    These stories are typical here and also in Oregon. I don’t know about the rest of the world. But the fact that in, at least, one of the homes of energy medicine the hometown paper is sounding an alarm may prompt some of the bright young people to think twice about energy medicine. It is SO popular here.

    I think the Seattle Times series is non-threatening in that it focuses on true con-artists….indicted at that. But the implications for the common energy-healer can not be unaddressed in the minds of the reader. This series is a step in the right direction in a place that needs more food for thought for those who are drawn into the energy healing fields.

  3. RossPattonon 21 Nov 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I have to agree, the fact that it was in Seattle Times exposing him is a good thing. ‘Alternative’ medicine thrives here. Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Aromatherapy, Energy healing, you name it, we have it.

    Just the other day, I saw a Kevin Trudeau book for sale at my college. There’s also a free magazine called Conscious Choice. I got one because it bills itself as a progressive, pro-atheist magazine. I had to chuck it because it was FULL of alternative and pseudo nonsense.

    The area has the highest concentration of college graduates in the entire country, but yet quackery thrives here of all places. I just don’t get it.

  4. Dr Auston 23 Nov 2007 at 10:39 am

    The old scams are still around too, Steve.

    I was trying to suggest radionics (Abrams’ invention) as an “abandoned Alt Med modality” on PalMD’s blog….

    …and then I found that it isn’t abandoned.

    Apparently the practitioners are often also homoeopaths. Hmmm.

  5. [...] I wrote last month about the PAPIMI machine, a fraudulent “energy healing” device being widely distributed despite the fact that the FDA had already determined that the marketing and use of the device constituted medical fraud. The story was written by staff writers for The Seattle Times who were doing real investigative journalism into health fraud. The piece was very refreshing – they felt no need for false balance or politically correct subservience to the latest fad pseudoscience. Instead they said – Hey, look at this. This is dangerous fraud. Why isn’t the FDA stopping this and warning the public? [...]

  6. Medlieson 19 May 2008 at 11:59 pm

    I read all of your skeptical letters. Have any of you USED this device? I did. My low back pain (an 8 on a scale of 10) Disappeared! Two months later, my Sciatica reappeared. I drove again, from Vegas to LA, and used the Papimi again. Pain GONE in minutes. An entrepreneurial gentleman bought a machine, hired an RN to run the office, and brought it to Vegas. I brought him 25 or so customers, each of whom recieved a free thirty minute session. I used the machine about 20 more times, as I was loving the results I had gotten for my pain.

    Some of my personal results:

    1. Recurring low back pain NEVER returned and I have not had an instance in several years since treatments.

    2. I had a case of strep throat (ok, undiagnosed by your trusted AMA drug pushers), at least I had puss-filled blisters on my tonsils, a fever and a primary care physician who couldn’t see me or write me a perscription for THREE DAYS (I called on Monday and was offered a Thursday morning appointment). Having not used the Papimi for a couple of months, I went in that day, got treated on the Nurse’s LUNCH HOUR (try that with your MD), and the blisters were GONE in the morning without drugs or anything else except healthy eating.

    3. Eczema on my thumb approx. 1/2 sq. inch, during the time of my treatments became COMPLETELY asymptomatic and healthy skin covered the site. It has come back however, it did not re-emerge until months after treatments.

    The ama is poisoning you and half of your posts look like they were posted by MD’s or Pharmacy execs. Do some research: Rife, Tesla, Pappas (Whose uncle invented the PAP smear and who is a GENIUS, not a scam artist. Scam artists are abundant in our conventional medical establishments right here in the good ol’ USA! Enjoy your flat earth and your anti-depressants.

  7. Steven Novellaon 20 May 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Medlies,

    All of the posts on this blog were written by an MD – me.

    Your anecdotes are worthless – see here: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=33

    For example, most throat infections will get better by themselves without treatment. Any treatment that appears anecdotally to be good for everything is likely good for nothing – it’s just revealing the futility of anecdotes.

    Whenever anyone appeals to the AMA bogeyman, you can be sure they have no idea what they are talking about. The AMA does not regulate medicine in any way.

    Arguments from authority and appeals to conspiracies are not compelling.

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